Thursday, January 18, 2018

Interview: Dusty Richards (from 2007)


The Western writer Dusty Richards passed away this morning, January 18, 2018, from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Dusty, a nickname he gave himself as a boy, was born November 11, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois. His first novel, Noble’s Way, was published by M. Evans in 1991 and in the 27 years since that first sale he published 150 books. 
Dusty was a great writing teacher, he wrote a quarterly column for Storyteller for many years, and his love for the west—its people, geography, etc.—is evident in everything he wrote. He won the Spur Award three times: Best Western Traditional Novel (The Mustanger and the Lady, 2017); Best Paperback Original (The Horse Creek Incident, 2007); and Best Western Short Fiction (“Comanche Moon”, 2007).
Dusty’s love for the West and the written word are evident in this 2007 interview he did with me at Saddlebums. The questions are italicized. 
Dusty is a terrific name for a western writer. Is it your given name, or a nickname?
I guess I was always into Westerns. When we moved from Mesa to Phoenix I just told everyone I met my name was Dusty. I was about 14. It stuck.
Before I get too far I want to congratulate you on the two Spur Awards you received earlier this year. You won the best paperback original category for your novel The Horse Creek Incident and the best short fiction of the year for your novella “Comanche Moon”.
I don't know a greater honor for a Western writer. Spurs are the Oscars of the Western book. I can recall going to my first Western Writers of America Convention in San Antonio over two decades ago when I was trying to break into the New York market. I met those Spur winners that year and all the old hands that I’d read. I never thought this old cowboy would ever collect one of them. I was lucky to be writing and doing what I liked and had dreamed about.
If you asked me January first last year, did I expect to win a Spur? No. My close writer friends kept saying you'll win one. It went over my head like a jet and I had no idea or even inkling I'd have two of those lovely awards on my table at home. I have never written a book in my life, and that means under pseudonyms or my own name, that I said “Oh, well this will be a Spur.” 
I have studied and taught fiction writing for the last three decades. Books I have written total 76; lots of short stories and articles, but I wrote each one with one thing in mind—tell a good story the best I can.

I want to talk a little about your publishing history, what is the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?
I always wrote “books” in long hand like Zane Grey did, only I never had “Dollie” to edit them. I read stacks of paperbacks and every hardback Western in the libraries. I even sat on Grey’s cabin porch on the Mogollon Rim and promised his ghost I’d join him some day on the bookshelf.
When my girls were teens they wanted me to do something with them. I told them they had Louie and did not need me. In the eighties I was involved with a small publisher in Missouri. He had three books of mine and was supposed to publish them—after messing with him for two years I demanded my books back. He sent them back but he published them, and I’ve been looking for copies since then. There have been some show up on eBay. I had no idea for 20 years he had done that.
I wrote and I sought experts. Dr. Frank Reuter, who is a great editor, line-edited a novel [I wrote] that I thought was wonderful. There was hardly a page [without] red lines and written all over. I went home sick but I knew that if I was going to sell in New York I had to meet his standards. Book two that he did had whole pages with no marks. Reuter lived about 40 miles from me so each time I drove over after work and we’d discuss the book. Book number three he apologized and said he was so busy reading it he might not have edited as tough as the others. That was Noble’s Way, my first sale in New York. That took a decade from me deciding I wanted to really be a writer and publish—I teach folks short cuts on that time.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Probably in high school, but I had no idea which end to start on, and the fact I read so much didn’t help me because reading books is a seamless way to learn what is inside them. Now if you want to dissect a writer read only the 3rd page—3-6-9 [and] so on. Then take colored high liters and began marking him up after that—learn internalization, narration, dialogue. Learn point of view and write a million words until your words create paintings. Basketball players who become pros shoot millions of baskets. Writers must do that—they must study poetry and simplicity; poetry is a whole other deal—but there are lessons there: word images. Not a thesaurus but small words in the vocabulary of your reader. Use senses and understand body movements and facial expression. Use the seasons, the time of day, become a geographer, a plant expert, walk the ground, read the history and old newspaper accounts, diaries, and any accounts you can find. Then write what you love and it will show in the pages—they say.
Is there a book, or a few books, of yours that you’re particularly proud of?
I wrote one contemporary book about Rodeo called The Natural. It was well accepted by the rodeo people. They are hard to please and they called it authentic. That gave me lots of pride. Maybe someday I’ll write more when I find the right editor. The Westerns are my children. I love them all.
Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure? 
I read Cormac McCarthy—when he uses Spanish like too much salt I hate him. I don’t write like him but he has a way with words that deserve the writer’s attention. I won’t do anything that would make my books hard to read like lack of punctuation. I write my books with a fan in the room. I want that person to see what I see. Understand what I am telling him so he goes on reading long in the night.
I read McMurtry, some of his books are great—some I never finish.
I love Will Henry. I met him before he went to the big sky pasture. I tried and tried to mimic his style—no way
Tom Lea’s Wonderful Country stuck to me like dried oatmeal on a cereal bowl.
Elmer Kelton writes great books and is a good friend.
Max Evans wrote great novellas. He’s another amigo of mine and flatters me by buying my books for his friends
I have an extensive library of historical books and I read them—my books are fiction, but I attempt to put my characters in those scenes and not cut down any trees.
A man to watch is John Nesbitt. He teaches fiction writing at Torrington, Wyoming. He has a short story about Nat Champion, one of the men killed in the Wyoming range war in a collection of short stories currently on the racks from Kensington. I’d almost kill to have written that story. John also has several books from Leisure Books.
Jory Sherman [was] a great help in my struggle to get published when I was nobody. He writes with a pen that few can match.
Pete Brandvold. Here is a young man that will fill the gaps of the old men.
I have many friends I read. I hope they don't feel left out [because] I am writing this on the road.

