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Charles Willeford : biography

02 January 1919 - 27 March 1988

Charles Ray Willeford III (January 2, 1919 – March 27, 1988) was an American writer. An author of fiction, poetry, autobiography, and literary criticism, Willeford is best known for his series of novels featuring hardboiled detective Hoke Moseley. The first Hoke Moseley book, Miami Blues (1984), is considered one of its era's most influential works of crime fiction. Film adaptations have been made of three of Willeford's novels: Cockfighter, Miami Blues, and The Woman Chaser.

Notability and influence

"Nobody writes a better crime novel," Elmore Leonard said of Willeford.Quoted in Sean McCann credits Willeford—along with Jim Thompson and David Goodis—as one of the writers responsible for bringing the "hard-boiled crime story to a new stage in its development during the 'paperback revolution' of the 50s." Centered around criminal protagonists rather than private eyes and "focused on those features of the genre that seemed most grotesque or cruel or uncanny and, extending them to new extremes, [they] remade the hard-boiled story into a drama of psychopathology."McCann (2000), p. 199. According to bookseller Mitch Kaplan, an expert on the South Florida literary scene, "Miami Blues launched the modern era of Miami crime fiction. There's a direct line from [Willeford] through just about everyone writing crime fiction in Miami today."Quoted in Fisher (2000), p. 117. Fellow writer James Lee Burke has acknowledged a "great debt" to Willeford: "If someone wanted advice about writing, about how to pull it off, make it work, punch it up...Charles could tell you how to do it."Quoted in Daniel Woodrell is among the other crime novelists he is identified as influencing.Haut (1999), p. 174. Willeford's characteristic juxtaposition of humor and violence was apparently one of director Quentin Tarantino's inspirations. Discussing Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has said that the film "is not noir. I don't do neo-noir. I see Pulp Fiction as closer to modern-day crime fiction, a little closer to Charles Willeford."Quoted in Fisher (2000), p. 118. Writing in 2004, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post called him "one of our most skilled, interesting, accomplished and productive writers of what the literary establishment insists on pigeonholing as 'genre' fiction."

Three of Willeford's books have been adapted for the screen: Cockfighter (1974; starring Warren Oates and directed by Monte Hellman), for which Willeford wrote the screenplay; Miami Blues (1990; starring Alec Baldwin and directed by George Armitage); and The Woman Chaser (1999; starring Patrick Warburton and directed by Robinson Devor). Willeford adapted his first novel, High Priest of California, into a play. A 2003 production in New York apparently represents its first full staging. For evidence of a reading in Miami and presentation of scenes in New York, both during the 1980s, see

Literary style

Steve Erickson suggests that Willeford's crime novels are the "genre's equivalent of Philip K. Dick's best science fiction novels. They don't really fit into the genre."Quoted in Trucks (2002), p. 48. Marshall Jon Fisher describes the "true earmark" of Willeford's writing, particularly his early paperbacks, as "humor—a distinctively crotchety, sometimes, raunchy, often genre-satirizing humor."Fisher (2000), p. 118. "Quirky is the word that always comes to mind," according to crime novelist Lawrence Block. "Willeford wrote quirky books about quirky characters, and seems to have done so with a magnificent disregard for what anyone else thought."Block (1996), p. 2. In Erickson's description, "The camera's not really focused on the middle of the scene. It's a little bit off. They're not plot driven or language driven, which makes them really different from most major crime novels. They're character driven and cunning in a very eccentric way." Lou Stathis argues that it is Willeford's "complete lack of sentimentality and melodrama that sets him apart from the pack of so-called 'tough-guy' writers.... Willeford's prose is as flat-toned and evenly cadenced—as emotionally neutral—as the blank visages of his feigned-human socio/psychopaths...the careful accretion of detail adding up to an incontrovertible truth of insight."Stathis (1987), p. 8.

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Living octopus

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