Monday, March 30, 2015

JDM on the A-Bomb

The following was written in September 1979 by John D MacDonald in response to a letter from a woman who had written describing a dispute she was having with her 17 year old son over the morality of using the atom bomb against Japan in the Second World War. The son though it had been a grave mistake, the mother felt it a necessary evil to save the lives of thousands of American troops. I’m not sure why she wrote to JDM about this difference of opinion -- perhaps she was a fan, or maybe a family acquaintance -- but MacDonald responded with a lengthy letter of his own that is revealing in both its personal history and his then-current opinions on the nature of nations and individuals. It was reprinted in the January 1981 issue of the JDM Bibliophile.

I was determined not to interrupt the book in process for anything, but your question has been rattling around in the back of my head, getting in the way. So here is an attempt at an answer.

Personal history: When fragmentary news came about the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was aboard an AP troop ship (6,000 troops and troop officers) en route to Okinawa, and from there to Los Angeles. I was a major. I had been overseas over two years. I had enough points for discharge, having been in over five years. I had spent a year and a half in the OSS in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the administrative end, not the glamor end. I’d turned down air priority in favor of a “30 day ship” because I looked so wretched I thought I would scare my wife, son and family if I flew home. I’d had dengue and [had taken] Atabrine. When we dropped anchor in Naha Bay, the war was still going. There were over a million troops on that small island. When one went ashore, one had to stand at the edge of a very busy four lane highway waiting for a chance to trot across. Each morning at first light, the kamikazis would come over from the Japanese mainland, very high, beyond detection, and drop straight down over the center of the island, and then come streaking out over the bay trying to dive into one of the naval vessels anchored further out than were the transports and cargo ships. The tactic was to cut down on the amount of metal the Navy was willing to throw onto the island while trying to hit the oncoming kid in his airplane. The kamikazis were 16, 17, 18 years old, hopped up to die honorably for the emperor. Several nights later everything started to pop at once, a continuous roar of explosions. I was aboard the ship and a friend and I went out on the open deck. We heard that there had been a cease fire. All the ships and all on the island were firing everything possible straight up. I stood there like an idiot and then heard something go hiss-tink on the deck nearby. We ducked below and watched the fireworks out a porthole. We heard later from reasonably accurate sources that seventeen men had been killed outright during that celebration.

At that time I was glad it had been done, and glad it was over. I was concerned with pragmatics, not moralities. I did not “hate” the Japanese, though he had fired at me in an impersonal effort to kill me. In general, they were so tough and stubborn and so willing to die we thought them sort of demented, beyond reason. We were glad that something had finally attracted their attention, loudly and specifically. Otherwise it would have been a very long, difficult invasion. The little dog in his own yard can raise hell with the big dogs. The Japanese high command knew what was going on, of course. they knew of the German heavy water experiments, of the race to try to arm the V-III with an atomic warhead to launch at London. We traveled a different technical route toward the same end, and got there first, with the Enola Gay.

I am afraid that I have to overstep the question of shame and morality, cruelty and overkill.

It is my observation, my belief, through a study of history, that nations are neither moral nor immoral. They are amoral, beyond the scope and measurement of individual human appraisal. A nation is an entity moving, however skillfully or clumsily, toward self-interest.

The history of wars is the history of shameful incidents -- Sherman’s march to the sea, British campaigns in the Boer War, French suppression in Algeria, Spanish American War, the cruelties of Tamerlane, the atrocities of Genghis Khan, the firebombing of Tokyo (which killed and maimed more, many more than the 2 A-bombs), German elimination of most of their Jewish population, French suppressions in Viet Nam, the decimation of the Carthaginians, the inconceivable slaughter at Verdun, Palestinian bombs in marketplaces, Israeli shelling of villages in Lebanon, Lt. Calley’s picnic, Wounded Knee, the Children’s Crusade…

History ticks along to the rhythm of social, cultural and economic imperatives. One would very much like to be a part of a long tradition of honor, nobility, respectability. In our quiet times we yearn for that.

