The McGee series use of color in the titles was decided at a place now gone, The Red Devil [111 W 48th Street in New York], which used to be right across the street from the Absinthe House, operated by Mark Reuben. Not only is he gone and the Absinthe gone, but of the group which met one day in The Red Devil, Geoffrey Bocca, Dick Gehman and Bobby Condon are gone as well. And many others from the writers’ group in the Sarasota area, such as Carl Carmer and MacKinlay Kantor. Incidentally you might like to hear something that Hemingway once said about MacKinlay Kantor. He said, “Mack would be a little bit better writer if he would resign his commission in the Confederate Air Force.”
This continual harvesting of my peers by the green ripper casts a strange light across my interior landscape.Their books are on my shelves. They exist in two dimensions, in the books and in my memory, and it is only when I think very specifically of one of them that I realize they are now in stasis, with no more editorial changes to make, small figures standing way back beside the tracks as the train goes on.
To get back to the problem, our premise was that the titling should permit the reader to read the series in any order he wished, and the titles should be in some pattern easy to remember. Musical terminology, months of the year, varieties of gemstones, days of the week -- all these were discarded and I believe it was Knox Burger who edited all the early ones who suggested colors. I approved and Mac Wilkinson approved. So we drank to Dallas McGee and wished him well.
Yes, that was his name until a dreadful incident in that city gave the name a resonance I did not want. I wrote out twenty names and did not like a one of them. MacKinlay suggested I look at a list of Air Force bases. He said they had pretty good names. And Travis was a good name in California.
I shall not run out of colors. I have yet to deal with cobalt, umber, aquamarine, black, white and cranberry. Not to mention beige, putty and puce.
The decision to do a series might interest some of you. As early as 1952 [Fawcett editor-in-chief] Ralph Daigh had suggested a series, but I had the uneasy feeling that were I to come up with a successful series, I might be stuck with it, unable to sell work of any other kind. I think my hunch was valid. First person writing is limiting. It requires a lot of tricks to make it work. It is a folk dance where you have to invent new steps without changing the basic dance pattern.
In 1963 Herb Alexander, then head of Pocket Books, offered a goodly chunk of money and guarantees to a Fawcett series author [Richard Prather] to switch houses. Said author was in a snit at the time because Knox Burger, his editor, kept taking out references to the author’s strong political prejudices. Knox felt it unseemly, for example, to name a villain Humphrey Huberts. that gives you an idea of the politics.
Knox phoned me and said that since the loss of that author, people were avoiding him in the hallways and at the drinking fountain, and he felt there was a dotted line across his throat, and would I please take a shot at a series. I said I would think about it, and I decided at last to take a run at it, maybe under a pseudonym. I think they are bad policy anyway. The writer is in the business of dropping his trousers in the town square, and it is unfair to wear a mask while so doing.
I took three shots at the first book in the series, trying to devise a protagonist I would be willing to have around the house for six books. I did two complete books and shelved them. Never sent them in. Sent in the third because by then McGee was beginning to come alive, and I halfway liked the chap. Did the next two books in the series and in 1964 they were released one a month for three months and they did right well in the marketplace and now there are 20 books in the series with at least two more to come. But I have not been stuck with doing just those books in the series. I have to have a novel to look forward to where I can move around from person to person, from heart to heart.
From John D MacDonald’s speech at Bouchercon XIV, October 23, 1983.