Friday, November 30, 2007

Scouting the Web

1.- A number of published and novice Western writers have finally launched the much-anticipated anthology Where Legends Ride. For Western fans, this is particularly interesting since it includes short stories by many of the authors who regularly pen novels for UK publisher Robert Hale Publishers’ Black Horse Westerns, including Lance Howard (aka Howard Hopkins), I.J. Parnham and Ben Bridges (aka David Whitehead). You might know from reading this blog that Black Horse titles are hard to come by outside of the UK. This anthology provides readers a great opportunity to see what some of its writers are all about as well as sample Western fiction from new authors.

As their press release states: “Here you'll meet brave school-teachers, plucky widows, a battered wife, a stubborn mule and several folk who are seeking redemption. You'll feel the heat of the badlands, the chill of danger and the gut-wrenching of betrayal. The stories cover a broad range, from the poignant to the humorous and offer up some pleasant surprises for any reader who has never read a ‘western’ before.”

Where Legends Ride was hatched by the lively members of the Black Horse Westerns Yahoo group. To know more about the 14 short stories that comprise this anthology as well as the men and women behind them, visit the preview section of their website.

You can purchase the book here.

2.- The Los Angeles Times recently ran a nice profile of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner.

The reissue of an obscure book by Stegner, Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil has stirred some controversy between the publisher and the author’s agent, who claims the release of this work-for-hire job for a group of oil companies does “a massive disservice” to the author’s legacy. Apparently, the edition is not Stegner’s original version but the company-sanitized text. The Los Angeles Times reports on it here and The Washington Post weighs in here. You can also read a review of the book.

Its publication coincides with the release of The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner. Edited by his son, Page Stegner, the book is said to provide an interesting glimpse at the vivid polemics between the author and some of his critics.

3.- For Western art fans, the November/December issue of Art of the West magazine as well as the December issue of the handsome Western Art Collector are out.

As I have said before, these publications are veritable catalogues of fine illustrations inspired by the West.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Movie Review: My Darling Clementine

(This past October 26 signaled the anniversary of the legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral. The episode has inspired numerous works of literature and, most notably, films. In the first installment of a series, Doug Bentin will take a look at some of the movies that have recreated this interesting chapter in the history of the West.

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 - Saddlebums).

With Oct. 26 marking the anniversary of the Gunfight at the OK Corral—which is surely one of the half-dozen most iconic incidents in the history of the American West—I thought we might take a look at three easily accessible movies that were inspired by the famous shootout.

The oldest of the three is John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine (1946).

It seems to me that there are three varieties of Western fiction: realistic, romantic, and legendary. None is superior to the others and which one plays best with you depends on what you’re in the mood for at the time. MDC is definitely legendary, drawing as it does on actual historical events, even though tossing its ingredients into the blender of Hollywood and working with the smoothed-out results.

Henry Fonda is Wyatt Earp. He and brothers Virgil (Tim Holt), Morgan (Ward Bond) and James (an uncredited Don Garner) are just passing through Tombstone, AZ, on their way to California with a herd of cattle. One night Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan ride into town and James is left behind to watch the herd. He is murdered in the rain and the cattle are rustled.

James is presented as the baby of the family, a mere 18, when in fact he was seven years Wyatt’s senior and didn’t die until 1926. Additionally, there was no herd and all four brothers had been living in Tombstone since at least 1879. James was the only brother not involved in the gunfight and in the movie his death is used as the motivating factor for Wyatt to pin on the marshal’s badge and rid the town of the evil, thieving, rustling, murdering Clanton gang.

It’s in town that Wyatt meets the gambler Doc Holliday (Victor Mature, giving one of his best performances, although he is a bit husky to suffer from tuberculosis). This is not the first time Holliday has appeared in a John Ford Western, but the most famous time he was called “Hatfield” in Stagecoach and played by the much more physically believable John Carradine.

Romantic complications ensue when a lady friend of Doc’s from long ago and far away shows up unexpectedly. Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) has been following Doc deeper into the west as he’s been trying to avoid her. His motive is to release her from the pain of watching his disease waste him away. He’s taken up with a dance hall gal named Chihuahua (Linda Darnell). Her profession and ethnicity are indicative of just how far Doc Holliday, that fine surgeon and southern gentleman, has fallen. That symbolism is as faulty as turning a dentist into a surgeon.

As Doc runs away from Clementine, Wyatt moves toward her. Fonda was always good at portraying the hesitant man in affairs of the heart, too respectful of good women to make the first move, so Wyatt’s sort-of courtship sails slowly. It doesn’t really get under weigh until Doc removes a stray bullet from Chihuahua and reclaims some of his old pride, at which point Clementine seems more willing to let him go. Wyatt is as puzzled by her attitude as we are. He leans on the bar and asks the whiskey-server, “Mac, you ever been in love?” to which Mac replies, “No, I been a bartender all my life.”

