Saturday 28 February 2009

This Monday

Please don't forget to support Wild West Monday - this Monday, March 2nd.

Go into your local bookstore or library, ask about the westerns they stock, if they are not in a display of their own ask why not. Ask why they don't stock more and a greater selection of authors. If you can't get to these places then please make an effort to telephone one and ask similar questions. It is hoped westerns fans will be doing this worldwide.

Much more information can be found on:

And while on the subject of the Tainted Archive, this Monday also sees the first post to serialize the long out of print Chap O'Keefe western The Sheriff and the Widow. Chap's westerns sell out within days and this is your chance to read one for free!

Thursday 26 February 2009

The Storm Family Saga #1

as by Matt Chisholm
Panther, 1970

The Civil War was over. The South, and Texas, had lost. The losers were destitute and without hope.

Then Will Storm got word of a possible deal at Abilene railhead a thousand miles north in Kansas. On a shoestring, he gathered himself a bare handful of greenhorn riders, whipped his all-wild mustangs into the semblance of cow ponies, his half-wild steers into the semblance of a herd, and headed north for Kansas.

A few days out, the mother of all thunderstorms dispersed the maddened cattle. They rounded them up. Then a band of amateur rustlers tried their hand – and badly burnt their fingers. Three dead and the rest of them on the run. The Red River was in furious spate. They got across without losing a steer. Indian country of sinister reputation lay ahead. They paid the old chief a toll of ten cows and went through like a dream.

At last the Kansas line and Abilene is only a few days ahead. Then…trouble came; very quietly, and terribly…

Matt Chisholm is really English author Peter Watts, a writer who I enjoy very much. Having already read four books from this nine book series I looked forward to reading ‘the beginning’.

Stampede is pretty much your usual cattle-drive tale but well written with plenty of pace and thrills filled with courage and grim tenacity that builds up to a twist ending, which leads to the family members heading off in different directions thus setting up the storylines for the following books.

Definitely worth picking up if you can find a copy.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

The Trailsman #133

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, January 1993

Skye Fargo thought he had seen everything in the West – but he had never seen anything like the town of New Dublin in the wilds of Montana. Everyone in this isolated enclave was Irish, including the beautiful widow who called Skye by an Irish name as she gave him a warm welcome. The Trailsman couldn’t believe this place was real – until the bullets started flying, the corpses started piling up, and Skye had to fight terror with terror if he didn’t want to wind up pushing up shamrocks…

The first chapter throws up many questions, such as why won’t the men Fargo guides to New Dublin tell him anything about themselves? Why does the town have a wall around it like a fort? Why do the Blackfoot attack such a large body of men when normally they’d only attack if the numbers favoured them? Why, when Fargo arrives in town, does everybody call him by a different name and not believe that he is really Skye Fargo? And what should he do about the marriage that is set for him in two days time?

As is true for the majority of the books in this series this one is well written and all the early questions help to pull you into the story, making it hard to put down until you know the answers - trouble is some answers lead to more questions!

There is one bit (about a cliff near the end) that I found hard to believe would happen so effectively but this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the tale that charges along at a fast pace and is filled with plenty of action.

Wild West Monday

Don't forget next Monday is the second WILD WEST MONDAY, please do try and take part. For more information follow this link:

And for those who enjoy the interviews I place on this blog then the tables have been turned and the results can be read here:

Thursday 19 February 2009

Interview: James Reasoner

My next interview is with James Reasoner, author of over 200 published books, a writer most western fans will have read at some point, if not a book carrying his own name, then one of those written under one of many pseudonyms.

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

You’re welcome. I’m always glad to talk about writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been interested in telling stories for as far back as I can remember. When I was growing up, playing cowboys with the kids who lived on my street, I wasn’t content for us to just run around pretending to shoot at each other. I had to come up with a story to go along with it. I’ve always loved to read as well, so I guess it was a natural progression that someday I would start to write down my stories. That day came when I was ten years old and started scribbling stories on notebook paper, a practice I continued all the way through school.

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 mystery, a private eye yarn (despite its Western-sounding title) called TEXAS WIND. I’d always loved private eye fiction and by that time had been writing the Mike Shayne stories in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE under the house-name Brett Halliday, so when I decided the time had come to try my hand at something bigger, my goal was to write the first private eye novel ever set in Fort Worth, the city closest to the little town where I grew up.

