Please start by telling us a little about yourself.
I jokingly call myself the World’s Greatest Literary Janitor, when it comes to the career of Louis L’Amour my job has basically been to organize what he left behind in order to extend his career twenty years or so. That meant going through virtually every piece of paper that he left behind searching for clues with which I could recreate various aspects of his life for Bantam Books, our web sites and, occasionally, the movie industry.
On the personal side I’m just guy who lives in a little house in Los Angeles, creates fun projects to do with his friends, likes traveling, reading, and messing around with old cars. This is beginning to sound like one of those dating site profiles …I’ll move on.
Your father is famous for living a lot of the life he wrote about, was this true by the time you were able to remember him or did he live a more sedate desk bound life after his books started coming out.
Louis never lived the life of a cowboy, though he was a miner and worker on a number of farms. Much of this was done in a period, the 1920s, that had a greater resemblance to the frontier west than our world of today and some of the people who had lived in that earlier time were still alive. However, it was a time that had it’s own fascinating aspects … I always wished Louis had written more about his own time.
Once he settled down in Los Angeles right after World War Two most of that lifestyle was in the past. By the time I came along Louis was fairly tied to his desk by the responsibility of supporting a family. Writing, in those days, didn’t pay particularly well. To live a relatively middle class lifestyle and prepare for problems that the future … protracted unemployment was always a risk … Dad had to write three to four books a year. It was quite a load of work.
I have to ask, as a writer myself, how did your dad manage all these books without a computer? I am profoundly impressed. I do so much editing and revising and it would be so much harder with a typewriter. I feel like a pure wimp, but I find writers who produced as much work as your dad did especially impressive because they didn’t have computers. . .don’t even ask about James Fenimore Cooper and Jane Austen without even a typewriter. Did he tear out pages and throw them away and start over and scribble on the pages a lot? Did he write his books longhand first then transcribe it to a typewriter? Did he talk his books and have a secretary?
Louis learned to write by trying to sell to the pulp magazines. The pay was usually between $25 to $250 a story … and many, many, stories didn’t sell. He set a goal of writing a story a week in those days so there wasn’t much time for rewriting or even over thinking them. I’m sure that in the early days, long before I was born, he threw out a great many pages. Later, however, he perfected a manner of “stream of consciousness” writing that allowed him to produce an incredible number of stories but at the cost of losing some of his ability to rewrite. Perhaps a more accurate way of saying that would be that ‘he lost some of his will to rewrite’ … he was not so inclined to think about what he was writing, he made it more of a reaction than an intellectual process. That delivered a boiling energy to his work but left some of it sort of rough around the edges. Take a look at some of the writing in Yondering, stories that were highly polished in order to be sold in literary magazines, then compare them to many of the pulp westerns, where speed of production was of the essence. There is a difference.
Dad wrote a minimum of five pages a day, using two fingers, on a typewriter. He wrote six to ten hours a day, six to seven days a week for most of his adult life. At his best he could do sixty words a minute for a pretty extended amount of time. Most of the trick though, was just sticking to it and never doubting that what he was doing was right, the right scene, the right dialogue, whatever.
Did your dad travel to research his books? I’m wondering if you had adventures as a child that stemmed from having Louis L’Amour as a father.
Sometimes. Mostly he was already aware of the locations he wanted to use from his own, earlier, travels, But we did research on many of our trips and, later on, I did research for him on my own. My sister and I saw a lot of dirt roads when we were kids.
Have you met the actors and actresses who have performed in movie’s based on his books, like Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot?
I have had the privilege of working with both of those guys but meeting people or working with them and knowing them are two different things. I’ve tended to leave the celebrity types to themselves as much as possible. Some are really nice people. Some are absolute jerks. In my opinion, nothing about being a movie star is wonderful or interesting. Quite a few live difficult lives and are often not really the kind of people that you’d want to hang around with once the novelty of their being famous wore off.
