Thursday, September 27, 2007

Forthcoming Westerns: October 2007

Another month is behind us, which means there is another full slate of new releases set to hit bookstore shelves. And there is no disappointment in this list of upcoming titles. We have a few classic writers—Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Bret Harte and Les Savage—and a few new favorites—J. Lee Butts and Joseph A. West. There is something of the traditional western represented, and even a few that probably don’t fit perfectly into that mold.

Overall, October looks to be a terrific month for Western reading, and as the days—for our North American, or should I say Northern Hemisphere, readers anyway—begin to shorten we can look forward to a few extra evening hours to buddy up with a novel or two. Enjoy.

October 1st
A Protégées of Jack Hamlin’s by Bret Harte
The Argonauts of North Liberty by Bret Harte
The Bell-Ringer Angel’s by Bret Harte
Trent’s Trust and Other Stories by Bret Harte
The Everlasting Whisper by Jackson Gregory
The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey

Description for Holding the Ace Card:

“Hired gun Lou Bellanger has just started his poker game when the law catches up with him. But the fastest draw in Arizona Territory manages to make a daring escape and is just starting to breathe easy when he hears the sheriff had been killed in cold blood. The last thing Lou wants to do is go back to that hostile town and clear his name. Besides, he had a job to do—a job that ends up leading straight into an all-out range war. With a posse ready to string him up for murder at his back and a gang of bloodthirsty hardcases ahead of him, Lou better have more than an ace up his sleeve if he hopes to stay alive.”

October 2nd
The Baron Brand by Jory Sherman
The Baron Range by Jory Sherman
The Barons of Texas by Jory Sherman
Bitter Wind by Wayne D. Overholser
Holding the Ace Card by Lauran Paine
The Lawless West by Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Max Brand
Nate Coffin’s Revenge by J. Lee Butts
West of the Law by Ralph Compton and Joseph A. West
The Trailsman: Shanghaied Six-Gun (#312) by Jon Sharpe
Trouble Hunter by Fred Grove
Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth by Henry Nash Smith
The Zane Grey Frontier Trilogy: Betty Zane, The Last Trail, & The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
Last Gunfighter: Hell Town by William W. Johnstone

Description for Ralph Compton’s West of the Law:

“Ordered to head west when a New York gangster puts a price on his head for killing his son, Detective Sergeant John McBride ends up in High Hopes, Colorado-a lawless boomtown where McBride quickly runs afoul of corrupt saloon owner Gamble Trask and his vicious hired guns.”

October 9th
The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations: Volume 3 by Louis L’Amour

October 16th
The World in Pancho’s Eye by J.P.S. Brown

October 17th
Melody and Cordoba by Max Brand
Wolves of the Sundown Trail by Les Savage

Description for Longarm in Hell’s Half Acre:

“After U.S. Deputy Marshal Custis Long blasts a killer to hell in an epic gunfight, he seeks respite in Hell's Half Acre, home of barely dressed women, drunks, gamblers, tinhorns, and outlaws. Looks like Longarm's vacation is gonna be a working one.”

October 30th
Bar-20 Days by Clarence E. Mulford
Bar-20 Three by Clarence E. Mulford
The Coming of Cassidy by Clarence E. Mulford
The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Vol. 5 by Louis L'Amour
The Gunsmith: To Reap and to Sow (#311) by J.R. Roberts
Gunsmith Giant: The Knights of Misery (#12) by J.R. Roberts
Hangman’s Creek / Jury of Six by Matt Braun
Longarm in Hell’s Half Acre (#348) by Tabor Evans
Slocum and the Widow’s Range War (#345) by Jake Logan

Black Horse Westerns scheduled for release in October

Description for No Second Chance:

“The name, Cole Adams, was known to too many people - lawmen, outlaws, kin of folk he was said to have murdered during violent robberies.But was he guilty of these crimes or had someone been using his name? Riding innocently into town, beard-shagged and buckskin pockets bulging with gold nuggets, he walked right into trouble.There were bullets with his name on them - and, always, the shadow of a noose hanging above him.”

