Converting from Journalism to fiction is not an easy transition. Several have accomplished it and became successful. Jack Schaeffer is probably the most notable of my personal mentors. He was an editor in a small New England newspaper and then he wrote the novel SHANE. It was published in 1949 as a literary western and received high marks. Jack admitted to me he’d never been to the west and yet he'd written an award winning novel with Wyoming as the backdrop. Jack eventually toured the west after he divorced his first wife. He remarried and finally settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Shortly after he resettled, he had problems writing westerns. (He admitted this to me when I visited him in his beautiful Sante Fe home.) How ironic is that! He did however write two exceptional novels in his career. Both were made into movies. SHANE, starring Alan Ladd & Jack Palance, hit the silver screen in 1953.
I watched the premier of the movie in RADIO CITY MUCIC HALL along with my mother and brother. We were on our way to Panama via ship and had several days to kill in New York City. One would never have guessed that Jack and I would ever meet. Unfortunately it was later in his life and he was unable to write about human beings. As a sidebar, another journalist turned novelist was A.B. Guthrie, Jr. Guthrie wrote the screenplay for SHANE. This came on the heels of two successful novels, THE BIG SKY & THE WAY WEST. The latter novel earned him a Pulitzer prize and the screenplay for SHANE earned him an oscar.
Jack's novel, MONTE WALSH was published in the early 1960's. It was made into a film in 1970 starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance. It's been the favorite of most of my cowboy friends for years.
Wallace Stegner was a driving force in Jack’s life as he was with many successful people; Sandra Day O'Connor, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Simin Daneshvar, Andrew Glaze, George V. Higgins, Thomas McGuane, Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, Gordon Lish, Ernest Gaines, and Larry McMurtry. Tom Robins and John Nichols also took his Stanford Creative Writing Course.
As you can see, Wallace was a teacher and mentor to a lot of the great writers of our time. He’d received the Pulitzer for his ANGLE OF REPOSE in 1973. Very few realize that Wallace Stegner was the one who discovered Jack Schaeffer. He was working under contract at Houghton-Mifflin when the manuscript came across his desk.
I’d never met Mister Stegner. We’d spoken on the phone several times and shared some letters. He’d agreed to be interviewed by the magazine I’d owned back in the mid 1980’s. It never came to fruition and I regret to say I lost touch with him while off on another one of my adventures.
Jack Schaeffer passed away in 1991. I was fishing in Alaska at the time and wasn’t aware of his passing until a year later. I was preparing to have a private memorial service on the back deck of my fishing boat when I received word the Wallace Stegner had died; also in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I had a copy of THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN on my boat. I brought that book and Jack’s MONTE WALSH into the trolling pit of my vessel and we had a ceremony; kill a fish – read a passage. Kill a fish, read a passage.