You may have noticed that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune has been publishing a series of columns entitled "John D. and Me" to celebrate the centenary of John D. MacDonald's birth. I've linked to most of them. So naturally I've been waiting for the call or the e-mail from Sarasota with a request for me to do one of those columns. It's finally dawned on me that the call or e-mail isn't going to come, so I figured I'd just write the column, anyway.
The first JDM book I remember seeing on the newsstand, or rather the little paperback rack in my local drugstore, is The Damned. That book came out in 1952, so I was ten or eleven years old when I saw it. It caught my attention because of the title. You didn't see titles like that in little East Texas towns in 1952. And then there was that bold line in the middle of the cover: "I wish I had written this book" -- Mickey Spillane. I had no idea who Mickey Spillane was at that time, but the name stuck in my head, as did that book and its cover. I knew it had to be a good book if some other guy said he wished he'd written it.
Years passed. The first JDM book I remember reading is The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything, a fantasy novel that was recommended to me by a friend who doesn't like fantasy novels. That should've been a clue that JDM's work was something special, but I wasn't hooked immediately. The next book I read was Murder in the Wind, which I also liked a lot but which also didn't hook me. At the time I was reading almost nothing but spy novels, so that's probably why.
Then I picked up A Deadly Shade of Gold. Why? Probably for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it was a Gold Medal Book, and I'd been reading a good many Gold Medal spy novels by Donald Hamilton, Edward S. Aarons, Philip Atlee, and Stephen Marlowe (the Chester Drum books had just started looking more like spy novels). Also, the cover said something about a hunt for an Aztec idol. That sounded great. So I read the book, and this time I was hooked. I went back and read all the other Travis McGee books. This was in 1965, so there were only three or four at the time.
Judy and I moved to Austin in 1966, and I discovered that there were stores selling used books all over the city. It was in one of them that I ran across the first printing of Murder for the Bride, which looked a good bit different from the printing I'd read. So I decided I'd get the first printings of all the JDM paperbacks. The result of that was, well, does the saying "Down that road lies madness" ring a bell?
First it was just the JDM books, though, and I even won second place in a student book-collecting contest at The University of Texas at Austin for my collection of those. Yes, I have Weep for Me (both printings). I became one of the charter subscribers to The JDM Bibliophile, too, and, well, does the saying "Down that road lies madness" ring a bell? My subscription to that publication led directly to my involvement in mystery fandom, my contributions to many mystery fanzines (including Jeff Meyerson's estimable The Poisoned Pen), my membership in DAPA-em (thanks, Steve Lewis!), and my eventual attendance at the 1980 Bouchercon and many subsequent ones.
John D. MacDonald's not the only influence on my reading and writing life, but he's certainly one of the biggest. My greatest regret regarding him is that I didn't go to the Bouchercon in 1983 when he was guest of honor. We'd just moved to Alvin at considerable expense, and the week we arrived, only a couple of months before the Bouchercon, we went through Hurricane Alicia. We just weren't up to the trip to New York. I figured that I'd get to meet MacDonald some other time. It didn't happen, so I never got to tell him how much I owed him. This post will have to do.