RARA-AVIS: Ross Macdonald birthday

From: Victoria Two ( msvictoriatwo@yahoo.com)
Date: 13 Dec 2005

  American Public Media Subject: The Writer's Almanac for Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It's the birthday of mystery novelist who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald, born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California (1915). His father abandoned the family when he was growing up. His mother struggled to support him, occasionally begging for money on the street. One day, she even took Millar to an orphanage to give him up, but she changed her mind at the last minute. He spent the rest of his childhood being passed from one relative to the next. He read a lot growing up, and wanted to write, but he didn't take it seriously as a career until the summer he won a typewriter in a radio quiz show. He started publishing a series of stories and humor pieces in magazines, being paid one cent per word, and it made him just enough money to support his family for the summer, until he found a job teaching. Millar went on to write several spy and crime novels, which were fairly successful. But after publishing a few books he began to doubt himself as a writer. He wanted to write something serious, something drawing on his own background, but whenever he tried to write about his childhood directly, he was embarrassed by the quality of the result. And then, one day, Millar invented a private investigator named Lew Archer. Millar said, "I was in trouble, and Lew Archer got me out of it... I couldn't work directly with my own experiences and feelings. A narrator had to be interposed, like protective lead, between me and the radioactive material." His first Lew Archer novel was The Moving Target (1949), and he made a point of not describing Lew Archer, who narrated the story. He wanted readers to be able to imagine themselves into the role of the detective. He went on to write eighteen novels featuring Lew Archer, most of them about characters trying to uncover some mystery at the heart of their families, often having to do with lost fathers. Millar became known as one of the authors who helped elevate the mystery novel to the level of great literature.

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