As a woman writing westerns, it's always nice to know I'm not alone out there and to find out what makes other female authors do what they do. So without further ado, I hand my blog over to fellow Black Horse Western author, Diana Harrison.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Diana Harrison and love the fact that ‘60’ is the new ‘30’, and look forward to the next 70 years in which to enjoy more writing and definitely, reading.
I have always enjoyed writing. English language/literature was my favourite subject at school. After an early retirement I decided this was the time I could devote to becoming a published author rather than a scribbler!
My husband is very supportive. He doesn’t mind late dinners and the place piling up with research books etc. when I am in a writing muse. Of course I don't complain when he disappears off to play golf/cricket/bridge. Works both ways. The children (now grown up) are amazed that mum is a ‘real’ author.
What’s your approach to writing?
I like to write the next book as soon as I finish the last one. Although ‘starting’ may not be pen to paper it could mean exploring ideas for a story. I don’t wait for a book to be accepted/rejected before I start again.
How many genres do you write in?
I have written in several genres, Western, Supernatural and now the Murder genre. I like to experiment and explore and move away from my comfort zone occasionally.
What names do you write under?
I write under several variations of my own name. I used to hide my identity with Western novels by using D M Harrison as my author's name. I believed Diana Harrison might place me in the category of a Western romance writer. Nothing wrong with those I hasten to add but I wanted to write the old-fashioned adventure Western novel. A thriller set in a bygone era.
I’m interested in getting a female perspective on writing westerns. So, tell us what inspired you to write them?
The reason I initially chose the Western genre? People say ‘write what you know’ andalthough I live in the UK, I grew up watching 'Rawhide', 'Wagon Train' (to name a few because there were hundreds!) and John Wayne and Audie Murphy films on television. And who didn’t see Zorro or the Lone Ranger on the Saturday cinema? Later I watched the Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood. Those were the ones I really liked. I read Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. I therefore decided I was qualified. Self-belief is wonderful for a writer. It helps you to ignore all the rejection slips.
The Western genre covers a short period from the gold rush of 1849 through to the time the West was tamed in the early 1900’s. A short, but action packed time in history. To me the cowboys seemed to be larger than life characters living in a splendid backdrop of snowcapped mountains and endless prairies; a spectacular stage for real folk heroes.
My research leads me to believe that there was a beauty and grandeur in this untried landscape. It invited those brave, or foolish, enough to cross from east to west of America. According to history it was a tough land only to be conquered by those not afraid of hard work and willing to shape a new life.
Writing Westerns is the nearest I can get to this world!
Surely, you've been to the US though?
My son lives in America so I have been able to combine holidays with 'research'. Thanks to him I have been able to travel along the West Coast of America and see the ghost towns and view end of the Oregon Trail just as the travellers of the 1800s would've experienced. Fantastic.
I have even visited Almeria in Spain to view the film sets of the Spaghetti westerns to get a sense of the arid, dusty landscape.
What’s your experience been like of writing and being published in the western genre, a traditionally male dominated world?
Initially I thought that I would be thrown onto the slush pile, and not picked up again, if I sent a manuscript under a female name. I've found out since that other women do the same—for example a Facebook friend Jill McDonald-Constable writes as Amos Carr for The Black Horse series. Now, with any Westerns, I prefer to stick with ‘D M Harrison’.
What advice would you give to other female would-be western writers?
Remember ‘a good story is a good story whether written by a male or female’. Yet would I choose a romance genre novel by a male? Not too sure. It’s a very personal choice. Anyway don’t be nervous. Although it was a short period of history there are so many true or semi-true stories out there. They are waiting to be written. The female ranchers, outlaws, gamblers, cattle rustlers, madams—take your pick.
So what can we expect from a DM Harrison western?
I like to write about heroes and heroines that are strong. They are people who have to overcome many obstacles. The women don't faint and people have standards of right and wrong.
Bad people get their comeuppance.
And good people their rewards.
My Western books try to illustrate the variety of people who made the west their home, from the Chinese, who built the railways to the African-Americans who are remembered as the Buffalo Soldiers. Only the cowboys of the theatre were 6’6” John Wayne types.
Men led the way in pursuit of gold but the women followed. They took a large part in the making of the West. 'Going to See the Elephant' and 'Justice in Hangtown', a follow up novel, have a female protagonist rather than a male. It wasn't a definite choice it just suited the story.
My books are full of action. I don’t do ‘fluffy romance’ or ‘lurid sex’ although there are male and female characters in the stories and sometimes they forge relationships.
So your stories are mainly character driven?
I write about characters. Something happens. Why did it happen? Who caused it? How do they deal with it?
I like to use that framework. I definitely used it to great effect in ‘The Comanche’s Revenge’. A young man returns home after being kidnapped by the Comanche as a boy. He is full of anger. Why didn’t his folks rescue him? I have followed it up with ‘The Comanche Fights Again’ that continues to explore this theme. I feel I need to finish his story. Watch this space!
What's your writing routine?
I write during the day—evenings are for catch-up TV or re-runs of The Gilmore Girls—but I still leave the computer every so often just to stretch the limbs and the mind!
Sometimes, if the ‘muse’ fails me, I read, I go for a walk or I write something that has no relevance to what I am doing now. It helps. Some people can write thousands of words everyday. I tend to be more circumspect—if I’ve managed a hundred ‘good’ words that move a story forward I’m satisfied.
When might we see something new from you?
At the moment I’m finishing a follow up Supernatural book to ‘Always & Forever’. I do have the framework/outline of a Western to complete. So hopefully I will have something else for publication by the end of the year.
How many books do you generally read in a month and what are you reading now?
I read a lot of books. There is never a time when I don’t have a book by my chair. All genres. I do like a dark story. Stephen King is an excellent writer. His skill lies in taking the ordinary into the extraordinary. Nothing is quite as it seems. I don’t believe that he has been recognised by the ‘literary establishment’. I didn’t notice any of his novels on the Man Booker prize list!
At the moment I am reading The Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howey. It’s about survival in a ruined landscape. I’d recommend it. Ebook or paperback.
Can you recall any one author or book that inspired you and why?
My favourite Western author is Zane Grey. I loved ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’, full of action, romance and adventure. A play set in a beautiful theatre. It inspired me to think about where I set my novels. As I write I can imagine the era, smell the smoking guns, taste the food on the trail and feel the emotions driving the people onwards.
Which of your books would you recommend to a first time reader and why?
I recommend you start off reading ‘The Comanche’s Revenge’. It’s not so much about new settlers and Native Americans—although that is the story—I wanted to know how the young man and the community would react to each other when he returned home. Would they feel guilty? Would he take his revenge?
I’d like to invite reviews for any of my books on Amazon. Very nice ones please!! Or contact me via my website (it is a site in progress) or my Facebook page.
Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island, which book, song and film would you like to have with you?
If I were stranded on a desert island I would definitely need books. Discs or DVDs would be no use without electricity. It’s a difficult one—the complete works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Shakespeare and Jane Austin’s novels would all vie for a place—I believe I’d have to choose the Bible.
Thank you for giving us an insight into DM Harrison.
Thank you Jo for the chance to talk to you and everyone who reads your blog. It was nice to meet you all.