My second published novel, a historical romance written in collaboration with my wife, was partially set in Kansas before the Civil War, so it’s almost a Western, but not quite. My first actual Western was one of the books in the Stagecoach Station series, PECOS, published under the house-name Hank Mitchum. I’d always been a reader and fan of Westerns and had written some proposals for Western novels that didn’t sell. Then I went to work for a book packaging company called Book Creations Inc. BCI produced quite a few Western series and my first assignment for them was the Stagecoach Station book.

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

TEXAS WIND was the first novel I finished, and the first novel I sold.

Which writers influence you?

My wife Livia (who has written Westerns herself under the name L.J. Washburn), first and foremost, because she’s had a hand in almost everything I’ve written in the past 30-plus years. She’s helped plot many of my books and has edited every one of them before they were ever submitted.

Another huge influence has been Robert E. Howard, not so much his writing itself (although anyone who writes adventure-oriented fiction would be well advised to study Howard’s work closely, because he’s probably the best ever at pacing and action), but more because of the way he conducted his career and became a successful writer even though he lived in a small town in Texas and faced numerous obstacles in what he set out to do.

The list beyond those two would be long indeed, because I’ve read so much over the years. I’ve read most of the Western writers who were published in the pulps and in paperback originals, and I suppose they’ve all had an influence on me, because I tend to write the same sort of stuff I like to read.

Which western writers would you recommend?

I enjoy most of the pulp Western writers, but some stand-outs for me are T.T. Flynn, H.A. De Rosso, Luke Short and Peter Dawson (who were actually brothers, Fred and Jon Glidden), Walt Coburn, Tom Curry, Leslie Scott, and Walker A. Tompkins. I have to be in the right mood for Max Brand and Zane Grey, but I’ve read many of their novels and liked them. Lewis B. Patten and Gordon Shirreffs started in the pulps but are best known for their later novels, and they’re favorites of mine as well. I know most of the current crop of Western writers, so I hate to start naming names because I’ll probably forget someone. I will say, though, that the level of the writing in the Western field today is as good as it’s ever been, if not better. You can pick up any current Western novel and see what I mean.

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

Not really. I might start a book and have to set it aside for a while to work on another project, then come back and finish it later. I might stop for a day on the current manuscript and write an outline for another one, or something like that. But that’s the extent of it.

You wrote most of the Cody’s Law series but four of them are attributed to both yourself and Bill Crider. How did you go about writing these books with another author?

Working with Bill was very easy. I came up with the outlines for those books, Bill fleshed them out and wrote the first drafts, and then I went back over them and did second drafts, although I didn’t really do much rewriting on any of them. I guess I’ve known Bill longer than anybody else in the business except for Livia, so it was great fun to work with him.

For what it’s worth, there have been other instances in my career where I’ve done a first draft from another author’s outline and then turned it over to them, so I’ve been on both sides of that equation. As long as you’re working with a fellow pro, it’s never a problem.

You’ve also written a few books alongside your wife, Livia, is this a good idea for peace and harmony leading to martial bliss or do you end up arguing over plot direction or who should live and die?

As I said above, when you’re working with a pro, it’s not a problem. I can honestly say that in more than thirty years of working together, I can’t recall a major disagreement we’ve had about writing. When we don’t see things exactly the same way in a book, we’re able to work it out and come up with a solution that pleases both of us. I think we’re on the same page most of the time.

Your recent Longarm giants have all included long gone characters from other series – something I’ve enjoyed very much – but what made you decide to do this and how did you decide which past heroes to bring back?

I was a fan of the Longarm series long before I started writing for it, and I always enjoyed the Giant Editions that crossed over with Jessie and Ki from the Lone Star series. I wrote the final Lone Star novel, and that was the only chance I got to work with those characters. So when I was asked to write one of the Longarm Giants, I thought that would be the perfect opportunity to revive the crossover tradition. I also like coming up with story arcs that span several books, so I decided to bring back the villainous Cartel that played such an important part in the early Lone Star books, figuring that if I wrote more Giant Editions, I could use the ongoing battle against them as a backdrop for those novels.

