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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 16, 2010 6:00am-7:00am EDT

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here on this panel is dedicated to. my name is paul hutton. i am a professor at the university of new mexico, which i hope you won't hold against me. [laughter] >> i am the executive director of the western writers of america. and our topic today is indeed the american west, and history as a seller. this particular session is sponsored by the alliance bank of arizona. we want to thank them, and the presentation will last approximately an hour. and we will go about 40 minutes. will open it up for question. if you do have questions, you need to come up here to the microphone and ask your question at the microphone. so i will give you kind of a
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high sign and you can form a line if you want to. and we need to do that, because we want to welcome c-span2 hour session. they are broadcasting this today. and we of course are internally grateful for c-span and all they do to keep the book a lot and literacy alive and especially american history alive. in our country. and so we welcome them. at the conclusion of our session, please join us in the office at the signing area, which is area one. and it is 10 to be. we ate may want to write and when you are writing down and reaching for events, we turn over internal cell phones off, too, if you would. it i so remember to do my. and anyone, tent b is located southwest and the authors will be autographing their books. let me introduce to you our panel. all of whom have have had great success recently.
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recently, with history books. and books about the american west. at the end of the table is jim donovan, the founder and president of jim donovan literary, literary agency in dallas, texas. he as a graduate of the university of texas. we take that kind of art in new mexico were iphone, but that's all right. he has worn many hats in his life in the publishing business beginning his career in publishing and and awesome bookstore back in 1981, moving to douse any for to become a buyer for a retail bookstore chain. he's been an editor and he is an agent and even more important for our purposes, of course, is a best selling author with his recent book a terrible glory, published by little brown on custer and the big one which los angeles times said was the last word on the last stand, somehow donovan and i both know that's not true.
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it will never be the last word on the last stand. and now since he is absolutely evidently infatuated with people invading other peoples countries and getting wiped out, he is doing the alamo. [laughter] >> i always like to come you go to someone's backyard and they shoot you and then you are a hero. it's very good. >> jeff guinn has written 15 books in his career. is also a graduate of the university of texas. researchers used the book editor at the fort worth star-telegram, and he just informed me that his publisher has informed him that his book, the autobiography of santa claus a list in 2003 has now sold 500,000 copies, which is pretty sweet. so congratulations on that. and actually won children about santa claus and had a huge success you would want to write about psychotic killers.
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and so -- [laughter] >> just been turned to the true untold story of bonnie and clyde, published by simon & schuster in 2009. he is currently working, decide to switch sides and go with the law after seeing what happened to bonnie and clyde. is now working on wyatt earp. and at the end of the table is hampton sides, who did not go to the university of texas. but did barely crawl through yale university. [laughter] >> and it acts within the paper. i didn't believe it until he showed it to me. he is from memphis where he was born and raised. he's had a very successful career in journalism. is editor at large with outside magazine, which i know many of you read. his book, ghost soldiers in 2001 about the but and network and a i wrote rescue attempt in the philippine campaign was made into a motion picture. and, of course, his blood and
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done, the story of kit carson and america was published by doubleday in 2006 has been an enormous success. at that sort of resurrected the name of kit carson and american history. hampton is now, he was it in santa fe. he phoned kit carson west and south i it did for a while. and he is just completed held down on his treo, which is the story of the king assassination and the manhunt for the assassin which will be published by doubleday next month. so we are all looking forward to that. i think a good place to start discussion like this and we would just start with jim, is why did you select this topic? i actually know why donovan selected. he has the same tactic addiction that i have to custer. there are no 12 step programs
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but you're doomed for life. but how in the world do you take something that you love, a story that you love and that you have always been fascinated with and turn it into a bestseller, nevada, convinced a publisher that they need to publish a book on something that everyone believes they already know about? >> are you finish? >> i am done. you are on. [laughter] >> we might get a word in edgewise here. i had an early book, a coffee table book on the subject of the battle of a little bit corn. as you know coffee table books are not by nature very extensive or in death. but doing that book about 10 years ago, i realized it had been so much written, so much research done on this battle recently in the past 20 years, especially archaeological, forensic results. that had been integrated into one narrative. and, of course, once you get going on custer you get hooked. so that's the answer to that.