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?
Saturday matinee with Roy, Gene, and Hoppy.
You have written four novels—The Ogallala Trail, Trail to Cottonwood Falls, The Abilene Trail, and The Trail to Fort Smith—in conjunction with the late Ralph Compton’s estate. When you wrote these novels was there extra pressure to please Compton’s large fan base, or were you comfortable making these novels your own? Did you enjoy the experience?
When Dan Slater (then the editor) asked me to write some of those books, I was familiar with Ralph’s books—I’d read several but instead of reading more of his I read Robert Vaughn’s books in the series. I can’t write like Ralph or Robert, but I saw what they had done—they’d written good Westerns about the cattle drives: a basic main menu of the west. So I began to find characters who needed to make those trips and [then] built a life for them.
Jim Parker of Yukin, Oklahoma is a re-enactor for the Chisholm Trail and great historian. He helped me on my first one. I met him one day when I was invited to a dedication of a mile marker on the Chisholm Trail on the Express Ranch. It was a great day.


If you could bring back the work of one Western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?
Will Henry had a wonderful style of storytelling [that was] seeped in history and geography.
What do you think about the Western genre today, and what do you think the future holds?
The west is part of our culture. It goes up and down with whims of publishers and the buying public. There used to be three networks on TV. Today there are 500 and they have diluted the entertainment mix—yes more choices, but we are all so busy making a living, or entertaining ourselves at many venues. I feel that there is no better entertainment than curling up with a real book and enjoying the story—the West is there. And goodness I love to write it.
Okay, now lets get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?
My latest novel, Montana Revenge will be on the rack Sept. 7th. It is a Herschel Baker novel set in Yellowstone County, Billings, Montana. It is a mystery and a new challenge. You have all the facts that Sheriff Baker has and must find the killers.
Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?
I have a series in formation about twin brothers orphaned on the Texas frontier during the Civil War. Interestingly, I’ve studied identical twins, West Texas geography, vegetation, lifestyles and building structures.
I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could choose any project to work on, what would it be?
Ben, I have more of them scattered over my computer than I’ll ever write.
A series about a maverick Catholic priest in 1790 Kentucky; my agent loves it, no takers.
The series about the Twins in Civil War times in West Texas (still in infancy).
A series about the Texas Feuds. Doc Sonicson at the U of AZ wrote lots about Texas feuds. It is under-written, I think, in fiction. That one is being considered.
I still have a couple completed novels in a series that publishers backed out of that I think are powerful.
P.S. A collection of my published short stories called Waltzing with Tumbleweeds is available at AWOC.com. I have heard more comments on it than any other thing I have written.
“Comanche Moon,” the novella that won the short Spur, I wrote for a national magazine that publishes western serials. I felt they needed a good one. I got their guidelines and I really polished it, but when I submitted it they said they were not interested. Dan Slater asked for it on the kick off of Amazon shorts—if the magazine had taken it I might have missed the Spur.

