Monday, January 26, 2015

Short Stories by John D MacDonald

This morning I’m launching a new reference tool in the Trap of Solid Gold Resources box on the right hand column of this blog. It is a listing of all of the published short stories and novellas written by John D MacDonald listed in chronological order, from “Conversation on Deck” to “Bimini Kill.” It is, I believe, the most comprehensive, detailed and accurate listing available anywhere.

My primary reference is, of course, Walter and Jean Shine’s 1980 work A Bibliography of the Published Works of John D MacDonald, which was an expansion of Len and June Moffatt’s 1969 The JDM Master Checklist. There was no second edition of the Shine work, so corrections and additions were culled from various issues of the JDM Bibliophile, the bi-annual journal that focused on JDM’s work and where both the Shines and the Moffatts had regular columns. I’ve also used information found in the JDM Collection Finding Guide, but there is an error or two there as well. Finally, 40 years of collecting these works, either in their original magazine form or in subsequent anthologies, has allowed me to eliminate several question marks that were left unanswered by Walter Shine before his death in 1997. I’d like to think that Walter would be happy with this list.

So what exactly does this page contain? It is a listing of every work of short fiction written by John D MacDonald and published in either a periodical or anthology. It contains only the first appearance of each story, although many were reprinted in other magazines. Each entry contains the following:

  • Story title as it appeared in the publication
  • Name and issue date of the publication
  • MacDonald’s original title when it was changed by an editor
  • The name of MacDonald’s pseudonym when one was used
  • The word count of the story, obtained from MacDonald’s original manuscripts
  • A link to a Trap of Solid Gold essay on that particular story when one exists

What I have not included, in addition to reprints, are the novels that appeared in either condensed or serialized form in magazines, with two exceptions: “Wine of the Dreamers” and “My Brother’s Widow” (Area of Suspicion). Both stories originally appeared in magazines as stand-alone novels and were later rewritten and published in book form. Simply put, if it appeared in print and didn’t also appear as a JDM novel (the two examples excepted), it’s on the list.

Most of these are magazines, but in three cases MacDonald short stories appeared for the first and only time in original anthologies edited by others: “The Accomplice” (Who Done It?), “Incubation” (Future Tense) and “The Reference Room” (With Malice Toward All). Then there are the short stories and novellas that first appeared in MacDonald’s own anthologies: “Linda” (Border Town Girl), “The Random Noise of Love,” “The Willow Pool,” and “Woodchuck” (all from S*E*V*E*N). There’s “The Spiralled Myth,” which was published in a writers’ prozine, and the quibble of “Triangle,” which appeared in both MacDonald’s anthology End of the Tiger and Other Stories and in Cavalier the very same month. I’ve listed that story under Cavalier.

Then there are the handful of stories that have never been found, although they were sold and MacDonald received payment for them. When the Bibliography was first written there were eleven of them, but three were subsequently located. That leaves the following, most of them sold to sports pulps, listed under MacDonald’s own title.

  • “Big League Busher,” a sports story sold to Popular Publications in 1951
  • “Crooked Circle,” a sports story sold to Fiction House in 1947
  • “The Gentle Killer,” a mystery story sold to Columbia Publications in 1947
  • “Identification,” sold to Author’s Guild Bulletin in 1952
  • “Spell for a Princess,” details unknown
  • “Successful Season,” a sports story sold to Popular Publications in 1948
  • “That Old Grey Train,” a sports story sold to Columbia Publications in 1947
  • “Death of a Dealer” sold to This Week Magazine in 1956

It is quite possible that some or all of these stories appeared under other titles, but it is unlikely they were published under pseudonyms, if they were published at all. The years 1947 and 1948 were a time when the author and his family were living in Mexico and his recordkeeping was not perfect during this period. It’s possible they never were sold at all.

I’ll take the blame for any errors on this list and will gladly correct them if I can confirm them, but the work of putting this list together in a readable form is, once again, thanks to the hard work of J.J. Walters, a Trap of Solid Gold reader who generously volunteered his time and skill, and who was also responsible for the Books by John D Macdonald webpage. Thank you J.J.

