On The Importance of Reading Outside of One’s Genre as an Author: My Love of J.D. MacDonald

I consider myself a SF/F, Romance, and YA reader by preference and inclination, Gentle Reader.
But I guess you could say I’m writer enough to appreciate a really good author no matter what their genre.
You know, the kind that actually chuck you out of the world they have created with a sentence or a paragraph so beautifully written you can do nothing but pause and appreciate the art of it. I have a few literary types in my ken: Margret Atwood, for example.
Sadly, such authors usually aspire to the noble title of novelist dejour, none of that dirty commercial or genre tagging thank you very much. I don’t go out of my way to read them, much as I appreciate the skillz. I actually don’t enjoy being chucked out of the world I’m absorbed in. Also, I tend to dislike their subject matter as it’s generally pretty depressing.

Back in the 1960s when a paperback book cost $1.95 and pulp fiction was on firm footing, a certain personage named John D. MacDonald invented a character called Travis McGee.

  • Yes ~ his books are mysteries, often quite violent and gruesome.
  • Yes ~ they are alpha male occasionally anti-woman.
  • No ~ I don’t read them for pleasure.
  • No ~ I don’t own any myself.
  • But I think he’s probably the best writer America has ever produced.

Just look at this set up for a fight scene:

“He stood up, impressively tall and broad. “You insulted the lady.”
The lady was sitting erect, buttoning her blouse. The lady said, “Deck him, Lew!” Sick him, Rover. He swarmed at me, obedient as any dog.
I am tall, and I gangle. I look like a loose-jointed, clumsy hundred and eighty. The man who takes a better look at the size of my wrists can make a more accurate guess. When I get up to two twelve I get nervous and hack it back on down to two oh five. As far as clumsiness and reflexes go, I have never had to use a flyswatter in my life. My combat expression is one of apologetic anxiety. I like them confident. My stance is mostly composed of elbows.”


I’m actually not a good enough writer to describe how good he is.

Unfortunately for Macdonald, like Picasso producing only postcards, he never got credit as a writer because he produced only pulp mysteries (and one, extremely hard to find but wonderful, collection of sci-fi shorts). To this day, he still has a small but rabid fan base (Spider Robinson is reputed to be one). They ought to teach this man in schools. Commercial fiction, baby, is all too often underrated.

You don’t have to take my word for it: Jared over at Pornokitsch also loves J.D.

The thing is that reading these books that cannot absorb me in the same way that a genre I really love absorbs me allows me to recognize the tricks and skills that the author is using. The very act of it not being my genre, means I can understand the author technique in play. I can really look and and think about he writing, without being sucked into plot and character.

It’s sometimes a good thing to read fiction with a craft hat on. It allows us to learn skills that, hopefully, we can apply to our own works in the future.

10 More Installments of Gail talking about publishing?

  1. 10 Things About Publishing This Author Wishes Everyone Knew
  2. 30+ Blogs & Podcasts for Authors
  3. 7 Tips for Getting Over Writer’s Block
  4. What is an author style guide? How about a style sheet?
  5. How to Write (and Not to Write) an Author Bio
  6. The Pros & Cons of Cons
  7. 7 Side Effects of Being a Full Time Author
  8. Pen Names, Cover Art & Reader Betrayal
  9. Plot Versus Pace (Why That Book Sucks)
  10. Learn to Let Go of the 10%
  11. Writing Humor

Yours (destined to be killed by a tumbling TBR pile),

Miss Gail 

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Heroines Journey Gail Carriger free pdf ripped download

  • Tired of the hero’s journey?
  • Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren’t taken seriously?
  • Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?

The Heroine’s Journey is here to help.

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine’s journey, how it differs from the hero’s journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.


Your Infusion of Cute . . .

11 Fun Facts that Prove Octopuses are Are All Kinds of Astonishing

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
Galactic Suburbia Podcast: Teen Feminism Edition (full of some wonderful resources)

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
Fiction University: The Do-It-Yourself Writers’ Retreat

Quote of the Day:

“…like a grain of sand that gets into an oyster’s shell. What if the grain doesn’t want to become a pearl? Is it ever asked to climb out quietly and take up its old position as a bit of ocean floor?”

~ Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword


Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said:

    What is it with literary novels and dark & depressing themes? Sometimes I wonder if the reason they write so brilliantly is because that is the only light available in their worlds.

    Want literature with a positive slant? I love Brazilian literary author Paulo Coelho. His works tend to have an upbeat, feelgood vibe.

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