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i persuade my publisher that even though there had been, oh, i don't, four zillion books on the subject? >> five actually. >> that one more, the market could bear one more. spent about four years, three or four years researching the book. and i'm totally hooked now on the last stand, as you can see. >> speaking of last into people didn't quite make it out of the building, jeff, why in the world did you go from santa claus -- i believe everybody in this room likes -- to a controversial pair like to bonnie and clyde? >> although i didn't realize it for a long time, all of my books seem to be about the reality of a person or people and in this that go up around them. and i think it's important for us to understand, not just that, a lot of the history we believe is mostly mythology, but what it
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tells us about ourselves that we created these myths, but we believe in them and love them. in the case of bonnie and clyde, i was wondering how could two of the most inept criminals who ever lived, and they were inapt. most of the time they had to break into gum machines for their meal money. but you take these two kids from a desperate dallas slum who are doomed the men of professional lawmen really decide to hunt them down. and how did we come to believe in them as these glamorous figures that seem to represent a romantic version of depression america? that was the question that i wanted to and go and that was the book i ended up writing. >> in hampton, you and i of course know that christopher kit carson is indeed probably in terms of american history the most significant of all of that great quartet of frontier heroes, bone and crockett, carson and cody. but he is the ones least known.
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in fact, i had about six month before your book came out published cover story in truest magazine entitled why is this man forgotten. and, of course, he's not forgotten anymore, thanks to blood and thunder and now hollywood is pounding on your door. to pass make it into a movie, which will finally bring the carson story to an international audience. why did you pick kit carson, and how did you sell that idea to your publisher? >> well, i live in santa fe, and anywhere you go in new mexico you see kit carson's name. get carson national forest and a pink house with his believe there's carson park and carson avenue and all over the west, carson city, carson pass, rivers, streams, trails named after this guy. is sort of a jack-in-the-box of american history, sort of a zealot figure or something. and i was just, i am stupid question. who was this guy. i really get know who he was.
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was he a villain, was he a hero? i've been to canyon dishy in arizona and heard one version of events which was he was a genocidal maniac and he tried to reconcile that with what little i remember from reading juvenile biographies, i think, he was supposedly a great intrepid hero from these books that i vaguely remembered reading. so i was interested in how to reconcile genocidal maniac with a great american folk hero? of course, found along the way that truth was somewhere in the middle, that he had this incredible buried and sort of getting to which we talk but with bonnie and clyde, you know, he was alleging, he was a myth in his own time because of all these blood and thunder books that were published that these books that way since a the first dime novels, the first mass literature. and he was invariably portrayed as this action figure hero, you,
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10 feet tall, always won the ladies, it was said he would kill to indians before breakfast. and this was considered a good thing back then. and so there was this myth even in his own lifetime, herman melville actually in one passage of moby dick compares him favorably to hercules. so in his own lifetime he had to live with this mythology, and i guess, like jeff, i was interested in sort of the contrast between the myth and the real person. and that's what really fueled and animated the book. >> we're finding in the time in which we live that the story of the west and western history is a much contested ground in america and it's part of what a lot of people call the culture war that is going on for sort of the hearted soul of our national identity. all of these characters are western characters. i consider bonnie and clyde along with pretty boy floyd ann dellinger, who was captured actually by the arizona authorities not far from where we are sitting and sent back to
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india. i survey consider bonnie and clyde the last kind of western outlaws. and they were identified with the west that but all of them are steeped in the kind of controversy we see in western history today and so of course it certainly custer, is at the center and has been 50 years now this sort of struggle for ownership of the story of the american west. how did you do with that, jim, how did you deal with the controversy of custer? >> well, i was -- what i want to do was tell the story and samuel l. that morrison, one of the great nonfiction history writers we've ever had he said a good credit history should observe three things, accuracy, vigor, and objectivity. i thought that if i tried to write the story and research it
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thoroughly, and let the store till it sells it would kind of take care of itself. i think if you start worrying about what group, you know, which of these groups is going, you, bothered by what you write, it can just get in the way. what i wanted to do besides tell the story, in my research for the earlier book i had read a lot of books that were out there, and noticed that a lot of them had kind of just assumed mistakes and parts of the myth and the legend that were just wrong. one person writes its own breast, some else right to, incorporates it into a sort and after what it is accepted as truth. i want to kind of scrape off those particles off this vessel, the battle of the little big or. and, of course, one of the things that his most lasting about this though is it's a misty. i think that's one of the reasons that it's been written
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about more than gettysburg is that there's a misty about what happened specifically with customers battalion of five companies and how to get massacred. there were indian witnesses, but for 100 years nobody took those seriously, as paul notes that they're just got dismissed as being irreconcilable. a lot of work has been done in the last 20 us to sort of examine those and realize they did have a lot of very reliable information to tell about the battle. and that's the other reason i wanted to write this was to see if i could find that what really happened to custer's command, specifically. and how they actually got to where they ended up and were massacred on that hill. and i think i did. and i think there's enough material from the indian account that were taking suzy for a hundred years, and also a new forensic and archaeological research they have done over the past 20, 25 years to do that.
