After I gave him three successful history books, my editor at Doubleday was curious to see what I could do with a novel. Writers who are just now breaking into the business will hate my saying this, but back in those days a sympathetic editor might give a promising writer a toss-off contract for a small or genre novel, just to see what developed. (Those days, sadly, are no longer with us). My editor was responsible for the “Double-D” series of westerns, of which at that time they published 14 per year, most of which they sold under continuous contract to school and public libraries. They printed 5,000 books, and they had about 4,850 such contracts. So the success of the book was guaranteed, because the fix was already in. However, this has never for a moment prevented me from bragging that, yes, my first novel sold out the first day.
I chose for my topic the San Carlos Apache Indian agency during the tenure of John P. Clum, a 22-year-old farm boy from New York who had hardly even seen an Indian. His appointment had been arranged by a corrupt “ring” of army contractors who supposed that he would be an easy dupe to control. As it turned out, they could not have been more wrong.
Of course, I had no idea how to write a novel, and it ultimately took me almost longer to compose it than it took Brahms to write his first symphony. But I do think now that it must not totally suck, because every time I attend some western writers or history conference, somebody brings me a battered old copy to sign.
After it was published I, like all first-time novelists, hoped that a studio would purchase the film rights and make a movie. I didn’t realize then that film rights to novels based on history are almost never purchased, because it is cheaper for the producer to hire a researcher to write up a quick paper on the same subject, and lay enough of a trail to claim that the novel was not an influence. Besides, it was only many years later that I learned that a John Clum movie had already been made, called “Walk the Proud Land,” with Audie Murphy as John Clum. Murphy of course was a better soldier than he was actor, but this particular film has some wonderful moments, thanks mostly to the presence of a very young Anne Bancroft.
Kings of San Carlos is long out of print, but it is usually available through used-and-rare search sites. This is very much my school-work novel, but there are several scenes in there that I’m really, really glad I wrote.
©2016 James L. Haley All rights reserved