~THE SIX-GUN JUSTICE PODCAST~

CELEBRATING THE BLAZING, BULLET BURNING ACTION IN

WESTERN PAPERBACKS, TV SHOWS, MOVIES, AND MORE...

Monday, April 27, 2020

SIX-GUN JUSTICE —EPISODE SIX

SIX-GUN JUSTICE PODCAST
EPISODE SIX
3:10 TO YUMA
Howdy, cowpokes. It's time to mosey along with the wrangler brothers Big Red and Thor Hiney and listen to the next thrilling episode of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, now streaming on all your favorite podcast platforms. 

Episode Six of the Six-Gun Justice podcast features Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch pitting the original 3:10 to Yuma (1957) against the 2007 remake, and dipping their toes into Wild Wild West, Legend, Brisco County, Jr. and the beginnings of the steampunk sub-genre.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

WESTERN WORDSLINGERS—PRESTON LEWIS


WESTERN WORDSLINGERS
PRESTON LEWIS 
SGJ: We very much enjoyed your new release from Five Star, Rio Ruidoso, kicking off your Three Rivers Trilogy. What can you tell us about the next two books?

PL: Book Two is titled Rio Bonito and it is at the publisher.  I'll start Book Three next month after I finish my next book for Wolfpack in The Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series of comic westerns. Book three of the Three Rivers Trilogy will be titled Rio Hondo. These are the three rivers and are the scenes of principal action in each book.  The Rio Ruidoso and Rio Bonito come together in the Hondo Valley to form  Rio Hondo.   

SGJ: The story of Wes Bracken and his brother, Luther, takes place against a backdrop of some infamous Western history. How did you approach that?

PL: I'm not the first person to write about the Lincoln County War, as you well know, so I tried to look for different angles that have not been so well covered. The first covers the troubles before the war formal began and deals with the racist Horrell brothers and the havoc that they caused.

The second book deals with the cattle thievery and chicanery that the Murphy machine caused, including the principal events in the Lincoln County War, though sometimes from afar.

The third volume will focus on the Kid trying to go straight and being betrayed by the governor of New Mexico, Lew Wallace. There's different opinions about Lew Wallace and a supposed pardon and it will resolve the ongoing thread with Jesse Evans and the protagonist's brother-in-law who goes bad. 

SGJ: You do a terrific job portraying the relationship between Wes and Luther in Rio Ruidoso, the love and the inevitable conflict brought on by Luther’s alcoholism. Do you have a brother?

PL: Yes, I have a younger brother.  We have a great relationship and rely on each other heavily now as we try to manage our nursing home-bound parents in their 90s.  We were complete opposites, him the popular extrovert, me the bookwork introvert.  We had a great childhood with wonderful parents.

We thought our childhood was typical, though as we've aged and learned of others with the problems they had we realize we may have had an atypical upbringing.  We hunted, we fished, we camped out, we took great vacations, and had a wonderful Christian upbringing. 

None of us in our family drink so I've never had to deal with any alcoholism in real life.  I just tried to imagine how an alcoholic might react and the problems it would create when you couldn't trust your brother. 

SGJ: The Brackens’ work with horses also comes across with great authenticity. Did you have horses growing up?

PL: We lived in the country, the most memorable years from when I was 5 to 10 and we lived on a quarter section we rented where we had a few cows and a donkey we named Flash, but no horses.

On the foaling I just did a lot of research so I could make it sound authentic.  I'm sure a genuine horseman might find some issues with my description but it should pass muster with most. 

SGJ: Thanks for chatting with us, Preston. It’s been a pleasure.

PL: Let me know if you have more questions and thank you for your kind words on and interest in Rio Ruidoso.

WESTERN NOVELS—THE PECOS KID

WESTERN NOVELS
THE PECOS KID
LEN LEVINSON
Len Levinson is a master wordslinger. He is the blazing typewriter behind 86 of the best paperback original novels in the men's adventure/western genre to be written during the '80s and '90s. Two of his men's adventure series, The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards are considered by many as the best of the best in the genre. They are currently available as ebooks, but the original paperback editions are highly sought after by collectors. Len also wrote more than a few Westerns. Recently, he has been sharing the stories behind the writing of his most popular Western novels, which he has granted permission to be shared here on the Six-Gun Justice Podcast blog...