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>> with custer you confront a character who once was highly regarded whose reputation has fallen precipitously and now is almost used as a sort of a punchline and late-night comedy. bonnie and clyde are just, and you treat it quite positively. >> not completely i hope. >> but not as a buffoon. but bonnie and clyde their sort of the opposite and there is a whole aura of romance that surrounds them of course, all of the stricken by hollywood and even that they done with warren beatty movie was not the first about them. they have long fascinated artists. your book kind of brings them down a bit. how did you deal with that, jeff? >> i don't know if it brings them down. one of the mistakes i think a lot of us make when we're writing history is we tend to try to apply modern perceptions and modern beliefs to a time that may been an entirely different. and so in writing about bonnie
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and clyde, i tried to keep in mind that i wanted readers to have contacts. you don't just write what people did. if you do that you have written a textbook. would you try to help readers understand is how they did things and why they did things. and to do that you have to try to understand the time and the place. and yes, the more modern-day bonnie and clyde barrel gain fans believed they look like warren beatty and faye delegate but the fact remains that bonnie and clyde gain their initial notoriety in america. they were really the first electronic media icons. because with wire services, those goofy pictures they post were, could be in newspapers all over the country. so what you really have to do to understand their initial appeal is they were the late 1920s early 1930s ancestors of
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branch alina. [laughter] >> and everybody was just speculating on their love affair and the close bond were anything else. so once you understand the time when you understand the attitude to the time a little better, i think it always gives us a clear perspective of who people really were. >> hampton, kit carson of course may have been forgotten before your book around the country, but serving in new mexico he is kind of a searing memory and is not a positive figure at all. and so, you begin a journey that let you do have to reimagine carson and rewrite that southwestern myth. >> well, i think it's possible that carson has eclipsed custer as the most hated man in india america. is like kind of a shorthand for genocidal campaigns, or
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scorched-earth campaigns, the round up of the novel people. but carson is just a very, very interesting guy who is full of surprises. this great indian hater, supposedly, spoke sunday like six or seven indian languages. his first wife was indian arapahoe. they had two children. she died in childbirth. our second -- his second wife was cheyenne. that marriage didn't last very long. she kicked him out of her tv, what they call a shy and divorce. nonetheless, this was a man who understood american indian culture and lived much of his young adulthood, more like a native american in a white guy. but he also spoke french and spanish and is third and final wife was spanish. he converted to catholicism and lived in taos emerge into this spanish going. this is canada's multicultural guy before that was ever a term. he just was very easily and very organically through all these different worlds.
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the plains indians, he was particularly close to the ute indians. so this great indian hunter becomes much more complicated than this person who has eclipsed custer, becomes a much more interesting that i think when she began to see the totality of his life, and not just focus on the one campaign, a novel campaign that has really eclipsed his reputation has become so intimately tied to that one campaign. really interesting guy, i also used in almost as, he was a way to talk about the larger story of manifest destiny and the conquest of the west because of this one guy, this deliberate backwoodsman from missouri who had run away at age 16 is like this is delicate do. he keeps cropping up and he keeps bumping into history and intersecting with the destinies of general zamri hers and all the movers and shakers of the
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west. he is of this sort of little through life. and it's kind of a joy for a wired to come across a character like that who can kind of pull it all together. and so he's not a biographer that "blood and thunder" is a story about the american west in which he is the central throw line or the person who sort of connects the dots. >> all of these characters, and i think it's something we knows what they thought of western characters seem to be self-conscious. carson perhaps the least, but one of the things that struck me in jest book was in the famous dakar route with both were bonnie and clyde were finally shot down by that policy. there was a copy of walter burns biography, brand-new biography of billy the kid in the back seat. and by of course talked about jesse james at one time in some poetry. it like all three of you to talk
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about that self-conscious nature of these characters. you want to start, jeff? >> nobody loved their notoriety more than clyde barrow and bonnie parker. they wanted to be famous. they knew that a lot of the stories written about them had no basis in reality, and they were still pleased. [laughter] >> the only thing they were good at, and this was clyde, was stealing cars. and they would steal a car every few days and they would abandon it. the police would find it, and in the car they would always find the latest newspapers and true crime magazines with stories about the barrow gang. they tried to encourage the right perception of themselves. bonnie was appalled that people really thought she smoked cigars. clyde actually sent a threatening editor to the fort worth star-telegram saying that