Finally, the careful reader will note that the total number of stories on this list is 391, far short of the 500, or even 600 stories MacDonald is purported to have written and published. For that particular argument, see my posting “How Many Stories Did John D MacDonald Write?” which is also accessible via the Resources box on the right.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Murder in Mind"

John D MacDonald once claimed that he had never written about a place that he had not once lived in or visited. Science fiction stories notwithstanding, this would -- if true -- cover a lot of ground. The careful student of the author’s work and biography can see through a lot of the fictional towns, cities and rural locals as matching places where he grew up, lived, fought and vacationed. There are the rust belt cities of the northeast that are featured in many of his early novels, all stand-ins for Utica, Rochester, Fayetteville, Albany or Syracuse, New York. There’s Mexico, of The Damned, The Empty Trap and “Border Town Girl.” And of course there’s Florida, with several thinly disguised versions of Sarasota (April Evil) and Clearwater (The Brass Cupcake).

But if one remembers that the MacDonald family owned lakeside property in a very remote section of the Adirondacks along the shores of Piseco Lake, another vast set of locales is added to the mix. Purchased in 1944 by Dorothy MacDonald, using funds husband John won in a poker game while stationed in Ceylon during the war, an actual residence wasn’t built on the property until 1951. From that year on the MacDonald family spent nearly every summer in their Piseco Lake “camp,” and every winter in Florida.

So its no surprise that remote lake house locales figure heavily in the JDM grabbag of settings. I’ve written about this before. They are featured importantly in novels such as Cancel All Our Vows, All These Condemned, You Live Once and Judge Me Not. Lake houses are a place of intrigue in “Betrayed,” murder scenes in “I Always Get the Cuties,” and redemption in “Forever Yours.” From a literary point of view lakes can be idyllically peaceful and reaffirming or menacingly isolated from civilization. In 1948 MacDonald wrote a beautifully conceived set piece that took place entirely in a lakefront setting, one nearly identical to the MacDonald Piesco camp. It was called “Murder in Mind” and it was published in the Winter issue of Mystery Book magazine, a pulp with a somewhat interesting history.

“Murder in Mind” can be classified as one of MacDonald’s “howdunits,” although it also works as a rare JDM whodunit. Howdunits  typically involve a crime committed in a way that either defies explanation or seems cut-and-dried, but is in fact an elaborately designed masterplan created to make discovery impossible. Impossible, that is, until one of MacDonald’s typically bright and driven protagonists comes along and solves the puzzle.

The relatively brief short story is told in first person by a police detective the reader knows only as Joe. Joe is a county cop and works out of the village of Hoffwalker (a stand-in for Speculator, the county seat of Hamilton County, which contains Piseco Lake.) His senior partner is detective Burt Stanleyson, who has just been called by a man vacationing at a camp on Lake Odega, telling him that his wife has just been killed by a stray shot from a hunter coming from the opposite shore of the lake.

It is late autumn and trees around the lake are “stripped naked.” The camps that dot the shore of Lake Odega are mostly vacant now and the only activity that brings people up here at this time of the year is hunting. That is what brought Ralph Bennison and his now-dead wife Alice to the lake, to rent the Tyler camp for a week and to try out Ralph’s new Remington. When the cops and Ralph arrive they find Alice lying where she fell, dead on her back in the middle of a trail.

There were streaks of drying mud on the right sleeve of her pale yellow sweater. There was more mud on her freckled right arm. Death had flattened her body to the ground. Her tweed skirt was pushed up halfway between knee and hip. Her heels rested in the mud and her brown sandals toed in… The chill wind off the lake hurried the dry brown leaves across the trail. A leaf had stuck to her hair over the right temple, where the hair was sticky with new blood.

As Ralph Bennison sits on a log with his face in his hands, Burt Stanleyson stands over the body while Joe observes the two men. He notices their similarities -- both are big men -- but contrasts Burt’s wrinkled gray suit and manner of confidence in a wooded setting to Ralph’s department store wool hunting shirt and his matching breeches and high shoes. “He had the city label on him, all the way from his big shiny fingernails to the bright new leather of his knife sheath.”

When Ralph asks bitterly why the two cops aren't on the other side of the lake looking for the hunter who fired the shot, Burt says nothing and leans down to look closely at the bullet wound. He also lowers the skirt to cover Alice's knees. Ralph continues, explaining in detail how everything happened.