October 31st
Man of Blood by Lee LeJeune
No Second Chance by Clayton Nash
A Place Called Jeopardy by Eugene Clifton
Winter’s War by Matthew P. Mayo

A Note: It can be difficult to find upcoming release dates for small press titles, so if you are an author or a publisher and would like to see your book listed on our monthly Preview post send me an email.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scouting the Web

■ The next big Western release is upon us. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one strange beast: a $30 million film which for some odd reason went the limited release route. Based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen, it's generated relatively favorable reviews as well as some interesting media coverage. Among the latter figures this piece from The Washington Post on the "real" Jesse James.

Ivan Doig will receive the 2007 Wallace Stegner Award for his contribution to the American West.

■ Some of the commentaries in this blog have alluded to the need to expand the number of topics that Westerns traditionally deal with. Others have suggested mixing Westerns with other genres such as mysteries (for some examples, see this excellent January Magazine article by Bill Crider from a while back) or even horror and fantasy. While this might attract newer readers it can also alienate some Western purists, among whom I tend to count myself.

Emma Bull brings us a Western with fantastic elements in her latest novel, Territory. Described as "a 'retelling' of the events between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton and the McLaury brothers in Tombstone," it is the subject of a glowing review in the latest edition of Bookslut (don't be deceived by its name. It is a pretty good online publication and its blog was once listed by The Guardian as one of the top 10 literary blogs on the web).

■ The latest issue of True West magazine is out. Its online version includes an in-depth article on 3:10 to Yuma but I'd recommend everyone to grap a copy of the magazine, if only for its excellent article on Frederic Remington and his use of photographies in some of his paintings.

■ Last time, I mentioned Many as an excellent resource for online, out-of-print Westerns. Well, here's another one: Its Westerns section is a sight to behold.

■ The latest online issue of Western writer Chap O'Keefe's Black Horse Extra is also out. The September - November 2007 edition includes an interview with Black Horse Westerns (BHW) cover artist Michael Thomas as well as its very entertaining news and trivia section, "Hoofprints".

I can not stress enough what a remarkable job the UK-based publisher Robert Hale Publishing is doing to help keep the Western alive via BHW and its monthly output of new titles. BHW authors maintain a robust presence on the web, including the online magazine The Black Horse Express as well as a very lively Yahoo Group.

■ The 59th Primetime Emmy Awards were recently unveiled. In spite of leading in the number of nominations, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Broken Trail did not win nearly as many awards. The ones they did earn, however, speak for themselves.

Broken Trail obtained the Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special as well as for Outstanding Miniseries. Cast members Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church earned statuettes for leading actor and supporting actor, respectively. Meanwhile, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was named best made-for-TV movie.

■ The Overlook Press has issued a new edition of Charles Portis' classic True Grit with an afterword by Donna Tartt (not a Western writer but the author, nonetheless, of one of my favorite novels: The Secret History). The reprint is the subject of an interesting commentary in Paper Cuts, The New York Times' book blog.

■ In his blog, Robert B. Parker muses some more about the upcoming feature film based on his Western novel Appaloosa. The project was green lighted by New Line Cinema in April and it will star Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen. According to the MTV Movies Blog, Jeremy Irons has just signed on to join the all-star ensemble.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: James Reasoner

James Reasoner is a prolific writer who has written in several genres—including westerns, mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction. He recently received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly for his private eye novel Dust Devils, and no matter if he is writing a house name series western or something under his own name, his work is dependably tight, well-plotted, and extremely readable.

He is married to fellow western writer Livia Washburn, and they live on a working ranch in Azle, Texas.

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with us James.

I’m happy to do it.

“One of the biggest changes in the publishing world since I started writing has been the consolidation of publishers, with huge multinational corporations now owning half-a-dozen or more imprints that used to be independent publishers.”

I recently read that you finished your 200th published novel. Congratulations. When you typed “the end” on number 200, did it feel differently than your 100th, or 50th novel? How has the publishing world changed between your first novel and 200th? And if you can tell us, what was the title of number 200?

