“On Richard Bissell”
Title: Rediscoveries II
Publisher:: Carroll & Graf, 1988
Edition: First Edition
Pages: 340 pages
Special Notes: “Important Writers select their favorite work of neglected fiction.” ; Chapter on Richard Bissell by Elmore Leonard
Comments–by Elmore Leonard from Rediscoveries II:
I told Bob Nally at lunch in Cape Girardeau that Richard Bissell had influenced my style more than any other writer with the exception of Ernest Hemingway. It’s a fact that I learned to write studying Hemingway, inspired and encouraged by a style that appeared easy to imitate….
About the time I realized Hemingway’s views of life in general and mine weren’t compatible I discovered Richard Bissell and heaved a great sigh of relief. Look–his work said–you can keep it simple, be specific, sound authentic, even ungrammatical if you want, and not act as though your words are cut in stone.
But I discussed Bissell in Cape Girardeau from some gray memory that his work had changed my thinking about writing, giving the idea that I could adapt his style to my sound and within a million words or so have a style of my own.
It wasn’t until I got home and began rereading Bissell that I realized what a profound effect his work has had on mine: not in themes or settings but in the development of the attitude we seem to share about people’ the idea of the author getting down in there with his people, because he likes them, and letting them tell the story. Bissell showed me you could write a book without it looking as if it was written.
… Bissell’s skill in bringing the reader onto that towboat and into the messroom and out on the barges is the book’s strength. But it’s also a good story that builds with the rising water, dangers faced and Duke falling in love with a girl they rescue from the rook of a flooded fishing camp. It’s high adventure told low-key, not the least bit plotty, with Bissell maintaining his riverman’s tone throughout. High Water was published more than fifty years ago but I swear it holds up. A few of the odd expressions might be dated, but for the most part the sound is regional rather than recently archaic.
Los Angeles Times
December 26, 1999, Sunday, Home Edition
I have to go with Richard Bissell (1913-1977) as an American writer who is sorely neglected–emphasis on American. He wrote High Water and A Stretch on the River among others, novels set on the Mississippi River. Bissell is the only American writer since Mark Twain, who wasn’t bad either, with a license to pilot river boats. He also wrote 7-1/2 Cents which was adapted as the musical “The Pajama Game.” I learned three-quarters of what I know about writing from reading Richard Bissell, God bless him.
Elmore’s Five Favorite Books
Posted: 07 July 2007 04:08 PM
“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. The first book that inspired me to write. I set a play in no man’s land and staged it in my fifth-grade classroom in 1935.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway. Horses and guns. When I was writing Westerns I’d read a few pages to get in the mood. I still read his short stories.
“High Water” by Richard Bissell. By the time I realized Hemingway didn’t have a sense of humor, Bissell came along to help me develop a natural style.
“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” by George V. Higgins. The best crime novel ever written. I read it and learned how to do bad guys.
“Legends of the Fall” by Jim Harrison. This is pure storytelling, a novella in 25,000 words or less, with only one line of dialogue. And the book glows with life.