Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Randy Denmon

Writer/engineer Randy Denmon is a lifelong resident of Monroe, Louisiana. Prior to publication, his first book, The Lawless Frontier, was a finalist of the National Writers Association’s annual novel contest. After being picked up by Kensington, the title was eventually shortlisted for the 2007 Spur for Best Original Paperback Novel. Seven-time Spur Award winner Elmer Kelton called The Lawless Frontier an "impressive debut" whereas National Book Award laureate Tim O'Brien hailed it as "well-written and engrossing."

The author, a US Army veteran of the Gulf War, has also written two more novels that are presently awaiting publication. One of them tells the story of two Texas Rangers during the Mexican-American War while his third novel deals with a Marine in Central America during the interwar years.

Did you ever write or publish anything before The Lawless Frontier ?

The Lawless Frontier was my first novel, no publications prior. It started out as a collection of short stories that I eventually turned into a novel.

What led you to start writing fiction in the first place? Why did you choose a Western or historical novel if you will to make your debut?

The Lawless Frontier started out as historical fiction. That was the intent anyway. It was eventually turned into a western because the editor at Kensington, Gary Goldstein, liked the story, but wanted to publish it in the western genre. I was then required to make the appropriate changes to have the novel conform. I guess you could say that the publishing industry and market turned my first book into a western. But it turned out fine.

Can you cite any authors as influences or inspiration for your work? What authors are you presently reading? How about writers in the Western genre?

There’s so many, I don’t know where to start. With some writers, I really like their stories, but not their styles, with others, it’s just the opposite. For a good combination of both, I’d say Elmore Leonard.

The writing in your novel is very polished and showcases a self-assured prose that is not always usual for authors making their debut. Did you place lot of emphasis on crafting the perfect sentence or were you more concerned with your writing being serviceable to the fast-paced nature of The Lawless Frontier?

Don’t think I’ve ever crafted a sentence, at least not from conception, but I do try to be bold – put the words down exactly as they flow from the mind, sometimes with a lot of disregard for the grammar rules. Terse, with a lot of quick stop and starts is always good for me. Though, I do find myself going back and cleaning up a lot of sentences after the fact.

"I try to go out of my way to depict this and point out the parallels and ironies with the past. Much of what has happened in the past is relevant and parallel to things today: current problems and concerns, both on a grand scale or on the personal level."

How much research into the history of the Mexican Revolution went into your novel? Does research play a large role in your writing?

I do a lot of research, and the research does aid in the writing. It gives me ideas about what to put on paper that will correctly reflect the time and setting. The first person narratives from a certain time and place are the best. They tell me what the people were actually doing, thinking, worrying about, etc. I always seem to pick up ideas from these.

Throughout your novel, characters like Stewart Cook make comments about foreign entanglements and life in countries with politically volatile situations. What led you to write about Americans caught in the middle of the Mexican Revolution? Did you consciously set out to draw some parallels between that historical episode and current events?

I lived in Mexico at one time and have always been fascinated with the place. It is, like America, a land of contradictions, good and bad. This is true with all of us also.

I try to go out of my way to depict this and point out the parallels and ironies with the past. Much of what has happened in the past is relevant and parallel to things today: current problems and concerns, both on a grand scale or on the personal level.

Could you describe the critical reception that your first novel garnered? How about National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien’s words of praise for the novel? After all, it is pretty unusual to see a so-called mainstream author raving about genre fiction.

All of the awards and accolades are just great. They are one of the few bonuses you receive in this business that is much more work than rewards. For me, they’ve seemed to motivate me as well as provide me with some satisfaction that my work is being enjoyed.

Tim O'Brien is a great guy. I met him at a writers' event in San Angelo, Texas. It [is] a conference they have there every year that Elmer Kelton is a part of. I talked to Tim about the book and other things. [H]e agreed to read the book and give me a blurb if he liked it, which he followed through on.

"I’ve (...) learned that publishers are not in the business for awards and acclaim, but to make a profit. They would rather publish something that is bad that sells than vice versa. Actually, if [I] had any advice to aspiring writers it would [be] to grasp this concept and not fight it – which we all have a tendency to do."

The Lawless Frontier is being ostensibly marketed as a Western. Did you have any say in this? Did you come up with the title and/or have any say about the cover illustration? This is not to say there is anything wrong with either, but I am asking you this in view of how many good novels (such as yours) are often overlooked by critics and even the public at large because they happen to be associated with a non-mainstream genre such as Westerns, mysteries, etc.

As I mentioned before, I had no say in the fact that the novel was marketed as a western; no say in the title or cover. No say in the marketing at all. I would have liked to have had a more mainstream title and cover. But I was essentially told it would be marketed as a western. In today’s climate and marketplace, first novelists have little clout, and they generally have to do as the publishers request if they want to get into print. I have learned since that it is easier to get genre fiction from lesser known writers into bookstores – probably why the publishers take the routes they do. I’ve also learned that publishers are not in the business for awards and acclaim, but to make a profit. They would rather publish something that is bad that sells than vice versa. Actually, if [I] had any advice to aspiring writers it would [be] to grasp this concept and not fight it – which we all have a tendency to do.

Every few years or so there is talk about Westerns making a comeback, comments that usually revolve around the success of TV productions such as Deadwood or recent films like 3:10 to Yuma. What is your assessment of the present state of Westerns and, more specifically, Western fiction?