Reaching 200 novels was a milestone I enjoyed because it meant that I’ve been able to stay around in this business for quite a while. When I started out I thought writing 100 novels in a career would be pretty good, but I’ve had to revise that number upward over the years. Now I don’t really have a numerical goal like that anymore; I just want to keep writing good books, books that I enjoy, for as long as I can. However many that turns out to be is just fine with me.

One of the biggest changes in the publishing world since I started writing has been the consolidation of publishers, with huge multinational corporations now owning half-a-dozen or more imprints that used to be independent publishers. This has led to the shrinking of the mid-list, with lines that were still profitable being cancelled because they weren’t profitable enough.

From the technological end, though, things are much better now. My first two novels were written with a fountain pen in spiral notebooks, then typed up on a manual typewriter. Writing on a computer is so much easier, and the ease with which you can revise a manuscript makes for better writing in the long run, I think. Plus some of the publishers prefer that books be delivered to them via e-mail now, and I love that. Press a few buttons, and like it had wings, that manuscript is on its way to New York.

As for #200 on my list of books . . . it was a house-name Western (as was #100, but in a different series), so I can’t really get too specific about what it was.

While we’re talking about your publishing history, what was the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?

My first novel was Texas Wind, a private eye novel set in Fort Worth. I’ve always loved mysteries, private eye novels especially, and wanted to write one. But I didn’t know anything about Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco, where most such books are usually set, so I decided to follow the old adage about writing what you know. I grew up in the Fort Worth area, so I decided to set my PI novel there.

The book was written (with a fountain pen, as I mentioned) between November 7, 1978, and February 14, 1979. I think this is the first time those exact dates have been mentioned in print. My wife Livia typed the manuscript, I revised it a little (based on some suggestions she made), and she typed up a final draft. Then we went to a drugstore with a coin-operated copy machine and copied it, page by page, so I wouldn’t have to submit my only copy of the final draft.

I began sending it to publishers I found listed in Writer’s Market. No luck. I sent it to a well-known agent and paid him a couple of hundred bucks to read it. (I know, never, ever do that, but I was young and ignorant.) No luck. I’d been buying and reading some paperbacks (mostly mysteries and action/adventure) published by a company in New York called Manor Books. I sent the manuscript of Texas Wind to them. This would have been sometime in late 1979.

They sent me a contract.

Once I got over the shock of seeing an actual publishing contract in the mailbox, I looked at the advance Manor planned to pay me for the book and said, “Is that all?” It wasn’t much. $600.00, if I remember correctly. I thought books earned a lot more than that. But I signed the contract anyway and sent it back. If nothing else, at least I would have a published novel to my credit. I’d sold quite a few short stories by then and was also writing some of the Mike Shayne stories in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine under the name Brett Halliday, but this would be a real book. And so it was, in October of 1980, when the book came out—exactly at the time when Manor’s distribution contracts collapsed, so that very few copies ever made it to the stands.

They never paid me the six hundred bucks, either.

You have had a long career—you have written in several different genres and published extensively in both novel form and short stories. Is there a specific genre or format you enjoy working in the best? If you could choose would you concentrate on shorter works or novels?

I started out as a mystery writer, so I guess that’s really where my heart is. I get bored easily, though, so I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to write in many different genres. They all have their own particular appeal for me. I love writing the occasional short story between novels, but if I had to pick one or the other it would be novels because I like having that bigger canvas to work on. Luckily, I don’t have to choose.

“The actual writing process is pretty much the same for me regardless of what name is going on the book. I take a lot of pride in the work and I have to entertain myself as I’m writing, first and foremost.”

You have written a great number of novels under house names such as Tabor Evans, Hank Mitchum, and Jon Sharpe, but you have also published extensively under your own name and pseudonyms. When you write under a house name do you approach it differently than your other work? Do you enjoy writing them, and if you can would you briefly explain how the series writing works? Do you have any responsibility for promotion, or does the publisher prefer you stay quiet about your authorship?

The actual writing process is pretty much the same for me regardless of what name is going on the book. I take a lot of pride in the work and I have to entertain myself as I’m writing, first and foremost. Everything else comes after that. There is a certain sense of freedom in writing a book when you know your name won’t be on it. You won’t get any of the blame if it’s terrible. But that’s balanced out by the fact that you don’t get any credit for the good ones, either. And I don’t want to write terrible books, anyway. I want them all to be as good as I can make them.