The action part of the story heats up when one of gang leader Ike Clanton’s (Walter Brennan) sons is killed and Ike and the rest of his brood come into town to wrap up their feud with the Earps.

Even if you can’t keep the Earp brothers straight in your mind and have no idea that one called James wasn’t killed by rustlers, you know the movie is going south historically speaking when you see on James’ headstone that he was killed in 1882—a year after the famous gunfight took place.

Nothing is made of the tinder-box politics of Tombstone in the early 1880s. Many historians believe that at the root of the conflict was a scramble for economic dominance, much as was the case in the Lincoln Co. War.

But this movie isn’t trying to be historically accurate. It’s a movie about the Wild West being tamed. Cattle trails give way to churches. When Doc performs his surgery, he uses tables pushed together in the saloon, so the bar becomes a hospital. Doc is the sophisticated man racing toward death just as Wyatt is the rough neck turning to civilization. Only one of them will reach his goal.

My Darling Clementine is one of those westerns that use a sand grain of historical truth around which to grow a pearl of western legend. If historical inaccuracies drive you nuts, and you can’t appreciate a movie just for the purity of its movie-ness, you might have a hard time with this one. Otherwise, it’s a classic. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Forthcoming Westerns: December 2007

It’s a holiday weekend here in the United States, so I’m posting December’s upcoming Western releases a little early this month. The list, while not quite as impressive as the last few months, is pretty darn good. We have the usual suspects—a new Longarm, Gunsmith, Trailsman, and Slocum—and we also have a new Western from literary writer Thomas Eidson, and the plot—see below for the synopsis—sounds pretty good.

Leisure Books is releasing Tim Champlin’s latest novel,
Devil's Domain, The Penguin Group is releasing a new Ralph Compton novel written by David Robbins—the same guy who writes Wilderness—as well as a new Vigilante novel by Jory Sherman, and there are six new Black Horse Westerns scheduled for release in the U.K.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. And maybe I’ll see you in the Western section in the local bookstore. Happy reading.

Synopsis for Devil's Domain:

There was a reason people called Andersonville Prison hell on earth. With more than thirty thousand Union soldiers held captive in the worst conditions possible, death and disease were daily visitors. If scurvy or starvation didn’t kill them, the guards would. Sergeant John Mulroy knows he’ll die if he doesn’t find some way to escape. Problem is, even if he does get out, his closest ally suffers bouts of madness and just may murder him anyway….

November 27th

Devil's Domain by Tim Champlin
Wilderness #54: Pure of Heart by David Thompson
Shower of Gold by Zane Grey
The Soldier’s Way by Dane Coolidge

December 4th

Ralph Compton’s Blood Duel by Ralph Compton & David Robbins
St. Agnes’ Stand by Thomas Eidson
The Trailsman #314: North Country Cutthroats by Jon Sharpe
The Vigilante: Santa Fe Showdown by Jory Sherman
Preacher’s / Fury of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone
Rampage of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone

Synopsis for St. Agnes’ Stand:

July 1858: Nat Swanson, a bullet in his leg and bone-weary, flees across the New Mexico desert from a vengeful posse. Back in west Texas, he killed a man over a woman whose name he never knew, and now he’s on the run to California, his only hope for a new life the ranch deed in his pocket.

In a dry riverbed, Nat spots two overturned wagons surrounded by Apaches. The only sign of a survivor is his quick glimpse of an old woman’s face–a face that forces a stark decision. Nat can ride on and save himself, or stay and try to save the stranded and doomed party. Sister St. Agnes, huddled between the wagons with her fellow nuns and the orphans in their care, somehow knows that God will answer her prayers and send a savior to deliver them from evil.As death shadows the dusty arroyo, the forsaken canyon becomes a place of destiny where a courageous nun and an embattled man confront their fates together.

December 12th

Doubtful Canon by Johnny D. Boggs
Outlaws from Afar by Max Brand

December 15th

The Shopkeeper by James D. Best

Synopsis for The Gunsmith #313: Wildfire:

After a posse mistakes Clint Adams for a murdering pyromaniac who's scorched a path from Texas to New Mexico, he joins them on their hunt for the match-happy madman.

