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, 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!


  1. Thank you, Ned, for the mention. You listen better than my own kids, who tend to ignore everything I say. Am anxiously waiting to see your new mystery.

  2. An interesting interview, fascinating snippet about Oregon University's repository, and of courses the time of Victorian Britain was also the time of the Old West!