That said there is a great difference between stars, who tend to exist in a bubble of fear and alienation, and a great number of actors, some of whom are my closest friends. It’s amazing how many actors, who often get a bad rap based upon a few of the worst examples, are alert, intelligent, people who are amazingly hard workers and able to both do so many different things and to train themselves in new disciplines at the drop of a hat. I really count myself lucky.
And how involved are you with current work on the books.
I had been involved with production of our dramatized audios from the start. For years we have done a series of audio books in a style similar to old time radio dramas … I use that term loosely because most of our productions do not try to be nostalgic or the least bit “old timey.” Anyway, I was in charge of the scripting and casting of the vast majority of those shows, each needing a script that was an adaptation of the original story rather than a dogmatically faithful transcription. Prose does not automatically make the best drama, just like including back and forth, script style dialogue in a novel or short story could be a mistake. Prose is a visual art, more like painting than good drama … and drama is usually more auditory, even in the movies. I also wrote and directed several of our audio dramas … in fact I’m at work editing the most recent, number seventy, I believe, even as I answer these questions.
For awhile I was doing six a year but now production has slowed considerably and we do only one every several years, however, the stories are much longer and the productions vastly more involved. This production is an audio of one of my dad’s movies that I produced several years ago, The Diamond of Jeru. It has been a wonderful opportunity to revisit that script and evolve it into something new and different. In a way it is as much of an adaptation of that film as the film was of the novella. I don’t know when it will be released, we only get about a week a month to work on these and we have to take the end of the year off as Christmas is our big sales time at louislamour.com. We are two years in and only about half done.
Back to the books. Starting with Haunted Mesa I began to be involved with doing some of Louis’s research and then occasionally doing some minor editing. After his death the work expanded to planning how to re-present the entire catalogue of his works, to art directing a new set of covers, rewriting all the jacket copy, and editing or rewriting many of the unpublished or unfinished short stories. My friend for many years, Paul O’Dell and I run the louislamour.com website and have created hundreds of pages of material on Louis and his stories. Our latest creation is Louis L’Amour’s Great Adventures, a website featuring all of Louis’s writing in the adventure genre and an examination of the world that the stories were written in. It’s full of Paul’s amazing art and maps and photos from the time period … many straight from Louis’s own archives. Also of note is louislamourslosttreasures.com, and ongoing project to catalogue many of Louis’s partially completed projects, false starts, and alternative versions of many of his published works.
I see that you’re a writer and involved in many ways in the film industry. How has being Louis L’Amour’s son helped? How as it hurt?
Being Louis’s son has helped because I inherited a catalogue of material that was already famous … it would seem that might make it easier to sell than my original material. Certainly studios and networks would rather talk about material written by my dad … at the same time they don’t really want to make westerns, so the whole situation is sort of self limiting. That said, I only occasionally work in film and don’t need to go there to earn a living so it’s not really a problem. When I want to do drama, work with actors and script and such I can do an audio. I love film but the business is very dysfunctional and time consuming … I’m glad I have publishing. Really glad.
I am a huge fan of all the L’Amour books and I don’t think I’ve missed a single one.
My personal favorite is The Sackett Brand. Here’s a bit about it (for the Petticoats & Pistols readers) I found on http://www.louislamour.com/ .
Forty gunslingers from the Lazy A have got Tell Sackett cornered under the Mogollon Rim. They’re fixing to hang him if they can capture him alive, fill him extra full of lead if they can’t.
It’s just about the best of the best in my opinion. I consider however, Jubal Sackett to be, again in my opinion, his epic story. I just loved that book. I have a question about it.
In Jubal Sackett. . .when Jubal went into that cave and saw those dead bodies and heard the words, “Find them. . .” I have ALWAYS been crazed to know what that meant. Find WHO?????
Any ideas? Even guesses would be appreciated. Was it something Louis was going to go into in a later book? Is it in Jubal Sackett and I somehow missed it?
It was a set up for the future but I don’t know where he was going with it. If that drove you crazy you really love Louis L’Amour Treasures. It’s hundreds of mysteries wrapped in riddles. Take a look …
And go to http://www.louislamour.com/ to find specially bound editions of Louis L’Amour’s classic novels.