Thursday, November 30, 2017

Many Rivers to Cross

“I’m much obliged, Stuee. I really am.”

“You are?” She closed the space that Bushrod had opened between them. “If that’s so, you might show that you’re obliged.”

“What do you mean? I said—”

“You might kiss me.” Stuee spoke like a wistful child.

“I reckon maybe that’s the least I could do.” Bushrod leaned down. He kissed her lightly on the cheek, and the clean, faint odor of her skin tingled in his nostrils.

This light-hearted 1955 novel from the ever-reliable Steve Frazee exhibits him in his comic mood. We have the tale of a Kentucky trailblazer and the young mountain girl who decides “He’s the one” and the lengths that she’ll go to get that one.

It has lots of lusty charm that reminded me of the good ol’ time had by all in the John Wayne film McLintock.

It has a serious turn with a bit of jeopardy in a spot or two, but for the most part, Frazee seems intent on bringing a smile to our lips with this mountain folk bedroom farce.

A fine production.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Quote of the Week

From a New Mexico Territory Newspaper Editorial, circa. 1880

There are no county officials in Potter County in the Panhandle of Texas. Better yet, there are no state officers to interfere with the unalloyed liberty which the inhabitants of that county enjoy. When any horse thieves or bad characters make their appearance they are strung up to the cottonwoods.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Woe to Live On

Manners won’t cost you a thing, but they may gain you plenty.”

Daniel Woodrell takes on the Border Conflict handled so ably by James Carlos Blake in his Wildwood Boys. Here, we follow some young men ready to raise hell as part of the First Kansas Irregulars, i.e., “Bushwhackers” as they move from boys playing at war, to young men in war, to something a bit darker that perhaps goes a bit beyond war.

It is a fine novel, written with care, but I would be less than candid if I did not say that I read it after the aforementioned Wildwood Boys and kept wanting this novel to be that novel. It is undoubtedly well-written, but perhaps a florid passage here and there that smacks of “significance” raised me out of the spell of the tale occasionally.

That criticism is of me and not this book as perhaps I lack the discernment to divine this undoubtedly talented artist’s method.

I will close with a quote, not from the book in question, but from the author himself that he offered in an interview. For this quote alone, I am indebted to him.

“The Ozarks is where I learned my values. It’s better to be poor than to be beholden. Wealth is not the object of life. You should be polite as long as possible and, when you can’t be polite anymore don’t run.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Conversation with Paul Bishop

For those not in the know, Paul Bishop [among many other fascinating things--another day] the author of fifteen novels and has written numerous scripts for episodic television and feature films. A regular speaker at writing conferences, Paul has mentored a monthly writing group for the past five years. His latest book, Lie Catchers, is the first in a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. The sequel, Admit Nothing, is due in 2018. 52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels will shortly be followed by 52 Weeks • 52 Western Movies and 52 Weeks • 52 Western TV Shows.

Mr. Bishop, first things first, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this conversation. Now, on to your most recent work, which is mighty damn interesting, 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels: Six-Gun Favorites and New Discoveries. Western fans such as myself are always slobbering for good reads and here you have packaged some mighty interesting gems. Might I ask, how many novels do you think you had to read to winnow down to the gold?

Because there is a very subjective nature to 52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels, the winnowing down process was not about attempting to identify or list ‘the 52 Best Westerns.’ Each of the 52 included novels had to resonate in some personal fashion with the individual writing the entry, which led to some interesting choices. 

For my co-author/editor Scott Harris and myself it meant limiting ourselves to sixteen novels out of a whole genre we love—obviously the hard part. We chose our favorite books by our favorite authors without regard to any academic or reference worthiness. These were books we were passionate about sharing with others. The reason we chose to include eighteen guest contributors is Scott and I were excited to learn about what books they were enthusiastic about sharing.

This process lead to something we proudly consider purposely special and eclectic. Readers new to the genre will get a unique overview of the genre where the contributors are indelibly linked to their entries—something readers will find nowhere else. Conversely, hard-core Western fans will find new facts about their favorite books from fans just like them. Hopefully, both greenhorn fans and weathered page wranglers will be intrigued to branch out and try authors new to them or those they may have overlooked.

I always like things spoiler-free and I don’t want to give away what you’ve worked hard to do by listing titles included in the book, but I will say, there are a few 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. Now, I don’t wanna to give anything away, but can you name at least three titles that you think readers might be surprised to find on the list?

The Cowboy and the Cossack by Claire Huffaker is possibly the best Western we could recommend without hesitation. I’ve never know a Western fan well-read in the genre who doesn’t consider it one of the best, if not best, Western they have ever read. It’s a terrific story worthy of much wider attention.

Another praiseworthy gem would be H. A. DeRosso’s .44, a Western noir as dark and desperate as any you will find. Also, Henry Goes Arizona by W. C. Tuttle is a great illustration of the humorous Western—a hard trick to pull off in any genre while still providing a solid story. 

Allow me to say the design of the book is gorgeous, not only is the information pure gold it is a pleasure to browse. Also, the reviews of the novels themselves are exceptional. 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?

