Monday, October 14, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 28: April 29, 1948

This is the 28th installment of John D MacDonald’s 1947-48 newspaper column From the Top of the Hill, published in the Clinton Courier, when the MacDonalds were living in that upstate New York town. This is perhaps the longest of his entries, a column on a single subject: a review of a jazz concert performed in Clinton. I know little of jazz, and JDM seems to go out of his way to disguise the musicians in the band, but this seems to have been a performance by one of pianist's Art Hode’s various ensembles of the era.

My copy of this column was poorly photographed and there are several words missing toward the end.

Concert Notes:

Went to the Jazz concert in the gym on the Hill last Saturday night. These concert notes may sound a shade grim, so we'll preface them by saying that we felt as though we got a fair return on the buck eighty expended for a ticket.

As a second preface, we don't claim to be an expert. We have collected jazz records for a few years and we have spent a few evenings drifting along 52nd street.

The group was a little sad. And a little phoney. We have a deep aversion to drummers who wear funny hats and scream at the people like crazy. Funny hats and screaming humor belong with the name bands for use when the crowd seems jaded with dancing.

Jazz, at its very best, should be a pretty serious operation. It is our only form of music which has not been borrowed from other nations and other eras.

The hat business might have been excusable if, during the rest of the time he had carried a solid rhythm beat on his drums. But his backing-up was shaky at best, and when the other musicians, with obvious reluctance, gave him some room for self-expression, he was more concerned with noise than rhythm. In particularly poor taste was his fading in with a cow bell in a piano number. The only reasonably acceptable thing he did was the heavy beat that went along with Parenti's clarinet solo job which was so reminiscent of the Krupa-Goodman duet in "Sing, Sing, Sing."

Drum should have. been Baby Dodds, or better yet, Big Sid Catlett.

Parenti is technically, a very accomplished musician. A.shade too accomplished for jazz at its best. In other words, he seems to become so infatuated with very involved variations on his theme that he unfortunately misses the greater impact that less elusive variations would have.

Der Max is, of course, a fine, raw, earthy horn, but there seemed to a shade of condensation
in his selection of the maximum number of large, raw blasts at the expense of some of the softer and more controlled numbers he has successfully waxed.

The trombone -- despite a definite uncertainty of tone, came the closest to hitting the spirit of the thing, though the slow portions of his long solo were painful.

Old James P. made us feel bad. Age slows up everybody. The obvious result of it with James P. is a blurring and running together of the notes, particularly noticeable in his rendition of “Snowy Morning Blues.” Our record of that, cut some twelve years ago, has a crystal clarity sadly lacking in his performance the other night. Hodes displayed remarkably strange taste in playing the same number in his own fashion.

As to Arthur Hodes, he seems to have technical ability without creative ability. Particularly unpleasant was his "showmanship" in jouncing up and down and trying to beat a hole in the platform with his foot. His "Yancey Special" was almost a note for note duplicate of the Meade Lux rendition of the same one—but Meade Lux does it better.

Errol Gardner, Meade Lux, Albert Amnions and Johnny Guarnieri all have more of that indefinable creative ability.

The selection of group numbers was good, but inventiveness seemed to be oddly inhibited.

We looked around in the audience and saw many people who, we are sure, came more out of curiosity than out of any knowledge or appreciation of jazz.

We wish to inform those people that what they heard was a pale and artificial imitation of jazz. Individually, not more than two of the men who performed could be fitted into a top rank jazz combo. That could be raised to a possible three if James P. were younger.

A lot of guff is being written these days about jazz. We don't want to add to the torrent but we would like to make clear the major distinction between jazz and classical music. In classical music the notes are already scored, and the quality of the musicians must show in his rendition and phrasing of those scored notes. Classical music is, on the whole, variations on one or more themes. In jazz, the theme is there, and the listener has the only opportunity that exists in the musical arts to hear actual composition of music at the moment of composition. Under the right circumstances and in the proper mood, it can become not only pretty stuff, but intellectually stimulating.

The mood wasn't right the other night. Good jazz is something you catch when it happens to be there. It can't be planned. Six men on a platform in a gym can't make jazz. Not good jazz. And good jazz, inventive jazz, is no longer played these days in Dixieland style. It happens with numbers like "Sunny Side of the Street" or "Summertime" or "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Maybe tonight, somewhere in the country, maybe in some small Chicago spot where the lights are dim and the tables are scarred, the waiters are sullen, there is a small group playing a [...] tune, passing the melody back and forth.

Maybe one of those musicians, under the stress of his own personal problems, will take a break and put into music what he can't put into words. If he's unhappy, it will be blues If he's happy, his variations will [...] and inventive and bubbling with life.

At any rate, his sincerity will [...] the rest of the group, and if he tires, they will pick up the song and do things with it that can't be repeated.

The people in that small spot will hear jazz, and its excellence will be limited only by the technical ability of the participants. I have seen musicians, sitting [...] laugh until they wept over some gay and inspited improvisation of a soloist.

Jazz isn't a man with a funny hat.

Jazz isn't the result of [...]

Jazz is a man with a horn saying something about himself and about the world he lives in. [...] the wandering minstrel of [...]

Monday, September 30, 2019

Think You Can Write?

In 1965 the St. Petersburg Times asked seven local writers to submit pieces containing advice to would-be authors who had retired to the Suncoast. Long, long before the internet and eBooks produced a relatively inexpensive self-publishing industry, there were two ways to get a book into print: through a traditional publishing house or by way of a vanity press. The latter method required the author to pay for the publication of the book and the run was sent to the author, to market as he or she saw fit. (Many argue -- quite correctly -- that the online self-publishing industry is nothing more that the modern day vanity press.) Since most of these late-in-life would-be writers had no more knowledge of marketing than they did of writing, many of these runs were sold out of the back of station wagons in grocery store parking lots, given away to relatives, or moldered away in a dank Florida basement.

The seven writers who were contacted were Don Tracy of Clearwater(How Sleeps the Beast and many crime and historical novels), Joseph Hayes of Sarasota (The Desperate Hours), MacKindlay Kantor of Sarasota (Andersonville), Richard E. Glendinning of Sarasota (historical novels and pulp stories), Wyatt Blassingame of Anna Maria Island (hundreds of pulp stories and many juvenile books), Thomas Helm of Dunedin (many non-fiction books on the sea) and, of course, John D MacDonald. All contributed something, a long as you consider Kantor’s one sentence reply “something”: “Good God, boy, there’s no time now for this kind of crap!” The others were dutiful and sincere in their giving of advice, none more so than MacDonald, who’s piece was the longest and was placed last in the article. I’ve transcribed his contribution in its entirety below.