Monday, January 15, 2018

LYNCHED by Ed Gorman


Ed Gorman wrote no fewer than 10 western novels for Berkley between 1999 and 2006. The earlier titles tended to be branded with a single word—Lawless, Vendetta, Relentless, Lynched—and like all of Mr. Gorman’s westerns, each is as much a mystery as a western. I recently read his novel Lynched, originally published by Berkley in 2003, and annoyingly out-of-print..
Ben Tully is a quiet working class marshal in a small, unnamed, frontier town. The new century is approaching, and the world is changing. The business of law is moving from the end of a gun to a more scientific approach. Fingerprints are a big deal in the trade magazines (even if the courts don’t approve), as is reading a crime scene for evidence. But the future is far away when Tully finds his town dark and quiet, his office a shambles—the night deputy beaten and unconscious—and a man swaying, dead, at the end of a rope behind the jail.
The town has a secret. Everyone knows who hanged the man, and why. The woman he killed was Marshal Tully’s sweet young wife. The evidence was clear—he was covered with blood, and in his pockets were a few items from Tully’s house. Open and shut, but Tully doesn’t trust the mob verdict, and when the dead man’s sister came to town crying his innocence she found an unlikely ally.
Lynched is a melancholy crime novel wrapped and delivered as a western. The prose is lean and smooth; something close to hardboiled, but not quite. It is sharp with working class pain and a palpable angst—
There was a cold amusement—an arrogance—in the man’s voice that Tully didn’t like. A superiority. Tully wasn’t educated, rich, or fashionable. He wasn’t particularly intelligent, virtuous, or cunning. When people talked down to him, the way this man did, he secretly felt he deserved it.
It is cast with a litany of scoundrels and saints, and it is often difficult to tell one from the other. There is a wandering con man, cum actor, a self-absorbed, and somewhat delusional, boarding house mother, a beautiful and shy young woman, a saloon and casino keeper, and Tully. And the town, and everyone has their own agenda. The mystery is sharp and plotted with a sure hand. There is more than one red herring, and I didn’t guess the ending until the final pages.
Lynched is a winner. It is entertaining, and, in its small and quiet moments, thought provoking.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

An interiew at Bish's Beat

It’s been an interview kind of week. I interviewed Brent Towns—see the prior post—and now I’m interviewed at Paul Bishop’s website, Bish’s Beat. If you’re interested, check it out

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Interview: Brent Towns


Brent Towns is a writer on the move. Over the past few years he has hit the Western genre with a vengeance and published more than 20 novels under his own name and various pseudonyms, including B. S. Dunn, Sam Clancy and Jake Henry. He has co-written, with Ben Bridges, two novels featuring Lew Eden, as well as continued Ben Bridges’ cavalry series Company ‘C’. His work, to date, has been high quality, action-centered Westerns, which have been lauded by readers worldwide as “fast paced,” “entertaining,” and “adrenaline rush” inducing. 
Brent makes his home down under, in Australia, where he lives with his wife and son and is relentlessly punching the keys for another solid story towards those two wondrous words—“the end”. While Brent has yet to crack the American market, his time will come, and sooner rather than later, and once he does his name will be everywhere.
Brent was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions. The questions are italicized and so much less important than the answers. 
What’s your latest novel? 
I have two, actually. Drifter #5 Longhorns and Blood and a Black Horse Western titled The Man Who Burned Hell! 
The first book is published by Piccadilly Publishing in the U.K. and follows the adventures of my serial character Jeff Savage after he comes home from the Civil War. 
The second book is published by The Crowood Press, also in the U.K. This story contains a recurring character named Josh Ford, a no-nonsense Deputy U.S. Marshal who is sent to a town called Paradise with the sole purpose of bringing to an end the reign of terror by a man known as “The Devil”.
[Editor’s note. Drifter #5 Longhorns and Blood is published as by Jake Henry, and The Man Who Burned Hell! is published as by Sam Clancy. Both are available as ebooks in the United States.]

Without breaking any of your personal taboos, would you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?
I’m actually working on three stories at the moment. One is a novelization of a movie manuscript titled Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws. The movie is set to be finished sometime this year and the script was written by Dan Searles.
The second is book 2 in the Lew Eden series. I’m collaborating with well-known western author Ben Bridges on this one. Which is a great experience for me, having grown up reading many of his books. 
This story surrounds the battle on the Little Bighorn which was quite fun to research with all of the varying viewpoints. I know some people will disagree with me but I found Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand to be a great read and valuable source of information.
The third is a modern-day story titled Retribution. It is a genre I’ve never written before and is one of my challenges for 2018.
How is it different working on a novelization, based on a screenplay, than it is developing your own novel?
Working on a novelization is a great experience. For starters the path is all planned out, so you don’t have to do too much on that side. The characters are already there so you just have to bring them to life. One thing I was told before I did my first was that the reader doesn’t want to see a carbon copy of the movie. Make the story your own. Subtle changes here and there can help with that.
I’ve written two now. The first seemed easy enough so I didn’t hesitate when asked to do the second. Bill Tilghman, however, threw me up a different set of challenges which required various communications with the screenwriter. A nice bloke by the way. Always ready to answer any questions that I had.
Now that I’ve finished the first draft, we'll see how it has turned out.
What was your first published novel? 
My first “accepted” book by a mainstream publisher was called Fury at Bent Fork. It was accepted by Robert Hale in the U.K. not long after I self-published my first written book. (Interestingly enough I consider this book to be NOT my best work and yet is has more great reviews than the others)  
The feeling you get when you finally get the acceptance notification still feels as great today as it did the first time. 
I’ve been lucky in my writing journey to have had minimal rejections so far. But with a new year comes new challenges and in 2018 I’m targeting a new genre with the U.S. market in mind. Who knows, it could be the year of the rejection. But if you don’t try, what’s the point?
[Editor’s note. Fury at Bent Fork is published as by B. S. Dunn, available as an ebook in the United States.]  