Westerns are definitely making a comeback, both on screen and in print. The national sales numbers are in an upward trend, and many more bookstores have plans to create western sections. I’ve been lucky in this regard – hitting the market at the right time. And only recently, The Lawless Frontier was optioned for a movie by a Hollywood production company. There’s probably a 50 percent chance it will get made in some form. I have my fingers crossed.

Is your second book also a historical novel? Could you tell us more about it and also when will it go out on sale?

My second book is about two Texas Rangers fighting in the Texas Revolution and Mexican American War. In some ways, it’s similar to The Lawless Frontier, at least in its attempt point out many of the ironies of the past and their relevance to today. The publisher is still working on the title and publication date. Hopefully, sometime next year. I’m still not getting much say in the title, but it probably will be The Savage Breed or Legions of Vengeance. I’m hoping for the latter.

Are you planning to write more novels featuring the characters from The Lawless Frontier? Are you planning to keep on writing Westerns or historical novels or do you see your writing going in other directions in the future?

No more stories based on The Lawless Frontier, but my third book, now complete, is about the Marines fighting in Central American during the 1930s. I’m going to hold out to have this published as mainstream fiction – I hope. I’ll probably always only write historical stuff. It’s what I like, but I certainly plan to write more westerns, hopefully more contemporary westerns like what I consider The Lawless Frontier.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saddlebums Review: The Lawless Frontier

Louisiana writer Randy Denmon surprised many members of the Western community when apparently out of the blue his debut title The Lawless Frontier was short listed for the 2007 Spur Award for Best Original Paperback Novel. The book is indeed rare given how it reads like the effort of an experienced author, exhibiting the taut prose that is characteristic of some of the best traditional Westerns along with a story of breadth and resounding scope.

Set during the Mexican Revolution, The Lawless Frontier pits two U.S. war veterans and partners-in-arms of the Spanish-American War into the heart of the bloody conflict south of the border. The taciturn, half Mexican, half Texan attorney Stewart Cook asks his former comrade Myles Adams, now a liaison officer for the U.S. War Department, to accompany him to Mexico for a most fateful mission: rescue his romantic interest Alexia García and her family before the rebel troops of Pancho Villa ravage her hometown. The enterprise’s prospects for success pale compared to the chance that the two men will make it out alive. And yet, before one thinks he is faced with the typical Western yarn where the adventurers beat insurmountable odds and outshoot every bandit in sight, Denmon starts to weave a far more ambitious tale.

Adams and Cook are the unwitting witnesses of a vicious strife in a foreign yet neighboring land. Through their eyes the reader sees the plight of refugees leaving their towns before they are pillaged as anarchy encroaches the country. Through their interaction with other characters, Denmon also alludes to the Wilson administration’s hesitancy to intervene in the conflict, reflecting on the nature of foreign entanglements and drawing interesting parallels between past and present.

Although they have experienced war fighting in the Philippines and both of them are skilled soldiers, Adams and Cook are not the larger than life individuals you would expect in a novel with this title and presentation (allow me a little digression here, but this is yet another commentary on how publishers stubbornly insist on marketing Westerns as if they were assembly line products, clichéd titles and derivative cover illustrations included. For more on this, check out our interview with Randy Denmon on Wednesday).

In spite of his inexpressive nature, Stewart is often scared and feels doubts about the success of the mission. He has yet to express Alexia his feelings for her and yet he is marching across Mexico in a time and place where being an American is not only unpopular but dangerous. Myles, on the other hand, is a happy-go-lucky character who nevertheless excels at leading men through perilous situations. The rapport between Cook and Adams is reminiscent of that between Larry McMurtry’s Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae as their complementary personalities help them march on.

If I could mention a minor quibble with the novel, it is one that in all likelihood is more the responsibility of its editors than of the author himself. As in many other Western novels, its use of Spanish is at times erratic and grammatically incorrect, something that while not critical to the story still undermines its authenticity. To witness, the references to the “Santa Catarina” river near Monterrey as the “Santo Catarina” river (p. 162) or the unlikely choice of name for one of Alexia’s sisters: “Alijondra” (nonexistent as far as I know) instead of the more plausible “Alejandra.”

The Lawless Frontier is a solid first effort that, not unfairly, has earned accolades from a Western great like Elmer Kelton as well as National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien. Although it is uncertain whether Denmon will continue writing Westerns (or novels that could conceivably be marketed as such) he is a writer that merits close attention.

(Watch out for a Saddlebums interview with Randy Denmon on Wednesday)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Forthcoming Westerns: November 2007

Update: Thanks to a tip from loyal reader and exellent writer Chap O'Keefe, I've added four Black Horse Westerns that will be released on November 30th--scroll down and take a look.

Also, my list of November releases doesn't include any Large Print editions, and there are several scheduled. I have chosen not to include them because they are difficult to find in bookstores and usually reprints of titles that have previously been released, but truthfully it is more that these lists take a surprising amount of time to compile, and the LP editions would make the process even longer. If there are publishers or writers who want to see a large print edition included on this list please send me an email before the 15th of each month and I will be happy to include it / them.