The article, titled “Think You Can Write?” was published in the newspaper’s Sunday supplement Sunday on July 11, 1965, two months before Bright Orange for the Shroud would hit the paperback racks. It was prefaced with this brief paragraph:

Nowhere is there a greater concentration of would-be authors than on the Suncoast, where thousands of retirees dream of writing their life stories. For them -- and for you, if you've also entertained such a dream -- Sunday asked seven famous Florida writers for advice. Here are their letters of reply.

Here’s MacDonald’s contribution:

When a man can afford from $3-5,000 to have a book published by a vanity press publisher, I see nothing particularly wrong about it, provided he understands just what he is doing.

Usually vanity books are adequately packaged. He has ample copies to inscribe to old friends. The general public will not know or care that he paid to have it published. His name on a book makes him an author. It is a tiny crumb of immortality, a hedge against the blackness, a reference source for his own blood line. And, during the television commercial, he can look over and see it on his book shelf.

He must understand that the odds against his ever breaking even and getting out of it without a substantial financial bruise are at the very least 100,000 to 1. The vanity house will plant some small ads, may even arrange some minor reviews in minor places...

One aspect of the venture may trouble him in time. A few will be sold. He gets a royalty statement. Royalties are generous – 40 per cent in some instances. The book is priced at $5. His statement will show a credit of $2 for each copy sold. Great! But it might occur to him that inasmuch as he has paid the cost of the publishing venture, one might more logically think of it as $3 royalty to the vanity publisher on each copy. They are in business to make money. And do.

Their advertising materials, once the would-be author is in direct touch with them, make much of the books the house has published which have more than broken even. These special instances occur in two ways:

(1.) When an author is not sufficiently diligent in exposing his book to the regular publishing houses, and thus hands over to the vanity press a genuinely saleable book. Twenty submissions and 20 rejections would be a safe indication it is not good enough for the regular publishers. This instance is as rare as a sleet storm in Tarpon Springs.

(2.) When an author has special leverage to use upon unwilling customers. Executives still active in large corporations have let it be known that buyers of their book will be looked on quite happily. Politicians have managed this in their own gentle ways also.

I suspect that the man who can afford a vanity venture might do better to operate on his own, once he has proven he cannot vend his wares to a regular publisher. With manuscript in hand, he can deal directly with area printers, and they can show him samples of the books they have done, and quote a price on X-number of copies. He will have books to give to friends and family. He will take a financial whipping, but possibly one a little less severe than he might get from a vanity press publisher. And the royalty on every sale would be 100 per cent, minus the profit margin to the retailer he has talked into giving it display space.

But if it is immortality he wants, I believe the man who can afford it might better take his $4,000, pop it into a good interest account, requesting that each year the savings institution send the interest by check to his alma mater, having explained to Old Ivy U. that it is to be a partial scholarship grant in his name.

On this business of buying dreams, two or three times each year someone will get in touch with me to say he has written a book, and it is full of exciting material, but it needs the "professional touch." And they seem quite hurt when I say I am not interested in that sort of arrangement, not on the 50-50 basis they suggest, nor on a 70-30 basis, nor even, to their consternation, on the basis that I would keep all of the profit.

Their confusion is the result of not understanding the profession I am in, its demands, obligations and requirements. Equal in value to the skills I have acquired over 20 years is the quality of the invention I can bring to my work. No writer worth his salt is going to have the slightest interest in dealing with someone else's materials - except when that person is a figure so unique, so important, so solidly placed in contemporary history that one senses a cultural obligation to deal with the substance of his life, to put it in a structured and meaningful form.

But it is always possible for the gullible to find some talentless hack who terms himself a professional, and can give a breathtaking appraisal of how, by working together, they will come up with a book that will rock the world. And then he says, "I always work on this basis, sir. You pay me $100 a week during the time it will take me to finish the job, and then when we split 50-50, you take all the royalties until you've gotten back what you've paid me, and then we split from then on." Beware!

There are two other classes of people very anxious to sell you a dream for good money. One is the reading-fee agent, who advertises in the writers' magazines. You do your unsaleable autobiography and send it in with $20. A glowing letter comes back. This is great work! We want to handle it! Appended is the list of changes we require. Accomplish them and send your fine manuscript back. With another $20 basic reading fee, and $11 for registration of the manuscript with our agency, and $25 for special personal criticism and suggestions for revision.

There have been agents who, after advertising and charging reading fees, have gradually hoisted themselves out of this questionable area and have become legitimate literary representatives. You can count them on your fingers without taking one hand out of your pocket. First class agencies neither charge fees nor solicit new clients. Beware!

And the little writing schools, beware of them too. Once upon a time my friend Baynard Kendrick conducted a survey for one of the writers' associations. He wrote a short story, making it just as impossibly bad as he could — pointless, vulgar, illiterate and unpunctuated. He arranged to have 11 copies of it scrawled in barely legible form in pencil on unruled yellow paper, and sent them to the 11 schools then advertising correspondence courses in writing. One, just one, had the grace, the ethical posture, the morality to write back and say, in effect, "Forget it."

Ten wrote letters of glowing analysis, detecting a great undeveloped talent, pleading with the unsung genius to send money and enroll at once. Beware!

To end this properly, I must now take the risk of sounding arrogant and pretentious. Perhaps I am. Writing is my profession. Twenty years, 51 books, 600 magazine stories, 30-million books sold all over the world ... and I am still battling for each small increment in skill I can possibly attain. Often I work so hard at it, so stubbornly, giving such a total effort that when an eight- or nine-hour day is over, I totter away from this machine too dazed and used up to even comprehend the dreary gruntings of the average television drama.

So somebody comes along with the beautific belief that because he has always written interesting letters to Sister Kate, he can certainly write a book.

If you follow this reasoning into another art form, the man who can whistle a tune can compose a symphony. Forget the years of studying theory, composition, harmony, structure. Just dash one off.

I believe that this innocent myth about writing a book is due to one paradox the layman does not comprehend. Writing that looks effortful is usually careless writing. The professional puts his blood, bone and viscera into the chore of smoothing, simplifying, creating a narrative flow and tempo. He takes out the lumps, over and over again. So the end product looks “easy.” Only another pro can understand what it cost to achieve a limpid simplicity.