Scott was actually the inspiration. He believes doing something positive toward your personal goals every week for a year will have astounding results. Followed this philosophy, Scott set off on a quest to read a novel a week for a year and write down his thoughts about each of them. When he showed me the end product, I immediately thought of doing a series of 52 Weeks • 52 (Whatever) books. Since we are both huge fans of the Western genre, we decided to create a 52 project featuring Western novels.

All right, I heartily recommend all Western fiction fans to pick up this useful book. 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.

There were novels that didn’t miss the mark as much as they couldn’t scramble on to the crowded bus (so to speak). Once we had compiled 52 essays, we quickly realize it would be easy to compile another 52 novels equally worthy of inclusion. Immediately beginning work on 52 Weeks • 52 More Western Novels was a no brainer.

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”?

There were so many: Louis L’Amour, Lewis B. Patten, Frank O’Rourke, Ben Hass (aka John Benteen), and Luke Short, to name a few.

Here’s one I’m mighty curious about, is there a book or books that are commonly regard 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.”

Because of its acknowledged presence in the beginning of the genre, we actually included one I ‘don’t get’—Riders of the Purple Sage. Zane Grey is a revered as a Western author, but I’ve never been able to slog through Purple Sage, which has kept me from trying anything else he wrote. However, contributor Greg Goode was of a different opinion and wrote a great essay on the book and Grey’s role in romanticizing the west. Since our collection was about personal connections to the books, it was included.

Switching gears, you just landed a contract to resurrect John Benteen’s/Ben Haas’s Fargo series. First, congratulations to you, and to me as well as I love the character and am looking forward to seeing his return. Beyond Fargo, are there other Benteen creations that you love?

If the new Fargo books find an audience, I’d love to get a crack at his Sundance character. I’m also partial to his Rancho Bravo series, which he wrote under the name Thorne Douglas.

The success of 52 Western Novels has spawned an upcoming series of books from you, including 52 Western Movies, 52 Western 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 you are fairly certain will make your cut, but readers might be surprised to hear mentioned?

From my own entries in 52 Western Movies there are some expected choices, such as The Magnificent Seven and The Professionals. Unexpected choices might include two films starring Audie Murphy, 40 Guns To Apache Pass and Posse From Hell. As to 52 Western TV Shows, I’ll be covering such expected entries as Wanted: Dead Or Alive and Have Gun Will Travel, but will also bring in little know series such as Bearcats, The Outcasts, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (a steampunk western to rival The Wild Wild West), and Legend (a little known series featuring Richard Dean Anderson of MacGyver and Stargate fame).

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

There always seems to be something percolating at Chez Bishop. Admit Nothing (the sequel to Lie Catchers) is in progress, as is my first Fargo novel (tentatively titled Viva, Fargo!). The essays for the upcoming 52 books are piling up, and I’m continuing to edit manuscripts from my backlist, which are currently being reprinted.   

I want to thank you again for your time and consideration. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Western Words: A Dictionary of the Old West


The cowboy’s term for the best in anything, from nickel-plated decorations upon his person and riding gear to a well-dressed woman.

The noted Western historian Ramon F. Adams assembled this glossary of Old West words all culled from true sources, with none borrowed from fiction or film.

It is a pleasure for the Western aficionado to browse and I have no doubt that many an author has dipped into this volume a time or two to give his or her narrative a bit of authoritative authenticity.

This book is indeed, nickel-plated.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Hell at the Breech

Oscar looked at the cup. “She ain’t got no friends. The women won’t mention her name and the men look down at her from on top of her.” He sipped from the coffee.

Tom Franklin’s turn-of-the last century tale of rural Alabama follows the rise of a vengeance committee called Hell at the Breech. As in all of Franklin’s work, nothing is rosy, nothing is pure, and the outcome is violence in spades.

Based on actual events, the author brings his considerable skill to bear on giving even tangential figures skin and bones. Characters we believe exist, even if there are more than a few we don’t wanna meet on a dark night.

For fans of dark prose, there is much to capture the attention here.

It is no spoiler to say the novel opens with an uncomfortable drowning of puppies scene.

That sets the tone for what’s to come.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Quote of the Week

“No, because I reckon I hanged them too.”—Hangman George Maledon "The Prince of Hangmen" (with 60 death sentences to his name) on whether he was haunted by his victims’ ghosts.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Kid

So Widow McCarty took her sons to Indianapolis, where Michael McCarty’s shirttail relatives were making do, and it was there in 1865 that she became cordial with William Henry Harrison Antrim, the American son of Irish parents who’d been for ninety days an infantry private with Indiana’s 54th Regiment. His first three names were those of the ninth president of the United States, who died in office just before Antrim was born, but he grew up to be just an affable goof with a high forehead who pronounced the word “ain’t” as “ainunt.” A clerk and messenger for the Merchants Union Express Company, Antrim was twenty-three, or thirteen years Catherine’s junior, but he was easygoing company and wasn’t ugly, he adored his fine Cate when he wasn’t drunk, and he got on with the boys, whom he demanded all him Uncle Billy. When Antrim became a lazing fixture on the chesterfield sofa in the house, it was determined that to avoid confusion Billy McCarty would henceforth be called Henry, his middle name. The Kid was not fond of it.

