Remembering Louis L'Amour.
"I had read--devoured--his books, and I knew he was born in Jamestown, so when I went to Los Angeles, I called him to see if we could meet," says Hawkins. "Now, it seems crazy that this famous guy would meet me just because I liked his books and lived in Jamestown. I guess I'm glad that didn't occur to me at the time, or I might never have called him."
L'Amour invited Hawkins to lunch, the beginning of a friendship that would last until L'Amour's death in 1988.
"He was a good friend," Hawkins says softly. "He was a good listener, and I always felt that he was really interested in me. I don't know why. Maybe I was a link to his past, to the place where his journey began. I only know Louis, and his beautiful wife Kathy, treated me and my family like we were their family."
Fans say that the ability to listen to and tell the stories of ordinary people were hallmarks of his books. L'Amour once said to Hawkins, "I consider myself a storyteller--not an author or novelist--but a storyteller in the old oral tradition of storytelling."
In a speech at the dedication of the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck, L'Amour said that he wrote "for the people who do the work of the world, who live on the land or love the land, the people who make and bake and struggle to make ends meet, for the people who invent, who design, who built, for the people who do."
Clearly his stories resonate with the people "who do"--more than 270 million copies of his books have been sold.
Arguably the most popular writer of Westerns in the world, L'Amour was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, N.D. At the age of 15, he moved with his family to Oklahoma. L'Amour left school in the 10th grade and traveled throughout the west, picking up odd jobs ranging from lumberjack to elephant handler to skinning dead cattle in a West Texas drought. In between odd jobs, he boxed professionally. His first book was a book of poetry, Smoke From This Altar, published in 1939, but it was his first western novel, Hondo, published in 1953, that propelled him to fame and fortune. By the time of his death, he had written 90 novels, 21 collections of short stories, two nonfiction books, one memoir, one book of poetry, and many movie and television scripts.
"People liked his stories because they told the history of the West," Hawkins says. "Not the history of the famous people or bills being passed in Congress, but the stories of what it was like for real people.
"Louis liked people. He was really interested in people, and it showed in his writing."
L'Amour once told his friend, "Readers are interested in my characters, but to get them really emotionally identified with them, you know, and feel warm toward them is a whole different thing. I like my readers, and they seem to like me. I write to please them."
Over the years, Hawkins and his family often visited L'Amour, even traveling with the L'Amour family on several occasions.
"I can't really remember why, now, but I went with him once when he was giving a talk, and I taped it. After that, I just started taping all kinds of things---autographings, speeches, even just hours of our conversations. I was interested in how he wrote, and why he wrote, and over time I asked him hundreds of questions. Years later, after his death, I pulled out those tapes, and, well, you can imagine how I felt listening to them. I decided to publish them in a book form. Together, my daughter Meredith (Wallin) and I wrote Remembering Louis L'Amour from those tapes."
McCleery & Sons Publishing published the book in 2001.
The Westerns written by L'Amour share common themes: that in the American West ordinary men are capable of extraordinary things, and that, in the end, good consistently triumphs over evil. In a world where it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the good and the bad, and even the ugly, in L'Amour's West the lines are clearly drawn. His characters, as well as his plotlines, reflect a love of humanity, an optimism, a solid moral code, and a sense of belonging to the people that Hawkins insists rang true with L'Amour, the man.
"Louis was famous, but he wasn't stuck up, he was always very real," says Hawkins. "He was honest to the core."
L'Amour's fast-paced stories begin somewhere in the west with a man in a jam. Like L'Amour, his heroes are macho and, like L'Amour, they're often surprisingly well-read. They're common men who, up against a villain, find uncommon courage. The villains usually come to a violent end, but a Louis L'Amour novel rarely depicts explicit violence. His books portray virtues that are rarely extolled in contemporary literature and that still--even 17 years after his death--reach his legions of fans.
"People don't seem to have heroes anymore, but Louis was something of a hero to me," says Hawkins. "He died of lung cancer, but, you know, he never smoked. And he never drank. He chose not to drink. He was a good listener, a kind man, and a morally clean man. He had values and he lived by them. That sounds old-fashioned of me, but that was really how he was."
According to Hawkins, L'Amour was not only committed to writing characters that resonated as real, he also endeavored to write about real places in the West. In his book, Hawkins quotes L'Amour: "I got a letter from a young Navajo sheep herder who was working over in Arizona. He and a friend were out herding, tending to a flock of sheep, and he was reading my hook. Suddenly he realized that he was right on the spot where my book took place. I had been in that identical position, and described it, you see. They got up, went outside, looked the area over, you know, to see what kind of a job I had done. Then they wrote me a letter about it. That got me committed to writing about actual places. You have to pay strict attention to writing a story that is absolutely authentic."
"You just couldn't meet a nicer man than Louis," remembers Hawkins.
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