MY SECOND WESTERN SERIES
In 1991 I was deeply demoralized due to Charter Diamond’s decision not to renew my contract for my SEARCHER series, which was my first Western series. I assumed their decision was based on low sales but recently learned it probably was because they considered SEARCHER an Adult Western.

Walmart and other family-oriented retail outlets decided to stop selling Adult Westerns, so some publishers stopped publishing them. That included SEARCHER although it contained no triple XXX-rated hardcore pornography.

Admittedly SEARCHER characters sometimes became rather passionate about each other, and occasionally went to bed together because SEARCHER was about real human beings, not a Western fairy tale. I didn’t describe graphic body parts or fornication details but Charter Diamond execs evidently classified SEARCHER as adult Westerns so scratched me off their lists.

I could not lie on my sofa and lament the end of SEARCHER for weeks and months because 100% of my income was derived from writing novels. I needed to pull myself together and create an entirely new Western series right away or else relocate to the Municipal Men’s Shelter, or a cardboard box beneath a bridge in Central Park. (I was living in Manhattan at the time, the neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen.)

All my series began with the creation of a new main character or protagonist. Who would he be in this new series?

Part of my creative process was and still consists of letting my mind wander either in my home or walking around outdoors. During one of those brainstorming sessions, my mind meandered back to 1953 when I was 18 and going through my first major life crisis.

The more I thought about my angst at age 18, the more I decided that my new protagonist also would be 18 and have my exact confused, semi-immature but occasionally rational psychology so that he could be believable, amusing, and a fully rounded complex Dostoyevskian character, not a John Wayne-type invincible Western hero who had few if any doubts about anything.

But he could not be me completely. He needed to be more courageous, charismatic, attractive, tougher, heroic, more effective in the violence department, and possess all other qualities necessary for a Western hero or anti-hero protagonist. Yet he essentially would be me with some Billy Budd tossed into the mix.

So the big question becomes: who exactly was I at age 18?

I’m going to get into some personal material here so you’ll get the full picture of who I was at age 18 and how THE PECOS KID developed. This personal material might seem irrelevant but actually helped me formulate the multi-faceted in-depth personality of my new Western main character, because most of my qualities and attitudes would be transferred to him, warts and all.

I believe that all people are very complicated in different ways and every person is unique. So was I at age 18. Fundamentally I was a good-natured, easygoing teenager but also very messed up, living in public housing in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the city where I had been born in Saint Luke’s Hospital.

Shortly before my above-mentioned major life crisis at age 18, I had been expelled from New Bedford Vocational High School for disrupting classrooms and interfering with other kids trying to learn. My specific transgressions consisted of class clown antics, distracting socializing foolishness, and avoidance of school work by means necessary.

Around that time I got in trouble with police because two of my buddies had a side gig of breaking into barrooms closed for the night and stealing cash plus everything portable that they could find. They gave me stolen booze and jewelry to hold for them, then got caught because basically they were young brainless baboons not much different from me. When detectives inquired about locations of stolen goods, my scared friends naturally gave them my name.

A short while later I was home alone one afternoon, somewhat inebriated on stolen booze, wondering what to do about my screwed-up adolescent life, when there was a knock on the door. I opened up and there stood a heavyset middle-aged guy in a suit holding a badge before my very eyes. He informed me that my friends were in jail and had confessed that they gave me stolen goods. The detective then asked me to give him said loot.

I did not argue that I had no stolen goods. Instead I lied that I didn’t know that stolen goods had been stolen. I went upstairs, gathered the swag and gave it all including unopened bottles of booze to the detective. He didn’t arrest me. He just walked back to his car.

I felt certain that he would return and bust me. Perhaps I should get out of town? While wondering how to proceed, I had no idea that the worst was yet to come a few days later when I got into a big ugly argument with my drunken rotten father, an argument that led to my first major life crisis.

Where was my mother? She died when I was four and I had lived with the old villain since I was nine. His method of dealing with me was straightforward physical intimidation. Yes, he smacked me around from time to time, and I would be considered an abused child by today’s standards, although I didn’t feel like a victim and never felt sorry for myself that I can recall. I was living among low income people not well educated. Domestic violence was not unusual although they generally were honorable and decent.

