Sunday, 8 March 2009

Interview: Robert Randisi

My next interview is with Robert Randisi, perhaps best known to western readers for having books published under his own name and as J.R. Roberts. But Robert Randisi has had many more books published than those, in fact, to date, the number is around five hundred and forty, and a good percentage of these are westerns.

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

Always my pleasure to talk about western writing, Steve.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was 15 years old I not only decided I wanted to write, but that I wanted to write for a living by the time I was 30. I did that.

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

My first western novel was GUNSMITH #1: MACKLIN’S WOMEN. When my editor read it he said, “It’s good, but we’re gonna have to break you of this hardboiled style.” I said, “It’s not hardboiled, it’s hardCASE.”

Which writers influence you?

My major influences were mystery writers, but in westerns I’d have to say Louis L’Amour, the Max Brand Silvertip books, Ray Hogan, Ben Haas (mostly the Fargo series as “John Benteen”, Gordon Shirreffs -- Jory Sherman was a major influence not only as a western writer but as an Adult Western writer. I learned a lot about writing them by reading his Gunn and Bolt series. Also the Foxx series Mel Marshall wrote as “Zack Tyler” and George Gilman’s Edge and Steele series.
(Funny story. I got a call one morning at about 8:30 am—I’d gone to bed at 7:30. This was before any Gunsmiths were published. We were still working on the character. My editor was on the phone, told me they’d had an editorial meeting and decided to call the Gunsmith “Adam Steele.” I said, “It’s okay with me, but you better check with George Gilman. DOESN’T ANYBODY DOWN THERE DO RESEARCH?”)

Having written nearly all the Gunsmith books do you find it easy to keep coming up with a new story each month?

I had some trouble coming up with plots when I got into the 90’s—books, not the 1990’s—but once I made it past 100 I decided to simply have fun each time. That’s why some are mysteries, some are influenced by The Wild, Wild West t.v. show, others are more traditional westerns and many of them feature actual historical figures.

When the Gunsmith first appeared the books were written in the first person, what was the reasoning behind changing this to the third person?

The first thirteen were written in first person. The original publisher, Charter Books, didn’t mind, but when Berkley bought Charter we had a meeting and they suggested the books be done in third person, like Longarm. I had no objection. In fact, it opened up a lot of new possibilities.

Do you see the Gunsmith series running for many years to come?

I didn’t see it going this long. I originally signed for two, then a third, and then nine more before any of them came out. Charter decided they wanted to go monthly. I was hoping to get a couple of years out of it. I never expected to be writing a Gunsmith book every month for 27 years. As for how much further it will go, Berkley seems happy with the way Longarm, Logan, Trailsman and Gunsmith books are doing for them, so who knows?

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

Yes, I usually work on two at a time, one a western and one a mystery or thriller. Sometimes I write three westerns while writing one thriller.

Which western writers would you recommend?

Currently I’d say Ed Gorman, Jory Sherman, Frank Roderus, Johnny Boggs, Elmer Kelton, Marcus Galloway, James Reasoner—many more. In fact, most of these people—and others—are part of an email group of writers we call “The Campfire.” The other day I was in Borders and I counted thirteen of us on the stands, under one name or another. I think we’re keeping the genre alive—us and Louie. I can’t name everybody, and to anyone I haven’t named I say, nothing personal.

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

I’d like to see the Fargo books back in print. It’s my very favorite series. Leisure is reprinting one of Ed Gorman’s Guild books. I’d like to see them do the rest. Leo Guild is a great character. George Gilman did a series called The Undertaker. I think only one was printed in this country. I’d like to see them all. Other than that a lot of the good stuff—Alan Lemay, Elmore Leonard, Donald Hamilton—is kept in print. Oh, and I wish someone would reprint Luke Short’s books.

You wrote the Angel Eyes series as W.B. Longley, did you alter the way you wrote this series in anyway as it features a heroine rather than a hero?

I didn’t. I wanted her to be tough, not girlie. The series was turned down by many publishers because she didn’t have a male sidekick—like Lonestar and Ki—to save her bacon for her. Paperjacks finally came along and liked the character the way she was.

You wrote the first twelve Mountain Jack Pike books (of fifteen), why did you stop writing them?

I was writing almost two books a month. Something had to give. They wanted to continue the series so I gave my okay to hire them out, and I got a piece of the action, the royalties. I flatter myself that it only ran three more books because I wasn’t writing them.

When Pocket Star decided to stop publishing westerns thus bringing your Widowmaker series to an end after only two books, there was a third announced called Dead Weight. Am I correct assuming that you re-wrote this as the Gunsmith Giant of the same title?

Yes. I thought it was too good a book to waste. I hope the transition was seamless, but it probably wasn’t.

Dorchester has been reprinting many of your books under your own name such as stand-alone titles that originally came out under the pseudonym of Robert Lake, and at the moment are publishing the Bounty Hunter series – without that series title. Can we expect to see more past books published as Leisure Westerns?

They’re doing four of the Bounty Hunters. I have a fifth and I believe they’ll o that, too. I’m trying to get them to reprint the Tracker books that I did as Tom Cutter. The Jack Pike and Angel Eyes books are apparently TOO AW—although I’ve offered to edit the sex down. I have always made my AW’s good stories so they’d stand on their own without the sex.

