Saturday, 30 April 2016

Westerns read in April

Here's what I read in April. I've written a couple of reviews and I'll add links to the titles where applicable.

Death Comes Easy – Will Black
Hell Come Calling – Josh Lockwood
Last Stand In Sanctuary – BS Dunn (e-book)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Have a short on me

It's not often I write short stories, and not in the western genre, but here's one I wrote a while back. It seems a shame to relegate it to my hard drive, so I hope you enjoy it.

The Double Cross
Terry James/Joanne Walpole ©2010
“Raise you,” said the player in the hand-made suit, the smile on his lips failing to hide the contempt in his narrowed eyes. “It’s gonna cost you everything you’ve got to see Randall Rockwell’s cards.”

Rick Bodine glanced at the two aces in his hand, then scrutinised the two queens and an extra ace in the middle of the table. His luck had been off until now and his pile of money, if that’s what you could call twenty dollars and a few cents, was a shadow of what it had been less than an hour before. He considered the odds. The pot on the table, at over a hundred bucks, was worth everything he had, but his confidence had taken a battering and he continued to ponder despite the excitement fizzing in his belly. Finally, under the weight of the stares boring into him from the other two players, he glanced again at his cards and reached for his money.

“Hold it right there, Bodine.”

As instructed, he let his hand hover in midair as his gaze swung towards the batwing doors where the order had originated. Around him, the low rumble of voices, the high tinkle of laughter and the tinny clank of the piano faded as all attention switched between him and the figure silhouetted against the midday sun. Rick’s heart started beating faster, his senses sharpened, his muscles tensed. Every nerve and sinew tightened as the tick-tock of the clock behind the bar seemed to mark the arrival of trouble. Uneasily, Rick swallowed against the feeling of trepidation that left his mouth dry as cotton despite the bottle of whiskey he’d drunk.

“Don’t touch that money, Bodine, or it’ll be the last thing you ever do,” the speaker promised, walking slowly and steadily into the saloon.

As the rhythmic thud of boot heels on the sawdust-covered floor halted, a ripple of surprise hissed around the half empty barroom, but no-one dared take their eyes off the unfolding scene.

“Dru, I told you not to come looking for me,” Rick said, easing his hand down to his leg where an old six-shooter rested comfortably against his thigh. “You’re making a fool of yourself.”

Dru, a pretty little blonde with big blue eyes, smiled and even Rick didn’t believe what he’d just said. Any man with eyes could see the only fool in the room was him. Already he had noted a bummer and a wet-behind-the-ears cowpoke smartening up to step in. And he couldn’t blame them. She looked especially fetching today in a bright yellow dress that skimmed her figure in all the right places but left enough to the imagination to keep a man interested.  He clenched his jaw and steeled himself against her charms, which had already nearly cost him his freedom, reminding himself that his future was at stake. Maybe even his life. Drusilla Pringle might well be the most single-minded, ornery female he’d ever met but she was no match for him. No, sir. He was a gambler. A man used to having the odds stacked against him and coming out on top.

“I’m not the one about to lose my stage fare out of town,” she said, trying for the last word as usual.

Well, this time...

“Go home, Dru. Nothing you can say or do will change my mind about leaving. I already told you, I’m not the marrying kind.” He glanced around the room, seeing a mixture of surprise, sympathy and downright disbelief on the faces of the other patrons. “The rest of you, go about your business.”

Like one of those new player piano contraptions he’d seen in San Francisco, the scene picked up where it had left off, and turning back to the game, Rick pushed his money into the centre of the table, throwing his cards down face up as he called the bet.

The dark-eyed gambler, Randall Rockwell, did likewise, showing a king and a queen. Rick’s heart surged, the dealer seeming to stall as he slid the next card off the deck and tossed it down. The queen of clubs. Rick struggled not to smile. After a series of bad hands he was about to clean up and win the biggest pot of the day, buy the supplies he needed and ride away from this crazy-ass town and a woman who even now was setting his senses on fire as she sidled up beside him and rested her soft hip against his arm as she leaned in to see the game unfold.

The last card floated softly to the scarred table top. The last queen. Damn it!

Rockwell smiled as he added the winnings to his already considerable pile. “Hard luck. Never underestimate a lady, that’s what I always say.”

“Seems like you’ll be here for a while yet,” Dru said, patting Rick’s shoulder.