The western selection in October was terrific, and while November’s list isn’t quite as large, or as varied, it is still pretty darn good. We have a total of 24 novels coming out—they represent a mixture of new and old, and paperback and hardcover. There is also a large release—19 titles—of western audio books from Brilliance and Five Star. The bulk of the titles are the work of Max Brand, but the list also includes other classic western writers such as T.T. Flynn, Les Savage, Jr., T.V. Olsen, Lewis B. Patten, and several others.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Halloween, and I hope to see you at the bookstore.

October 30th

Bronc Man by Paul Bagdon
Dogs of the Captain by Max Brand
The Trail of Whitened Skulls by Tom W. Blackburn
Walk Proud, Stand Tall by Johnny D. Boggs

Synopsis of Johnny D. Boggs’ Walk Proud, Stand Tall:

“Back in his prime, Lin Garrett was a legend as a lawman. The story of how he captured outlaw Ollie Sinclair was a favorite in Arizona Territory. But Lin hung up his badge long ago and now spends his days at a county home for the aged. His days are peaceful—until he gets word Sinclair has formed a new gang and pulled off a daring train robbery. The local lawmen are at a loss, but Lin knows just how his old nemesis thinks. And he’s out to prove no matter how many years have passed, he can still take down his man.”

November 1st

The Argonauts of North Liberty by Bret Harte
The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey

November 4th

.45-Caliber Deathtrap by Peter Brandvold
Ricochet by Thom Nicholson
The Trailsman: #313 Texas Timber War by Jon Sharpe

November 6th

Honor of the Mountain Man / Preacher’s Fortune by William W. Johnstone
The Town Called Fury: Judgement Day by William W. Johnstone
Smonk by Tom Franklin

November 13th

Ranger’s Law: A Lone Star Saga by Elmer Kelton

November 14th

Crucifixion River by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller
Man from Durango by Lauren Paine

Synopsis from Mike Blakely’s Come Sundown:

“Reluctant hero, Honore Greenwood, has a knack for embroiling himself in the most violen conflicts of the Southern Plains. Known as Plenty Man to the Comanches, Honore serves as ransom negotiator for captives among the Indians. As if his life wasn't in danger enough, Honore has offered his services to the New Mexico Volunteers in the Civil War. But as Honore's luck would have it, he's in the same unit as Luther Sheffield, a man whose grudge against Greenwood knows no boundaries, even though they are fighting on the same side.”

November 27th

Come Sundown by Mike Blakely
The Gunsmith: #312 Under a Turquoise Sky by J.R. Roberts
A Long and Winding Road by Win Blevins
Longarm: #349 Longarm and the Colorado Manhunt by Tabor EvansS
Slocum Giant: Slocum and the Celestial Bones by Jake Logan
Slocum: #346 Slocum’s Revenge Trail by Jake Logan

Synopsis of H.H. Cody’s Redemption in Inferno:

“Lew Faulds got himself talked into taking the job of deputy sheriff in the town of Blind Bend by his two-timing sweetheart. However, he had no idea the job would get him into so much trouble. A set of outlaws came to town and killed the sheriff. Then they put a hunk of lead into Lew's hand, figuring they'd crippled him. Scared, Lew ran, only to meet up with a stranger who helped him out. Now the pair went hunting the outlaws and caught up with them in the town of Inferno. Would they survive the showdown and would Lew regain his self respect?”

Black Horse Westerns

November 30th

The Bounty Killers by Owen G. Irons
Dead Man's Journey by Frank Roderus
Killer's Kingdom by Greg Mitchell
Peace at Any Price by Chap O'Keefe
Redemption in Inferno by H.H. Cody
Running Crooked by Corba Sunman

Audio Books from Brilliance and Five Star

November 28th

The Bells of San Fillipo by Max Brand
The Chains of Sarai Stone by Cynthia Hasselhoff
Deadly Pursuit by T.V. Olsen
Fire at Spider Rock by Les Savage, Jr.
In Alaska with Shipwreck Kelly by Dan Cushman
The Last Campaign by Tim Champlin
Night of the Comanche Moon by T.T. Flynn
Outlaws All by Max Brand
Ronicky Doone’s Reward by Max Brand
Ronicky Doone’s Treasure by Max Brand

Synopsis for Tim Champlin’s The Last Campaign:

“It's 1886 and General George Crook is holding a peace conference with the last wild band of Apache renegades and their chief, Geronimo. Will the Apaches really lay down their arms and go peacefully to Arizona? Everything seems to be going according to plan until Geronimo disappears into the night with a small band of warriors . . .”

Sixteen in Nome
by Max Brand
Soldier in Buckskin by Ray Hogan
Speedy by Max Brand
Tears of the Heart by Lauran Paine
Timbal Gulch Trail by Max Brand
Tincup in the Storm Country by Lewis B. Patten
Trouble in Timberline by Max Brand
The White Chip by Nelson Nye
The White Wolf by Max Brand

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman has been writing professionally since 1983, when St. Martin’s Press purchased his novel Rough Cut. Since then he has proven to be one of the most reliable and prolific writers—I use the word prolific in a positive sense—working. He has published novels in several different genres, including mystery, suspense, science fiction, horror, and western.

Mr. Gorman has been nominated for several writing awards, and he won the
Spur Award in 1993 for his short story “The Face.” He has been called “the poet of dark suspense” by Bloomsbury Review, and “a master storyteller” by the Dallas Morning News. I have been an avid reader of his work for several years, and no matter what Ed Gorman chooses to write, you can count on one thing: it will be very entertaining.

