Sunday, February 3, 2008

James Reasoner

From the Western Writers of America:

Longtime Western writer and WWA member James Reasoner and wife Livia lost their house and studio, and all their belongings, in a fire earlier this week. They're OK, as are their dogs and children, but got out with only their clothes they were wearing. Books, pulps, comics, everything else, gone.

"This is totallyoverwhelming," James says. To help the family, Western Writers of America and Kensington Books have agreed to make sizable contributions and ask anyone who would also like to contribute to send cash donations to the WWA Executive Director's office in Albuquerque, N.M.

Make the check out to Western Writers of America and put in the memo that the money is for the James Reasoner Emergency Fund. Checks should be mailed to:

MSC06 3770
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001

Since James and Livia also lost their sizable library, donations are also being sought to help restock their bookcases whenever they have a new home. Kim Lionetti, Livia's agent at BookEnds, has generously agreed to accept any BOOK donations and keep them until the Reasoners have a place to put them. Books should be sent to:

Kim Lionetti
BookEnds Inc.
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933

Our thoughts and prayers are with James, Livia and family during this tryingtime. Thanks for your help.

Johnny D. Boggs
WWA Vice President

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saddlebums Interview: John D. Nesbitt

John D. Nesbitt has published fourteen novels, six short-story collections, and an impressive number of literary articles, book reviews, and poetry. He lives in Wyoming where he teaches both English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College, and he not only writes about the West, but he lives it and seemingly loves it.

His work is known for its strong sense of place, complex and believable characterization, and a prose that Roundup Magazine calls “elegantly spare.” His latest novel, Death at Dark Water, is scheduled for release in February 2008 from Leisure.

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions John.
Thank you for the opportunity.

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

My first novel was One-Eyed Cowboy Wild, in 1994 with Walker and Company, one of the last New York publishers to do hardcover westerns. I had written short stories for quite a while and had been getting them published for over fifteen years, but it took me quite a while to get it together to do a book-length piece of fiction. The first novel I wrote was something different; this one was the second. I had a good inspiration for the story idea, and I wrote the first draft without a great deal of angst and struggle. Once I had it ready to go, I went through quite a few dead ends (more than a year) until the editor at Walker gave me the break I needed. Her name is Jackie Johnson, a wonderful person and a great old-style editor, and she will always have a special place in my heart.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote creative stuff all the way through school, but it was probably in my first or second year of college that I became conscious of wanting to do it as something more than a hobby. By the time I was in my third or fourth year of college, I knew I wanted to write and be published.

I am proud of all my work, but there are a few books that I think of as being high points for me, in that I felt I carried things off about as well as I could hope to do.

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

I am proud of all my work, but there are a few books that I think of as being high points for me, in that I felt I carried things off about as well as I could hope to do. My first western, One-Eyed Cowboy Wild, was good for a debut novel. After that, the ones I think of as high points are Coyote Trail, For the Norden Boys, Black Hat Butte, and Lonesome Range. Another book I am proud of, though it’s not a western novel, is my basic writing textbook, Blue Book of Basic Writing. It’s now in its sixth edition, and although it doesn’t have much public, it has been an ongoing work of great value to me and a source of pride.

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

For pleasure, I read westerns, mysteries, and standard British and American authors. I also read books by friends who are authors.

My father was a cattleman and farmer who went broke when I was very young. He had a black Stetson that fit me when I was ten or twelve, and between my family background and my schooling, I grew up with the sense that I was a western person

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

My father was a cattleman and farmer who went broke when I was very young. He had a black Stetson that fit me when I was ten or twelve, and between my family background and my schooling, I grew up with the sense that I was a western person. It was my heritage. I read westerns when I was young, and then when I was in college I started taking them seriously at the same time, and I ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on the classic western. All the time I was doing the work for the project, I knew I was studying technique. My first published story was a western, published in an ephemeral commercial magazine called Far West. My second story was a contemporary rural story intertwined with a western story, and it won a literary prize. And on and on, until I got it together to write book-length fiction.

I enjoy reading not only traditional westerns, but also stories based in the contemporary west. You write both. Do you have a preference for the type of western story you write?

I like both. I feel that I have greater freedom of subject matter and form in contemporary fiction, and I have a great fund of personal knowledge and experience to draw upon there as well, but writing traditional westerns is part of my writer’s identity, and I’m always happy to be working on a western. As for the type of story I write, I usually write what is called character-driven fiction, which has more emphasis on character interaction and motivation than on incident and surprise. Landscape or place usually has a significant role in my work, also. Reviewers usually cite character, detail, and prose style as my strong points.

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

I would say Owen Wister, for his example that the western can be serious; A.B. Guthrie, Jr., for a sense of clear prose style and liberated form; and Ernest Haycox, for a sense of trying to blend thoughtful work with traditional structure.

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

This is sort of a personal interest, but I would like to see the novels of Caroline Lockhart, an early twentieth-century novelist from Wyoming , reprinted. One novel has been reprinted in recent years, and I would like to see "Me—Smith” enjoy a bit of a renaissance. It is dated, as novels from 1910-1920 are, but it gives us an idea of what a woman western writer could get away with writing in 1911.

I think the genre is better off with more writers now than, say, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the bookracks were almost entirely taken up by Louis L’Amour and the adult westerns.

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

As for the quality of the western genre today, I think there is still a great deal of mediocre writing (I’m thinking mainly in terms of prose style, language use, and narrative craft), just as there was in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and there is quite a bit of gratuitous bloodshed, rape, and general mayhem. On the other hand, I think the genre is better off with more writers now than, say, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the bookracks were almost entirely taken up by Louis L’Amour and the adult westerns. It is clear that the western genre is not as strong as it once was (through the 1960’s or so), and I believe, as do many writers, that it is not likely to regain its earlier status. On the other hand, I do not believe that the readership is a shrinking group of people who are getting older and dying. My feeling is that the western is not going to vanish but that it will maintain a low level of popularity. It is a conservative genre, in that it doesn’t change much, so I don’t expect it to change greatly in its level of literary quality.

