If Dogs Could Talk

texas children's writer John Erickson from evening news' American dream 122000 CBS

For one writer, life down on the ranch didn't inspire him to pen the great American novel. But as CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports, a pair of four-legged ranch-hands motivated him to create his American Dream.
John Erickson continues his family tradition, living out his dream in West Texas: "The thing that I always wanted was...I wanted to own my own ranch as my grandfather and great-grandfather did. That's every cowboy's dream."

It's an adventurous life. There's a lot of action and excitement when you're involved with large animals — cattle and horses," says Erickson.

He adds, "One of the things that drew me to cowboying is that cowboys tell stories."

And that's another tradition of the Old West Erickson makes his passion.

"We didn't know that kids from our town could aspire to be writers...but I found that it was very easy for me."

His talent sent him on the trail to Harvard.

"I tried writing — novels, short stories, plays, articles, essays," he says.

But according to Erickson, success was hard to come by in his early attempts: "I had gotten so many rejection slips I didn't think I could take any more and either I had to do something different or give up my dream of a writer."

Until an old four-legged friend offered him some inspiration. "Hank came to me as a pure accident.... I thought of these two dogs that I had known on ranches. I always thought they were funny so I put them together in a story and imagined what they would say if they could talk."

He spun their misadventures into a children's book and published it with $2,000 of borrowed money.

"Hank was a big hit from the very beginning. Hank was a star," says Erickson.

Since 1982, Erickson has published 36 Hank books and has sold over four million copies around the country.

He credits perseverance for his success: "I had every opportunity to buzz off and go away...but I just continued to believe that I had good stories to tell."

Today, Erickson continues to bring Hank to his loyal fans by reading and singing to children around the country.

"It's a wonderful dream," says Erickson. "I look back and see the chances of doing what I did as very remote."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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