Monday, June 15, 2020

Violence on Violet Nights

The following article appeared in the March 17, 1985 edition of Inquirer, the Sunday magazine supplement to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Written by William Ecenbarger, it’s a lengthy, boilerplate piece on MacDonald and McGee, featuring all the usual questions and MacDonald’s pat answers. Still, these are fun to read just to seek out the occasional JDM comment one has never heard before. There are a few of those scattered among the paragraphs.

Violence on Violet Nights
By William Ecenbarger

TRAVIS McGEE IS sprawled on a deep curve of the yellow corner couch aboard his houseboat, staring into the dregs of his scattered thoughts.

“This is the last time in history when the offbeats like me will have a chance to live free in the rocks and crannies of the large and rigid structure of an increasingly codified society," he says. "Fifty years from now I would be hunted down in the streets. They would drill little holes in my skull and make me sensible and well-adjusted."

McGee, a rebel with many causes, has declared independence from "plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, checklists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, Junior Chambers of Commerce, pageants, progress and manifest destiny."

He lives alone aboard the Busted Flush, a 52-foot barge-type houseboat that is docked in Slip F-18 at Bahia Mar Yacht Basin in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The vessel's name is derived from the fact that McGee won it from a Brazilian playboy during a 30-hour poker game with "four pink ones and a stranger down." The boat is equipped with a special security system that alerts McGee the instant anyone steps on board.

On land, McGee drives Miss Agnes, which is a Rolls Royce converted into a pickup truck. “She is vintage 1936, and apparently some previous owner had some unlikely disaster happen to the upper half of her rear end and solved the problem in an implausible way. Some other idiot had her painted a horrid electric blue. When I found her squatting, shame-faced, in the back row of a gigantic car lot, I bought her at once and named her after a teacher I had in the fourth grade whose hair was that same shade of blue."

At 6-foot-4, McGee is a full foot taller than Hercule Poirot. He buys his clothes from L. L. Bean, not on Savile Row like James Bond. He's gentler than Mike Hammer, and he charges more than Sam Spade. Like Philip Marlowe, he plays chess, and he used to smoke a pipe like Sherlock Holmes.

THERE REALLY IS A BAHIA MAR YACHT BASIN in Fort Lauderdale on Florida's Atlantic side, and people come there looking for Travis McGee. But McGee lives only on the pages of 20 best-selling novels by John D. MacDonald, who lives on the gulf side of Florida and today is widely considered to be one of America's best mystery writers.

About 7,000 people are crowded on Siesta Key, a seven-mile, white-sanded strip in the Gulf of Mexico just offshore from Sarasota. Condominiums, like ice cube trays standing on end, line the beach. The main road is illuminated day and night by nervous neon boasting of high interest rates, large salad bars and free movies with every room. Traffic lights bite off huge chunks of traffic, and impatient drivers lock horns.

An unmarked, gravelly lane escorts invited visitors to the home of John D. MacDonald. The wooden rectangle of the house is supported, stork-like, by 12-foot pilings as thick as telephone poles and laced with huge wooden crossbeams. Two vans, an old Ford and a new Toyota, are parked beneath the house. There is a wraparound veranda with a profusion of hanging plants. A sign on the wooden stairs leading to the veranda warns that the house is protected by an electronic security system.

MacDonald is standing on the gulf side of the veranda, being scolded by a blue jay. He wears blue running shoes, athletic socks, khaki pants and a lemon shirt with epaulets. Both hands are thrust in his side pockets in a diffident gesture. “The pilings underneath are hurricane insurance," he explains. "We could lose maybe five feet of soil here and still be OK.”

Fencing, palm trees and shrubbery afford seclusion for MacDonald. The house is exposed only to the water, and the view is relentlessly picturesque. A gentle surf spreads white lace on the sand, and faraway sailboats inhale the wind. “Privacy is so damned valuable for a writer. How can you observe anything when you're observed yourself?

“We spend our summers at a camp in the Adirondacks on land that we bought with money I won in an overseas poker game," he says. "We still like Sarasota, but it's not like it used to be. The air used to smell like orange blossoms. Now when the wind is right, it smells like a robot's armpit.”

SINCE HE BEGAN WRITING FOUR DECADES ago, the 68-year-old MacDonald has turned out about 600 stories and 75 books - all but two of which are still in print. His books have sold 90 million copies, and it is estimated that 8,000 MacDonalds are sold every day.

