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John D. MacDonald


I found a box of John D. MacDonald paperbacks in my basement, so I grabbed a few of the most recent titles and I am re-reading them now. JD was one of my favorite authors when I was growing up, but still I think I may have forgotten how good the guy really was. If you write crime fiction, or if you want to, JD is probably one of the best teachers you can find.

Not to say the man was perfect. He was a creature of his times, and some of his attitudes and dialog, particularly about sex, carry a kind of lingering musty funk left over from the sixties, but it isn’t terminal. What I would recommend to any writer, really, is to pick up one of the novels he wrote in the late seventies to early eighties and have a look. Notice how quickly and deftly he kicks his plot into gear: no expository background, no descriptions of weather, no wasted motion. Everything on the page is relevant to the story. He feeds you information with one hand and distracts you from what the other hand is doing. Reading him -as a writer- is like watching a good boxer take apart a slower opponent (that would be you). Yeah, he digresses on occasion, for a page or two, to grouse about how greedy developers are ruining the environment, or to make some observation on the behavior of the human animal, but some of those digressions are pieces of work that transcend both time and genre.

It is one thing to listen to a teacher or an editor talk about building plot and keeping your stuff tight, but it is quite another to watch a guy at the top of his game as he puts a story together. MacDonald died in ’86 at the age of seventy.

I still wonder what he would have done next.


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