I don't really think you can buy yourself a dream -- certainly not with money. But if you have a compulsion for the dream, if all your life you have read at least two or three books a week, if you have an IQ of 125-plus, if you are in good enough health to endure 10,000 sedentary hours, if you are content to put down the first million words for the purpose of merely learning the skills, if you are the sort of person whose opinions are not merely rehashed fragments of what you have read and listened to and if in some locked closet in your mind you are more intent on telling it true than selling it once it is told, then you might come up with a Book one day.

Anything else, no matter how impressively your wife decorates your writing room, is going to be a long long letter to Sister Kate, and if you can afford it, you can pay to get it published and give her a bound copy.

Best regards,
John D. MacDonald

Monday, September 16, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 27: April 22, 1948

Another entry from John D MacDonald's 1947-1948 newspaper column From the Top of the Hill, published in the Clinton Courier when the family was still living in Upstate New York.

The Future of Housing:

The new Lustron House, made of enameled steel, will be changed each year to provide a new model -- just like automobiles.

Scene -- the steel breakfast booth of an enameled steel house of the future. Harry, a rather haggard-looking businessman, is attempting to read the morning news as it emerges from the radiopress on the table. His wife, Beth, has an alert, intent look.

BETH: And it has an eight inch band of chrome under the picture window.

HARRY: Huh? What?

BETH: The Robinson's new house. It was delivered yesterday afternoon. It's beautiful. Three extra built-in bookshelves in the living room, a more efficient photo-electric eye on the garage doors. This house is definitely shabby, dear.

HARRY: Shabby? We've had it just two years now!

BETH: But it looks so outmoded. The chrome trim is so narrow, and people sneer when they see that we have to open the front door by hand. It's the oldest house on this street.

HARRY: I like it. I'm use to it. Besides, you know the Robinsons. Every time they have a party, they trade their house in the next day.

BETH: I've got the catalogs of the new ones, dear.

HARRY: This house runs all right and the paint job isn't too bad yet.

BETH: But the lines, darling! The lines!

HARRY: Hah! We should have kept the one we had before this one. I passed it on the street full of used houses the other day. It still looks fine.

BETH: (with a mind sneer) Now you're joking, Harry. My goodness, we couldn't be seen in an old model like that!

HARRY: (with a shrug) Some people still live in handmade houses built of wood.

BETH: And some people still drive around with horses.

HARRY: (sighing as he gets to his feet) Okay. Long as you have your heart set on it. Call up the Grinning Armenian and trade it in, but I don't want to come home tonight and have to wait around for all the bolts to be tightened on the foundation. And don't leave any of my pipes or anything in this one.

BETH: (throwing her arms around him) My generous darling!

The Unarmed Forces:

The latest act in the perpetual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta playing to SRO houses in our nation's capital is a bit more ludicrous than usual.

After much flexing of biceps regarding the unification of the armed forces and the need for preparedness, we find that the Congress, despairing of getting a firm and resolute answer on the needs of the armed forces from the armed forces themselves, is going ahead and deciding how many air groups are necessary.

That is much like the Board of Directors of the Twentieth Century Boxing Association telling Joe Lewis exactly how many left hooks he will require in this year's title bout -- Joe being unable to make up his mind.

One would suspect that with all the high priced talent in the War Department, all the planners and all the fillers-out of myriad forms, they would be able to make some firm statement of needs, rather than delegate the determination of requirements to a group who can never be on more than an amateur status.

At any rate, certain spice is being added to the Washington drama by the new head of the Marshall Plan. That gentleman, in an unprecedented moment of sanity, has raised a question about the merits of sending one billion dollars worth of cigarettes to Europe during the next four years. He seems dubious also about the merits of sending mechanized farm equipment into places were there is no distribution of gasoline.

It is fervently hoped that this gentleman has such a high resistance factor that he will not become infected by the type of Alice in Wonderland thinking which was originally responsible for the inclusion of mechanized equipment for the European peasants which would be as readily understood and operated as would be an equivalent number of cyclotrons.

As long as we are trying to buy international peace, it is well to have a sane and steady hand on the purse strings.

The Marshall Plan as yet includes no coal for Newcastle. Probably an oversight.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Notes From the Ironic Underground: Fashioning a Fictional Folk Hero

In September of 1964, a mere four months after the initial appearance of John D MacDonald’s series character Travis McGee, the author wrote a piece for the prozine The Writer titled “How to Live With a Hero.” In this important and revealing piece, MacDonald recounted in great detail his rationale for finally agreeing to write a series and how he agonizingly put it together. It’s a vastly important insight into the author’s mind: his awareness of the felicities of the publishing world, his insecurities with his own talents, and the amazing amount of blood and sweat he put into the job before believing it was something presentable to his public.

Although The Writer was available on many a newsstand back in the day, it was -- and is -- a periodical written for professionals: would-be or otherwise, and had a relatively small readership.

A year later MacDonald was asked to contribute an article to Books Today, the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday book review section, probably by the newspaper’s Clarence Petersen, a longtime MacDonald fan and supporter. MacDonald dusted off “How to Live With a Hero” and rewrote it for a larger audience, expanding it and providing far greater detail to the whys and wherefores of what brought him to Slip F-18 at Bahia Mar. He analyzed publisher’s demarcations of various forms of fiction, types of novels written by the big name authors of the day, why he preferred writing paperbacks, the different series characters he researched when planning McGee, and presented another account of the incredible amount of work it took him to produce the first three or four titles in the series. It’s an eminently readable article, full of fascinating detail and insight, especially for the fans for Travis McGee.

I’ve transcribed the essay in its entirety below. The copy I had to work from was quite faded in places and there was a word or two I simply couldn’t make out; I’ve indicated these with an ellipsis.

Notes From the Ironic Underground: Fashioning a Fictional Folk Hero
By John D MacDonald

When a cardboard butler finds the significant button from the dress of a cardboard victim in the bottom of a cardboard garden, and the reader is given the chance, in all fairness, to guess the identity of the murderer before the author reveals it, there is no confusion about the classification of the book: It is a mystery story -- a novel of detection.