December 18th

The Gunsmith #313: Wildfire by J.R. Roberts
Longarm #350: Longarm and the Hangtree Vengeance by Tabor Evans
Slocum #347: Slocum’s Four Brides by Jake Logan

December 24th

The Flying Wagon by Ian Parnham
Lone Survivor by V.S. Meszaros

December 26th

The Horses: The Journey of Jim Glass by Bill Brooks

December 30th

Barbary Coast Gundown by James Gordon White
Find Madigan! By Hank J. Kirby
Justice for Crockett by Dale Graham
The Legend and the Man by Ben Nicholas
The Modoc Kid by Mark Bannerman
The Night Riders by Matt Laidlaw
Outcasts of Rebel Creek by Frank Bonham & Bill Pronzini
Sharpshooters and the Rainman by Ron Watkins
Twisted Bars by Max Brand
Wyoming Showdown by Jack Edwardes

Synopsis of The Bull Chop:

Jude Linsey is a young man who is content to live off his rich father's allowance. He ekes out the money in and out of Spooner's Drift by gambling, or fishing and hunting beaver in the high creeks of Shell Mountain. Then the town's bank gets robbed, and Jude is suddenly aware there's a chance to redeem himself with his family and friends. But the deceitful Sheriff Ingram Bere has to be considered: a man with a covetous eye and more than a lawful interest in Jude's welfare. To mull over his predicament, Jude takes to the timberline with his saddle-broke roan. But events change, and Jude has little choice but to pit his wits and guns against Bart and Dooley Susans' gang of hard-nosed, desperate killers.

Black Horse Westerns

December 31st

Manhunt in Quemado by Daniel Rockfern
Desolation Pass by Lance Howard
Hammer of God by Phillip McCormac
The Bull Chop by Abe Dancer
Wilde Country by Tyler Hatch
Judge Parker's Lawmen by Elliot Conway

Monday, November 19, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes on the Range is a little different from the usual fare here at Saddlebums—it fits in quite nicely, but it is unique in that it is a Sherlock Holmes-type whodunit that is set in the Western United States of the 1890s. Big Red and Old Red are brothers who earn their livings the hard way. They do it from the back of a horse, but that doesn’t stop Old Red from admiring the work of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which he studies evenings in the bunkhouse from the pages of The Strand. His younger brother, Big Red, reads them aloud because Old Red isn't lettered.

When the two take a job on a ranch in Montana they figure everything will be usual—long hours, poor pay, and barely edible food. When the ranch accountant turns up dead Old Red decides it’s time to employ his mentor’s—Sherlock Holmes—tested technique of detection. He sets out to investigate the death, but things tense-up as bodies are added to the casualty list, and then the ranch threatens to explode, figuratively, when the English owners show up unannounced. It doesn’t help matters that the local cannibal, Hungry Bob, is roaming the territory making everyone a little uneasy.

Holmes on the Range is a perfect mixture of Western lore and British mystery. Mr Hockensmith deftly combines two genres in a unique and unusual manner to create an intelligent and humorous story that will be enjoyed by fans of both genres. It is narrated by Big Red—the lettered brother—who admirably fills the role of Dr Watson. His voice is strong, funny as hell, and lucid in its descriptions of both the land and the characters that occupy it. The opening lines read:

There are two things you can’t escape out here in the West: dust and death. They sort of swirl together in the wind, and a fellow never knows when a fresh gust is going to blow one or the other right in his face. So while I’m yet a young man, I’ve already laid eyes on every manner of demise you could put a name to. I’ve seen folks drowned, shot, stabbed, starved, frozen, poisoned, hung, crushed, gored by steers, dragged by horses, bitten by snakes, and carried off by an assortment of illnesses with which I could fill the rest of this book and another besides.

So it’s quite a compliment I bestow when I say that the remains we came across the day after the big storm were the most frightful I’d ever seen.

The dialogue is sharp. The diction and idioms of the time period are captured well: He could still be south of here somewhere, runnin’ free or flat as frying pan. The characters are, put simply, characters. They have unique traits and names—Uly, Spider, Swede, Tall John, Swivel-Eye, Anytime, and Crazymouth. And the mystery is top-notch: I didn’t guess the murderer, or the motive, until late in the game.

Holmes on the Range is one of the better novels I have read this year. It is different, compelling, and humorous without being silly. I was hooked from the opening sentence, and Steve Hockensmith not only delivered on this early promise, but he exceeded my expectations. This is a novel that should be read by anyone who loves a mystery, a western, or just a good, well-written tale.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Scouting the Web

■ Western scribe Jim Griffin’s Big Bend Death Trap, the latest novel in the Texas Ranger Cody Havlicek series, gets a glowing review at Rope and Wire (scroll down).

James Reasoner has published a new pseudonymous novel in The Trailsman series: Texas Timber War.

■ A new issue of Chap O’Keefe’s Black Horse Extra is online, featuring an article on Black Horse Westerns author Brian Parvin, a.k.a. Dan Claymaker, Jack Reason and Luther Chance. You will also find a very interesting piece on writing, focused on the creative process behind O’Keefe’s Peace at Any Price, which we reviewed here. This issue includes the traditional news roundup section Hoofprints and a list of upcoming BHW releases.

Neglected Books is a very interesting website where you can find more information and reviews of rare and out of print books, including Westerns such as Winds of Morning by H.L. Davis and Strange Conquest by Alfred Neumann.