In addition to the McGee series, MacDonald has written dozens of suspense novels, such best-selling non-suspense books as Condominium, One More Sunday, and The House Guests, a tribute to his cats; and No Deadly Drug, a nonfiction account of the Coppolino murder trial in New Jersey that for several years was required reading at the Harvard Law School.

MacDonald is one of the few American mystery writers to win France's coveted Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, and he is the recipient of the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America (others are Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner and Graham Greene). MacDonald is probably the first mystery writer since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to have an active fan club, and his admirers have included Norman Mailer, Orson Welles, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Marlene Dietrich, Ian Fleming and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who predicts that "to diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald will be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.” Carol Brener, owner of Murder Ink, the mystery specialty bookstore in New York, says MacDonald is her best-selling author. "We keep every one of his titles in stock, and I'd have to say that John MacDonald helps pay the rent around here."

But despite his prodigious sales and the continuing popularity of Travis McGee, MacDonald's name is not instantly recognizable by most Americans. Fate conspired in this by naming him MacDonald (other contemporary mystery writers are Gregory McDonald, Philip MacDonald and the late Ross Macdonald, whose real name was Kenneth Millar). John Dann MacDonald eschews celebrity by being as devious as any of his fictional villains in preserving his privacy. He avoids New York City, interviews and talk shows. He dislikes being recognized by strangers (he has been known to appear in public with a sign reading TYPHOID CASE), and he deliberately has out-of-date pictures published with his books.

For most of his career, MacDonald was ignored by the critics and labeled a mere purveyor of drugstore fiction. But recently many of his early paperback works have been reissued in hardback, two volumes of his vintage short stories have been published, and he has begun to receive the serious attention that is warranted by the bearer of a torch lit more than 60 years ago by Dashiell Hammett.

THE TROPICAL HEAT AND THE AIR CONDITIONING are battling to a draw aboard the Busted Flush, and McGee reaches into the stainless steel cooler for a beer. "I always buy the brands with the pull tabs," he explains. "You stare at the tab, think deep thoughts about progress, advertising, modern living, cultural advances, and then turn the can upside down and open it with a can opener.”

McGee, as portrayed in MacDonald's mysteries, is an intense physical fitness buff and a moderate drinker. His spirituous tastes now center on martinis made with Boodles gin. During much of his career, he favored England's Plymouth gin, but he gave it up after they began bottling it in New Jersey and changed the taste.

"There is something self-destructive about Western technology and distribution. Whenever a consumer object is so excellent that it attracts a devoted following, some of the slide-rule and computer types come in on their twinkle toes and take over the store, and in a trice they figure out just how far they can cut quality and still increase the market penetration. Their reasoning is that it is idiotic to make and sell a hundred thousand units of something and make a profit of 30 cents a unit, when you can increase the advertising, sell five million units, and make a nickel profit a unit. Thus, the very good things of the world go down the drain, from honest turkey to honest eggs to honest tomatoes."

McGee, who is wearing ratty old woolen slacks and a Norm Thompson flannel shirt faded to a sky blue, fixates on a Syd Solomon painting hanging on the wall of the stateroom and is asked whether he considers himself a private detective.

"Me? No. Those people have to have licenses and be bonded and carry insurance and report to the law people wherever they go. They charge fees and have office phones and all that. I just do favors for friends. Sort of salvage work."

Specifically, McGee is a salvager of private property, on land and sea, and works on a 50 percent contingency fee, which he has been known to waive or reduce if the client is an attractive woman. McGee tracks down villains by a process of elimination – sometimes cerebral, sometimes actual.

TWO OVERWEIGHT CATS PROWL the gymnasium-size living room of the MacDonald home. A large picture window is filled with the emerald meadows of the gulf, and the walls are covered with paintings by Syd Solomon and Dorothy Prentiss MacDonald, the author's wife of 45 years. “The living room is so big because we only have one bedroom." MacDonald says. “You have more than one bedroom in Florida, you get house guests."

Off the living room is a downstairs office, where MacDonald does most of his writing. It holds a beige IBM word processor, a printer with a paper tractor feed and silencing cover, and hundreds of books.

"Simenon, that old master, had it right, you know. He said that if people want to know about me, they ought to read my books. And then if they want to know more about me, they should read more of my books.

