Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Westerns read in May (not many, sad to say)

Here's what I read in May. I just haven't been in the mood, which is very sad for me. However, I've written a couple of reviews and added links to the titles where applicable.

Old Guns - Ross Morton
Border Gold - Sydney J Bounds
Saloon - Owen G Irons
McAndrew's Stand - Bill Cartwright

Monday, 30 May 2016

Author interview: Ned Oaks

My second interview is with new Black Horse Western author Ned Oaks. Judging by the number of books he has coming out in 2016, I think he'll be one to watch. Without further ado, here's what Ned had to tell me.

Tell us who you are.

I’m a self-employed professional writer from Oregon, where I was raised and educated.  Right after high school I joined the Navy and spent four years on a submarine.  Then I started college, where I studied music, literature, and history.  I earned a Ph.D. in British history at the University of Oregon and taught courses there on Victorian Britain and modern Ireland.  (Interestingly enough, the University of Oregon is the largest repository of Western fiction writers’ papers and manuscripts in the world.)

Now I am a full-time writer, producing both fiction and non-fiction.  I am also married and a dad. 

How many books have you written?

I have completed eight novels, and am currently working on two more.  Five of the novels are being published this year under the pseudonym “Ned Oaks” by Hale/Crowood, and a sixth is under consideration by another publisher.  The other two are waiting to be revised sometime in the near future.

What is the name of your latest release, what’s it about and what inspired it?

My second novel, Quarter to Midnight, is a tale of revenge set in my hometown of Stayton, Oregon during the 1870s.  It was inspired by the classic Western theme of a man coming back from the dead (figuratively, of course) to seek vengeance on those who had conspired to kill him. 

I was very inspired when I wrote it and completed it in 24 days, start to finish.

Who is it published by and where can we buy it?

The publisher is the Crowood Press, who bought Robert Hale Ltd., last year.  It’s part of their Black Horse Western line.  It can be purchased online at Amazon.com/co.uk, and is available at some bookstores in Britain and Canada.

Why would you recommend your books to a potential reader?

It depends on what the reader is looking for.  I don’t write fiction in an attempt to make a lasting contribution to world literature, although I hope the books are well crafted.  My novels are written purely as pulp entertainments.  They are meant to get the reader turning the pages, wondering what’s going to happen next.  There is a strong element of mystery at the heart of each of my yarns, and the amount of violence can be fairly high, although not gratuitously so.  Readers have told me that my fiction is very visual and atmospheric.  That’s a subjective judgment, but I hope it’s true.

I try to make the reader care about the characters, and I’m careful to keep the stories credible while also remembering that Western fiction is set in a fantasy world that didn’t really exist.  Therefore there’s nothing wrong with creating pure escapism as long as it isn’t ludicrous.  I like to throw in as many twists and turns as I can, in an attempt to keep the reader hooked.

What’s your latest writing project?

I’m working on a gritty detective mystery about the hunt for a serial killer in Salem, Oregon during the late 1980s.  I’m about a third of the way done with the first draft.  It’s based in part on an actual murder case, as was my novel Deception Creek, which will be published later this year.

What unusual writing ritual do you have?

I don’t think it’s particularly unusual, but I simply sit on my living room couch and write at least 2,000 words a day, five or six days per week.  Sometimes I do a little more, sometimes a little less.  The most I’ve ever written in one sitting is 5,000 words.  I wish I could do that every day.

When I’m working on a novel, I tend to get very obsessed with it and to think about it all the time.  I’m always trying to think of how to keep the plot logical while putting in unexpected twists.  I have a notebook where I write down ideas in between writing sessions.

I tend to write quickly and I find my best work is invariably something I wrote in a short period of time.  Four of the five novels being published this year were written in four weeks or less, and the fifth took six weeks.  Because I write a lot in a short period, I try to get the story right the first time around in order to avoid lots of revisions.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns?

The great Western novelist Kit Prate is a good friend and she said, “Don’t let history get in the way of a good story.”  (I believe she was given this advice by her mentor, Giles A. Lutz, who wrote dozens of excellent Westerns.)