He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with his wife, writer Carol Gorman.

I have been reading your work—everything from westerns to mysteries to horror and science fiction, and I’m impressed with its overall diversity. My question, is there a specific genre you most prefer to work in?

Mystery and suspense, I suppose. But I’ve worked in horror and science fiction with great pleasure.

“I could never come close to finishing a novel until I met Max Allan Collins who gave me two great pieces of advice—look at each chapter as a story and never look back until you’ve finished the book.”

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 wrote a lot of stuff for men’s magazines in the Sixties and Seventies. I could never come close to finishing a novel until I met Max Allan Collins who gave me two great pieces of advice—look at each chapter as a story and never look back until you’ve finished the book. Then worry about revisions. I finished Rough Cut and shopped it around. Agents felt that the narrator was more psychotic than the villain. I sent it to St. Martin’s Press where it was fished out of slush and bought. This was 1983.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Probably around age eight. The nuns fed me Jack London and I discovered Ray Bradbury on my own. After reading those guys I never faltered in wanting to be a published writer.

It is my understanding that you have written several novels under house names, mostly in The Trailsman series. When you write under a house name do you approach it differently than your other work?

I do the best work I can on every project.

Most of your western fiction is non-traditional. You seem to use many of the same elements as one would find in a mystery novel. Your Noah Ford character from the Cavalry Man novels has more in common with a modern mystery protagonist than he does with the traditional western outsider. Is this an effort to move away from the traditional western, or simply expand the definition of what a western is? Do you think these novels would be more popular if they were marketed as a western mystery rather than a traditional western?

I think you have to find a special angle to sell crossover books. Steve Hockensmith with Holmes On The Range brought something fresh and exciting to the crossover and has been very successful for doing so.

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

My favorites are The Autumn Dead, Blood Moon, The Night Remembers, and Cage of Night in suspense; Wolf Moon and Ghost Town in westerns.

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

On my nightstand presently I have the Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner, Ten Stories from Detective Aces pulp magazine, a history of the Homefront during World War Two and a huge volume of the original Jonah Hex comic book stories by Michael Fleischer.

“Mine is the last generation that really grew up on westerns. I saw them in the theaters and on television and I read them in comic books and paperbacks.”

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

Mine is the last generation that really grew up on westerns. I saw them in the theaters and on television and I read them in comic books and paperbacks. Writing them came naturally. I owe Bob Randisi a lot for first getting me published as a writer.

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

Max Brand, Elmore Leonard, Loren D. Estleman, Clifton Adams, Dorothy Johnson would be a few of them.

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

I’d bring back six or seven of the best Clifton Adams novels.

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?

Again, I think it’s generational. You don’t find many—or any that I can think of—of the Thirty-somethings writing westerns and mysteries today. Loren is the last of the breed. He’s in his Forties I think. And he’s one of the all-time best, too.

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?

I’ve been asked this a couple of times. I wish I had some wisdom on the subject. But I don’t. To me cops replaced cowboys.

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

My current novel is Fools Rush In. This is my take on how small town Iowa responded to the Civil Rights movement of the early Sixties. I have another novel called Doom Weapon, the last in my Cavalry Man series coming in paperback from HarperCollins. It’s probably out now though I haven’t seen a copy. In the spring I have a St. Martin’s novel called Sleeping Dogs, a political whodunit. I used to write speeches for congressman. Lots of anger in this book.

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

My next novel will be in the suspense realm. I never talk about work in progress.

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?

That’s a good question and you know, I have no idea. My best stuff seems to have just happened without much planning on my part. I wrote three or four novels that were part of a Big Plan to increase the size of my audience. I think they were adequate, one of them I like, but somehow they weren’t as much fun to do as the work that somehow seems to get done on its own.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Tim McGuire

Illinois-born and Texas-raised Tim McGuire has always had a fascination with history. He aptly translates it into his novels, action-filled yet character-centered stories that have earned him the accolades of Western greats such as Loren D. Estleman and Larry McMurtry.

Mr. McGuire presently resides in Grand Prairie Texas. His next novel, Texas Cowboys, is scheduled to release from Berkley in late 2009.

What led you to start writing in the Western genre?

As I've posted on my website and in other interviews, I am a product of the '60s where the Western was as common as the current "reality" shows. My mother loved Westerns and before cable TV, that's what was always in syndication. My father was a history buff, especially Civil War era, so I absorbed his love for the study and developed in my mind just what a character I would dream to be. That, and a lot of respect for history put together The Rainmaker. The character and subsequent plots developed into a series swirling around in my head.

You have written two series of books with regular characters: The Rainmaker novels and the Texas trilogy with Rance Cash. While the aforementioned Clay Cole, a.k.a. "The Rainmaker" is a rugged, tough, no-nonsense character, Cash's depiction is more lighthearted, him being a gambler rather than a gunslinger and his troubles often leading to comic situations. Was this shift from a gritty traditional Western novel to one that incorporates more humor a deliberate one?

