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Saturday, April 25, 2020

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.

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