"I enjoy the hell out of writing because of the rare times when it really works good. It's like an Easter egg hunt. Here's 50 pages, and you say, 'Oh, Christ, where is it?' Then on the 51st page, it'll work. Just the way you wanted it to, a little better than anything in that same area ever worked before. You say, 'Wow! This is worth the price of admission.' People who claim to endure agonies during the process of creation should find other lines of work.

“I start work every day around 9 with scut stuff like letters and bills just to get my head cleared. After about 45 minutes of that, I start writing and go through to about 6 with a short break for lunch. I am a news junkie, so I watch the evening news, and then Dorothy and I have a quiet dinner.”

The 21st book in the McGee series, The Lonely Silver Rain, will be in bookstores this month and is a Literary Guild selection. MacDonald is working on McGee No. 22. Other simultaneous projects are a novel about two Florida real estate partners who break up and suffer postpartum depression, and a possible book involving a long exchange of letters that MacDonald had with Dan Rowan, the comedian. “I'm not sure this will make a book that has an audience, but some of the stuff is real funny, and a lot of it is interesting. One of the classics is me writing to him and saying, 'Dan, I don't think a weekly Laugh-In Show is going to work at all.'"

MacDonald admits to a certain uneasiness over living and working in an area where most people his age have retired. "All these old people are irritating to me in a sense. It used to be that Sarasota had lots of writers and artists. It still does, but they're a much smaller percentage of the total community. Here I keep working while all around me, the place is filling up with geriatrics. I went to the movies last night, and the girl in the ticket booth assumed I got the senior citizen discount. I told her, 'Hell, no! I'm an old man, but I'm not a senior citizen.'

“The truth is that 95 percent of the world is pretty dumb, but when you're young you can hide it with your clothes, your job and just sort of knowing the right things to say and do. But after age 60, you've got no way to conceal it."

MacDONALD WAS BORN IN SHARON, PA., NEAR the Ohio border, but his father, a businessman, soon moved to Utica, N.Y. At the age of 12, MacDonald suffered a lengthy bout with scarlet fever and developed an avocation that he would practice nearly every day for the rest of his life – reading. Today he is scornful of nonreading Americans. “They sit with their minds turned off, so they won't have to use any mental energy decoding those black marks on the paper, and watch some picture on TV that gives them the story minus work. But there is no growth without effort."

He entered the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in 1934, but he dropped out in his sophomore year because he was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life. Three months later, he enrolled in Syracuse University and received a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1938. He graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1939. MacDonald was fired from jobs with an investment house and an insurance company ("apparently, they didn't size me up as a future member of the board of directors"), and his rapid descent in the business world was interrupted when he joined the Army in 1940.

He became a member of the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) and was assigned to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he says his duties were more housekeeping than cloak-and-dagger. He lived in a bungalow, had eight servants, two chauffeured cars, a motorcycle, a converted B-25 bomber for air travel, several secretaries, and a liquor ration. In 1944, he mailed a 2,000-word story home to his wife, Dorothy, who did some editing, typed it and mailed it to Story Magazine, which bought it for $25.

He was discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1946, and armed with four months of Army pay for unused leave time, he began writing 14 hours a day. He estimates that he churned out 800,000 words in short stories, lost 20 pounds and collected 1,000 rejection slips. In the fifth month, he sold a story to Dime Detective for $40, and for the next three years he published an average of a story a week - some in such magazines as Esquire, Collier's and Cosmopolitan, but mostly in the "pulps, such as Dime Detective, The Shadow and the legendary Black Mask, which decades before had been launching pads for Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. MacDonald's first novel, The Brass Cupcake, was published in 1950, and since then he has written everything except a rubber check — though he is, of course, most famous for fathering Travis McGee.

VERY LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT TRAVIS McGee's past, except that he sold cars as a youth, served as an NCO in the Korean War, and played college and professional football until a linebacker for the Detroit Lions named DiCosola ended his career by injuring him. McGee had a brother who was swindled out of his money and committed suicide - a trauma that appears to have motivated McGee to devote the working part of his life to rooting out greed, corruption and social putrescence. Like his counterparts, McGee seems to age at about one-third the normal rate, and since he was created 20 years ago, he has remained somewhere between 40 and 50.

