Sunday, December 19, 2010
NEW YOUTH SAGEBRUSH SAGAS
“My dad and I go hunting together. I was walking through the woods, bow-hunting, when a line popped into my head, which was, “The half-breed moved only when the wind blew.” Because it was a real dry, crisp day, the leaves were crunchy. Every time I took a step I was announcing my presence to everything in the woods. So when the breeze would come through, that would make a rustling sound, and that’s when I would move, to kind of cover up my sound. And I’m a little bit Cherokee, so that line popped into my head, and I’m thinking, ‘That would be a good first line for a book!’ I had a pencil and pad in my backpack, and when I got to my stand I just started writing. And I never stopped. I was well into it before I thought, wow, I’ve really got something here. Maybe I ought to try and complete it.”
J. Bradford Lawler did complete it, and that was the birth of The Adventures of Hood and Fudd, the first of what he plans to be least four Western youth novels, set in the mountains of Virginia in 1888. But he didn’t set out to be a novelist – he laughed when I called him a professional writer. “‘A Professional Writer?’ That’s funny. The writing thing was kind of a surprise. I was always a math guy. In fact, in my freshman year in college (William and Mary), creative writing was a mandatory class, and I got a ‘D’. It was probably a mercy ‘D’ at that. I wasn’t very creative – I was a builder. Then about three years ago the building business started tanking, and it looked like it wasn’t going to get better for a long time, so I just decided to get out of it rather than watching it die slowly. I have a farm where I live, so I started planting a vineyard, raising goats and chickens. My grandfather was a farmer, and it made me think of him a lot. Back to the land – I’ve really enjoyed doing that.”
The hero of the story, fifteen-year-old Hood, is half Cherokee. His white father’s been murdered, at least in part for being married to an Indian. After living on the reservation with his mother and grandfather, Hood goes back to claim his father’s farm, and seek revenge on his father’s killer. I asked Brad if, a century after the story takes place, he sensed any anti-Indian feeling growing up in Virginia. “None at all. In fact I had no idea that I was part Indian in my youth. I never found out until my 40th birthday. I was in the woods above our camp with my dad, and I’d been there a week. I was kind of scruffy, and I said, ‘You know, Dad, I can never grow a good beard because I have these two dead spots.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got ‘em in the same spot. It’s probably the Indian blood.’ And I’m like, ‘Excuse me?’ He was like, ‘Oh, I thought you knew.’ It was something that was never that important to him, but man, I would have loved known that growing up – I would have thought it was the coolest thing in the world.”
The other protagonist is Fudd, a young man who lives much more comfortably than Hood. His main concern is hunting down a mountain lion that’s killing off the locals. Brad told me that neither one is based on a real person, but the dog, Buddy, is based on Chow/Lab mix he had twenty years ago, that protected his the two-year-old daughter from a loose Doberman.
The character names started as a series of jokes. “Up at hunt camp I had a buddy we called Elmer Hood, because he was Robin Hood with a bow and Elmer Fudd with a gun.” Both leads were named after him. “I’m a Washington Redskins fan, and a lot of the heroes have Washington Redskins names, like the bartender’s Russ Brown, sheriff’s Daryl Green, and the villains are all Dallas Cowboys.”
He rooted the story in a place he knows well, the ‘Eastern West’ of Virginia. “The whole story takes place in the mountains of Virginia, in old family land of mine, of my parents and my grandparents. In fact the subtitle of the book is ‘Taming the Eastern Frontier.’ I was writing something that I knew about – and that always helps.” I asked him if the story was based on fact. The plot is not, but some of the incidents are. “Some of the hunting scenes are stuff that actually took place at my hunt camp over the years – not the mountain lion, but where the coyotes are chasing the deer and two fawns, that really happened, not to me but to a friend of mine. And the rest of the story just kind of morphed. It’s not like I had any kind of a syllabus to go by. I just would keep writing, and invent characters as I went along. Like one day I needed a couple of strong girl characters. Because the first version was all about boys, and I got to thinking I needed some girl characters too. So I created them as I needed them.”