I didn't want to create the same character and call him by a different name. In the Texas series, I started the storyline ten years earlier when the West was just a rumor to those in the East. Rance Cash is intended as a less than deadly serious fellow to follow with a bit of spicy behavior to his way. Les and Jody were meant as the focal point, but Rance was the one that kept you reading. I tried to think as a gambler must have thought in a game of cards and of life. He's not as cruel as those in accurate history, but I've tried to present him as a fortune seeker which is the prime motivation of most of those flowing west.

"I do believe that a well told story has a place for every interest"

Can you tell us more about the campaign to "Save The Rainmaker"?

I was trying to test the waters as it were to measure just what type of support I had to continue the series to the last four books. At current, I am still counting. It's understandable publishers measure success in copies sold. Although I have been pleasantly gratified with the personal responses I have received through my guestbook, more numbers are needed to the left of the decimal point to make publishers notice.

You have been described by Loren Estleman as a "traditional Western" writer. Do you agree with that assertion? Have you ever thought about trying your hand at other type of stories such as historical novels or even other genres?

Let me first say, Loren was incredibily generous with his praise. That said, I am a fan of a well told story and am actively seeking to expand into other genres. I am a particular fan of the thriller genre in which I have a few projects brewing. As a far as a lecture on history in novel form, I don't feel qualified to write that sort as a form of entertainment which a novel should be.

Many of your books include a blurb from Larry McMurtry that I think describes your novels perfectly: "Tim McGuire writes a good western, the story fast-paced, the characters vividly drawn." Was he referring to any particular novel of yours?

Mr. McMurtry was also very gracious to lend his name to my works and I have always sent him a copy of every book in which it appears. I am confident his comment is aimed at Danger Ridge, my first novel. How I am confident of that will remain between he and I.

What are your thoughts about the present state of the Western genre and what do you think the future holds for the Western story?

In regard to the present Western novel in printed novel form, I'm afraid to say that the future is not VERY bright, but there is hope. First, reading novels in general is a fading medium due to the lack of free time required. Reading takes time. Watching is much easier which is why the success of most novels is amplified by the parlay to film.

I do believe that a well told story has a place for every interest. Look at the upcoming films and the original printed works they are based on. However, I do feel there is a stigma to overcome. Most people that I have asked what they read respond that they read everything - except Westerns, which their grandfather/uncle/dad/or other older relative used to always read. When I ask what they like in a story, they respond intrigue, suspense, and a little romance. Younger readers appear attracted to fantasy, where their minds can wander.

The accurate truth is that the historical west was a fantasy to those whom observed it first hand. Imagine the landscapes of Western Montana or Southern Arizona seen for the first time. Describe that in detail, and then develop characters who resonate to the current reader and there is hope for the genre. I've been contacted by more than one person whom told me they seldom or never read a Western but felt compelled to tell me how much they enjoyed the story. See my guestbook and archive page.

Most writers are voracious readers and you are probably not the exception. What do you read for pleasure?

I must confess, I read mostly nonfiction for research. I seldom read fiction for two reasons. One, I don't want to be tempted to copy another style and, two, if I have time to read, I have time to write.

"Imagine the landscapes of Western Montana or Southern Arizona seen for the first time. Describe that in detail, and then develop characters who resonate to the current reader and there is hope for the genre"

Do you have any writing influences? How about influences in the Western genre?

I don't have a writer that I follow for the reasons above. I did greatly enjoy True Grit.

Are there any Western writers you would like to see back in print?

Most of those names are still in print. I'm not sure of the stories meantfor readers of the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s will sell well in today's market.

Are you writing anything right now? Can you tell us more about any other projects you are currently involved with?

I have a few irons in the fire. I am presenting a continuation of the Clay Cole series. Also, I have project which continues the Texas series in the progress of the set timeline and may include a familiar character in his early years as well as a few famous names. Also, I have heard from the film world in California.

What is the greatest satisfaction of your writing career? Is there anything else you still feel you need to accomplish?

My greatest feeling of accomplishment is knowing my stories are well received from those whom I've heard from. As far as yet to accomplish, I want to get all the stories in my head onto a printed page, both comtemporary and historical, mystery, humor, raw life and poignant moments.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Scouting the Web

■ A group of Black Horse Westerns authors have partnered with other fellow Western scribes to unveil the new anthology Where Legends Ride, “14 new tales of hot lead, cold hearts, and more leather-slapping action, adventure and edge-of-the-seat danger that you could ever hope to find on either side of the Mississippi.” The book will be available from on Nov. 30. For more information, visit the Express Westerns website.

■ The nice fellows at Bookgasm have a number of items of interest to readers of this site. First is a fine review of a title chronicling the history of that goofiest of all Western film subgenres: the singing cowboy flicks. The book is Singing Cowboys by Douglas B. Green. Next is the always entertaining section Bullets, Broads, Blackmail & Bombs with a review of three so-called adult Westerns, including two early Longarm titles and one installment of its spin off series, Lone Star.

■ Speaking of adult Westerns… or is it porno Westerns as Richard S. Wheeler calls them in this interesting discussion he started at fellow Western scribe Ed Gorman’s blog? Check it out as authors like Bill Crider, Robert Randisi and James Reasoner weigh in on the subject.

■ Here’s an interesting post at Pulpetti on Western author H.A. DeRosso.

■ On NPR’s All Things Considered, writer Benjamin Percy dwells on the seminal Western, The Virginian. According to White, “[the novel’s author] Owen Wister, like some great and terrible Moses draped in leather and carrying a buffalo gun, taught me to re-examine what it meant to be a man.”

