Thursday 15 March 2012

Interview: Chet Cunningham

My latest interview is with Chet Cunningham who has had over 300 books published in a variety of different genres. Around half of these have been westerns put out under his own name and a number of pseudonyms. 

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

In high school we had a test essay type. I didn’t really know the answer, so I wrote all the way around it. Got an A. So I said this writing is a great thing to do.

Did anyone encourage you to be a writer, and if so whom?

No one urged me to be a writer. Just the opposite. When I started college I flunked the English exam and was put in the remedial English class. The HEA of the journalism department said since I was in remedial English I couldn’t be a journalism major. I eventually got in by selling four short articles to the Portland newspapers.

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

Bushwhackers on the Circle K..l968

What appeals to you about the western genre?

I like the historical element in westerns and the research needed.

What is the biggest challenge in writing a western?

Getting the history right and making it work. Then finding new plot ideas that haven’t been done to death.

How much importance do you place on research and how important is historical accuracy in westerns?

If they find mistakes in your history, the reader won’t believe the story.

You wrote the first three books in the Agent Brad Spear series, why didn’t you write anymore of them?

Total disappointment. The editor there thought he was the greatest western writer alive. He completely rewrote all three of the books throwing in western trite parses and characters. It was a three book contract. I didn’t ask to do more.

You’ve written books in a number of series under pseudonyms, such as Arrow & Saber, Canyon O’Grady and Lone Star, are there any of these series you’d have liked to have written more for and why?

At one time I was writing for five different western series at the same time. I did it to earn a living. Yes, I would have liked to have written dozens more for each one. Most folded or cut back and I was not needed.

I believe you wrote a book for the Faraday series called The Owlhoot Express, but Lynx folded before it could be published. Did this story ever appear elsewhere?

The OWL HOOT EXPRESS resides unpublished but writer paid for on boot hill.

When the Spur series first came out three books were published and then the series was launched from number one again, why did this happen?

The publisher never did tell me why they did three and then restarted them over again from number one. It may have been wanting a new logo and a PR sendoff. Just not sure. I did 55 books in that series.

I’ve noticed some of your Pony Soldiers novels have been issued as ebooks, are we likely to see more of these, and/or any of your other books appearing in this form and what do you think about ebooks in general?

Ebook Westerns….just don’t seem to sell. I had the 5 Pony Soldiers on Ebooks for seven years and I think they sold about twenty copies for all five books.  Now they are Nook with Barnes and Nobel. We’ll see how they do.

Ebooks general: I have three new ones out from my own publishing outfit. With Kindle. All three are action adventure. Ebooks take a lot of promotion. The big sellers of ebooks are writers who are already famous and have a known name. Mid level writers will not sell many ebooks. I am a mid list writer.

You’ve recently had a Black Horse Western published, and a couple of others before this, can we expect to see more?

A fourth is now in works and they are looking at a fifth western from me. I expect them to buy it.

Do you prefer writing series books or stand-alones and why?

I much prefer writing series books. You make one sale to the editor for a series and then do 3, 6, 10, 18, or 64 books about the same characters. Easier, faster, and they sell more than a stand alone.

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

I’d go with the Pony Soldiers. Now out of print but available used on for two or three dollars each. Some of my best writing, and my best plots. Also the Seal Team Seven series. l8 books, some are now being re-released. Others used on Amazon.

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

The TV series of westerns sparked huge numbers of paperback Western Series. Must have been thirty or forty of them. Now there is almost no market for the western. A few publishers bring out a few Westerns. But the market is really low and slow. There will always be western novels. But in the future they will be longer, more complicated plots and they will delve into more historical areas.

As well as westerns you write in the action adventure genre, which books should readers be looking out for here?

Afore mentioned SEAL TEAM SEVEN books.. Also three Ebooks from Kindle Amazon…NORTH KOREAN BLOWUP, RADIATION WIPEOUT, and DIRTY BOMB TERROR. on line for only $4.99.

You’ve also written a number of non-fiction books, can you please tell us something about them.

Fifteen books. Most of them are in the medical field: SCIATICA, IRRiTAL BOWEL SYNDROME, MACULAR DEGENERATION. Like that. All are aimed at the ordinary person, not a medal person. Two non fiction books about motorcycles and cars. Two military books: HELL WOULDN’T STOP, (Wake Island battle and prisoners) and FROGMEN OF WORLD WAR II.

You created the Read-4-Fun program and founded the San Diego Book Awards Association. Could you please tell us something about them.

We got book donations for kids in the fifth grade level. If the kid in class read 200 pages of a chapter type book, he could select a free book from the 4-Fun shelf. For some it was the first book they had ever owned.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

TRUE GRIT….Why? The story line, the setting and the fact of Big John Wayne. This is the first one made, not the second one.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

Very little. I have macular degeneration and when writing fiction I do it in 22 point bold type on the screen. This I am in 18 point but still need a magnifying glass to be sure I get the words right. Even large print books are in 16 point, so I need an 8 to 10 power magnifier to read a few words at a time. Slow, grinding work and no fun.  I’d rather check out the Cowboy channel from Encore. They have westerns on 24 hours a day, every day.


Matthew P. Mayo said...

Another great interview, Steve, thanks. And thank you, Mr. Cunningham, for taking the time. It's a real pleasure to "meet" the man behind so many books I've enjoyed for so long.

Jo Walpole said...

Very interesting, as always.

Katt K. said...

Really enjoyed this interview. The answers were straight forward and candid. Absolutely refreshing sir.

Thanks Mr. Cunningham sharing about yourself and your writing career.

George said...

Great interview! I was under the false impression that Chet Cunningham was a "house" name. I have dozens of Chet Cunningham's books waiting to be read. My mother-in-law suffers from macular degeneration, too. It's a nasty disease.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks Steve for another excellent interview, well researched and beautifully illustrated - all of which takes time! And thank you Chet for your candid and inspiring answers! An amazing career for an incredible wordsmith.

RJR said...

Great to see Chet getting some asttention.


Tom said...

Chet is an American Treasure.