My heroes, as the song says, have always been cowboys. In the beginning, those heroes were Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. As proof, I offer Exhibit A--me, at 2 years and 3 months, wearing my brand-new Hopalong Cassidy outfit. (My late brother Michael is garbed in Wild Bill Hickock). The year was 1957.
I've told the story several times, but the first comic book I can remember picking up and reading was a licensed Roy Rogers comic--what we'd call a tie-in, now--in a Russian barber's shop in an office building in Paris, France that was leased to the U.S. Department of Defense. We'd moved there when I was six, when my father was transferred to Paris, and that's where we all got our hair cut. In the early 60s, haircuts were a pretty regular thing.
That Roy Rogers comic led to a lifetime love affair with comics, so it was perhaps not surprising that my first real success as a comic book writer was a Western series--a Weird Western series, at that--called Desperadoes. Desperadoes was also, as it happened, my first foray into writing Western fiction.
But it was far from my last, and I'm not done yet. Recently I've sold some Western short stories, including the novella "Byrd's Luck," which was a finalist for both the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and the Peacemaker Award from the Western Fictioneers. The most recently published was "Midnight Train," in the Western Fictioneers anthology Under Western Stars, edited by Rich Prosch. There's more Western fiction on the way this year, but more on that in another installment of this blog series, because we're here to talk about Hoppy.
My first Hopalong Cassidy was actor William Boyd, who starred in 66 movies and then an insanely popular TV series from 1952-54 (which means I watched it in reruns, but just barely). Hoppy was silver-haired, smooth, faster at the draw than any mere human, and practically invulnerable. He was based on a character created by author Clarence E. Mulford in 1904. Mulford wrote dozens of short stories and novels about Hopalong. In 1950, when the TV series was anticipated, Western author Louis L'Amour--then early in his career--wrote four Hopalong novels under the name Tex Burns. These, like Hoppy and Roy Rogers comics, were also tie-ins, though I'm not sure that phrase was in use then.
Fast-forward to the more recent past. I've been a member, almost from its inception, of an organization called the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. For years, I was the keeper of the member's credits (and it was in that role that I first met my beloved wife, the incredibly talented author and poet Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell), and I've won three of the organization's coveted Scribe Awards. Last year, the org decided to put together an anthology of members' fiction. But although what binds us is our work in the licensed fiction field, we couldn't do an anthology of licensed stories, because the logistics would be insane. Instead, we decided to do stories based on public-domain characters--so we'd be applying the skills we bring to tie-in work, but without the legal issues involved with licensing characters.
The one I chose was Hopalong Cassidy. I re-watched a bunch of the TV episodes, read some of Mulford's stories, and read L'Amour's books. My Hoppy is a melange of the three (but he looks like William Boyd). It was a treat to write about one of my earliest childhood heroes. And because I am who I am, the story turned into a Weird Western--but, I think, very true to the spirit of Hopalong Cassidy.
If you're a fan, I hope you'll agree.
The anthology, Turning the Tied, is now available for preorder as an ebook. The print version will be along shortly. Note that this is NOT the final cover, but it's close. The book's theme is "uplift," and we all tried to write stories that were in some way uplifting. And none of us were paid--the proceeds are destined for the World Literacy Foundation, as good a cause as exists.
Check it out. Lots of great authors, lots of well-known and popular characters, and lots of fun.
Tell 'em Hoppy sent you.