Mr. Bill Crider is no stranger to Western aficionados. Aside from penning many fine westerns, he has also written widely in other genres, serves as the President of The Western Fictioneers organization, offered countless thoughtful reviews and insights on books, authors, and matters pop in general over at his excellent blog Bill Crider’s PopCulture Magazine. Keep in mind this is just a brief listing of what the man has done. And yet somehow, he found the time to have this conversation.
Mr. Crider, sincere thanks for taking the time to provide us with some thoughts on the Western genre. With that said, I want to get down to brass tacks and offer what I consider one of my favorite first sentences of the past year. You open Outrage at Blanco with this gem: “Jink Howard sat in the shade of a tree and ate tomatoes while Ben Atticks raped the woman in the wagon bed.” That is pure attention-grabbing gold. I heard a fine piece of writing advice years ago “Let your readers know what’s at stake, right up front.” This sentence does that in spades. Is this a philosophy you adhere to as well?
I always heard a different version of that advice, which was "Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph." I do try to have something there that will get a reader's attention, but I'd never shoot the sheriff. Sheriff Dan Rhodes has been way too good to me for me to do a thing like that.
Staying with your novel Outrage at Blanco, but also staying spoiler-free so that new readers can have the joys of following up on that whip-cracking sentence; the character Ellie Taine goes through a bit of transformation in the course of this novel. It calls to my mind the film Hannie Caulder [which was minor at best, aside from an excellent Robert Culp.] In Hannie Caudler the transformation is a bit superficial and rote, but Ellie has real depth to her. Her actions make sense to me. May I ask what spawned this character?
As is so often the case with my writing, I have no idea what spawned the characters or the plot. I don't do a lot of planning, and sometimes, as in the case of Ellie Taine, a character evolves over the course of the book. I remember seeing Hannie Calder long ago, but I remember almost nothing about it at this point.
The Ellie Taine novels also have a strong Spaghetti western feel to them, at least to my mind. I don’t mean that they are cheaply done and sometimes nonsensical, but in the unadulterated grit, the baroque presentation of violence. Are Spaghetti westerns of some influence on this series?
It's certainly possible that the spaghettis are an influence on me. I quite enjoy the Clint Eastwood Dollars movies, and I've seen quite a few other westerns in that vein.
I’m flogging a dead-horse in that I’ve got one more question about Outrage at Blanco. I don’t want to give anything away, but I find your unintended consequences of a simple accident with a tomato can a stroke of genius. This minor mishap wakes us to the fact that these were harsh times and lacking in practically every amenity we possess today. There was more to be aware of then then gunfights and stampedes. Do you find that these touches of “This is how it was” authenticity add depth and breadth?
I like to add a little authenticity when I can, but the accident with the tomato can was just one more thing that evolved in the writing of the book. I hadn't thought of it at first, but it seemed just right later on as I wrote the book.
Let’s talk Sheriff Dan Rhodes. While a modern setting, I find these police procedurals fine examples of contemporary Westerns that I have no problem including in my preferred reading stack. What thoughts inspired the creation of this character?
Once again, I have to give a vague answer. I really don't know what inspired the character, who started out as a character in a short story that kept getting longer and longer. I've been told that there was never a sheriff like Rhodes, but that's okay. I like him, and readers seem to, also.
Do you find there to be much difference between writing Westerns of the 19th-century time period and those novels of the West written in contemporary settings? Meaning are characters like Dan Rhodes and Walter Longmire really that far removed from characters inhabiting a T.T. Flynn novel?
I think Dan Rhodes shares a lot of the same values that old west heroes exemplified. He never expresses a "code" directly, but I think it's clear that he has one and that it's informed by the westerners of the past.
You are a voracious reader and a thoughtful reviewer as anyone who consumes your blog well knows. You have led me to many fine reads over the years, and with that in mind I go to your expertise well again. If you had to make a stack of Desert Island western novels to see you through hard times, what books would you pack?
There'd have to be a couple by Harry Whittington, maybe Saddle the Storm being one of them. A few by Louis L'Amour. Shane, The Big Sky. Little Big Man, Wild Times. There are too many to list.
With that said, are there any Western works that don’t quite make the classic-cut but still provide you with entertainment? These can be minor classics in their own right or what some call guilty pleasures.
I don't have any guilty pleasures. If I like something, I don't feel guilty about it. As you can see from the above, not all my choices would be considered classic.
Do you have upcoming novels in the works, Western or otherwise?
I just turned in a Sheriff Rhodes novel, That Old Scoundrel Death. I hope the publisher likes it.
Mr. Crider, thank you again for your time and consideration. It’s been an honor corresponding with you.