I do not wish to knock that demanding craft of the whodunit, but I neither write them or enjoy reading them. I prefer to be involved with the why-did-it. One cannot care overly much why a two-dimensional character did or did not do some violent thing. To create concern, the characters must be fleshed out, given the complexities of diffuse motivations, given those emotional nuances that so solidly establish their identity that the author cannot safely force them into characteristic actions and reactions nor place them in a storybook world any less real then they are.

When such novels involve violence, they fall into a strange shadowy area, where the categories are often established by whim, fancy, and luck. In hard-cover publishing, an editorial decision is made regarding whether a novel involved with violence will be published on the trade list and called a novel or be published under their mystery imprint and called "a novel of suspense."

When Joseph Hayes wrote The Desperate Hours, it was for publication as a paperback original under a pseudonym. His agent, on a hunch, diverted it to Random House, where it was published on the trade list. This happenstance does not take the book out of the suspense category. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a similar incident. Conversely, under the suspense and mystery imprint we have seen many works by such people as Georges Simenon, Helen Eustis, Charlotte Armstrong, Margaret Millar, and others that were much more "novelistic" in both intent and execution than the two books by Hayes and Le Carre.

Thus it is pointless to discuss the present and future of the suspense novel on the basis of publishing industry labels. there is an artistic identity quite divorced from those ironbound categories so enchanting to a nation with a compulsion to sort, measure, label, and file.

My personal method of establishing whether or not a book is a suspense novel is to analyze the ending and see if it involves what I term "obligatory retributions." When the good guys are rewarded, and the bad guys are smacked down, no matter how much creative skill, insight, prose magic, and somber intent is involved, the writer is working in that area of myth, half-truth, sop to Faithful Reader, which makes of it a folk dance, a commercial gesture, a novel of suspense.

Using this merciless measuring stick, one can lump into the suspense category most of the contemporary work of Wouk, Robbins, Wallace, Drury, Uris, Michener, Ruark, and many other household names. And one can identify more readily the enhanced validity of the worlds created by De Vries, Updike, West, Salinger, Capote, Nabokov, Vonnegut, Condon, Porter, Cheever and Bellow.

I would say that the future of the novel which has action and violence as significant ingredients was never brighter than right now, provided that the basic substance is the relationship of completely dimensional protagonists to that action and that violence. Faulkner's definition of a story as the human heart in conflict with itself is an ultimate validity. That kind of story nowadays is hard to find.

The more esoteric and subjective outposts of the Literary Establishment have recoiled so violently from the vulgarity of pace and movement and story -- have so dedicatedly ignored the human urge to find out "what happens next" -- that their inverted essays mislabeled novels are read mostly by those members of the coterie who yearn for the opportunity to display erudition by writing a review that will have very little to do with the work being reviewed.

The major magazines, those few nervous survivors of a 20-year death march, have given up stories for the sake of self-help and instruction. Television, that magical storyteller of a few years back, has so deified its own iron formulas, and so quelled any risk-taking on the part of its writing cadre, that it is now reduced to telling the same pathetically few predictable yarns over and over -- to children, and to shut ins, and to people too tired to think or to care.

Two other factors less direct, contribute to the bright present and future of the suspense novel. As our automated, computerized culture becomes ever more incomprehensibly abstract; as the realities of birth, pain, and death, and even of life itself become more cushioned and perfumed; as even that last available reality of sex becomes Hefnerized into some sort of ceremony linked to Hi-Fi and sports cars, mankind's million-year-old glands, his survival tools of nerve ends, muscle, and devices for sensing the approach of carnivorous beasts -- these atavistic necessities are increasingly obsoleted. He can find a certain measure of relief from these pressures in becoming, for a little time, James Bond or Matt Helm or Travis McGee.

The second indirect factor fattening the prospects is the combination of the population boom with the startling improvement in public education over the last six to eight years. Our net population increase is 9,000-plus per day, 65,000 per week, 275,000 per month, and I would think it safe to assume that 5 per cent of the crop will become more or less habitual readers of fiction, demanding that caliber of storytelling which pulls the reader along into "what happens next." And in a zip-coded culture where all trivia is processed in quadruplicate, fiction that has the smell and taste of reality will be the more cherished.

Before I explain what I think is my relationship to this field, I must hasten to say that most of my 50 published novels are of folk dance category, the steps and patterns traditionally imperative, the retributions obligatory. Within these limits I have struggled for freshness, for what insights I can muster, for validity of characterization and motivation, for the accuracies of method and environment which enhance any illusion of reality. I have sweated to achieve pace, and I am continuously involved in the demanding effort to simplify and purify my prose so as to make a minimum author intrusion into the worlds I create. And, of course, as one of the obligations of professionalism, I try to avoid easy solutions, glibness, meretricious devices.

Fifteen of my books have been slightly more ambitious in concept. All 50, however, could have been published in hard covers. By personal choice I have had 13 published in boards and 37 published as original paperbacks. All but one of the hard-cover novels have been reissued in paperback.

Tho I have not been entirely consistent the 15 years since my first novel was published, I can list the random and unrelated factors, myths, hunches, and prejudices that have induced me to favor original publication in paperback:

1. I sensed that in a publishing industry that was in constant change as regards mergers, promotion methods, packaging, tie-ins, editorial concepts, my most valid relationship would have to be with the public, with a coterie of readers who, learning that I would not disappoint them, would create a leverage that would make me independent of the constantly changing editorial postures of the industry.

2. I wanted to write novels of broad diversity, and I felt uneasy about the tendency of the hard-cover houses in their promotional efforts, and the tendency of the critics of hard-cover books, to type-case an author, to exert a continuing pressure upon him to create within that single area where he has had a reasonably good track record.

3. As an ex-Harvard business school type, I resented that manifestly unfair, over-rationalized, and, until very recently, unbreakable formula whereby the hard-cover publisher was entitled to half the advance and half the royalties in perpetuity for the reprint edition.

4. Our civilization was becoming ever more transient, and traveling light. In a throwaway culture, where beer bottles, baby bottles, diapers, ice cream spoons, and marriages were becoming increasingly disposable, it seemed to me [...] that, were I to write something light, fast moving, and funny as The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything, people would have to pay $4 for it in hard covers, and then would have qualms about giving it away or throwing it away.

5. I came across a statement made long ago by Walpole in which he said that a writer has to be like a colony of those tiny sea creatures that build reefs. If he lives long enough, tries hard enough, and if his work has some kind of validity, eventually the reef will show above water. I found this concept more comparable than the Great Big New Book approach of the hard-cover houses.