■ The excellent Online Pulps site has a number of new downloads, including a short story from the August 1957 issue of Real Western Stories: The Dancing Trees by Lon Williams, starring his character Lee Winters. The synopsis reads: “Deputy Marshal Winters had been called upon to assist lovely damsels in distress before - but never a damsel like this, and never in this kind of distress!

■ A new anthology containing ten lost mystery stories by Western writer extraordinaire Max Brand: Masquerade. You can read more about it here.

■ This might be old news, but it’s still worth noting. The 2008 Western Writers of America (WWA) Convention will take place June 10-14, 2008 at the Chaparral Suites in Scottsdale, Arizona.

■ Speaking of the WWA, a new issue of Roundup Magazine is out. You can see some of its contents here.

■ The New York Times Magazine has an all-Western films issue, with an overview of the genre by film critic A.O. Scott and comments on movies such as The Search Party, Broken Arrow and Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (the latter by Jonathan Lethem). There’s also a short aside on actor Daniel Day-LewisAll-Time Top Westerns.

Robert B. Parker writes an interesting column on the film version of his novel Appaloosa, scheduled for release next year. Finally, there's pieces on on how Westerns shaped the business of filmmaking; the selling of the "Wild West" myth from Buffalo Bill Cody to Hollywood; the beautiful marriage of Westerns and hi-def DVDs; an interview with historian Patricia Limerick, author of the revisionist history of the West, The Legacy of Conquest; the figure of the outlaw in Westerns; and the curious comic and soon-to-be-movie Cowboys & Aliens, a trailer of which you can see here.


And here's a video with some pretty cool film clips on American Character and the Western.

All in all, a very comprehensive take on Hollywood Westerns. And with that, I'm out of here. Have a great weekend.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Longarm and the Golden Eagle Shoot-Out

Many writers of so-called “adult Westerns” – typically, serial novels in which the main character not only exhibits his prowess with a gun but also his skills in bed, the latter scenes depicted with varying degrees of graphicness – have often said that, in terms of plot, their books are nothing more than traditional Westerns with a few almost arbitrarily added sex episodes to satisfy the “adult” part of the equation. Given how many of the authors who write under house names such as Tabor Evans for the Longarm series or Jake Logan for Slocum are also accomplished scribes who publish “non-adult” books under their own name, you could reasonably expect some of these novels to exhibit at least a modicum of quality if.

Longarm and the Golden Eagle Shoot-Out is one of those installments that falls on the “better” side of the spectrum as opposed to the clich├ęd raunchiness you find in the worst adult Westerns. Like the good Longarms, it delivers a well-written story with tight plotting and plenty of action. Oh, and there’s sex scenes too. Actually, there are probably more of those than usual since this is a “giant edition” episode, which means it boasts a larger page count (250 pages) than the typical series installment (180 pages).

The explanation for all this probably lies in the fact that this particular Longarm was written by James Reasoner. Like many of his Westerns, this novel is heavy on the mystery, each plot twist unveiling a further secret involving its colorful cast of characters. The story opens with Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long, a.k.a. Longarm, in Wichita, following the trail of seasoned criminal Felix Gaunt. In spite of having killed over a dozen men in gunfights, Gaunt has only come to the attention of the U.S. government recently, when he attempted to sell diseased cattle to an Indian agency in Wyoming. Busted by a federal employee, the criminal shot him dead and is now on the run.

The stage is set for a typical Longarm manhunt but just when you think you know in which direction the story is going, the author introduces a number of parallel plots. One of these involves Raider, a former Pinkerton operative who also happens to be one of the main characters in the discontinued Doc and Raider series of adult Westerns formerly published by Playboy Press and subsequently by Berkley. Raider is now a blacksmith trying to settle down in Arkansas. Although he has been unsuccessful in finding a woman, he has no intention of going back to his action-filled past behind. As is to be expected, another plot thread involves Raider’s former associate, Doc Weatherbee, who is also retired from the Pinkerton agency and is presently working at his well-to-do brother’s bank in Boston.

Their stories converge in a shooting contest in West Texas, the initiative of big-time rancher Edmund Corrigan. The bored millionaire has decided to find out who is the fastest draw in the West. The prize is a life-sized gold statue of an eagle and if that doesn’t attract enough contestants, the potential of unlimited bragging rights and a larger than life reputation is a srtrong enough magnet for all sorts of miscreants and adventurers. Suffice is to say that neither Longarm nor Raider nor Doc are interested in the trophy nor the glory and yet all three descend on Corrigan’s ranch for reasons of their own.

The author’s taut pacing and solid characterizations do the rest in what is one of the more enjoyable of the recent Longarms. His trademark humor likewise adds a welcome lightheartedness to the story, differentiating it from the insufferable nature of straightforward contemporary “adult” or “erotic” fiction. Take, for example, his depiction of one Chastity Doolittle, whose name “was a condition with which she hadn’t been familiar in a good many years, and when it came to messing a round with men, she didn’t do little; she did a lot.”