You’ve masterminded a number of anthologies, is there any chance that there might be more of these in the near future?

I just had that conversation with Dorchester and the answer was no. If I can find an interested publisher I have a few good ideas for anthologies.

Many of your westerns feature people who really lived, Bat Masterson perhaps more than anyone else. Have you ever thought about writing a factual book about Masterson and other real western legends?

No, I leave the non-fiction to others. I’m a fiction writer. The closest I’ve come are THE HAM REPORTER and THE MIRACLE OF THE JACAL, books I wrote about actual incidents in the lives of Bat Masterson and El fego Baca.

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

The aforementioned Masterson book. THE GHOST WITH BLUE EYES. And I’m very proud of the books I did that were anthologies or collaborative novels, depending on how you look at them, LEGEND, THE FUNERAL OF TANNER MOODY and BOOT HILL. I also very much like the two series I recently did for Harper, THE SONS OF DANIEL SHAYE and THE GAMBLERS.

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

I think the western genre is talent-rich—what there is of it. Those who are writing westerns now are very, very good at it, but in the 80’s there were ten times as many of us doing it. I think the Adult westerns that are still around are the cream that rose to the top. Where once there were forty or more, now there are four. I just wish we had ten times as many readers today as we have. The future? I think there will always be westerns, but the hey day is gone.

Do you think paper produced books will ever be replaced with electronic books?

God, I hope not. I hope people will never tire of the feel and smell of a book. I don’t read any fiction that is produced electronically.

What is your favorite western movie and why?

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is my favorite. I also like THE SHOOTIST and UNFORGIVEN. Oh, and the Kurt Russell O.K. Corral movie. I have to stop now. Oh, wait, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO. Okay, I’m done. Wait. LAST TRAIN TO GUN HILL! Okay, gotta stop now. BIG JAKE! HOMBRE! No, I’m really done now!!!!! (FIVE CARD STUD!)

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

Everything. All genre fiction except for romance. Magazines. Non-fiction for research.


I.J. Parnham said...

That's a thousand words a day every day for about 65 years.

Ray said...

It's nice to hear that Robert Randisi would like to see Terry's 'The Undertaker' reprinted.
Another great interview, Steve.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Steve,
Thanks once again for a great interview. I'm a big fan of Mr. Randisi's work and it's a real treat to read about what he does and how he does it.



Top knotch interview - thanks Steve. I want to join the campfire.

David Cranmer said...

I just finished The Lawman and am halfway through Double the Bounty. Exceptional western tales that move at breakneck speed.

RJR said...

My thanks to Steve and to the others who have commented. When I read I.J. Parnum's post I got tired. Hey Ray, now we need a few more people tosign our petition. Glad Matthew liked the interview. Archavist, you may want to join the Campfire, but you should know that Frank Roderus strains the coffee through his socks.

Dave,thanks for the kind words sbout the Bounty Hunter books. Glad you're enjoying them.


madshadows said...

Another great interview Steve, good work :)

Nik said...

Amazing output. It seems all the bases have been covered. What's left for us new writers? Ah, variations on the theme, I guess. And they're endless. As for a 1,000 words a day - I'd imagine a normal day's output is 5,000 which still leaves room for all the other things life has to offer...
Thanks for the interview, Steve & RJR.
Nik (Ross Morton)

Steve M said...

Glad everyone enjoyed the interview.

Steve :)

benbridges said...

I've long been a fan of RJR. In particular his Rat Pack mysteries are a fantastic. Just to have written those alone would have been an achievement. If you add everything else ... well, this guy is an inspiration to all of us!

Mister Roy said...

Great interview. Based on final confirmation that Dead Weight is evolved from the third Widowmaker, I've just read it - very enjoyable. Will try more Gunsmiths.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Randisi is nothing but a blown out fuse of a writer. His capabilities in contructing a cogent adult western is about as likely as Randisi getting laid, which is of course highly unlikely. Unless of course, that lay consists of being with another man. Randisi goes by several psuedonymns, such as the revered Tom Cutter in the Tracker Books. He has so many alter egos becuase if he had to live with his own real self in reality he would colt cock himself in the head. Tracker, a whiskey downing women pimping madman, has to be the most badass cowboy in all of history. Randisi, so obsessed and disallusioned with Tracker, has been found playing a game in his mother's basement called "Mackin' Tracker" in which Randisi, dressed as a cowboy with pistols with those orange plastic tips on the end, hunts down the bad guys and makes love to a blow up doll dressed as Jesse James sister. His mother is only allowed to watch the beginning of the game of course. Randisi is constantly complaing to her when she buys cheerios that arent "the honey nut kind." He is a self proclaimed drug addict and alcoholic, and has been treated for opium addiction numerous times through his career. At one point in his writing career, he was known to down three bottles of peach schnapps a day (of course pretending it to be real cowboy whiskey). Knowing this, you can obviously see how his writing has floundered, and most of his novels were written when he was having alcohol induced delerium tremens. Randisi blows...hard. Tracker is an unparalled badass. Here's to you Tracker.