“While I was writing it, I (realized) the western really isn’t as popular as it used to be. When I grew up you would see a lot more western books. It seems like today’s generation, they didn’t grow up with John Wayne, and westerns weren’t really on their radar, at least here in the East. But things tend to be cyclical – everything comes back in style except those fashions from the ‘80s. The book’s directed at (young people), it’s geared towards them, but I feel like it’s an appropriate read for a lot of different audiences. It’s a western, it’s action/adventure, it’s historical fiction. I try to be historically accurate. I think it’s appropriate for people eight to eighty and then some.”
As a teacher, I’ve read quite a bit of kid’s fiction, and it’s generally pretty-well sanitized of anything ‘troubling’ or challenging. Hood and Fudd is, by contrast, delightfully politically incorrect, full of life-and-death events: people are killed by mountain lions, bitten by rattlesnakes, deer are hunted and skinned, trains are held up, and people get shot. I told him I thought boys would particularly enjoy it. “I love hearing that.” I asked if he met with any resistance from his publisher. “Well, the first two publishers I went to wouldn’t give me the time of day -- big New York publishing houses. So I just decided to try someone local here in Richmond, Martha Allison at Capital City Books, and she was great. They read the book and liked it – and felt it needed some help, and they were right. They were wonderful, I really feel that they made the book marketable. I’m a bad speller – anybody who knows me finds it almost inconceivable that I could write a book.”
There’s also quite a bit of praying in the book. “I was pretty insistent that that was something I wanted to leave in there. I’m not going to shy away from God. I also felt that I wanted to write something that’s addressing morals and values, to be a positive influence on kids. I tried not to have any cussing in there – the cussing would be referred to: He let out a diatribe of vulgarity. I’ve got a seventeen year old daughter, and I wanted it to be something that would reach them in a positive way. I didn’t want it to become preachy, because that’s a real turn-off to them.”
I asked him who he liked among people writing for a young audience. “: I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books – I think J.K Rowling is incredible! She invented a whole new world. I find what she did to be exceptional – I find it inspiring.” I complimented him on the illustrations in his book. “My sister, Kelly Cleary, would love to hear that. I had asked my editor if I could have my sister do a couple of pictures for the book, and they said, well, bring in a sample of her work. So I did, and they came up with the idea of a picture at the beginning of every chapter. And she's doing the illustrations for another book that my publisher is doing.”
Brad is fortunate that his book’s appeal is not limited to boys. “So far it’s done really well with girls. The first place I started selling the book was at church, and some of the girls really got into it – they did more talking about it than some of the boys. In fact, one of them invited me to speak to her fifth grade class, and I’ve spoken to a 4th grade class as well. The girls seemed to be enjoying it as much or more than the boys.”
He’s writing the second book now, entitled The Mystic Warrior, and he’s no longer just making it up as he goes along. “I’ve definitely got a smarter approach (to the other novels). I’ll have it structured where I want to take it.” Another character who turns up in Hood and Fudd, though referred to simply as ‘TR’ until the end, is Teddy Roosevelt. Was he actually in Virginia at that time? “Not that I’m aware of. But he did go around the world to get trophy animals for his collection. I used that as a foot-in-the-door to get him down here.” I asked if he would appear in later books. “I think he will. So far it’s intended to be a four book series, and I’m well into the second one. And my timeline’s getting to where I’d like Teddy to make an appearance. The second book is going to tie up a lot of the East and the West. I’m going to have some stuff about the ghost-dance movement and things like that. Chronologically it all ties in very well. So without telling you too much, I’m going to have some historical figures, that were tied to the Ghost Dance movement, have a part in the second book. I think in the third book Hood may end up as a Cavalry Scout.”
The Adventures of Hood & Fudd, by J. Bradford Lawler, is published by Capital City Books. It’s 182 pages, and it’s available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, for $14.95.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION NAMED ‘GAME OF THE YEAR’
The spaghetti-western-styled video game from Rockstar Games won four trophies at Spike-TV’s 8th Annual Video Game Awards, on Saturday, December 11th. Red Dead Redemption also took home awards for Best Song, Best Original Score, and Best Downloadable Content.