Another superbly researched historical novel from Ron Hansen. His The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford brought James and surrounding personages to life. His Desperados pulls the same well-researched but narratively fascinating trick with the Dalton gang.

Here, Hansen takes on Billy the Kid and adds real-flesh to legendary bones. We can feel the charm and the humor of this renowned outlaw, as well as his less than savory aspects that has rendered him to history’s lists of the infamous. It is heavy on fact, but the research never feels intrusive; it becomes part and parcel of the story without traipsing into myth-making.

A very worthy addition to Mr. Hansen’s work

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Conversation with Dave Whitehead [aka Ben Bridges] of Piccadilly Publishing

Dave, I’ll be honest with you I don’t know which direction to take this interview, as you are both a Western author and you are involved in what I consider a very interesting publishing venture, Piccadilly Publishing. Piccadilly has quite a stable of wonderful authors old and new that you are re-introducing the world. David L. Robbins, Peter McCurtin, J. T. Edson, Lou Cameron, John Benteen and many other authors many of us remember from days of yore. May I ask what is your author selection criterion? How do you choose authors for resurrection?

Well, both Mike Stotter and I have been reading westerns ever since we were kids. We also used to write stories and draw our own comics, and the Old West always featured in there somewhere. Eventually we decided to do something about this love we had for the western, and we got to meet many of the British western writers of the 1970s. I was also fortunate enough to correspond with many American writers as well—Louis L’Amour, Ray Hogan, Brian Garfield, Will Henry, Gary McCarthy and Wayne D. Overholser all immediately spring to mind. In 1979 we took an idea for a western magazine to the UK’s biggest magazine publisher and to our amazement they accepted our proposal and published WESTERN MAGAZINE (1979-80), for which Mike and I acted as consultants. When Mike suggested that we start Piccadilly Publishing back around 2011, the idea was mostly to get the books of our old ‘Piccadilly Cowboy’ chums back into print. To an extent, we did this with series like HERNE THE HUNTER, CROW, HART THE REGULATOR, CALEB THORN and BODIE THE STALKER. But we soon decided we also wanted to publish different kinds of westerns each month, so that there would be something for everyone. Initially we decided to go after the authors we liked or knew, and series we had read first time round, and been impressed by. In essence, we were kids in a candy store and our remit was to pick up our old favorites and bring them to a new audience, or an audience that was as nostalgic as we were. Today we publish between ten and twelve westerns each month. 

Out of all the authors in your stable, is there one [or more] that provided a particular visceral “Yeah! We got HIM!”?

There are more than I can possibly mention. BANNERMAN THE ENFORCER, WILDERNESS, the various J. T. Edson series, Peter McCurtin’s CARMODY … the list is almost endless. Each time we acquire a new series, we feel that same moment of exhilaration. And we’ve been fortunate to commission new series as well, such as Patrick E. Andrews’ CROSSED ARROWS, Neil Hunter’s BALLARD AND McCALL, Jake Henry’s DRIFTER, Chuck Tyrell’s STRYKER’S MISFITS and most recently MAGGIE O’BANNEN by Joe Slade. One of my favorite moments was asking Mike Linaker to write some new adventures for BODIE THE STALKER. The original series only ran for six books, and I always felt that there were still more Bodie stories to tell. Mike said yes, and we now have ten books in the series, with more to come. 

What authors in the genre do you not have under the Piccadilly imprint but would love to have in the fold? In other words, who else is worth resurrecting in your eyes?

There are a great many, but unfortunately there can be many difficulties in obtaining rights. The ownership of rights isn’t always clear. Contacting authors of their estates can be tricky and requires a degree of detective work. And some writers simply aren’t interested, or their estates have no interest in getting the books out to a whole new audience. We do have a ‘shopping list’, and on no less than three different occasions we’ve thought, ‘Let’s go after such-and-such’ only to have ‘such-and-such’ contact us first! 

Many of your authors are sometimes overlooked, dismissed as “Men’s Adventure” fiction, but that is short-shrift to much fine work that has occurred at the typewriters of many of your stable. John Benteen/Ben Haas, for example, can write terse action as good as anyone I’ve ever read. There is much in the prolific output of J.T. Edson that makes my jaw drop wondering “How do you turn a phrase that well while maintaining such a high turnout of material?” What would you say to readers who have never read your authors because of misplaced assumptions?

I can’t blame readers for having preconceptions about the genre. If we’re honest about it, there have been a ton of bad western novels, movies and TV shows over the years that have relied too much on all the ‘head-‘em-off-at-the-pass’ clich├ęs. So readers can be forgiven for pre-judging the genre. But there’s a lot of fine writing to be found in the humble western, and some absolutely stunning plots and brilliant characterisation. It’s a bit like panning for gold. You just have to keep looking until you find the nuggets. 

