Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Dusty Richards

Dusty Richards won his first two Spur Awards in 2007 for his novel The Horse Creek Incident and his short story “Comanche Moon”. He has written more than seventy novels, and his work has been well received by readers and critics alike. His recent short story collection Waltzing with Tumbleweeds contains several of his short stories that, according to reviewer Debbie Haskins, “keeps readers turning pages and coming back for more.”

He is a lifelong fan of both the West and the Western story—his enthusiasm for the subject shines throughout this interview as does his kindness. Dusty’s most recent novel
Montana Revenge is out in paperback from Berkley.

Dusty is a terrific name for a western writer. Is it your given name, or a nickname?

I guess I was always into Westerns. When we moved from Mesa to Phoenix I just told everyone I met my name was Dusty. I was about 14. It stuck

“I don't know a greater honor for a western writer. Spurs are the Oscars of the western book.”

Before I get too far I want to congratulate you on the two Spur Awards you received earlier this year. You won the best paperback original category for your novel The Horse Creek Incident and the best short fiction of the year for your novella “Comanche Moon”.

I don't know a greater honor for a Western writer. Spurs are the Oscars of the Western book. I can recall going to my first Western Writers of America Convention in San Antonio over two decades ago when I was trying to break into the New York market. I met those Spur winners that year and all the old hands that I'd read. I never thought this old cowboy would ever collect one of them. I was lucky to be writing and doing what I liked and had dreamed about.

If you asked me January first last year, did I expect to win a Spur? No. My close writer friends kept saying you'll win one. It went over my head like a jet and I had no idea or even inkling I'd have two of those lovely awards on my table at home. I have never written a book in my life, and that means under pseudonyms or my own name, that I said “Oh, well this will be a Spur.”

I have studied and taught fiction writing for the last three decades. Books I have written total 76; lots of short stories and articles, but I wrote each one with one thing in mind—tell a good story the best I can.

I want to talk a little about your publishing history, what is the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?

I always wrote “books” in long hand like Zane Grey did, only I never had “Dollie” to edit them. I read stacks of paperbacks and every hardback Western in the libraries. I even sat on Grey's cabin porch on the Mongollon Rim and promised his ghost I'd join him some day on the bookshelf.

When my girls were teens they wanted me to do something with them. I told them they had Louie and did not need me. In the eighties I was involved with a small publisher in Missouri. He had three books of mine and was supposed to publish them—after messing with him for two years I demanded my books back. He sent them back but he published them, and I've been looking for copies since then. There have been some show up on eBay. I had no idea for 20 years he had done that.

Yes I wrote and I sought experts. Dr. Frank Reuter, who is a great editor, line-edited a novel [I wrote] that I thought was wonderful. There was hardly a page [without] red lines and written all over. I went home sick but I knew that if I was going to sell in New York I had to meet his standards. Book two that he did had whole pages with no marks. Reuter lived about 40 miles from me so each time I drove over after work and we'd discuss the book. Book number three he apologized and said he was so busy reading it he might not had edited as tough as the others. That was Noble's Way, my first sale in New York. That took a decade from me deciding I wanted to really be a writer and publish—I teach folks short cuts on that time.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Probably in high school, but I had no idea which end to start on, and the fact I read so much didn't help me because reading books is a seamless way to learn what is inside them. Now if you want to dissect a writer read only the 3rd page—3-6-9 [and] so on. Then take colored high liters and began marking him up after that—learn internalization, narration, dialogue. Learn point of view and write a million words until your words create paintings. Basketball players who become pros shoot millions of baskets. Writers must do that—they must study poetry and simplicity; poetry is whole another deal—but there are lessons there: word images. Not a thesaurus but small words in the vocabulary of your reader. Use senses and understand body movements and facial expression. Use the seasons, the time of day, become a geographer, a plant expert, walk the ground, read the history and old newspaper accounts, diaries, and any accounts you can find. Then write what you love and it will show in the pages—they say.

Is there a book, or a few books, that you have written and are particularly proud of?

I wrote one contemporary book about Rodeo called The Natural. It was well accepted by the rodeo people. They are hard to please and they called it authentic. That gave me lots of pride. Maybe some day I'll write more when I find the right editor. The Westerns are my children. I love them all.

“I read Cormac McCarthy—when he uses Spanish like too much salt I hate him. I don't write like him but he has a way with words that deserve the writer's attention.”

Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure?

I read Cormac McCarthy—when he uses Spanish like too much salt I hate him. I don't write like him but he has a way with words that deserve the writer's attention. I won't do anything that would make my books hard to read like lack of punctuation. I write my books with a fan in the room. I want that person to see what I see. Understand what I am telling him so he goes on reading long in the night.

I read McMurtry, some of his books are great—some I never finish.

I love Will Henry. I met him before he went to the big sky pasture. I tried and tried to mimic his style—no way

Tom Lea's Wonderful Country stuck to me like dried oatmeal on a cereal bowl.

