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."

Well...

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.



12 comments:

  1. This is great news and I'll be looking forward to buying a copy of this book on JDM. I'm really impressed by Walling's determination to go through all the trouble to write the book again.

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  2. That's great news, Steve! I remember seeing bits about Walling's planned bio – probably here on TOSG – but like you, assumed it was just lost along the road of good intentions. The story about Walling losing his resource materials is something new – wow, what a chore trying to resurrect all of that. I'll certainly be standing in line to buy this new book, and may even be up to 1959 in my chronological reading of JDM's non-Travis McGee works by then. Thanks for this post.

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  3. That's a very a good post and I look forward to the Walling biography being published, but why is it that biographers like Merrill--and apparently Walling--can't get little things such as when Meyer emerges to take his place at McGee's side in the series right?

    Both Merrill and Walling incorrectly identify Pale Gray for Guilt (1968) as the book where Meyer assumes his role as sidekick, sounding board, and sage, although Merrill correctly notes that Meyer is mentioned in passing in A Purple Place for Dying (1964) and A Quick Red Fox (1964).

    Meyer actually has his first speaking part in A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965) and appears again in Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965). In these books, Meyer is already offering wry observations on the workings of the world, but doesn't achieve full sidekick status until Darker Than Amber (1966) where Meyer and Travis are fishing under a bridge when Vangie Bellemer is tossed from above with her ankles wired to a hefty cement block. Meyer is a full partner in this story, even having a role to play in the capture of the bad guys.

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  4. Love it [enter puns about "striking gold" here]. Regarding Meyer (and Kevin Comer's excellent point), his early appearances as an ancillary character are addressed in the book (in the case of the B O D Y piece, by way of a deleted footnote), but JDM is on the record about refashioning Meyer into a proper sidekick for the first time in Pale Gray. He mentions in several published articles/interviews how a second perspective on McGee became necessary to flesh the character out and keep him fresh.

    Keep it coming, TOSG readers! The input is a welcome substitute for the notes and feedback from writer friends that I lost moving to Prague.

    I am in regular contact with the goodly Mr. Schaffner, and am currently on track to hit my deadline for a revised publication schedule.

    Sincerest thanks, Steve & Co. It's all very encouraging.

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  5. This is fantastic news! I cannot wait for this book! I much admire his determination to continue on after losing all his research material. His writing seems very mature and intelligent, something that is needed in a JDM bio.

    I couldn't help but chuckle when he referred to the McGee covers as "lurid". I get the point he was trying to make, and they probably were considered "lurid" back in the 60's, but looking at them today, in the 21st century, they seem so far from it. They're beautiful works of art! :)

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    1. I couldn't agree more! Lurid is a compliment, by my lights, and in any case, they're still racy enough to turn off some readers who are sensitive to sexism in literature. Crazy (judging books by covers, and all that), I know, but true.

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    2. I agree with JJ Walters about the cover art, and do my best to find and buy original paperback editions for this very reason. They're just more fun to hold in your hand and read, musty torn pages and all. I use Steve Scott's older blog posts as a guide in my efforts to locate the earlier editions, and appreciate that he writes about the different covers, the artists, how the art was reused on various editions and so forth. The search is half the fun.

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  6. Fan-damn-tastic! I only recently (2 weeks maybe?) found TOSG back in action and now this news...just, wow! Thanks to the both of you for all the hard work and continuing to provide so much on all things JDM.

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  7. Mr. Walling, quick question about your book... Do you go into any detail about JDM's unpublished novel The Blood Game? If so, is there any chance at all that the book will be published? Sorry, that was two questions. ;)

    Just found out today from a reliable source that Stephen King's upcoming book Finders Keepers (June 2015) will feature a dedication to JDM: "Thinking of John D. MacDonald." Pretty cool. King and JDM have some history together, of course, with King making several references to JDM in his books, and JDM doing the introduction to King's first short story collection Night Shift. King considers The End of the Night to be one of greatest novels ever written. Anyway, just thought I'd mention it as I'm a huge fan of both. :)

    Again, thank you so much for putting this bio together, Mr. Walling. It'll be one of my most anticipated book purchases ever.

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    1. King is the best. Didn't know that about Finders Keepers. Thanks. I wish I knew how to reach out to him.

      For me, in modern British literature, the lineage to look for is in the clarity and precision of writers like Kingsley Amis in books like Lucky Jim. This upward artistic trend - handed down in important ways from the Victorians - is carried forward into the current literary mainstream by way of writers like his son Martin. The latter is the best pure prose writer working in the English language for my money (no pun intended).

      This has a point.

      From the American side, the lineage is also clear, though unsung. It runs from MacDonald to King. Anyone who doubts the skill, style, and influence wielded by the genre stylists and generalists like King and Carl Hiaasen can pick up their own efforts at the remainder table, for the most part. These writers come from the Victorians too, but postmodernity is a plaything for them. Their business is storytelling. And keep in mind that the English also have J.K. Rowling, so even they aren't all about heady idiolects and fictive Holocaust memoirs.

      My own prerogative has room for the Pynchons and Foster Wallaces, but I think the trajectory they set out on has fizzled out. Not the authors' work itself, but the evolution of that kind of navel-gazing and byzantine plotting.

      Whatever you think about the American literary mainstream, the cleanest and most thoughtful adherence to the narrative arc at work between the covers in most people's hands today comes to us from Under the Dome, not Gravity's Rainbow. As everyone here knows, MacDonald told Jonathan Yardley, “I do like the guys like John Cheever that have a sense of story, because, goddammit, you want to know what happens to somebody. You don’t want a lot of self-conscious little logjams thrown in your way.”

      As for The Blood Game, I have reason to suspect it will not be published, and it's unclear to me whether it's even in publishable form. If anybody knows anything solid about this, I'll reward their generous soul(s) with a shoutout in the acknowledgements at the very least.

      Thanks again, Mr. Walters (and Mr. Scott, of course).

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    2. If you check out the Finding Guide for the JDM Collection at the University of Florida (link in the right hand column) you will see that it contains several manuscripts for THE BLOOD GAME, as well as a set of galleys. For the novel to have reached the stage where a publisher produced galleys surely indicates that everyone involved was ready to publish. I can only surmise that MacDonald got cold feet at the end and pulled the project.

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  8. I'm not sure about cold feet (unless you meant it literally), but I can't find any evidence that anyone with juice has tried very seriously, or at least persistently, to see it published in the years since his death (if you have, please dish!). I'm planning a trip to Gainesville right now, in fact. They've been a great resource remotely, but I need to park it for a week or two and ratchet down on some things (particularly regarding his personal life).

    Also, that "right hand column" is so good.

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