Although “giant” novels seem a good idea if only for the fact that you get more pages for a slightly higher price, I am unsure whether this plays well to the series' strengths, one of which is the compact nature of its stories. At times it seems that this novel could have ended a couple of pages earlier and that the protracted chase that that takes place in its final chapters was added more to make this a “giant” edition than to satisfy plot requirements. Similarly, the abrupt introductions of and allusions to characters from other Longarm aventures – namely, the giant edition Longarm and the Outlaw Empress which was also authored by Reasoner – might confuse readers who are not familiar with them and were expecting a standalone title.

If there’s anything I could complain about this thoroughly entertaining novel, it is how the back cover could have been mentioned that Raider and Doc would be featured in the story. Probably not many people remember or even know them, but readers who are familiar with the genre would have certainly appreciated it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Leah Hultenschmidt & Don D'Auria of Leisure Books


I have been reading Leisure Books—everything from Western to Thriller to Horror—for more years than I would like to admit and when I talked Leah Hultenschmidt and Don D’Auria into an interview I was more than excited.

Leisure is one of the shining examples of a New York publisher that is successfully producing and marketing Westerns. Leisure’s Western line includes a broad array of reprints—writers like Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Max Brand, Lauran Paine, Wayne D. Overholser—as well as a good mixture of new writers—Robert J. Randisi, John D. Nesbitt, Tim Champlin, Cotton Smith, Johnny D. Boggs. The Lesiure line can be found in most major bookstores, grocery stores, department stores, and online--its website is one of the better publisher websites around with a simple and easy to use navigation system that not only features recent and new titles, but also previews coming titles.

Don D’Auria is Executive Editor at Leisure Books, where he acquires and edits Horror and Thrillers, and oversees the Western line. Prior to working at Leisure, Don was an editor at Bantam, where he edited Westerns and Action/Adventure, and at Doubleday, where he edited the hardcover Double D Western line. His authors include Cotton Smith, John D. Nesbitt, Kent Conwell, Paul Bagdon, Andrew J. Fenady, Robert J. Randisi, Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Will Henry, among others.

Leah Hultenschmidt has been with Leisure for seven years. Before she began editing Westerns, she headed the company’s publicity department. Leah also acquires and edits in the Romance genre. Her authors include Max Brand, Wayne D. and Stephen Overholser, David Thompson, Johnny D. Boggs, Loren Zane Grey, Fred Grove, Lauran Paine, Mike Kearby and many others.

Dorchester Publishing is the parent company of Leisure Books and the oldest independent mass-market publisher in North America. More information on the book club can be found at http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/BookClub.cfm. Their submission guidelines are posted at http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/SubmissionGuidlines.cfm. To sign up for a newsletter announcing their latest releases, visit http://www.dorchesterpub.com/Dorch/Promo.cfm.

This is a unique interview for me—to speak to the decision makers, at least editorially, of a New York publishing house—and I would like to start with a few business-type questions as related to the Western genre. Leisure Books publishes four western novels each month, and I’m curious how the acquisition process works?

Don D’Auria (DD): I handle mostly original manuscripts, as opposed to reprints, so for me the process usually begins with a query letter, in which an author or agent briefly describes the ms and asks if they can send it in. The next step is simply me reading the manuscript and deciding if I want to make an offer for it. For authors I’ve worked with before, I can often base my decision on just a proposal or synopsis, since I’ll already know their writing style and I can trust them to write a good novel.

Leah Hultenschmidt (LH): With the exception of David Thompson’s Wilderness series, my acquisitions are all reprints. It’s a pretty simple process, really. The author (or agent) sends me a copy of the book, and if I think it fits well with our line and have room in the schedule for it, I’ll call up and make an offer.

“For authors who have a history with us, the decision to buy more titles is primarily based on previous sales—if the author continues to sell, we’ll keep publishing his books. For authors we’ve never published before, it mostly comes down to whether I like the story and the writing.”

How do you decide which older titles to bring back as reprints, and which original novels to publish? Do you always publish the same ratio of reprints to original novels, or does it change from month to month?

DD: There are a number of different factors that help me decide whether or not I want to publish an original manuscript, but the primary one, of course, is the quality of the writing and the storytelling. Also, I’d prefer to buy a book from an author who I think will continue to write excellent westerns in the future. This way I can work to help build a track record for the author and help establish a career, instead of just buying the one book then having to start all over again with another author.

LH: We prefer to reprint books that have never before been in paperback, although we have done some titles that originally came out as paperbacks but have been out of print for more than 10-15 years. For authors who have a history with us, the decision to buy more titles is primarily based on previous sales—if the author continues to sell, we’ll keep publishing his books. For authors we’ve never published before, it mostly comes down to whether I like the story and the writing. It also helps to have quotes or awards to help readers decide to take a chance on an author they might not have heard of.

