According to Ed Gorman, "Elizabeth Fackler has a unique approach to the novel and speaks in a voice all her own. She takes familiar elements and makes them seem startling and new through the dazzle of her prose and the humanity of her forgiving gaze."
Mrs. Fackler has also written several historical novels including Billy the Kid: The Legend of El Chivato and Texas Lily, both of which are set against the backdrop of the Lincoln County War. Most recently, she has authored a series of contemporary mysteries for Five Star Publishing.
You have alternatively written both mysteries and Westerns with similar critical success. In this, it seems that you are not alone as numerous authors from Elmore Leonard to Harry Whittington to Robert Randisi and several others have done the same. Are there any affinities between the genres that have led so many talented writers to try their hands at both?
The affinities are structural. The plots of both revolve around a protagonist at odds with the world. As the story unfolds, the protagonist subdues the disruptive forces and regains a sort of stasis that lasts as long as it takes the reader to close the book. By that I mean, the stasis is momentary, and if we could follow the story farther than the author allows, the stasis would soon be lost. Perhaps all this could be said of any novel; maybe it is the energetic drive to conclusion that distinguishes the two genres. In both mysteries and Westerns, no words are squandered on self-indulgent asides, each is a stepping stone on the protagonist’s path toward whatever he finds on the final page.
Your novels tend to have strong male lead characters (Seth Strummar, Frank James, Devon Gray) and yet they are usually counterbalanced by equally strong secondary female characters. Is this a conscious decision on your part?
A story arrives from behind the eyes of the protagonist. Like the melody and the lyrics when I write a song, the protagonist and the story arrive together. My male protagonists are attracted to women who are worthy of them and who interest me. Writing a novel requires many hours spent in your characters’ company, so I try to find entertaining people to hang out with.
What led you to start writing in the Western genre?
I love men on horses and women in long skirts.
The study of the historical West has undergone drastic changes in recent decades as academia has attempted to demystify supposedly entrenched preconceptions about this period of American history. This has resulted in innovative research on subjects such as the role of women in the West and history from the point of view of Native Americans. On the other hand, it has led to demonizing from some academics that see the expansion to the West as a particularly bleak episode in the history of this country. Would you agree with this assessment and, if so, do you think these new perceptions and attitudes have influenced modern-day Western fiction?
To paraphrase an Englishman, it was the best and worst of times. Maybe they all are. I can’t see that what we as a nation are doing in the world today is any kinder than what we did in the nineteenth century. I can’t think of any era that was less bleak. Are they referring to the so-called Revolutionary War, slavery, or the Civil War? Are they less bleak? Or the two world wars, the Great Depression, the Mexican-American or the Spanish-American War? The history of civilization is bleak. The acknowledgement of that has influenced all thinking. The beauty of the nineteen-century American pioneers is that they truly believed the future would be better. That’s an enviable attitude and imbues them with a buoyant optimism that keeps the story afloat.
What role does research play in your writing especially when it comes to novels such as Billy the Kid: The Legend of El Chivato and Texas Lily?
Both of those novels were based on thirty years of research. For Texas Lily, I did additional research on New Mexico cattle ranching in the late nineteenth century. I read everything available on the Lincoln County War before it ever occurred to me to write the story myself. I did so because I felt no one had told it the way it was meant to be told.
Although there are precedents for demythologized portrayals of the West, the grittiness of novels like Blood Kin and its frank depiction of violence and sex makes it seem in many ways a Western ahead of its time. What was the feedback from your editors when you first turned in the manuscript? What about critics and readers when it was finally published?
The publisher initially demanded that I delete all the “kinky” (their word) scenes. I protested and my editor went to bat for me and the publisher acquiesced. The reviews were amusing. One was by a nun who, although she called my writing “powerful,” took exception to my harlot comparing herself to the Blessed Mother. My favorite said Blood Kin took its inspiration more from Last Tango in Paris than Dry Gulch Ambush. I still use that in my promos. I know I offended many traditional readers of the genre, and I’m sorry they can’t see the value in my stories. Readers often have the same reaction to my mysteries — that the sex is too graphic — but I like writing about passion.
What are your thoughts about the present state of the Western genre and what do you think the future holds for the Western story?
The Western story will survive, if only as a peripheral genre with a small but loyal readership. The trick is finding publishers who will keep the work in print. People now are in love with technology and that leads authors to set their stories on the cutting-edge of progress if not in the future. Some of those stories are transplanted heroic plots that work well in any era. But there are those of us who will always enjoy horses and canyons, stars and mountains, and the flattering glow of candlelight.
Most writers are voracious readers and you are probably not the exception. What do you read for pleasure?
Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Wild West, The Sun are magazines we receive; I read most of each issue. Right now I’m reading The Life and Death of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain by A.M. Gibson. I was led to it by reading another book about Fountain, Corey Recko’s Murder on the White Sands. Before that I read N. Scott Momaday’s The Man Made of Words, and before that, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger. I am also sporadically reading from Sallie Tisdale’s Women of the Way, stories about women Buddhist teachers. All reading I do is for pleasure, unless it’s the instruction book for a new appliance or a contract or such.
Do you have any writing influences? How about influences in the Western genre?
The whole world, every word I’ve read, and every experience I’ve known is a writing influence. I read Zane Gray as a child but my landscape descriptions don’t compare to his. My favorite author and book of my formative years was Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Are there any Western writers you would like to see back in print? Likewise, are there any new writers that have caught your attention?
I would love to see my Westerns back in print. None of them are except El Chivato which I have to push constantly to keep available.
Are you writing anything right now? Can you tell us more about any other projects you are currently involved with?
I have a nascent publishing company called Western Star Books. So far we have published the first, never-before-published novel of my Seth Strummar series, Bone Justice, and A Calendar of the Lincoln County War. Both of them are available through my website. I have a mystery starring Elizabeth Garrett, the daughter of Pat Garrett, nearing completion.
What is the greatest satisfaction of your writing career? Is there anything else you still feel you need to accomplish?
The greatest satisfaction is that I did it. And I’m still here, still being published. I am working on achieving calm abiding at the moment of my death so I will have a good rebirth.