Friday, 16 January 2009

Interview: Mike Linaker

My next interview is with author Mike Linaker. I first read Mike’s work in the late 1970’s, collecting and reading his Bodie series. You can find a few reviews of his work on this blog by clicking on his name at the end of the interview.

First I want to thank you for agreeing to answer my questions Mike.

Thanks for asking me, Steve. Fame at last!!

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

The bug was always there, but I didn't make a real effort until I was in my early twenties. I used to write small pieces for my amusement, and then it occurred to me I should be doing this seriously. So I went out and bought myself a portable typewriter, paper and carbon and started. A complete novice, with no idea about the mechanics of writing. Being a stubborn Lancashire lad I figured it shouldn't be too difficult. Boy, was I wrong. It took almost a full year to complete the first manuscript. Then I handwrote first and transferred it to a typewritten copy.

I chose Westerns because they were my favorite reading matter (this was in the 60s, the Golden Years of paperback Westerns from the US) so my grounding was in the greats. L'Amour, Shirreffs, Frank Castle, Harry Whittington etc. Plus the TV was awash with Western series and so were the movies. I was in no doubt I wanted to write Westerns.

What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn’t a western what was your first western?

My first attempt TWO FROM TEXAS was sent to the agent in New York I had read about, the legendary Scott Meredith. He said he would take me on. So off went the script. It finally came back with the best advice I have ever had. A four page letter explaining why TWO FROM TEXAS would never ever make it as a book. The advice Meredith gave me was a concise lesson on the way to write a Western. I never forgot his advice and to this day I'm so grateful to him. I used his advice and wrote book two – THE SAVAGE JOURNEY, sent it and went on to write INCIDENT AT BUTLER'S STATION. He liked them both, made no promises, but after a long time, while I wrote the next book, I received the letter telling me SAVAGE JOURNEY had been bought by Avon Books. Two days later another letter told me BUTLER'S STATION had gone to Avon as well.

I was twenty-six, two books accepted, decided to send the next book HIGH KILL. Believing I was on my way, Meredith tried to sell it, but Westerns were on one of their periodic downswings and nothing happened and nothing did for a long time.

I got married, continued writing and never even thought of giving it up.

How many books did you write before the first was accepted for publication?

Here I was lucky. TWO FROM TEXAS didn't make it, but book two, SAVAGE JOURNEY did. Since then every book I've written has been published, so I count myself very lucky.

Which writers influence you?

Western writers have always featured high on my list. I admire L'Amour. His style, the near poetry of his narratives. The man had a touch no one else has ever come close to producing. Others include Gordon Shirreffs, Lewis Patten. D. B. Newton – I particularly liked his Jim Bannister series. Over the years I guess I've read most Western writers though Zane Grey and Max Brand did nothing for me (sorry if that offends purists but it's how I feel). Today there are no Western writers around I can feel at home with. From the US, where the Western still exists, nothing stimulates me. I must be in a time warp because the traditional Western novel is still my preference. I don't like the sex & sagebrush books that pretend to be Westerns. Okay, they seem to sell well and series run into the 100s, but I'd rather sit down with an old GOLD MEDAL book. I just wish I had been starting out when they had their heyday

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

My stamina isn't what it used to be so one book at a time suits me fine. Back in the busy years I did end up writing a Bodie book and a horror for New English Library. I'm amazed I didn't get confused and have Bodie throw his saddle on one of the mutated insects from SCORPION. I still work on new treatments for new books even when writing an EXECUTIONER – that's generally while everyone is reloading for the next firefight!!

Do you wish you had more say in the covers that appear in your books?

The only Westerns I had any input on was when the commissioned artist for the BODIE series rang me and asked for a detailed description of the character. I did like the mirror motif he used on the covers. Once or twice the EXECUTIONER editors call and want me to describe some of the scenes from the books so they design the covers around them.

You had a few stories published in the Norwegian magazine Western in the 1970’s, which included stories called Colorado Terror and The Gun Clan. How did this come about?