Pat Hawk, the author of several invaluable reference books on Westerns and other fiction genres, has launched a very timely website: Western

■ Western author Jim Griffin informs us that his latest novel, Big Bend Death Trap has been officially released.

■ Here’s an excellent site to watch classic Western films online: Rope and Wire. Just click on the titles. There’s plenty to choose from, including Ride Ranger Ride (1936) with Gene Autry and even a silent comedy starring Stan Laurel.

Russell Davis announces in his blog that he has just finished editing his second Western anthology for Kensigton, Ghost Towns of the American West, including stories from Elmer Kelton, Margaret Coel, Steve Hockensmith, Loren D. Estleman and many more. The book should be out in late spring, 2008 and if it is anything like his previous anthology, Lost Trails, we are in for an excellent read.

■ The name Francisco González Ledesma might not say much to readers in the English-speaking world and yet he is probably one of the most prolific Western writers ever. The author of literally hundreds of pulp Westerns under the colorful nom de plume Silver Kane, his novels were published and sold in Spain during the Gen. Francisco Franco years as well as distributed all over Latin America.

Many of his titles are still in print, including his first novel, Sombras Viejas (Old Shadows), a mystery that earned him a prestigious literary award, accolades from authors like W. Somerset Maugham and censorship from the Franco regime given its allegedly “pornographic, subversive and red (ie. communist)” contents. Given the governmental suppression of his work, González Ledesma resorted to write pseudonymous Westerns, one of the few viable means of subsistence for a professional author during the lean dictatorship years. Thus emerged one of Spanish pulp fiction's best scribes.

Sombras Viejas, which was first published in 1948, has been just reissued in Spain and comes as a belated homage to González Ledesma's legacy. To read more, click here (the link is in Spanish).

■ This is only tangentially related to this blog, but what the heck. This clip, retrieved from The New York Times’ book blog Papercuts, brings us Dean Martin, Truman Capote, James Stewart and Jack Benny as they answer the question: What’s Your Favorite Country Song?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Saddlebums Review: The Outcast by Luke Cypher

Thomas Cade is a young man without a home. His father sent him away when he was seventeen to avoid a feud with another family in the hill country of Tennessee, and as the novel opens we find Cade working as a hunter for the railroad. When he finds a critically wounded man on the prairie his life changes forever. The man’s name is Sam Killian, and he is a sometime lawman, and sometime gun for hire.

Tom nurses Killian back to health, and in return Killian teaches Cade the trade. He tutors him how to use a pistol, how to judge a man, and how to get himself in and out of fights. They partner up until they settle in the booming town of Walker, Kansas where Thomas Cade finds everything he expects, and whole lot more.

The Outcast is a traditional western. The characters are everything we expect: tough, sensible, mean and—at least in the case of the protagonist—fair, and honorable. There is plenty of gunplay, and the town of Walker is populated with the good and bad of any small town. The businessmen are getting rich off the cattle herds coming north to the railroad. The trail herd cowboys come to town looking for fun, but usually find trouble, there are cardsharps eyeing an easy game, and the townspeople just want a quiet place to raise their children.

I had a difficult time reviewing The Outcast, because it represents the best and worst of the genre all in one package. There were moments when I loved it, but there were also moments when I didn’t even like it. Thomas Cade is an interesting character, but his stoic, dour personality felt oppressive at times. He seemed more alive and real when certain characters—Sam Killian for one—crossed the stage, but none of them stuck around long enough to keep him there. There were two brief sections of the novel that I thought nothing would ever happen again. There was too much dialogue and not nearly enough action. These were the bad points, but there were also good points.

The opening chapter is one of the most well written segments I have read in a western. The scene is so powerful and alive that I could nearly hear the rustle of wind through cornfields; the rough jingle of a cowbell, and feel the oppressive, wet heat of a Tennessee summer. The action, throughout the novel, was well rendered, and the characters were drawn nicely. If the plot had been just a bit tighter The Outlaw would be a serious contender for my list of westerns to remember.

There is good news. The Outcast is advertised as the “first in a new series,” and it felt like the back-story to something really terrific. We saw Thomas Cade grow from a boy to a man. He learned to shoot like a pistoleer, and back a man down without ever touching his gun. While my recommendation for this novel is lukewarm at best, I have hope the second will be a better piece of work.

An additional note: Luke Cypher is a pseudonym for Randy Eickhoff, the author of the Western Heritage winning novel And Not to Yield. The second novel in the series, The Outcast: Red Mesa, is scheduled for release in March 2008.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Vengeance Valley by Richard S. Wheeler

This is a review that appeared on Gravetapping in May of 2006—it is less review and more rant, but Vengeance Valley is a quiet, entertaining, and above average western that anyone should enjoy. It is the type of storytelling that should add readers to the genre and focus the attention of critics less on the old traditions of the western novel and more on what the modern western story can be. If you can find a copy, I recommend Vengeance Valley to everyone.

I read a western a few months ago titled Vengeance Valley by Richard Wheeler. It is a mining camp story about a prospector named Hard Luck Yancey. It is a quiet story of perseverance, love and ultimately triumph. It won the 2005 Western Writer’s of America Spur Award for best paperback original.