6. I recognized in the very beginning that by devoting most of my efforts to paperback originals, I was seriously limiting my chances of hitting the jackpot book. I was entrusting my future acceptance to the news stand jungle. I knew that many writers considered this method of publication a salvage market for books which did not quite come off as intended, and that it was also a market for writers of talent so limited their only access to hard covers would have been thru the vanity press. I knew that until I had acquired enough clout to affect the packaging, I could expect the sexpot cover art and prurient blurbs, traditionally associated with content, to adorn my maiden ventures. I knew I could expect no notice whatsoever from those critics whose comments appear near the front of the book review sections.

The only handicap I did not predict was the situation that existed in the last five years, when the market for competent paperback originals has been uncomfortably constricted not only by tremendous promotions to push the reprint sale of hardcover best sellers so that the reprinter can get back his very hefty investment, but also by the encroachment on available rack space of borderline pornography, huckstered from unmarked panel trucks at a retail markup double what the legitimate houses can afford to offer. I marvel nowadays at the blithe self-confidence I must have had to believe I could create a direct and useful relationship with a reading public.

I weakened quite a few times as the record shows, when I felt the wistful need to see hardcover books by me in honest-to-God bookstores. I believe that had I the chance to do it over, all would have been published as paperbound originals. I can detect no advantage achieved by hard-cover publication, even in the case of The Executioners, published by Simon & Schuster in 1958, the book most successful in boards. (Fair trade sale, Doubleday book club, serialization in the Ladies’ Home Journal, released by Universal as Cape Fear, starring Mitchum, Peck, Bergen, Barry Chase.)

When I say that I am professionally gratified, I do not wish to give the impression that I am an incomparable jewel, winking and glistening in a dung heap. The paperback original field is soundly knocked, just like anything else, by the people who know the least about it.

Solid and lasting paperback originals have been published by such people as Brian Moore, Kurt Vonnegut, George (The Wax Boom), Mandel Morris West (writing as Michael East), Gore Vidal (calling himself Edgar Box), Charles Williams, Walt Grove (whose original titled Down, is far more solid than any two out of three on the bestseller list), William Goldman, Mackinlay Kantor, William Price Fox, William Burroughs (publishing Junkie under the pseudonym William Lee), and many others. This listing is from memory. In the man-bites-dog department it is fetching to note that Harper & Row is reprinting in boards two Gold Medal originals by George Mandel, and that Houghton Mifflin is doing the same with The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.

Those of us who use the paperback original as a permanent base often feel as if we were part of an ironic underground, off-handedly dismissed by everyone except the content publisher and a very large and unexpectedly demanding readership. Richard Jessup must be shaking his head these days and chuckling at odd moments. His recent book The Cincinnati Kid was turned down by his paperback publisher. So he sent it to Little, Brown. It was purchased. Now, The Reader's Digest will publish a condensation. It has been sold to the motion picture people. And, kindest cut of all, the same soft-cover house has had to pay Little, Brown for reprint rights a hair over ten times what they could have had it for as an original. One reviewer remarked about the extraordinary competence of this "first novel." Jessup has published about 30 paperback originals.

If the author's motivation is to be widely read and to make a living at it, the paperback field is a plausible answer. If he wants to make the cover of Time magazine, to be interviewed on network television, and to be searchingly reviewed in the literary quarterlies, he will find a better source of ego-balm in the hard-cover field.

Naturally not all of my work achieves, or merits, the same degree of success. Some of my books have died in the 200,000 to 300,000 copy range. But currently 22 novels are in print. Five have had better than a million copy sale.

Less than three years ago I agreed, very hesitantly, to attempt a series character. The suggestion was first made in 1952. I refused because I did not want such an arbitrary restriction on scope and diversity, and I did not want to risk being primarily identified as the author of a series of books about the same character. I had the feeling I would be trapped in trivia, in formula, and I could think of only one writer (Marquand) who had managed to escape from a successful series character.

By late 1962, however, I found I had three novels blocked out which would be too long for effective publication in paper covers except as reprints and which would require so much effort and invention that I knew I could not keep up with the new book requirements of my paperback publishers unless I had the crutch of a serial hero to work with. But I had to make certain I could devise a man I could live with thru 12 adventures.

I surveyed the current crop of folk heroes. Mike Hammer's murderous indignations were faked-up comic strip writing, and instead of insight I found merely the affirmation and repetition of the less palatable hungers of everyman. I could not believe in James Bond. He was not human. He would tell the audience he was angry or vengeful or baffled, but I suspected a windup key in the small of his back. Set him in motion and he would read a menu. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, both retired, were far more dimensional, but my reaction to any private eye formula was a jaw-creaking ho hum. John Creasy's Gideon was solidly done, but because Creasy was using Scotland Yard rather than Gideon as his hero, he could safely make Gideon as responsive as a frozen side of beef.

I read my way incredulously into some Prather books and found there one Shell Scott full of smart aleck quips used as a philosophical vehicle for the neanderthal branch of the far right. Mike Shayne turned out to be so many different fellows that he provided me with little insight into the problems of a series hero. The most successful contemporary solutions I could find were Kenneth (Ross Macdonald) Millar's Lew Archer, and Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm. At least I could imagine myself having a few knocks and a few amiable arguments with Archer or Helm. Inspector Maigret, in Simenon's eerily skillful manner, had more reality than anyone else, but he had proved not especially palatable to the readership I hoped to acquire.

I write with the hope of never having to touch a page, of achieving the final manuscript at the first whack. I do not revise by making changes in words and phrases. I revise by tossing out pages and chapters and whole sections as I go along. Thus, if a novel is 300 pages, my usual average is 700 to 800 pages of finished manuscript to get the 300.

I devised a fellow named Dallas McGee. I wrote about 200,000 words to get 70,000 words, and found myself with a book I could have had published, but which depressed me because the hero was far too gloomy and heavy and inflexible. Also, I had put him into too rigid a format, one which would not only inhibit his movement in future tales, but would tend to make subsequent books too much like the first one. So I threw it out. I went thru the effort again, and ended up with a fellow so trivial, so hedonistic, and so glib, that I sensed I could learn to hate him with no trouble at all. I tried once more, and titled the book The Deep Blue Good-by. At the time it was finished, national tragedy gave the name Dallas a subconscious resonance I wished to avoid, so I renamed him Travis McGee.

