East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


John D. MacDonald in Hell

JDMdeskOne of the writers I like the most, and one from whom I learned a lot (or tried to) is John D. MacDonald. I’ve been a fan of his Travis McGee stories for ages.
So you can imagine what happened in my brain when I chanced upon an open call for a very short story for a small publishing house that had two requirements:

  1. A famous writer
  2. His experiences in the afterlife

And so today I skipped lunch and I hammered out a 1500-words story called The Man with the Red-Hot Typewriter.
In which John D. MacDonald finds himself in the Chinese hell. That it’s not that different from Travis McGee’s Florida: hot, damp, and the cops are crooked.

I hope they like it enough to buy it.
I’ve just sent it off, and now it’s just a matter of sitting and waiting.
That, my friends, is hell.

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Miranda (1950)

As I mentioned, this and next week I’ll be doing a few posts about John D. MacDonald.
And because I have to start somewhere, I’ll start with Miranda.
Because Miranda is almost perfect, and it’s one of the scariest things you’ll ever read.


Miranda is a short story MacDonald wrote in 1950 and sold to 15 Mysteries Stories – that, as you can guess, was pretty much what it said on the cover: a 25 cents pulp mag featuring 15 mystery stories.
Nice and smooth.

The mag had been called Dime Mystery Book back in the early 1930s, and later the name had changed to Dime Mystery Magazine, and then in 1950 it had become 15 Mysteries Stories. Continue reading

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Approaching 100: John D. MacDonald

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. Continue reading


Short stories

dahlIn this weird summer that alternates suffocating humidity with cold showers, I have a craving for short stories.
Don’t ask me why.
Maybe it’s because I can start and finish a story in a single sitting, even after a long day spent writing, or translating, or doing stuff; it engages my brain at the right level, without being too demanding on my time, or eyesight.
Or maybe it’s because in the last few years I’ve been writing mostly short stories and I am curious about what the great ones did.
I’m trying to steal their secrets.

So, I went through John D. MacDonald‘s The Good Old Stuff, and right now I’m going through the Everyman edition of Roald Dahl’s Collected Stories.
Afterwards I’ll probably go through Muse and Reverie, by Charles de Lint.
And then some Sam Shepard.
As I said, I’m craving short fiction, and studying with the best. Continue reading

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The Good Stuff

john-d-macdonald-60sYesterday I wrote great writers are those that can actually write down what we feel, but we so far have been unable to express with the same economy and focus.

Here’s John D. Macdonald, from the introduction to his short story collection, The Good Old Stuff.

First, there has to be a strong sense of story. I want to be intrigued by wondering what is going to happen next. I want the people that I read about to be in difficulties–emotional, moral, spiritual, whatever, and I want to live with them while they’re finding their way out of these difficulties. Second, I want the writer to make me suspend my disbelief…. I want to be in some other place and scene of the writer’s devising. Next, I want him to have a bit of magic in his prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing. And I like an attitude of wryness, realism, the sense of inevitability. I think that writing–good writing– should be like listening to music, where you pick out the themes, you see what the composer is doing with those themes, and then, just when you think you have him properly analyzed, and his method identified, he will put in a little quirk, a little twist, that will be so unexpected that you read it with a sens of glee, a sense of joy, because of its aptness, even though it may be a very dire and bloody part of the book. So I want story, wit, music, wryness, color, and a sense of reality in what I read, and I try to get it in what I write.

He makes it sound almost easy.