RARA-AVIS: Ross Macdonald birthday

From: Victoria Lavagette ( lavagette@yahoo.com)
Date: 13 Dec 2004

Received this in today's emails. Victoria

American Public MediaThe Writer's Almanac for Monday, December 13, 2004

It's the birthday of mystery novelist Ross Macdonald,born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California (1915). He also published under the names John Macdonald and John Ross Macdonald. He is most known for a series of novels starring Lew Archer, a private investigator. Macdonald named his character after Sam Spade's dead partner in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

Macdonald spent most of his early life in Canada, where his father worked for a time as a harbor pilot. His parents separated when he was three. His mother suffered from typhoid fever and couldn't support the both of them, so he moved in with many different relatives during his childhood. He wrote, "I counted the number of rooms I had lived in during my first sixteen years, and got a total of fifty."

He read a lot growing up, even climbing the fire escape of the town library at night so that he could read the authors who were off limits to young people during the day.

Macdonald published his first story in 1931 in his high school newspaper, and he said it was a parody of Sherlock Holmes. He graduated from high school in 1932 and worked for room and board as a farm laborer for a year before going to college.

His wife, Margaret Millar, also wrote mystery novels, and was the first of the two of them to make any money from their writing. Her first book was The Invisible Worm (1941), and the money they made from that allowed Macdonald to quit his job teaching high school and attend the University of Michigan.

He wrote, "Never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own."

Macdonald served as president of The Mystery Writers of America organization in 1965. In his later years, he spent three or four hours a day writing. He used spiral-bound notebooks, filling about three pages a day while sitting in the same bedroom chair where he wrote all of his books for three decades. He worked on several books at once, sometimes getting ideas for his plots by sitting in on local criminal trials.

Macdonald spent his free time bird watching with his wife. He was a very private man, but also a dedicated conservationist. He sometimes came out of hiding to take part in protests for preserving the environment. He and his wife were particularly active in the efforts to save the California condor from extinction.

His later novels include The Underground Man (1971) and Sleeping Beauty
(1973) and both have environmentalist themes.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Dec 2004 EST