The Eight-year Novel, Part 1

Ed Burroughs was really pissed off.
Having just seen the color proofs for the dust-jacket of his new book from A.C. McClurg, Ed took to his typewriter to tell his editor, Joseph Bray, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he thought about it. Among other things, he said this:
“… There is nothing of the atmosphere or coloring of Arizona in the foliage or background; in fact the whole thing is atrocious and if the picture can kill sales, I am confident that this one will.”

In the fall of 1919 ERB toyed with the idea of writing a story about Apaches. He wrote to The American Boy magazine that he would like to write juveniles and he was thinking of “writing a series of stories about an Apache Indian boy during a period before the Indian country had been encroached upon by whites.” He said, “I think I could make the boy almost as interesting as Tarzan, because I have lived for a while among the Apaches…” A month later he tried to pitch the idea to Robert H. Davis, his editor at Munsey Magazines. He thought he could “make another character similar to Tarzan using a young Apache warrior.” He went on to describe the Native Americans as the “he-race of the Western Hemisphere” and eulogized them as, in essence, supermen. “There never was a more warlike people. They fought every human from Kansas to Mexico; they could travel on foot all day with mounted men and be fresh at night; their senses were as acute as those of wild beasts; physically they were perfect and many of them were handsome even by our standards…”

Tarzan was selling like hotcakes that year with the latest, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, in its fourth printing for a total of 63,000 copies. He was trying to sell his dystopian anti-communist novel, to later become the second part of The Moon Maid, and was just finishing a third short modern novel, The Efficiency Expert. However, Davis wasn’t keen on the “Apache Tarzan” idea and nothing more was said about it. Ed put his notes aside, and over the next couple of years came out with two more Tarzan’s, a Mars story and one about the evils of Hollywood and dope.

He might have never returned to the “Apache Tarzan” idea if his British publisher, Sir Algernon Methuen, hadn’t suggested, four years later, in October, 1923, that he try a “wild west” story since he had experiences in chasing the Apache Kid in Arizona, gold mining in Idaho and working as a cowboy on his brothers’ ranch when he was sixteen. Ed wasn’t so sure about it, making an excuse that his readers really wanted his “more imaginative stuff,” and the British would probably want a “motion-picture cowboy.” He didn’t think there’d be a market for it in the States, brushing off the fact that his book publisher, A.C. McClurg & Co., was putting out “shoot-‘em-ups” on a regular basis, and his favorite artist, James Allen St. John, had done six Western covers for them by 1923 and would do at least 30 by 1932. Western Story Magazine had gone weekly almost three years back.

The truth may have been that when it came to writing, Ed was a dreamer. He had tasted the dust of the cowboy life, the drudgery and aching legs that came with all day in the saddle. The boring food and the boring hours of hard work. To him there was little “romance” in the life of the “wild west.” He told Curtis Brown Ltd., his British agent, that the “…rather prosaic life of a cowpuncher will have to be speeded up a bit…” for the English audience. Nonetheless he started on it in March, 1923 and tried to base his characters on people he knew in his Idaho days, hoping they would give the story verisimilitude.

Bob Davis encouraged the idea, urging Ed on with, “I would print a western story from you in a minute. Let ‘er go.” But when he saw the final manuscript at the end of May he was flabbergasted. “I can’t understand how a bean as active as yours could refrain from butting in and slamming a few novelties into the good old powder-burned frontier,” he grouched. The tale was riddled with inaccuracies, the dialogue was too modern, the cowboys had been paid by check, and the “black bandanna” the bandit wore was an impossibility because bandannas were either red or yellow and covered with designs. Worst of all the plot was trite and weak. Davis sent it back with three pages of revisions. It was pretty clear that Ed’s heart just wasn’t in this one.

The Bandit of Hell’s Bend saw light of day in Argosy All-Story Weekly, in six parts in the fall of 1924, and McClurg published the book in June, 1925. Methuen, having initiated the whole thing, published it the following  year.

But SOMEbody really liked it.
(continued tomorrow)