But the wars go muddling along never really resolving anything. Dying is dying and dead is dead. To me, the question of whether there is lesser morality, and more guilt, in the slaying by heat and radiation of a Japanese child in Nagasaki as opposed to the slaying by heat of one of the 400 schoolchildren in the movie house in Iran when, in protest against the Shah, a band of teachers barred the doors, splashed gasoline all the way around it and set it alight, is a bit like the ancient dispute about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

I am a cynic about nations, about the mechanics of power, and the dreadful consequences of the use of power, and I am an idealist about the individual person. I have contempt for the “other-directed” man described in Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, and contempt for the culture which bred him. I know there are things I will not do, acts I will not perform, because I am myself. And no peer pressure can change that.

But there is a strange Catch 22 situation in the relationship between the moral citizen and his amoral national destiny. In a world of 4,000,000,000+ people, crowding creates a new intensification of nationalism. Only in Western Europe is there any sign of a rational diminution through the Common Market mechanics, and these are the oldest of living nations.

In a world of intensified nationalism, national will and national purpose is the product of how people feel about their country. If the general populace believes their nation to be wise, good and honorable, that belief will give direction to the use of power in following the national imperatives. (Monroe Doctrine, Don’t Tread On Me, Don’t give away the Canal, Bay of Pigs, etc., etc.)

We have had years now of debunking all our myths and legends. Roosevelt was an egomaniac, Jack Kennedy a rake, Washington had wooden teeth, Ben Franklin a womanizer, Lincoln padded expense accounts, Benedict Arnold was an okay person, etc. And all our wars except the two biggies have been wars of colonialist expansionism, oppression of small helpless nations. We were the first to drop an A-bomb. We have kept murderers in power over their helpless subjects and so on.

Every living nation has committed endless acts which, in an individual, would be thought shameful. But in the organics of power, as in the Toynbee analogy of birth, growth, maturity and decline, such acts were part of the imperatives of growth, strength, economic-political-social consequences.

Now take a look at the power which opposes power. The communist nations do not permit examination of their history on a theme of morality. Rather, they rewrite it to conform to the established mythology. Arab and Latin American fascist societies kill their citizen-critics. Thus the national will is reinforced, sacrifice can be demanded, and hatred can be engendered for the fat exploitative capitalist, namely us.

Should we at the same time be indulging in self hate, and say, “Wow, what a rotten country this is, always doing such rotten things”? The way I read the future, we are going to have to make a national monolithic response to stress in the next two decades, or fade away -- not as a people -- people endure everything -- but as a national entity based on certain principles of self-rule. If the provocation is substantial, we will unite once again, in a time for heroes. If the provocation is indirect, subtle, unfocused, I do doubt our survival in our present form. I’ve given you no answers, but maybe a few starting points.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fiction in Magazines and Newspapers by John D MacDonald

This morning I’m launching the third and final listing of fictional works by John D MacDonald, a database titled “Fiction in Magazines and Newspapers by John D MacDonald” and accessible via the link in the Trap of Solid Gold Resources indexed in the right hand column of this blog. It contains, as the title indicates, all of the known fiction by JDM that was published in a magazine or newspaper during -- and after -- the author’s lifetime. Like my previous listing titled “Short Stories by John D MacDonald” it contains all of his short stories and novellas, minus the handful that first appeared in anthologies. And like that other list, its starting point was the pioneering work of Len and June Moffat and Jean and Walter Shine, whose JDM Master Checklist (Moffats) and John D MacDonald Bibliography/Biography (Shines) laid the groundwork for all subsequent research in the field. The Shines’ work, especially, provided the basis for the list, as they were instrumental in locating and listing appearances of works republished in other magazines.

My own humble addenda to the list is the inclusion of works that appeared after the publication of the Shine’s book in 1980. This includes the few stories that appeared in the six years between publication and MacDonald’s death in 1986 as well as the discovery of a few items the Shines missed. It is, I believe, the most extensive such list available anywhere.

So, what will you find here? Whereas the prior short story list I put together contains the initial publication of each work, this list includes later printings of stories, many times published under different titles. It also includes the scores of novels that were condensed (and often rewritten) and published in magazines, again, often under titles different from the ones that appeared on the books. This should clear up some confusion that might exist, not only about the number of stories MacDonald had published, but aid the collector in avoiding duplication in attempting to acquire unique works. Here’s an example. The February 1949 issue of Detective Tales contains an excellent John D MacDonald short story titled “Killer’s Nest.” This was not the author’s original title, but was changed by the magazine’s editor, a practice that occurred frequently in the pulp trade. In 1984 MacDonald included the story in his pulp anthology More Good Old Stuff under its original title, “Neighborly Interest.” One year later the story appeared in the October issue of Redbook under yet another title, this time “The Fatal Flaw.” Without knowing this story’s lineage a collector might be induced to purchase the same story three times.

