Monday, April 9, 2018

Invisible Industry

John D MacDonald was profiled numerous times in the newspapers of his day. Here’s a transcription of one of those articles, written by one Paul Mitchell for the Tampa Bay Times. It was published in the May 28, 1954 edition of the paper. In case you’re wondering where on the JDM timeline that falls, it was between the publication of Area of Suspicion and All These Condemned. A fairly early piece.

Mitchell frames the article around the various artists who had relocated to Florida’s Gulf Coast, but once he gets that preface out of the way, it’s straight John D MacDonald, repeating oft-told stories and pontificating on things rarely revealed in later articles. There are errors, of course, like calling his neighborhood “Crisp Point” rather than Point Crisp, and Mitchell doesn’t seem to have actually read anything MacDonald had ever written. Still, he lets MacDonald talk, which is interesting enough. The photos alone, none of which I’ve ever seen before, are perhaps the best part of this piece. They’re digital images from microfilm, so I’m afraid they’re as good as they’re going to get.

The Cosmopolitan piece MacDonald talks about writing is probably "Deadly Victim," which was published in the magazine’s April 1955 issue. It was a truncated version of the novel You Live Once, a work MacDonald had had trouble getting published. The novel eventually came out in March of 1956.

Or perhaps it was something else.

Invisible Industry: Writers, Artists Bring State Free Advertising While Netting Big Profits
by Paul Mitchell

SARASOTA - Florida's "Invisible" Industry netting fat incomes for writers and artists living in the Lower Bay Area is also reaping invaluable world-wide free advertising for The Sunshine State.

Virtual "colonies" of authors, painters, musicians and other artists thrive year-round in the bright sunshine and white sand beaches of Manatee and Sarasota Counties. No smokestacks or high wire fences mark their "workshops" secluded in private rooms. Thousands of citizens and tourists are actually unaware of these producing artists in their midst or of their contribution to the State's economy.

Not only do internationally-famous residents buy homes, cars and otherwise strengthen Florida's economic structure, but their novels, paintings and other works often involve Florida settings and spread the state's name to the four corners of the globe.

To mention a few writers, there are men like MacKinlay Kantor of Siesta Key, now in Spain; Wyatt Blassinghame of Anna Maria Isle; Richard E. Glendinning, Sarasota; Larry Holden of Nokomis; Joseph Hayes, Lido Shores and John MacDonald, who recently moved to Siesta Key from Clearwater.

How do these people work and live? Let's look in on the home of John D MacDonald, one of the best-selling fiction writers in America today. He and his attractive wife, Dorothy, and 14-year-old son have a home on Crisp Point, about a mile south of Crescent Beach, Siesta Key and have a summer home at Higgins Bay, New York.

"I don't like the boy-meets-girl type story, but pivot my magazine fiction on suspense or elements of risk," MacDonald says.

Comfortably garbed in his "work clothes," shorts and a sport shirt, the heavyset, amiable author sits before his typewriter and a huge ash tray. His "tools of trade" include a huge dictionary on a mobile stand, several desk lamps, swivel chair and the typewriter.

"The most profitable writing is plain fiction for Colliers, Cosmopolitan and Saturday Evening Post," explains the ex-GI who entered the Army in 1940 and rose to lieutenant colonel by 1945.

He's currently working on a 25,000 word novelette for Cosmopolitan and is still reaping benefits from his biggest seller, The Damned, a suspense thriller set in old Mexico.

Another work, Cancel All Our Vows, the story of a husband and wife whose emotions overcame prudence and involved "third parties" promises to be another money-maker. Some of his novels are translated into French and he describes these royalties "like finding money on the beach".

Success didn't come easy, but MacDonald minimizes the hurdles. Here's how he got started. "I hate to write letters, so during my time overseas I'd do anything to avoid repeating the old lines, "I'm fine; how're you?"

"One day I wrote my wife a short story about an American officer fascinated with an Eurasian girl in India and how he got sick of her and resolved their problem in a day. My wife sold the thing to Story magazine for $25 and I got delusions of grandeur!"

"Out of uniform, I spent four months terminal leave (with pay) at Utica, NY and ground out 800,000 words, enough to fill 10 books, without selling a one! I was getting worried and had a big grocery bill over my head. I got a part time job as director of a taxpayers' research bureau and was there three months when my stuff began selling. I quit the job and moved to Texas to write in earnest!"

MacDonald says all his work is "speculative," not "farmed out" to publishers by contract."Once I tried that method where they'd send me a finished book cover and an illustration to write a novel around.

MacDonald works eight hours a day, starting about 9:30 a.m. Unlike some authors who paint a grueling case for their profession, MacDonald says "The hours are easier than those of a regular job." He doesn't find the job of "getting down to writing" tough when you've got bills to pay.

MacDonald won't permit friends to interfere with work. "None visit us in daytime and when they do we're pretty ruthless," he says. The writer praises his wife, an art major from Syracuse University, for warding off salesmen, grocerymen and others who come on the scene. "Dorothy doesn't read my stuff until it appears in print," he says.

MacDonald never worked as a newspaperman. "I couldn't be a good reporter," he says frankly. "I just don't like to meet new people and talk about things I care nothing about."

Popularity of paperback novels today stems from large dosages of sex and violence, MacDonald says. "The pulps disappeared because they had to protect mailing privileges and couldn't include so much sex and violence," he explains. "The paperbacks are mostly shipped as freight."

"There's never been enough acceptable fiction written to fill demand," he explains. "They're filling many of today's paper books with junk. I buy lots of them, read a few paragraphs and throw them away!"

Total sales of paper books are up, but competition is so fierce with so many publishing firms in the game "individual" book sales are decreasing and authors earning less, MacDonald says.

"I'm afraid those houses that survive will be those who cut production costs to the bone by using cheap paper, sub-grade illustrations and pay scanty royalties to writers," he says. This trend could precipitate a crisis by producing such "sorry" books the public would stop buying out of disgust and wreck the industry.

1 comment:

  1. Your right about the photos. That hot grainy effect will be there forever because of the microfilm, which was state of the art back in the day.