Best-selling western author Louis L'Amour is heading for a courtroom shoot-out with a small New York publisher in what promises to be one of the most bitter and bizarre book-industry controversies of the year.
Attorneys for L'Amour yesterday filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asking that Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc. be restrained from publishing two story collections purportedly written by L'Amour. The 6-month-old house has been promoting the paperback titles--"Homicide Street" and "Rawhide Range"--for its fall list, describing them as "never before published in book form."
The problem, L'Amour said yesterday from his Los Angeles home, is that "I don't know the publishers, I don't know the books and I don't even know what's in them." In fact, he first learned of the volumes' existence after someone saw the covers at the American Booksellers Association convention earlier this month in Dallas.
"It came as a great shock," L'Amour said in a public statement released yesterday, since "I have never written a novel or any short story with those titles." And "as if that were not outrageous enough," he said, Carroll & Graf "even refused my lawyers' request to tell me which of my stories they were using unless I formally promised not to reveal this information to anyone else. I found this attempt to seize control of my work so appalling that for the first time in my career, I have gone to court to protect my right to publish my work as I see fit." His suit also asks that Carroll & Graf be made to reveal the contents of the books to see if the stories are in the public domain.
L'Amour's New York attorney, James Goodale of Debevoise & Plimpton, said that the legal action involved "two major points of law": that "the publication of these works may constitute a copyright violation, if in fact they are Louis' stories"; and "the use of Louis' name in connection with the books constitutes false and misleading advertising," suggesting that "Louis put the material together himself, that he is responsible for the collection, and that the stories are new--none of which is true." A further monetary claim for damages may follow, he said, "when we can find out what Carroll & Graf has done."
Kent Carroll, who cofounded the publishing house in January with Herman Graf, a former colleague at Grove Press, said yesterday that on advice of his legal counsel, "until I see what is specified in the suit, I simply can't make any comment." Most of Carroll & Graf's offerings are paperback fiction reprints, with a few original and clothbound titles in the fall list.
L'Amour conceded that the copyrights may have expired on some of the early stories he wrote in the '40s and '50s, when he was experimenting with detective fiction and often writing in haste to support his family. "I had a very difficult time for a while there, a real struggle," he said, and quality suffered. Moreover, "some of the old pulp magazines had practices I never liked. For example, 'you' was always spelled 'yuh.' And there were a lot of inaccurate terms they used, like calling a gunfighter a 'gunny' or 'gunslinger,' which people would never say. The correct words were 'gunman' or 'gunfighter,' if they were used at all."
Since then, he said, "I have improved as a writer," and publishing unrevised material from 40 years ago "would be to do a disservice to my many fans," who deserve writing "fully up to the quality they have come to respect in my novels."
Both of L'Amour's latest works, published by Bantam Books, are on national best-seller lists--"The Lonesome Gods" in hardcover and "Ride the River" in paper--and each of his five previous story collections has become a best seller with more than a million copies in print.