Gregory McDonald

The previous post about FLETCH got me thinking about the author, Gregory McDonald… and I unearthed this interview I did with him back in the early 80s when I was a UCLA student. Since I haven’t seen him interviewed much, I thought I’d share it with you in its entirety.


Irwin Maurice Fletcher isn’t what you would call a dashing hero. A slob maybe, unorthodox to be sure, but certainly not your average suave and debonair type.

Fletch, as his fans know him, is a reporter and perhaps the most down to earth hero in detective fiction today. If anything, he’s at least one of the bestselling.

Gregory McDonald’s “Fletch” will be back in a new adventure this summer entitled “Fletch’s Moxie,” which takes the smooth talking scribe to Hollywood to uncover the grime behind the tinsel.

Fletch arose from McDonald’s own experiences in journalism his father was a reporter and McDonald worked for seven years at the Boston Globe before writing “Fletch” in 1974.

Since that time, “Fletch” has sold one million copies a year domestically, spawned three successful sequels and two “Flynn” spin offs, and has earned McDonald the coveted Edgar award. the mystery fiction equivalent of an Oscar.

“Fletch’s Moxie, ” like last winter’s “Fletch and the Widow Bradley,” is a prequel a story which takes place e before the adventures chronicled in “Fletch” and the novels which followed it.

If that sound unusual, it’ s no more unusual than the peculiar way “Fletch” became a novel in the first place. McDonald finished up the last chapter of “Fletch” while his family waited for him in a car all packed up for a trip to Vermont. After hurriedly wrapping things up, he called his o ld copy boy at the Globe and asked him to read the book while McDonald was out of town. If you like it, he told the boy, do something with it.”

“It had no chance of succeeding, ” McDonald recalled, ” so I was pretty casual about it . ” The copy boy liked it, and so did one of three publishers he sent it to while McDonald was away.

The book became a huge success and readers demanded more. “I had had no intention of following ‘Fletch’ up. But, I got tons of mail asking me to do another one. So, I sat under a tree for six months and talked with my dog about it.”

The result was “Confess, Fletch,” and another Edgar for McDonald. One of the peripheral characters in that novel became so popular he warranted a book of his own. It was called “Flynn,” which met with enough success to prompt a sequel called “The Buck Passes Flynn” in April.

The one rule of novel writing, McDonald has learned, is “a novel to be novel must really have something novel about it.”

Each of his novels have a tantalizing gimmick, he said, citing the “real don’t reveal the ending ending” of “Fletch and the Widow Bradley.”

Why is Fletch so popular?

“I think everyone wants to be a reporter – they “Fletch”want to have the right to ask questions,” McDonald explained. “A journalist is a person with a license to ask questions.”

Even McDonald misses the pleasures of being a news hound.

“I can remember sitting around the city room at 3 am listening to the reporters tell stories. There’s a real spirit there. I miss reporting, and I still get up and want to see what I have in the paper in the morning. I miss the excitement, reporting is such marvelously seductive fun.”

The pleasurable mix of breezy sarcasm and tightly woven mystery in the Fletch tales make the books –and McDonald hard to classify. “I don’t know whether I’m a mystery writer or a humorist; it seems I’m billed as both. In New York, I’m seen as a mystery writer. To everyone else, I’m a humorist who writes mysteries.”

Hollywood hasn’t let Fletch slip by unnoticed. The first book was optioned for the big screen by Columbia Pictures five years ago. However, “Fletch” has yet to be captured on a single frame of celluloid.

“At this moment, I don’t know what the condition of the movie is. It’s been a long, sad trail,” McDonald said. “People from the ages of 17 to 77 have been on the phone to me wanting to do it (the screen adaptation). I prefer my own image of Fletch, without some actor becoming Fletch, at least right now.”

He added he’s not really “enamored” by the movie industry, a view which may surface in “Fletch’s Moxie.”

Of his books, he skirted the issue of which one is his favorite. “That’s like asking which of your kids do you like best.”

McDonald is pleased, and a little surprised, with his popularity. “I’ve very pleased people are reading (my work). Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night. It’s like making love to a million people at the same time .”

3 thoughts on “Gregory McDonald”

  1. Thanks for posting those Gregory McDonald interviews. They’re terrific. I’m also a big fan of those early Fletch novels. McDonald’s style seems so effortless. I still don’t know how he did it.
    I particularly enjoyed the look at how the first book was adapted for the movies. Kevin (Clerks) Smith has been involved with a new film about the character for a while now. He’s said that McDonald’s books taught him how to write dialogue. I still have hopes Smith can pull it off … even in the wake of Jersey Girl.

  2. I read another book around the same time… THE DADA CAPER by Ross H. Spencer, which I also re-read several times, appreciating his dialogue trickery (and even leaner approach than McDonald’s, if that’s possible). He tried to repeat the same joke with several sequels, but none matched the first book.

  3. I liked the first Fletch movie. Didn’t bother with the second, since it wasn’t based on any of the books. Any word on the Kevin Smith Fletch project? Smith has the right sense of humor to pull it off, I think.


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