Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction Part 2 – John D. MacDonald

This post is the second in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction

Part 2 – John D. MacDonald

Just the name of his fabled character, Travis McGee, starts your imagination working overtime to picture this man. McGee was the opposite of Sherlock Holmes as described in my earlier post on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was more of a playboy who lived on a houseboat, bedded beautiful women, and took half of the profit from stolen goods that he recovered.

MacDonald himself was a well-educated man a degree from Syracuse University, my hometown, and an Ivy League MBA. He then entered World War II as a first lieutenant in the army.

MacDonald’s literary career started by happenstance. While away in the war, he mailed a short story to his wife who submitted it to Esquire Magazine and it was rejected. She then submitted it to Story Magazine and they accepted it for $25. When MacDonald found out about it upon his return, he spent the next four months cranking out 800,000 words of short stories and losing 20 pounds.

His eventual sale of a story to Dime Magazine was the first of nearly 500 stories to various magazines, some of which would fill an entire issue with only his stories under various names.

MacDonald’s career flourished during the period from 1953 to 1964 during which he almost single-handedly crafted the hard-boiled detective genre.  His signature character, Travis McGee, made his debut in 1964 in the novel The Deep Blue Goodbye. This swaggering Florida figure who lived on a houseboat named the Busted Flush was the prototype for many private eyes that came after him like Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum, and others.

MacDonald wrote 21 McGee stories over the next 21 years with every title containing a color within it.  Like Sherlock Holmes, McGee had an educated sidekick on some of his books named Meyer who was an economist and Ph.D. Most of the McGee stories took place in Florida.

MacDonald’s most famous film adaptation was from the Novel, The Executioners, which became the movie, Cape Fear which premiered in 1962 and was remade in 1991.

As I look at my own work, I see some unintended similarities. I have written private eye novels that take place in Florida. My detective lives in a trailer instead of a houseboat. He also has an educated attorney as a sidekick. I say that these similarities are unintended as I read my first John D. MacDonald book after I wrote my first novel. I must have had this blueprint internalized before I began my writing from adaptations of MacDonald’s model.

I have read many of Mr. MacDonald’s books since the first. You can see his prowess as a writer grow continuously throughout his works. I can now claim him as a role model due to the quality and prolific nature of his work.

A Special Gift for My Readers and Those Yet to Become My Readers

As I started my writing career, I began as many writers do, writing short stories. About a year ago, I looked back on the short stories that I had written and decided that they might be fun to put in a collection.

I know short story books aren’t as popular to read as full-blown novels, but they do have value as quick escapes for the reader. As a writer, they’re a way to get readers familiar with your writing style and maybe encourage reading of longer works as they are published.

Since writing my first short story, I have published four fiction and two non-fiction books. I published my short story collection, Random Tales, nearly a year ago. I really haven’t aggressively promoted it and I haven’t really been sure what to do with it other than let it flounder on the Amazon virtual shelves…until now.

For a very limited time, during the weekend of January 22nd – 24th, I will be giving my short story collection away for free on Amazon. After that, I will be pricing it permanently at 99 cents. In anticipation of my free promotion of this collection, I will tell you a little bit about how each story emerged over the next four days leading up to the Friday start of the free download.

There are four stories in the collection. They are all very different. Here is a summary of each:

  • Heal Thyself – A man who is in a terrible accident wakes up to find that his life has changed forever in a very unexpected way.
  • August 1963 – A story that was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’ speech about a young boy transplanted to the South in the early 1960’s.
  • Play It Again Des – A young piano player realizes his dream of being one of the greats, but at what cost?
  • Lucy’s Christmas Miracle – A dog saves the day and makes Christmas memorable.

As I mentioned earlier, I will be telling you a bit about the inspiration for each story in the days leading up to the free book giveaway. I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed writing them. If you absolutely can’t wait for the book to be free or priced at $.99 after 1/24/16, you can get a copy here.

As always, your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

An Excerpt From My New Book

In my last post, I talked about my attitude going into 2016. I also described my decision process for delaying the release of my latest book, Blood Orange, which was set to be promoted beginning on the day that the Paris terrorism attacks occurred.

Now that the new year has dawned, I am excited to revive the promotional activities surrounding this book. Activities include advertising, interviews, and work on a screenplay.

For those of you who have not read it, I’m devoting most of this blog to sharing one of the initial chapters of the book. This chapter describes the action at one of America’s premier sporting events and the confusion over what happens as it comes to its conclusion. Please enjoy this excerpt from Blood Orange, which is now available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats. You can get your own copy by clicking here.

Chapter 1

It was the perfect storm. College basketball heaven. The men’s championship game had finally come to Syracuse, NY. For decades, the college basketball Mecca had tried every strategy to lure the big game to arguably the most famous arena in the sport, the Carrier Dome. The governing body of college sports, despite its often tenuous relationship with Syracuse University, could not refute the long and storied love affair that the school and the surrounding community had consistently demonstrated for college basketball. Finally, with a concerted effort from the Mayor, the university, and local businesses, the three games of the national Division I men’s basketball championship were being played in Syracuse to a sellout crowd from all over the nation. The basketball court had been reconfigured in the center of the Dome so that nearly 65,000 screaming fans could have seats to watch the game with countless others watching via live television.