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if you ever put another story that says mike underworld made smoke cigars, i know where you and your reporters live. [laughter] back in the star-telegram, until after the bodies were certified as dead, in louisiana never printed another mention of bonnie with a sigar. but again, they were trying to overcome who they really were. they were both crippled. in the last year of their lives are clyde had been crippled ever since he got off to his own toes to get out of prison duty. and bonnie actually could not walk the last year of her life because her leg was so terribly damaged in a car wreck. they lived mostly in filth, camping in their cars by river so they could take baths. and to them, the was that at least they were known for something. they knew they were going to die. they expected it and just want
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it to be a spectacular run right up to that. which of course wasn't the case with kit carson or custer, i don't think. jim? >> will, of course i think we all know that custer was kind of a glory hound, love the attention ever since he was a young captain in the civil war, who was bumped right up to brigadier general a few days before gettysburg, and adopted. that was back when you could dress a little differently and he certainly did. summary described them, a fellow officer, as a circus performer gone mad be because it bright red credit and kind of a sailor's top suit in a way. but he was the only one that was like the. jeb stuart was his counterpart in the south, a great cavalry commander, also dressed quite strikingly. but i think you guys taste for
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the press been because of course they love coming in because he was so colorful. and this was before they published photographs. that was until the 1890s in newspapers and magazines, but they used woodcuts in harpers and frank leslie's -- is that right? -- and, of course, people got a sense of who he was. in newspapers and magazines loved him because of that and fed off of it. and he actually became a very good writer. his material was still easy to read. it's not too overburdened with those praetorian his sons that make some of that stuff most of us have unbearable now. anything before about 1880 or 1890. on his last campaign, the little big horn campaign he actually filed stories for a new york newspaper, i think was the herald tribune, anonymously. so he was very aware of what the press could do.
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>> carson i think was in a lot of ways the anti-custer. he was very uncomfortable with his celebrity for most of his life. he didn't understand that he did understand what it was coming from that people back east need this he wrote to personify manifest. he didn't know what manifest destiny was. and he said he didn't use that word because to higher return for him. he was also illiterate. so he couldn't read these horrible books. i dare you to read these blood and thunder. they are terrible but i went to the house of -- library of congress. they are pulp fiction books. precursors to the modern western, but he didn't get them. he didn't even understand why these writers were writing the stories that didn't get any money from them. he didn't get any consent to use his name. they painted a caricature of him that he essentially spent his whole life trying to lead them. and then there was a clipper
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ship named the kit carson. is a steamboat named the kit carson. they were broadway plays. there was the mention in moby dick. you know, the thing just blew up, and i certainly in his career he realized he needed to kind of seize control of all of this press. and he tried to hire a writer to tell his story. washington irving came very close to saying yes to doing sort of a definitive book about kit carson. if he had it probably would have never written "blood and thunder." instead a series of hacks that kind of worked on a story. and he also wrote, dictate i should stay because he couldn't write, a and autobiography which is very, very bare bones. but this is kind of like the opposite of custer, or maybe the opposite of buffalo bill. someone who was never successful in turning his same into something bigger. he died essentially a popper. he could never seem to capitalize. nor did he have the inclination to capitalize on his same.
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of asserting something that he spent his whole career grappling with and try to figure out why does this country back east that i ran away from seem to need a superhero to personify this movement. >> is of course good that custer wrote his autobiography when he was 34, since he is dead at 36. it's good to get the record in before you could check out. >> not as early as one to bear travis, who wrote it about 24 and 23? >> well, his was a direct to. but yeah. getting a plug-in for your next book. will get to that soon. [laughter] >> spent i say there's a mention by someone else who clerked for him that he had written an autobiography, a short autobiography at the age of about 24 but it's been lost. >> is always good to get those done quick. [laughter] >> now i am in a business, i mean the academy, and often
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times i'm kind of struck by the fact that many of my colleagues, a large number seem to believe if you would sell a book, in a bookstore, to like really humans that want to read, that you have sold out. you have betrayed your calling him and, in fact, the kind of commercial success that these three gentlemen have had as writers went pretty well do in the career of any academic historian. . .
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>> as different from your academic colleague historians. >> well, i did go to yale. and at the time it really had one of the heavy weight history departments. it probably still does. the four years i was there i do not recall ever hearing the word "pleasure." ever being uttered. history was not supposed to be pleasurable. historians are very deadly serious people. we put on robes and we commune with dead people. we're druids essentially and, you know, go -- we have secret methodologies that no one is supposed to know about and that was sort of the way it was taught and the writing of history and the appreciation of history as it was taught to me in college was essentially argumentation -- you have an argument.