I think this is very wise advice.

How many books do you generally read in a month and what are you reading now?

I read constantly and generally go through about ten or fifteen books a month.  I’m currently reading Michael H. Kater’s The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich, and Michael Kennedy’s biography of the British composer Sir William Walton.

What authors or books have inspired you and why?

I’m probably unusual as an American Western novelist in that many of my main influences in the genre are British or Australian. 

Among American writers, I particularly admire Frank Gruber, Todhunter Ballard, Will Cook, Cliff Farrell, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Les Savage, Jr., and Luke Short.  They all produced their best work between 1940 and 1970, which was a real Golden Age for Western fiction.  Some were superb prose stylists and some were decidedly not, but they all could tell a fast-paced and gripping action tale that included interesting characters and lots of atmosphere.

Among older British Western writers I really like Arthur Nickson and Jack Borg, both of whom demonstrated a deep understanding of the genre that you don’t always see among non-Americans.  They were great stylists and exemplary pulp writers.

Some of the Hale stalwarts from the Sixties through the Eighties that I admire are Albert King, Donald S. Rowland, and David Bingley, all of whom published hundreds of books in diverse genres under dozens of pseudonyms.  They are completely unknown to the general public but their work (though admittedly uneven, due to their extreme productivity) is part of a fascinating literary subculture in Britain that Crowood is helping to keep alive well into the 21st century.  Also, their best fiction ranks with that of the classic American Western writers.  
It’s funny to think of these guys sitting in their homes in London (or, in Albert King’s case, Belfast) or rural England, typing out stories about gunslingers in the Old West.  They often turned out more than twenty novels per year!

Two Australians also made a big impression on how I write Westerns.  Keith Hetherington wrote more than 600 Westerns for Cleveland Press between the 1950s and the early 1990s, when he started writing for Hale.  He mostly published as “Kirk Hamilton,” and his work at its best has a relentless narrative drive that I admire a lot. 

The other Australian is Paul Wheelahan, who wrote more than 900 Westerns (generally producing three every month) for Cleveland under the name “Emerson Dodge.”  His work has a lot of depth and complexity, and his plotting is very good.  He might be my single favorite Western writer.

I have collected many old Kirk Hamilton and Emerson Dodge novels from various online bookstores.  I can’t recommend them enough to anyone who loves the Western genre.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which book, song and film would you like to have with you?

The book would have to be The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham.  The film would be Spartacus.  The song would be “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions. 

Thank you.

Thank you for your interest, Jo!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Book review: McAndrew's Stand by Bill Cartwright

Jenny McAndrew and her two sons live in the valley known as McAndrew's Pass. When they hear the new Rocky Mountains Railroad Company has plans to lay a line through the valley and their farm, they are devastated that their simple life will be destroyed. Clarence Harper, the ruthless boss of the railroad company, is not a man to brook opposition and will not leave without putting up a fight. In the McAndrews he finds one family that will not be bullied and battered into submission.

I haven't previously read anything by this author, as far as I know. I have to admit that from the back cover blurb, the story wasn't what I was expecting, which turned out to be a good thing as it did sound pretty run of the mill, I thought.

Although the book starts out with the whole family being instrumental, it is one character that really takes the stand. It is this character's journey that makes the story interesting as we wait to see how he will react to each unfamiliar (to him) event. I'd say the other characters are pretty much standard fodder for westerns, and that's fine by me. The scenarios leading to the finale were well linked and fairly unpredictable, as was one of the major action scenes. It's difficult to say much without spoiling the story for the next reader.

The writing style was unusual, being interspersed with omniscient viewpoint, almost like a voice-over.

Although this book is not a standard beat 'em up, shoot 'em up western, I'd recommend it for its interesting twists and turns. I couldn't help wondering whether their would be a sequel and would look forward to continuing the main character's journey through the unpredictabilities of life.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Author Interview: BS Dunn

Here's the first in a series of interviews with fellow western authors.

My first guest is BS Dunn, a pseudonym of Australian writer Brent Towns. We've become good friends recently thanks to the Internet and it was my pleasure to let such a nice guy be my first interviewee.