I’d like to chime in with the fact that I am particularly attracted to literary Westerns along the lines of James Carlos Blake and Bruce Holbert, but…I still get a huuuge kick out of reading Benteen’s Fargo series, or spending some time with Sundance, I also have a wild blast reading Lou Cameron/Ramsay Thorne’s over-the-top Gringo series. It may not be Literature with a capital “L” but there is an undeniable propulsive narrative drive to the novels that is not to be underestimated. In your mind, which authors or books in your stable would you point to, to say, “So you think you don’t like these? Read this guy” or “Read this book?”

It would be unfair to single out any particular author at the expense of another. To me, they’re all worth reading because of their energy, enthusiasm and professionalism. There’s an art to telling a good story within such a relatively short page-count, and these guys (and gals) rise to the challenge again and again, rarely disappointing their audience. And let’s not forget that the object of the popular western is to tell a punchy tale of good versus evil. If it can be written to a certain standard, so much the better. But the western, as we publish it, is intended purely for entertainment, with no higher pretension than simply to engage its audience, to put them smack in the thick of the action and give them a rollicking good time.

What Western authors or novels outside of your own imprint would you point readers towards? Books or people that make you say “You have GOT to read this?”

Off the top of my head I would say Luke Short, Lewis B. Patten, Gordon D. Shirreffs and of course anything by Harry Whittington. I think readers could do worse than search out these writers. 

Turning towards your own work. You have written many novels, Westerns and in other genres, but today I’d like to focus on your Westerns. You’ve got a no-nonsense laconic style that strikes me as pared down Elmore Leonard. Your novels have a “jump right to it” feel that I appreciate. As an example, here’s your opening sentence from Five Shots Left.

Given that he’d once been called the most dangerous man in the territory, Jesse Rayne proved to be a model prisoner. He kept to himself, and said yes sir and no sir, and never, ever made trouble—which was odd, because Rayne had spent practically his entire life making trouble.”

There we are in the thick of things, with a point of view, and a bit of “Hmm, what’s going?” from the get go. How much time do you put into getting the opening just right?

I can’t stress how important your opening line is. It has to pique the reader’s curiosity and make him/her want to read on, or you’ve lost them before you’ve even started. The two opening lines I took most pride in were “It was a hell of a day for a multiple hanging,” which my wife gave me for HANGMAN’S NOOSE, and a rather more to the point, “The bastards,” which opens a book called LAW OF THE GUN.

You also do a fine job with not going for the easy description. You allow observation to slide past the reader without calling attention to it. In Flame and Thunder we find this descriptive line: “O’Brien searched his surroundings through eyes the color of robin’s eggs.”

Again, do you find such observation comes easy to you or do you take great pains to construct theme?

Someone once said that easy reading was hard writing. It’s true. You want to build up the scene in such a way that your reader is right there beside you. But you must be clever about it, not hit them over the head with it. I decided many years ago that the only thing left of ANY real originality in the genre was the style in which the story is told. If you can create an engaging, entertaining style, and be clever but not fussy with your choice of words, that alone can sometimes be all you need to carry the story. But the bottom line is always simply to entertain. If you can give your reader a great time, then you’ve done your job. 

How much research do you put into your novels? Do you immerse yourself in the history, visit locations, or simply put what’s in the head on the page?

Usually, I research specific points as I go along, and as they’re thrown up by the story. That way I only research the material I need to research, and don’t get sidetracked and possibly tricked into adding a lot of extraneous material just to show how clever I am. And by seeming to throw these details away within the body of the story, you create an impression that you’re actually writing from first-hand experience, not dry research. But this throws up another point that is of increasing concern to me—that writing should never, ever be an ego trip. You should always check your ego at the door. All that matters is the story and the reader. If you’re in this business to feed your own sense of self, you really need to think again. I see this more and more now that we can all, if we choose, publish our work. Too many ‘writers’ merely play at it to satisfy their own egos.

What’s next for you and for Piccadilly Publishing?

Ah-ha, that would be telling! But we certainly intend to keep going for quite a time yet, and hopefully continue to build on the fabulous relationship we have with our readers. As for me, I’m presently writing a new stand-alone western entitled SEND FOR MORGAN STARR, and with luck my screenplay SHADOW FLATS will go before the cameras in the spring of 2018. That’s going to be a lot of fun, a mixture of the western and supernatural.

I want to thank you again for your time and consideration. It’s been an honor corresponding with you.

On the contrary, the pleasure and privilege has been all ours!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Biographical Sketch of James Bridger: Mountaineer, Trapper, and Guide

“While Bridger was not an educated man, still any country that he had ever seen he could fully and intelligently describe, and could make a very correct estimate of the country surrounding it. He could make a map of any country he had ever traveled over, mark out its streams and mountains and the obstacles in it correctly, so that there was no trouble in following it and fully understanding it. He never claimed knowledge that he did not have of the country, or its history and surroundings, and was positive in his statements in relation to it. He was a good judge of human nature. His comments upon people that he had met and been with were always intelligent and seldom critical. He always spoke of their good parts, and was universally respected by the mountain men, and looked upon as a leader, also by all the Indians. He was careful to never give his word without fulfilling it. He understood thoroughly the Indian character, their peculiarities and superstitions. He felt very keenly any loss of confidence in him or his judgment, especially when acting as guide, and when he struck a country or trail he was not familiar with he would frankly say so, but would often say he could take our party up to the point we wanted to reach. As a guide I do not think he had his equal upon the plains.”