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you have a thesis and you state your thesis and then you marshall your evidence and you argue your points. and then you build towards a summation. and you have your closing argument and again, you have to go gefore your professor and defend your thesis in person. this is very legalistic. i think a bunch of lawyers early on highjacked the history departments of most universities. and the idea of telling stories, the idea of actually having stories that have plot and character and suspense and dialog and all these attributes of story telling that we know from fiction and from movies and television and all the other modes of communication never really have entered very well into the history departments. although i know two things. one there are a lot of academic historians who do secretly go home at night without telling anyone and they read shelby
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foote or david mccullough or nathaniel fullbrook or barbara tuchman and i don't even want to admit this but paul does. so the hostility that is between historians and popular historians i think really is -- it's kind of contrived. it shouldn't exist. i think there's a place for narrative history in universities perhaps as a multidisciplinary approach if you get a major narrative history that would be english department -- like a mixed major or something like that. i think there's a place for it. and i think hostility that exists is unfortunate and there's a place for all kinds of history and i think also the history as we know it is going to die as a discipline unless we do sort of inject some life into it by having a greater primacy of narrative history within the overall academy of history.
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but that's just kind of my own -- my own private theory. i don't know if you guys kind of see it that way or not. >> i think there's two different things. all of us who write history have to keep in mind the first thing is we're not writing books to prove how smart we are. we're trying to write books that we can share some information that we have in a positive way that will interest not just other avid historians but general readers. in a lot of cases i think what happens to folks who are academics is they are extending their doctoral thesis or whatever and they're writing something that they believe they will be able to defend to their colleagues on the faculty. and not writing a book on a fascinating subject for folks who know something and who would like to know more and expand their own knowledge. if you write to impress your friends and yourself, then just keep a blog online. [laughter]
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>> or a diary that you xerox and send around. otherwise, try to remember the folks that you're writing for who are interested in a subject. who want to know more. who have day jobs and maybe only have 30 minutes to read at night or going to try to grab an hour or two with your book on a plane on a business trip or on a vacation. if you're not trying to reach out to as many readers as you can, if you're not trying to share information, spread the word. get people thinking. and i bet everybody in this room reads because you like to think. and you like to learn. if you're going to -- if you're just going to try to impress the people that you already know ad make yourself look good to them, it seems to me it's an invalid exercise. writing history is story telling and you want to tell the story
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to the widest number of people and share it in a positive, informative way. >> one question, paul, did you wear that tweed jacket just to provoke us? [laughter] >> and i, in fact, hadn't put a tie on in years being a southwesterner and i decided to look like a professor. you three make me want to defend the academy which is a very uncomfortable position for me. [laughter] >> well, jeff touched on a few things. i'm also an agent and i deal with this a lot. and one of the things that good writers of popular narrative nonfiction in history, 'cause we're talking about that -- we have to -- it's to pay more attention to the things that make it more employing readable. -- interesting and readable. the main things are story and character. those two elements and how they're handled. for instance, i know some of us -- the best writers use
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somewhat novelistic techniques and i don't mean making things up as in fiction. i mean, paying more attention to how a story is told, how it's structured and particularly character because i don't know about you. but i think i speak for a lot of people that read, if i don't care about who i'm reading about, then i'm not going to read very long. and if you don't concentrate on character and make us at least care or understand about these people and their motivations and reasons, then it's history textbook and i don't know many people who read history textbooks for fun. for instance, we're talking about character, what i try to do in my books is humanize the story and when i research i have a file -- i had a file for every one of custer's 31 subordinate officers. and after three or four there's just -- you just don't get much information. when i'd find a nugget about what a person was like, it went
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in the file and somehow i blended it into the narrative. and it gives you a little more information about the character. it makes you, i hope, care about the character a little more. >> and i might add to that also is the style. i mean, you know, when i was in college or -- whenever i've been in an academic setting, i felt a hostility to the idea of style. that a historian should have any style. of writing. or of voice or a sense of unique way of getting their ideas across or telling the story. and what i found what you have to do if you come out of an academic setting you have to have -- this is a scientific term. you have to have known as a corn cobectomy. [laughter] >> you have to -- you remove the corn cob because it does effect -- i assumed. i've gone back and looked at my college papers and you assume a voice -- and this isn't just history. this is all academic disciplines. you assume a voice that's not yours. it's somebody else's. it's some proximation of an
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erudite person that you envisioned in your mind. and you have to remove that and just start telling stories in a much more organic and much more natural way. >> big words. >> probably the easier way to say it you don't want to write a book that's a lecture. you want to write a book that's a conversation with a reader. >> i had to stand up because my corn cob was hurting me as i was sitting on the bench here. [laughter] >> how about the other one? >> i did want to talk a little bit more about style. and all of your books, which i ought -- i ought to hold up for the audience, "donovan's a terrible glory." "go down together" about bonnie and clyde and "hamton's blood and thunder" all available alt your local bookstore or off the internet or right when we sign