Once I had brought back Jessie and Ki, I seized the chance to revive some other long-gone but well-remembered (at least by me) characters in Raider and Doc, the Pinkerton operatives who starred in more than a hundred novels under the J.D. Hardin name. I never wrote any of the J.D. Hardin’s. I was strictly a fan of that series, although several of my friends wrote for it at one time or another. So it was another case of doing something that was fun for me and hoping that the readers would enjoy it as well. That was true the next year, too, when I used characters from the Easy Company series. I’m sure some of the current Longarm readers never read these old series, and I tried to write the books so that those readers would be entertained, too, with the nostalgia value added in there for long-time fans. I also put in a cameo appearance by John Fury in the third Longarm Giant I wrote, since he was the star of the first series I wrote for Berkley and I thought some of the readers might enjoy seeing him again.

Jessie and Ki are back again in the Longarm Giant that will be published this fall. I haven’t made any plans for the Giants beyond that, assuming that I continue to write them.

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

A lot of the pulp authors I like have enjoyed a comeback in recent years with novels and collections of shorter work reprinted by Five Star and Leisure. One who hasn’t is Harry F. Olmsted, whose work was prominently featured in many Western pulps. Unfortunately, Olmsted never wrote any novels, but he authored more than 1200 novelettes and novellas, and I’d love to see some of them in print again since everything of his that I’ve read has been of uniformly high quality. Another, more recent Western writer who’s largely forgotten today is Ben Haas, who wrote many Westerns under the names John Benteen, Richard Meade, and Thorne Douglas. He was an excellent writer and deserves to be back in print as well.

What is your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, such as is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?

That practice doesn’t bother me at all, as long as the books are good. And all the new ones I’ve read under those by-lines have been excellent. When you have David Robbins or Dusty Richards or Peter Brandvold writing a Ralph Compton book, why wouldn’t it be as good as anything those writers would produce solely under their names? They’re top-notch professionals and can be counted upon to do fine work.

When writing books such as your Civil War Battles series did you ever find it restricting having to follow the events of history or did you find it easy to weave fiction and reality together?

I really enjoy the process of writing historical fiction. I like having the framework of history and finding a way to bring in my fictional characters without violating what really happened. If the story dictates a little dramatic license, I don’t hesitate to employ it, but I try to stick as close to the facts as I can.

That’s a little easier than it sounds, because for any major event in history, you can find a dozen or more different interpretations of what really happened. So if I need to fudge a little bit . . . I can.

Is it easier to write a series about a hero who drifts from place to place than a series such as Abilene with multiple characters that are tied to one town?

They both have their advantages and disadvantages. Town books with large casts give you lots of characters to work with, and you can develop those characters over a longer period of time, so that there’s some actual change and growth in them. But a drifting hero gives you much more variety in the settings and in the types of stories you can use. I’ve written plenty of both types and enjoyed them all.

Of all the characters you’ve written about under your own name or a pseudonym, which have you enjoyed writing about the most?

I’m closing in on having written fifty Longarms over the past seventeen years, so I’ve written more about ol’ Custis than any other character. And I still find writing about him to be thoroughly enjoyable. I love his sense of humor, his integrity, his intelligence, and his determination. The fact that most of the books are mysteries as well as Westerns helps me enjoy writing about him, too, since I started out as a mystery writer.

When starting to write for a long established series such as The Trailsman or Wagons West how do you go about ensuring you get the hero’s characteristics and plot style correct as some writers seem to just jump straight in without having given this any consideration and the books might as well as been about somebody else and this, to me, is insulting to long time fans?

Every long-running series I’ve worked on, I was a fan first. I had read the books and knew the characters, at least to a certain extent. With both Longarm and The Trailsman, once I was asked to write for those series, I read as many of the current entries as I could. My Trailsman novels, at least starting out, were very much influenced by the books David Robbins was writing for that series. Even though he didn’t create the character, his version of Skye Fargo was the definitive one as far as I was concerned. Still is, for that matter. My Longarms were heavily influenced by the ones written by Lou Cameron (who created the series) and Will C. Knott. In fact, my first two Longarms were based on outlines written by Lou Cameron, who used to provide outlines for the other authors on the series as well as writing many of the books himself. I picked up on the little tricks they used and tried to incorporate those in my books, as well as developing my own voice on the series. To me, that’s all part of the fun of it.

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

I’m very fond of the Wind River books, six books published by Harper during the Nineties. They demonstrate that long-term storytelling and characterization I was talking about above. For that reason, they definitely need to be read in order. As a stand-alone, I’d recommend DEATH HEAD CROSSING, published a couple of years ago by Pinnacle, which I think does a good job of combining Western and mystery elements. LONGARM AND THE VOODOO QUEEN, LONGARM AND THE PINE BOX PAYOFF, and THE TRAILSMAN: HIGH COUNTRY HORROR are all good solid series Westerns. And my favorite of all my books is UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS, which is part Western and part World War I novel, with what I think is a very effective narrative voice.

