5 Things You Didn't Know About the Hank Series

Friday, January 05, 2018 | By Maverick Books, interviewing John R. Erickson

5 things you didn t know about how the hank series got started   blog post image 2

Howdy Fans!

Today on "Hank's Blog," we're giving you something a lot of Hank-readers have asked for: A question-and-answer session with John R. Erickson! We hope you enjoy these interesting answers to some of the most-frequently asked questions we get! And, if you have one you'd like to ask, be sure to mention it in the comments below, and maybe it'll turn up in "Part 2"... 

1. What motivates you to write Hank?

In the early years, I had a strong desire to prove myself and to support my family as a writer, but after a few years motivation became less important than habit and discipline. A professional writer doesn’t wait for inspiration or motivation. For thirty-six years I have risen early, between 4:30 and 5:30, have gone to my writing place and forced myself to stay for four and a half hours. I either write or sit there. A lot of Hank books have begun as an effort to spare myself from the boredom of doing nothing.

2. What type of style do you consider Hank’s books to be?

During my years as an apprentice writer, I would read a novel and then try to imitate the style and techniques of the author. It was like trying on clothes in a costume shop. By the time I stumbled into Hank, I had been writing for fourteen years and had collected hundreds of rejection slips. I wrote the first Hank story for The Cattleman magazine, and I was writing strictly for money. It was a short story, about seven typed pages. I wasn’t trying to be literary, merely writing out of my experience as a ranch cowboy and telling the story as a cowboy—or his dog—might have told it. Was it a “good” story, in the literary sense? It didn’t occur to me to ask that question. It was good enough so that the editor of the magazine sent me a check for sixty-five bucks.

     I didn’t know there was anything special about Hank until I read that first story aloud to audiences in my hometown of Perryton. They roared with laughter and said, “You need to do more with that dog!” You might say that my first editorial critique came from audiences in a small town in the Panhandle, ordinary folks who didn’t know much about literature. I had enough sense to listen to them. I self published the first Hank book in September 1982, and sold the books to the same people who had enjoyed my programs. It turns out that they were right. Hank became a star and we have sold almost eight million of his books. In writing the Hank books, I wasn’t trying to imitate another author or to cultivate a style of writing. It was something that just happened and it seemed accidental at the time, a storytelling vehicle that allowed me to enter the world of this quirky character who thought of himself as the Head of Ranch Security. The style grew out of the character, like the vapor trail that follows a jet plane. Observers on the ground notice the vapor trail, but the real action occurs inside the airplane.

     Looking back, I can see that I invented my own literary device, one that was perfectly adapted to my talents as a writer and performer, and allowed me to reveal the bizarre world that Hank inhabits. It has turned out to be a technique that gives me great freedom as an author. When you write from the perspective of a dog, you can romp and play. Hank tells little lies to cover his mistakes, and half the time he doesn’t understand what he is describing. What makes it work is that the reader knows Hank better than he knows himself, and though he’s kind of a scoundrel, they like him anyway.

3. What is your favorite Hank book and why?

When I decided to write the second book, I doubted that I could make it better than the first one, so I made a conscious decision not to compare one book with another. Maybe it’s superstition, but I don’t want to compare them or choose a favorite. As I see it, a book has to be worth the price. It has to be good enough for my kids and your kids. I don’t look beyond that.

4. What is your favorite quote or line from your books?

I can think of several good Hank quotes. “Do unto others but don’t take trash off the cats.” “It’s always darkest before it gets any darker.” “A buzzard’s only friend is his next meal.”

5. Are there any characters that are your favorite besides Hank?

You know, there really aren’t any characters that I dislike. Even my villains aren’t terribly villainous. I don’t enjoy writing about characters who are genuinely evil or sleazy. We get plenty of those in the daily news. Drover is a funny little guy, dreamy and a bit on the goofy side, but he’s not as dense as Hank thinks. Pete the Barncat is a great character: nasty, scheming, selfish, and very smart. That is a bad cat, and Hank keeps falling for his dirty tricks. Wallace and Junior the buzzards are always fun, and Rip and Snort the coyote brothers…I really like those guys. They are the incarnation of eighth grade boys: rude, crude, dumb, and loud. I’m fond of Madame Moonshine, the witchy little owl. Her magic powers have helped me solve a few plot problems. And I have a lot of fun with the relationship between Hank and Sally May. They live on the same ranch but occupy very different worlds.


Hope y'all enjoyed reading a little bit about John R. Erickson's writing process and his thoughts on the books and characters! Be sure to look for Part 2 in the coming weeks! 

And, if you want to check out the very first Hank story ("Confessions of a Cowdog"), you can download it for free in the Print-Outs section of the "Fan Zone." 


Tags: Hank the Cowdog books
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