“I retire whenever I can afford it,” says McGee. "When the money is gone, I go back to work. Salvage work. Retirement comes when you are too old to enjoy it completely, so I take some of mine whenever I can. What good are beaches without beach bums?"

McGee does well by doing good, and the Internal Revenue Service would be interested to know that he keeps his money, all in cash, in a secret water-filled compartment below the water line of the Busted Flush. From time to time, McGee has also been known to bring aboard for extended periods of time female visitors - almost all of whom are astonishingly attractive and tall and therefore appreciative of one of the Busted Flush's most unique accoutrements — its 7-by4-foot pale-blue bathtub.

“I happen to think they are people," McGee says, a trifle defensively. "Not cute objects. I think that people hurting people is original sin. To score for the sake of scoring diminishes a man. I can't value a woman who won't value herself. McGee's Credo. That's why they won't give me a Playboy card. I won't romp with the bunnies. If there's no pain and no loss, it's only recreational, and we can leave it to the minks.

"The biggest and most important thing in the world is to be together with someone in a way that makes life a little less bleak and solitary and lonesome. To exchange the I for the We. In the biggest sense of the word, it's cold outside. And kindness and affection and gentleness build a nice warm fire inside."

McGee is interrupted by the appearance of his closest friend, Meyer. ...

THERE IS A SECOND OFFICE UPSTAIRS in the MacDonald house, and it has more books, including Waterways Guide and Boats and the Law. MacDonald humps his shoulders like a roosted bird and says that when he decided to write the McGee series, he agonized over a name for his hero.

"I liked McGee for a last name, and I have a fondness for geographical first names, like Tennessee Williams and Vermont Royster, so I originally chose Dallas McGee. But then there was an assassination in Dallas, and the name acquired a certain unpopular resonance, so I dropped it. The late Mackinlay Kantor, who lived in Sarasota and was my friend, said he liked the names of Air Force bases, and so I named him after the base in California.

"I wrote two McGees and shelved them because they weren't right. The third one worked."

The first Travis McGee adventure appeared in 1964 under the title of The Deep Blue Good-Bye, and each of its 20 successors has had a color in its title - a device that MacDonald says helps readers avoid buying the same book twice, which is a common error among serial mystery fans. “I don't decide on the color and the title until I'm finished writing. Then I go back and look for an appropriate passage to hang it on.” McGee originally was a paperback hero, but his popularity has been so great that the latest books have been issued first in hard-cover, and all of the early volumes now have been reissued in hard-cover.

MacDonald says that when he begins a mystery, he doesn't know how it will end, "and the book becomes an adventure for me as well as the reader.” MacDonald likens writing a series to creating a folk dance, "where you have to invent new steps without changing the basic pattern."

His plots are more concerned with whydidit than whodunit, and MacDonald takes great care in developing minor characters. The McGee series is packed with editorials and instructional material, ranging from the treatment of chigger bites to open-heart surgery. As one would expect from a Harvard MBA, there is a lot of business intrigue in the McGee books. They are filled with expert descriptions of chess, stamp collecting and photography - all of which interest MacDonald in his personal life. Many of the McGee plots turn on traffic accidents, and MacDonald's descriptions are detailed and horrifying. He studies police accident files
and goes to universities where research is being conducted on traffic fatalities.

"I do not write cheesy little potboilers, phony dragnets with nothing in them but action,” says MacDonald. “It's got to have some bonds, some basic human relationships. That's my last ethical stand.”

MacDonald has had a bittersweet relationship with Hollywood. He liked the Gregory Peck / Robert Mitchum film Cape Fear, which was based on his 1958 novel, The Executioners. But he pronounced the film version of his Darker Than Amber to be "feral, cheap, rotten, gratuitously meretricious, shallow and embarrassing."

Because the McGee series is written in the first person, the character of Meyer, McGee's best friend, is important because it keeps to a minimum McGee's internal monologues.

MEYER'S FIRST NAME IS RARELY MENTIONED, and MacDonald says it will never be mentioned again. Only the most unbalanced of McGee fans know it's Ludwig. Meyer lives 70 yards away from McGee at Bahia Mar. For the first 19 McGee adventures, Meyer's cabin cruiser was named the John Maynard Keynes, but it was blown up by the villain of No. 20, Cinnamon Skin, and now Meyer lives aboard the Thorstein Veblen. Meyer says he chose to name his boat after the economist-sociologist, who developed theories on conspicuous consumption, because "it will be utterly meaningless to everyone who graduated from high school in the past 20 years."