This brief eulogy written in 1905 by a man who knew Bridger well, General Grenville Dodge, was his attempt to remind a forgetful populace of the debt that was owed to Jim Bridger.

Dodge’s military bearing comes through as he takes a “just the facts” approach to his subject, and the volume may be better for it. We have in Dodge’s own words, as well as that of many other military men just how valuable a scout Bridger was.

This can be read in half-an-hour, but Bridger and Dodge’s estimation of him will linger long after.

Do they even make men like this anymore?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dakota Boomtown

Brule, Dakota Territory, was a town beginning to boom, he had heard.  Nearest railhead to Deadwood, which was doing some brisk booming of its own. A place where a man might do many things—get himself shot, maybe, or win a fortune.”

This Frank Castle Fawcett Gold Medal offering from 1958 is a sort of two-in-one affair. The 1st half of the novel has a laid back genial vibe very much like James Garner’s “Support Your Local Sherriff” [an excellent flick by the way.) I found this quite enjoyable.

The second half goes for a darker tone and completely loses the affable timbre-I feel it suffers for this. Keep the 1st half and you’ve got an easy B+ read, but the tone-jarring second half takes it to a C for me.

I will say the novel has some of the most intriguing playing poker scenes I’ve come across in print. Thoroughly detailed in a play-by-play manner, but so well-written they never lost me in minutia. The author is able to somehow make the flick of a card vibrant. Quite a card trick, that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quote of the Week

“Never borrow trouble, or cross a river before you reach it.”

This bit of wisdom comes from Oliver Loving, the legendary rancher and cattle-driver who, with Charles Goodnight, helped establish the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

You'll find much of the man borrowed for inclusion in McMurtry's classic Lonesome Dove novels.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Main-Travelled Roads

“Council moved about uneasily in his seat and stopped his stammering gratitude by saying: "Hold on, now; don't make such a fuss over a little thing. When I see a man down, an' things all on top of 'm, I jest like t' kick 'em off an' help 'm up. That's the kind of religion I got, an' it's about the only kind."

They rode the rest of the way home in silence. And when the red light of the lamp shone out into the darkness of the cold and windy night, and he thought of this refuge for his children and wife, Haskins could have put his arm around the neck of his burly companion and squeezed him like a lover. But he contented himself with saying, "Steve Council, you'll git y'r pay f'r this some day."

"Don't want any pay. My religion ain't run on such business principles."

Written in 1891 by Hamlin Garland, this cycle of short-stories, some linked by locale some not, all take place in small farming communities. The sense of place is strong, the drawing of humanity is beautiful. It reminds me of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street but without the narrative tricks to get in the way of the emotion.

Speaking of…the emotions here are deep and…if there is a flaw, it is that they almost always lead to sadness. Deep sadness of unrequited love, lost opportunities, crushing defeat. The writing is strong as I felt much of this to my core and that’s good art. But it is somewhat depressing with there being perhaps two stories total that are upbeat.

Superlative craft, but I always opened the book with a sigh.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tom Franklin Interview

Tom Franklin, award-winning author of Poachers, Smonk, Hell at the Breech, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and The Tilted World, co-written with his wife Beth Ann Fennelly was kind enough to submit to a phone interview regarding his work, the creative process, the attraction to the grim side of things, and the western genre in general.

If you are not familiar with his work, Mr. Franklin's "deep dark doin's in the Old South" easily dovetails with Cormac McCarthy and James Carlos Blake territory.

[The audio quality and ad hoc nature of the recording is due to catching Mr. Franklin on his cellphone as he was making the drive to be inducted into the Fellowship of
Southern Writers.]

Tom Franklin Interview

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Cowman & His Code of Ethics

Back in the days when the cowman with his herds made a new frontier, there was no law on the range. Lack of written law made it necessary for him to frame some of his own, thus developing a rule of behavior which became known as the ‘Code of the West.’”

This non-fiction offering from noted Western historian, Ramon F. Adams, seeks to put into written form that which was never formerly circumscribed.

It is a slim volume; my autographed original copy runs to 33 pages. It has a wistful tone, and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking for “how things were.” Who am I to doubt Mr. Adams knowledge of the era?

Wishful thinking or not, it is full of lovely edicts. One could do worse than to absorb and attempt to hew to the advice within.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Sisters Brothers

I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been immolated, so it was not as though we did not need these new ones but I felt that we should have been given money to purchase horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits and names they expected to be addressed by. I was very fond of my previous horse and lately had been experiencing visions while I slept of his death, his kicking, burning legs, his hot-popping eyeballs. He could cover sixty miles in a day like a gust of wind and I never laid a hand on him except to stroke him or clean him, and I tried not think of him burning up in that barn but if the vision arrived uninvited how was I to guard against it? Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have been better suited to some other less ambitious owner. He was portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.”

