fact, if you can be minor you’ve made a considerable achievement, because most people don’t register on the scale of minor or major at all. So I’m not worried about it.
GG: You’re one of the few Texas writers who’s looked at the state unsentimentally.
LM: That is true. I’ve tried as hard as I could to demythologize the West. Can’t do it. It’s impossible. I wrote a book called Lonesome Dove, which I thought was a long critique of western mythology. It is now the chief source of western mythology. I didn’t shake it up at all. I actually think of Lonesome Dove as the Gone With the Wind of the West.
BM: What is the fate of writing about the West and of books? And do you fret about these things that are disappearing?
LM: You bet I do. I fret about these things that are disappearing. I don’t know that the western is. But I’ll tell you what. If anything has destroyed the western genre it’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger, which I wrote the first script for 26 years ago. $375 million it lost. Who knows when they’ll make another western. But I don’t think the western as a genre is gone. We are working on a couple. And I’ve written another novel that’s a western and it will be published in the spring. It’s still there.
But the big, big, big changes. I’m having a conflicted tussle with Amazon because what they’ve done to the book business is horrible. It’s just horrible. It’s destroyed conventional publishing. As much as I hate them, they came to me the other day with an offer to make a pilot that Diana Ossana and I wrote five years ago. And it drifted around. It went to HBO, they got it and paid for it and then they put it on the shelf. It went to 20 th Century Fox and they put it on the shelf. Amazon wants to do it and they have the moxie to do it. They have so much money it’s incredible, and they can do whatever they want to do. They released fourteen pilots to the mainstream in a week. Nobody else can do that.
What I see is everything has become television. Television is smarter than movies, it’s infinitely cheaper than movies, it’s more flexible than movies. I think of the major stuff that’s come out on movies and television, say, in the last decade. Something like Everybody Loves Raymond and The Sopranos. They’re great series, you know?
GG: I’m intrigued that your last book was a western about Custer, and you said you’re coming out with a book in April that is going to be a Western. It sounds as if you believe Westerns are going to be around for quite a while.
LM: Oh, I do. I don’t think you can sink the Western. Well, Custer is a flashpoint with me. It wasn’t at all what I intended. I intended to write a companion to my Crazy Horse, a short biography or something like that. I never intended for it to be a coffee table book with hundreds of photographs. There was a change of executive structure at Simon and Schuster. The new person didn’t want it, and so they held it a year and a half, they tarted it up with all those photographs, and I’m very disappointed in it. But that doesn’t mean the end of the Western. There will still be Westerns.
Amy Burgess: You’re one of the few writers who’ve had equal success in the different genres, with TV and movies and books. Which ones get you the most excited when you have a new project that gets picked up?
LM: They’re so different, it’s very hard to compare them. I’ve written 32 novels. I can’t say that I get excited when I start to write a novel. I get to work, but it’s not a daily thrill. And neither is working in movies. Working in movies has become harder and harder and harder. I’ve had three or four very successful movies. Average time on making those movies was ten years. Ten years to make Terms of Endearment, ten years to make Brokeback Mountain. It doesn’t come quick. You have to get the money. and to get the money you have to get the actors that can bring the money. It’s very slow.
We have several projects right now that I don’t understand why nothing is happening. Two years go past, no checks come in the mail. It just sits there. We have a project with Ridley Scott right now that’s set in this part of the country. So, there are stories out there. But it’s really, really hard to make westerns. The thing that’s so hard about it is that they involve animals – cattle, buffalo, horses – and animals are so expensive. The reason it’s more likely to happen on television – the reason Lonesome Dove was on television instead of film – is that it’s so much cheaper. It’s all about money.
AB: Would you ever self publish?
LM: Yeah, I was just about to self publish this weird little novel, then somebody bought it, strangely enough. To my intense surprise. Someone bought it and saved me the trouble.
Harry Hallall: Why were you going to self publish?
LM: My own publisher had been so negative about it that I thought, ‘Maybe they’re right; maybe it is awful.’ Then two years passed, and I got it out and read it, and I rather liked it. I told the agents to say bye-bye to Simon and Schuster and shop it around a little bit. It sold instantly.
It’s an end-of-the-West western. Most of the westerns that you read or have read are end-of-the-West westerns. This one is just a little more clearly an end-of-the-West western. I felt that there were stories and people like Charles Goodnight, people like Wyatt Earp, people like Buffalo Bill,