Sunday, 30 November 2008

Interview: David Robbins

My third interview is with author David Robbins, who has written in a number of different genres but mainly he writes westerns. In fact he has had around 250 books published, with many more to come, under a variety of pseudonyms so chances are you may have read some of his work without realising it.

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

You're most welcome.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was 11 I taught myself to type on an old Royal manual and churned out short stories. That's when the muse took serious hold.

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

BLOOD CULT was the first novel. My first Western was a PREACHER'S LAW fill-in. The editor liked it so much he asked me to do more Westerns.

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

The first book I submitted was published and every one since except for one.

Which writers influence you?

As in current tense? None. I write 'me'. If you mean from the past, the list is legion.

Don't misconstrue. There are many currrent writers I like greatly. But not in the sense that they mold my work.

In terms of craft, Hemingway and Poe are worth noting. Hemingway not for the way he wrote but in the ideal he strove to attain. Poe for the elements he espoused in THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION.

In terms of Westerns, Owen Wister, Zane Grey, L'Amour, Jack Schaefer, the list could go on and on.

So many fine writers tell fine stories. It's a shame so many of those stories are lost in the mists of time.

You’ve written in other genres such as sci-fi (Endworld), adventure (Executioner) and horror novels but is there a particular genre you’d like to write in that you haven’t yet?

Is there a million-dollars-a-book-genre? :)

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


You’ve written the non-fiction book Heavy Traffic, was this as enjoyable to write as fiction?

Absolutely. I've done other non-fiction, magazine articles and the like.

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

Show me a writer who doesn't. :)

Seriously, there have been covers that make you go, 'Huh?'

What led you to write westerns and what appeals to you about the genre?

I was weaned on Westerns. Back in my day, they ruled the entertainment roost. With my farm and later ranch experience, it was a natural fit.

As Owen Wister’s The Virginian was such a successful book, often referred to as a western classic, was it difficult to write the sequel, The Return of the Virginian, as it would probably be measured against that great novel, and how did the opportunity to do this come about?

I enjoyed the experience immensely. My goal was always to have the two be seamless. In that I succeeded except in one respect that nags at me to this day. Still, it got a lot of positive response. As for how it came about, it was another case of someone knowing my work and liking it.

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

These days in some quarters it has almost become a mantra. Personally I like to see stories steeped in the history they flesh out.

You’ve had a few books published under the Ralph Compton name (twelve to date) but what is your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, like is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?

They are cash cows for the publishers and serve a crucial need for writers; work.

How much research did writing the Davy Crockett series (as by David Thompson) involve?

It was typical. I read everything on him I could find, from his own narratives to contemporary accounts to the latest research. Since I was a Disney Davy way back when, it was fun.

I’d like to see your White Apache series brought back so you can tie up all the hanging plot threads left dangling when Leisure cut all their western series but one. Any chance of that happening?

As Sean Connery will tell you, 'never say never'. :)

The series Leisure continued to publish is Wilderness, that you write as David Thompson – to my knowledge the longest, still being published, western series by a single author. It seems sales of this series are increasing all the time so what do you think it is about these books that appeals to the readers.

Pardon the mixing of metaphors, but the series might aptly be described as a melding of VAN HELSING and Shakespeare, with a generous dollop of DAYS OF OUR LIVES.

As for the increase, that's explained by the fact the ladies have discovered it. WILDERNESS is very female-friendly. :)

Have you listened to any of the audio books of the Wilderness series and what do you think of them and audio books in general?

I've listened to some and liked them. Audio books are great. They take you back a bunch of decades to something called 'radio'. :)

You’ve probably written more Trailsman books (over seventy) than any other author except Jon Messman – and this would apply to the Wilderness series too – how do you continue to come up with fresh plots for them?

I follow Poe's dictum referred to above.

Basically, take a plot, invert, misdirect, and play ring-a-round to avoid predictability, then throw yourself off a cliff as a form of creative Hail Mary.

Is it easier to write a series where you are the only author as opposed to a shared series?

From a continuity perspective. But then, when I'm part of a stable, I concentrate on what the editor wants 'me' to do, and not on what anyone else is doing unless the editor wants us to talk the series over, which rarely happens.

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

WILDERNESS, first and foremost.

Among the Compton's, FOR THE BRAND, NOWHERE, TX, RIO LARGO and the not my title BLOOD DUEL are pretty entertaining.

Which western writers would you recommend?

Today or yesteryear or all time?

The current WWA roster has some terrific writers putting out terrific tales. Kelton, Sherman, Brandvold, Richards, Butts---I could go on and on. There are some outside the WWA also doing stellar stories.

As for my list of must-read fiction Westerns ever: THE VIRGINIAN, SHANE, TRUE GRIT, and THE U.P. TRAIL

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

Oh, geez. Just Westerns? You're already aware of a pet passion of mine, namely, all the outstanding writers who have fallen by the cultural wayside. Great writers from any given decade, many giants in their time, no longer read.

I'd like to see---and we will, thanks to Leisure---the rerelease of books on which major Western films were based. I'd like to see the rerelease of not just classics, but books that went beyond the pale of normalcy.

Next April sees the re-launch of your Endworld series after an eighteen year gap, and hopefully it’ll be as successful as it was then, but are then any new westerns, other than the series you’re writing for now, to be on the look out for?

New WILDERNESS, new COMPTON'S, new TRAILSMAN. Other stuff is in the works but not necessarily Westerns.

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

Western writers today have it extraordinarly rough. Not only is the Western genre's share of the market one of the smaller slices of the publishing pie, but they must also contend with the Western equivalent of Moby Dick in the form of L'Amour. He dominates the genre to such an extent that it's not uncommon to see a single bookcase devoted to Westerns at a given bookstore, with two or three of the six or seven shelves devoted solely to him.

For the genre to survive it must adapt. You've noticed how drasically different the market is today than, say, back in the '60's. The days where the 'gunslinger' novels predominated are gone.

Not that there isn't a market for them. Look at L'Amour. Many of his are just that---and at the same time, more.

Diversity has become a key element. The Western umbrella now covers everything from those gunslingers to travelogues of the West.

The core of the market, the traditional Western, has a future to the degree it entertains current sensibilities.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

SHANE. It typifies yet exalts the classic elements.

Finally, what do you read for pleasure?



Ray said...

Another great interview, Steve. I've read a couple of WHITE APACHE books but never read WILDERNESS.
Have to say that Western Fiction Review just grows from strength to strength.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Ray, this is a fine site and the addition of interviews only makes it stronger.

I'm a big fan of Robbins' WILDERNESS series and look forward to tracking down his other work. There seems to be plenty of it....

Matt M.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Steve, and some great insights from David Robbins, especially on the future of the western, and the fact that the "Wilderness" series is popular because it has caught the "female" eye. All westerns could have interest for women, if only they moved away from the traditional "gunslinger" image and probed some of the deeper issues of the West. (Some Black Horse Westerns are doing this already, and many are "female friendly."


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Excellent job - your blog is now like a favourite magazine - keep up the interviews and it's good to see so many of us doing them - you, me and Ray. Maybe we should all get together and work out a list of authors for interview and together we can pretty much cover everyone. My next will be with crime writer, Mark Billingham.

madshadows said...

Great interview Steve, Good that you some straight answers out of David.

Unknown said...

Can anyone help, I'm trying to find the audio app to listen the " Edge " series of books