When CORGI started publishing Morgan Kane I saw the publisher's address inside and wrote to them asking if they would be interested in seeing any of my work. Finn Arneson, the Editor, looked at BRIGHAM'S WAY & JACOB'S ROAD and made me an offer. He was going run them in Western Magazine as serials. Before he did he said he would like some short stories featuring the three brothers to publish before and after the books. In the end I wrote more than 30 shorts featuring the Tylers. Writing those short stories was a lesson in how to cut out the flab and create tight, fast moving material. I used the lesson when I went back to full length books'

Have any of these stories been published in the English language?

Short answer – no.

I believe your Brand series was originally published in Norway, the first seven of which have been published in English by the Linford Western Library or Hale. Is there any chance of the last two being published in English?

The Jason Brand series followed after the Tyler series in Western Magazine. I created and wrote it for Finn Arnesen and it ran to nine books. I retained copies of the scripts and years later rewrote them on computer, printed them off and persuaded the then Editor at Linford to take them. They usually only do reprints of existing books, so again my luck was with me. They did the first seven, then a new Editor decided against completing the set. Hale cut short the series when John Hale didn't like the theme and setting for DEVIL'S GOLD (it had Brand, as a government agent, travelling to Jamaica on the trail of a Chinese crime lord. At the end of the book Brand loses his memory and is left unaware of who he is. Hale didn't like that either.) I pondered on Brand's last adventure, which picked up with him going to Montana, still with no memory of his former life. My Lancashire roots kicked in. Never waste anything, so I sat down with the script – GUNLOOSE – on the computer and re-jigged it. Brand became Sam Harper, alone with a blank memory, trying to pull his life back together. He meets a desperate young woman and signs on to help her. The book became HIGH MOUNTAIN STAND OFF by John C. Danner and Hale published it in 2006. It has, for me, one of the best Hale cover illustrations I've seen for a long time. So Jason Brand has faded into obscurity. I can't see him returning. But it has been known for me to be wrong before!!

You’ve mentioned writing a book that teams up Brand with one of your other western heroes, Bodie the Stalker (six books published by Star in the UK), how is this plan coming on?

The Brand/Bodie tie up kind of faded when the Brand series disappeared. TWO GUNS NORTH was to have the pair first clash, then realize they were working the same side of the street and have them team up. Brand was also going to discover he has a 16 year old son. It would have been a nice way for the pair to have rounded out the two series – but we don't always get what we want. But there may be a small ray of hope. I won't dismiss it completely. It will require some work but I have just realized a possible way around the problem. At the moment I will say no more.
Back in 2004 Harper published two of your books that originally came out in the late 1960’s, namely Incident at Butler’s Crossing and The Savage Journey. Did these have to be rewritten in any way to fit with today’s publishing laws (political correctness)?

The decision to reissue INCIDENT AT BUTLER'S STATION & SAVAGE JOURNEY came out of the blue after I had written to the publisher asking for the rights to come back to me. They said no – because they wanted to re issue. Who was I to refuse such an offer? The two were freshly printed with no changes. Exactly as first published. I would have objected if any alterations had been suggested. A traditional Western has to written in the way things were back in the day. Start using the PC pen and it would not be a Western any longer. "Hey, Captain, there are Native Americans gathering in hills." just doesn't do it for me. The nice thing about the reissues was they generated higher royalties than when they were published back in 1967.

In 1975 one of your stories appeared in the Sundance series, Bounty Killer as by John Benteen, how did this happen and were you pleased with the result?