The ratio of originals to reprints does vary month to month, depending on whether we have a Wilderness book scheduled or high-profile classic reprints by authors like Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, or Will Henry.

Many readers, myself included, are in the dark as to how the editorial process works. What is the typical path of a novel from the time you purchase it, to when it is actually distributed to bookstores and dealers?

LH: It typically takes about 9-12 months to get a manuscript turned into a book. Work on the cover starts about 9-10 months before the pub date so our sales reps can get out there and sell the book to stores about 5 months prior to its release. All the editorial work needs to be done about 7 months before pub, which allows time for copyediting, typsetting, proofreading and printing. The schedule can vary a bit from book to book, but that’s the general timeline. Right now, I’m editing for April 2008, writing cover copy for June 2008, planning covers for July 2008 and buying books for Fall 2008.

Every Western published by Leisure has an insert that can be torn out and returned by readers to join a “book club”—the reader will then receive every new Western novel published by Leisure at a discount. My question, as a route of distribution, what portion of total sales do these direct sales represent?

LH: The book club is definitely a nice boon for sales. And for readers—especially when you can get 4 books a month for $16.00. The total percentage of sales, though, really varies by book. The number of book club members stays pretty steady, but the print runs for each title differ quite a bit. The book club can account for as much as 30% of sales, sometimes as little as 2%. Sometimes it can be the difference between a book making a profit and losing money, but again, it really depends on the individual book.

“What may be a successful number for one title could be a disappointment for another. We don’t hold Louis L’Amour and a first-time author to the same standards.”

How many copies does a Western novel need to sell before it can be considered a success? How many copies does the average western novel sell? Is there a significant difference in sales between the reprints and the original titles you publish?

LH: Again, this varies by book. What may be a successful number for one title could be a disappointment for another. We don’t hold Louis L’Amour and a first-time author to the same standards. The most important number for us is how many copies sold in relation to how many were shipped out to bookstores.

What are some of your best-selling authors and titles?

DD: I don’t think it will surprise anyone that Louis L’Amour is our best-selling author, since he’s one of the best-selling authors in the world. Not far behind him, though, is another all-time classic author, Zane Grey. I think these two authors, along with Max Brand, have a popularity that transcends the Western genre. Our restored edition of Grey’s Riders of Purple Sage is one of our best-selling titles, partly because it’s read by people who wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a Western.

“It’s certainly harder to get our titles into stores in the same numbers that we used to. As you say, the chains, like B&N and Borders, are cutting back on a number of their less profitable genres, and sadly one of those genres is the western.”

The Western sections in most large bookstores have been shrinking over the past decade or so, how difficult is it to get your books on the shelves in places likes Barnes & Noble, Borders, and other retailers?

DD: It’s certainly harder to get our titles into stores in the same numbers that we used to. As you say, the chains, like B&N and Borders, are cutting back on a number of their less profitable genres, and sadly one of those genres is the western. But wholesalers and distributors too are ordering lower numbers of the western titles that they carry, simply because they don’t feel they can turn around and sell them to stores. In our case, though, we’re working very hard to get our books out there into the marketplace, including alternative outlets like drug stores and supermarkets, to pick up some of the slack.

There has been a significant amount of talk on the Internet about the decline of the Western genre, and many place a significant portion of the blame on mainstream publishing houses for this decline. Proponents of this idea claim that publishers have failed to properly distribute their Westerns, put unattractive and unreflective artwork—of the actual story contained in the book—and basically have given up on a genre not because it is unprofitable, but not profitable enough. What do you think of these arguments? Is there some truth in them, or—from the perspective of an editor—are there other more driving reasons for the decline of the genre?

DD: Well, Leisure has definitely not given up on the Western genre or cut back in any way. We still publish as many titles every month as we ever did, and it’s still one of our more profitable lines. But in defense of the other houses that have cut back, it’s a simple fact that the readership for Westerns isn’t as large as it once was, and the bookstores and distributors aren’t buying as many as they once did. So Westerns may not sell as many books as other genres, and they may not make the publisher as much money as other genres. Even the largest publisher only has a fixed number of books they can publish every year, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that the publisher will choose to publish the books that will earn them the most money. From a purely business perspective, if you can choose between two books to publish, I think you can see the logic behind choosing the one that will sell better. But I think what’s at the bottom of the decline isn’t that publishers are publishing fewer Westerns, it’s that fewer readers seem to be buying the Westerns that are published. As I say, we still publish as many Westerns as we ever did, so we’re putting the books out there. Unfortunately, they just aren’t selling as many copies as they did even ten years ago. And those lower numbers are enough to convince some publishers to switch to more profitable lines. For us, though, even though the numbers are down a little, we’re still doing fine.

As a follow-up to the previous question, many writers and readers point to your Western line as proof that a New York publishing house can operate in the genre successfully. How has Leisure been able to gain and maintain its measurable success with its Western line? Why have you succeeded where so many others have failed in recent years?