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after this session is over.nup but all are written very clearly, very forcefully. dare i even say in some cases gracefully and lyrically. all of us -- >> keep going. >> yeah, all of us -- many of us, many of the viewers and folks in this room -- we want to write and we struggle with writing and writing is very, very hard work. this does not come naturally to you. that you actually do have to work with this? >> i was up at -- about a week ago i woke up at 4:00 in the morning. nothing to do with the corn cob. i picked up a book of david mccullough's "1776" which is a wonderful book. and in some ways it has some similar structure, character, themes as what i'm working on the alamo, a revolution, a ragtag army, some leaders. i picked up his book then and i spent about an hour just looking
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through the first 100 pages to see how he handled attributable quotes. i spent an hour to see how he did it because he's one of -- you know, he's one of the models. he's the gold standard here although mr. sides is approachly approaching that point. >> i'll pay you later. >> jim, you're my agent. could you -- [laughter] >> for this i give him 15%. [laughter] >> you got a secured ego. hamton does. >> yep, i went to the university of texas so that means i got my credentials right out there. [laughter] >> and this was in the '60s and i vaguely remember it. [laughter] >> i don't think any of us who write and who kept writing and having some success don't have
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the same head battering heads. there are days when the magic works and there are lots of days when the magic doesn't. my own technique is when i can't think of how i should be saying something. i imagine i'm having dinner with my wife nora. if i was telling the story to nora instead of writing it, what are the things i would want to tell her so that she would understand it. and then i go back and try to work those things in. it is god awful hard work but i do think i speak for everybody. and there are some other wonderful writers in this room i should point out some folks who have done valuable, valuable work. that what could be more fun? what could be a bigger thrill? than trying hard to learn about things and writing them and sort of carrying them on a little bit and sharing them with people. the joy does overcome the pain but sometimes it hurts a hell of a lot of the. -- a lot of work.
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>> my 7-year-old son came to my office one day and watched me holding up a document. and i sat the document down. and then i type a little bit. i pick up that same document. look at it again. set it down. pick up another document put over on top -- this goes on for hours and my son is watching this. you know, thinking my father is supposed to be, you know, a successful writer. this is maybe something i would want to do one day or something but he looked at me and he just said, dad, is it always like this? [laughter] >> i think my kids think watch -- watching me that it's the most deadly dull profession in the world and they would never in a million years want to do it because it's really hard work. you know, you just scratch your head and you're thinking about structure and you're thinking about plot. you're thinking about when did i last introduce this character? you know, the writing process, not just the research, but the writing is agony at times.
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but in the end, is, i think, a dream job. even though my kids don't believe me. >> some day. >> of course, the suicide rate for writers is pretty high and there's nothing really way to work on your self-esteem so much as looking at a blank page for two or three days and coming to realize what a total and complete failure you are. which has never happened to any of these gentlemen. and not only have they published these bestsellers now they're off on new projects and we ought to talk about that. hampton, your book is coming out in a few weeks. >> yeah. it's a book about -- well, i grew up in memphis and i think all writers at some point want to go back to the place where they came from. and i wanted in this case to go back to the pivotal moment in the place where i came from, april of 1968, in memphis and the confluence of forces that brought king to memphis. my father was a lawyer.
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and he worked for the law firm that represented king when he came on behalf of the garbage workers who went on strike in the fall of -- excuse me, the spring of 1968. but i got kind of captivated by james earl ray. and this story really became not so much as the story of the assassination but how the fbi tracked down james earl ray, the largest manhunt in american history at that time, $2 million, 6,000 agents, four different countries. he was finally caught by scotland yard in london two months after the assassination as he was in route to become a mercenary soldier in rhodesia. somewhat like bonnie and clyde, ray has his own mythology and ray has his own self-conscious qualities, you know, trying to be kind of a folk hero, i guess. a very -- a very dark character.
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someone who i guess in a way is a consummate villain in this story. the villain becomes the protagonist because it's how he gets out of these different situations. how he assumes different identities. and almost gets away with this crime. so and you want to talk about what you're working on? >> and the title is? >> it's called "hell hound on his trail" and it's coming out at the end of april. so i'll be going on a book tour and talking about that a lot in the months to come. >> and jeff we're in your new stomping grounds. we're north of tombstone, arizona and your next project is wyatt earp? >> one of the things that surprised me about clyde barrow who saw himself as the heir of the great western gunslinger. i mean, clyde's heroes in life are jesse james and billy the kid. i wanted to know more about the era that spawned that sort of
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mythology about the two-gun-toting law men and the bad guys and everything else. and i'm having a fascinating time working on a book that's tentatively titled "the last gunfight" which my new york editors thought it would be this heroic showdown on the streets of tombstone but what they're learning in my draft chapterers is the fabulous history of southeast arizona and the whole westward expansion of america. again not writing so much about what people did as how they did things and why they did of things. and i do want to say to the host city of tucson you have some of the best historians i've ever run into here. folks who are dedicated to trying to find out information and who share it very generously. this is -- this is a fun project. and when you're trying to decide what to buy every relative and friend you had for christmas next year, do keep it in mind. [laughter]
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>> for this year copies go down together. >> and jim you're moving right on to the alamo which is pretty fabulous material for a texan? >> as you know -- i think someone needs to interject here if you don't know paul hutton is also a wonderful writer himself. what i wanted to write after this -- i wanted to write a book on the titanic. as you can see i'm the literary equivalent of the guy in the car ahead of you who slows down with a horrible accident. there's something about the -- i guess, i'm fascinating by. and i spent several months writing a proposal and my publisher liked it but they thought, well, you know, there's going to be a lot of titanic books coming out in 2012, the 100th anniversary so do you have anything else? you know, you did a great western book. is there another subject? well, you know, this thing happened down here. i live in dallas.