As its title indicates, this new list does not include the publication or republication of stories in book form. This not only eliminates the few stories that did not originally appear in magazines, but omits all republication of works in anthologies. That’s a job for another day, one I doubt I’ll ever get around to.

I had to make a decision about exactly how much info I wanted to include and decided on some limitations on two fronts. First, an easy one. I limited the list to only English language publications. This mainly eliminated all of the international editions of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, of which there were many, including one for Japan, France, Germany and Italy. None of these editions contain any original stories. But EQMM also produced editions for Great Britain and Australia, and these are included. The only other non-English reprint that I am aware of was a story that originally appeared in the Toronto Star Weekly and was reprinted in French for the supplement's Montreal version, La Patrie.

The other decision was to eliminate the very few non-short story works that the Shines included on their own list, such as a bit of Haiku that was published in a 1964 edition of the St. Petersburg Sunday Times Magazine, and a satirical essay he wrote in 1946 for an impossibly obscure publication called Womrath House Organ. I don’t think anyone is going to miss these pieces, and I don’t really consider them fiction.

The list is pretty bare bones, containing only the name and publication information for the periodical, the stories that appeared therein, the dates, any notes on original appearances or republication, and a link to a TOSG piece on the work where one exists.

And as on all the previous listings I have put together for this blog, I own a great debt of gratitude to J.J. Walters, who used his tech skills to put the information together in a readable format. Without his help these lists would not be anywhere near as useful or easy to read. My own initial attempts were pretty laughable.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bloodshot Rainbow

Back in the fall of 2009 when I started writing The Trap of Solid Gold there were only two published biographies of John D MacDonald and both were out of print: Ed Hirschberg’s John D MacDonald and Hugh Merrill’s The Red Hot Typewriter. Not much for a writer once referred to as America’s bestselling author. But that was going to change. Schaffner Press, a small, independent publisher located in Tucson, Arizona, had been touting a new bio since early in 2008, with an expected publication date of Fall 2009. It was to be titled Bloodshot Rainbow and its author was one James Walling.

The year came and went and there was no book. In early January of the following year I emailed Schaffner Press but never received a response. I assumed the concern had gone belly up and hoped that Walling would have his work published elsewhere.

A year later a TOSG reader who goes by the online name of Clark Nova contacted me to see if I had any more up to date information on the bio, and when I informed him I did not he began to do his own legwork. He managed to contact James Walling and learned the reason for the work’s long delay. It was even worse than Schaffner Press going under (which it hadn’t): While travelling internationally Walling lost all of his JDM material -- his notes, his books and his correspondence -- when the airline lost his luggage. I can only imagine how devastating that must have been. But Walling assured Clark that he was starting over and was making good progress. That was in 2011.

I suppose I can be forgiven for having my doubts about ever seeing Bloodshot Rainbow. I know that if somehow I lost my own JDM collection -- my paperbacks, my hardcovers, my hundreds of magazines, my run of the JDM Bibliophile -- I doubt if I would ever want to begin again from scratch. I would probably take it as a sign that it was time to start doing something else. O ye of little faith...

This past week I received a comment on the old TOSG post from Mr.Walling alerting me to a piece in an online literary magazine called B O D Y. It was prefaced as "a condensation of sections from James Walling’s upcoming biography of the suspense novelist John D. MacDonald, to be published by Schaffner Press."


This is indeed good news, and what is even better news will become evident once you read the piece. This book will clearly be a serious, well written and intelligent treatment of its subject, not another chronological collection of facts like The Red Hot Typewriter. Walling's take on subjects like sexism and racial insensitivity contain much insight, and his assessment of MacDonald's writing ability is both original and refreshing. It's a nice, long posting that I'm sure MacDonald fans will enjoy, so I wanted to alert you to it and to provide a link.

