Mcdonald is perhaps less known now than at any point in his career: He and his manager have spent years taking every single one of his books--all 26, of which there are nine Fletchnovels--off the shelves and out of print, which most writers would consider an act of suicide. He did so with good reason: His books, beginning with 1964's Running Scared, were published and purloined by so many companies they'd lost their meaning, their weight. Mcdonald always thought of them as a piece, but they were broken into a thousand tiny pieces; his words were scattered like ash spilled from an urn, and he had no interest in waiting till he died for someone to collect his works and words and give them their proper due. His mother, Mae, a portrait artist, used to say, "Give me my flowers before I die." Greg, a good son, listened.
"I'm a perfectly happy guy, anyway," Mcdonald says, "but I'll be even happier if I get the sense that people are seeing all these things that I've done over these years as being sort of in one pot--from one hand and one mind and one set of experiences."
Universal City Studios, Inc.
This isn't Dr. Rosenpenis, Mr. Poon or G. Gordon Liddy--or, for that matter, Gregory Mcdonald. He's Fletch, and you're not.
On March 20, Vintage Books will begin doling out the roses: The Random House imprint is publishing the first three books in the Fletchseries--Fletch, first published in 1974; Confess, Fletchand Fletch's Fortune--which will be followed over the next two years by the remaining six. The company will also re-release Mcdonald's Flynn mysteries, featuring police inspector F.X. Flynn; and in spring 2003, it will publish Flynn's World, a sequel to which Mcdonald has been clinging for several years, awaiting such a moment as this. At long last, all his children will be in the same playpen. To that end, he hopes Random House will likewise see fit to resurrect his other novels, among them Running Scared, Love Among the Mashed Potatoes(1978), Safekeeping(1985) and the four books that make up the so-called Time Squared Quartet, including 1988's Merely Players.
"Vintage are the first publishers in my life who treat me like a human being, rather than a piece of meat or an object," Mcdonald says. "It's really a whole new experience for me. There's just something about people who produce anything, whether it's film or books, they think that what they're doing is the key thing, and they forget they couldn't exist if the creative person didn't. When I first went to the William Morris agency, there was an old man there--a proprietor, a brilliant guy, a lawyer and so forth--whose name was Howard Houseman. He became a very good friend and mentor to me, and the first thing he ever said to me was, "Greg, stop thinking of yourself as an author. You're not an author, you're a proprietor of rights. Got it?' I think as far as publishers and producers are concerned, you're somebody who's trying to sell your house, and if they want the bathroom to have a cathedral ceiling, they'll tell you. And I don't think bathrooms should have cathedral ceilings."
It is likely that within the next two years, there will be a third Fletchfilm adapted and directed by Clerks' Kevin Smith, who has hinted that Jason Lee will play the title character; do not hold your breath, as it's been a project Smith has talked about doing since 1997. Mcdonald does not mind the delay or discourage the film: Though 1989's Fletch Lives wasn't based on a Mcdonald novel, for reasons he still can't quite fathom, he actually likes the notion of being interpreted through someone else's eyes--though, as Fletch's director, the late Michael Ritchie, once counseled him, "You'll never be satisfied with anything made from your books." Mcdonald found it very helpful advice.
But the return of Fletch in bookstores and on screen will not signal the return of the character; Mcdonald is done with him, and he with his creator.
"I miss Fletch more than anybody else does," Mcdonald says. "They were enormous fun to do. But I realized that if I continued, they would become just mysteries, and I'd just be grinding them out. Believe it or not, many publishers have come along saying, "Could we farm this out and have other people write your books?' I mean, seriously, to keep the franchise going! I have a good friend who is today's Ian Fleming--he's been writing the James Bond books for all these years--and I don't want anything like that ever to happen. I've told my family and so forth that if, after I kick the bucket, somebody takes over writing Fletches and Flynns under my name or in conjunction with my name or as a franchise, I will come back from the grave and twist their heads off. I just don't want that to happen. As Popeye says, "I am what I am.' I've been able to get something down on paper, and that's it."