If you are a lover of gorgeous language and pages evocative of something a bit grim, then you read that opening paragraph from Patrick Dewitt’s novel and now have no need of my thoughts on the matter. Chances are you went right to the source and skipped me telling you to do just that very thing.

This exceptional novel remains strong in that opening vein throughout. It is full of side-trails, off-trails, back-trails, and odd trails as the hired killers, the Sisters brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters seek their quarry.

It plays as a True Grit odyssey with a bit wryness thrown into the mix.

Fans of the Western and the sardonic will find glories here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Quote of the Week: The Gonzales Flag

The flag of the underdog band of Texans flown over Gonzales, Texas during the 1st battle of the Texas Revolution.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

He Rode Alone by Steve Frazee

For every bastard that runs out on you in a fix, there’s three good men who won’t.”

A rugged, lean and mean piece of work by the always reliable [to my mind, at least] Mr. Steve Frazee.

The author often does seriocomic picaresque tales, this ain’t one of them.  The tale opens with this bit of bleakness

The boy walked out of the wilderness in the late summer of 1855, carrying the sun-blackened remains of a jack rabbit he had been eating on for two days. He had been alone in there for ten days.

Behind him he had left three graves. With him always was the memory of a family named Snelling, that he would one day hunt down and destroy - slowly, terribly.”

I shall give away no further particulars so  that the author’s work can speak for itself. The novel has grimness on its surface, but there is also much heart at its core.

An exceptional work.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Conversation with James Reasoner

If you don't know James Reasoner, you're in for a treat, if you do know him and his work, well, it's still mighty enlightening. 

A lifelong Texan, James Reasoner has been a professional writer for more than forty years. In that time, he has authored more than four hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres. Writing under his own name and various pseudonyms, his novels have garnered praise from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as appearing on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. He lives in a small town in Texas with his wife, award-winning fellow author Livia J. Washburn, five dogs, and thousands of old books and pulp magazines. His blog can be found at

Mr. Reasoner, I’ll be honest with you I initially didn’t know which direction to take this interview, as on one hand I want to get into your prolific work as a Western writer, and on the other I wanted to pick your brain about some thoughtful observations you offered about other Western writers a few years back. But fortunately, you have been gracious with your time and allow us to do both.

Today we’ll talk you, another day we’ll talk about your tastes.

First things first, how many Western novels do you have under your belt? I know of your work under your own name, but I believe you have also written under the Hank Mitchum byline for the Stagecoach series, as William Grant for the Faraday series, and Justin Ladd for the Abilene series. Have I missed a few?

I was Matthew S. Hart on the Cody’s Law series, Jim Austin on the Fury series, Terrence Duncan on the Powell’s Army series, and Mike Jameson on the Tales From Deadwood books. Also, I wrote 47 Longarm novels as Tabor Evans, 22 Trailsman novels as Jon Sharpe, and one each in the Slocum, Lone Star, Sons of Texas, and McMasters series as Jake Logan, Wesley Ellis, Tom Early, and Lee Morgan, respectively. I’ve also written dozens of Westerns under various names that I’m contractually obligated not to divulge. I don’t have an exact count, but I know I’ve written upwards of 200 Westerns.

Allow me to say that often prolific authors move from author to writer, that is from starting out wanting to say something then moving to assembly-line story-telling. But in your case, I never detect that boredom with the process. Every title of yours I pick up there always seems to be an engagement with the material. Do I have this right, that you still love what you do, or is this pure skilled craftsmanship? Either way it works for this reader.

There’s some craftsmanship involved, but if I ever get to the point that I don’t love what I do, that’ll be the time to pack it in. I always write to entertain myself first, and if I’m having a good time, I figure the readers will, too. I hope I’ll always be learning new ways to do things, new techniques to try, new bits of history and Western lore to work into the books. A week or so ago I got a note from a reader correcting some terminology I used in one of the books. I’ll tuck that away in my brain and make use of it in the future.

You have referred to your work as heavily influenced by the pulp fiction of the 30’s and 40’s and the paperback authors of the 50’s and 60’s. I definitely get that feel. What is it about these authors that attracts you, that makes you want to emulate them?

It goes back to what I said above about writing to entertain myself. Those authors knew how to tell colorful, fast-moving stories with lots of action. That’s what I like to read, so that’s what I like to write, too. When I was in high school, I always made sure I had a study hall period every year, not so I could work on assignments and such, but so that I’d have some time during the day to read paperbacks and library books. College was much the same. I spent as much time reading paperbacks as I did studying. (Probably quite a bit more time, actually.) But I realize now that I was just preparing myself for my career, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Your love of the pulp era comes through in your fresh takes on pulp-fiction reviews that you feature on your own excellent blog. Leaving Western writers to another day, what pulp-fiction writers still give you pause for thought and reading enjoyment? People you would direct us to so we could see what the best of the pulp-era was all about according to James Reasoner.