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

It’s no secret that Westerns have declined in readership over the past twenty years. The sales numbers look a little better today than they did a few years ago, which may reflect several things: an increased Western presence on the Internet, as evidenced by this site and others; an embracing of more traditional values in uncertain times, something that has always worked to the Western’s advantage in the past; and the realization of the extremely high quality of work being produced by today’s writers. I doubt that Westerns will ever regain the prominence they once had, but they’re not going away any time soon, either.

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

Probably to a certain extent, but not completely, and certainly not in my lifetime. I still have to have a book I can hold in my hands and hear the rustle of the pages and smell the ink and the glue and the paper.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

At one time I probably would have said either THE SEARCHERS or THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, all fine films that I admire and love dearly. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that my favorite Western movie is THE COMANCHEROS, because my dad took me to see it at the Eagle Drive-in Theater when I was six years old and I still remember it like it was yesterday. When I’m writing and I get to a really good scene, that’s the music I hear in my head, the theme from THE COMANCHEROS. And I don’t care if it’s historically inaccurate. I love it anyway.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

All kinds of fiction. I’m not a big reader of non-fiction unless it’s for research. But mostly mysteries, science fiction, horror, and of course, Westerns, and more old stuff than new. I also read a lot of graphic novels, primarily superhero stuff but some oddball titles as well. Just tell me a good story. That’s all I ask.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

The Shadow Riders

as by Owen G. Irons
A Black Horse Western from Hale
February 2009

It wasn’t asking too much of a man. The Arizona Rangers only wanted Tyrone Cannfield to let himself be thrown into an army punishment camp sentenced to hard labour, escape from the chain gang, track down the Shadow Riders, a gang of plundering, murderous thugs, bring in Mingo, the savage leader of the badmen, and halt a train robbery. All this to be done on his own with fifty badmen ready to shoot him down at the first misstep.

It wasn’t asking too much of him because Mingo was the man who murdered Cannfield’s wife back in Texas, and he would do everything possible to eliminate him and the Shadow Riders. But would he survive?

The first thing you notice about this book is it’s a much longer read than the majority of Black Horse Westerns, not in page length but by the size of the print and the much narrower margins.

Owen G. Irons (who I believe is really Paul Lederer) starts the book with the savage treatment of the army punishment camp and once Canfield is sprung from there and taken to be a member of the Shadow Riders the many questions begin to build up, which give Canfield many mysteries to ponder and many challenges to overcome: such as who is the mystery sniper, who is the Man with no Name, who is his contact Bert, what are the two sisters roles in all this, and how will he get out alive?

The descriptions of landscape, buildings, people, and the action scenes are all first rate and all the threads to the tale are tied up neatly by the end, after the dramatic final battle between the outlaws, Arizona Rangers, and US Army.

This tough story will certainly have me on the lookout for more books by Owen G. Irons.

The Shadow Riders is due for publication on February 27th so to avoid disappointment I suggest you get your order in as soon as possible as Black Horse Westerns tend to sell out fast.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Lanigan and the Silent Mourner

By Ronald Martin Wade
A Black Horse Western from Hale
February 2009

Shawnee Lanigan, half-breed man-hunter, accepts a commission from a grieving grandfather to track down and bring to justice Marsh Kennebec, the murderer of his daughter and her husband. The old man’s grandson, traumatized by the loss of his parents, has been unable to weep or mourn the loss.

Lanigan sets out to track down Kennebec but must repeatedly fight for his life against both outlaws and corrupt lawmen who try to bar his path. After tracking the killer to his hiding place, he finds himself outnumbered, outgunned and standing trial for his life before a jury of killers, fugitives and thieves. If convicted, he will hang. If found innocent, he must fight a duel to the death.

Ronald Martin Wade presents his readers with a very easy to read book filled with incident and well created characters. The book begins with a prologue, which tells the back-story of Lanigan and includes a well-described and horrific death, which painted a very gruesome picture in my minds eye.

During the prologue the author draws attention to the fact that Lanigan is a half-breed and his reaction to derogatory comments about his bloodline. This seemed to be setting us up for more of the same during the story yet, other than in one confrontation, this wasn’t really mentioned again.

Settings and characters are beautifully portrayed as are the numerous action scenes, be they fistfights, knife fights or gunfights.