And no one read it! The sales numbers were terrible, which got me to thinking—and on this subject I am less than original and far from expert—about why such a sweet and charming novel would do so poorly.

First let’s start with the title: Vengeance Valley. This is an obvious throwback to the heyday of the western. Those old Ace Doubles, Gold Medal and Signet originals (all of which I love) that portrayed the west as a palace of helpless women, bad men and loner heroes. Unfortunately in this case the title is so misleading that if that were the type of book you wanted, you would be angry that it never took shape. There is no valley in the story—the town of Yancey, where the novel is set, is literally on the side of steep mountain ridge. And as for vengeance? Nope. None. Maybe there is a touch of poetic justice when Hard Luck Yancey earns back his mine, wins the girl and saves the town, but not much in the way of six-gun vengeance here.

Now the cover. There is a duded-up gunman with six-shooters in hand getting ready to exact a bit of vigilante justice on the bad guys. When I got about halfway through this novel it dawned on me that I had yet read about a gun—any gun, let alone a six-shooter—so in fun I made a count of just how many firearms showed-up in the telling of this story, and there was exactly one: A shotgun that was pointed, but never fired.

The publisher (in this case Pinnacle) marketed this book for failure. It narrowed the audience to a group of about five guys in Arkansas (Bill Clinton not among them) by the title and cover art, when it easily could have found a much wider audience. There is much in Vengenace Valley to admire: there is a tender and beautiful love story; a very basic good versus evil strain; great characters; greed and innocence. This is a novel that could easily be enjoyed by both men and women, so why is it marketed as an action novel for men?

Why do the major publishing houses insist on marketing westerns like it is still 1955? Vengeance Valley is but one example of how publishers are active participants in the decline of the genre through incompetence, neglect, or outright literary snobbery. I guess the old saying is true: You truly can’t judge a book by its cover. Maybe those romance novels with bare-chested Fabios aren’t so bad either—well, maybe?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Peace at Any Price by Chap O'Keefe

Jim Hunter and Matt Harrison are best friends and the owners of the once-thriving Double H ranch in Trinity Creek, Texas. Their cowpunchers have heeded the call of the Civil War and now they are trying to keep the enterprise afloat in lean times. It does not help that the Double H’s cattle is a frequent target for rustlers and that the sole remaining member of their crew is disabled Mexican-American War veteran Walter Burridge.

When the raiders take their pillaging a step further and burn the ranch to the ground, killing Old Walt in the process, the partners have no option but to leave the area and look for a job in the nearby port city of Brownsville. Matt and Jim soon realize that the war has also exerted its toll on the once-busy border town as work is hard to come by. Matt, a Union sympathizer, joins the Northern Army while the pro-Confederacy Jim chooses to stick around. He soon hooks up with the sensuous Lena-Marie Baptiste and her brother Raoul whom, among other business ventures, smuggle guns for the southern forces.

Peace at Any Price by Chap O’Keefe is the quintessential action-packed Western and as such it seems to fit right in with the rest of the Black Horse Western (BHW) line. Sparsely written and at times frantically-paced, it introduces the characters with a few broad strokes and then wastes no time in pitting them against all sorts of challenges. Jim returns from the war but the Double H and Trinity Creek no longer feel like home, not in the least because his former darling Alice Cornhill has married someone else in the interim. Fate leads him right back to the Baptistes, their dubious business concerns and a face-to-face encounter with the ruthless Woodson Waldrop, the man he suspects burnt down the Double H.

In this age of bloated techno-thrillers and three-page chapters designed not to upset MTV-addled attention spans, Peace at Any Price is a refreshing story that delivers genuine, non-stop entertainment. Its rhythm might play against itself at times and perhaps the climactic ending – involving a mandatory shootout, a damsel in distress and a catastrophic natural disaster – could have been resolved in less haste. Nonetheless, this is a highly recommended yarn that can only lead the Western reader to ask himself why BHW titles are for the most unavailable in the American market. Published since 1986 by Robert Hale Ltd. with a packaging and glossy covers that are almost as attractive as their action-oriented storylines, this is a line that provides a venue for many authors that are not only talented and passionate about Westerns, but well worth the effort to track down.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Smonk by Tom Franklin

Eugene Oregon Smonk had “several bullet scars in his right shoulder and one in each forearm and another in his left foot. There were a dozen buckshot pocks peppered over the hairy knoll of his back and the trail of a knife scored across his belly.” His left eye was gone, “replaced by a white glass ball two sizes small. He had a goiter under his beard. He had gout, he had the clap, blood-sugar, neuralgia and ague. Malaria. The silk handkerchief balled in his pants was blooded from the advanced consumption the doctor had just informed him he had.”

Smonk’s grotesque figure and author Tom Franklin’s descriptions, vivid to the last eschatological detail, set the tone for this curious Western, owing more to grand guignol or perhaps Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian than to a traditional Western yarn. Hovering between the farcical and the ultra-violent, Smonk, set to come out in paperback in November, tells the story of the seemingly aimless yet vicious title character starting with the bloody episode of his trial in Old Texas, Alabama in 1911. Tired of being terrorized by this savage one-eyed dwarf with a penchant for stealing other people’s wives, the townsmen have come up with a plan. As soon as he sets foot on the improvised court, they will mob him and deliver swift justice. Smonk, however, sees through their ploy and, sword and derringer in hand, slaughters his way out of town.