"Look here," he said. "Alice and I were walking down the trail with the lake at our right. She was ahead of me. The trail is muddy and uneven, and I was watching my feet, like I told you. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her fall on her face. I jumped toward her, thinking that she had tripped. As I jumped, I heard a distant noise like a shot. I rolled her over and held her head in my arms. I saw she was dead, and realized that she had been killed by a stray shot. Then I came after you. Why aren't you after those people across the lake?"

Burt patiently explains that it is late in the day and that trying to round up two dozen hunters at that hour would be nearly impossible. Besides, nobody would admit to firing across the lake. Then there’s the time and expense of doing ballistics testing on all of their rifles. Burt thinks that the best thing to do is to play up the publicity and hope that “some man’s conscience will punish him.”

He asks Ralph about the reason for their trip to Lake Odega and asks, since they were up here to hunt, if they brought two guns. No, answers Ralph, only the one. Why then, wonders Burt, does Alice have a bruise under her eye, as if a gun stock had hit her there on recoil. Ralph tells Burt that she did some target practice behind the cabin and pulls back her sweater to show the cops a purple bruise on her right shoulder. By this time Joe is completely confused as to Burt’s demeanor and line of questioning. If the senior cop was inferring that Ralph may have shot his own wife, that would seem impossible, as the wound indicated that the shot came from a great distance. Burt then asks some personal questions.

Burt: “What’s your business?”

Ralph: “Well… nothing at the moment. I used to be in the investment business.”

Burt: “Married a gal with money, hey?”

Ralph: “Look here, Stanleyson, I resent this questioning. What’s that got to do with finding out which one of the hunters across the lake shot her?”

Burt: “Then she did have money?”

Ralph: “Suppose she did? We both had money.”

Burt sighs and looks up at a tree, then walks down to the shore of the lake and stares “moodily at the water.”

OK, this is not really much of a whodunit. With the fact that there are only three living characters in the story, and two of them are policemen, the title alone (remarkably it’s MacDonald’s original) should give things away. And beware of a MacDonald character who is unemployed and living off his wife’s money! I suppose the question was never intended to be about guilt but about the way things were planned. The story ends with two full pages of Burt and Joe chatting over a couple of glasses of bourbon, with Joe asking questions and Burt explaining things. Everything makes perfect sense when coming out of the mouth of the older cop, and when one goes back to reread the story, obvious clues are found in abundance.

MacDonald wrote lots of stories just like “Murder in Mind,” tales of involved crimes and their unwinding. They include “The Bullets Lied,” “I Always Get the Cuties,” “There Hangs Death!,” “Black Cat in the Snow,” and best of all, “The Homesick Buick.” “Black Cat in the Snow” even uses a nearly identical setting as “Murder in Mind.” Many of the solutions involve ballistics, not surprising coming from the son of an executive of an arms manufacturer. And many others use the framing device of the junior, observing narrator and the wiser senior partner who acts in a placid, confusing manner, only to be proven the wise man in the end. Not uniquely MacDonald, to be sure, but one he loved to use and reuse. “Murder in Mind” is one of the earliest example of all of these literary “types.”

The story was anthologized in MacDonald’s first mystery pulp collection, The Good Old Stuff, which is available used nearly anywhere one looks for used books, and is now for sale as an eBook. Thankfully there was nothing to “update” in this particular story, so one can read it and picture an upstate wilderness in 1948, not 1982.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Judith Merril on JDM

Science fiction writer Judith Merril began her s-f career in 1948 with the publication of the short story “That Only a Mother” in the June issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Called by some of her contemporaries as “The Little Mother of Science Fiction,” Merril went on to pen four novels and several dozen shorter works. She served as editor of many anthologies, including twelve years worth of the annual Years Best SF volumes. She was politically active all of her adult life, first as a Zionist, then a Marxist, finally as a Trotskyist. And she loved the works of John D MacDonald.

Go figure...

MacDonald’s 1950 s-f story “The Big Contest” was selected by Merril for one of her earliest anthologies, titled Human?, which was published in 1954.