After I posted Mr. Walling's comment I reached out to him myself and received a nice reply. He assured me that what he is attempting to accomplish is something quite different than The Red Hot Typewriter, and he passed along word from Tim Schaffner of Schaffner Press: "You can tell Steve Scott that we are planning to publish the book in late summer or fall of 2016.".

Here is the link. Enjoy.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Once John D MacDonald began writing the Travis McGee novels in 1964 he went on to produce eight of them over a period of three years before publishing another stand-alone novel. That book was The Last One Left, a terrific hardcover suspense tale that spanned 369 pages and which featured a dedication to a fictional character: Travis McGee, of course. (“I dedicate this novel to Travis McGee who lent invaluable support and encouragement.”) But that dedication wasn’t the only connection to the Fort Lauderdale salvage expert. Readers of the novel in 1967 wouldn’t know it for another year, but a prominent character in the book eventually makes its way into the McGee canon with the very next installment, Pale Gray for Guilt. That character was a boat, named Muñequita, which is Spanish for Little Doll. It went on to become a semi-regular feature of the series.

Readers first meet Muñequita early in The Last One Left, and it is not under good circumstances. The 22-foot T-Craft is adrift in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida. From the author’s description it is obviously a special craft.

Under considerably more power this same T-Craft hull design had won some savage ocean races. Fiberglass, teak, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, perhaps ten thousand dollars for such a special plaything. With the twin Chrysler-Volvo inboard, outboards, 120 horsepower each, she could scat at forty-seven miles an hour, the deep Vee hull slicing through the chop, the wake flat… With her fuel capacity increased by the two saddle tanks to over eighty gallons, at her cruising speed of thirty-two miles an hour, the engines turning at 4500 rpm, her maximum range was almost three hundred miles, without safety factor… She had been bought on whim and loaded with extras -- convertible top… searchlight, rod holders, windshield wipers, bow rails, anchor chocks, electric horn, screens, a transistorized Pearce-Simpson ship-to-shore radio tucked under the Teleflex instrument panel, pedestal helmsman’s seats, two bunks and a head fitted into the small area forward…  The graceful hull was a medium Nassau  blue, her topsides white with just enough trace of smoke blue to cut the sunglare… She had lifted and dipped and danced her way with an agile grace which matched her name. Muñequita. Little Doll.

I’m giving nothing away by revealing that the owner of the Muñequita in The Last One Left does not survive. And that’s where Travis comes in.

The opening pages of Pale Gray for Guilt features a happy McGee, as happy as anyone enjoying a new plaything before the novelty has worn off. Purchased at an estate sale, the Muñequita is carrying its new owner up the coast, from Lauderdale to Broward Beach to visit old friend Tush Bannon.

It's a funny thing about boat names. She had that Muñequita across the stern in four-inch white letters against that nice shade of Gulf Stream blue when I brought her on back to Bahia Mar. Spanish for 'little doll.' One night Meyer and Irv Deibert and Johnny Dow and I sat around trying to dream up a name that would match the Busted Flush. Little Flush? Inside Straight? Hole Card? The Ante? And I forget which one we decided was best because when I got around to changing it, I looked at the name it had and I decided that trying to match it to the name on the mother ship was a case of the quaints and the cutes, and I liked the name just fine. It was a little doll and had begun to acquire in my mind a personality that could very well resent being called anything else, and would sulk and wallow.

The Muñequita went on to become a semi-permanent fixture of McGee’s world, mentioned in all but five of the subsequent novels in the series, and featured prominently in one of them: The Scarlet Ruse. By the time of the last McGee, The Lonely Silver Rain, the boat was almost an afterthought, ignored completely in the two previous books. But in Silver MacDonald seems to have realized his -- and McGee’s -- neglect and puts things to right. He practically has to re-introduce the boat to the series’ readers.

When I had worked out a plan, I hurried back to Bahia Mar and began working on overdue maintenance on my aging runabout, the Muñequita, a two-ton T-Craft with a pair of one-hundred-and-twenty-horsepower stern-drive units. It shares the same slip with the houseboat. Usually I am very good about taking care of my gear, but it had been too long since I had given the Muñequita the loving attention she needs. I had not noticed the five-inch rip in the custom tarp cover near the gunwale on the port side, amidships. It was damp and grungy under the tarp, with mildew thriving. The automatic bilge pump had tried to take care of the incoming rain until it killed the batteries. The tarp was faded, the paint was faded and the white letters of her name on the transom had turned to ivory.