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you know, told them a little about it. i don't know, maybe people all over the country aren't as fascinated as texan because it's religion down in text. -- texas. the holy trinity is crockett, bui. he jumped out of his seat and he was dancing in his office when i told him about the alamo and so now i'm doing a book on the alamo. i'm not doing any more last stands, or anything else. i want to do a subject preferably where there's some people alive still where i can talk about it. it drives you crazy as a historian writing where everybody has been dead for a while because you just think, why didn't somebody just ask this one question that would have cleared up everything. >> not just dead but good and dead. >> right. >> how did you phrase this, we work in the -- what was that
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phrase? >> i don't know. the pain cave. >> don't tell me about the pain cave. in got out of it. >> we deal in the sepia edge of the spectrum. those kind of subjects that are back there and you see the photos in sepia tone. >> some people have, in fact, suggested that historians are so antisocial, of course, they spend all their time locked in rooms. they can't deal with any humans who are alive and appreciate more the dead who don't usually talk back. if you have any questions, please come up to the microphone right here and ask from our panels. we have about 10, 15 minutes left. yes, sir. >> first of all, thank you all for coming. i think just to speak on behalf of some of us who have been involved with the festival it's terrific to have you here so thank you. could you speak a moment about your -- how you come up with ideas? how many ideas are ahead of you
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as you're thinking about what you want to write about? and also do you think about tv and movies as you're writing? would you hope to see your ideas come out on different screens? >> i think about -- i think about movies and cinema kind of in the opposite way. i think that i'm a product of modern culture. and i have seen a lot of movies. and i think i think and influenced by film so i think in terms of scenes. i think in terms of character-driven plot. and so my stories tend to be very -- i've been told very cinematic. it's not that i'm writing for the movies in hopes that it will become a movie. it's that i'm actually influenced by that form and that mode of storytelling and i think probably all modern narrative writers to a certain extent are. we can't help it. if you go to see thousands of movies over a lifetime you're going to be influenced by that. so, no, but as far as, you know, thinking about -- i mean, we all
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hope that a movie can come out of a story. it's nice. you're not supposed to get too emotionally involved, though. you're supposed -- i think it was hemingway who said you're supposed to go to the nevada-california border and you go to the desert and you hurl your manuscript over and they go that their trunk and they hurl the money. it's nothing but heartbreak. >> we don't give much thought whether our books will be turned into movies and they'll give us lots of money. no, not at all. [laughter] >> i have a degree in film from texas, not yale. and that's a good point. all i want to reiterate is what hampton just said because i like to think seeing those thousands and thousands of movies and writing about them and examining them in detail may be contributed to my,
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quote-unquote, expertise in storytelling in a good way. >> the one other thing is that when you undertake a book project like we do, you're going to devote two or three years to it. so you better not just come up with an idea i'm going to do this book because i think i can sell it to the movies 'cause if you hate what you're writing about or you find it boring, it would be two or three lousy years. the thing we have to start with is something we are interested about and a story we want to tell. >> yes, sir. >> good morning. thank you for coming. appreciate it. what event or person inspired you to become writers? like for each one of the panel plus mr. hutton to answer that question. thank you. >> mr. hutton, you should answer it first. i'm sure you've got a good story. >> well, i will tell you, it was walt disney's television show davy crockett starring fez parker. i didn't see the show. i was actually in england at the time but i got the comic book and i read that comic book. it truly -- it sounds corny but it inspired my whole love of
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history and i went from there to custer and just kept going following the donovan road. and i decided i'd become a historian 'cause i just loved history so much. and it's been a great choice. it's been a great ride. a great profession. >> well, for me it was tarzan. [laughter] >> well, that was the first -- when i was sick one day when i was 9 years old my mother bought me tarzan and, boom, over the next two or three years i read every book that existed and read nothing but fantasy and science fiction for the next several years until i was about 16. now i'm allergic to elves, dragons, wizards, all that kind of thing. but that got me hooked. i don't know how it led here but i found i was a decent writer in high school. did the usual newspaper thing. didn't follow into college as these two gentlemen probably did. but worked in bookstores obviously and somehow got here.