Most of the contracts for house-name books specify that the author can’t claim them publicly, so those of us who write them do very little, if any, publicity or promotion for them. As time goes on, though, and series end, the need to keep quiet about such things loosens up considerably. A lot of the house-name books I’ve written in the past are now listed on my website ( I ghost-write books for other authors on a fairly regular basis, and those deals, by necessity, are pretty much a secret and are likely to remain so.

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

I read well over a hundred books every year and have for more than forty years now. I can’t imagine life without a steady diet of fiction. Most of my reading is genre fiction, with an emphasis on mysteries and Westerns, but really, I read a little bit of everything.

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

I’ve been a Western reader for as far back as I can remember, having discovered Clarence E. Mulford (the Hopalong Cassidy books), Max Brand, and Zane Grey at an early age. I also read a lot of Western novels from the pulp era that were reprinted during the Sixties, such as the ones about Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, the Rio Kid, and the Masked Rider. And I’ve always loved Western movies and TV shows. How could I not, growing up in the late Fifties and early Sixties, when they were so prevalent? One of my early, early stories (we’re talking fifth grade here) was a Western. I wrote about 25,000 words of a Lone Ranger novel when I was in high school. (The manuscript is long, long gone, I’m sure.) But I never gave much thought to being a professional Western writer.

Then, after selling Texas Wind and three novels written in collaboration with my wife Livia (a historical romance called The Emerald Land, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1983 under the pseudonym Livia James, a contemporary romance that a major publisher bought and paid for but never published for a variety of reasons, and a novel ghosted for another author that remains a secret), I hit a dry spell. I had gotten an agent, but that relationship never really worked out. I wrote proposal after proposal but couldn’t sell any of them. My short story markets had dried up to the point that I was thrilled to get $60.00 for a pseudonymous sale to a men’s magazine.

While looking through Writer’s Digest I saw an ad from a book packaging company called Book Creations Inc. that was looking for writers. BCI was run by Lyle Kenyon Engel, a book packager who had been around for a long time. I was most familiar with him from the Nick Carter, Killmaster series published by Award Books, which I’d been reading for years. Engel had put that deal together with Award back in the Sixties and hired numerous paperback authors to write the books anonymously. After seeing that ad I wrote to Mr. Engel, sent him copies of Texas Wind and The Emerald Land, and told him that I’d be interested in writing books for his company. He agreed to take me on, and the first assignment I got from BCI was for a book in the Stagecoach series, which they were currently producing for Bantam. That turned out to be #27 in the series, Pecos. I had no trouble with it and found that I really enjoyed writing Westerns. I got along well with all the editors at BCI, I had a habit of turning my books in early, and they gave me more and more work, so that I wound up writing around fifty novels for them, in half-a-dozen or more different series, mostly Western or historical. My work for BCI gave me enough credits and contacts in the publishing business that I was able to expand to working for other publishers on other house-name series, as well as selling quite a few books under my own name.

“Robert E. Howard, who wrote a lot of things other than Westerns, of course, has had a huge influence on my writing. A. Leslie Scott, Tom Curry, and Walker Tompkins, who wrote most of those Jim Hatfield novels under the house-name Jackson Cole, certainly had an influence on me. I went through a long period where I read a lot of novels by Luke Short (whose real name was Frederick Glidden) and Walt Coburn.”

Who are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

In addition to the ones mentioned above, I’ve read practically everybody who was published in the Western pulps during the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, as well as all the authors of paperback originals from the Fifties on (and there’s some overlap in that group). Robert E. Howard, who wrote a lot of things other than Westerns, of course, has had a huge influence on my writing. A. Leslie Scott, Tom Curry, and Walker Tompkins, who wrote most of those Jim Hatfield novels under the house-name Jackson Cole, certainly had an influence on me. I went through a long period where I read a lot of novels by Luke Short (whose real name was Frederick Glidden) and Walt Coburn. In recent years I’ve become a big fan of Lewis B. Patten.