I was very stoical as a child and accepted my reality as a problem that I just had to deal with as best I could. I increasingly disliked and feared the old son-of-a-bitch and often wondered if I really was his son. I knew that one day in the not too distant future I would be old enough to escape. Actually I should have been grateful to him because he taught me valuable coping skills.

Dear old Dad’s physical intimidation couldn’t go on forever because I was growing bigger as children inevitably do. On the occasion of my first major life crisis I was taller and much better physically conditioned than him.

It also should be mentioned that I hung out a lot in the streets and had learned that I absolutely could not allow anyone to push me around. It was considered better to lose a fight and get beaten to a pulp or even killed rather than get pushed around. I accepted those values without question as did every other male whom I knew in the South End of New Bedford.

I brought those values to my first major life crisis which began one evening shortly after the visit by the detective. It was launched by a heated argument with dear old Dad. He always was insulting, criticizing and hassling me about one thing or another. I argued back and that evening must have really pissed him off. He was standing at the sink, washing dishes, and threw the dishrag at me.

It hit me in the face. I went berserk and attacked him physically for the first time ever. He was in his fifties, drunk and out of shape whereas I was sober, young and in the best condition of my life. I won’t go into gruesome details because this little article is supposed to be about my second Western series, but suffice to say that I was enraged, knocked him down twice and perhaps would have hurt him badly if our neighbor on the other side of the flimsy wall in the government housing project didn’t hear everything and threaten to call the police.

I was extremely agitated after the fight. Upstairs in my bedroom I wondered what in the hell to do next. It became increasingly clear that I was in deep trouble on all fronts and had better get out of town before my situation deteriorated further and I killed the old bastard or he killed me, or I went to jail as an accomplice to barroom burglaries.

Now I must digress again. Although a lousy high school student, I always read a lot. On the evening in question, I recently had finished reading a paperback novel called GERALDINE BRADSHAW by Calder Willingham, a big name on the literary scene in those days, now completely forgotten. The novel was about bellhops at a California resort hotel who had love affairs with movie stars, socialites and other beautiful women.

A plan formed in my immature overly excitable mind. I decided to become a bellhop at a California resort hotel and have love affairs with movie stars, socialites and other beautiful women. I had accumulated some savings from my horrible boring supermarket job but didn’t think enough was available to carry me all the way to California, so instead I’d go to Miami Beach, which I assumed was like California, and live my wonderful bellhop dream there.

I didn’t sleep much that night because I thought the old rat would kill me while I was unconscious. Next day I went to Sears Roebuck, bought a cheap suitcase, stuffed it with some clothes, and hit the road.

That was back in 1953 when Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy also were on the road. They were in an automobile whereas I was in a Trailways bus. Evidently I was part of the Beat Generation without even knowing it.

In essence I was a teenaged vagabond on the face of the earth. I won’t go into elaborate explanations about all that happened on the road because again, I’m supposed to be writing about my second Western series, but suffice to say that I met a few strange individuals on my journey, including a pretty blonde chick around my age who wanted me to go with her to Spartanburg, South Carolina and work in a canning factory. Although severely tempted I continued to Miami, checked into the YMCA, and set out to become a bellhop and have love affairs with movie stars, socialites and other beautiful women.

Now back to New York City circa 1991. I made the final decision that my new protagonist fundamentally would be me at age 18 on the loose in the Wild West instead of Miami Beach. Like me he thought he was capable of great achievements while uncomfortably aware that he actually was a dumb kid. Like me he would have tremendous confidence and monumental self-doubts. Like me he usually was an optimist although he had no good reason to be optimistic about anything. Like me he was very shy and awkward around girls unless they talked to him first.

Unlike me I conceived my new character as extraordinarily good-looking, more or less like Elvis Presley, and girls and even grown women went nuts over him, which confused and embarrassed him, while men often would become extremely jealous, causing him to get involved in violence which he could not avoid, and at which he was becoming increasingly proficient. I don’t remember exactly how, but my overheated imagination came up with the name “Duane Braddock”.

What was his backstory? At this point my creative imagination went into overdrive. I decided that Duane Braddock had been orphaned as a baby and raised in a Benedictine monastery in the Pecos region of Texas. His father was said to be an outlaw who got hanged, and his mother supposedly had been a prostitute who died shortly thereafter of some strange disease, although some said Duane’s father had been a small rancher who lost a range war against big ranchers, and his mother had been a pious Catholic girl who’d married his father and died shortly after he was killed, and after she gave birth to a little boy.

