John D. MacDonald
Tonight Martin Edwards on his fine blog talks about the facts that 1) He's never read anything by Joh D. MacDonald or Ross Macdonald 2) That's he's reading a book about JDM written by Hugh Merrill called The Red Hot Typewriter. He's also reading David Geherin's book about JDM.
"The Red Hot Typewriter is the rather good title of a book published eight years ago by Hugh Merrill, an American journalist. It’s a study of the life and times of John D. Macdonald, of whom we are told: ‘He was a crime writer who managed to break free of the genre and finally get serious consideration from critics. Seventy of his novels and more than five hundred of his short stories were published in his lifetime. When he died in 1986, more than seventy million copies of his books have been sold.’
"Coincidentally, I’ve also picked up another book about JDM – this time by David Geherin – which again emphasises the author’s views on the way mankind threatens the natural world. He suggests that JDM was something of a polemicist, and I tend to think that using your books as a vehicle for expressing your opinions is tricky territory, unless you remember at all times that your first duty as a writer of commercial fiction is to please the reader. All the same, I’m keen to give Macdonald a try. It’s obviously long overdue."
Ed here: From what I can see JDM's career is falling into shambles. Or already has fallen into shambles. The McGees are among the few of his books to be found in the chains. The much better stand-alones have just about vanished in new editions.
I've mentioned here before that a few years after his death I put together a Collected Stories proposal with the help of his friend Walter Shine. Kent Carroll, then at Carroll and Graf, was very enthusiastic about it. He offered $25,000. I took this to his agent--a guy I like a lot actually--but he wasn't interested. For reasons I've never understood, JDM chose a movie agent to handle his estate. I'm pretty sure that to a movie agent 25K doesn't sound like big money. I contacted John's son, another guy I like based on a few brief letters, but he left it up to the agent.
I think the massive story collection Walter and I had in mind would have gotten JDM some serious notice. Reviewers need to remind their readers that he was a masterful storyteller. And he as as good if not better a short story writer than a novelist.
Given all the dead people whose new books are being ghosted (there's a Twilight Zone episode in there somewhere) John stands tall. He would have allowed no such foolishness. Just how many notes for future novels did V.C. Andrews leave behind anyway?
As for the two studies of JDM that Martin mentions, for me the Geherin is far superior to The Red Hot Typewriter. Better organized, better written and far more interesting as a take on the man's career.
Serious books about popular writers can be written and written well. The brilliant study of Ross Macdonald by Tom Nolan is the best example. JDM wasn't in the same league as Macdonald but I think his books had more of an impact on popular culture.
Any of you biographers out there care to write the book John deserves?