What seems to be a fairly straightforward, traditional, western tale takes a turn towards a darker theme during the trial making for a memorable ending.

It seems Lanigan is set to be a series character as a second book, Lanigan and the She-Wolf, is scheduled for a July 09 release.

Lanigan and the Silent Mourner is due to be published on February 27th 2009, and noting that many Black Horse Westerns are selling out in a matter of days, it maybe wise to get your order in early.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Davy Crockett #6

as by David Thompson
Leisure, Feb. 1998

Davy Crockett was born to explore the wide-open country of the untamed wilderness. His unmatched skills and his need for adventure combined to make him a frontiersman like no other. And no other pioneer could have hoped to survive the dangers that Davy faced when he and his old friend Flavius tried to cross the vast Western Prairies.

A roaring wildfire and a rampaging buffalo stampede were excitement enough for Flavius, but Davy knew their troubles were just beginning when they came face-to-face with the rulers of the prairies…the dreaded Comanches!

Attempting to return to St. Louis Crockett and Flavius, still escorting Heather and Becky (see the previous book: Blood Rage) face the wildfire and buffalo stampede that, unknown to them, takes them way off course.

The book is filled with almost non-stop action, from the fires and buffalo, to being lost in the darkness, fever, being held captive and rescue attempts, not to mention treachery and lost horses.

So much in such a short book left me breathless, I don’t think the cliff-hanger chapter endings were needed to ensure that I would continue reading to find out what hardships the small group of travelers would face next.

I also liked how David Robbins – writing as David Thompson - balanced elements of the story such as Becky’s innocent views of the new country she finds herself in, the protection of her scared mother and Davy’s mistrust with the more violent situations.

David Robbins also includes information about Crockett’s past in such a way it’s not like a history lesson but a natural part of the story.

On reaching the end I found myself doing something that is rare for me and that’s immediately beginning the next in the series.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

The Badge #4

as by Bill Reno
Bantam, April 1988

Powder River’s new marshal is shot in the back by a bushwhacker when he tries to put a stop to the bloody feud going on between the town’s two biggest ranchers: John Brunner’s Diamond B and Rake McCanna’s Box M. Nobody can name the culprit but, whoever he is, he’s hell-bent to get a full-scale range war started. Time to bring in Will Iron – a lawman who lives upto his name, as fast with a gun as he is with his rock-hard fists.

When the son of Rake McCanna is shot dead, and the son of John Brunner is found stabbed in a deep gully, tempers are set to explode as each rancher prepares for war. Can Iron track down the killer and put an end to the bloodshed before Powder River becomes a battleground?

Bill Reno (really author Lew A. Lacy) believes in putting his heroes into difficult situations, and in Powder River, not only does Iron have to try to stop a war erupting, he finds the problem is made more difficult after discovering that one of the feuding sides is his father and brothers, making him question his loyalty to family or the law. Not only this, but Iron finds himself falling for the beautiful Abby, who may or may-not be hiding some secrets, whilst the equally attractive Vanessa competes for his attention.

The book is filled with action-packed confrontations that will have the reader wondering how Iron can possibly bring them to peaceful conclusions, and then the murders happen and it seems that Iron has an impossible situation to control.

As events finally seem to be leading to a satisfying ending for Iron and the people of Powder River, Reno brings his hero down to earth – hard! Iron finds himself with the toughest decision of his life that will tear him apart emotionally, thus providing a powerful ending to this gripping read.

Each Badge book is about different characters – although two or three of them do appear in more than one book – the series being linked by each story being about a man who wears a badge.

Saturday 7 February 2009

The Last Days of Billy Patch

by B.J. Holmes
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1992

In their physical appearance the Branston brothers displayed an obvious family resemblance, but underneath the skin, they couldn’t have been more different. Joe was a loser, a hobo on horseback, not above swamping saloons for cents as he bummed his way across the west. Billy was a go-getter, making it with the girls; the young kid with the Midas touch, setting up his own ranch in Texas. When Joe found he couldn’t even earn a few pesos in Mexico, he decided to ride north and look up his kid brother. So, when he finally made it to Brightwater, he was full of expectations that his life was to take a turn. It changed direction all right, but not in the way he expected.

B.J. Holmes has a great knack for hooking his reader right from the beginning and not letting him go until the end. Here it’s done by having Joe arrive in Brightwater just in time to witness a funeral, which turns out to be his brother's. It seems Billy died of an accident, something Joe finds hard to believe. The local law – and indeed the other townsfolk – are of the opinion of “good riddance to bad trash”, something Joe cannot accept.