From his base, his houseboat The Busted Flush, berthed at Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, he operates on a variant of the Robin Hood theme, attempting to recover items of value which have been taken from the victim, where the victim has no legal chance of recovery. For this service, Trav keeps half.

The second adventure fell apart so completely that I scrapped the book. The third, Nightmare in Pink, held together. By the time Fawcett Gold Medal had the first two McGees ready for release, I had written well over a million words in order to end up with about [...] words of usable McGee.

I ran into a certain amount of editorial dubiousness. There was a feeling that McGee was not enough of a hero-hero. It was felt that he should win out over all odds, whip anybody, know exactly what he was doing at all times. I know that this sort of mythological animal appeals to a certain large segment of the readership, but I explained that I could not live with such a fellow thru 12 books. My man had to be just as troubled and uncertain as you and I. He had to win a little, lose a little, have good luck and bad, feel remorse, joy, self-contempt, greed, indignation, awe... in short, he had to be a man.

In making him both complex and dimensional, and giving him a wry and iconoclastic point of view, and giving him voluble opinions on practically everything, I was not indulging myself in lit'ry pretensions but was taking the necessary steps to keep me interested, and when I fail to find any pleasure and satisfaction in putting McGee thru the next wringer, that is the time I kill him more irretrievably than Moriarity killed Holmes.

Six McGees have been published, and the acceptance has been gratifying. The seventh, Darker Than Amber, is finished and nearly ready to go. The eighth, untitled, is better than half done. I have a few pages of notes on the ninth and tenth.

In addition to publication in England, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Israel, I have signed contracts for publication of the series in Japan. (The image of McGee-san boggles the imagination.) I have rejected some generous offers to vend my friend to serial television, having seen no need to risk the almost inevitable distortion of characterization. I am negotiating motion picture arrangements at this time wherein I retain some measure of artistic control and insist on McGee being portrayed by Jack Lord.

McGee's success thus far is, I am certain, the result of that story hunger which is not being satisfied today by other media. And I also believe that by making a complex person of my protagonist, by giving him a texture and posture of reality, by not patronizing either McGee or the reader, I am providing that kind of story which is not currently provided by television, motion pictures, magazines, or most of the novels arbitrarily lumped into the "suspense" category.

I must confess that I keep vast attic spaces full of dead horses, and I use McGee, perhaps too often, to help me flog them. As his opinions are usually more blunt and uncompromising than mine, it is gratifying to turn him loose on some of the more distressing foul-ups of our plastic culture.

Monday, August 26, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 26: April 15, 1948

Here's the next installment of John D MacDonald's 1947-1948 newspaper column, From the Top of the Hill, published in the Clinton Courier, when the MacDonalds were living in that university town in upstate New York. Some interesting tidbits of JDM's personal life at the time, including his failing eyesight, the life of a pulp writer, and being a concerned parent.


By the time this column is printed, we will have come back from Utica wearing glasses that do a more effective job of correcting our crummy vision than the old ones did.

So, in a sense, this is an apology for the innumerable times we have stalked right by friends and acquaintances without the suggestion of a nod.

Actually, you have all been pretty well fogged over for some months now.

Human nature being a stubborn and ridiculous thing, we began to worry a great deal when, about a year ago, the horizon began to creep toward us. We worried so hard that we didn't go to a doctor, fearing that it would be something serious and he would say, "You've got to stop using your eyes."

And we can't afford a stenographer to take down this deathless prose, even if we were able to dictate it.

But discomfort overcame fear, and we found that slightly thicker lenses would do the job. (The man said slightly thicker. Maybe he means like those at the ends of flashlights.)

Also, he made no mention of any bad effects that might result from our furtive occupation of sitting here at an electric typewriter, inflicting all sorts of horror on the newsstands of America.

Of course, it may be a pretty reckless thing for us to promise to recognize people and speak to them. We can't seem to remember names or faces well. A book said that the idea is to pick out some distinguishing feature on the person to be remembered and connect it up with his name. Thus, if a man is named Smith and has silver-colored hair, when you meet him, you mumble, "Silversmith" a half a dozen times, and you're set.

Note: This system will not work in Clinton where the last name happens to be Burns.

Anyway, while trying to apply the system, we once met a man with a small bit of lint on his cheek. It was at a party. From then on, at that party, we got his name right every time. But we've never been able to remember him since. If he'd had any sense, he'd have made things easier by leaving that lint right there from then on.

* * *

Professional Note:

This is the week we will remember mostly because of a letter that came from an editor in New York. He wanted us to write a story for him. But with certain conditions. It had already been made up. And it had to fit the enclosed photostat of a cover of the magazine, showing a gruesome action picture. And it had to be 15,000 words.

The things we do for the sake of "art"!

The story has been mailed. Haven't heard from him yet.

* * *

Fair Warning:

Spring is in the air and that certain sub-human species, the Daring Cowboy of the Highways, is with us again.

He has lately been much in evidence zooming over the crest of College Hill and heading out into the wild blue yonder.

Two of them roar by often enough at speeds well over fifty so that we have begun to know the cars. One of them drives a green crate four or five years old, and one of them drives a jalop.

Since this area is liberally bespattered with children, and the crown of the hill limits visibility, we consider those two citizens to be potential criminals.

So, here is a warning to those two spiritual refugees from California. We are going to try to clock them and catch the license numbers. From the license numbers we are going to find addresses. Then we are going to visit them, ask a few questions and print the answers in this column.

One of the questions is going to be -- "What in the world do you do that makes you so eager to either get to it -- or get away from it?"

* * *

See you next week.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Literary Giants Seeking Refuge

In 1976 the Tampa Times published a group of brief interviews with several of the noted American authors who had moved to the west coast of Florida to live. These writers included Richard Glendinning, Erkine Caldwell, MacKinlay Kantor and, of course, John D MacDonald. Here is a transcription of MacDonald’s section of the piece, along with the article’s introduction. It included a photo of JDM I had never seen before.

MacDonald was 60 years old and months away from publishing his soon-to-be blockbuster novel Condominium.

Literary Giants Seeking Refuge: The Suncoast Has Become Their Haven

A Pulitzer Prize-winner. A recipient of the Newbery Medal for children's literature. Travis McGee's "papa.” The literary paver of Tobacco Road. They all live and work on Florida's suncoast.

So does a nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen award, and a novelist who at 22 was the youngest editor of a national magazine.

