John D Macdonald – The Mastermind behind Travis McGee
John D MacDonald’s character Travis McGee has been a big influence on my MacTravis adventure series. Here’s a little background information on John D MacDonald.
Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania on July 14, 1916, John left the state at an early age, moving to Utica, New York in 1926 with the rest of his family. After his first trip to Europe in 1934, he developed a love for travelling, photography and the unknown. After his return to the States, MacDonald started going to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but surprised everybody by dropping out. He worked menial jobs for a short while, before restarting his tertiary education at Syracuse University. He met the love of his life while at school, Dorothy Prentiss, who he married in 1937.
After receiving an MBA at Harvard in 1939, MacDonald joined the army and served as an officer between 1940 and 1945. In his last year of service he wrote a short story and mailed it to his wife. Dorothy submitted it to a popular magazine and received US$25 for the contribution (a substantial amount for a story at the time). Encouraged by the success of this first story MacDonald spent four months after he was discharged writing more. These he submitted to different magazines, until one was accepted by the pulp magazine Dime Detective. He continued developing his short stories and sold close to 500 in different genres, many written under pseudonyms.
MacDonald’s first novel was published in 1950, The Brass Cupcake, and he also had some very successful sci-fi books including Wine of the Dreamers. This expanded into the crime thriller genre and these works are still considered to be in a class of their own. He was an expert at delving into the minds of psychopaths, astonishing readers with his in-depth knowledge of the way their sick minds functioned. His writing style is still considered to be one of the most distinctive in the genre, and few authors have been able to match his ability to create such gripping villains.
Even though all his writing is immensely popular, John really revealed his astounding literary genius when he developed the unforgettable character Travis McGee. Over 21 years (1964-1985) he wrote an entire series, which followed the adventures and accomplishments of this talented, sophisticated, unconventional sleuth. McGee lived on a boat, increased his wealth by keeping half of the stolen goods he recovered, worked with a sidekick, flaunted his intelligence and showed his love for the companionship of many different females. Travis McGee is the character that every man wants to be, and every woman wants to be with.
After a long and successful career, John D. Macdonald died on December 28, 1986 in St Mary’s Hospital, Milwaukee. His death was due to complications resulting from a heart bypass. Many of his novels have been adapted into films including two based on the Travis McGee series. Writers continue to use MacDonald’s work as inspiration, as his stories have achieved levels that most authors can only dream about.