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>> i had the meanest fourth grade teacher whoever lived who pointed out my faults regularly and she had a right to. one day she made us write a paper, a 250-word paper in the fourth grade. and we all complained about it. and when i got the paperback it was the only a i'd ever gotten from her and she'd written in red ink you should be a writer. and because she and god were on personal terms and were never wrong, i was 9 years old and decided that's what i had to do or else she'd find me. [laughter] >> we're still in touch. in my acknowledgements of every book i write i always thank her. >> i would say the formative experience for me was the first writer that i ever met was this bearded sage that you may remember from the ken burns civil war documentary. the great civil war historian shelby foote.
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he and his son -- well, his son and i were friends. his son's name was huge. the names in the south are rather strange and we were in a rock band together and we were in a room that may or may not have been full of smoke basically cranking up the hendrick to prevent shelby from finish his 6,000 trilogy on the civil war and he would say huge turn that racket down. i'm working on apomatic. and i was like right and he really gave me some very, very great ideas about what narrative history can aspire to be. >> discussing fast felonies on national television is usually not a good idea, hampton. [laughter] >> i said may or may not have been full of smoke. >> yes, sir. there's a custer book out there entitled "glory hunter."
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could you paul and jim, comment on "glory hunter"? >> it was written by frederick who's a novelist. that was the era in the '30s -- a lot of -- what's the phrase, paul -- >> the debunkers. >> that's it. there was a lot of debunking going on. and custer's wife libby who outlived him by 50-something years. she died in 1933 believe it or not lived at 71 park avenue. she was six days short of her 91st birthday. she died in '33. he started the book a couple of years earlier. that came out in '34. it's a good book, well researched. but i think it's pretty clear -- it doesn't take long to show that he was slanted against custer and at every instance tried to show he was just lucky at gettysburg and lucky here.
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that's "glory hunter." >> it's a wonderful literary biography and it certainly was the key book in changing custer's image in the united states from this very heroic martyr to our western explanation into kind of villainous indian fighter who brought death to his own men in his own search for glory. yes, sir. >> thank you. i have a comment for hampton and a question for james. but first of all i would like to say -- they say reading and writing history is like going to a foreign country and i want to thank you y'all for snapping our passports today for doing that. a comment for hampton is, oh, probably several years ago my wife and i were taking a tour of taos on a beautiful fall day when all the trees were yellow. and the tour guide took us by this little gift shop on the way out to the pueblo. and we saw this little old man behind the gift shop chopping
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wood. and he was doing it very skillfully and very forcefully. and i just couldn't believe for his small size how well he was chopping wood. and the tour driver said that fellow is a survivor of the baton death march. and i know there's a connection between your two books because the arizona national guard -- excuse me, the new mexico national guard had gone over to the philippines, i believe, for ghost soldiers, you know, and the -- anyway, between new mexico and philippines there's a connection definitely. >> yeah. >> the question i had about custer was -- i belong to a study club up in denver and, of course, people occasionally go up to the battle site there. and came back and they were whispering. there's a rumor that custer had two soldiers available after he won the battle of little bighorn to take off to the nearest
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telegraph station to report his results to the national republican committee who was -- they were starting the convention, i believe. is that true or not? >> well, a man named craig repast wrote a short little book called "custer for president," which he takes on that question. and i think he does a pretty good job of showing that there's really barely a shred of evidence. there's never a mention in any newspaper about custer. never a mention at the convention. it didn't work like that anyway. and there's a letter from libby custer, who he shared almost everything with, written about a week or two before the battle. he never got it. but she spends a paragraph or two discussing the candidates for president and never mentions, you know, the candidacy of custer. >> yes, sir. >> thank you.
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>> i have a question for jeff guinn. jeff, i'm wondering in your research and in your writings so far, what has surprised you most about the story as you've uncovered it? >> the things that are amazing me the most are some of the history of southeast arizona and the absolute combination -- sort of -- it's almost a drug-inducing atmosphere and so enticing of tombstone, elegance and decadence at the same time that i think so many folks out there have -- have misunderstanding of what the town was like. what arizona territory was like. there's so much more to the story than i ever would have guessed and there's so many people who have very strong opinions about all of it and at least half of them no matter what i write will decide i'm an idiot and probably evil besides. but that's what makes it fun.

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