One day in the monastery Duane gets into a brutal fight with another orphan and almost kills him. The old Abbot unceremoniously throws Duane out the gate. When the first novel in the series opens, Duane has just departed the monastery and is on a stagecoach headed toward a frontier town, as I left New Bedford after brawling with my father and was on a Trailways bus headed for Miami Beach.

Duane’s immediate goal is to become a cowboy although he’d never ridden a horse, just as my immediate goal was to become a bellhop although I knew nothing about the hotel business.

Duane’s secondary goal is to find out the truth about his parents, as I often wondered about who was my real father. Duane’s quest to discover more information about his parents - partially drives plots of all novels in the series.

In that first small town Duane is befriended by an aging alcoholic gunfighter named Clyde Butterfield who teaches him the classic fast draw, as I met people in Miami Beach who taught me about hotels and restaurants. Duane has very quick reflexes and becomes amazingly skilled with a gun, a huge advantage in the Wild West where many men with bad intentions are drunk and carrying guns.

He also falls in love with a saloon singer named Vanessa Fontaine known on the frontier saloon circuit as the Charleston Nightingale, a tall willowy blonde around five years older than he, based loosely on a model friend of mine who had appeared in VOGUE and other fashion magazines. Vanessa falls in love with Duane against her better judgement, because he’s so darned good-looking. She can’t help herself, poor thing.

Naturally there are envious men who don’t like Duane, such as the sugar daddy who loves and supports Vanessa financially. Naturally there are lots of outlaws and other nasty characters who decide to bully young Duane Braddock, and come to regret it.

An unprincipled newspaperman sees Duane win a gunfight and decides to sell more newspapers by sensationalizing him as the notorious nefarious Pecos Kid. Duane’s reputation as a gunfighter grows and naturally there are homicidal maniacs who want to make their reputations by killing him. He finally achieves his great ambition of becoming a cowboy, even lives with Apaches for awhile, and has many spectacular adventures while wandering the Wild West, gradually becoming more mature and learning more and more about his parents.

That was the premise for the series which I called THE PECOS KID by Jack Bodine. I wrote it up as a presentation, and my literary agent Barbara Lowenstein sold it to Harper. So I was back to work again, earning money and reliving my teenage years not in reality but as a cowboy in the Old West.

The series ran for six novels and wasn’t renewed because of low sales or perhaps it also was considered an Adult Western at a time when Adult Westerns were going out of style, although there was no graphic pornography in THE PECOS KID.

I fell into economic distress yet again and needed to create another series immediately. What would it be this time? How could I dream up something all new again? Were my weary brain cells up to the task? For the answer to these and numerous other significant and meaningful questions, stay tuned.

You’re probably wondering if I ever became a bellhop and actually had love affairs with movie stars, socialites and other beautiful women. The answer is a resounding no. After arriving in Miami Beach, I soon learned that bellhop jobs were highly prized and held longterm by grown men with families, not dumb kids who just walked in off the sidewalk. So I became a dishwasher at a Kosher deli called Lechtner’s, then a busboy at the same deli, and finally a busboy at the Sea Isle hotel at 30th Street and Collins Avenue, which in those days was a fairly new top-echelon Miami Beach joint.

Miami Beach pretty much closed down during the summer in those days, so I scored a busboy job at the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, was promoted to waiter, enlisted in the Army at the end of the season, passed G.E.D. tests while stationed in Alaska, mustered out after three years active duty, attended Michigan State University on the G.I. Bill, and after graduation (class of 61) travelled to New York City to seek my fortune which I still haven’t found and probably never will.

So that’s the saga of my early years in a nutshell, and the story of THE PECOS KID series by Jack Bodine. The series has been republished as ebooks by Blackstone under my real name, Len Levinson, and available on Amazon for anyone who might want to explore this peculiar matter in greater detail.

WESTERN NOVELS—SEARCHER: STAMPEDE

WESTERN NOVELS
SEARCHER: STAMPEDE
LEN LEVINSON
Len Levinson is a master wordslinger. He is the blazing typewriter behind 86 of the best paperback original novels in the men's adventure/western genre to be written during the '80s and '90s. Two of his men's adventure series, The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards are considered by many as the best of the best in the genre. They are currently available as ebooks, but the original paperback editions are highly sought after by collectors. Len also wrote more than a few Westerns. Recently, he has been sharing the stories behind the writing of his most popular Western novels, which he has granted permission to be shared here on the Six-Gun Justice Podcast blog...