By training, Meyer is an economist, and he invests and writes articles for incomprehensible journals. On his business cards, Meyer lists himself as a "certified guarantor.” But he spends most of his time accompanying McGee on his salvage operations and occasionally rescuing him from certain death.

McGee marvels at Meyer's hairiness (little thatches of black hair between every knuckle, a blackbird's nest at the neck of his T-shirt, and a blue sheen on his jaws after a close shave) and his ability to get along with people. "You can watch the Meyer Magic at work and not know how it's done,” McGee says. "He has the size and pelt of the average Adirondack black bear. He can walk a beach, go into any bar, cross any playground and acquire people the way blue serge picks up lint, and the new friends believe they have known him forever. Strangers tell him things they have never told their husband or their priest."

While McGee is a practical intellectual - a sort of hard-boiled egghead – Meyer's cerebral edges are more rounded and complete. Meyer picks up where McGee's intellect leaves off — as when he corrects McGee's statement that someone who died in an explosion "never knew what hit him.”

"Nothing can happen so fast that there is not a micro-instant of realization," says Meyer. “Each nerve cell in the brain can make contact with three hundred thousand other cells, using its hundreds of branches, each branch with hundreds of terminals, and with electrical impulses linking cell to cell. Ten trillion cells, Travis, exchanging coded information every instant. The brain has time to release the news of its own dissolution, time to factor a few questions about why, what, who ... and what is happening to me? Perhaps a month of mortal illness is condensed into one thousandth of a second, insofar as self-realization is concerned. We're each expert on our own death."

A favorite topic of commiseration between the two friends is the great terrain robbery in Florida by developers.

“The rivers and swamps are dying, the birds are dying, the fish are dying," laments McGee. "They're paving the whole state. And the people who give a damn can't be heard. The developers make big campaign contributions. And there isn't enough public money to treat sewage."

Meyer agrees and takes it further. "Florida can never really come to grips with saving the environment because a very large percentage of the population at any given time just got here. So why would they fight to turn back the clock? It looks great to them the way it is. Two years later, as they are beginning to feel uneasy, a few thousand more people are just discovering it for the first time and wouldn't change a thing. And meanwhile, the people who knew what it was like 20 years ago are an ever-dwindling minority, a voice too faint to be heard."

Meyer believes that the eighth deadly sin is to be boring, and he defines a bore as “a person who deprives you of your solitude without providing you with company."

A MOUNTED SCALE MODEL of Miss Agnes sits on the bookshelf in MacDonald's upstairs office.

"Two guys from California, brothers, I think, sent that to me a couple of years ago. They did a great job on building, but a terrible job packing it, and it arrived here in about 64 pieces. We managed to patch it up."

MacDonald often gets letters, forwarded to him by the Fort Lauderdale Post Office, that are addressed to Travis McGee, Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Yacht Basin. Graduate students write theses on MacDonald and McGee, and collectors try to amass copies of MacDonald's books and his many magazine short stories.

"I'm a little bemused and flattered by all this attention," says MacDonald, "and I'm not sure I understand it."

The fictional detective approaches the status of an institution in America and England. Edgar Allan Poe is widely hailed as the father of the mystery genre with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," published in 1841. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the form in 1887 when he created Sherlock Holmes. Dashiell Hammett spiced the form with reality in the 1920s with the creations of the Continental Op and Sam Spade.

W. Russel Gray, a communications professor at Delaware County Community College in Media, recently delivered a paper to the Midwest Popular Culture Conference on the detective genre. “McGee, perhaps the very best of the private eyes still operative," he wrote, "offers us an illuminating corollary to dark reality: Society resists reform, and its corruption is never completely eradicable; the hero wins by not succumbing to it."

Like Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, there is a Travis McGee Fan Club, whose members get a “Me and Travis McGee" button and a subscription to the JDM Bibliophile, which has been published since 1965 and has a subscription list of about 3,000. Each issue contains reprints of articles on McGee and MacDonald from other publications, a classified section for collectors, at least one new article by MacDonald himself, and a plethora of McGee arcana (a recent offering was a 2,000-word memoir by someone who knew the "real Travis" – that is, Brig. Gen. Robert F. Travis, for whom the Air Force base is named)

The JDM Bibliophile comes out every six months and costs $5 a year. It is edited by Edgar Hirshberg, a professor of English at the University of South Florida in Tampa (ZIP code 33620), whose biography of MacDonald is scheduled to be published in September by the Twayne U.S. Author Series.

