He clucked approvingly
at my collection of hard-boiled titles, and pulled out a volume of Ambrose
Bierce's short stories. He read aloud a favorite passage from "Chickamauga"
and said he was planning to write a biography of Bierce, plus a multivolume
saga on the Civil War. Plus a novel about an American woman president,
which he was presently working on. Plus a sequel to "Shorty"
called The Phantom Blooper. Plus a series of six LA private-eye
novels. His notebook was color-indexed to various ongoing research
projects, including Mark Twain, anarchy, the Alamo, Van Gogh, screenwriting
and Abraham Lincoln -- all subjects about which he expected to write books
The Killing of Gus
The Civil War was a lifelong obsession
for Gus. In one early draft of The Short-Timers, Gus changed
the setting from Viet Nam to the Civil War. According to Grover
Lewis, Gus was planning to write a multi-volume saga about the war
between the states. The Undefeated, his long-time project,
was described by Marc Leepson as "a southern version
of The Red Badge of Courage." Many of the library books that
Gus served time for stealing were Civil War books he needed to research
Undefeated. He spent the summer of 1983, when I first met him,
driving around to different Civil War battle sites, living out of his car.
As a present he gave me a bullet he dug up at Shiloh.
Gus also spent years researching
Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War era author, planning to write a biography
of him, focusing only on his years as an officer with the Union army.
Gus took trips to various battlefields, walking out Bierce's route.
Apparently by 1989 this project had morphed into a novel, as Gus wrote
to his cousin John Hicks: "Presently I am working on a book which
may redeem the family name. It's about Sherman's siege of Atlanta,
seen through the eyes of Ambrose Bierce, the only important American writer
to serve in The War For Southern Independence. Of course, he was
sort of a Yankee. This is Gone With The Wind from the
Yankee point of view, minus the weepy Valley Girls. But at least
it's not political, not obscene, and nobody will try to lynch me for it.
What a change of pace."
While living in Perth, Australia
in the early 80s, Gus started work on a novel set in the near future that
involved a war between Japan and Australia and also featured America's
first female president. In January 1983, in a letter to his friend
Bob Bayer, Gus wrote "my progress on NECESSARY EVIL, the name of my woman's
president book, is not impressive. We are not talking tattered typewriter
ribbon here. Don't famous people get to have servants to deal with
these trifling details?"
The hard boiled adventures of Dowdy
Lewis, that began with the 1992 publication of A Gypsy Good Time,
were conceived as a six part series. Struggling with writer's block
in the last few years of his life, already behind on deadlines for the
next book in the series, Gus moved to Greece, planning to set the book
Apparently by the time he'd finished
The Phantom Blooper, Gus was already planning to write a third Viet
Nam novel. Apparently, not much work was ever completed on this book,
which had many possible titles, one of them Exit Wounds. The
story involved Private Joker taking a job as a reporter in Los Angeles
in the years after the war.
"They were men.
They crept upon their hands and knees. They used their hands only,
dragging their legs. They used their knees only, their arms hanging
idle at their sides. They strove to rise to their feet, but fell
prone in the attempt. They did nothing naturally, and nothing alike,
save only to advance foot by foot in the same direction. Singly,
in pairs and in little groups, they came on through the gloom, some halting
now and again while others crept slowly past them, then resuming their
movement. They came by dozens and by hundreds; as far on either hand
as one could see in the deepening gloom they extended and the black wood
behind them appeared to be inexhaustible. The very ground seemed
in motion toward the creek. Occasionally one who had paused did not
again go on, but lay motionless. He was dead. Some, pausing,
made strange gestures with their hands, erected their arms and lowered
them again clasped their heads; spread their palms upward, as men are sometimes
seen to do in public prayer."
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