Just hosting the game would have been enough, but to make this event even more meaningful, the two teams that met on this unseasonably cold and misty April night in Syracuse were the hometown Orange and the Blue Devils of Duke University. In the years since Syracuse joined Duke’s athletic conference, an instant rivalry had emerged between the two schools. They were headed by the number one and number two active coaches with the most wins under their collective belts. The two coaches were also close friends and had together coached the USA Basketball Team to multiple Olympic gold medals.

It had been a whirlwind season. Duke had beaten Syracuse at home in the teams’ first meeting by one point in overtime. Syracuse then took Duke to three overtime periods in the Dome for a two point victory. In the conference tournament, the two teams met again in the championship which also went to Duke by three points. Amazingly, the only losses the teams had suffered during the season were to each other.

Both teams had then sliced their way through the tournament field like a hot knife through butter. There were no upsets by Cinderella teams. Both coaches and their squads seemed intent on meeting in the big dance which would be played on Syracuse’s home turf. The other teams in the tournament semi-finals were immaterial as both were beaten by over twenty points. It seemed to be destiny. This was not lost on the coaches. They held an unprecedented joint press conference the day before the game to announce that both of them would be retiring following the game. An uncharacteristically emotional Syracuse coach said that he could not imagine a better way to end his career than by playing the ultimate game against his best friend in his home town. While he did not say it the media would add to his comment, “on the court bearing my name.”

The city of Syracuse was electric in anticipation of hosting the big game, but now there was an unprecedented frenzy. Offices were empty on this Monday preceding the game. Businesses were bracing for the onslaught of overflow fans that could not afford tickets to see the game in person. The area around the Carrier Dome was crowded with people looking to be close to the action.

Now that the game had started, it was shaping up to be another classic Duke/Syracuse back and forth battle. The Duke team fought through the famous Syracuse zone defense with lightning quick passes and a hot three point shooter. The score was tied at halftime. The crowd was going crazy.

As the second half progressed, it was proving to be another close game that would go down to the wire. Thousands of fans in Syracuse and millions around the country were glued to their television sets waiting to see how this game would end. With two minutes to go, the score was going back and forth with a one point advantage to each team with a two point basket. Then, with ten seconds to go, the Syracuse point guard was fouled on a missed layup. He missed the first free throw and then sank the second tying the game. Duke had the ball. The Blue Devils took their time working the ball up the court. The clock counted down as the team worked for the final shot. Five, four, three, two, one…

********

Armory Square, the destination of many basketball fans that couldn’t be at the big game in person, was overflowing. In an unprecedented move, sections of Franklin, Fayette and Walton Streets had been shut down to vehicle traffic so that revelers could enjoy the game. Many of the local establishments had put large screen televisions outside so that overflow crowds could watch the game as they drank specialty orange drinks from large souvenir cups. It was like Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The sense of pride in the city as it hosted the big game was higher than it had been in recent memory, maybe ever.

The collective noise of the crowd was audible for blocks and increased in intensity with each basket, turnover, and foul. The game was more than living up to the hype. The frequent lead changes and outstanding performances by players on both teams made it both a thrilling and maddening situation for Syracuse fans. As the game progressed, the fever pitch of the crowd rose. Finally, as it looked like the game was coming down to the last shot with the score tied, the fans huddled together and became quiet. They clung to each other as Duke brought the ball up the court and prepared to take the last shot against the formidable Syracuse zone defense. Just as the Duke point-guard launched a three point shot toward the basket, a bright flash of light was visible two miles away in the direction of the University. It was visible for many miles around and the low rumble that occurred afterward was felt and heard throughout the city. The quiet of the crowd was replaced by collective screams and wails of disbelief.

What had happened on the hill?

The crowd that had been mesmerized by the game was now completely silent staring at the flash of light followed by a small mushroom cloud visible in the distance. Lights went out on the hill, including the famed Crouse Irving clock tower. Lights began to come back on as emergency generators kicked in revealing a cloud of smoke and debris hanging over the area.  Fans in Armory Square clung to each other in horror as the audible sound of sirens began to head in the direction of the Dome. Many covered their faces in horror as the sound of cheering turned to silence and then to muted sobs.

What had happened on the hill?


If you enjoyed this chapter, please read the rest of the book and tell me what you think. Again, you can get your copy today by clicking here.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Release of Short Story Collection – Random Tales

I’m excited to announce the release of my new collection of short stories entitled Random Tales. It’s a compilation of short stories that I’ve written over the past year. It contains introductions to each story that give the reader insight into the thought process and motivation for each story.

Random Tales - A collection of short stories by Don Massenzio

Random Tales – A collection of short stories by Don Massenzio

I hope you enjoy this collection!