I understand you teach English and Spanish at a college in Wyoming. Since you spend a good deal of your time with young people, I was wondering if you have a perspective on how we—both the western genre and literature as a whole—can be more appealing to the younger generation?

In the students I have had in the last ten years or so, I have seen very few people who read for pleasure, and I have seen quite a few who won’t even read good literature when it is assigned. However, in the students who are coming up through grade school and high school right now, it seems as if there is a resurgence in interest in reading, thanks to many of the highly successful authors who write for young readers. Right now, the biggest rage seems to be for fantasy, and I don’t see that evolving into an interest in westerns, which aren’t nearly as glitzy. I don’t know how literature can be more appealing to the younger generation, except that it has to be clear, dramatic, and colorful.

Okay, now let’s get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?
My latest release is Raven Springs, the third in a mini-series of crossover western-mysteries with a genial narrator named Jimmy Clevis. The next one scheduled for release is Death at Dark Water, which takes place in territorial New Mexico and has all Hispanic characters except for the Anglo protagonist. It should be out in February.

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

I just finished and mailed off yet another western, written along fairly traditional lines. Until I get a publication date and a cover, I usually don’t say much more than that. This one is under contract, though, so I don’t think I’ll jinx it by saying as much as I did.

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?

I’m the kind of writer who straddles the lines—in my case, between literary and traditional (one reviewer characterized me as someone who writes literary traditional westerns, and I think that is accurate) and between historical and contemporary. I want to keep trying to write individual novels of quality, in both the genre western and the contemporary western novel. So if I had to choose one, I’d say, yeah, both.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Saddlebums Review: Hellfire Canyon by Max McCoy

The regular readers of Saddlebums have probably noticed it has been a little quiet around here the past few weeks, and there is a reason. It’s not that I’m not reading, don’t enjoy a solid Western, or anything else like that. The problem is, I recently—three weeks ago—started a new job and it’s taking most of my energy right now, but things are beginning to break. I think. So bear with me—and my Saddlebums partner Gonzalo—while I get the new schedule down and get back to the nitty-gritty operation of a blog.

And to whet your appetite I have a few completed author interviews—Peter Brandvold, and John D. Nesbitt to name two—and I’m working on a few reviews as well. Until then here is a review of Max McCoy’s Hellfire Canyon I wrote in April 2007 for my Gravetapping blog. It's a terrific novel written by a versatile and very dependable author.

Hellfire Canyon is the story of Jacob Gamble: outlaw, renegade and general hell-raiser. He is the archetypical western outlaw, with one exception: He is likable, and rather than the antagonist, he is the hero.

The novel begins when three men trample into young Jacob’s farmhouse and demand breakfast from his mother. They are confederate soldiers with a platoon of blue bellies hot on their trail. This is the catalyst that shapes Jacob’s life—the Union soldiers burn down his home, and he discovers his father is in lockup scheduled to by hanged. Jacob and his mother set out to save his father, but instead they find themselves crossing Missouri in the company of a stranger, facing cutthroats, soldiers, the coming winter, and finally forced indoctrination into the gang of the notorious killer Alf Bolin.

Hellfire Canyon is not the typical. There is violence, but there is something more—a yearning and understanding of history, legend, and even folklore. Gamble is an admitted liar, killer and thief, but he—the story is written in first person—portrays himself never as a victim, but as a survivor. Interestingly, in the opening pages of the novel he casts doubt on everything that is to come: And I won’t tell the truth. Instead, I will spin the tale that is expected—that I was forced by circumstances at the tender age of thirteen to become the youngest member of the Bolin gang.

Hellfire Canyon is a campfire story. It is raw, tender, and fresh, but we are left knowing it isn’t the real story. It is the story the witness—Jacob Gamble—wants us to know, or perhaps more accurately thinks we want to know. It is more folklore and legend than anything else, and I loved every word. Ignore the horrible cover art and give Hellfire Canyon a try.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Scouting the Web

Saddle up for the latest Lonesome Dove miniseries, Comanche Moon, starring Val Kilmer, Steve Zahn and Karl Urban. The six-hour, three-part extravaganza will air Jan. 13 on CBS. A prequel to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, this is the final installment in the saga. Here’s an interview with actor Karl Urban.

■ Two interesting book reviews from the Vintage Hardboiled Reads blog: Sabadilla by Richard Jessup and The Appaloosa by Robert MacLeod.

■ The newest issue of the Western Writers of America’s Roundup Magazine is out and with plenty of interesting offerings. Check out Stephen Lodge’s review of the 17th Annual Festival of the West in Arizona as well as its traditional book review section, Western Bookshelf, including comments on novels by Elmer Kelton, Bill Pronzini, Lauran Paine, and many others.

■ Here’s an interesting review of The Thunder Riders by Frank Leslie (a.k.a. Peter Brandvold) from Bookgasm.

Ron Fortier’s Pulp Fiction Reviews blog discusses the new Western anthology Where Legends Ride, a collection of stories by new and upcoming writers as well as several authors who regularly pen novels for the UK-based Robert Hale Publishers’ Black Horse Westerns.

■ takes another look at Charles PortisTrue Grit on the occasion of its recent 40th anniversary.

Soviet Cowboys? ’Nuff said…

The Guardian on female characters in the new crop of Western films.

■ The Chicago Tribune takes a look at The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner.

■ Over the last few weeks, Pulpgen has posted a slate of new downloadable Western pulps, including stories by Hapsburg Liebe and Lon Williams.