Monday 20 April 2009

Interview: Gary McCarthy

Gary McCarthy is a name well known to western fans, as well as writing many books under his own name Gary has written under a variety of pseudonyms too. So first I must offer my thanks to Gary for agreeing to talk to Western Fiction Review and then hope everyone finds his comments as interesting as I did.

The first question I asked was what made Gary decide to become a writer?

In 1973, I was working as an Economist for the State of Nevada in Carson City and bored out of my mind. I had written three westerns and hadn't been able to sell them. One snowy night I went and saw HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, hated it and decided that I had nothing to lose by writing a western whose main character was the anthesis of that anti-hero played by Clint Eastwood. So I created a character that was short, heavyset, couldn't shoot or ride a horse and wore a derby hat., but he was an ex-circus strongman and champion bare knuckles fighter. His name was Darby Buckingham and he was the leading dime novelist of his day...but he'd never been to the West. In THE DERBY MAN, my first of many Derby Man novels, Darby Buckingham goes west to see and find the real stories...and so I had a unique character in looks and manner and he became instantly popular. I very much likened him to William Conrad who played in the then popularTV series "Cannon" and he was unique and many dimensional! In the next book, I gave him the lovely, buxom and brainless Dolly Beavers and so they began their adventures throughout the West. I used a lot of humor in that series and it kept me laughing and writing.

Are there any particular authors that influenced him or he recommends?

I have been a member of Western Writers of America for many years and so have had a lot of fine writer friends. I, of course, love the work of Jeanne Williams, Elmer Kelton and Frank Roderus and suppose my favorite author of westerns was Glendon Swarthout whose novel THE SHOOTIST was being filmed when I lived in Carson City and is one of my all time favorite movies. Other western writers high on the list are Alan LeMay and Loren Estleman.

I then asked how Gary plans his books, especially those based around true historical events?

I write fast with intensity doing a novel in about two or three months. Some writers I know start with an outline, but I don't. I start with a character or place and go from there. One of the most important things for me is to do historical research on the area where my novel takes unfolds. I think my best historical novels are YOSEMITE, GRAND CANYON, MESA VERDE and the novels that I wrote for the RIVERS WEST SERIES, especially THE COLORADO and THE RUSSIAN RIVER.

Which of his books would he recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of his work yet?

The two westerns that I am most pleased with are SODBUSTER and RESTITUTION, although the dearest to my heart remain the DERBY MAN series which I always thought would make a fine TV series. The last of that series, THE COMSTOCK CAMELS came about from my years of visiting Virginia City, Nevada and watching the crazy Comstock camel races. In this novel, the elegant Darby Buckingham wins a bet and has to settle in receipt of a mangy, spitting camel and so writing that kind of tongue-in-cheek western was a pure hoot.

Having read quite a few of Gary’s books I asked if he had a personal interest in horses as many of his plots revolve around them?

You mention that horses are often prominent in my novels and that's because I am a pretty fair horseman. I was on my college rodeo team and have owned horses most of my life and still do ride the high country of Northern Nevada today. I love and think they are absolutely beautiful creatures. Writing THE HORSEMEN series was especially interesting for me because I took pure blooded horses from the South and sent them into the West.

There have been a number of attempts to publish a series of books based on successful television series such as Alias Smith and Jones, Bonanza, Kung Fu, and Gunsmoke – at least three different series have been tried of the latter. All these series have only last for three to six books, and I wondered if Gary had any insights as to why?

I did write four GUNSMOKE novels, but I didn't enjoy them and they didn't work for me. I think that was partly because I was...well, kind of intimidated by those great TV characters but also that at the time the owners of the series wanted so much money that it wasn't profitable for me to do anymore of them or for Berkley to publish them. Maybe that has changed over time.

Which book did he win a Spur Award for?

I've written in quite a few series, one of the very best being Jory Sherman's RIVERS WEST series where I think I wrote eight, winning a Spur Award for THE GILA RIVER and being a Spur Award Finalist for THE RUSSIAN RIVER. Oddly enough, I think that THE COLORADO was the best one that I wrote in that fine historical series.

Which other series’ has he written for?

I believe that I've had 46 western and historical novels published under my name and I have probably written at least that many under pseudonyms. I'm still writing for the LONGARM SERIES and have also written a few for GUNSMITH and LONE STAR. My good friend and fellow writer, Frank Roderus and I teamed up on a couple of series writing under pseudonyms, most notably, RAILS WEST and MAN OF HONOR. It's fun to write with Frank, we alternate on the books and delight in putting each others characters in terrible, almost impossible fixes.