From Dunedin to Clearwater, St. Petersburg to Sarasota, the likes of Erskine Caldwell, Natalie Savage Carlson, Irene Hunt, Richard Glendinning, John D. MacDonald and MacKinlay Kantor have settled discreetly to live and work.

Chances are, though, you'd have a tough time locating these living legends because most of them seek to lose themselves in the thick underbrush of Siesta Key or on the outskirts of Dunedin.

John D. MacDonald settled in Sarasota and found that "there were so many other artists that I wasn't a novelty.”

MacKinlay Kantor lives reclusively on Siesta Key. If you are lucky enough to find him you will have twisted your way through a few brambles and branches.

Somewhere between Dunedin and Clearwater lives Natalie Savage Carlson, who has lived all over the world. Mrs. Carlson, whose children's books have been translated into hundreds of languages, settled there because "we had a lot of friends in here and we liked the area."

Erskine Caldwell was "looking for a quiet place to settle."

Despite their professed passion for privacy, these writers and others who make up the suncoast's network of authors granted interviews to discuss their successes, their work and their philosophies of life. Cindy Licht/Times Staff.

John D. MacDonald

It would be hard to determine who has the bigger following, Travis McGee or his daddy, John D. MacDonald.

McGee - a character in a series of MacDonald novels -- is a detective who chases after pretty girls, stolen goods and, of course, the bad guys.

His creator is a character, too.

Just vulnerable enough to be appealing, he, like McGee, prefaces his conversations with slang.

"You know there aren't many good newspaper reporters. I had a friend in the business - can't remember that sucker's name," he said.

He has a raffish chuckle - the kind that makes you think he is having private conversations with himself.

Writing is a 9-to-5 job for MacDonald. He loves writing, but he considers it a business.

The sin of sloth hangs over his head. He believes in the domino theory: if he allows himself the luxury of a day off, he may not go back to his work the next day...or the next.

At the edge of his desk was the manuscript of his new novel, Condominium, which depicts the horrors of a powerful hurricane hitting Florida's populated west coast. It took him two and a half years to complete.

MacDonald didn't begin writing until age 30 "because I never thought I could write. I used to think it would be wonderful to be a writer instead of me."

After earning a master of science degree in business administration from Harvard, and after being fired from several jobs, MacDonald joined the army and wrote his first short story.

Has his writing changed in the past 30 years?

"I think I have more control this year than I did last year," he said. "I think of myself as constantly changing. It's hard to explain. It's like when you have a conversation between two characters and instead of having to write, they said such and such, but they REALLY THOUGHT something else, I am getting better at conveying their inner feelings without really verbalizing them."

MacDonald works on three or four novels at one time. When he gets stuck on one he goes on to another. "And it seems when I go back to the first it's unstuck...I like to see clean, white paper and to know that I'm going to spoil it with God knows what."

Tidbits of his traveling experiences are woven into the fiber of MacDonald's writings.

"I couldn't have McGee go to Granada if I hadn't spent three weeks there," he said. "Little details are important, like the big almond tree in front of one of the hotels where old brown dogs lie around sunning themselves. You can tell when someone is faking it."

He's a good one to talk about faking it. MacDonald claims he gives each interviewer different answers to the same questions each time they're asked — just to keep himself from answering questions the way he thinks the person wants them answered.

"Some writers have a tendency to do this," he said. "Then they begin to believe the stuff themselves.

"See, I've been lying to you all along."

Monday, July 29, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 25: April 8, 1948

Here’s the next installment of John D MacDonald’s 1947-1947 newspaper column for the Clinton (NY) Courier, "From the Top of the Hill". An article in Life magazine brought back memories of his days in the CBI theater in World War II. I’ll have a postscript after the column.

A few weeks back, Life magazine took a long look at some boys who, four years ago this spring, had a rough time with the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). That outfit was more popularly known as Merrill's Marauders.

We met Frank Merrill before he received that assignment. We saw him a few times while the assignment was in process.

The Life article made us remember. And we began to think of what North Burma must be like this spring.

Four years ago, it was a busy little place. Engineer outfits, QM truck companies and ordnance groups were grubbing away at the Ledo Road, later to be renamed the Stilwell Road. The Marauders were hammering down through the madly scrambled terrain toward Myitkyina. The Chinese divisions, trained in India, were cluttering up the place. Kachin guerillas, organized and equipped by OSS, faded in and out of the shrubbery. Combat Cargo was airdropping supplies. And, far overhead, the ATC and CNAC ships were shuttling on the hump run to Kunming. And, of course, there were the Japanese.

It must be quiet there, now. Deathly still.

No guns, no planes. The Nagas and the Kachins have it all to themselves.

The road must be pretty well washed out after this past monsoon season. And the leeches will be hungry. Billions of them. Little grey worms, they cling with their back legs to twigs and leaves, waving their front portion in the air. When anything passes underneath, they drop.

Those weird and wonderful names for the little villages in the jungle lived for a short time in history four years ago. They will probably never be heard of again.

Strange names. Tagap Ga. Shingbwiyang. Nsopzup and Sumprabum. Kamjaw Ga and Shaduzup. Tumbuzut and Okkyi.

No decent history of that operation will ever be written. The Marauders restricted their files for the sake of mobility while operating behind Jap lines. A Jap artillery shell scored a direct hit on the mule which carried the few records that were maintained.

On the third mission, the heavy rains and humidity turned all the paper records into pulp. The unit's intelligence officer was killed at Myltkyina and his records were all washed away before they could be located.

But a few things will be remembered. Like Lieutenant Woomer, leader of a weapons platoon who worked himself up within twenty-five yards of a Jap machine gun emplacement, and then, when our mortar fire was a little over, phoned back for them to bring it in about 25 yards, saying, "If you don't hear from me, you'll know you came this way too far. Then shift it back a little and you'll be right on it."

Or Tec. 4 Matsumoto, creeping close enough to his countrymen to overhear the attack orders, and scuttling back in time to warn the battalion.

Yes, it must be quiet in Burma now, up near the Chin hills. The lush, wet, green thickets, once scorched by the flame throwers, raddled by the mortar fragments, have mended their wounds.

The streams are probably still depopulated. The Chinese fished them dry with hand grenades.

But at dusk tonight a thousand billion mosquitoes will be singing shrilly along the Salween. We didn't even make a dent in their multitudes.