In 1965 she began writing the book review column for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a position she would hold for the next four years. In one of her earliest columns, appearing in the November ‘65 issue, she reviewed MacDonald’s three year old novel The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything, which gave her a nice excuse to expound her love of the author’s works. She begins her column by discussing her definition of what constitutes a “serious” novel:

Serious is not a word to bandy lightly. I am not talking about the publishers' kind of "serious," interchangeable with "prestige;" nor the critics' "serious," which is somewhere between "worthy" and "impressive;" nor the casual reader's "serious," roughly synonymous with "dull." I have in mind the writer's meaning: "important" -- to the writer.

I suppose all the shadings actually relate to "message" or theme. When a writer has something to say that is important (to him) he is serious about the writing of it. The critic takes it seriously if the writer manages to impress him with the worth of the statement... But I am quite sure about the casual reader's meaning: when the message obtrudes to the point of obscuring the action, the book is too serious.

It is the writer's kind of serious I am using here. Every one of the eight novels stacked in front of me [to be reviewed this month] is at least technically "light fiction;" they are action stories, adventures, thrillers. Yet all of them are vehicles for thematic statements and/or ethical explorations of utmost seriousness. One might almost entertain the hopes that writers (in s-f, at least) are giving new consideration to the quaint old notion that the best way to instruct is to entertain. And if seven out of eight do not quite bring off the double effort -- well, perhaps that is why they are "summer books;" and none fail entirely; and besides, there is only one John D MacDonald.

The MacDonald entry is not actually one of this summer's crop, but a reissue of The Girl, The Gold Watch, & Everything, which somehow missed being reviewed here when it first appeared. I am, frankly, pleased that the chance now falls to me: the opportunity to discuss MacDonald in an s-f column is all too rare.

The first MacDonald story I remember reading was "A Child is Crying." Since then I have read everything of his I've seen: short stories and perhaps thirty or forty novels: mysteries, suspense, sex thrillers, satires, and, infrequently, fantasy and science fiction. I have never read a bad one; and though I recall only one book that had the trappings of the officially-serious novel I cannot recall more than two or three that seemed to me to have been written unseriously.

The Girl, The Gold Watch, & Everything is the first full-length MacDonald s-f since The Planet of the Dreamers*, but he is not only one of the best s-f writers when he does it- he thinks like one no matter what he's writing.

MacDonald's characters do not live in the never-never land of most popular fiction. They inhabit the familiar world of machinery and motels, political upheavals and realty scandals, syndicates and supermarkets, conventions and court orders, automobile accidents, road repairs, floods and storms and fires and swamps, urban renewals and rural electrifications. They not only inhabit this world; they live with it: their problems come out of it and they must cope with it somehow to find their solutions. Inevitably, the characters themselves are genuinely contemporary, with mores and morals and methods recognizably similar to yours and mine and the people's next door.

I do not for a moment intend to say that MacDonald is a “realist" of the camera variety, painstakingly, painfully, recording the ordinariness of the ordinary. On the contrary: he is a storyteller in the grand style, a singer of bright romances, bold adventures, deep tragedies and high humor. He selects the unusual and colorful to write about -- but the selection is made from the richness of choice offered by the complexity and excitement of the world we live in. His heroes are almost always muscular and competent, his heroines beautiful and loving -- but masculine competence is technical as well as physiological, and feminine tenderness expresses itself as generously in bed as in the kitchen. He writes fastmoving yarns about situations charged with conflict and suspense -- but behind it all is an informed and thoughtful comprehension of the forces (natural, technological, political, economic) actually at work in our society, out of which the drama emerges.

And just every now and then, he also writes a gleefully balloon-bursting, pomposity-pricking farce. The Girl, The Gold Watch, & Everything is one of these -- to start with. (The Miami Scene, with settings straight out of musical extravaganza; beaches and bikinis, yachts and motels, conventioneers and arty-parties; plus the slinkiest villainess since Caniff stopped doing the Dragon Lady, the sturdiest secretary since Winnie Winkle got married, and the bounciest hillbilly since Daisy Mae.) It is also a solid science-fantasy, with some fine detail-work attached to the Gold Watch Gimmick. And (like it says in the title) it has at least a touch of just about everything MacDonald does best: cops-and-robbers, shipboard stuff, financial intrigue, slugfests, suspense-and-pursuit, and several varieties of plain and fancy sex.