Holmes soon has the reader sharing Joe’s frustrations as he attempts to discover the truth about his brother’s activities. His disbelief at the accusations being part of the well-written book that had this reader not wanting to put the book down until the truth was discovered.

Even though I guessed the twist ending it didn’t really spoil what is in fact a great book, a fast, easy to read story, without padding, that ties everything up neatly at the end.

Well worth keeping an eye out for.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Interview: Jory Sherman

My next interview is with a western author who should not require an introduction to fans of western fiction: Jory Sherman. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Jory.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I always wrote, but never thought of becoming a professional writer until I spent time in the VA hospital at Ft. Miley, San Francisco. I was a manic-depressive, and this was a special ward with intensive therapy. My psychiatrist asked if he could tape our sessions (3 times a week) and I said okay. The staff decided, from the way I described complex feelings and thought processes that I might do better if I skipped OT (Occupational Therapy) and write. So, they gave me an office, typewriter and paper. I started writing, with no purpose, no plan. There was a writer in our small group. He and the staff flipped out over this raw material. The consensus was that I had the makings of a poet. So, after I left the hospital, I made a decision that I would just write and do any kind of work to allow me this freedom. I studied and wrote, and what emerged was poetry. I have never regretted this decision. I was about 22 or 23 at the time I began writing poetry.

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

My first novel was LUST ON CANVAS. It was not a western, but was a story about an artist whose work I had seen in a gallery in San Bernardino (Calif.). It went through several printings and one day I met the artist, who had read the book and liked it. My first western was GUN FOR HIRE published by Major Books. It, too, went through many printings and many cover prices, starting at 50 cents and going to $1.50.

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

None. The publishers of that first book were friends who started their own publishing company and came to me. These were a writer/editor, an artist and a photographer.

Which writers influence you?

Hard to tell, because I was influenced first by James Joyce whose ULYSSES I read when I was 10 years old and read it over and over until I was 15. In poetry, I was influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca, Dylan Thomas, the Symbolist poets such as Rimbaud and Verlaine. My father’s aunt, Bertha Muzzy, wrote westerns under the name of B.M. Bower, and we all read her books, along with Zane Grey, Owen Wister, and others. A.B. Guthrie was probably a strong influence with THE BIG SKY and certainly Jack London.

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

Certain aspects of history are important, such as dates, but history itself is not always accurate. So, I am not a stickler for retelling the exact stories which historical writers have collected and retold. I do not write history, but use it as a backdrop to my fiction. We will probably never know the truth or accuracy about the O.K. Corral, nor the Kennedy Assassination. That’s just the way things are. History can be very slippery when it comes to either accuracy or details.

Which western writers would you recommend?

I would be a poor source for recommendations of western writers since I am legally blind and must listen to books on audio, most of which are not westerns. But, I do enjoy the work of my friends, Elmer Kelton, Loren D. Estleman, Richard S. Wheeler, Max Evans, Tony Hillerman, Terry C. Johnston, Jack Schaefer, Gordon Shirreffs and Charles Portis. Portis’ TRUE GRIT is the most perfect western I’ve ever read. I like Cormac McCarthy’s writing very much because he has a great ear and a strong sense of the power of the English language.

What percentage of your published work are westerns?

I don’t know. A good chunk, certainly, over the past 20 or 30 years. That’s probably because, for several years, westerns were in demand, and I still love to write them. But, my interests are wide-ranging. I am taken more seriously as a western writer because there have been a lot of western books in my recent past.

I’ve recently seen the news that your Savage series is to be continued, is this likely to happen with The Vigilante series too?

SAVAGE GUN was supposed to be only 3 books, which have all been published. Recently, Berkley bought 2 more and I’m writing #4 at present. I haven’t heard of any interest in continuing THE VIGILANTE books, which wound up as a trilogy, not a series. To me, a series is at least 8 books, and that is becoming a rarity in my case.

Using your Shadow Rider series as an example, with eight months between each book being published, do you think readers may have forgotten about the series and moved on to something else in this time, thus effecting sales of your books? I know I find it frustrating having to wait so long to find out what happens next.