Franklin then introduces us to Evavangeline, an androgynous prostitute who is often mistaken for a man and is presently on the run from a caricaturesque gang of religious vigilantes known as the Christian Deputies. Their leader, the self-righteous Phail Walton, is pursuing her for allegedly engaging in homosexual acts.

The paths of all three main characters are bound to cross but in the meantime we are treated to a series of vignettes that accentuate the violent nature of both the story and the milieu it is set in. Evavangeline fends off a rape attempt and swiftly disposes of a doctor with dubious credentials who tries to take advantage of her. Smonk evades his pursuers, the last two male survivors of the Old Texas massacre, as houses are blown with dynamite and more people get killed. Walton fights both his feelings of sexual inadequacy and the constant danger of insubordination from his men.

Franklin develops the plot threads with a colorful language that seems a perfect fit for the over the top scenes he depicts. And yet the excesses do manage to backfire once it becomes evident that two thirds of the novel are nothing but a protracted setup for a revelatory ending as the characters converge in Old Texas. There we learn of the town’s hideous secret, how is it related to Smonk and in turn what are his ties to Evavangeline. The problem here is two-fold: the story’s denouement is to a large extent predictable and, in view of what the reader has been exposed to so far, one cannot help but wonder why the author did not tie-up the plot threads at least 50 pages and countless scenes of debauchery earlier.

Franklin’s previous titles include the Western novel Hell at the Breech and the short story collection Poachers, whose title story was picked by mystery fiction editor Otto Penzler for the anthology The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. Having garnered enthusiastic recommendations from authors such as Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Dennis Lehane and Deadwood creator David Milch, Franklin’s work and Smonk in particular seemed an inviting prospect. It is, nonetheless, a mixed bag at best, its engaging and imaginative prose and ensemble of quirky characters unable to give consistency to the novel’s extremely thin plot.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Polling time

The people have spoken. On our last two polls, that is.

First, they voted for Robert J. Randisi (aka J.R. Roberts)’s The Gunsmith series as their favorite adult Western. More recently, they chose Quigley Down Under as their preferred Tom Selleck Western film.

Now it’s time to split hairs on which is the best Western movie score. We are proposing four entries Per un Pugno di Dollari (A Fistfull of Dollars) by Ennio Morricone; The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein; Lonesome Dove by Basil Poledouris; and Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More) by Ennio Morricone) plus the highly imaginative category of “other” since it’s very likely that many of you will have their own picks and some others might even wonder what were we thinking of when we omitted your personal favorite.

If you think we have ignored other worthy Western soundtracks (How The West Was Won by Alfred Newman, The Big Country by Jerome Moross, The Alamo by Dmitri Tiomkin or Silverado by Bruce Broughton come to mind) you can vote for “other” and then list the name of the film score on the comments section of this post. We will catch up at the end of the month.

Let the voting begin.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Wyoming Wind by Jon Chandler

A guest review by Corinne Joy Brown

Historical fiction in the hands of a master storyteller can prompt new ways of looking at both fact and myth. Such is the effect of the fictionalized account of Tom Horn in the novel Wyoming Wind, a story built on fact but embellished with creative imagination, created by Colorado author Jon Chandler. Chandler gives voice and depth to the life of one of Wyoming’s most infamous outlaws, creating a unique look at the psychological factors that shaped the life of a killer.

Horn, an army scout, a civilian under Army command in Cuba under Roosevelt, and finally a Wyoming stock detective during the end of the cattle and sheep wars at the turn of the 20th century, allegedly met his death at the gallows in Cheyenne in 1903. He was accused of the murder of 14 year-old Willie Nickel, a sheepherder’s son. Both Horn’s responsibility for the crime and the exact circumstances of his death remain in question, but he was convicted due to incriminating circumstances, a scapegoat, in fact, for larger forces.

In spite of Horn’s earlier accomplishments as a hired gun for the US military, his eventual lust for killing branded him a dead man. As a mercenary, he felt above the law, taking it in fact, into his own hands. He intimidated and helped decimate the encroaching squatters eating up the cattle range.

Chandler writes a compelling scenario. In a desperate attempt to forestall his execution, Horn wrote a letter to the press exposing all those who hid behind his treachery. An effective blackmail tool that actually forced a rescue attempt (a rigged hanging), the letter was intercepted before it could do any public damage. Horn’s edge was reduced to nothing.

The reader may find it hard to separate truth from fiction, but can refer easily to numerous Wyoming history sources for the documented account if wanting more. Wyoming Wind reads like a Western thriller. A man on death row, reminiscing through the circumstances of his life while counting the hours to his own demise. His vigil and attempt to escape creates enough tension to keep the reader turning the pages, wondering if Horn will meet the same fate as his many victims, or get away with blackmail, his last act of treason.

Chandler, an accomplished songwriter and musician, and an award-wining author, knows how to write musical lyrics where the message is not only in, but also, between the lines. His narrative prose is just as successful. With vision and clarity, he creates a believable West in time and place and a thoroughly plausible character for whom we actually develop a kind of empathy. Having read numerous historical accounts of this very same event, I’d choose Chandler’s fictionalized version any day. This is one story of Tom Horn a reader can never forget.