We all do penance in our own strange ways. Mine was to risk getting killed while I paid my dues. By late Wednesday afternoon, the sixteenth, the batteries were up, bilge dry, mildew swabbed away, tanks topped, tarp, mended. I had taken her outside into a pretty good sea and punished my spine and kidneys jumping her head-on into the swells to knock a lot of the accumulated marine crud off the bottom. The Calmec autopilot was working again. The bilge pump was operational, the ice chest cleaned and stocked, the power lifts greased, the lights checked and replaced where necessary. She wasn't at her best, but she was hell of a lot better than before.

If most readers of the McGee novels are unaware of Muñequita’s pre existence outside of the canon, then it’s a sure bet that nearly all of them are ignorant of the fact that the boat had a real life counterpart and that its owner was none other than John D MacDonald. He wrote an article about it in the January 1968 issue of Rudder magazine titled "The Little Doll and the Mousetrap," and his excitement over his new plaything is every bit as enthusiastic as was McGee’s. In fact he blamed McGee for “trapping” him into the purchase.

He writes that while composing The Last One Left he found the plot requiring “a very safe and sturdy little boat… I checked it out with some of those muscular, cool-eyed maniacs who try to knock their kidneys loose racing from Miami to Nassau” and created the fictional Muñequita. Then, when writing Gray he found himself wanting “McGee to have a little more nautical mobility” and had him purchase the boat from the estate. Then the rationalizations began…

Long before I made the acquaintance of T. McGee, I was living right here at the end of a point of land that sticks out into Little Sarasota Bay on Florida's west coast… As a perennial and practiced boat guest, I had no intention of owning a boat of my own until, somehow, I got mousetrapped into it by McGee. If it sounds a little fat-headed for a writer to walk around talking about one of his own fictional characters as if he exists, I think I can best explain that by talking about a bunch of extra-bright highschool kids I agreed to talk to last year. They asked questions. They got into a little argument among themselves because one intense and pretty little gal had spoken of ol’ Trav as if he might very well be in the next room. She said solidly in her own defense, “Travis exists because if Mr. MacDonald didn’t believe in him, he couldn’t make me believe in him!

And I remember how many times the books had come to a shuddering halt when I tried to make the McGee do something that did not seem suitable to him. A couple of times I have tried to imperil him by getting him into some small disaster afloat through carelessness or recklessness, Not him. He is convinced that when anything goes wrong on the water, two other things are going to go sour at just about the same time, so you had better be rigged and equipped to be able to withstand any three things going bad all at once.

So when he mousetrapped me into owning a boat, the specifications took into account not only the McGee Triple Threat Theory, but also the unique characteristics of the water and weather in Florida, and my own special brand of laziness, ineptitude and pattern of living…. After putting her into the hands of McGee and watching the use he made of Muñequita, I began to realize that, insofar as my own use of such a boat is concerned, the state of the art had turned some invisible corner where there is now enough utility in such a craft that it becomes, in this particular area where we live, more than a pleasure boat. Pleasure, yes, but in an increasingly marina-oriented culture, it is also transportation often faster, more effective, and certainly a lot safer than the seven mile trip to town on wheels… Once I had made this rationalization, I assembled a duplicate of McGee’s small boat, and in a moment of promotional self-interest, put the same name on it.

The MacDonald’s moved to their house on Point Crisp Road on Siesta Key in 1952. Point Crisp is a tiny little peninsula that contains no more than a dozen residences, and all are right on the water. The fact that the family didn’t own their own boat until 1968 is a bit of a surprise, but the article goes on to enumerate all of the various uses John and Dorothy would put to the small craft. They could zip on down to Key West, Lake Okeechobee, Biscayne Bay and the east coast of the state, all thanks to the protected Inland Waterway. But not directly to Key West, as MacDonald admits, “I am too much of a chicken of the sea to set out into heavy water.” Or they could “poke around in out-of-the-way bayous and around the mangrove islands and rookeries,” even though this often leads to running aground on the flowing silt, littoral drift, or migratory sand bars.