Hirshberg, a close friend of MacDonald, has no doubts about why McGee is so popular: “He's the kind of guy every man wants to be but can't - an impossible combination of sex appeal, strength, intellect, freedom and tenderness.”

What kind of a person reads Travis McGee? When Harper & Row published Cinnamon Skin in 1982, the publishing house included in 100,000 copies a questionnaire seeking information about the buyers. It got 40,000 responses, and it turns out that McGee fans had an average family income of $40,000 (a third were more than $50,000), most of the readers were between the ages of 30 and 50, and there was a high percentage of educators, lawyers and doctors.

The question most asked of MacDonald, and the most pointless, is whether McGee is his alter ego. “I'm not going to have McGee say something I disagree with totally,” he says. “We're going to be on the same side of the street, but not walking at the same pace. McGee sees the world in black and white. I see more grays."

MacDonald gazes out the window at the scrawling signature of the shoreline and says that another part of his hero's appeal is believability. "When I started writing the series, there was one editor who insisted that McGee ought to win more often than he does. I fought him on this and finally won. He's also believable because he feels out of place with the modern world. If McGee wants to park his car, I have him drive around a while looking for a space, ruminating all the time on why he shouldn't have to do this. This sort of thing strikes a resonant chord with a lot of people."

MacDonald often is criticized by his fans for having McGee's loves die at the end of the book. “But if I didn't kill off the ladies," he says, "the Busted Flush would sink under their weight.”

ABOARD THE BUSTED FLUSH, McGee is listening to the Columbia recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Shostakovich Fifth, and his Fisher amplifier is driving the two AR-3 speakers very nicely. The music makes him pensive.

"If I were king of the world, I would roam my kingdom in rags, incognito, dropping fortunes onto the people who are nice with no special reason to be nice, and having my troops lop off the heads of the mean, small, embittered little bastards who try to inflate their self-esteem by stomping on yours. I would start the lopping among post office employees, bank tellers, bus drivers and pharmacists. I would go on to checkout clerks, bellboys, prowl-car cops, telephone operators and U.S Embassy clerks. By God, there would be so many heads rolling here and there, the world would look like a berserk bowling alley. Meyer says this shows a tad of hostility."

Will the developers ever drive him from Florida? "Tacky though Florida might be, its fate uncertain, too much of its destiny in the hands of men whose sole thought is to grab the money and run, cheap little city politicians with blow-dried hair, ice-eyed old men from the North with devout claims about their duties to their shareholders, big-rumped good-old boys from the cattle counties with their fingers in the till right up to their cologned armpits - it is still my place in their world. It is where I am and where I will stay, right up to the point where the Neptune Society sprinkles me into the dilute sewage off the Fun Coast.”

McGee, ever close to danger and death, ponders them both often.

"It is my fate and my flaw to have learned long ago that this is what I am about. This is when I am alive and know it most completely. Every sense is honed by the knowledge of the imminence of death.

"My luck will run out. Maybe not this time. Or the next time. Sometime, though. And like everybody else, I will go down with that universal plea blazing in the back of my mind. 'Not me! Not yet! Wait!”

BUT IT APPEARS THAT Travis McGee will go on righting wrongs as long as John MacDonald goes on writing books, getting wizened and wiser in the process. It has been widely reported that MacDonald keeps in his safe an unpublished manuscript, titled Black Border for McGee, in which his hero dies. MacDonald, raising his eyebrows and forgetting them on his forehead for a moment, says it's not true.

"I promulgated that idea some years ago because I found it useful in bargaining with publishers. I haven't killed off McGee. On the other hand, it wouldn't take me a hell of a long time to make such a book exist.

"Given the fact that all McGee is written in the first person, there would be certain problems in getting rid of him, though. I guess I'd have to have him say, 'They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. ...'

"Besides, why would I kill him off?" MacDonald asks, placing his feet on the desk and lacing his fingers behind his head. "He's allowed me to live in a style to which Travis McGee is accustomed."