The idea of being a writer appealed to me ever since I was a child, and along the way teachers encouraged me and told me I had writing talent. I majored in journalism so I could use that talent. It wasn’t until I was about to complete my undergraduate degree, however, that I decided to try my hand at fiction, an area in which I had no training.
What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn’t a western what was your first western?
My first novel was a western with a title that I thought was great at the time, but which strikes me today as a little corny: BEGGAR’S GULCH. It sold quickly to a publisher and later was picked up for republication by Bantam Books.
Which writers influence you?
Mark Twain’s stories and style influenced me greatly. I’ve learned a lot about storytelling from reading everything from Mickey Spillane through C.S. Lewis. John Grisham is one of the best out there in terms of engaging the reader and pacing the story. In westerns, Louis L’Amour of course is influential. For me, though, Loren Estleman is the perfect western storyteller, particularly for stories told in the first person.
Which western writers would you recommend?
Well, the two I’ve mentioned, L’Amour and Estleman, but others too: Elmer Kelton, Frank Roderus, Peter Brandvold and Ralph Cotton, to name a few.
Which past western would you like to see back in print and why is this?
Probably JERUSALEM CAMP, because it is an unusual western that involves a mysterious serial killer stalking a California mining town. Just different enough to make it stand out. Plus, it has never been reprinted and so would be a fresh book to most readers.
Many of your books seem to be part of trilogies. Did you plan to write trilogies or was this something the publisher asked for?
A combination. Trilogies just seem to work. Stories often divide naturally into three parts, and from the publisher’s perspective, a trilogy allows publication of a series without an overly long commitment.
Do you work on more than one book at a time?
Usually I focus almost entirely on one book, but will sometimes work a little on a second one at the same time.
Do you prefer to write in the first or third person?
Usually third, because first person is a limited perspective. But some stories are ideal for first-person. First-person can enhance the reader’s sense of being inside a character’s skin.
Your book “The Bridge Burners” is about the Tennessee Underground during the Civil War and I was wondering how you went about researching this?
Most of the research that led to THE BRIDGEBURNERS was actually done for my MOUNTAIN WAR TRILOGY of Civil War novels for Bantam. Because the Bridgeburner incidents happened largely in the same area in which I live, Northeast Tennessee, it was relatively easy research. The Bridgeburner affair ended up being only a small part of the Mountain War novels, though, and I had lots of detailed material left that I thought would be of interest to readers. So I put together THE BRIDGEBURNERS, first as a desktop publishing project and then as a book published by Overmountain Press in Johnson City, Tennessee. It is my only nonfiction work to date.
You’ve written books about Boone and Crockett, why did you choose these two historical figures to write about?
Crockett came about after my Bantam Books editor visited me in Tennessee and we stopped by the Davy Crockett birthplace site not far from where I live. He conceived the idea of a Crockett historical novel after that visit. Once I was signed for Crockett, it made sense to also do Boone in that the two of them are America’s most famous frontiersmen.
You had a short story (The Man Who Killed the Devil) published in the short-lived Louis L’Amour Western Magazine. Do you find short stories as easy to write as a full-length books and have any other short western stories appeared anywhere else?
For me, short stories are actually harder to write than full-length novels. It requires more effort to tell a story within tight word-count limits. I have great admiration for short-story writers. I have no other western short stories in print beyond the one you named.
Sadly Harper ceased publishing westerns after putting out just one book in your “Guardian” series. Did you have any others written and if so what became of them?
I started on the second novel of that trilogy, but ended up unable to finish it due to conflict with the full-time job I had at that point. I was simply too overwhelmed and stressed in my personal professional life at that time to write. So the trilogy just didn’t happen. I don’t blame the publisher.
Have you written westerns under any names other than Cameron Judd, Judson Gray and Tobias Cole, and if so can you tell us what they are?
I did a few novels under the name Will Cade in addition to the names listed above.
Some of your books have been produced as audio novels, what do you think of how they turned out?
I think they were fine. I never listened to any of them all the way through.
Which of your westerns would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of your work yet and why?
MR. LITTLEJOHN is a good story told well. It is written in first-person, which is rare for me, and has an interesting cast of characters. TIMBER CREEK is a good novel with plenty of action. My latest western, OUTLAW TRAIN, is engagimh and has some nicely quirky characters.
The recently published “Outlaw Train” is your first new western for a few years. I believe you’re working on another called “Spurlock”. When can we expect to see this on the shelves, and will there be any more after that?
I don’t yet know when Spurlock will be published. There will be other books later, including a new historical novel, THE LONG HUNT, which is not a western as such, but a historical novel more in the vein of my THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN.
What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?
The western genre is alive and will continue, though I doubt it will ever be as dominant as it was in the mid-20th century when writers could make a living churning out western short stories for pulp magazines. Though the westerns market isn’t what it once was, it is still there, and there remains a demand for westerns that keeps the genre going through all the ups and downs. I have a gut feeling we are going to see a small western resurgence over the next couple of years. That’s really all it is, just a gut feeling.
Have you written in other genres, and if so what?
I have not written in other genres than western and historical … yet. But I am putting together a contemporary thriller set in a small Tennessee town similar to my own, centering on the small-town newspaper business, which I used to be involved in. I know the story is good and I know I’ve got the ability to tell the story well.
Do you think paper produced books will ever be replaced with electronic books?
Not immediately. I don’t believe paper books will ever fully disappear. But as more and more people become accustomed to getting their information and entertainment through hand-held electric devices, books will inevitably become more and more part of that world. Even so, there is something wonderfully low-tech about a paperback novel. If you take it to the beach on vacation and the tide sweeps it away, it’s not the same as losing an electronic reading device. It’s replaceable without a lot of expense.
What is your favourite western movie and why?
Probably THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES for its characters and atmospheric qualities. I also much enjoyed TOMBSTONE.
Finally what do you read for pleasure?
I don’t read westerns, oddly enough. Westerns represent my work life, not my off-time when I’m reading to relax or divert myself from the routine. I read Grisham, King, and the occasional impulse-buy novel by some unknown writer because a title or cover or concept grabs me.