I have to take a breath before I answer this. BOUNTY KILLER did appear as a Tower/Belmont book in the Sundance series. It was sold to the publisher as HIGH KILL, a full length Western I had written. It was a book I was extremely pleased with. I was not pleased with the end result. Tower/Belmont took my script and handed it to some machete wielding hack who cut out half the story, changed my character to Jim Sundance and worked in some half-baked additions to graft it onto the SUNDANCE theme. The chop job wasn't even done very well, because suddenly Jim Sundance became Sam, my character, then changed back again. The book presentation was poor, the cover illustration shabby – but the biggest insult was the fact the publisher didn't even have the grace to let me know what they were doing. I even had a fight getting the payment. I wouldn't have known what had happened if by chance I picked up a SUNDANCE book, opened it and recognized the first sentence (one of the few they had left alone.) When I challenged TOWER they said it was in the contract. Once they bought a script they could do what they wanted with it. I was still making my way in publishing then so I walked into that with both eyes wide open. I never let it happen again.

You also wrote five Angel books that were published in Germany. Recently two of these appeared as Black Horse Westerns, any chance of the other three doing so too?

The ANGELS I wrote for my very dear friend Fred Nolan were only ever published in Germany, so I never saw copies. Fred found a couple of original scripts and had them done by Hale. It was so long ago neither of us can recall what the titles of the five were and I don't think Fred can find more than the two.

Which western writers would you recommend?

This tends to come back to my personal favorites. L'Amour, Shirreffs and many from the time when there were Westerns being published on a regular basis. The only contemporary Western writer I read was Ralph Compton. His Trail Drive series of novels had the style of L'Amour. Real authentic sounding Westerns. I read most of his early novels. When he died his books were continued, but written by other writers. Their voice is not his and never will be.

Which past western would you like to see back in print and why is this?

You're making this too easy. And I'm going to change Western to Westerns, because I don't have a single book I prefer over others because there are so many. What I would like to see would be a reprinting of all the original GOLD MEDAL BOOKS Westerns. They started me on my way. To me they epitomize the very best of Western fiction. Never over long. Inexpensive, in the tradition of paperback books. Distinctive with those yellow spines and the Gold Medal logo on the cover. And those covers. They spared no expense in getting the best artists of the day – my favorite Frank McCarthy – and gave the reader covers that just leapt out at you. Striking, really artistic illustrations. And don't forget the writers. The best there were. Every month at least three or four new titles. They just kept coming. It was a sad day when they stopped publishing. Later reprints didn't have the same appeal. New covers, like many these days, just didn't have the flair those originals did. In recent years I have managed to start collecting some of those old books and to sit back and read one is still a joy. The first GOLD MEDAL book I ever bought, and which got me hooked on the genre' was TOUGH HOMBRE by Dudley Dean. I tried to find it, but couldn't. Then a package was deliver by the postman. Inside was a nice copy of TOUGH HOMBRE. My longtime, real friend, Dave Whitehead had tracked down a copy and sent it along. Now that is real friendship. I sat that day and read it all the way through and it was still as good.

Which of your westerns would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of your work yet and why?

That's difficult. As an example of a traditional (that word again) Western I think TRAVIS. I wrote this as a way of exorcising HIGH KILL, the book massacred by the hacks at Tower/Belmont. It's a straight story of a young man who has to ride through all kinds of obstacles to retrieve his money stolen in a bank raid. No one in town will go with him, even though their money has gone too. So Jim Travis does it on his own. I like the way it came out. Next would be the Tyler books – BRIGHAM'S WAY & JACOB'S ROAD. Westerns with all the requisite inclusions. Friends, adversity, struggles against the elements, and plenty of action. The third book, SETH'S LAW, is being worked on currently and I'm hoping to get it into print one way or another. I have been asked a number of times if I'm going to complete the trilogy – the answer is yes I am.

These days you write Mack Bolan (Executioner) and Stony Man books for Gold Eagle, but do you see yourself writing any more westerns?

See above. At this moment I have four Westerns on the cards. I'm hoping to move them along in the near future.

What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?

Not reading much these days because the current crop does very little for me. Perhaps it's me. Maybe I'm yearning for the old days when Westerns had the look and feel that pulled me in. We keep hearing of a comeback. A resurgence. I doubt it will ever return to how it was, but if there was a revival I'd be there with my pennies in my hot little hand. When I write my upcoming projects they will be the way I remember Westerns. PC considerations will have no room in my books as far as I'm concerned. The old saying is still correct – they don't make 'em (write 'em) like they used to.