Most of these writers also wrote Westerns, but they’re best known for other things. Robert E. Howard is my all-time favorite writer. I feel a real kinship with him and he’s been a real influence on my work, not so much his style or subject matter as the way he carved out a career for himself when he grew up in a small town in Texas and wasn’t really around any other writers until much later in his life, the same as me. I’m also a big fan of H. Bedford-Jones, who wrote a lot of pure adventure fiction and historical swashbucklers, along with mysteries, spy stories, and a little horror. Edgar Rice Burroughs, of course, was one of my favorites growing up, and I read dozens of his books sitting on my parents’ front porch, which was my usual reading spot then. Over in mystery fiction, you can’t go wrong with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This is very much just scratching the surface.

Something that I love about your work is the terse “Let’s get this thing started” feel to all of your novels. You open scenes with lived-in characters, and often there is an implied question of “What’s this all about.” I compare it to a non-Western author, Ross MacDonald, who opened practically all of his Lew archer novels with the same propulsive skill. Do you take great pains to get these openings just so, or are we just seeing a good craftsman doing what comes naturally?

A lot of it is that pulp influence. Many of those stories started in the middle of the action and kept it up until the end. Over the years I’ve realized that I like to burn powder as close to the first page and the last page of a manuscript as I can. Get in, tell the story, get out. That doesn’t mean I have the characters in the middle of a gunfight at the beginning of every story, but I definitely like to create some tension right away. Somebody’s moving, somebody’s talking, something is either happening or is about to. That keeps me hitting the keys and I hope keeps the reader turning the pages.

I want to throw a passage at you from the first page of your excellent Dust Devils. One of your contemporary Westerns. I love the tone and feel we get from this brief passage. It calls to my mind the recent work by Taylor Sheridan in the film Hell or High Water. Gritty, nourish, and point of view all nicely packed.

“The pickup came out of the haze, passed a sign that said LUBBOCK-76. In the passenger seat, Toby McCoy watched for the turn-off and pretty much ignored the country music coming from the radio and the driver’s attempts at conversation. The driver wanted to talk about the chances of his hometown football team once school started in a few weeks. Toby made polite noises from time to time. After all, the guy was giving him a ride and he didn’t seem the least bit gay.”

Gold. I lived in Texas years back and in five sentences we know where we are and a little something about Toby’s circumstances and point of view.

Again, skilled craftsman or do you put a great deal of sweat into what feels easy?

I wouldn’t say sweat, because I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time agonizing over what I write. I do two or three revise-and-polish passes over everything, sometimes more if it doesn’t ring true. But I rely a lot on my instincts, and if something sounds good to me, I’m satisfied. Dust Devils is something of a special case, because it began life as a screenplay. I’d written about a third of it in that format when I decided it ought to be a novel instead, so I backed up, novelized that partial script, and carried on from there. Another of my novels, the frontier historical Cossack Three Ponies, was a completed script that I novelized.

You have written a great deal of series work, that is, contributing to stable-creations. Do you find this challenging in working to the strictures of a character you did not necessarily create?

No, I’ve never minded that. I got started early in that part of the business. I’d only been writing a couple of years and had only done short stories when Sam Merwin Jr., the editor of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, who had bought several stories from me, asked me to write one of the Mike Shayne novellas that ran in the magazine every month. Now, I’d been reading the Mike Shayne novels for years and was a big fan, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to write about that character and to be published under the name Brett Halliday. Sam sent me the Shayne bible and told me not to worry too much about the details, to just get the story down and he could fix anything that needed to be fixed, but as it turned out, he changed one or two words in the story and that was all. I had a lot of fun with it, discovered that I was good at writing characters I didn’t create and didn’t mind writing under a house-name, and that’s been a big part of my career ever since.

Do you find your own creations more rewarding to work on, or are you equally sparked by working within the confines of a series?

This carries on from the previous question. I have enough of an ego that yeah, it is a little more rewarding in that respect to write something that I’ve come up with, that will be published under my name. There was a time in my career that I’d had one novel published under my name and dozens under pseudonyms and house-names, and people would ask if that bothered me. My standard answer was no, not at all, because my name was on the checks. That’s me being a little glib, of course, but there’s some truth to it, as well. Writing is a business for me, and I’m very proud that I’ve been able to do it full-time for so many years. But sure, it’s great to have books out there with my name on them. I don’t know how many there are now, 60 or 70, I’d say, and that’s very satisfying. However, from a day to day, creative standpoint, I approach everything pretty much the same no matter what it is. When I sit down at the computer, I just want to get the day’s pages done to the best of my ability, and I’ve always been able to take those series characters and make them my own while I’m working on them. My Longarm, for example, was a little different from all the other versions of Longarm written by the other authors on the series, talked a little different, thought a little different. Just not enough so that the readers would ever notice. I think that’s a natural thing, that every author will a slightly different slant on the character and the stories.

Since you are so prolific, if you were asked to introduce new readers to your work, what handful of novels would you point to to say “Here, read these; these tell you who I am”?