* * *

We're all tangled up these days with a pretty strange enemy. In 1940 there was no organized, cellular Fascist Party or Nazi Party in this country. But the phone books of this country list various Communist Party offices.

Naturally, they must have checking accounts and charge accounts, and must prepare tax forms and Social Security forms.

Maybe we're getting too emotional about this thing, but it seems darn strange.

Wonder how many Democratic Party and Republican Party offices there are in Russia. Anybody want to take a quick trip over there and open one up?

* * *

See you next week.

In a letter quoted by Hugh Merrill in his biography The Red Hot Typewriter, MacDonald went into great detail about his dislike of General Joe Stilwell, citing his administrative deficiencies and his total lack of mercy. He mentioned Merrill's Marauders and was much more open about the difficulties they faced.

I read in the papers that someone has asked for a Congressional Investigation of the use this theater made of the long range penetration unit called Galahad, or Merrill's Marauders. They had better hurry and have the investigation because there aren’t so many of those boys left. They were thrown in again and again and again long after any sane field commander [referring to Stilwell] would have removed them for a rest. They were decimated by the Japanese and by disease. They performed unbelievable feats of marching and fighting long after they were thoroughly “browned off” by a commander that apparently had no regard whatsoever for their welfare… The true story of the blood, sweat, tears, madness, dysentery and cruelty of [those troops] will never be written. They were abandoned in the face of the enemy and left to fight over their destiny. There are damn few of them left.

Monday, July 15, 2019

New Hero Debuts in 2 Paperbacks

John D MacDonald was a well established author by 1964 when he began the Travis McGee series and he had a bit of a following among the book critics of the era. His most reliable champion was Anthony Boucher of the New York Times, whose Criminals at Large column almost always mentioned a new JDM title, beginning all the way back to 1953’s Dead Low Tide. Other pre-Travis fans included Clarence Petersen of the Chicago Tribune, James Sandoe of the New York Herald Tribune, and syndicated critic John R Breitlow.

When the first two McGee books were published Breitlow wrote a column where he showed both his familiarity and ignorance of MacDonald’s work, an unfortunately common affliction. Transcribed below, Breitlow astutely notes McGee’s similarity to previous JDM protagonists, but makes an erroneous generalization about the setting of the pre-McGee work (they were not “mainly” set on the east coast of Florida, or even in Florida itself) and ends with the most tiresome of all complaints about MacDonald, that he was “too good” to be writing such drivel and needed to work on more serious stuff. Had Breitlow never read books such as Slam the Big Door, The End of the Night, or A Key to the Suite?

This column appeared in papers nationwide and was transcribed from the Winona [Minnesota] Daily News. The headline read “New Hero Debuts in 2 Paperbacks”.

THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE and NIGHTMARE IN PINK, by John D. MacDonald. Gold Medal Books, 144 pages each, 40 cents each.


The world of John D. MacDonald is a limited but fascinating one. Located mainly on the east coast with Florida as its base of operations, it contains large numbers of motels, modern offices and high-rise apartments, plus a proponderance of expensive boats. It is peopled by very worldly individuals, being mainly virile heroes, sinister villains, and attractive heroines with a tendency to meet a violent end.

Few of MacDonald's works begin life in hard cover, but they are found in profusion on thousands of paperback stands. Although their specific ingredients vary in fascination and timely detail, their general pattern has a consistency not unlike the great "Chateau - bottled" wines of Bordeaux.

A literary connoisseur might object to such a comparison on the qualitative level with considerable justice, yet the comparison is apt. MacDonald fans who regularly invest small sums at the newsstands of bus depots, drug stores and hotel lobbies, know exactly what they are getting and tend to like it just that way, to judge from the volume of sales and regular appearance of new titles.

Over the years, there has been such a similarity in John D. MacDonald's heroes that he has now taken the logical step which will save him inventing a new name and background every three months - he has inaugurated a series, having settled upon the name and character of Travis McGee.

Anyone who has read more than two MacDonald books has already met McGee. He lives on a lavish houseboat which he won in a poker game. He makes a precarious living by robbing thieves for a 50 per cent commission in an aura of slightly tarnished knight-errantry. Experienced with fishpole, fists and charm, Travis McGee is generally admired by women and respected by men. Some might call him a bum and others might label him the product of his age. Both would be correct.

John D. MacDonald introduces Travis McGee to the paperback world in two volumes which appeared on newsstands almost simultaneously: The Deep Blue Good-by and Nightmare in Pink. While usually strong on titles, MacDonald appears this time to have submitted to a publisher's whim. The only apparent reason for these colorful allusions is to justify the books' front covers, tinted to match the otherwise obscure titles.

The Deep Blue Good-by finds McGee helping two pleasantly - formed highly dissimilar females who have suffered damage to both purse and pride at the hands of one Junior Allen, a sinister character with muscle, sex appeal, a large cruiser, and the hidden charm of an angered perverted cobra. The loot involves some precious stones smuggled out of the Orient in the Second World War.

This particular crusade confronts Sir T. McGee with a successful New York contractor, a Texas playboy heading for destruction, and a motley gathering of young people whose quest for kicks lands them in troubled West Indian waters. (MacDonald's opinion of the adolescent generation is even lower than they warrant, if that is possible.) Also up for consideration is the author's rather philosophical treatment of what might be called the “Bunny Syndrome," rather harsh but not unfriendly view of the modern playgirl.

Nightmare in Pink, the second of the Travis McGee series, removes the kindly boat bum from his marina and sends him to New York to help the younger sister of a permanently disabled Korean War buddy. McGee falls for the girl (MacDonald is rarely above allowing his heroes to tamper with his heroines) but for reasons unclear they decide to go separate ways.

Nightmare in Pink actually has some frightening aspects to its plot, which involves the use of neurological drugs and surgery to control some large family fortunes and eliminate anyone who stumbles onto the scheme. McGee himself barely avoids this fate and in making his escape from a "Rest Home" of fiendish design, inserts a schizoid drug into the staff coffee maker. The results would be funny, if the clinical detail wasn't quite so realistic.

These columns have previously lamented the fact that John D. MacDonald obviously chooses to grind out this sort of thing when he could be doing something better. We consider him a good writer, and wish he would hurry and make enough money from his paperback empire so that he could quit being a hack. Until that time, we will, like Ian Fleming proclaims on the cover of one of the first Travis McGee books, automatically read everything John D. MacDonald writes, Everyone, it would seem, has his weaknesses.