100 Years of Pulp Fictioneer John D. MacDonald

Jul 24, 2016 by

Dime Detective 47-02As PulpFest wraps things up for another year — the dealers’ room will be open from 10 AM until 2 PM today — the convention is looking to the future. The organizing committee is already starting to plan for PulpFest 2017. We’ll be celebrating “Hardboiled Dicks, Dangerous Dames, and a Few Psychos.” As always, expect a fantastic dealers’ room and superb programming. It will be the 46th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con!” So start making your plans to attend. You’ll have an AMAZING time!

At the same time as it’s looking ahead, PulpFest is also looking into the past. One hundred years ago on this very date, detective and thriller writer John D. MacDonald was born just east of the Ohio border in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Best known for his adventure series character Travis McGee, MacDonald was one of the last of the giants of the detective genre to emerge from the pulps. Although his first story, “G-Robot,” ran in the July 1936 DOUBLE-ACTION GANG MAGAZINE, MacDonald would have to wait another decade for his next story to appear in a pulp magazine.

“Cash on a Coffin!” from the May 1946 DETECTIVE TALES — published by Popular Publications — marks the beginning of MacDonald’s rather substantial pulp fiction career. Over the next ten years, the author placed hundreds of stories in a wide range of pulp magazines: ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, BLACK MASK, BLUE BOOK, DETECTIVE TALES, DIME DETECTIVE, DIME WESTERN, DOC SAVAGE, FBI DETECTIVE, FIFTEEN SPORTS STORIES, FIGHT STORIES, GALAXY, NEW DETECTIVE, THE SHADOW, SHOCK, SPORT FICTION, SPORTS NOVELS, STARTLING STORIES, SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, WEIRD TALES, and others. He also placed stories with COLLIER’S, COSMOPOLITAN, ESQUIRE, LIBERTY, McCALL’S, THIS WEEK, and similar magazines.

In 1950 — as it became increasingly apparent that the pulps were on their way out — John D. MacDonald placed a novel with Fawcett Gold Medal — THE BRASS CUPCAKE. From 1950 until he released his first Travis McGee novel in 1964, the author sold over forty paperback originals, becoming one of the giants of that market. “His crime novels of this period are masters of the form — spare, tight, often dark and even nasty tales of desperate men in way over their heads.”

MacDonald created McGee at the urging of his publishers. Unsure of his achievement, the author resisted publication of that first novel — THE LONG BLUE GOOD-BY — until he could complete two more titles. All three books were eventually published in three successive months in 1964 to positive commercial and even limited critical response. “Having achieved notoriety and success in the pulp magazines, and with more than forty novels already in print, MacDonald introduced a character that would eventually dwarf his previous publishing efforts. He would become the bedrock of MacDonald’s career, establishing a vast, devoted audience, and an almost sublime literary legacy. As the epitome of this legacy, the McGee series transcends genre fiction, and is rich with piercing psychological insight, social commentary, and clean, compelling prose that lapses into poetry.”

Deep Blue Good-ByJohn D. MacDonald would produce twenty-one novels in the McGee series, each with a color in its title. Often selling more than a million copies of each book, the author’s Travis McGee would become “one of the best, and most beloved private eyes of all time (even if he wasn’t licensed, and at times acted more like Robin Hood than Philip Marlowe).” Not bad for a pulp writer.

Although centered around pulp fiction and pulp magazines, PulpFest was founded on the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor pulp fiction by drawing attention to the many ways it had inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.

We hope to see you next year at PulpFest 2017. Please bring your friends. You can expect a “Deep Blue Hello!”

(John D. MacDonald was paid from half-a-cent to three cents for each word that he produced for the pulps. From about 1946 through 1951, he placed dozens of stories each year with various pulp magazines. His output included adventure, detective, fantasy, science fiction, sports fiction, and western stories. When his story “Dead to the World” garnered the cover spot for the February 1947 issue of Popular’s DIME DETECTIVE — featuring cover art by Robert Stanley — MacDonald had become a reliable producer for the pulp market.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to keep him in the pulp magazines,” Harry Widmer, the editor at DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY said, “but we’re going to try to keep him as long as we can.”

After THE BRASS CUPCAKE — the first of his original paperbacks — was released in 1950, MacDonald increasingly turned to that market for sales. His first Travis McGee novel — THE DEEP BLUE GOOD-BY — was published by Fawcett in 1964, with front cover art by Ron Lesser.)