What is your favorite western movie and why?

One again – how can I choose out of so many? But I could watch RIO BRAVO every day. So too THE SHOOTIST. Not because John Wayne was in them. Because of the way they were filmed. The dialog. The characters. Both of them had strong females – Angie Dickenson & Lauren Bacall. Just listen to the exchanges they had with Wayne. Dialog that just trips off the tongue. And I can't ignore HONDO. Sorry, Wayne again. Book by L'Amour. A winning combination. A little more contemporary, try the Westerns starring Tom Selleck. The man epitomizes the Western character. THE LAST WAGON with Richard Widmark. Michael Winner's LAWMAN. Burt Lancaster & Robert Ryan. A hard written and rugged movie with some really standout scenes. Robert Duval too. And talking of Duval brings up LONESOME DOVE. Little left to say about that that hasn't been stated. Fabulous scenery, great performances and of course that haunting music.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

These days book wise, when I'm not reliving my sad past with fading GOLD MEDAL books, I enjoy a few favorite thriller writers, James Patterson. Kathy Reichs. Patricia Cornwell (though her last couple of books have been well below her best). I love Clive Cussler for his high adventure. Heroes who just can't be beaten, even by the over the top villains. Just recently I've read three paperbacks based on the current TV show CRIMINAL MINDS. I do read a lot. Books, magazines, the back of a cornflakes box. Always have and once the habit grabs hold there's no quitting. I just hope coming generations don't fall away. Nothing like the feel and smell of a new book. Find your favorite armchair, take a mug of coffee and away you go. Can't beat it – Head 'em and move 'em out!!


Mister Roy said...

Great interview, Mike and Steve! Not sure what i want to go and read most now - one of Mike's, or a Gold Medal! Can yu remind me where to find a Mike Linaker bibliography?

Chap O'Keefe said...

Another informative piece on "the writing life", Steve. I see that when submitting story ideas for westerns we must now add memory loss to twins, hypnotism, nudity, oppressed minorities (e.g. Indians), mistreatment of women, and the Civil War!


Another great interview - I'd know nothing about these guys if it weren't for your blog. You'll have to do Jack Martin one day. LOL


Oh and Chap don't forget equine rape which is a no no - apparantly.

madshadows said...

Another great interview Steve, you da man !!, big thanks yo you and Mike for it. I loved the BODIE books and I have the two SCORPION horror books in my 2 read pile plus a few others of Mikes as well.

David Cranmer said...

Steve, Tons of great info in this interview. Thanks.

Ray said...

Great interview yet again Steve.
Though can I toss in 'Trap Angel' re-published as a BHW in 2005 as Ambush In Purgatory by Daniel Rockfern.

Steve M said...

Mister Roy - don't think there is a complete bibliography to be found. Mike did have a website but that seems to have drifted off with the tumbleweed. You can find a thread about his westerns (and other books) on the GGG and the Piccadilly Cowboys website (link can be found on this blog).

Ray - Trap Angel was one of the original nine Angel books written by Fred Nolan. These nine books were published with alternative titles in the US and Hale used these when they reprinted them as by Daniel Rockfern instead of the pseudonym Frederick H. Christian. Mike wrote five more Angel books for the German market and two of these have been published by Hale meaning it's now possible to get eleven Angel books. (Hale republished all the original nine books and the two extra under the Daniel Rockfern name)

Everyone else - glad you enjoyed this interview and thanks for the positive comments.

charltonman said...

Excellent interview Steve. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike at a Piccadilly event, Incident is a big favourite of the guys.

Well done mate

robbie200 said...

great interview mike ,steve i forgot mike had a thing for lovejoy until the bodie covers reminded me ..and ignore charlton his mind is addled from watching rubbish football