Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Approaching 100: John D. MacDonald

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0469-girl-the-gold-watch-and-everything-the-678OK, so on the 24th of this month it will be a century since the birth of John D. MacDonald.
Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania in 1916 (of course), John D. MacDonald was a great genre writer… and you can easily take away that genre bit in there.
John D. MacDonald was a great writer.
He had started in the pulps in the 1940s, and later he moved to Gold Medal, the classic purveyor of paperback originals.
And while he is mainly remembered today for his thrillers, he wrote a number of science fiction stories, and a straight fantasy (today they’d cal it urban fantasy, probably) called The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything.

1960-April-Evil-by-John-D.-MacDonald.-Cover-art-by-Robert-McGinnisI discovered John D. MacDonald through his Travis Mcgee novels, and I was completely hypnotized by his prose, his wry humor, and his formidable dialogues and action scenes.
To me he soon became one of those writers (together with, say, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny and Gene Wolfe) that I read and re-read to learn how to do it better.
You can keep your writing handbooks and your “rules of good writing”, and give me a good John D. MacDonald book. In there, I’ll find everything I need.
It will be easy to feel, hard to spot and imposible to emulate, but all the technique a writer needs is inside John D. MacDonald boks, there for us to learn.
And probably I’ll never be able to do it with the same ease and elegance, but that’s what I am aiming at when I’m writing: MacDonald’s crispness1.

quote-we-were-about-to-give-up-and-call-it-a-night-when-somebody-threw-the-girl-off-the-bridge-john-d-macdonald-35-97-66

And yes, I also loved those Robert McGinnis covers – as I mentioned elsewhere, I started writing because I wanted to tell stories that would deserve covers like those McGinnis painted2.thequickredfox

So, in the next days I’ll probably do a few other posts on MacDonald.

As of now, I’d just like for you to go out there, and get yourself as Travis Mcgee novel, if you missed the experience so far.
And while The Deep Blue Goodbye is the first in the series, I also remember that the first three titles in the series were actually old unsold novels that MacDonald worked into series titles for Gold Medal. They al were published in 1964.
The first all-new Travis McGee novel ever written as a Travis Mcgee novel was The Quick Red Fox(also published in ’64) – and that’s as good a starting point as any other.

And if there’s a John D. MacDonald that your fave, please tell me in the comments – maybe it’s one of the books I’m going to discuss, and if it isn’t maybe it should.


  1. yeah, I know, it sounds like something you order with a side of fries and a medium coke…. 
  2. And if this is not up to somebody else’s holy fire of writing, well, then sue me. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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