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John D. MacDonald

Low-life detective Travis McGee owes a lot to a writer who shares nearly none of the ne'r-do-well's personality traits--his very life, for instance.  Mystery novelist John MacDonald invented the famous mythical gumshoe, who lives on a houseboat he won in a poker game, years ago; and he's been selling well ever since.

MacDonald was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1916.  He began to read after nearly dying in childhood of scarlet fever.  He spent more than a year in bed, whiling away the hours by voraciously consuming every book he could find.

MacDonald's education included an MBA from Harvard University and traveling the world as on OSS officer stationed in the Far East during World War II.  His literary career began coincidentally after he wrote a short story for his wife's amusement and mailed it home.  She liked it so much that she sent it off to Story magazine, where it was published.  After the war, MacDonald took four months' of military pay and began writing non-stop.  He generated one story after another for the pulp magazines, including mysteries, science fiction, and Westerns.  By the end of his first year as a writer, he was making a comfortable living from his work.

Just as the pulps were dying out in popularity in the early Fifties, the paperback boom struck.  Everybody began reading again, and MacDonald was able to parlay  his thriving literary career into writing long fiction.  His first novel, The Brass Cupcake, was published in 1950 by Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal Books.

MacDonald is known for creating protagonists who are often intelligent and introspective, although sometimes with a worldly cynical streak.  Travis McGee, his "salvage consultant" and "knight in rusting armor," was all of that and more.  He made his first appearance in the 1964 novel, The Deep Blue Good-by, and was last seen in 1985's The Lonely Silver Rain.  The novels usually feature an appearance by a sidekick known only as "Meyer," a retired economist, along with an ever-changing array of female companions.  McGee's trademark digs consisted of a houseboat named Busted Flush, after the poker hand with which he won it, docked at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

MacDonald used his mystery novels to criticize what he called American junk culture: fast food, bad TV, and suburban development.  He said, "I am wary of a lot of things, such as...time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants...pageants, progress, and manifest destiny."

During his lifetime, MacDonald sold over six hundred stories to many different magazines.  He was published in crime pulps such as Detective Tales, Dime Detective, Dime Mystery, Doc Savage, Justice, Mammoth Mystery, The Shadow Magazine and even Black Mask, and in slicks such as Collier's, Esquire, Liberty, Playboy, This Week and Cosmopolitan.  He wrote sports stories, science fiction, adventures, romances, westerns, and mysteries.  Often more than one of his stories would appear in the same magazine, so he was forced to use a pseudonym.  The July 1949 issue of of Fifteen Sports Stories, for example, carried four stories by MacDonald under various names.

John D. MacDonald, whom author Stephen King once called "the great entertainer of our age and a mesmerizing storyteller," wrote his last tale on December 28, 1986.  He was 70 years old.

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