Quite a few of Gary’s books have appeared on tape or CD, does he think the producers and narrators have done a good job with them?

I've been extremely fortunate to have almost all of my published novels reproduced in audio by Gary Challender's Books-in-Motion and sometimes when I'm on long driving trips, I listen to them and they are excellent. When I first sold a novel to BIM I wanted to record them myself, but Gary Challender sagely suggested that I hear one first by his "professionals" and I quickly decided that I had better stick to the writing part and let his studio readers do their fine work.

What does he read for pleasure?

As for what I most like to read, I again turn back to the writers that I've already mentioned. I also like to read murder mysteries, my favorite authors being Michael Connelly, Greg Iles and extremely talented people who understand that characterization is always more important in writing than plot.

Finally what does Gary think of the western genre today and what does he think the future holds for the western?

I am sad to say that I think that the western is dying just as is my generation and those before that grew up avidly watching and reading westerns. However, I would add that outstanding westerns in print and on the screen will continue to be occasionally popular. I'm genuinely grateful to Robert Duvall, Kevin Kostner, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck and a few other fine actors that continue to keep the genre alive on the screen. When a really fine western, like LONESOME DOVE, BROKEN TRAIL, TOMBSTONE OR QUIGGLY DOWN UNDER is produced, it rekindles in the public's eye that the stories set in the early American West are unique, and powerful.

In reality, the West was a tough, gritty place where life wasn't really all that much valued. But even so, it had a majesty, an aura about it that cannot be diminished or forgotten no matter how much time may past. I'm glad that I was able to experience the American West though my writing and I hope that my stories have given readers both insight and enjoyment and that is not a bad legacy for any man's money.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

GReat interview - you introduced me to the derby man and I'm glad to know more about the writer. But hating High Plain Drifter - I don't know what to think about that.

Jo Walpole said...

Very good interview.

I.J. Parnham said...

I enjoyed that. Thank you. I'm with Gary though. Hating HPD!

madshadows said...

Another excellent interview Steve, well done mate :)

Frank Denton said...

This was a great interview. It's been a long time since I've read a McCarthy book. I realize now hiw much I enjoyed his writing. I've neglected him. I will soon remedy that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Just finished reading GRAND CANYON, my first Gary McCarthy novel...but I expect not the last.

My wife and I are retired and worked for several months one summer at the South Rim... she at El Tovar and me in the warehouse.

What a wonderful place to get up each morning, get our coffee, and go out an watch the beauty of the sunrise on the canyon before going in to work.

Mr. McCarthy's book made me homesick to be back there once more. Can't wait until our scheduled October return!

Chris Yoder

Steve M said...

Hi Chris, glad you liked Gary's book.

On a trip to America I made sure as to be on the rim of the Grand Canyon for sunrise, truely a magical moment.

Brenda Gilbert said...

I am now reading "The Mustangers", which is one of my first Gary McCarthy books. I would really be enjoying the book except for one thing... One of the main characters in his book is a stallion named Sun Dancer. He always refers to the stallion/gelding as "IT", even though he is known to be a male horse and has a name. "It" is a term that should be used for an object like a chair, or maybe a creature of unknown sex. It sounds ridiculous to say, "Jennifer scratched it's head and decided to pour itself a bath."
So, I am having a problem with the "It" word in this book.
For example, page 98 (the one I am on at the moment) " Sun Dancer was lengthening ITS lead with every stride until, for the first time, IT stomped on ITS trailing reins. ITS head snapped down to the earth and IT did a complete somersault in the air. IT landed so hard IT was stunned and by the time IT was able to revive, Pete had it roped."
This drives me crazy! A stallion is not an it. Please say he/him/his or she/her/hers when referring to a horse or other animal that is a main character of known sex. If not for that, I might like the book a little better. I just keep getting irritated.

Ron Scheer said...

Fine interview. A western fan in Switzerland just pointed me to this page after talking about THE DERBY MAN.

Anonymous said...

I read one of your books back in maybe 1989-90. It was about Texas I think.
Would you mind to please tell the name of your first books.
(driving me crazy!!)

Enjoyed it so much,would love to read it again.

Thanking you in advance
Deb W.

Robert R. Barrett said...

My first Gary McCarthy book was THE DERBY MAN. It had just hit the stands and sounded interesting so I picked it up. I enjoyed it and have read several of his books over the years. He probably hated writing it, but I also enjoyed LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER. I would be curious about how he felt writing it.