MY FAVORITE WESTERN
STAMPEDE is my all-time favorite Western novel that I ever wrote. It was #7 in my SEARCHER series published in 1992 by Charter Diamond under my pseudonym Josh Edwards.

Set shortly after the Civil War, STAMPEDE tells of a cattle drive from Texas to a railhead in Kansas and stars my hero/anti-hero protagonist John Stone, a former Confederate cavalry officer searching for his lost love Marie in the Wild West, and working at odd jobs to support himself.

STAMPEDE was inspired by one of the best books I ever read about the Wild West, THE TRAIL DRIVERS OF TEXAS by J. Marvin Hunter, which consists of interviews with cowboys who’d actually worked on cattle drives and dealt with rustlers, other types of outlaws, hostile Indians, tornadoes, stampedes and numerous additional difficulties while working to keep their herds together and moving steadily north to the railhead in Kansas.

STAMPEDE also was influenced by the old TV series RAWHIDE which was about cattle drives and starred young Clint Eastwood. STAMPEDE additionally was fertilized by one of the greatest Western movies ever made, RED RIVER, another cattle drive extravaganza that starred the unbeatable combination of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, directed by Howard Hawks,.

My STAMPEDE is very different from RAWHIDE and RED RIVER because it erupted from my own personal feverish imagination which was extra-feverish when I was writing STAMPEDE.

I always get deeply involved with my novels but somehow became more deeply involved than usual with this one. Sometimes I felt like I was plugged into the wall along with my computer, causing high voltage sparking through my veins and around my cranium.

I passionately loved writing this novel. It has everything a cattle drive novel should have, every type of tribulation, violence and catastrophe but also includes comedy, love and even, believe it or not, a peyote trip in which John Stone and the other cowboys get stoned out of their skulls at a crucial point in the cattle drive.

Love? The herd is owned by a young woman named Cassandra and she too is on the cattle drive. She’s an orphan and widow who had married Mister Wrong who ruined her financially, and her only hope for economic rejuvenation is to get the cattle to market in Kansas. She resembles John Stone’s lost love Marie, so a certain attraction builds between them but I won’t divulge what happens because I shouldn’t spoil the story for anyone who might want to read it.

Cassandra always has led a sheltered life and is not equipped to deal with ex-criminals, lunatics and tough guys who are working for her, including the ramrod Truscott who calls her Clarabelle and actually laughs at her when she orders him to do something. The grizzled cowboys all treat her like an idiot or dizzy child, and do as they damn well please but Cassandra has true grit, adapts to the situation, and eventually gains control of them. It ain’t easy and I won’t tell you how because again, I shouldn’t spoil the story for anyone who might want to read it.

The cook is a former slave who in those days was called a Negro. By an odd quirk of fate, he had been a field slave on John Stone’s father’s plantation and hates John Stone intensely although Stone barely remembers him and had nothing to do with management of the plantation; he usually was away at private boarding schools and finally West Point. John Stone and the former slave are on a deadly collision course and eventually will fight it out, white man and black man trying to kill each other or be killed.

The first paragraphs on the first page are:

The cowboys from the Triangle Spur sat around the campfire, eating steak and beans. It was night, a chill was on the prairie, and the indigo sky was splattered with stars. The men were exhausted, clothes torn, fingernails caked with dirt. On the trail nearly a week, it was a constant struggle to keep the longhorns shaped, bunched and pointed toward Abilene.

Near the flames, John Stone leaned against his saddle, his old Confederate cavalry hat on the back of his head. His clothes were covered with dust which permeated his dark blonde hair and beard. This was his first cattle drive, and he rode the drag.

The other cowboys were as tattered and beat as he. They were the usual assortment of misfits, vagabonds, adventurers and desperadoes, firelight flickering on their bearded faces because nobody had the time, energy, or inclination to shave. Some had driven longhorns to Abilene before, while others like Stone were making their first trip. They knew that hardship lay ahead, and other cowboys had died violently on the trail, ending up in lonely graves on the tactless wastes, but so far the drive had been without incident.