LH: I think we have a number of advantages. As mentioned above, our book club is one. Also, in addition to the chain bookstores, a lot of our books are distributed in places like Wal-Mart, grocery stores and drug stores, which have been very supportive of the genre. Plus, other houses are publishing fewer Westerns, which gives us more of a marketshare. In certain stores, Leisure has accounted for up to 75% of the Westerns on the shelf.

“The impact is there, but it’s not huge. It’s a question of translating success in one medium to another. Not all the people who watch a Western movie will go out and buy a Western book.”

Every few years the Western is reborn on the screen—both big and small. A few examples are: HBO’s Deadwood, and Kevin Costner’s big screen adaptation of Lauran Paine’s novel The Open Range Men. Do these big-budget wide-audience happenings have a significant affect on Western novel sales?

DD: The impact is there, but it’s not huge. It’s a question of translating success in one medium to another. Not all the people who watch a Western movie will go out and buy a Western book. But whenever there’s a high-profile Western movie or TV show, it helps broaden awareness of the genre as a whole. And the effect is cumulative. One movie won’t do it, but once audiences have seen enough Western movies or TV shows that they enjoy, that’s when they decide that the like Westerns in general and start looking around for books.

LH: As Don said, one movie probably won’t have an impact on an entire genre. But it can have a dramatic effect on an individual title if there’s a tie-in involved, like with Open Range.

Now I want to ask you a few questions about the genre itself. Do you have one, or a few, favorite western writers?

DD: I love the current breed of western authors who are bringing a new approach to the western, or writing traditional westerns with a slightly different twist. That would be most of the current authors on the Leisure list, I suppose. But one of my all-time favorites has always been Will Henry. He’s hard to beat.

LH: I obviously like all of the authors I work with. But in addition to those, I’ve always enjoyed Larry McMurtry’s storytelling and characterization.

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

DD: A couple years ago I would have said publishing Riders of Purple Sage in its original, uncut version, but now we’ve done that. So now I’d have to say publishing Jesse James’ autobiography. Imagine the stories he could have told.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Wilderness #53: The Rising Storm by David Thompson

Simon and Felicity Ward have built a home in the wilderness. They have the first functioning farm in the territory, and they—along with their young son Peter—are truly happy. It hasn’t been easy, but Simon’s hard work in the fields along with the seeds they brought from Boston are slowly overcoming the short growing season and their homestead is the envy of the territory.

Simon is a kind man, one who would rather nurture the land than cause damage to another person, and while he is making a living in the wilderness he is still something of a greenhorn. When a British Lord claims the Ward’s valley for himself, the family has little choice but to leave everything they have built, or fight. While the Ward’s are out numbered, their odds improve when a young man named Zach King makes himself known.

Zach is the son of the famous mountain man Nate King—the lead character in David Thompson’s Wilderness series who has only a limited role in this title—and he is known around the country as a fellow who likes to fight. When he hears the Ward’s story he immediately volunteers to deal with the problem, and take care of it he does—he faces down a small British army, a sadistic girl, and the British Lord himself.

Wilderness #53: The Rising Storm is the first title in the series I have read, and it wasn’t disappointing. It is a twist on the traditional western—it is set closer to 1830 than 1880. It is all action, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys the standard fare of competent, fast paced storytelling that defines most series writing. It has limited character development, and an abundance of light-hearted violence, but the story is fun and what it lacks in originality it makes up for in pure adventure entertainment. If you like this kind of fiction you should enjoy The Rising Storm.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Scouting the Web

A jam packed Scouting the Web this week:

■ Prolific (and a Saddlebums favorite) writer James Reasoner has launched his new website. The list of books he’s written is worth the price of admission alone, even though he states there are several other titles he’s contractually obligated not to claim to have authored.

Michael Katz, author of the critically acclaimed Shalom on the Range, will be kicking off his book signing tour in the Northeast. Described by Johnny D. Boggs as “Louis L’Amour meets Jerry Seinfeld,” his novel was published earlier this year. These are the first three dates, where he will not only talk about the book but also all things Western:

Barnes & Noble-Jenkintown, PA • 215-886-5366
Saturday November 17, 2007 @ 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Barnes & Noble-Princeton, NJ • 609-897-9250
Tuesday November 27, 2007 @ 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Barnes & Noble-Exton, PA • 610-524-0103
Thursday November 29 @ 7:00-9:00 p.m.

If you happen to live in the area, we encourage you to drop by and say “howdy” to Mr. Katz. While you are at it, you can also check out his recent article on the present and future of the Western genre at Jew Review.

Rope and Wire has a new interview with Black Horse Westerns author Lee Pierce (hat tip to Jim Griffin for pointing us to that link).

■ New articles by Larry McMurtry: One on the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men in Newsweek and another one on photographer Diane Keaton from The New York Review of Books.