My favorite of all my novels is probably Under Outlaw Flags, which is part Western, part World War I novel. I think I did the best job of capturing the particular voice I was after in that one. Dust Devils and Tractor Girl are my best crime novels. Outlaw Ranger is the best traditional Western I’ve done. All these are under my name. The best house-name books I’ve done are Longarm and the Bloody Relic and Longarm and the Voodoo Queen.

How much research do you put into your novels. Do you immerse yourself in the history, visit locations, or simply put what’s in the head on the page?

I haven’t had the luxury of visiting many of the places about which I’ve written, so I’ve spent a lot of time pouring over research books or searching on the Internet, in the years since we’ve had that capability. When I was writing my Civil War books, I usually had a number of volumes stacked next to the computer and would refer to them often as I was writing. By this time, a lot of the stuff is in my head, but I still look up things on-line fairly often as I’m writing. I try to be careful about how I work the history into what I’m writing, so that the story continues to flow and doesn’t come crashing to a halt for a lecture. Flow and pace are very important to me in my writing. My dad gave me the best compliment I’ve ever gotten when he finished one of my novels and said, “You know, there really wasn’t a good place to stop reading in that book.”

What’s next from the pen/keyboard of James Reasoner?

I have house-name work lined up for the next two and a half years, and I expect to continue it for the foreseeable future after that. My wife Livia and I are writing a new novel in our Western series Wind River, which will be published under our names probably in 2019. I have another Texas-set crime novel outlined and would like to find the time to write it, but we’ll have to wait and see.

I want to thank you again for your time and consideration. It’s been an honor talking with you and I look forward to picking your brain about other Western authors in the future!

Thanks for asking me!

Friday, November 3, 2017

52 Weeks 52 Western Novels

“There is a power and beauty to a good ol’ fashioned Western that is hard to find in any other genre.”-Scott Harris

“There is blazing six-gun action on every one of the following pages. Hopefully, you will be reminded of some old friends and intrigued and excited by some new discoveries.”-Paul Bishop

The quoted salvos from the co-authors’ introductions to this book sum up what you will find within. The full-title of the book is 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels: Old Favorites and New Discoveries and that about nails it.

Hardcore Western fans, and I am wagering all genre fans in general, love a good recommendation, love a new list. We love the finger that points to a what is, hopefully, a brand-new piece of reading gold.

Often such “Best Of…” lists, no matter the genre, are mighty familiar. There are acknowledged classics to be touted and so often the heft of the list is taken up by works the devout reader has already consumed, and we are left with hopes of finding fresh titles lurking way down the list.

Here, there is a refreshingly different approach. Lonesome Dove is not listed. Not because of any perceived antipathy to Mr. McMurtry, but rather the authors seem to be saying, “We all know Lonesome Dove is brilliant, right? But how many times can we read it? What else is there?”

This approach allows the list and recommendations to breathe with fresh choices, with picks that often fall by the way side. Here, the hardcore Western fan will mostly be confronted with, “Hmm, I’d forgotten about that one” or, “Wait a minute, I never heard of this title” that sends you scrambling to the mighty Amazon or the used book store of choice.

I will not spoil what the authors have done by giving away their picks, they did the work, allow them to reap the rewards. I will add that the book’s design makes this one not only a pleasure to read, but one to browse merely for the art.

With that said, the volume is an easy no-brainer pick for all hardcore Western fans.

Disclosure: After having already read the book, and evaluated it, I have now had the pleasure of corresponding with both authors. Top-notch gents! Good men, good book. What’s not to like?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Smonk by Tom Franklin

“Amid the row of long nickering horsefaces at the rail Smonk slid off the mule into the sand and spat away his cigar stub and stood glaring among the animal shoulders at his full height of five and a quarter foot. He told a filthy blonde boy holding a balloon to watch the mule, which had an English saddle on its back and an embroidered blanket from Bruges Belgium underneath. In a sheath stitched to the saddle stood the polished butt of the Winchester rifle which, not half an hour earlier, Smonk had dispatched four of an Irishman’s goats in their pen because the only thing he abhorred more than an Irish was an Irish goat. By way of brand the mule had a fresh .22 bullet hole through its left ear, same as Smonk’s cows and pigs and hound dog did, even his cat.”

Of all the deep dark doin’s down south in the old days books along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, James Carlos Blake’s In the Rogue Blood, and Daniel Woodrell’s Woe to Live On, this one is by far the wildest. It is the bloodiest and most perverted one mentioned here (and that’s saying a lot.) It wallows unapologetically in excess but is written lyrically, with astounding attention to the quirks and honesties of human character. The book wallows but it never descends into exploitation. It lives in the gutter and revels in it.
The full title of the novel is “Smonk or Widow Town Being the Scabrous Adventures of E.O. Smonk & Of the Whore Evangeline In Clarke County, Alabama, Early in the Last Century…”
Glorious title, glorious language in the Charles Portis True Grit vein, but I can’t say much more without ruining it if you decide to read it.
If you have a hankering for some bad doin’s in a squalid Alabama town at the turn of the last century, this is one bad wild wild ride.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel by Quentin Tarantino

  It was sometime around fifteen years later that the reputation of a deadly half white/half Mexican gunfighter named Johnny Madrid reached ...