There are few American icons as beloved as John Rambo, the PTSD-affected Vietnam vet who returns to America to take on the system in a one-man war. Created by author David Morrell in his 1972 novel First Blood, the character has become a true symbol of America. But when he created Rambo, Morrell had no idea what he would become in the landscape of pop-culture.
“No one who creates an iconic character could ever say that’s what’s going to happen with the character,” Morrell said. “It’s all an act of faith. I was just trying to write the best book I could. I was aware that I was doing things in First Blood that hadn’t been done before. As the book accumulated, I began to realize that there may never have been a novel with that much action in it.”
Considered by many as the first modern action novel, First Blood was one of many best-sellers for Morrell. From the spy-thriller The Brotherhood of the Rose to his most recent work, the Victorian-era mystery Murder is a Fine Art, his books have been on the shelves — and the bestseller lists — for more than 40 years.
Morrell shares his secrets for longevity and literary relevance Friday-Sunday at the Rose State College writing short course Finding Your Voice in the Changing World of Words. He is guest of honor among more than 20 authors, literary agents and editors, all offering help and advice to amateur writers.
It’s his way of paying it forward, he said, in tribute to his own inspiration — legendary screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.
“There was a television show called Route 66, a classic show about two guys and a corvette convertible that drove across America in search of themselves,” Morrell said. “I was a very troubled teenager with a lot of creativity, and this show [was] what I thought life should be about: finding yourself and moving forward. I noticed that the same man, Stirling Silliphant, wrote almost every episode. I wrote to him, and he wrote back within a week to thank me for my good words.”
Silliphant encouraged Morrell to keep writing and credits a large part of his success to that interaction.
Morrell said that even though doing speaking engagements takes three days out of his writing schedule and often leaves him exhausted from traveling, it’s important to help burgeoning writers make it “through osmosis” and it’s worth it.
“Most successful careers last 15 to 20 years,” Morrell said. “Here I am, at 41 years as a writer, and my career has been about evolving and adapting and adjusting and moving forward, which is what I learned from Route 66 and continue to practice today. “It’s all about being true to yourself and following your interests and remembering that you became a writer to express yourself.”
Learn more about the writing workshop at rose.edu.