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

Most of the really good Western authors from the pulp era have had work reprinted in recent years—Walt Coburn, T.T. Flynn, Peter Dawson (who was really Jonathan Glidden, Fred Glidden’s brother), H.A. De Rosso, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment. But they were so prolific back in those days that there are still plenty of good stories that haven’t been reprinted. So I hope more of their work continues to show up in new editions.

You also write mysteries, and it seems there has been—both historically as well as today—a significant amount of authors who do good work in both genres. Do you think there is a relationship between the mystery and the western that promotes this crossover, or is it simply the economics of professional writing?

I’m sure economics has something to do with it, but the private eye genre supposedly grew out of the Western dime novel tradition, so if there’s any truth to that theory—and I think you can make a case for it—the two genres are naturally intertwined and always have been. Plus there’s nearly always some sort of crime or mystery element in Western novels, so people who can do a good job in one genre are usually a good fit in the other, as well. One of my favorite writers, for example, is Ed Gorman, whose Western novels are, if anything, more noirish than his mystery novels and always concern crimes of some sort.

The mystery genre is thriving, but many believe the western is in decline. What do you think about the western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

The Western genre has been hurt more than any other by the consolidation of publishers, the shrinking mid-list, and the best-seller mentality. There are also problems in the distribution system that keep Westerns from getting out there into the discount stores, grocery stores, and drugstores, where they’re most likely to sell. A considerable number of Westerns are still being published, they’re just harder to find than they used to be. And with Western readers generally being older, they’re probably less likely to buy their books on-line. But Westerns are still out there if you make the effort to locate them, and as far as I can tell, their sales numbers seem to be in a sort of holding pattern, having fallen considerably during the second half of the Nineties but staying fairly steady since then. Publishers who have done all right with Westerns continue to do so. New lines start up every now and then, and while none of them have caught on and been really successful, they give the genre an upward bump for a while. So, while there is a continuing gradual decline in the popularity of Westerns, it’s slow enough so that I don’t think they’ll ever go away completely, at least not in our lifetimes. That’s certainly my hope, anyway.

As for the quality of the Westerns being written today, well, I’m not sure it’s ever been higher. I’d start naming names, but practically everybody in the field is a friend of mine and I’m afraid I’d forget somebody. I think you can pick up just about any new Western and be confident that you’ll get a very well-written, entertaining story.

Okay, now lets get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

I’ve had two novels published under my name this year: Dust Devils, a crime novel published by Point Blank Press that received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and excellent reviews from some of the leading websites; and Death Head Crossing, a Western with strong mystery elements that’s just been published by Pinnacle Books.

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

It’s one of those ghost jobs that has to remain top secret as far as title and by-line go, but I will say that it’s a big contemporary thriller.

Beyond that I have a number of house-name books and ghosting projects lined up, plus lending a small hand to the plotting and editing of the novels my wife writes.

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

Another Texas-set crime novel along the lines of Dust Devils. I’ve got my title and some of the plot, now I just need to find the time to write it.
Also, I wrote three novels about World War II—the Last Good War series, published by Forge Books—and I would love to write something else about the war, probably an espionage-oriented thriller. (So if there are any editors reading this who are looking for something like that, give me a call!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Saddlebums Movie Review: Cimarron

(Saddlebums is glad to present the first of what we hope will be many contributions by Doug Bentin, redoubtable Western fan who hails from San Antonio, Texas and presently lives in Oklahoma. Doug writes film reviews for eFilmCritic! and book reviews (mostly Westerns) for the most indispensable website Bookgasm. His personal blog is The Long Saturday of the Soul.)

2007 is Oklahoma’s centennial year so I thought I’d take a look at a movie that explores what it took to carve a state out of some pretty wild country.

The movie is “Cimarron,” released in 1931 and based on the 1929 bestseller by Edna Ferber. Richard Dix stars as Yancy Cravat, based on the real life Temple Houston, son of Sam Houston. Temple was a lawyer in Woodward, OK, from 1894 to his death in 1905, and a couple of moments in the movie draw on Temple’s court room style. During his defense of soiled dove Dixie Lee — Minnie Stacey in real life — Yancy says of his trial opponent, “Your honor, the prosecutor is the first man that I've ever seen that can strut while sitting down.” His closing argument to the jury is also taken from Temple’s defense of Minnie Stacey in 1899.

