Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Q&A with Beau L'Amour

Beau L'Amour is the co-author of Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures, Volumes 1 and 2. Beau L'Amour compiled the unpublished work of his late father into these new books. He manages Louis L'Amour's estate, and is a writer, art director, and editor.

Q: Why did you decide to compile these works by your father?

A: Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures is really the story of my father's professional life. Over that last many years I realized that there were many details about his writing career that would simply never fit in a conventional biography; however, they would be a great addition to the works that they pertained to. 

The Lost Treasures project is bigger than just Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures Volumes One and Two; there are Lost Treasures Postscripts that are or will be, included in over 30 of his long-published novels and books of short stories, as well as his first novel, No Traveller Returns, now published for the first time. It's a big project intended to fill in, and explain, as many aspects of his career as possible. 

In many ways compiling all of this was just the next step in trying to make everything he wrote available to his fans, and anyone else who might be casually interested in learning what it was like to be a writer in the heyday of 20th century publishing. I hate to say it, but that is beginning to feel like a bygone era!

I admit that the concept is all a bit random access, as opposed to a single narrative that someone could pick up and read from end to end, but much of this material requires a reader to be familiar with the book it relates to and thus would never see the light of day in a traditional biography that was presented in a linear manner.

Q: How did you choose the "lost treasures" that you include in this volume of your father's work?

A: Both Lost Treasures Volume One and Two contain the short stories, treatments, and fragments I thought were most interesting and that told the story of Dad's attempts to break away from writing Westerns. 

I was looking for the most odd and eclectic material as well as examples of how he worked. I intersperse these with Western genre material so that a traditional fan will also have the sort of material that they came for.  In most cases I have combined multiple drafts for a "best of" version for a particular story, but then I try to discuss any important differences between those different versions. 

Asking an audience member to slog through five or 25 drafts would have been quite unrealistic. Where the differences between versions are extreme or important to the points I'm trying to express, I do include the appropriate drafts.

I also included works that, though unfinished, were personally very meaningful to me and my father, like an unfinished story that dealt with the Chinese invasion and domination of Tibet, and the Western novel he was working on when he died. There were a couple of complete short stories that had not made it into previous collections, so those were automatically on the list to go in.

In a more technical sense, I might choose to include a story fragment if it had a reasonable page count and seemed to get somewhere before Dad stopped working on it. Of course, a piece was more likely to be included if it was part of the overall story I was trying to tell, the story of my father trying to expand his career and how he approached writing on a day to day basis. I would also include it if it was part of some larger continuum of stories he was telling.

When it comes to the Postscripts added to the individual Lost Treasures novels, I just looked for interesting anecdotes that I could clearly remember or that I had some documentation on. Often these contain early drafts that are considerably different than the finished novel, or stories about its creation. 

The Key-Lock Man and Kiowa Trail (neither of these postscripts is published quite yet), for instance, are connected to my father's friendship with Katherine Hepburn, the postscript to Callaghen (which has been published) is all about Dad doing research on California's "Desert Road," and a good deal of the Shalako postscript has to do with the making of the movie, one of the earliest and most "independent" independent films ever produced.

In the case of No Traveller Returns, I finished my father's first novel, which had remained in pieces since the early 1940s and did what I could in the Postscript to put its creation and my work on it into context.  It was an important element of his Yondering series of stories which documents some of the world of hobos, sailors, and soldiers of fortune he found himself living on the edges of in the 1920s. As a companion piece the Lost Treasures series also includes a revised version of the Yondering short story collection which rounds out the series.

Q: Do you see particular themes running through this collection?

A: Well, besides it being a look under the hood at the workings of the career of a working writer, Lost Treasures tends to be about overcoming, or attempting to overcome, the odds. Dad struggled to teach himself to write and eventually succeeded in both the literary and pulp market, writing short stories of all genres. 

When his pulp magazine income died (the literary magazines really didn't pay anything at all), he moved into paperback originals but, once establishing himself, there he had a great deal of trouble being accepted outside of the Western. 

Lost Treasures Volumes One and Two really show the reader how broad his interests were, because the material in those volumes includes horror, science fiction, some fairly strange Westerns, historical novels, and an odd genre I've taken to calling spiritual or occult adventure. I suspect that the work that is too ambitious for a serious writer to finish is often the work that tells you the most about who he was.

Q: What do you see as your father's legacy today?

A: I'm not sure that's up to me. I just try to provide the material and put it in context. Maybe others can figure that out. 

Probably the closest I can get is that his story is one of extraordinary perseverance. Dad was self-educated after the 10th grade, so there is perseverance and the confidence that he could break into the world of writers to begin with, and that he could then change his fate and eventually be successful with books outside the Western genre, like The Walking Drum (a 12th century historical novel), Last of the Breed (a Cold War thriller), and Haunted Mesa (science fiction). 

He had a lot of strikes against him; from the time he was 15 until his early 40s he was quite poor. If he could make his mark on the world anyone can ... but few realize it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm finishing up the last few Lost Treasures Postscripts; we should have enough to last through 2021 and maybe into 2022.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: People can get a good idea of all this series contains by going to the Lost Treasures website there are examples of postscripts, lists of the Lost Treasures books, and copies of the tables of contents of Volumes One and Two so a reader can see the type of material that they contain. 

There are also a lot of great photographs, many notes of Dad's that we were not able to fit into any of the books, examples of TV treatments, various planning documents, and a complete list of all the books my father read from 1930 to 1988.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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