Did I mention that under the antics this is a serious book?

*The paperback reissue of Wine of the Dreamers under its original title would not occur until 1968.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Last week’s piece on The Executioners was one of the longest blog postings I have ever done on The Trap of Solid Gold, an essay that took me over a month to research and write. Logging in at nearly 7,000 words, it would have been even longer had I not done some last minute editing. One of the sections I cut was a discussion on MacDonald’s author bio in the October issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, where the novel was serialized before being published in book form. After some reconsideration, I thought that these comments may prove interesting to the readers of John D MacDonald, so I dug them up and present them here, in a more digestible form that won’t even come close to 7,000 words.

In the magazine’s “Journalities” section -- that portion of the issue where brief background bits on some of that particular issue’s contributors are given -- MacDonald is at the top of the list. It contains a few factoids that bear scrutiny. First is the author’s contention that “he has written thirty books and nearly 500 short stories,” a statement that is clearly wrong. By October 1957 he had published only 24 books, although two more had been written and would appear that December. As for 500 short stories, well, this is a claim that was made so many times during his career that it has taken on the aura of fact, but it is also wrong. Perhaps not wrong if you take the assertion literally, that he had written 500 short stories -- that was certainly true, but by this time in his career he had published “only” 333 stories. (For a take on the real short story count, see my previous posting How Many Short Stories Did JDM Publish?)

Second is the revelation that he had, up to this point in his career, earned “somewhere close to four hundred thousand dollars and saved very little of it.” If true, this figure gives an indication as to just how successful an author JDM was by 1957. Calculated for inflation, $400,000 would be worth nearly $3.4 million dollars today, a nice sum for any family to live on. The MacDonalds owned a beautiful home on Siesta Key in Sarasota (which as you can see, was not just any home). Purchased in 1952, the mortgage on the property was paid off in 1956. How would you like to pay off your mortgage in four years? They owned a beautiful lakehouse in upstate New York, and they added adjoining property to their plot there whenever it became available. The year before The Executioners appeared MacDonald purchased a lot on Manasota Key near Grove City, five acres of land somewhere in North Carolina, and took an option on 100 feet of beachfront property on Siesta Key. He also began construction on an addition to his Point Crisp Road home. So if indeed the MacDonalds had “saved very little” of John’s income, it seems to have been invested wisely.

Third is the statement that four of MacDonald’s novels were “in various stages of preparation in Hollywood.” I wonder what these novels were. I know that one of them was The Damned, which was to have been a film starring Bob Cummings and, possibly, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Cry Hard, Cry Fast became a two-part episode of the television series Run For Your Life, but that wasn’t until 1966. “Linda,” technically a novella, was filmed eventually, twice, but not until much, much later. The first theatrical film from a John D MacDonald novel was 1961’s Man Trap, which was based on the March 1958 novella “Taint of the Tiger.” (It eventually became the novel Soft Touch.) But it hadn’t been published yet. I’m sure that a nice portion of MacDonald’s income was from the film options on these novels, even if they were never produced.

Last is the statement that “on January 23 of 1958, [JDM will] celebrate his twelfth year of writing for a living.” This is a curious date, and one wonders what happened on that day in 1946 to count as the beginning of his career. As students of his biography know, he wrote his first story while overseas during World War II,  as a letter home to his wife Dorothy. This was in 1945, and writing, at this point, was certainly not his living. The date of this story’s acceptance is July 24, 1945. Once stateside, he began writing in earnest from his State Street apartment in Utica in early October of 1945 and wrote hundreds of thousands of unsold words that resulted in nearly a thousand rejection slips. The first two stories that were accepted for publication were “Conversation on Deck” and “The Game,” both by the same magazine, a low-rent affair that didn’t even pay its authors, called The American Courier. The first of these stories appeared in the magazine’s January 1946 issue, but surely MacDonald received his tearsheets before the 23rd.

I’ll make a guess and say that January 23, 1946 was the day he sold his first short story for cash. That story was something he called “Paint on Her Hair,” but was subsequently changed to “Female of the Specie” by editor Mike Tilden and went on to appear in the October issue of Dime Detective.

Unless MacDonald was being as accurate about the date as he was about the number of books and short stories he had published...