I long ago gave up trying to figure out what readers want or don’t want. A good title and a good cover illustration probably help to sell books, rather than the frequency of publishing. Yes, some readers keep track and get frustrated when too much time passes between books, and yes, they will move on to other titles. My main concern is when a trilogy or a series is cut off before it has a chance to catch on. I still get a lot of mail about my trilogy, THE BUCKSKINNERS, but Tor/Forge wanted me to work on THE BARON saga, so dropped the third book. Incidentally, Forge (Tom Doherty & Associates) has had THE BARON HONOR for over 2 years and has not yet published it. I still have one more to write in that series, the BARON LEGACY, which I’ve started, but set aside until I get further word on the fate of that series.

You came up with the idea for the Rivers West series, how did you decide which authors to ask to write for the series?

I didn’t create the RIVERS WEST series for myself, but for the best writers in Western Writers of America. My first calls were to Louis L’Amour, Elmer Kelton and Will Henry. Elmer was too busy, Will was almost totally blind and had all but given up on writing, and Stuart Applebaum would not allow Louis to write for me. Since I envisioned the series to go on for years, if not centuries, I was lucky to get such fine writers as Win Blevins, Richard S. Wheeler, Gary McCarthy, Frank Roderus and Don Coldsmith. Again, Bantam would not let Don write for me after that one book. The series took off right out of the box and my editor, Greg Tobin, asked me to step in and write some of them. I sold the series with a single page overview that I took to New York. It was a very successful series as long as it lasted. There are still over 2000 rivers west of the Mississippi (and we never did get to that river, even), and I was sorry to see the series die.

When Pocket Star stopped publishing westerns with only the first of your Owlhoot Trail series being published I was wondering what became of the announced second book Journey of Death, did you rewrite it and get it published elsewhere?

Pocket paid me the advance for the 2nd and 3rd books in THE OWLHOOT TRAIL. I had delivered the 2nd one, which they returned. I did rewrite it, but have not tried to sell it. It’s still on the shelf.

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

I don’t like to recommend any of my books to people I don’t know because my tastes may not be anyone else’s. However, if someone wishing to write westerns asked me which of my books I think might help them, I’d mention SONG OF THE CHEYENNE, first published by Doubleday, in hardcover, and later by Tor, in paperback. This, because the novel is from the Cheyenne point of view and does not use white man’s terms to describe the Cheyenne world. And, perhaps THE MEDICINE HORN, which won the WWA Spur Award for Best Novel, because it represents an entire movement westward at a time when such travel was technically illegal. And, finally, I might recommend GRASS KINGDOM, because it involves three ranching families in the Rio Grande Valley and shows how a large cast of characters affect one another’s lives. That book was the first published in the Baron series, but will wind up being the last, since I went back 100 years to explore the settling of that region of Texas, a harsh, unforgiving environment not particularly suited to raising cattle or any other kind of livestock.

Please tell us a little more about writing The Medicine Horn.

THE MEDICINE HORN, won the Spur in 1995, much to my surprise. I was writing that book when I had triple bypass heart surgery. The anesthetic stayed in my brain for a year, and it was like wading through quicksand. It took me a year to write because there were huge gaps between moments of lucidity.

As you’ve had a couple of books published under the Ralph Compton name I was wondering what’s 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?

I did write 2 books for Ralph Compton’s estate. I liked Ralph very much as a friend and fellow writer and so I took on the assignments. As long as credit is given to the actual writer, I’m comfortable with that. There are no royalties, however, so I declined writing any more such books. When a writer has a winning series, such as the Trail Drive series, it seems a shame to let it die. Bill Johnstone was a friend, but he wrote very few of his books even when he was alive. When he became ill, he didn’t write any of the books that came out under his name. While he has a large following, few people probably realize that he didn’t write most of the books appearing under his name.

Have you written any westerns under a pseudonym and if so can you tell us which?

Yes, I’ve written several westerns under various pseudonyms. At one time I was Zebra’s only western author, so I wrote under the name of Walt Denver. I can’t recall the other pseudonyms. My memory is like a sieve and much of my past has seeped out through the holes.

Is there a western series you’d like to resurrect?

RIVERS WEST, and SHADOW RIDER. The latter was published by Harper Collins and only lasted 3 books. I liked the character, Zak Cody, and thought he should have had a longer life in print.

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

I’d like to see SONG OF THE CHEYENNE back in print and I’d like to see it marketed to a young adult audience. So far, all of my attempts to do this have failed. For all the others, they’ve had their day and probably do not need nor deserve a second chance.