To say he is a prolific writer, with a passion for westerns is an understatement. His books are always fast paced with lots of action and plenty of attention to detail with regard to characters, who are many and varied, and backdrop. And I should know, since I've read them all, except for his latest which is calling loudly to me from my TBR pile. Being with Crowood Press, I'm sure, will only make BS Dunn better and better and reward him with the recognition he deserves.

So, enjoy...

Tell us who you are.
My name is Brent Towns, I live in a small country town called Benalla in Australia and I have a wonderful wife (Sam) and a fantastic son (Jacob). However I may be a little biased.

How many books have you written?
I have written 6 books that are published and have 3 waiting to be published.

What is the name of your latest release, what’s it about and what inspired it?
The name of my latest release is “Fury at Bent Fork”. I can't say any one thing inspired it except maybe my love of everything western. I guess that is the only inspiration I need. However I do have a manuscript waiting publication that was inspired by an old black and white movie (Four Fast Guns) and I can say that that would be the first time that one thing in particular has.  

Who is it published by and where can we buy it?
It is published through The Crowood Press and is available through their website or it can be purchased through Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk, etc.

What’s your latest writing project?
My latest writing project is called “The Road to Purgatory” and it is the fourth book in the Laramie Davis series. These books are for German publisher Edition Barenklau.
What unusual writing ritual do you have?
I don't think I really have any. Sometimes I listen to music but that's about as unusual as I get. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns?
Don't be afraid to try. Do your research, plan what you want to write and just do it. Push all your doubts aside.
If you have any questions ask. There are a lot of experienced authors out there who are willing to pass on advice to help out. 

How many books do you generally read in a month and what are you reading now?
I used to read three or four books per week but now with my writing taking up a lot of time if I get two read then it's a good week.  

What authors or books have inspired you and why?
There are too many to name. But if I had to pick just one it would be Louis L'Amour and as for why I think the name speaks for itself.

Which of your books would you recommend to a first time reader?
Fury at Bent Fork

If you were stranded on a desert island, which book, song and film would you like to have with you?
Why would you be so mean as to let me only have one book?

Seriously, it would be a toss up between Louis L'Amour's, Shalako, Last at Stand at Papago Wells, and Kid Rodelo. I chose those because I think they were basically the first of his books that I read and set me on the L'Amour path.

As for a song, music I can live with or without so I would probably just torture myself with my own singing.

If I had to choose one movie out of all the great ones that are out there I would choose “How The West Was Won”. This was the first movie I saw on a big screen at my school and it was shown using an old film projector with those big old reels.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

No, thank you for the opportunity.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Book review: Border Gold by Sydney J Bounds

Texas Ranger Gil Palmer has orders to bring in El Lobo - The Wolf, leader of a band of Mexican outlaws - dead or alive. In the town of El Grande, he joins up with Alison and Keith Knox, travelling west on the trail of their grandfather's Spanish gold. As their journey unfolds, Gil finds out that he has a rival suitor for the red-headed Alison. And before the end of the trail, he will face the wrath of El Lobo in a bloody fight to the death...

I've read a few books by this author and always enjoy them.

This one is well paced and the scenes are well set with enough detail about the locations to put you there but not too much that it bogs down the story. I enjoyed the  feisty female character who was believably independent, and also the weaker character. Neither one was overdone or caricatured, as can happen. The hero is a man you can get behind, and the fact that he makes some glaringly obvious mistakes just makes him more human. The bad guys are exactly what you'd expect. The only thing I did notice as I reached the end, was that it was a bit light on actual beat 'em up scenes, for me personally. It didn't spoil my enjoyment though and, because I had the time, I read this in one day.

I'm now off to look for another by this author who, I believe, also writes as Ralph Savage.

Other books I've enjoyed by Sydney J Bounds include:
Killer Unmasked
Shadow Of The Noose

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Book Review: Old Guns by Ross Morton

Sam Ransom, broadsided by the death of his old partner Abner, learns of a note left by the dead man - warning that the infamous Meak twins are after Ransom's life because of what happened at Bur Oak Springs over two decades ago. Ransom knows he must alert the rest of his gang, who were there at the time. His family is in jeopardy and their only hope of salvation is the gang's return to confront the Meak brothers...