It’s too bad “Cimarron” doesn’t depict my favorite Temple Houston anecdote, as retold in Glenn Shirley’s fine biography of the man. Once, Temple asked to use the judge’s chamber as a place he and his client could talk in private. The request was granted but, after lawyer and client failed to reappear in court in a reasonable amount of time, Temple was discovered sitting alone in the room with the window wide open. “I gave him the best advice I could,” Houston quipped.

Okay, all this is fun but it only comments on the movie by pointing out that much of the characterization, plot, and background are drawn from times that had passed only 40 years before the film was made. The filming of “Cimarron” is much closer in time to the great Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 than it is to us today and most of the pleasure the movie delivers is due to its authenticity.

The Internet Movie Database reports that the land rush scene took a week to film, using 5,000 extras, 28 cameramen, 6 still photographers and 27 camera assistants. It holds up beautifully today and if young people watching the movie think they’re seeing newsreel footage of the actual event, it’s almost understandable.

The picture follows footloose Yancy and his bride Sabra (the always luminous Irene Dunne) as they travel west so Yancy can set up a newspaper and practice law. They arrive first in the bustling frontier city of Osage, one of those Insta-Cities that popped up out of the prairie after the first land run.

These early scenes in Osage are fascinating in their depiction of the noise, confusion and crowded conditions. We meet many of the human types who made the run—good guys and bad guys—but most prominently for dramatic purposes a Jewish peddler, a stammering printer’s devil, and a young African-American boy who the Cravats discover stowed away with them.

The movie lets us know that yonderin’ fellas like Yancy, who took their brains and skills from one frontier outpost to the next, were what the west needed if it ever hoped to settle down. The tragedy for civilizers like Yancy was that they couldn’t feel at home when civilization did grow roots, and they were doomed from the start to run out of room and out of time. The new state they created didn’t need roughnecks and pioneers.

“Cimarron” was the first western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Dix and Dunne were both nominated for Oscars, but neither took one home. About a lot of older movies you say metaphorically, “Well, that one is just an historical document,” but “Cimarron” is special because it actually is an historical document.

Oh, and one more note about something that is neither here nor there. Sabra Cravat’s mother, featured in one early scene in the movie, is played by a stage actress named Nance O’Neil. If you’ve ever heard of her, it probably isn’t in connection with her career as an actress but for the fact that during the early 20th Century she was the best friend of the infamous Lizzie Borden. Were they really, as some folks claim, lovers? Don’t axe, don’t tell.
— Doug Bentin.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Elizabeth Fackler

Western and mystery writer Elizabeth Fackler is best known for her critically-acclaimed Seth Strummar series, which has been described as a saga of sexual politics on the American frontier. Her Westerns are characterized by a grittiness that owes to careful historical observation and realistic characterizations, making her novels truly groundbreaking depictions of the West.

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.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Tales from Deadwood by Mike Jameson

Tales from Deadwood is the first in a series of three novels featuring a lavish mixture of dime-novel mythology, historical fact, plenty of action, and a whole lot of the Old West, which sums to an original and fresh novel. It chronicles the lives of several men and women who make their way to Deadwood, South Dakota in search of wealth on the newly discovered gold of the Black Hills, including all of the regular players: Wild Bill Hickok, Charley Utter, Al Swearengen, Calamity Jane; and a few new ones as well.

Dan Ryan is the central character in the story, and the novel opens with him defending a wagon train from an Indian attack. He, along with the other men in the party, repel the attack, and Dan makes a new friend in the process. He and Bellamy Bridges decide to partner up, and when they finally reach Deadwood they purchase a claim. The relationship between Dan and Bellamy—plus a few whores, a madam, a gambler, and an old general—is the main storyline, but it isn’t the only storyline.

The other plotline follows Wild Bill Hickok and his entourage as they travel from Cheyenne to Deadwood. Wild Bill doesn’t make it to Deadwood before the end of the novel, but Mr. Jameson does an admirable job of painting him as a strong, courageous, patient, and kind man who protects his friends and shows uncommon patience with his admirers.

