Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell was an American novelist and screenwriter. His best-known work is the screenplay for the Tim Burton fantasy horror comedy Beetlejuice. McDowell's gothic deep-South novels appeared as paperbacks in the early 1980s, the golden age of the throwaway read. Stephen King called him "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today."

Michael McEachern McDowell was born in Enterprise, Alabama. He graduated from T.R. Miller High in Brewton and received a B.A. and an M.A. from Harvard College. McDowell also earned a Ph.D. in English from Brandeis University in 1978, based on a dissertation entitled "American Attitudes Toward Death, 1825–1865".

After dropping out of Brandeis' graduate school, McDowell realized he did not want to teach. He found work as a secretary and wrote in parallel. But the first six novels were rejected by publishers.

Then in 1977, McDowell saw a trailer for The Omen and began writing a screenplay, The Amulet, which he later adapted into a novel. Avon Books was the first publisher to see the manuscript, and they bought it, signing McDowell to a two-book contract. This deal allowed Michael McDowell to quit his secretarial job and focus on writing full-time.

McDowell achieved high praise and good sales, producing some 30 volumes, including mysteries, comedies, period adventures, psychological suspensers, and family epics.

McDowell collaborated with his close friend Dennis Schuetz in writing four mysteries starring Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace: Vermillion (1980), Cobalt (1982), Slate (1984), and Canary (1986). The four novels were published under the pseudonym Nathan Aldyne.

Generally accepted that his best book was The Elementals (1981), in which two families fatefully clash during a summer holiday on a spit of land.

McDowell was a creator of highly visual images and wrote the classic Tim Burton film Beetlejuice (1988), also collaborating on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). He wrote the novelization of the film Clue, directed by Jonathan Lynn, in 1985. McDowell is the author of the screenplay for the horror Thinner (1996), directed by Tom Holland. For the film, Michael adapted Stephen King's 1984 novel of the same title.

He famously said, "I am a commercial writer, and I'm proud of that. I think it is a mistake to try to write for the ages."

McDowell was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. After his diagnosis, McDowell taught screenwriting at Boston University and Tufts University while continuing to write commissioned screenplays. One of his final projects was a sequel to Beetlejuice.

McDowell died in Boston at the age of 49.

His final, unfinished novel Candles Burning was completed by novelist Tabitha Jane King (wife of Stephen King) and published in 2006.
years of life: 1 June 1950 27 December 1999


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