From the S&S archives:‘I write for myself,’ says Erskine Caldwell
Stars and Stripes October 23, 1963
"THE CRITICS don't pay much attention to me, and I don't pay much attention to them. We get along just fine."
So says prolific novelist Erskine Caldwell, author of 42 or 43 books (he's not certain and neither is "Who's Who") which have sold 65 million copies, in 37 languages.
On his annual European visit and stopping off at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Caldwell is quick to reply to questions but chary with elaborations.
"I write books, I don't talk them," he says. The ex-war correspondent, ex-football player (University of Virginia, center), trim six-footer is a man of many and definite opinions:
¶ "The current literary scene? Not much there, is there?"
¶ "I write for myself; luckily, a lot of people like what I like."
¶ "I never go back to a book after I've written it. I've never read one of them in print."
¶ "I've got lots of fans in Japan. They've printed 35 titles of mine there. God, the fan letters!"
¶ "I don't write about Europe; I just come here to refresh myself with people."
¶ "I like to drink. Another bourbon, please."
¶ "I'm happiest when I'm working."
¶ "The Russians (he has 10 titles published in Russian) are very scrupulous about accounting for the royalties — more so than in the United States."
In recent times, Caldwell has run into a unique problem during his visits to the Soviet Union, where he is no stranger having been there during the Battle of Moscow in 1942. Although he has stacks of rubles piled up in the bank, he must pay for all his hotel reservations and the like with dollars.
Once in Russia, he can spend all he wants. Last time he was there, he drew out wads of cash but couldn't find anything to spend it on. ("I hunted and hunted but couldn't find a sable coat," his pretty wife says sadly. "Maybe this time.") As a consequence:
¶ "In Russia, I spend my time drinking vodka and champagne, since that's all there is to do."
¶ "I travel to meet people. I'm going to East Europe — Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and so forth. Yugoslavia is wonderful for a writer. They speak at least three languages, so if I peddle a book in one and it goes I get three editions out."
¶ "Advice to would-be writers? None. Maybe I'd tell them to learn how to spell."
¶ "Everybody in the United States is so caught up with materialism they don't know what anything means. It's a nation of false values."
¶ "I live outside San Francisco. That's not exactly the United States."
¶ "Publishers in Europe seem to split with me after a couple of books. In the United States, I split with the publisher. I don't know why."
In the immediate future, Caldwell plans to continue his visit to Europe and will appear at United States Information Service centers in Oslo, Milan, Warsaw and other stops. He doesn't, lecture, he doesn't pontificate; he just meets people.
"It's all very informal," he says.
And as for, now? "Another bourbon, please."