When asked where his story ideas came from, the late great Harlan Ellison (the vivid, visceral master of speculative fiction with the heart of a Catskills comedian) would quip: "Schenectady. There’s this 'idea service' in Schenectady and every week like clockwork they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas for 25 bucks." Unfortunately, I never asked Harlan for the address.
The notion for GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE, my first stab at historical fiction, came from the Encore Western cable channel, purveyor of vintage western movies and TV shows. About 10 years ago, I took notice and started recording MAVERICK and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL in their entirety. During television's first full decade of broadcasting, when westerns ruled the networks, these were considered a cut above the rest—and both mostly lived up to their reputations. MAVERICK's first 2 seasons were particularly clever, with TV's first anti-heroes in Bret Maverick (played by James Garner) and brother Bart (Jack Kelly).
But even the best '50s shows weren't very sophisticated, so I thought it would be fun to do a MAVERICK reboot/origins story, using modern storytelling techniques to weave in more character development, realism, and complex story lines, showing how two young kids from Texas grew up to be the wary, witty gamblers of the TV series. With that in mind, I gathered tidbits from the old episodes (including "Pappy-isms"—words of ostensible wisdom from Bret and Bart's father) and started researching the time period.
There was an obstacle: MAVERICK was still owned by Warner Brothers, the studio for which the late writer-producer Roy Huggins created the series. So I contacted Warner and asked for permission to do a MAVERICK origins novel, which would be subject to the approval of studio licensing. Normally, studios collect big baskets of cash for publishing rights; since I didn't have big baskets of cash, and since MAVERICK had been a dormant property since the successful 1994 Mel Gibson-Jodie Foster-James Garner movie (which grossed over $183 million worldwide), I hoped for a contingency arrangement, based on their approval and an eventual publication deal. It took a couple of months to get an answer—and the answer was, "No." By then, I'd done enough research and story development to know I had a tale worth telling, even if the characters wouldn't be named Maverick. Instead, I'd have the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I broadened my sources of inspiration to include not only MAVERICK, but also BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (one of my all-time favorite films), and the classic con-artist Oscar-winner, THE STING.
I also reconnected with a little TV series I fondly remembered—ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, which aired on ABC as westerns were winding down (1971-73). AS&J had been created by Glen Larson, known for "borrowing" from successful movies and creating TV rip-offs -- in this case, the series about two genial outlaws came directly from BUTCH CASSIDY. But ABC didn't trust the young Larson to be in charge, so they brought in none other than MAVERICK veteran Roy Huggins. Huggins ended up writing the stories for almost all of AS&J's 50 episodes, and he saw the show as a second chance to do MAVERICK—he even borrowed stories from the earlier show.
Once I had my main ingredients—two buddies bound by blood or affection, engaged in Old West adventures, and lots of humor—GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE began to percolate . . .