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I guess I’ve always wanted to write, even as a child. However, I figure the time wasn’t right back then and life had other journeys set out for me. But in 2015 everything aligned, and it has been all go since then. 
How do you go about writing?
I write when I can. Depends on what the days throw at me but most of it is done at night after everyone is in bed.
I like to plan most things with my writing, I have a cupboard full of scribble books with ideas and plot plans. However, these are mostly a guide. A lot of the time I get about halfway through and the stories take on a life of their own and the plan has gone out the window.
Do you have any specific pleasures, or displeasures, that come from writing? 
Pleasures? Hmm. I guess the greatest pleasure is the sense of achievement once the manuscript is complete. Nothing like those two little words at the end of a story.
Displeasures? The middle of the book. I usually start off in a blaze of glory and fly through the first third. Get to the middle and it seems to drag. Hard work is that part. Then after you chop through it, the final part seems to rocket along again. 
I don’t mind going through edits when I get them. After all, they are designed to make your book better. The proofs, however, I could do without. I’d rather be writing than reading those.
Readers? Readers are great. Fantastic. Without them I’d be out of a … I hesitate to call it a job. Thank you to all those who do purchase my books.
Are there any writers that inspired—or continue to inspire—your own writing?
Let’s just say over the years I’ve read a lot of great authors and often I’ve finished a book and thought “I wish I could write like that”. Now, I may not be able to write like them, but I’m living the dream. 
If you could write anything, without commercial considerations, what would it be? 
I would like to try my hand at a Gunsmoke western. I read a few of Joe West’s a long time back and really enjoyed them. Then there are the select few who write for the Johnstone brand, that would be cool. 
I think being a western author who lives in Australia makes it harder to break into the American publishing scene. But, along with the modern-day story, my other goal for this year is to write a western big enough, and GOOD enough for a mainstream U.S. publishing house to consider.  
Last year I also wrote my first Commando script. That was fantastic. I’d like to do more of those too.
[Editor’s note. Commando Comics is a U.K. based comic book publisher featuring action centered war stories.]
If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book, what would it be?
Love this question. For the first part of my life, and a large chunk of my teenage years, I lived on an island. (at that stage home to roughly 2,000 people) Admittedly you could fly on and off, but we were pretty isolated in the middle of a zone known as the Roaring Forties.
In my room I had a bookcase loaded with over 400 westerns. If that’s stranded, I’ll take it.
What was the name of the island where you lived?
The island I lived on was called King Island. Pop: around 2,000 at the time. I worked in the Seaweed factory there and also the local meatworks. Great fishing, dairy products are world famous along with their beef.
Great place to bring up kids until they’re ready to fly the nest.
If you were allowed only to recommend one of your own novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?
I’m kind of partial to one of my latest works called, The Man Who Burned Hell! from Crowood.

They have a great line of westerns which they publish, 6-8 every month. Being a U.K. company, I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Gulf Stream"

Gulf Stream, by Cherokee Paul McDonald, was published as a paperback original by Popular Library in August 1988, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover art is wonderfully 1980s with vibrant pastels, pinks, greens and blues adding to a very Miami Vice feel. The artist: Ken Joudry.















The opening paragraph:
It was the face of the small boy that stayed with him.

Friday, December 22, 2017

WHEN OLD MEN DIE by Bill Crider

Bill Crider is best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, but his work is not limited to any one genre or style. His Dan Rhodes mysteries are a mixture of hardboiled and whodunit with a touch of humor to keep it fresh. Mr. Crider also wrote a series of novels featuring part-time and usually unwilling private investigator Truman Smith. 

