LEN LEVINSONLen 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 WESTERNSTAMPEDE 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.