It won’t be without incident much longer because this is after all a Len Levinson Western.

Later in my Western literary career, a guy named Acklin Hoofman from Michigan contacted me and we spoke on the phone a few times. He collected Westerns, had amassed a huge collection, and asked if I’d autograph some of mine that he owned. I said yes, he mailed them to me, I signed and mailed them back.

During one of our conversations we spoke about STAMPEDE. Acklin Hoofman said, “A book like that doesn’t come along every day.”

The SEARCHER series has been republished by Piccadilly as ebooks under my real name, Len Levinson with different but also excellent covers by Tony Masero, and available from Amazon.

WESTERN NOVELS—SEARCHER

WESTERN NOVELS
SEARCHER
LEN LEVINSON
Len Levinson is a master wordslinger. He is the blazing typewriter behind 86 of the best paperback original novels in the men's adventure/western genre to be written during the '80s and '90s. Two of his men's adventure series, The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards are considered by many as the best of the best in the genre. They are currently available as ebooks, but the original paperback editions are highly sought after by collectors. Len also wrote more than a few Westerns. Recently, he has been sharing the stories behind the writing of his most popular Western novels, which he has granted permission to be shared here on the Six-Gun Justice Podcast blog...

MY FIRST WESTERN SERIES
While writing two Western novels in the LONG RIDER series for Berkley circa 1986, I was enjoying myself so much, I felt a burning desire to create and write my very own Western series.

What would it be? The Old West offered unlimited dramatic possibilities. First I needed to come up with a character, then plots would follow. Who exactly was he? What would be the name of his game?

According to my research, the Old West was populated with many types seeking new opportunities on the great American frontier. Some were criminals running from police back east, others were farmers wanting inexpensive land, many entrepreneurs planned to start businesses, a great number of Civil War veterans hoped to forget the bloody mess they had survived, and innumerable adventurous types were searching for excitement which was plentiful in the new land, perhaps too plentiful.

After weighing various choices, I finally decided that my main character would be some kind of Civil War veteran, and the series would begin shortly after the end of that titanic struggle.

What side had he fought on? Gradually I was drawn to the notion of a Confederate cavalry officer who’d lost everything in the war and hoped for a new life on the frontier.

Why a Confederate instead of a Union officer? Perhaps because I often felt like I too was on the losing side of a war, in my case my war to achieve financial stability as a freelance novelist.

I perceived my ex-Confederate officer as a tragically romantic figure, something of an intellectual, emotionally sensitive beneath his rugged exterior, but whenever there was violence in his vicinity, as so often happened on the frontier, the old war craziness came over him and he became quite dangerous.

So who would he be already? I had to get specific and make a final decision.

I really can’t explain point by point how the creative process works inside my skull, but visions or hallucinations play a part. I was starting to visualize a big guy in his late twenties, around six-foot-four, broad shoulders, flat stomach, wearing a beat-up old Confederate calvary officer’s wide brimmed hat, walking into a frontier saloon in the first paragraph of the first page of the first novel.

What was his backstory? Because he needed a backstory in order for me to see him as a fully realized flesh and blood human being. Details of the backstory might not appear in any of the novels, but his backstory was necessary for my own understanding of him.

Gradually the pieces fell into place. I imagined that his father had owned a vast plantation in South Carolina with many slaves, but my protagonist never was involved with day-to-day management, never bought or sold slaves, never worked as an overseer, never raped slave women.

Instead he had been just another frivolous young Southern aristocrat who spent most of his time riding and racing horses, hunting on horseback, fishing, gambling, going to balls at opulent mansions, playing sports, attending a succession of private schools, and occasionally drinking more than was good for him.

Like many other Southerners including Robert E. Lee, he was troubled by the “peculiar institution” of slavery but couldn’t imagine how he personally could change anything, so preferred to look the other way toward his pleasures, devotion to his family, his love life, and his ambition to attend West Point.

Not everyone is a militant. Not everyone is an activist. Many dislike and avoid politics. He was one of them.

What was his name? Because names of protagonists are important. They’ve got to have a certain ring. I thought of many possibilities but had to choose one.

Somehow an old song by the Beach Boys was echoing through the tunnels of my mind at that time. It contained the lyrics:

Sheriff John Stone

Why don’t you leave me alone?

That’s it, I thought. I’ll call him John Stone.

