Monday, December 3, 2018

"The Organized Following of John D MacDonald"

Here’s a transcription of a short piece that appeared in the August 27, 1971 issue of Publisher’s Weekly, written by Alice K Turner, titled "The Organized Following of John D MacDonald". It mostly covers background on the then-six year old JDM Bibliophile, the journal/fanzine dedicated to the work of John D MacDonald, and contains some original quotes from the author. What’s more fascinating -- to me, at least -- is the final paragraph, which reveals the genesis of Travis McGee’s appearance in hardcover. It’s a business arrangement I was unaware of. A special thanks to author Dan Pollock for sharing his copy of this article with me.

John D. MacDonald, creator of the Travis McGee series and many another novel, made a rare trip to New York the other day from his native Florida. Publisher’s Weekly asked him how it felt to be the only living icon (as far as we know) of an organized literary fan club. It felt fine, he reported.

“It's run by this nice couple out in California, Len and June Moffat. The whole thing started in the mid-60s with a mimeographed bibliography of my work which they sent round to 50 or so people, including me. Tony Boucher mentioned it in his New York Times column, which won a lot of interest. It slowly grew into a regular 'fanzine,' which now goes to about 800 people. No subscriptions-it comes out too irregularly-but they're up to number 18."

Mr. MacDonald is himself a regular contributor to the JDM Bibliophile, as it is called. He answers letters, criticizes critiques, satirizes satires, answers questions. “I like to do it,” he explains, “and besides, it would be gross not to. As a matter of fact, it helps with the mail. People who would otherwise be bothering me write to the magazine instead. So it turns out to be a service.

“Funny thing is, I've never met the Moffats. Last time I was out in California I kept meaning to call them. Something always came up and I was always pooped. So I've never even talked to them on the phone. In a funny way, I guess I wanted to keep it that way. They have, I think, an exalted image of me which I don't want to disgrace."

People who don't write to the Bibliophile sometimes write to Travis McGee himself at Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, where, as all true believers know, The Busted Flush is ordinarily moored. McGee mail is forwarded to MacDonald. Once in a while, there is a surprise.

“One was a letter from a Holiday Inn in South Carolina which began, 'Dear Mr. McGee.' And it turned out that some guy had signed in as McGee -- address and all -- and cut out the next day. He soaked them $16 for his room, plus $23 for phone bills. It gave me the strangest feeling—as if he were real for a second or two."

Mr. MacDonald has a chuckle McGee-like in richness. “About three years ago, I had published two or three stories in Playboy, and to my astonishment around Christmastime I got a bonus check for $150 in the mail. It made me feel very strange, as though I were a Playboy bunny and someone had just pinched me on the tail, then handed me a tip. I didn't know what to do with the thing. I couldn't send it back and I didn't want to keep it. So I wrote to Len and June, asking if they could think of anything to do with $150, and they wrote back and said, 'Gee, we've been saving to get our own Gestetner, so we won't have to print up the magazine on a borrowed one and we could certainly use the money for that.' So I sent it off to them--the right move for the right check."

For fans, the address is:
The JDM Bibliophile
c/o Len and June Moffat
Box 4456
Downey, Calif. 90241

Incidentally, The Turquoise Lament, arriving October 30 from Lippincott, will be the first McGee ever to make a hardcover debut. Under John D. MacDonald's usual (but unusual) contract, Lippincott picks up the McGees after Fawcett has first issued them and pays Mr. MacDonald only $1 royalty on the first 5000 sold, after which standard rates resume. The understanding with Lippincott, according to Mr. MacDonald, was that as a reward for this financially somewhat thankless task, Lippincott would one day get an original McGee. This is it. Fawcett gets it next summer to publish as a Gold Medal book, and from now on new McGees will appear in Gold Medal first, as before.