When was I around seven or eight, the local UHF station aired old westerns every Saturday morning. I’ve always remembered a scene from a Hopalong Cassidy movie wherein Hoppy (as he was called by his pals) and a kid watched a scruffy ne’er-do-well braggart demonstrate his skill with a gun or a lariat.
At one point, the kid said something along the lines of, “Hoppy, you can do all those things better than that clown! Why doncha go make him eat crow?”
To which Hoppy sagely replied, “Well, that’d be showin’ off…and we don’t do that, do we?”
Back then, no we didn’t. I was raised to believe that modesty was a virtue and boastfulness to be in bad taste. I carried that childhood conditioning into adulthood…and therefore, never became much of a self-promoter or a networker or a glad-hander.
Up until a few years ago, I figured my work and credentials spoke for themselves. I assumed I didn’t have to beat drums or shoot off fireworks or squeeze myself into a Power Girl costume and stumble around hotel lobbies in order to draw attention to myself.
Apparently I was waaaaay off base. And that brings me around to the topic of today’s blog entry:
I’m not talking about the details of the series itself…you can read about those here http://tinyurl.com/d5mbup5
I’m laying out some bottom-line facts about the genesis of the series and my part in it. And my part in it is—
I created the OUTLANDERS series.
Just me, nobody else. All of the concepts, all of the characters (like Grant, Brigid Baptiste and Kane pictured here by artist Mike Herring) came right out of m’ brain and into the novel series that has been consecutively published for sixteen years…which makes the OUTLANDERS series the most successful mass market paperback original series published in the last 25 years.
So for the first time, here’s how it all came about—
In 1990, I’d scripted a very well-received comic miniseries based on the popular TV show The Wild Wild West.
In 1995, the owners of said TV show were shopping around the literary rights to various book publishers. One of those publishers happened to be Harlequin…or rather, the Gold Eagle imprint. The executive editor was very interested in the property.
If I’m recalling correctly, Will Murray who was then writing The Destroyer series suggested that the editor contact me about writing the prose version. The editor did, I sent him copies of the WWW comic series (“The Night Of the Iron Tyrants”), after which he told me I had the gig.
Unfortunately, the Harlequin higher-ups shot down the idea, not wanting to pay a licensing fee and also the marketing department felt that the WWW was “old”…which for a series set in the 1870s seemed like a classic “Captain Obvious” comment.
Anyhow, Gold Eagle still wanted to put out another paperback series. From what I was told later, they’d tried and failed with over a dozen of them in the previous six or seven years like this one from 1991…
But nothing clicked.
To keep me on the hook, I was contracted out to write a couple of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner novels.
While discussions and so forth about the kind of new series Gold Eagle should publish went back and forth in the Harlequin offices, Laurence James who had been writing the Deathlands series since the mid-80s announced he was leaving.
Deathlands was conceived and created by British author Christopher Lowder as way for Gold Eagle to cash in on the post-apocalyptic fever then running hot through popular culture, triggered by the Max Max films and Red Dawn.
Accounts vary as to whether Mr. James took over the writing of the first DL book at the halfway or three-quarters point…regardless, with the second book he became the sole writer of the series under the house pseudonym of “James Axler.”
So, in spring of 1995, once he told the Gold Eagle editor he was leaving Deathlands, I was asked to take over, with at least a three book commitment. I was the first writer to work on Deathlands other than Laurence James since the early Lowder days.
Within a week of turning in the Deathlands manuscript of what would be published as Stoneface (I believe it was in August of 1995), the Gold Eagle editor asked me to create a new series…although it would carry the “James Axler” byline, he hastened to sweeten the deal by telling me I would get “created by” credit in the indicia of all the books and also be one of the first Gold Eagle writers in years to have a royalty arrangement…ironically, it turned out that I was the last writer to have a royalty arrangement with Gold Eagle.
Anyway…the series went through a couple of different developmental stages…the first version, called Major Arcana was set in contemporary times and contained elements very similar to Stargate SG-1…which wouldn’t make its Showtime debut for nearly two more years. Still and all, the basic templates of the main OUTLANDERS characters as well as the format was there.
The second prospectus was entitled Aftermath and had a post-apocalyptic setting…that version was the one that I developed fully. At this point in the process I dealt mainly with a lovely editor named Eva Kovacs. While I was writing the first book, she reported to me that executive editor wanted to see more “Deathlands-ish” elements.
Rather than come up with some of the same stuff in Deathlands but with different names, I suggested we tie the two series in…set Aftermath a century or so after DL and since the James Axler name was going on it, why not?
Part Two of this Exciting Saga Coming Soon!
(yes, I’m being arch)