I didn’t want him wandering the frontier aimlessly like a bum. I wanted his life to have purpose and meaning. What more than anything else gives men purpose and meaning?

Women.

I knew this for a fact personally because at that time I’d recently been involved with a young lady named Marie. After four years together we broke up for the same reason most couples break up - we became increasingly incompatible. But I think we really loved each other underneath it all. As I look back, I believe that no one ever loved me like Marie and I guess she was the great love of my life.

She left NYC and went West after we broke up. I missed her very much while I was planning my new Western series. She was in my heart and mind so often, she became part of the series.

I reinvented her as a young lady also named Marie who grew up on a nearby plantation. She and John Stone had known each other virtually all their lives and loved each other most of that time. It was taken for granted by them and their families that they would marry after John graduated from West Point. Their future appeared lovely except for one big problem: the impending crisis that became the Civil War.

John was in his last year at West Point when South Carolinians fired on Fort Sumter. Like many West Pointers he had conflicting loyalties. His close friend and classmate George Armstrong Custer from Michigan stayed with the Union Army, but John remained loyal to South Carolina. He simply could not go to war against his native land, and felt morally compelled to defend fellow South Carolinians from the coming Northern invasion, despite misgivings about slavery.

He returned home and enlisted in the Hampton Legion, a cavalry unit formed by Wade Hampton also from South Carolina, one of the wealthiest plantation owners in the South whom John Stone and his family knew personally. The Hampton Legion later became the Hampton Brigade.

Lieutenant John Stone became Captain John Stone during what Southerners called “The War of Northern Aggression”. He fought in the bloodiest battles of that great national conflict, numerous friends had been killed, he had been painfully wounded on several occasions, carried scars all over his body, and it was all for nought. The surrender totally demoralized him but the worst was yet to come.

He returned home after mustering out, and discovered that his parents had died recently, the plantation mansion burned to the ground, fields devastated. To make matters worse, if possibly there could be something worse: the family plantation has been deeply in debt and reclaimed by the bank. He had no money to speak of and no idea of what to do with himself.

What about Marie? She had disappeared. John was told she went west with a Union officer. John couldn’t believe Marie went anywhere with a Union officer. With nothing better to do, he went West to search for her. All he had was his Army horse, his Army revolver, his old Confederate cavalry officer’s hat, his love for Marie, and an old Daguerrotype of her which he will show people along the way, asking if they’ve seen her.

John Stone arrives in a Kansas town on the first page of the first novel in the series. Parts of his backstory will be told from time to time in memories, flashbacks and my exposition inserted whenever necessary as he journeys deeper into the wild frontier. Wherever he goes, he inquires about Marie and shows the Daguerrotype of her.

Sometimes unprincipled people purposely send him on wild goose chases for the hell of it. Others honestly believe they’ve seen Marie but are mistaken. John meets a rancher’s wife who looks just like her, and becomes disappointed again.

Working at odd jobs to support himself, he even becomes sheriff of a small town for awhile, works as a cowboy for a spell and rides the drag on a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. Wherever he is, whatever he does, he’s always searching for the great love of his life. Sometimes he gets discouraged but never gives up. Naturally the series includes lots of gunfights, fistfights, knife fights and other action because the Wild West was not a peaceful place. John Stone even runs into his old friend George Armstrong Custer in an Army fort way out there on the frontier.

I decided to call my new Western series SEARCHER because it seemed the most accurate title. I was aware of the movie THE SEARCHERS starring John Wayne, which I had seen and enjoyed, but my series was so different, I didn’t think there’d be confusion between the two.

My literary agent Barbara Lowenstein sold my SEARCHER concept to Charter Diamond. My editor became Tom Colgan who seemed to really like the series. Eventually it became twelve novels by Josh Edwards. I became very emotionally involved with SEARCHER and was exceedingly disappointed when the final contract wasn’t renewed. I wanted to keep going for many more novels but the party suddenly was over.

The original twelve novels have been republished as ebooks by Piccadilly under my real name, Len Levinson, and presently available from Amazon.

SEARCHER was not the end of my Western literary career. I was too enchanted with the Old West to let that to happen. I wanted to invent another Western series that perhaps would gain a wider audience than SEARCHER. What would it be? For the answer to this intriguing and provocative question, stay tuned.