Tales from Deadwood is not a rip-off of HBO’s Deadwood, but instead it is story that stands on its own merits—the characters are portrayed significantly different, and the storyline focuses on places and people the television series does not. It is a traditional western with enough action, lore, and suspense to please the core readership of the genre, but the characters and simple, sparse prose is done with the economy and expertise that will also appeal to nearly anyone who enjoys a well-told tale.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Stephen Lodge

Stephen Lodge is an old hand in Hollywood. He was introduced to “B” Westerns as a young boy, and he has loved the genre ever since. He began acting professionally at the age of twelve, and when he was sixteen he performed at the Corrigan Western Movie Ranch. His first writing credit came on the James Coburn film The Honkers, and since then he has written or directed three major film productions including the Kenny Rogers television film Rio Diablo.

Mr. Lodge has also written several Western novels, including
Shadows of Eagles, Nickel-Plated Dream and Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit. The Midwest Book Review has described his writing “like dripping pigments on a canvas, Mr. Lodge’s descriptive phrases bring the characters to full-size dimension.”

You have had an impressive career in Hollywood, as an actor, writer, director, and even stuntman. What are a few of your most memorable moments working in film and television?

First was finding out I sold my first script. Number two was getting the call telling me that I’d sold number two. And since I’ve only had three produced, you should already know the answer to the third.

Also, when I walked onto the CBS Studio Center lot for the very first time, knowing full well it had been Republic Pictures in years past; then walking the back lot and seeing all the old Western sets I had been in love with since childhood.

Doing the same thing at the Columbia Ranch; MGM Lot #2; The Warner Bros. back lot; Universal Back Lot; walking around the Hal Roach studio right before it was demolished; visiting Iverson’s Ranch for the first time; Melody Ranch; same with Corriganville, etc. etc. etc. You can see I was almost as impressed by the sets and locations as I was the actors.

You wrote the Kenny Rogers television movie Rio Diablo. It had a large and impressive cast including Stacy Keach, and musicians Travis Tritt and Naomi Judd. What was your experience working on this film? Would you do it again?

I was recovering from a serious illness when Rio Diablo was shot. I didn’t work on the show; but my wife and I flew to location in Brackettville, Texas, and spent time on the Alamo Village set with my writing partners, Frank Q. Dobbs, and David S. Cass, Sr. I took a lot of photos which are available on my Behind the Scenes web site; you can get there through:

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

I read mostly non-fiction politically oriented books; but when I read fiction it’s usually Western based.

“I learned to write by reading every script my aunt and uncle brought me. My aunt worked for Columbia Pictures, so I had access to every script Columbia produced and released.”

I have read that you were enthralled with film and theater as a boy. Are there any films or plays that had a particular impact on your development as a writer?

I learned to write by reading every script my aunt and uncle brought me. My aunt worked for Columbia Pictures, so I had access to every script Columbia produced and released. My uncle worked in TV, so I got to read a lot of television scripts, too. The one script I have used as my bible over the years is Carl Foreman’s The Guns of Navarone.

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

Without a doubt it was getting our first television set when I was five years old. Because early television needed to fill all those empty hours, they showed old B-Westerns from dawn to dusk. I fell in love with Westerns (the western genre) the very first time I saw one.

What are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

First and foremost, Clair Huffaker (The War Wagon, Rio Conchos, Flaming Star); a friend introduced me to him when I was writing my first novel 25 years ago, and he was kind enough to walk me through the basics; second is Burt Kennedy, who wrote some really great Western movies. Today I like reading Elmer Kelton novels.

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

Burt Kennedy–the stories he wrote for those Bud Boetticher-Randolph Scott Westerns are unbeatable. My favorite of Burt’s is The Name is Buchanan; plus The Tall T, his screen adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel.

“Western novelists are still turning out some really good stories. But I can’t say that much for Hollywood. The Westerns I’ve watched recently are all too touchy-feely for me.”

