Monday, February 1, 2010

Shakedown

It is good to think of Bill Gault from time to time as a reminder of the potentials for mischief and satisfaction in a writer's life. He was one of the first individuals you'd looked up on moving to Santa Barbara, aware of him because of your correspondence with him while editing some mystery anthologies and one short lived mystery magazine.


William Campell Gault did not merely come out of the pulps, he came from them, by which you note his strong sense of motivation and purpose in all his characters; these senses breathed life into what might otherwise have been paper-thin shells. His love of sports infected his love for mystery, producing the inevitable in his major protagonist, Brock Callahan, a former pro footballer who'd been banged up in the game and had moved into being a PI.

Shortly after meeting and getting to hang out with the iconic Ross McDonald (Ken Milar), he asked you if you'd had the opportunity to spend time with Gault. "Bill," he said, "is not merely one of us, he is us."

How did this come to be? Most writers had New York agents; some had New York and Hollywood agents. Bill Gault had an agent with offices in Milwaukee. All right, you knew Larry Sternig and had even dealt with some of his clients, but more than anything, Gault's loyalty to Sternig (and Larry's to him) seemed to be making a statement.

Speaking of statements, one afternoon as he served coffee (from an old aluminum percolator) he observed, "You know, I'd rather be the world's worst writer than a good anything else."

Bill was so prolific that he needed a few pseudonyms to keep up with his output; his shelves of published work had that overstuffed look of a sofa in the lobby of a cheap hotel. Your own favorite of his works introduced Joe Puma, an operative who was so sleazy and amoral as to make you want to sympathize with the bad guys. Shakedown. It's been a while. Nice addition to your paperback collection. Why not consult Amazon and order the title. Help you remember Bill and what he was and what you reach for.

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