AUTRY DOUBLE-BILLS AT – WHERE ELSE? – THE AUTRY!
Saturday, January 1st, 2011, New Years Day, admission to the Autry Museum will be free. But better news still, a double-feature of Gene’s films will be shown in the Imagination Gallery’s Western Legacy Theatre. And henceforth, the first Saturday every month will feature a different Gene Autry double bill. January 1st, at 2 p.m., it’s Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935) and Last Round-up (1947). February 1st will feature Shooting High (1940) and Sioux City Sue (1946).
In a recent letter to members, Museum President John L. Gray touted the wide range of events featured at the Autry this year, including events as far out of the mainstream as George Takei’s discussion about being a gay Asian in the American West, but concluded by noting that their best-attended event overwhelmingly was their first Annual Celebration of the American Cowboy. Over the last year I’ve heard from a number of western enthusiasts who felt that the Autry had been taking them for granted. If it was true, it sounds like it’s no longer the case.
‘WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH’ ON HULU
For months I’ve been plugging the movies and TV shows shown for free on HULU. I was just looking through their western listings and noticed they are showing 1926’s silent classic, The Winning of Barbra Worth, and from the first several minutes I watched, the print looks pristine. Based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright, author of the first American million-seller, The Shepherd of The Hills, the screenplay is by the great Frances Marion, directed by the equally great King Vidor, and stars Ronald Coleman, Vilma Banky and a very young Gary Cooper. To see it, CLICK HERE.
WINNERS OF 1ST ANNUAL ROPE AND WIRE SHORT STORY CONTEST ANNOUNCED
1st Place, and $250, went to Bill Henderson for The K-Bar Incident. 2nd Place, and $75, went to Charlie Steel for For The Love Of a Woman. 3rd Place, and a $50 prize went to Tom Roberts for his story , Toby. 4TH Place went to T.T, Thurman for The Double Eagle, and 5th Place, for her story Disturbing The Peace, was won by Elisabeth Foley. You can read all of the stories HERE.
‘TRUE GRIT’ OPENS WEDNESDAY
Unless you've been pulling a Rip Van Winkle, you know that the Coen Brothers’ film from the Charles Portis novel, starring Oscar Winners Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, and Oscar Nominee Josh Brolin, opens everywhere on Wednesday the 22nd. Western writer C. Courtney Joyner is the first of a long string of friends who saw previews, and called me to say that the picture’s terrific. And it’s already received 11 nominations from the Critics Circle Award – and none from the Golden Globes, which is an even bigger compliment.
24 HOURS OF JOHN WAYNE WESTERNS ON TCM WEDNESDAY 12/22
Don't know if it's coincidence or not, but the same day that the new True Grit opens, TCM gives you 24 hours of the Duke, including True Grit and the greatest of Christmas Western, Three Godfathers. Check your local listings for times, but here's the order: Rio Lobo, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, The Searchers, 3 Godfathers, The Sons Of Katie Elder, True Grit, Rio Bravo, McClintock!, Big Jake, The Man From Monterey.
ROY ROGERS CHRISTMAS MOVIE ON RFD
This Saturday, Dec. 18th, RFD-TV, which has been showing pictures from the early 1940s, jumps ahead a decade with Roy's Christmas movie, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950). It involves Christmas-tree rustles muscling in on Jack Holt's Christmas tree farm. It's shot in Republic's own Trucolor, a process that made everything blue look green, and everything green look brown, but produced red very well -- which is why most of Republic's leading ladies of the era were redheads, and why the Christmas trees in question all appear to be dead. The picture features the entire Republic star roster of the day: Roy, Rex Allen, Allan 'Rocky' Lane, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Monte Hale, Kermit Maynard, Tom Tyler, Tom Keene -- not to mention Penny Edwards, Trigger, and Gordon Jones -- Mike The Cop from the Abbott and Costello Show.
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
FREE WESTERNS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT HULU
A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.
The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.
That's it for this week, my friends! Have a very Merry Christmas!
All Contents Copyright December 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved