Friday, December 29, 2017

The Soul of the Indian

As a child, I understood how to give; I have forgotten that grace since I became civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas now I live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable to me then; every growing tree an object of reverence. Now I worship with the white man before a painted landscape whose value is estimated in dollars!

The Soul of the Indian is Charles Eastman's brief volume explaining the inner-life of the American Indian as he saw it. 

Ohiye S'a [his Santee Dakota name] spent time in the white government school-system, returned to his people as a physician, and he is able to apply this twin viewpoint to his evaluation of the two cultures.

Deeply personal and a lovely, if idealized, vision of the Native side of things. Fans of Thoreau's Walden will find much to admire here.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Shootist

I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I expect the same from them."

What more can be said about a novel that every Western aficionado has surely read?

It is brief, elegiac, gorgeously written and would be iconic even if a fine film hadn't been made from it.

If one has not read it, the ending may surprise just a bit as it deviates from the film-in a realistic and worthy way. 

I am also struck by the clinical POV of the violence within, something that does not get transferred to the screen but it works quite well here.

A true classic of the genre.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Quote of the Week

A rancher friend of Charlie Goodnight who was wiped out in the great crash of 1873: “I’m all right, I’ll come back. I came here fifty years ago with only sixty-five cents and asthma, and I still got the asthma.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Unbroke Horses

“In those final days of a war in which there was no glory and the taste for killing was long past, multitudes of drawn and wasted soldiers set forth upon the battered countryside, their shoulders rounded and their clothes reeking of blood. They stepped over corpses twisting and decaying and some stopped to pick at the spoils while others, dull and thoughtless, threw down their weapons and shuffled ahead.”

This gem of a novel by D. B. Jackson is the real deal. He is able to effortlessly shift tone from black as night grimness to bone-deep heart-felt compassion.

We follow a few folk throughout this journey, some very bad, some good albeit relentless, and some that may be caught up in the between world of good and evil.

A truly must-read novel.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Geronimo: The True Story of America's Most Ferocious Warrior

“Preparation of a Warrior To be admitted as a warrior a youth must have gone with the warriors of his tribe four separate times on the warpath. On the first trip he will be given only very inferior food. With this he must be contented without murmuring. On none of the four trips is he allowed to select his food as the warriors do, but must eat such food as he is permitted to have. On each of these expeditions he acts as servant, cares for the horses, cooks the food, and does whatever duties he should do without being told. He knows what things are to be done, and without waiting to be told is to do them. He is not allowed to speak to any warrior except in answer to questions or when told to speak. During these four wars he is expected to learn the sacred names of everything used in war, for after the tribe enters upon the warpath no common names are used in referring to anything appertaining to war in any way. War is a solemn religious matter. If, after four expeditions, all the warriors are satisfied that the youth has been industrious, has not spoken out of order, has been discreet in all things, has shown courage in battle, has borne all hardships uncomplainingly, and has exhibited no color of cowardice, or weakness of any kind, he may by vote of the council be admitted as a warrior; but if any warrior objects to him upon any account he will be subjected to further tests, and if he meets these courageously, his name may again be proposed. When he has proven beyond question that he can bear hardships without complaint, and that he is a stranger to fear, he is admitted to the council of the warriors in the lowest rank. After this there is no formal test for promotions, but by common consent he assumes a station on the battlefield, and if that position is maintained with honor, he is allowed to keep it, and may be asked, or may volunteer, to take a higher station, but no warrior would presume to take a higher station unless he had assurance from the leaders of the tribe that his conduct in the first position was worthy of commendation. From this point upward the only election by the council in formal assembly is the election of the chief. Old men are not allowed to lead in battle, but their advice is always respected. Old age means loss of physical power and is fatal to active leadership.”

This as-told-to biography of the legendary Apache warrior by S. M. Barrett is a plain-spoken straight-forward matter-of-fact account of things as Geronimo saw them.

If one is looking for literary craft, it is not here. If one is looking for narrative propulsion, it is not here.

What is here, is a fascinating glimpse inside the mind a man who confounded many on both sides of the border. This glimpse is illuminating, but one also gets the feel that the canny old warrior is till holding back, watching, waiting for opportunity.

A true classic.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Spirit Wolf

As they waited there, Nash asked, “What makes him mean like that?”

“I don’t know, son,” Uriah said. “All I know is that he is what he is. We have enough to do worrying about what we are.”

This solid novel from Gary Svee concerns a winter bounty hunt for a wolf of some renown that has been wreaking havoc in the region.

It is a tale of survival and, more importantly, of a father and son bonding and giving room to allow the son to grow up in the midst of the hunt for this semi-fabled animal.

The tale has a satisfying stick-to-your ribs quality about it that makes for some fine winter reading.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Unkindest Cut by Mark Hatmaker

Readers, today I offer a bit of hubris as I proffer the opening chapter of my own first Western novel The Unkindest Cut.
I obviously hope that, if read, it is enjoyed, but I will warn that this ultra-grim vengeance tale ain't for all tastes. No feelings hurt if future chapters are duly ignored. Life can be too short to spend so much time with bad actors.

Chapter 1

Polybius was wrong.

            At least in this instance. Merck knew his history, and yet he was unable to avoid the ancient method of his own forced castration.  History was, indeed, repeating itself. Repeating itself in a manner best left forgotten upon some bloodied page. Merck’s knowledge of history was prodigious. The study came easy to him. So easily, that at one time at his Professor’s urging, in some dusty but comfortable office at a lesser-known institution of higher learning back East, he considered resigning himself to a lifetime of academia. That consideration had passed, along with his Professor’s recommendation (and approval), once Merck's “alternate” studies came to light. Still, there was no denying his gift for historical recall. It was this very gift that made his impending reproductive endgame all the more excruciating.

            It was his understanding of what was being done to him; the hows, the whys, the method, the probability of survival, at every step of the way, the precise recondite knowledge of historical minutia that made the begged for blessing of a quick, if not easy death recede from his grasp. At every phase of his damnably slow emasculation, it was his own informed insight into what was being done to him that piqued some aspect of his curiosity, and this oddly detached intellectual observer struggled to remain conscious. This disembodied academic “third eye” allowed Merck to survive. That, and his now primal desire, no, make that need, to seek vengeance upon those that were doing this to him. Vengeance, a dime-novel sentiment, was not a word that would ordinarily spring to Merck's mind so readily; but here, no less a word would do.

            Merck was to be castrated in the ancient Samaritan manner; how this method manifested itself here in this scraggy expanse of the American southwest he had not a clue. He wasn’t sure if his three torturers were aware of the origin of their evil. Probably not. Serendipitous discovery? Parallel cultural artifact? Instruction? Instruction from him?

Their slack expressions and a glimpse of the yellow sclera of one of the men’s eyes who strung him up convinced him that they, as many in this region are, were devotees of the poppy. Opium is a minor curiosity in this part of the globe, a welcome adulteration to the sun-bleached grim sameness of daily life, a gift from many unfortunate coolies. The three men, lackeys, nothing more, nothing less, had dragged him from the root cellar where he had been kept for the past five days, or was it six? He couldn’t remember. They threw him to the ground and he could feel one of them fumbling with his belt. Fifth century castration method did not come to his mind immediately.

            “Oh, God,” he thought, “I'm going to be sodomized. Well, we’re not far from Turkey.

            “Where had that thought come from? Ah, Sir Richard Burton, an idea from one of his many exploits into places that did not want him. Was it his trip to the forbidden city of Mecca? Or perhaps...” He was drifting, he realized. He fought to return to the now.

            “Why?” he thought. “Why be awake for your own sodomy?”

             At this point, Merck was hoping sodomy was all that was on their minds. That, at least, was survivable. Better than say, a rifle barrel roughly inserted into the anus as had happened to another traveler in this area, or so he had heard from a black-gummed cantina keeper outside Sonora. A rifle, a tree branch, a branding iron up the fundament would tear tissue and that would no doubt lead to sepsis as the contents of his colon invaded and consumed his own body from the inside out. No, sodomy was the lesser evil.

            He struggled to think, “Was opium smoked or injected?” If he recalled correctly, it was smoked in this region.

            His pants were torn away. He felt one of the men encircle his now bare waist with a rope and tie it tightly in the manner of a belt. Now the big one with the yellow eyes was grabbing at his genitals. He couldn't quite fathom what the man was doing to him.

            “Is he’s trying to stimulate me?” was the first surprised thought that entered his mind.

            He then saw the man produce a long coil of coarse rope; the kind used to tether pack animals in this area. He made a loop at one end of the rope and then framed Merck’s genitals with it.

            “What is he doing?”

            He felt the yellow-eyed man pluck at his genitals again and then the loop tightened around them. The rough fiber bit into the flesh around the upper base of his penis and looped around and underneath his scrotum, thrusting his testicles through the loop and squeezing all together in an unbearable bunching of fleshy pressure. The yellow-eyed man then stood and placed a foot on Merck’s bladder to brace as he pulled at the other end of the rope and tightened the coil. Merck was seized by overwhelming pain that originated in his groin and streaked twin spikes of agony into his abdominal cavity. It was too much; Merck vomited a paltry stew of stomach acids and undigested weeds that he had consumed while confined to the cellar.

            One of the men uttered something staccato in his language which made the others laugh. Merck, stomach now empty, dry heaved bringing up nothing but hot vile gases from a voided stomach. He tasted smoke, or did he smell it? Either way, the smell combined with the pain was adding to his nausea. The yellow-eyed man put the toe of his boot in his ribs and prodded him over onto his stomach. His bodyweight falling upon his billowing genitals launched another wave of dry heaves. His forced hyperventilation sucked chalky alkaline dust into his mouth, coating his tongue and gums with a patina of grit. He felt someone kneel onto his back. His left hand was grasped and wrenched backward forcing his arm into a hammerlock position just short of dislocating his shoulder.

            “It would be that shoulder,” he thought, as the piercing pain in his collarbone reminded him of the canyon fall that had green-sticked his left clavicle years ago.

            The pain in his shoulder was astounding but could not match the agony in his groin. He could feel someone tie his left hand behind his back to the belted rope around his nude waist. The knot was cinched tightly enough around his wrist to make him open his eyes; he could see a small fire had been made about twenty-feet from a long dead cottonwood tree.

            “So, I did smell smoke,” he thought.

             One of the men was squatting next to the fire; he seemed to be prodding at it with a long stick or poker. Merck then felt himself jerked roughly to his feet. If possible, the pressure on his genitals was worse as gravity forced his blood downward in painful pulsations. He dared a glance at himself, the distended bundle of flesh was already turning a dangerous color of blue, spider-webbed with violet as capillaries burst in his scrotum. Yellow-Eyes, using the rope leading to his genitals as a leash, jerked him forward. Merck, nude from the waist down, followed with stumbling steps attempting to keep some slack in the tether attached to himself. The loose rocks on the arid scrabble that passes for arable soil around here cutting his bare feet.

            Yellow-Eyes stopped before the lone tree, glanced at a stout limb approximately ten feet from the ground and then back at Merck. Merck’s mind drifted again, this time to the thought that many believe that the timbers of Christ’s cross were from the dogwood tree. Yellow-Eyes smiled, a mostly toothless smile, and mewled something again in his language that drew lascivious chortles from the others. He then threw the end of the rope over the branch. He pulled at the now dangling end of the rope causing Merck to shuffle forward until he was directly beneath the limb.

            Yellow-Eyes then looked at Merck again. He was close this time, and Merck could see the ulcers on his gums. Oval, pus-ringed sores with blackened middles stippled his jaundiced-pink gums. Yellow-Eyes then drew a long knife from a scabbard worn at the small of his back. He held the blade inches before Merck’s face. The blade was undeniably sharp and meticulously cared for. As a matter of fact, it was the cleanest thing Merck had seen since coming here. It was so clean, it was almost beautiful. Yes, that was the word. Beautiful.

            “What’s he going to do, slit my throat?” he thought. “At least a carotid bleeding out would be somewhat quick.”

            Yellow-Eyes grabbed Merck’s free right hand, pulled it to his chest and then placed the knife in Merck’s palm. Yellow-Eyes closed Merck’s fingers around the knife handle, looked into his eyes and blew him a kiss. It was then that Merck knew exactly what was to happen to him.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Out West

We don’t judge a man by the blood he was borned with. We measure him by the blood he’s got in his veins now, ‘cause we figure he made it whatever it is—good or bad.”-Caddo Cameron “Gunman’s Christmas”

One for the season. Veteran anthologists Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg give us a dozen holiday themed stories and three yule poems from S. Omar Barker.

It is mainly even reading, with Jack Schaefer’s “Stubby Pringle’s Christmas” capping it all off nicely.

Of the dozen stories the brief tale “Winter Harvest” by John Prescott stands tall.

I can think of worse ways to spend a season’s evening than to dip into this volume

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Conversation with Steve Myall

Today's interview is a change of pace. A rookie western reviewer -yours truly, has a conversation with the Big Dog on the block, Steve Myall of Western Fiction Review.  In short, if you've got time for only one review blog on your daily surf of all things cyber, Steve's is the one to go to.
What is it about the western genre, one that is admittedly niche now, that attracts you and keeps you coming back to it?

When my mother was pregnant with me she went to the cinema to watch a western. Part way through she had to leave for I had decided it was time to emerge into the world. She has always said that she’s convinced I could hear the western and that became part of my being when I was born. She could well be right as I cannot remember a time that I haven’t enjoyed westerns. The stunning scenery, the sound and sight of galloping horses, the clash of cultures, bad verses good, the different plotlines and the action just keep me coming back for more.

As I mainly read books that are part of series then the need to see what the main character(s) will face next, especially if the stories have strong continuation from book to book, ensure I’m going to read the following one.

Being asked to read westerns by publishers or authors for reviews keep me reading the genre too.

Have you found that your loves or tastes in the genre altered once your started penning reviews? That is, did having to articulate what you liked wind up changing how you saw the works in front of you?

My tastes haven’t changed since I started penning reviews. I think that would be down to age. When I grew up I wanted action, the more graphic the violence the better and let’s face it the western series being written in the UK at that time came from the Piccadilly Cowboys and they fulfilled my need superbly. I tried a couple of American series and didn’t really take to them, but later in life I started to appreciate them more and now I happily read all kinds.

Writing reviews has never altered how I reflect on the story I just read.

There is so much gold in the genre, obviously we both feel this way, or we wouldn’t be so passionate as to go on and on about it, but…there is also some admittedly bad writing within the genre. How often do you come across work that is so bad, or at least, so not to your tastes that you can’t get beyond the first page?

The explosion of ebook authors seems to have made it easy for poor writing to be published, sometimes this is down to the fact that many of these writers don’t seem to have anyone proof read and check for grammar. This has been particularly noticeable if English isn’t the authors’ first language. The beauty of ebooks is you can usually read a bit on line and make your mind up about them before buying.

I get a lot of books from one publisher and their publications feature work from a vast variety of authors and there are some whose writing just doesn’t click with me. These I rarely read but I will add finding an author like this doesn’t happen that often these days.

 Are there acknowledged classics or authors in the field that leave you scratching your head, wondering, “I don’t get the appeal”?

Yes. Lots. But I believe this is down to the time they were written. Some of the old pulps for instance I struggle with due to the old time lingo and beliefs. There are a couple of today’s writers that I don’t read much of due to their style just doesn’t gel with me. Of course this doesn’t mean they are bad writers as many people do like them, it’s just down to personable taste.

Have you found that any of your favorites pre-blog altered in your eyes once you started the blog? If so, which works/authors and how did it change for you?

I can’t recall any, simply because I rarely re-read a book a read before I began writing reviews. There are too many that I haven’t read yet to have to be re-visiting previously read works. On the odd occasion I have done this it’s been because a publisher has republished one of those books I read a long time ago, but I’ve yet to discover one that my level of enjoyment of has changed. 

Can you point to two handfuls of works that you would offer to a reader who declares they don’t like Westerns? Works that you could point to and say, “So you don’t like Westerns? Read these and we’ll talk again.”

That’s very difficult without knowing their taste. For instance if they mainly read romance then I’m sure I could find a western that fits the bill for that kind of storyline. There are westerns that flirt with horror themes, those that deal with mythology and others that apart from being set in the old west could be crime/mystery novels so it would be easy to hand them something that would merge with their tastes and then (hopefully) see them want to explore the western genre more fully.

I find most people who say they don’t like western fiction have never read any when you ask them why so the first challenge is to get them to try one. 

To your experienced eye, who are some over-looked authors, or unacknowledged books that you feel should be more widely known in the genre?

This is a difficult question as again it all comes down to taste. What I might suggest may not be something others will like. As you’ve asked I will throw a few names into the mix. Edward M. Erdelac, Lee Clinton, Tell Cotten, Elisabeth Grace Foley, Jere D. James and Bruce H. Thorstad. Just a few that immediately came to mind.

Are there any other fiction genres that turn your crank? If so, what are they and do you have favorites to point us towards?

I don’t really have time to read anything but westerns. I will sometimes read other genres if written by some of my favourite authors but don’t do this as anywhere near as often as I’d like. When I do pick something from a different genre it would usually be a crime novel. When I was a teenager I used to devour James Hadley Chase books, so this may have something to do with my choice.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace the Texas Ranger & Hunter

The heads of the arrows used in war are barbed, and fastened on very slightly with deer sinews, so that when an attempt is made to extract them from anything into which they may be driven, they are almost always left behind in the wound. The only alternative is to push them through, whatever may be in their way—heart, liver, or lungs; but this, as you may well suppose, is a very dangerous operation, and besides, not a very pleasant one, even when not followed by fatal consequences. There is one serious drawback, however, to the bow and arrows in the hands of the Indians, and that is, that they are almost useless in very damp or rainy weather, owing to the fact that the strings they use are made of deer sinews, which stretch so much when wet that it is almost impossible to keep the bow properly strung; and, for this reason, it is always most prudent to attack an Indian force in misty or rainy weather, for they have to rely, then, mainly upon their old flint and steel guns, which are poor weapons except at very close quarters. There," said I, "Mr. Author, are some facts in regard to archery which you may note down in the 'Way Worn Wanderer' as beyond dispute."

In 1870 John Duval set pen to paper to immortalize the “as told to” life of one of the giants of the Texas Rangers; a giant both figuratively and literally, Wallace stood 6’4” tall.

It is shot through with choice observations, homespun declarations, action, but here even the laid-back portions of the account are a treat. His visit “back east” is simply delightful.

One can feel that the observant and knowledgeable eye of Larry McMurtry must have studied these pages hard in creating his own fictional Texas Rangers.

A rare thing in having non-fiction that plays as well or better than fiction.

A true classic.

A true treasure.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Arizona Nights

"He's one of those long chance fellows," surmised Jed. "He likes excitement. I see that by the way he takes up with my knife play. He'd rather leave his hide on the fence than stay in the corral."

A short story collection from the turn of the last century. Stewart Edward White’s tales veer from good-natured tall tales, to treasure hunts in the desert, to stories of survival to some out and out shocking stark violence. It is an intriguing mixed bag.

I remark on it for the last story, really a closing novella. A lonely rancher bargains for a mail-order bride, things go a bit less than serendipitously and his “revenge” is beyond Poe grotesque, and then, it somehow pulls off turning sweet and charming in the end—that’s quite a trick.

Truly an unusual volume. Not sure it’s a recommendation but I can’t say I was never not interested throughout.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Quote of the Week

“Your word is your bond and you’re only as good as your word.

You are obliged to be hospitable, you can never tell when you will hit rough times and might be the one at the door hoping for some hospitality.

Mind your business. If someone wants to tell you something they will.

Rough justice—don’t do wrong, if you do we’re going to make it right.”-A Frontier Credo

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Virginian

“When I went back again six years afterward, I was twenty. They was talking about the same old things. Men of twenty-five and thirty—yet just sittin' and talkin' about the same old things. I told my mother about what I'd seen here and there, and she liked it, right to her death. But the others—well, when I found this whole world was hawgs and turkeys to them, with a little gunnin' afteh small game throwed in, I put on my hat one mawnin' and told 'em maybe when I was fifty I'd look in on 'em again to see if they'd got any new subjects. But they'll never. My brothers don't seem to want chances."

What can I say about Owen Wister’s 1902 novel that hasn’t already been said? It is saddled with that onerous word “Classic” which often means frequently name-checked but seldom read. And to be fair, many classics can feel hackneyed simply because they were original at the time of writing but by the time we get to them, so many have copied, borrowed, stolen ideas from the “classic” that the classic itself feels a bit trite.

That is not wholly the case with this novel. I’ll admit there are more than a few places that feel that 1902 publication date writ large. There are also more than a few passages that are meanderingly long, and a few more that are so familiar to this 21st-century reader that they almost feel like parody but…there are more than enough “My God, that is solid writing, that is solid observation” passages that I see no reason to demote this fine novel from the Classic category.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Conversation with Brent Towns

For those not in the know, I’ll allow Mr. Towns to introduce himself.

I did an interview with Paul Bishop a while back and he came up with the term “Kangaroo Cowboys”. I guess that’s pretty much true. I live in a country town in Queensland, Australia. I grew up reading and watching all things western. And now I’m living that dream by writing them myself.

I’m married and have a son.

My early years were spent on a place called King Island in the middle of Bass Strait, between Tasmania and Victoria.

I write under the names of Brent Towns, B S Dunn, Sam Clancy, and Jake Henry.

The man I blame for sowing the seed for what I do is, Rod Cooper, a family friend who gave me my first westerns to read. 

Mr. Towns, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this conversation.

Thank you for having me, Mark.

Now, you profess yourself late to the Western writing game with your first novel published in 2015, that novel being Last Stand in Sanctuary, but you’ve been busy since your late start producing more than a few novels for Piccadilly Publishing under your own name, B.S. Dunn, and the Drifter series writing as Jake Henry. Late start but mighty prolific, what’s your writing routine?

 I was definitely late. By about 10-15 years. But that’s the way things go sometimes. If I did it over again, I’d start earlier.

I also write under another name, Sam Clancy. These books I pen for Black Horse Westerns in the UK.

You use the word prolific. I look upon it as catching up on what I’ve already missed out on. As for writing routine? I do it when I have spare time. Mostly at night when everyone has gone to bed. Quite often when the clock ticks over to pumpkin o’clock I’ll still be sitting at my computer banging away.

You’ve declared yourself a fan of George Gilman’s Edge, and offer Edge and a favorite of mine Cuchillo Oro as inspirations for The Drifter. What is it about these violent loners that appeals to you?

 These westerns take me way back to my childhood. I think I was thirteen or so when I read my first. We had a family friend, Rod Cooper, who had near enough to every volume of the EDGE series. I often blame him for my love of the western genre. And like a lot of readers will tell you, you either love or hate these types of stories.

But funnily enough, it wasn’t an Edge western which Coop gave me to read, it was a brown paper bag of Australian printed, Cleveland Westerns.

Are there other Edge-type characters that inspire your work?

 There is only one that stands out in my mind from the many, and that is a series called BREED, by James A Muir. This was a name used by Angus Wells who wrote many westerns under other names.

Your work strikes me as having a stark, lean and mean Spaghetti Western feel, and I mean that as a compliment. Are you influenced by this film genre? If so, any favorite films come to mind?

Not really. I have watched a few but I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan. I like to watch all westerns and have plenty at home. Although writing takes up my time now where I would have normally watched one.

I like that you used the word lean. I want the reader to feel that my westerns are action-packed without too much other stuff to distract from the direction it is headed. I like to start out with something happening straight up that will hook the reader.

Take the first couple of lines from BUGLES AND BLOOD: Lew Eden wasn’t sure what he hated more—the ripening stench of the dead or the constant moaning of the wounded. It was a little after dawn, and the promise of another hot day, with the inevitable effect the heat would have on the already fly-blown corpses, did nothing to make him feel any better.

My opinion is that this puts the reader right in the thick of it from the start and hopefully they’ll want to read more.

I think another good example is from an upcoming book THE MAN WHO BURNED HELL!: A bullet-riddled sign that had once read ‘Serenity’ stood on the outskirts of the town. The name had been crossed out with a slash of red paint and replaced by ‘Hell’ in crude hand-written letters. An apt name for the town it had become, rife with violent deaths and overseen by a man known as The Devil.

I guess what I’m also saying is that I find it hard to write any other way. I just like my westerns (The ones I read) to be full of action and I like writing the same way.

I sometimes joke that if I ever wrote a story that was say, 100,000 words long, I’d cut the population in Texas by half.

As for a film influencing any of my stories, I would only put that down to one. I watched a movie called FOUR FAST GUNS. It covered two brothers who were gunfighters. One good, the other bad. After I watched it I thought what a great idea.

I used that premise for a book I wrote called BROTHERS OF THE GUN.

As an Australian author, I have to ask, how do you nail the locations? Have you visited the West? Industrious researcher? Or simply a great imagination?

To answer your second question, no. I’ve never been out of Australia.

All of my research is done online or in books. Once I have the location of where and when the story happens, I then look up everything I need to know. Especially flora and fauna of the part of the territory my character is in. No use having a saguaro cactus in Texas if you know what I mean.

Sometimes it is all made up. I look at pictures of valleys and deserts and picture it in my mind. But you still need the flora and fauna to be right along with everything else.

That is why I like to plan my stories.

I’ve just finished writing a fictional story with Ben Bridges about the Battle of the Rosebud. There was a lot of research that went into it. Such as pictures of real-life people, accounts of what happened (Which vary greatly depending on what you read), I watched a couple of documentary videos on Youtube, and studied some maps with the different Indian and troop movements marked on them, too.

The thing to remember with this is, you’re never going to get it 100% right and that it is fiction and should be treated as such.

However, it was great to work with Ben on it and we have two others planned as well. One which covers Custer and another which covers the great Apache chief, Victorio.

I think many Western fans commonly think of the Western as an American genre, which clearly isn’t true, as your work bears out, as well as that of George Gilman and the other fine English Western writers. I am not as familiar with Australian Western writers, are there particular authors from “Down Under” that influenced your work?

 There are three that stand out to me. Ones that I read when I was young and still read today. Between them they have written well over 2,000 stories. And I would hazard a guess that this number would actually range between 2,500-3,000.

Their names are Len Meares (Marshal Grover or Marshal McCoy) Keith Hetherington (Hank J Kirby, Brett Waring, Kirk Hamilton), and Paul Wheelahan (Emerson Dodge, Brett McKinley, Ben Jefferson). 

You clearly have a love of the genre, what is it that gets you into the chair each day to tell a good story?

 That’s just it. I love doing it. There’s no other way of putting it. If you don’t love writing you wouldn’t do it. It’s not like I’m a Lee Child or James Patterson. I wish I was and could say the money was great! But alas I’m not one of that small percentage of authors who have hit it big. But hey, I’m still doing it. If a reader out there gets enjoyment from what I do, then as an author I’m successful. (PLEASE BUY MORE BOOKS!!)

What’s coming up next from your pen?

 At the moment, I’m working on the next DRIFTER story, LONGHORNS and BLOOD. Hopefully that will be finished in a couple of weeks.

Once that is done I have the novelization of a movie script titled BILL TILGHMAN AND THE OUTLAWS to do. The movie is being shot at the moment.

After that I have the first third of the second LEW EDEN book RIDE TO GLORY to finish and that story will be complete.

Lew Eden is actually Ben Bridges’ character from his COMPANY ‘C’ book, HIT ’EM HARD. Ben asked if I would like to write an instalment for the series and I jumped at the chance. (After I pestered him about letting me write something.) Once the book was finished I approached Ben about the Lew Eden character and proposed we give him his own series. Again, he showed faith in my writing and agreed.

Hopefully all this will be done before the end of the year.

I must add though that all of this wouldn’t be possible without my wife, Samantha, who is my editor. Once I’m finished my manuscript I give it to her and she goes over it for me while I start the next. Once she’s done I go over it a final time and make any last adjustments.

Thank you so much for taking the time to have this talk. I look forward to what adventures you offer next!

My pleasure, and thank you, Mark.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema

“What a man did on his own land was his business…. They fought for this country. They did it to guarantee the basic rights of free men. They just figured that whiskey-making was one of them.”-From the film Thunder Road.

Scott Von Doviak has done a mighty big favor for any of us who have a soft-spot in our hearts for Gator McKlusky, Jerry Reed, Buford Pusser, or the wild-ass ride that was Peter Fonda and Warren Oates trying to outrun devil worshippers in an RV in the film Race With the Devil.

Von Doviak knows these films are not art [well, in some cases they are, such as Deliverance] but he does not condescend to the genre either. He has viewed them as a serious reviewer might and should and finds their relative merits within what they are trying to be, which is usually just car-crashing cheap entertainment.

A fine volume that has led me to more than a few fun viewings in a genre full of the less than great.

Hick flicks, or hixploitation films, or some call it redneck cinema strikes me as a contemporary off-shoot of the Western. This exchange from the Western film master Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy conveys that connection.

They’re all following you,” MacGraw monotones.

“No they ain’t,” Kristofferson gravels. “I’m just in front.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Stubby Pringle's Christmas

Stubby Pringle sits in his saddle and he grins into cold and distance and future full of festivity.”

In 1964, Jack Schaefer, the man who gave us such iconic works as Shane and Monte Walsh produced what is ostensibly called a children’s book. It is a brief tale of a cowboy, Mr. Pringle, and the Holiday in question.

It is told in tall-tale form, and while it may be called a children’s story, this grown man finds his heartstrings tugged and his eyes a bit leaky every time he reads it.

A bondafide classic in both the Western and Holiday canon.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quote of the Week

“When eating fruit think of the person who planted the tree.”—Vaquero saying

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Last Ride to Los Lobos

“The first streaks of dawn were curdling the eastern sky.”

That is a great line from William Chamberlain’s 1964 novel. There are many such lines, but this tale is somewhat of a curiosity. It reads as if two authors were at work here, one skilled, and one, well, not so much.

There are three loooong chapters of such superficial one-dimensional characterization I find it hard to believe it was written by the same person.

As on the plus side of the ledger, the vast bulk deals with a grimly detailed uncomfortable desert crossing and the believable deterioration of men under pressure.

If this was all this story was it’d be an easy A for any reader, but those out-of-place three chapters mark this one as rough territory.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Conversation with Scott Harris

Scott Harris, author, entrepreneur, and all around good guy takes time out of his day to chat Westerns. 

Mr. Harris, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this conversation.

Now, on to your most recent work, which I simply love, 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels: Old Favorites and New Discoveries. It is exactly as the title describes, some I expected to see but more than enough surprises to keep me piqued. Might I ask, how many novels do you think you had to read to winnow down to the gold?

Between me and the various contributors that helped with the book, the number would be in the thousands. That’s based on the lifetime reading habits of Western fans. The great thing is that everyone we invited to be a part of the project already had their personal favorites. Narrowing it down was the problem!

We keep things spoiler-free here and I don’t want to give away what you’ve worked hard to do by discussing titles included in the book, but I will say yes, there are a few that you would expect as they are rightfully called classics, but there are more than enough thoughtful or little-known surprises to warrant an immediate purchase in my eyes. Without giving too much away, can you name at least three titles that you think readers might be surprised to find on the list?

No problem with the spoilers. You can share what you think your readers will be interested in. One of the great things about this book is the design and the artwork, plus the personal insights from each contributor.  It is so much more than a traditional “Best” list. However, three that were new - and very enjoyable finds - for me, were; The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker, The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton and Redemption, Kansas by James Reasoner. Please allow me a 4th. Outrage at Blanco by Bill Crider.

The book-design is gorgeous, not only is the information pure gold it is a pleasure to browse. Often one reads lists of novels simply to have the list, but here, you write as if you are presenting a case for why you must read this book. With all that said, this is clearly a labor of love. Were there other Western lists or list-makers that inspired you?

Thanks for the compliments. It was a labor of love and a very enjoyable project. I know I scanned multiple “Greatest Western” lists and perhaps others did too. The challenge was our goal of keeping each book under 250 pages and one book per author. For the most part, we stuck to that, but a couple of authors (Louis L’Amour being an example), just couldn’t be kept to a single entry. One of the fun parts of the book is that some of our contributors (James Reasoner, Peter Brandvold, Bill Crider and Meg Mims) were also authors that other contributors chose to write about.  Quite an honor!

What makes the cut is always interesting, but now, let’s get into some that didn’t make it. Can you off-the-top of your head think of a few handfuls of novels that just missed making the top 52? And perhaps let us know why they just missed the mark.

Mark - we’re already hard at work on 52 Weeks * 52 MORE Western Novels, so you’ll find your complete answer in the next book=)

Did you have a few authors that you wanted to include more titles from but you thought “Hell, I can’t list everything by this guy”?

That happened with quite a few authors, many of the “go-to” Western authors and some that were new to me. We’ll try to have as many as possible in the next book.

Speaking of favorites, you’ve mentioned that every 5 or 6 years you re-read every page of Louis L ’Amour. Let’s say you met someone who has never read L ‘Amour or has had a bad experience with a single novel. What books would you put into their hands to change their minds?

Hondo would be a great one. If you don’t like Hondo, you won’t like L’Amour. Any of the Sackett books - and there were 17 of them. It’s fantastic how he weaved the family together over various states, countries and centuries.

Here’s one I’m mighty curious about, is there a book or books that are commonly regarded as classics that you didn’t include as they just leave you cold? Leave you scratching your head asking “What’s the deal? I just don’t get the regard.”

I'm going to say no. The answer might have been different had I been the sole author. However, besides my co-author, Paul Bishop, and myself, we had 15 contributors. Even if one or more was turned off by a certain author, others would have enjoyed some of their works, or they wouldn’t be considered classics. The most polarizing author does seem to be Louis L’Amour. Some people (myself included) love his writing and enjoy reading and rereading his books. However, there are quite a few Western fans who are also not L’Amour fans. You’ll have to ask them why=)

The success of 52 Western Novels has spawned an upcoming series of books from you, including 52 Western Movies, 52 TV Shows, and 52 Spaghetti Westerns. This is great news to Western fans everywhere. Might I ask for a teensy preview of each? That is do you have one or two examples of Western movies, TV shows, and Spaghetti Westerns that you are fairly certain will make your cut, but readers might be surprised to hear mentioned?

The Movie list is already over 40 confirmed and include such well know movies as; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rio Bravo and True Grit (both versions). It also includes some lesser known films that are terrific, including; Yellow Sky, One Eyed Jacks and Ride the High Country. The TV selections will include the classics; Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The Rifleman, but going back 40-50 years, there were dozens of Westerns on TV, many, if not most, I’m unfamiliar with and looking forward to learning about - which I guess is the point of the whole idea=)

You are a Western author yourself, with currently two books in the Brock Clemons series, Coyote Courage and Coyote Creek. Allow me to say, I enjoy your work immensely. It strikes me as the sort of stick-to-your ribs story-telling where the people are solid and the action reveals who they are. What informs your stories, your reading influences? Historical research? Or a combination of these?

First, thank you! I’m new to this, but I hope I never get tired of being thrilled when someone compliments my books. I’m working on the 3rd Coyote book now, Coyote Canyon, and it will be out in the 1st quarter of 2018. There will be at least one more in the series released next year. I do do some research, but only once the story is in place. I want the books to be historically accurate. It is the authors I love who influence the books. Twain and Steinbeck are my two favorite authors and certainly, I hope readers can see and feel some Louis L’Amour in my books. However, as I’m sure most, if not all, writers do, I am trying to share my own voice, to have it be authentic and unique. I love good action scenes, but my favorite part is trying to get inside the characters head and share that with the readers. I believe my characters, and my writing, are growing as a result. I’ve come to care about my characters quite a bit and have received tremendous feedback that so do many of the readers. I’m as excited as they are to see where this series is going!

As I mentioned, I admire how your characters’ actions reveal them. You don’t incessantly “tell” us who they are. Here’s an example from Coyote Courage:

“Once I’ve finished rubbing Horse down, I turn her loose. She’ll find the grass and water she needs, and she never strays far. I figure if I treat her with respect, maybe she’ll do the same with me, and believe me, when you’re trying to tame a wild mustang—one who you often depend on for your life—you very much want them on your side.”

You have definitely touched Mr. L’Amour here. The solid first-person narrative, the man-animal bond that is offered as a considered team, not as mere tool. Do you find that this first-person approach better gives you the solidity/Western Code you seem to want to offer?

I do. It allows me the freedom to really dive into the characters. I feel like I’m learning about them at the same time the readers do. I want my characters to be strong. Certainly Brock Clemons follows the Western hero template, but I also want them to be flawed, scared, and make mistakes - enough so the reader knows they’re human and could have really existed. It’s fun to read about the brave 6’5” 240 pound fighter who can kill 10 people with a 6-shooter, while beating up 3-4 others and making love to the beautiful barmaid—all at the same time,  it’s just not what I want to write about.

Beyond what’s been mentioned, anything else in the pipeline from the mind of Scott Harris?

I plan on releasing two more Brock Clemons books in 2018, three more in the 52 series (Movies, More Books and More Movies), as well as a strategic marketing business book; Marketing Fitness.

I want to thank you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to what’s coming down the road from your neck of the woods!

This has been an absolute treat.  Thank you!

A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...