He laughed off-handedly, although he felt far from confident. “I’ll get another stake and then I’ll be gone.”

“You’re that determined?” she asked, a hint of disappointment edging her tone. “Am I that unattractive to you?”

“It’s nothing personal, darlin’,” he said, laying on the swagger. “You and I are just too different. It’d never work.”

She considered for a moment, her mouth pursed into a not unattractive pout as her gaze flashed to Rockwell.

“Miss...Pringle, isn’t it?” he said. “May I have a word?” With a flick of his fingers, he motioned her to him.

She hesitated for only a moment, then circling the players as they waited for the next hand to be dealt, she leaned over to allow him to speak confidentially against her ear. Rick tensed, his eyes narrowing at his antagonist as the man’s slender fingers wrapped around Dru’s waist, keeping her close while he concluded his whispering. When Rockwell was finished, he took her hand in his and guided it below the table and out of sight.

Rick’s temper simmered close to boiling. What the hell were they doing? Was she so desperate to find a husband that she was prepared to act the part of a saloon girl to get one? Or was it a ploy to make him jealous?

“Dru!” he said, more sharply than he intended.

Straightening up, she shared a final smile with Rockwell and returned to Rick’s side. “I have a proposition for you, Rick. You want money and I want a husband. How about a bet? You take the cards, shuffle, cut, whatever else you do and I’ll guarantee to cut the ace of hearts on the first try. If I don’t, I’ll give you five hundred dollars and never bother you again. If I’ll marry me tomorrow and I’ll be the best wife a man ever had.”

Rick hesitated. He knew she was good for the money. Her father owned the bank and half the town and he doted on her. She could ask him for any amount and he would give it to her. Hell, the old man would probably give it to her just to get rid of Rick. As for the likelihood of her cutting an ace, let alone the ace of hearts, even a card sharp could fumble it and Dru was all fingers and thumbs at the best of times, struggling to hold a deck let alone cut it. So why would she make a bet like that?

“Sounds to me like you win either way, Bodine,” Rockwell said, interrupting his thoughts. “Hell, if you won’t take the bet, I’ll be happy to.”

“I’ll take the bet,” he said, more quickly than he’d intended. “You gentleman understood the terms, right?” He waited for a nod from the other players at the table, gaining additional confirmation from the crowd gathering as word of the wager between the banker’s daughter and the no-account drifter spread quickly around the room. “Then let’s get this over with so I can get out of this town.”

Taking up the deck that had already cost him the best part of two hundred dollars, he settled for a simple shuffle, a single-handed cut and another shuffle, then satisfied with his handiwork, he placed the deck on the table and leaned back in his chair, the feeling of impending victory warming him to the core and bringing a smile to his lips that almost shamed him with its smugness.

“You’re happy that you’ve shuffled them enough?” Dru asked, sounding a little uncertain, and looking slightly more flushed than usual.


“All right then. May the best man win.”

“Or woman,” Rockwell added, smirking.

Dru glanced towards him, all nervous blushes and shy smiles. In return, he gave a decisive nod. Rick could almost see the greasy card shark getting ready to step in and claim the girl for himself when she failed to win. Beneath the table, Rick’s hand shifted unnoticed to the six-gun, his fingers undoing the thong that held it in place. He told himself he should be watching the cards, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the gambler. He thought he saw him shift his shoulder ever so slightly, the way a man might if he was priming himself to use a concealed Derringer.

And then Dru stepped back, clearing a space between them.

Something flashed at the corner of Rick’s eye, a thud rocked the table. In the same instant, he came into a half crouch, the six-gun appearing in his hand as his chair crashed into a whore who stood behind him. He almost squeezed the trigger, but to his surprise Rockwell hadn’t moved and the assembled onlookers seemed not to be concerned with his actions. As he gained perspective, he realised all eyes were on the cards, shocked silence holding everyone in place, disbelieving, unmoving. Only Rockwell seemed unsurprised as he reached across and, with some difficulty, extracted the stiletto blade from the deck. Shuffling his leg to the side, he slid the deadly knife back into its sheath inside his right boot, then seemingly unconcerned proceeded to collect the cards and deal them into a pile until he reached the ace of hearts.

“She did it, Bodine. She cut the ace of hearts.” He sent it sailing across the table to land squarely in front of Rick, its centre clearly pierced for all to see. “Maybe you should have listened to what I told you before.”