But for MacDonald the primary “rationalization” is it replacement as a means of travel, keeping him off the roads he grew to dislike the older he got. And here he sounds very much like his fictional creation:

So it sits out there at the dock, and when I have to run into town, it seems safer, more pleasant, healthier and certainly just as fast to go out and cast off and run on up to Sarasota and tie her up at Marina Mar which is right next to the whole downtown shopping area of Sarasota. Errands done, and with a little time to spare, one can run out big Pass and troll a little spoon down the length of Siesta Key, pick up the random Spanish mackerel, and come in Midnight Pass and run north up the bay to the house. When I am idling along I find myself listening for the sound, on shore, of somebody leaving rubber on the pavement just before they gnash fenders with somebody.

Compare that with this passage from Gray:

So I went looking for a boat I could use as a car. I would keep Miss Agnes for back roads and the Flush for open waters, and use the Muñequita for errands, and if I had to have a car, there was Mr. Hertz trying hard, and Mr. Avis trying harder, and Mr. National hoping they'd run each other into the ground. Anything in Lauderdale that I wanted to buy, and I could lift, if I couldn't buy it right at Bahia Mar, I could go off in the Muñequita and buy it. And it was nice to poot along an urban waterway and hear the distant clashing of fenders, gnashing of bumpers, and the song of the ambulances.

The MacDonald’s would reside at the Point Crisp Road house for only another year and a half after this article was written. Their new home, custom built on a then-secluded point of land on the northern end of Siesta Key, was right on the gulf and a small inlet which is now filled. I don’t know if the Muñequita followed them, or if they even had a dock built, but as can be seen from The Lonely Silver Rain, he was still thinking about this fun little craft and was, perhaps, riding vicariously along with Travis as he took the Muñequita out for a long overdue test run:

With an hour of daylight left, and the day growing chillier, I headed down toward Miami, traveling inside. Black leather jacket and watch cap, and the winds of passage strumming the canvas overhead, an NPR station on the FM, speaking mildly of the news of the day on All Things Considered, without hype or fury. The little doll growled along, at the lowest speed that would keep her on plane, white wake hissing behind her. There was comfort in being able to enjoy the boat. I had driven myself hard to get her back in shape. I had sore muscles, barked knuckles, a torn thumbnail and tired knees. Penance. Memory of the rumbling voice of the grandpa long ago: 'Anything you can't take care of, kid, you don't deserve to own. A dog, a gun, a reel, a bike or a woman. You learn how to do it and you do it, because if you don't you hate yourself.'

An out-of-date morality. Anything you don't take care of, you replace. Of course, the ERA wouldn't cotton to Grandpa's including a woman in his list of ownership items. Grandma seemed a happy woman, however.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pulp Perspective Plus

The following is a letter John D MacDonald wrote in 1966 to the editor of a fanzine titled Bronze Shadows. Like most of its ilk, Bronze Shadows was a homemade affair, typed and printed via mimeograph and mailed out to subscribers lucky enough to have heard of it. In this case it was the handiwork of one Fred S Cook of Grand Haven, Michigan; he wrote, edited, typed, printed and mailed each issue of the ‘zine, at the cost of a whopping 35-cents per issue, or three issues for a dollar. Bronze Shadows’ particular subjects were the pulp fiction magazines Doc Savage and The Shadow, whose runs ended in 1949. How MacDonald came to know of the fanzine is uncertain, but he contributed a lengthy letter in late 1965 that was published in the third issue under the title “John D MacDonald vs. Doc Savage.” It was an extended reminiscence of his early days writing for these two pulps and his relationship with their then-editor Babette Rosmond. (Boy, what I would give to have a copy of that issue!) He followed that letter with this one, where he responds to readers’ reactions to the initial piece and gives further background. Like the previous letter, it was published under a title, in this case “Pulp Perspective Plus.”

First I would like to comment on Mr. McGregor’s plea for perspective in Bronze Shadows #5.

This 1966 MacDonald is still intolerant of leaden, dreary, shadowless prose whether it be in the vintage Doc Savage, or in contemporary Leon Uris and Taylor Caldwell novels.

