Thursday, April 28, 2016

John D. and Me

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.

9 comments:

Rick Ollerman said...

Lost opportunities. I'm kind of doing that now with Harlan Ellison but the man had a stroke and I think the last thing he needs is giving me a guided tour of his house. But if I had a bucket list, that would be on there....

Bill Crider said...

I've been lucky enough to meet Harlan Ellison and be on a panel or two with him. He was a hero of mine back in the '50s when he first started publishing, and he's certainly gone on to greater fame than he had then. I doubt I'll ever tour his house, but I'm glad I got to meet him.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bill . . . and I think I'll just start signing my comments "John Duke".

John Duke (formerly JohnD)

Kelly Robinson said...

Great piece. The Herald-Trib missed out.

Don Coffin said...

Very nicely done.

James Reasoner said...

Excellent post. A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD was the first JDM novel I read, bought new off the spinner rack at Lester's Pharmacy. I've been thinking lately that I ought to reread it.

Mike Stamm said...

Excellent post. My first JDM was YOU LIVE ONCE, when I was about 15, and for some reason I wasn't immediately hooked; that didn't happen until about 8 years later, when a good friend recommended the Travis McGee books. That did the trick, and over the years I've gotten all JDM's books*, quite a few in first printings, some in hard cover, and I've re-read most of them twice or more. Amazing writer, and I only wish I'd had the chance to meet him and tell him what his work meant to me.

*Every one except WEEP FOR ME, for which I only have a photocopy. Not very good, compared with most of his other work, but still readable and instructive.

Kent Morgan said...

Bill, you would have had to relocate to Florida to get the call to write a tribute. I have all the JDMs except Weep For Me. At this week's Children's Hospital Book Market in Winnipeg, I spotted the former owner of Pandora Books on the North Dakota/Manitoba border going through the table of older paperbacks. He was one the biggest dealers in paperbacks before the Internet and I would be surprised if you didn't get his catalogs. Somehow he always gets to the paperbacks first even though he no longer admits to being a dealer. I asked him the usual question, Did you find that John D. I need? He had not. He was the person who explained to me why this book is so hard to find. Maybe someday.

Bill Crider said...

Hey, Lee Child ain't from Florida. I used to get those Pandora catalogs regularly. Don't know if I ever bought anything, though. I got a copy of the first printing of Weep for Me from someone who read I didn't have it and sent it to me. I found the second printing in a bookstore in Washington, D.C., when I was at the Bouchercon there in 1980.