Rick laughed despite the shock that still held him in awe of the trick that had been played on him. “Never underestimate a lady,” he mumbled, handing himself willingly to the woman he would gladly spend the rest of his life with.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Thoughts from an author: The Book I'd like to have written

Although I choose to write westerns, it isn't westerns that have influenced my writing on the whole. There is a shelf in my bookcase dedicated to my favourite stories, usually those that have touched me on some deep, emotional level or that have a complex plot that has unfolded to astound me in some way. It includes Catherine Cookson, Daphne DuMaurier, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rosemary Rogers, Sharon Salvato, Kathleen Woodiwiss and others. However, of all of them, the western I'd like to have written is To Tame A Land by Louis L'Amour. I read this book every year, and in fact have had to buy the Kindle version because my paperback, which was second hand when I bought it 34 years ago, is getting a bit fragile.

For such a thin book, which can easily be read in one sitting, it contains a sweeping story filled with very real characters that leap from the page and involve you in their lives. Written in the first person, it allows you to feel with and for the main character Rye Tyler as you move through his life from a boy travelling with his father on a wagon train, through his western education and through to the final showdown. Right from the beginning you root for him and by the end you feel for his predicament. It goes without saying, that the landscape is authentic but to me, it feels less formulaic than some of Louis L'Amour's other writing, and I say that as a major fan of his work. The end brings me to tears every time, not necessarily an emotion I would expect a L'Amour novel to elicit, because when all's said and done, they are written for a male audience.

When I write my own westerns, I try to infuse realism into the characters, and authenticity into the settings and scenarios. If I had to set myself a benchmark, To Tame A Land would be it. Maybe during my lifetime as a writer, I'll get close, but I doubt I'll ever hit it.

If you've never read a Louis L'Amour story this would be as good a place as any to start.

Rye Tyler was twelve when his father was killed in an Indian raid. Taken in by a mysterious stranger with a taste for books and an instinct for survival, Rye is schooled in the hard lessons of life in the West. But after killing a man, he is forced to leave his new home. He rides lonely mountain passes and works on dusty cattle drives until he finds a job breaking horses. Then he meets Liza Hetrik, and in her eyes he sees his future. After establishing himself as marshal of Alta, he returns, only to discover that Liza has been kidnapped. Tracking her to Robber's Roost, Rye is forced to face the man who taught him all he knows about books, guns, and friendship. Two old friends - one woman: Who will walk away?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Straight Shooting: Budd Boetticher's West (rough cut)

As well as writing westerns, I enjoy watching them. I have to admit to not being a fan of modern westerns, not even Clint Eastwood's, and nothing after Silverado. I think this is because during the 70s and 80s, I enjoyed watching films on the television on a Saturday afternoon and they tended to be B-movies. I'm a sucker for John Wayne, Audie Murphy and Randolph Scott, amongst others. Okay, so we know they're not very authentic with their bright, clean, pristine clothes and clean hands and faces, but they were fun.

In this vein, I'm posting a short film about said genre. It was brought to my attention by fellow Black Horse Western author Lee Clinton, so you have him to thank for it. Also, he tells me that he pays homage to the director, his writer and his cinematographer in his upcoming release, The Mexican.

I wasn't familiar with the director's name but I have seen some of his films and will be looking at them with a renewed perspective in future.


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Book Review: Dry Gulch Revenge by Clay More

Fate hands Hank Hawkins the opportunity of achieving his ambition of buying a ranch, and all he has to do to make it happen is to make it easy for a gang to rob the stage in Devil's Bones Canyon.

Hank soon realizes, however, that the robbers never had any intention of leaving anyone alive and had planned a dry gulching.

He survives but regains consciousness back in Hastings Fork, and vows to track down the murderers who betrayed him and have his revenge, but, when he sets off, he finds he has a companion - Helen Curtis, the fiance of the messenger whose death lies on his conscience.

Hank has many things to figure out, such as why there was one body missing and things are about to get even more complicated with the threat of death for both of them never far away.

I am a big fan of Clay More and thought I had read all his books. Imagine my surprise when I found this one in the local library.

As always, Mr More sets a steady pace for the action to build and unfold, raising questions and revealing details that lead to a satisfying end. The characters are very believable and it's easy to get caught up in their story. Although Helen is not the main protagonist, she is not window dressing either, and this is a feature that I like. As with all Mr More's stories, the attention to detail is very good but he doesn't overdo his descriptions of the violence, which I appreciate. The prose flows and is very readable and as such you reach the end of the book far too soon and before you realize it.