I've only read one other Ross Morton western The $300 Man which I thoroughly enjoyed so I was pleased when I saw this in the library (especially in large print, which is always good for bedtime reading).

Set between two time frames, it tells the story of old friends brought together by an event from the past. I struggled with this a bit because I'm usually tired when I go to bed to read, but that just made me go to bed earlier as I didn't want to miss any detail. Morton pays such close attention to this, weaving in everything as he goes, that it would be easy to do and a shame.

It seemed to have a large cast of characters, many of whom were women who were integral to the story, which made a change when reading a western. Even so, I felt like I got to know them all, especially their aches and pains, which resonated with me. I really enjoyed the added danger element but won't say what that is so as not to spoil anything. I will say there are a couple of nice twists at the end, one of which I saw coming but still made me think 'ha!'.

All in all, another good story from a master storyteller and a reminder that I need to seek out some more books by this author. I notice on Amazon that he only has listings for hardcover and large print. This reader would love to see some of these titles in e-book format (hint hint). If they're out there already, I'm sure some kind soul will let me know.

Morton is also the author of how to book Write A Western In 30 Days: With Plenty of Bullet Points! (as Nik Morton). If you're an aspiring writer, or just want to see how it all comes together, I highly recommend this.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Site Of The First Train Robbery - fact or fiction

I saw this link about the first train robbery in the Old West and thought, 'Wow, so Jesse James and his gang were the first train robbers. I didn't know that.' Mmmm.... read on.

My favourite quote is: Not everything you read on the Internet is real - Abraham Lincoln.

With this in mind, I headed off to do a bit of research.

Apparently, according to various sources, the first (peacetime) moving train robbery was actually carried out in October 1866 in Indiana when the Ohio & Mississippi train was robbed by the Reno Gang. They opened one safe in-situ and threw the other off before absconding. They are believed to have carried out the first three moving train robberies and had quite a crime spree until they were caught and hanged in 1868.

Prior to this, trains had been robbed when they were at stations or in freight yards.

What do you think? Do you agree that 1866 was the first time (in peacetime) or do you know something I don't? 

Friday, 6 May 2016

Thoughts from an author: Publisher edits

This week I received The Badman's Daughter back from the publisher complete with edits for me to check and comment on. Overall, I was very happy with them. I know I'm not word perfect and I try not to be too precious about what I write. In fact, I found it useful and was pleased to hear that the editor enjoyed the story.

A lot of writing books will tell you not be too wordy. Interestingly for me, I find myself to have swung in the opposite direction. The editor actually added words in including 'was' and 'that', although to be fair the instances were rare. It seems my main sin is too many commas and hyphenated words.

With regard to commas, I think that sometimes they're subjective. I'm referring to the ones where you would put them in as a natural breath if you were talking. It made me wonder how I present myself when I speak, bearing in mind I interview people for a living. At least for the next few days, I think I'll be conscious of this and hope it doesn't spoil my presentation too much before it improves it.

With regard to the hyphenated words, they did concern me a little in case I had gone bonkers. Consequently, I referenced a lot of those edit notes online to check my facts and returned, what I hope were, appropriate comments where I felt they were needed.

It's a strange process assessing someone else's edits of your work. After all, you wrote what you thought was a perfect manuscript and then you see comments that show it wasn't. Personally, I find it hard to respond to them as I find myself second guessing the original vs the edit and I worry that the returning comments that disagree with the editor's will either make me look like an idiot or offend them. However, being a person who naturally expects to be judged on everything I do I can't just let something go that I disagree with.

This is the point where people frequently tell me to 'stop overthinking it'.

Stepping back, I tell myself that none of it is personal and as an author or an editor you lay yourself open to criticism. I'm sure that the end result will be a well produced piece of fiction that in 10 years will be long forgotten, if it was ever noticed in the first place.

Until next time...