I am more tolerant of the hilariously dull writing in vintage pulps than in the pretentious contemporary Michenerized journalistic novel because the old pulps have the kind of neo-camp charm of fringed lamp shades, Olsen and Johnson, wind-up phonographs, Charlie Chan movies, steamer trunks and rumble seats. Long ago, my boyhood stamp collection disappeared. Were I to find it, there would be a sweet and forlorn nostalgia in finding the spurious South African triangle traded to me by Kenny Somebody in return for a few dozen equally worthless mint issues printed in Germany during the galloping inflation after the first world war.

Nostalgia has value, even when the stimuli have none.

I believe that the standards of literary criticism must be applied to all writing, and that it is a kind of snobbism to apply it to so-called “serious” writing, and declare the pulps exempt because “they were trying to write readable adventure stories for the masses.”

So were dozens of super-melodramatic writers who fed serial installments to the newspapers in the middle years of the last century. It would take exhaustive research to find out who most of these hard-working fellows were. But at the time, until his popularity became so evident they had to notice it, they thought Charles Dickens just another one of the boys, chugging through the same vineyards.

Without shame, and with only a shy scuff of the foot, I proclaim that never once did I ever sit at one of these machines and think, “I am writing a pulp story.” Just as it is of no moment to me whether a novel is going to be published in boards, alligator hide or Kleenex. I have always said, “I am writing a story. I am trying to tell it true.”

And thus, wherever my work has been published, I am accepting the certain risk of literary standards of criticism being applied to my work. I would not want it otherwise. But I believe that I am not kidding myself when I say that I am only peripherally interested in any sort of critique. I am trying to please a critic who sits in a little room in the back of my head and sneers at nearly everything I do. I make him nod happily about once a year -- and that is a very good day. I was trying just as desperately to gain his approval when I was writing for the pulp magazines.

Writing “for” them is not correct. I was writing stories. I was trying to make magic and mysteries. When they were done I would try to be sufficiently objective to guess where they might end up, if anyone ever bought them. Stories that I thought might be published in pulp magazines during the years 1947 thru 1951 often ended up being published in Collier’s, Liberty, American, Esquire, etc.

I really think it would be a lousy situation if a man could write stories, hence exposing himself in intimate ways in the marketplace, and be immune to any form of artistic appraisal.

Naturally 99% of the stories throughout the pulp era had about the same artistic validity as contemporary television slop. But any devotee can name some names from the pulps which have a fairly classy resonance today.

During the heyday of the pulps, remember that 98% of the fiction in the lady-books was dreary meretricious crud. And probably 97% of the novels published, and 97% of the terribly, terribly sensitive bits in the litry reviews and journals have been mercifully forgotten as has most of the pulp product.

There just ain’t very much that’s any good in any medium at any time. And there is just as good a chance that there is some lasting gold in them there hills of pulp as in the mountains of other kinds of publications.

I merely say that the Man Of Bronze won’t qualify on those terms.

That does not mean I want to knock nostalgia.

Anyway, for the archive-minded, following is what I think are complete records on Street and Smith’s publications of my stories, in Doc Savage and The Shadow. Total 34 stories. I am missing the information on the dates of publication, editor’s title, and whether or not my name was used on two of these. If any of your brethren can fill in these two blanks, or find any others which my records do not cover, I would be most grateful. The five pseudonyms indicated herein cover every name my work has appeared under, in both Street and Smith magazines and elsewhere.

Here MacDonald lists the known stories and then gives details on the two he is uncertain of, including his original title, history, opening paragraph and synopsis. Both were subsequently identified. He goes on:

For the statisticians, the foregoing represents a smidgen over 300,000 words, or just about $6,000 at a time when (1946-1947) I was selling not quite one out of every three I wrote. So call it a million words of manuscript, plus another half million words discarded in the process of getting the million and a half worth mailed out, and you come down to an effective word rate of 4/10th of one cent per word. Thus 8,000 words a day, or about 5,500 of mailable mss meant on the average $32.00. So if you had the health, mule-headedness, emotional support and artistic conviction to bang out two million words a year, and if you never put your tongue in your cheek or patronized your imaginary audience in any way, you could simultaneously make a living and learn the writing business at one and the same time.

But you couldn’t count on a big social life or a small postage bill.