If you like good writing and a story that makes sense, keeps you in the scene and engages you with the characters, you'll enjoy this one.

Personally, I hope to see something new from Clay More very soon.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Thoughts From An Author: About submissions and the 'R' word

I've always been fortunate with my writing. People seem to like it and I've never had a rejection letter. Even if I had, it wouldn't have bothered me because I was never serious about being published.

Well, whoopee for you, some of you are thinking.

But that was in the old days.

I submitted my first manuscript back in 2003 to Whiskey Creek Press because I was fed up with people badgering me about getting into print. I thought if I sent it off and it was rejected, that would be the end of it. I could say I tried and failed. That didn't happen and WCP released my first novel Raven Dove, and my second Lies That Bind. I put it down to luck.

As a test, I submitted my third novel to Hale (Black Horse Westerns), thinking that moving from an e-publisher to an established print publisher would prove that I had been successful thus far because I wasn't playing with the big boys. Again, if they rejected it, I wasn't bothered and I could slip back into the shadows and get on with my real life. However, they offered to accept it if I could reduce the length, which I did (I didn't realise the actual word count was about twice as long as their guidelines when I sent it). That was Long Shadows back in 2009. Since then they've published Echoes Of A Dead Man (2010) and Ghosts Of Bluewater Creek (2012).

Suddenly, I fell out of love with it and it's been about 4 years since I wrote anything. However, recently, I finished something that had been on the back boiler and decided to submit it. At the same time, Hale sold their business to Crowood Press.

It seems that was not the only thing that had changed.

When it came to sending off the manuscript I did everything to stall. I sat with my finger over the send button for the best part of five minutes. I was ridiculously nervous. Something had changed in my psyche. I was worried they'd reject it and I'd be crushed and unable to write another word ever again. After I sent the manuscript, I couldn't stop telling myself that they wouldn't like it, that my writing was rubbish, that my ideas were too far fetched and so on and so on. I was a bit of a wreck! Somewhere along the way, I had lost my happy-go-lucky attitude and got serious.

When the return e-mail arrived I was scared to open it. Again, my finger hovered, this time over the open button. In the end, I think it was my hand shaking and not a conscious decision that made me press the button. Giddy - that's how I felt when I read that they were accepting it.

It's been a strange few weeks. No matter how many people told me not to worry, I couldn't help myself. I felt like a fledgling author again. Somehow, I don't think that will ever change now and deep down, I know, that no matter how many acceptances I have, the first rejection will break me.

So, I take my hat off to the likes of JK Rowling and all those who are brave enough and strong enough to put themselves out there and rise above the fear and disappointment of rejection. Good luck to you.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Something a little different by me, as me.

I've had a folder of short stories on my hard drive for many years now. I bring them out from time to time and people always ask why I haven't done anything with them. Well, now I have. I've put them all together and published them through Amazon/Kindle.

Short stories of everyday life with a twist in the tale. From the annoying husband to the embarrassing fall in public, if you sometimes wonder 'why me' or 'what if' you'll find a kindred spirit somewhere in these pages. Some are nice, some are naughty. So enjoy a titter or a belly laugh over a nice cup of tea and be glad your day's not as bad as you thought it was.

Price £0.99

Available worldwide.

The Gunfighter - a short film (not quite what you'd expect)

By far my favourite western related item this week. A perfectly scripted and performed western scene with a little bit of a difference. It's well worth a watch (or two).

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Badman's Daughter by Terry James

My latest western The Badman's Daughter has just been accepted as a Black Horse Western by Crowood Press.

Here's the teaser.

When mysterious stranger Daniel Cliff arrives in Ranch Town, he has no shortage of job offers. But the town is caught in the stranglehold of a brutal tyrant, and Daniel refuses to take sides. That is until the spirited Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Wells, heir to the Crooked-W ranch, crosses his path.

When she offers him the chance to help her right the wrongs being rained down on the town, Daniel doesn’t have to think twice. After all, she’s the reason he’s there and he has no qualms in using her troubles to further his own ambitions.

However, Charlie is no pawn in a man’s game. She is the badman’s daughter and nobody is going to stand in her way when it comes to delivering revenge on those who have wronged her.

More news to follow, as and when.