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Column for 1.4.12
Anniversaries are good, if you are a writer. Anniversaries give you an excuse to write about something you are interested in but can’t justify writing about.
This is the 25th anniversary of the death of John D. MacDonald, which is how I justify writing about him again. Actually, his exact date of death was 25 years ago on Dec. 28th, but when one is looking for excuses a few days makes no difference.
I’ve written about John D. MacDonald on and off since the 1970s. I enjoy his detective stories, and his non-fiction writing. I also like his take on many things.
And I admire the discipline he brought to his writing. MacDonald wrote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. There were times when he struggled to finish one typewritten page a day. Other days the writing came easier and he cranked out 5,000 words or maybe even 10,000 if it was really flowing.
I also like the fact that he went to the same high school as yours truly. Utica Free Academy, Class of 1933. Him, that is, not me. He earned money as a golf caddy during his high school years. We shared that in common, too.
When he returned to Utica after service as a commissioned officer during World War II, he got a job at City Hall pushing paper full time and writing his short stories and detective stories in his spare time.
Back in 1982 I wrote a newspaper column about John D. MacDonald and his struggles as a beginning writer back in the 1940s. His short stories - all of them - were being rejected.
“He wrote enough to fill 10 books. He sent the stories to publishers who sent them back with rejection letters. The pages of the manuscripts started to get dog-eared and he used an iron on them so he wouldn’t have to retype the manuscripts and mailed them out again. None were bought. He decided the writing was bad and burned it all.”
But he didn’t quit. He kept writing. Eventually his short stories started sell, at least a few of them did. MacDonald earned $6,300 in 1946, a pittance compared to 1952 when he wrote “The Executioners,” a book that netted him $58,000.
Bigger things were to come: best selling novels, movies based on his books, and numerous awards. He eventually became one of this country’s most prolific authors as well as one of the richest. His books are still in print.
Much of John D. MacDonald’s fame and fortune is linked to the private detective he created in 1964, a character named Travis McGee, who would go on to be the hero in 21 mystery stories, all with a color in the title, books that included “Free Fall in Crimson,” and “The Deep Blue Good-by,” and “The Deadly Shade of Gold.”
I have all of John D. MacDonald’s books. Someone who knows of my fondness for all things MacDonald presented me with the collection long ago. All of the books I’ve read at least once. A few I’ve read twice. A couple I’ve read more than that.
John D. MacDonald eventually moved from Oneida County to southern Florida. But he continued to spend his summers at his camp at Piseco Lake.
I’ve used John D. MacDonald as an example in many speeches as someone who achieved a goal and great success because of hard work and a refusal to give up. This example does not, of course, apply just to writers.
So that’s it about John D. MacDonald, at least until I can find another anniversary and another excuse.