The third Truman Smith novel, When Old Men Die, finds Truman putting the disappearance and murder of his sister behind him. He has a steady job with a bail bondsman in Galveston, Texas, and as the novel opens he is approached by Dino, one of his oldest pals, to find a homeless man called Outside Harry.

Outside Harry is a fixture around town. One of a group of homeless that are there, but rarely seen and Truman is a little dubious of the whole setup. He can’t figure why Dino wants to find Outside Harry and Dino’s explanation that Harry was his friend doesn’t wash. But Smith owes Dino and he commits to look for Harry over the weekend. It takes only a few hours for Truman to find trouble followed by more trouble, until he has to either solve the case or get out of Galveston.

When Old Men Die is an entertaining story with all of Bill Crider’s trademarks—the mystery is tightly and superbly plotted, the characters are eccentric with muddy motives, and the humor is good natured and funny. The style and theme, or maybe the attitude, is more hardboiled than much of Mr. Crider’s current writing, but it works and works well. The setting is pitch-perfect. Galveston is described, both past and present, with nuanced detail by a writer who obviously knows and likes the city. The prose is lucid and smooth with enough bite to make it interesting:
There were three quick shots, two of them scoring the floor; the third one glanced of the flashlight and sent it spinning crazily.
One of my favorite details of the Truman Smith novels is his cat Nameless.  A name, or lack thereof, that is conspicuously similar to Bill Pronzini’s long running Nameless Detective series.  The best part, Nameless is a cat in every detail:
He’s big and yellowish orange, with gray-green eyes.  He took his time about entering.  He looked up at me as if to ask where I’d been all evening, then stretched and gawked and looked behind him before stepping daintily through the door.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: The Year in Reading

2017 has been a great year for reading. I finished 54 titles, which is two short of last year’s mark and six shy of 2015’s. The majority of the titles were fiction and my nonfiction reading tumbled to a scant few books. 

I started 2017 with a single goal:
Read more non-fiction!
And failed miserably, and that same goal will be pushed forward into 2018.
My fiction reading is littered with the old and familiar. If there is an author in general, or a novel or story in particular, I like, I will read it over and over. While 2017’s reading was dominated by my obligations to Mystery Scene Magazine, I was still able to read some old favorites. I read four novels by Stephen Mertz, including his two latest titles Jimi After Dark and The Moses Deception and four novels by Australian author Garry Disher, all in his Hal Challis and Ellen Destry police procedural series. I re-read Don Pendleton’s Copp on Ice, Jack M. Bickham’s Dropshot (my sixth or seventh reading of this title), and Harrison Arnston’s The Third Illusion.
But I also read a bunch of authors new to me—21 in total—including impressive works by Jordan Harper (She Rides Shotgun), Nicole Lundrigan (The Substitute), Zane Lovitt (Black Teeth), Con Lehane (Murder in the Manuscript Room), and Stephen Gallagher (The Authentic William James).
And my reading list in 2017 featured a few favorites, which I whittled (with some difficulty) down to five titles. With that said, my five favorite fiction titles that I read in 2017 are:
5. The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, 2017), is an anthology featuring 73 stories with either a rogue or a villain as its protagonist. The stories included were written from the Victorian Age to modern times. And every story is perfectly suited for its inclusion. My favorite is Bruno Fischer’s dark masterpiece, “We Are All Dead”. Read the Mystery Scene review.
4. The Authentic William James, by Stephen Gallagher (Brooligan Press, 2017), is a historical crime novel with an honest, ethical, and compassionate detective—Sebastian Becker, Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy—at its center. The story moves from London to Philadelphia to Hollywood, but no matter where the action takes place it is well written, well researched, and very entertaining.
3. Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales, by P. D. James (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), is a collection of previously uncollected stories. The stories have a different theme than much of James’ work since the focus tends to be on crimes that are executed so perfectly that they are never solved and every tale is worth reading. Read the Mystery Scene review.
2. She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper (Ecco, 2017), is a nourish masterpiece—ish, because there is a slender line of hope and redemption throughout—featuring a young girl, her fear, a teddy-bear, her convict father, and a drug gang on a path to both destruction and redemption. Read the Mystery Scene review.
1. Chain of Evidence, by Garry Disher (Soho Crime, 2008), is the fourth in his Hal Challis and Ellen Destry police procedural series set in the rural Mornington Peninsula southeast of Melbourne, Australia. Its theme is difficult, the abuse of children, but its execution is so precise, without ever falling into the salacious, that I didn’t want the last page to arrive. Read the Gravetapping review.