Elizabeth Taylor by John B. Allan–A Donald Westlake oddity returns!

One of the stranger items in the Donald Westlake canon is his 1961 biography of Elizabeth Taylor, written as John B. Allan. It also might be the last item you’d expect to return to print, but thanks to the efforts of Westlake fan and Violent World of Parker reader Seth R., it has. I’ll let him tell you about the book and his exciting new venture, Blackbird Books:

There used to be a two-tiered system in the book world: There were the fancy hardcover books—the real books—chosen by the literary doyens in New York, put out by the likes of Random House and Harper, and sold in bookstores. And then there was the mischievous sibling, the cheap pulp paperbacks filling the wire racks at drugstores, airports, and bus stations. Frequently written under pen names, these books tended to be short—usually under 200 pages—plot-driven, and packaged with flashy, eye-catching covers.

Sneered at by the New York literary establishment, it was these books which, in many cases, had the best stories, the most enduring and timeless appeal, and, just as important, the biggest sales. In fact, a certain criminal named Parker got his start in a 35 cent throwaway back in 1962.

Of course, Donald Westlake also had a contract with Random House, and, as prolific as he was, wrote for many publishing houses, both big and small. But it was his pulp paperbacks that are arguably the most memorable. The same holds true for many other authors whose work found its home in the gritty pulp pages of the paperbacks of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Unfortunately, many of these classics are out of print and have been for years. Hard to find, expensive, brittle, and musty, these books deserve better.

At the same time, I had my own books that I wanted to put out in the world. And with the traditional agent/publishing system coming apart and the rise of independent publishing, I saw a way to kill two birds with one stone and strike out on my own.

So I started Blackbird Books with the goal of putting pulp classics back in print as both high quality, acid-free, print-on-demand paperbacks and as e-books. I’m also publishing a limited number of new works in the great pulp paperback tradition.

Our first two reprints have been The Case of Jennie Brice by Mary Roberts Rinehart (with illustrations by the great Earl Mayan) and Elizabeth Taylor by John B. Allan, a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake. More Westlake and other reprints are forthcoming.

In these reissues, I preserve as much of the original reading experience as possible.  The text, of course, is original (with typos and spelling mistakes fixed), but so is the cover art, book blurb, and even the fake bio for John B. Allan (Ironically, Westlake’s fake John B. Allan biography has him graduating from the University of Chicago, now the purveyor of his Parker series. It’s also my own alma mater!).

The wire racks may be gone, but luckily e-books and print-on-demand have come to take their place in the storytelling ecosystem. So enjoy, and if you have any favorites you’d like to see back in print, let me know.

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Now that Seth’s said his piece, let me add a few words. I have both the print and Kindle edition of this book, and can tell you first-hand that he’s putting out a superb product. The print edition is quality all the way around–binding, layout, cover, paper–at the supremely reasonable price of $8.95. The care taken in producing this book is obvious and extraordinary. Compare the original cover to Blackbird’s updated cover:


The essence is preserved, and Liz looks a good bit more elegant for not being smushed, don’t you think? (Although her boobs aren’t as prominent, which may have been the point of the original crop job.)

The Kindle edition is superior as well. I’ve complained to anyone who will listen about the poor quality of many e-books, even big titles from the big boys. Elizabeth Taylor looks great on a Kindle, and includes a cover (thank you, thank you, thank you!). And it’s only $2.99.

So thanks, Seth, for making this curiosity available to the curious and for creating such a high quality product. Best of luck with the new venture! I’m looking forward to finding out what other gems Blackbird Books has for us down the road.