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

Since I can no longer read printed books, I don’t know much about the genre of today. I know we have some fine writers out there, Johnny Boggs, Bill Brooks, Jimmy Lee Butts, Pete Brandvold, Mike Blakely, Bill Crider, Cameron Judd, and many others. They are keeping the western alive and infusing new energies into the genre. I’ve seen many genres go through cycles and I believe, since the western is our native literature, that it will live on in some form or other. We’ve seen vestiges of it in such movies as OUTLAND, STAR WARS and others, so my hunch is that somewhere down the road, the genre will not only be refined, but achieve classical status that will rival all other so-called genres.

Finally, what is your favourite western movie and why?

Steve, I would probably say THE WILD BUNCH, since I knew Sam Peckinpaugh and respect his genius. I also saw the complete director’s cut where many good scenes were deleted. A close second would be JEREMIAH JOHNSON, because I hunted with a .50 caliber Hawken, trapped when I was a kid and have spent much time in the wilderness areas of the Rocky Mountains. That’s where my heart is, nearly 200 years too late.

The 10 Best Westerns

There's some great discussions going on at tainted-archive as Gary is posting his choices of the top 10 essential western reads, and films, in the lead up to next months Wild West Monday.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

A Town Called Fury

 a William W. Johnstone novel
with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2006

The last thing Jason Fury wants is to lead a wagon train west to California but that’s what he finds himself doing. Halfway across Oklahoma the wagon train is attacked by bloodthirsty Comanche, and Jedediah Fury – the leader of the settlers, and Jason’s father – is counted amoung the dead. Later, in Arizona Territory, the squabbling settlers decide to stop for good and start a town they’ll name Fury in honour of Jedediah. It’s going to be a hardscrabble life and Jason knows he can’t just leave these defenceless pioneers to be slaughtered – amoung them a certain young lady he’d taken a real shine to…

This is the first book in a new series under the William W. Johnstone name. Overall it’s an entertaining enough story, a tale that revolves around a number of incidents – Indian attacks, river crossings etc – leading to the town of Fury being born.

J.A. Johnstone (a pseudonym I believe is being shared by a number of different authors, all unknown), tries to cram a lot into this book, such as introducing us to the many different characters that will, presumably, appear in the subsequent books too, and for me doesn’t spend enough time fleshing out any one character, although he has got me intrigued with a couple of them, enough to make me want to know more about them.

A lot of the action takes place rather quickly and the wagon train journey didn’t offer anything new to the seasoned western reader. What could have been a gripping part of the story, that of freeing the captives from the Comanche, just didn’t seem convincing to me and freeing them seemed all to easy.

Having said all that I will read the next in the series, hoping now that the many characters have been introduced, the author will be able to develop them more and spend more time on depth of plot, rather than having to squeeze so much into one book.

Sunday 1 February 2009

The Pirooters

 by Mark Mellon
Sundowners, 2007

“I leave it up to you to decide whether I told the truth or the biggest windy you ever heard in your life.”

San Antonio, Texas, 1916. Jim Ed’s hot temper keeps him in constant trouble with his father, Leo Pargrew, a wealthy lawyer. After a long absence, the Pargrews are visited by Leo’s father Virge, an old cowman, come to reconcile Leo with his family. While staying with Leo, Virge tells Jim Ed a yarn of hair-raising exploits with his wild granduncle Heck in search of Jim Bowie’s legendary silver mine down in old Mexico in 1865 with Comanches, bandidos, and French Foreign Legionnaires all in hot pursuit. Enthralled by the tale, Jim Ed doesn’t know whether to believe it, but one summer at Virge’s ranch, he learns the real secret of the lost treasure of Santa Perdida.

Mark Mellon has created some wonderful characters in Virge, his brother Heck and their ex-slave Old Mose. Virge’s telling of their adventures to Jim Ed makes for very entertaining reading as they move swiftly from one dangerous predicament to another whilst hunting for the lost mine.

There is plenty of bloody action that at times is graphically described, such as the torture scene where the Comanche skin Virge’s finger.

The story moves at tremendous pace to the final violent battle that has an impressive death toll, which painted some very visual imagery within my minds eye.

Most of the story is told as flashbacks to 1865 but the scenes set in the books present provide some very real and relatable situations of conflict between different generations.

Towards the end Jim Ed asks a question that leads to Virge replying, “that’s another story,” and that’s one I’d like to hear too, so Mark, any chance of Virge and co returning in another book?