Elmer Kelton writes great books and is a good friend.

Max Evans wrote great novellas. He's another amigo of mine and flatters me by buying my books for his friends

I have an extensive library of historical books and I read them—my books are fiction, but I attempt to put my characters in those scenes and not cut down any trees.

A man to watch is John Nesbitt. He teaches fiction writing at Torrington, Wyoming. He has a short story about Nat Champion, one of the men killed in the Wyoming range war in a collection of short stories currently on the racks from Kensington. I'd almost kill to have written that story. John also has several books from Leisure Books.

Jory Sherman [was] a great help in my struggle to get published when I was nobody. He writes with a pen that few can match.

Pete Brandvold. Here is a young man that will fill the gaps of the old men.

I have many friends I read. I hope they don't feel left out [because] I am writing this on the road.

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?

Saturday matinee with Roy, Gene, and Hoppy

You have written four novels—The Ogallala Trail, Trail to Cottonwood Falls, The Abilene Trail, and The Trail to Fort Smith—in conjunction with the late Ralph Compton’s estate. I also should mention that your name is included on the cover. When you wrote these novels was there extra pressure to please Compton’s large fan base, or were you comfortable making these novels your own? Did you enjoy the experience?

When Dan Slater (then the editor) asked me to write some of those books, I was familiar with Ralph's books—I'd read several but instead of reading more of his I read Robert Vaughn's books in the series. I can't write like Ralph or Robert, but I saw what they had done—they'd written good Westerns about the cattle drives: a basic main menu of the west. So I began to find characters who needed to make those trips and [then] built a life for them.

Jim Parker of Yukin, Oklahoma is a re-enactor for the Chisholm Trail and great historian. He helped me on my first one. I met him one day when I was invited to a dedication of a mile marker on the Chisholm Trail on the Express Ranch. It was a great day.

If you could bring back the work of one Western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?

Will Henry had a wonderful style of storytelling [that was] seeped in history and geography.

“The west is part of our culture. It goes up and down with whims of publishers and the buying public. There use to be three networks on TV. Today there are 500 and they have diluted the entertainment mix—yes more choices, but we are all so busy making a living, or entertaining ourselves at many venues.”

What do you think about the Western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

The west is part of our culture. It goes up and down with whims of publishers and the buying public. There use to be three networks on TV. Today there are 500 and they have diluted the entertainment mix—yes more choices, but we are all so busy making a living, or entertaining ourselves at many venues. I feel that there is no better entertainment than curling up with a real book and enjoying the story—the West is there. And goodness I love to write it.

Okay, now let's get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

My latest novel, Montana Revenge will be on the rack Sept. 7th. It is a Herschel Baker novel set in Yellowstone County, Billings, Montana. It is a mystery and a new challenge. You have all the facts that Sheriff Baker has and must find the killers.

Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?

I have a series in formation about twin brothers orphaned on the Texas frontier during the Civil War. Interestingly, I've studied identical twins, West Texas geography, vegetation, lifestyles and building structures.

I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could choose any project to work on, what would it be?

Ben, I have more of them scattered over my computer than I'll ever write.

A series about a maverick Catholic priest in 1790 Kentucky; my agent loves it, no takers.

The series about the Twins in Civil War times in West Texas (still in infancy).

A series about the Texas Feuds. Doc Sonicson at the U of AZ wrote lots about Texas feuds. It is under-written, I think, in fiction. That one is being considered.

I still have a couple completed novels in a series that publishers backed out of that I think are powerful.

P.S. A collection of my published short stories called Waltzing with Tumbleweeds is available at I have heard more comments on it than any other thing I have written.

"Comanche Moon," the novella that won the short Spur, I wrote for a national magazine that publishes western serials. I felt they needed a good one. I got their guidelines and I really polished it, but when I submitted it they said they were not interested. Dan Slater asked for it on the kick off of Amazon shorts—if the magazine had taken it I might have missed the Spur.


Anonymous said...

This is another excellent interview. Dusty Richards sounds fascinating, and very generous with his writing "wisdom."

Thanks again for a brilliant blog.


gina said...

Wonderful article. Dusty deserves all the accolades he can get, both as a writer and teacher. Without Dusty, a lot of would-be writers would slide into oblivion. Kudos to a great American western writer and friend.
Regina Williams

Velda said...

Terrific interview. Dusty is responsible for my work getting published and is one of the most generous writers I've met.
P.S. He writes a pretty darn good book too.

Rhonda said... the blog! We're proud of you for winning the "Spur Awards"! Keep on writing...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Dusty has published any books on writing, or articles or anything like that? How does the beginner writer benefit from more of his wisdom? I would love to read more.


gina said...

Dusty has a HOW TO column in The Storyteller Magazine every quarter.

Betsey said...

You always told a good story. You so deserve the "Spur Award"
We are both proud of you.

Anonymous said...

I have read all of Dusty's book's.I enjoyed each of them.Keep up the good work Dusty.See ya on the big screen.

mint said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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