Feb 252012
 
[Here's an excerpt from the email Joel mentions in his comment on the previous post, with a few additions from me in italics.]



Poking around in boxes and file cabinets while looking for something else, I came across an ancient photo copy of the instructions Dad wrote for me. I'd like to warn you it is possibly politically incorrect. In addition, it may well come through to some fans of Westerns that my father scorned the genre and the fans.   

To explain: at the time Dad was attempting to get one of his major novels for S&S finished, finish several other contracts, and still maintain the Westerns as a way of bringing in steady cash. He was paid about $3000 per Fargo and a similar amount would come in from the sales in Norway and much of the rest of Europe. Demand for Fargo and Sundance was there but there simply was not enough of Dad to go around. I do not recall the name, however, there was an author in upstate NY who started a number of pulp (non Western) series and farmed out the work to nearly 20 ghost writers on contract.  Dad was looking to build up something along those lines as well. [Joel and I have since established that he was talking about Lyle Kenyon Engel of Book Creations Inc. -- a company for which I wrote about 50 books.]


By this point Dad had written a lot of Westerns and other pulp to support a wife, three sons, and make a mortgage payment. He was just plain tired of writing Westerns for a while. The irony is, of course, his love of writing started because of his love of Westerns.  He faithfully followed the serials at the movie theaters and listened to the radio shows and read the pulp magazines of Westerns. It was with a sale of a Western story he got his start. He took annual trips to the West with my godfather and his best friend, Jim Henderson, an editor at the Norfolk Virginian Pilot. [Ben Haas wrote the comic novel THE BELLE FROM CATSCRATCH with Jim Henderson, both of them using pseudonyms, Richard Meade and Jay Rutledge, respectively. I have a copy of the book and hope to read it soon. The cover art, by the way, is by the great Jack Davis of MAD Magazine fame, and Joel sent me these scans as well.]

Dad craved recognition as a non pulp writer. Living well outside the orbit of NYCity and not able to teach at a university as he had no college degree, he probably never had the social connections for lightening to strike until the last four months of his life when a huge paperback sale of his final novel THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA occurred. Even then, it was not reviewed widely by the major papers because it was a straight forward story. He remained a "mid list author" all his professional life and by the time he was 49, fat, and bald he was professionally interested in moving past writing paperbacks. 

[Another bit of irony is that many of the literary writers from that era are forgotten and unread, while at least some of us are still reading, enjoying, and talking about books by Ben Haas and other authors like him who were great storytellers.]
Feb 252012
 
Joel Haas was kind enough to send me scans of his father's instructions on how to write a Western novel. I think this is fascinating reading and contains much good advice. Many thanks to Joel for sending this document along. You can click on each of the scans to enlarge them enough to read. Warning: there are spoilers for several of Ben Haas's novels in these pages.





Feb 162012
 

Over the past few days I've been trading emails and talking on the phone with Joel Haas, the son of one of my all-time favorite writers, Ben Haas, who wrote dozens of Westerns under the names John Benteen (the Neal Fargo and Sundance series) and Thorne Douglas (the Rancho Bravo series), as well as historical and mainstream novels under his own name. Joel is a fascinating guy with artistic talents of his own. He's a well-known sculptor.

But in the course of our conversations he mentioned that he's a writer as well, and revealed something that as far as I know has never been suspected among fans of Western series fiction: Joel actually wrote the Fargo novels THE BORDER JUMPERS and DEATH VALLEY GOLD and was poised to take over the series from his dad while Ben Haas concentrated on mainstream novels. Unfortunately, legal wrangling with Harry Shorten, the publisher of Belmont-Tower, resulted in the premature end of the Fargo series and the turning over of the Sundance series to other authors. And it wasn't long after that that Ben Haas passed away while on a trip to New York to attend a dinner given by the Literary Guild for authors it had published. Ninety novels in seventeen years is a fine legacy, but it's a shame that there couldn't have been more.

I have a copy of THE BORDER JUMPERS and plan to read it and post about it soon. I think I have a copy of Joel's other Fargo novel DEATH VALLEY GOLD, but it's somewhere in the stacks and I haven't found it yet. He's also written a World War II novel that I look forward to reading. Meanwhile, Joel has an interesting blog that you can check out here. Ben Haas has long been one of my literary idols, one of the best action writers of all time, and it's been great to connect with his son and find out more about both of them.

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