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

Western novelists are still turning out some really good stories. But I can’t say that much for Hollywood. The Westerns I’ve watched recently are all too touchy-feely for me. As for the future of Westerns, I hope they become popular once again; but who knows–our nation’s youth just doesn’t seem to be interested in reading Westerns today like they did in the past. Plus, there is a certain element in this country who continue to put Westerns down; in particular the Cowboy. Until something really big Western comes along to convince this country that Western novels and movies aren’t so bad after all, I’ll just have to keep plugging along.

Okay, now I want to get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

The current title is Whiskey Tears. Two young and boastful Texas racecar drivers are hired by a fading country star’s new manager to retrieve the intoxicated thrush from a low-life cantina in a Mexican border-town where she has ended up after one of her booze-filled tangents. Whiskey Tears is looking for a publisher.

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

Besides Whiskey Tears, I have several other novels in the works; that way I can switch from one to another whenever I go blank.

At present, I’m putting together a book that will include all of my Hollywood Western essays, plus behind the scenes photos I’ve taken on various movie sets throughout my life.

Is there a particular novel of yours you would recommend to a reader who is unfamiliar with your work?

Nickel-plated Dream is based on a period in my life that I still hold dearly–when I worked as a stuntman-gunfighter for Ray “Crash” Corrigan, at his movie ranch, Corriganville. Though the story is fiction, it is based loosely on my personal experiences.

Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit is about a sensible, sober-minded Texas grandfather who imparts the American Cowboy legacy to his only grandchild as he and several of his grizzled cronies concoct a 1,000-mile longhorn cattle drive across 21st Century America.

Both should give anyone a nice introduction into my writing.

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?

I would love to work in some way on the movie version of my very first novel, Shadows of Eagles, which is presently out of publication. It’s a 1944-era Western that pits escaped Nazi prisoners against a posse of determined Texas Rangers. It’s historically correct in the fact that the United States had POW camps on US soil during World War II. And it's set in the Texas Big Bend, one of my favorite places to be.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Scouting the Web

It’s 3:10 to Yuma weekend and naturally all things West in the media are revolving around its screening this Friday.

■ Here’s a very thorough piece on the making of the film from the Hollywood Reporter. While we’re on the subject, The New York Times recently ran a very interesting article on Elmore Leonard’s Westerns on the screen, focused (as expected) on 3:10 to Yuma. And here’s an extensive interview with the film’s screenwriting team of Derek Haas and Michael Brandt.

The New York Post takes the opportunity to touch on the business (or, to be more exact, box office) side of film Westerns, focusing on how Hollywood is banking on four movie releases (two of which I wouldn’t technically consider Westerns, but what the heck) to “bridge the gap between this summer's $4 billion box office and the release of the end-of-year award contenders.”

According to the brief article, “Only three Westerns have grossed more than $100 million at the box office since 1980, and aside from ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ none of the Western-themed films released since 2000 has touched $70 million.”

■ It seems that 3:10 to Yuma has inspired everyone to make its own list of favorite Westerns. Here’s one from movie website, while First enumerates its “Top Four Recommended Westerns to Watch Before Seeing 3:10 to Yuma.” Not to be one-upped, The Onion comes up with its own list of “17 Truly Grim Westerns.”

■ For Western art lovers, there’s a new magazine in town: Western Art Collector. Its voluminous first issue reads like a veritable fine art catalog with pages and pages of beautifully reproduced illustrations. You can take a sneak peek at its contents here.

■ The Spring 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books has an article on Larry McMurtry and the American West.

■ An excellent online resource for out-of-print fiction, Many has a vast Westerns library, including several turn-of the-century titles as well as novels and audio books from Max Brand, Bret Harte, Zane Grey, James Oliver Curwood, O. Henry, Clarence E. Mulford, Owen Wister and personal favorite Karl May (best known for his character Winnetou).

Ozarks Magazine recently ran a very nice profile of Dusty Richards.

■ Even if it’s not strictly Western-related, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, a new online publication dedicated to reviving pulp fiction, includes two items that might be of interest to Saddlebums readers: an interview with Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale and a very entertaining short story from newcomer Brad Reed, entitled “The Rude Tin Star.”

■ And finally, Venice’s film festival pays tribute to the "Spaghetti Western" this year by screening more than 30 Italian cowboy flicks.