Popcorn Junkies has a list of favorite Sergio Leone films.

■ The latest issue of True West magazine is out with an article on Brad Pitt and Jesse James that’s also online and a history of Western comics exclusively available in the print edition.

■ The newest issue of Wild West magazine is also out. You can check its table of contents here as well as a very interesting historical article on the railroad war over the Rock Island Railroad in Oklahoma.

■ The Criterion Collection, a distributor of quality films famed for its handsome collectors editions DVDs, has just put out The First Films of Samuel Fuller, a box set that includes two excellent Westerns: The Baron of Arizona, in which Vincent Price portrays legendary swindler James Addison Reavis, and I Shot Jesse James, his directorial debut on the life of Robert Ford. Watching it makes for an interesting contrast with the more recent Brad Pitt film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

■ The Washington Post’s book blog, Short Stack, has a list of favorite novels about the settling of the West, including usual suspects plus an out-of-left-field pick in Karen Fisher’s A Sudden Country.

John Wayne’s Hondo will be screened in its original the 3D format.

■ Writer Tim McGuire (recently interviewed by Saddlebums) has been contracted by Berkley to publish a new novel, Texas Cowboys, scheduled for release in late 2009. According to the author, the story is a continuation of his Rance Cash Texas series, albeit “with a grittier taste to reflect Abilene, Kansas in 1871. The story takes place there with the likes of J. B. Hickok, Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, Ben Thompson, Luke Short, and a host of others names and events.”

High Country News brings us another article on the state of Westerns with some curious morsels. According to its author, one of the possible reasons for the genre’s sales decline is that “readers finally got sick of all those backward portrayals of women and Native Americans, and the romanticized views of frontier life.” I wonder if she’s read writers like Richard S. Wheeler, whose works easily disprove that assertion.

After a protracted discussion on ways to reinvigorate Westerns, she concludes: “For if we know the myths, we can practice what Western historian Patricia Limerick likes to call “myth management,” in which the frontier values of individualism and persistence are corralled into the service of shockingly modern causes like, say, energy efficiency. The Cowboy Way, like it or not, lives on. We might as well give it a job to do.” Huh?

The article is nonetheless very interesting (albeit short) and mostly focuses on Steve Hockensmith’s novels and the Russell Davis-edited anthology Lost Trails (hat tip for the link to the Westerns for Today blog).

■ Two great reviews at Bookgasm: The first is written by fellow Saddlebums contributor Doug Bentin and tackles Johnny D. Boggs’ East of the Border, set during the year Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro and Wild Bill Hickok traveled together in a stage play (click here). The second is for the horror Western novel The Blood Rider by Mark Tarrant (click here).

■ Speaking of horror Westerns, this is an interview with Robert Tinnell, author of The Wicked West graphic novels.

Here’s an interesting snippet:

Q: People who like westerns really seem to love them, but compared to other popular genres, those fans seem relatively few in number. How much of that would you chalk up to simple differences in taste, and how much to stereotypes about the genre putting off people who might otherwise enjoy it? I confess, I myself haven't given it much of a chance; I think one reason is that the stereotypical images suggest a very narrow genre, for which much depth and variety aren't even really possible. What's wrong about that superficial impression, and what would I find if I looked beyond it? What would you say is the core appeal--the one that inspires such enthusiasm in fans--and why don't more people get it? What do you think non-fans would find most surprising if they began to explore the genre in earnest?

A: One of the reasons that I think the western is so appealing is that it represents a lot of stuff happening on frontiers or borders. And border country is usually dramatic country - be it where cultures meet and clash or where differing terrains meet and likewise clash. Beyond that, in America, I think, perhaps not so much now as maybe forty years ago, people gravitated to the westerns because they felt it represented a time when an individual really stood a chance to make it - though that was probably a much more idealized notion than reality. And back then, of course, you had folks for whom the Wild West still existed in their childhoods so you had a nostalgia factor.

My guess is that Europeans have different reasons for finding the Western so appealing. I think that European filmmakers certainly found much to rhapsodise over in the American western landscape. And in the eyes of those filmmakers they could blow apart the sanitized American myths of the good guy in the wide hat - think of all the Leone pictures.

I'm always delighted at the reaction that I get from people who aren't familiar with the great movie westerns. My daughter - at the age of 7 - freaked over ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST - refused to go to bed. She just devoured it. And she loves RED RIVER. I taught a class recently and made my students aware of the John Ford westerns and they were blown away by the visuals and, funny enough, seemed quite taken with the moral compass of the film - the sense of honor.

At heart, the vast expanses of the west and the struggles against man and nature that are part and parcel of the western in film, novels or comics, allows for a lot of character study and existential pondering. Maybe not in your average Roy Rogers flick - but for sure in a great Ford or Leone or Peckinpah picture.

■ And finally, the poll results are in. The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein is, hands down, the most popular Western soundtrack among Saddlebums readers.