June-August 2008

March 2008
Walt Masterson
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk

December 2007
Peace at Any Price
Dan Claymaker
Horse Sense

September 2007
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver

June 2007
David Whitehead
Realistic Ballistics
Plot Twists

March 2007
Crime/western fiction
The Walker Colt
Sydney J. Bounds

December 2006
Lauran Paine
Jake Douglas & Co.

September 2006
Misfit Lil
Greg Mitchell

June 2006
Marshall Grover
Facts for Fiction
March 2006
Jeff Sadler
Mike Stotter
Writers and Money

Robert Hale Limited
Black Horse Express
Adam Wright
Ben Bridges
Mike Linaker
Piccadilly Cowboys
Gillian F. Taylor
B. J. Holmes

Plot or Not? On with the Story!   Hoofprints
 Jack Giles in New Territory
 A Revolver for Its Time   New Black Horse Westerns

"Wanted dead or alive" was the line on the classic western dodger. Today, readers of the Black Horse Western novels would prefer their series "alive" rather than "dead". They want newly written westerns appearing reliably.

The dwindling stocks of westerns in long-discontinued paperback series can be tracked down on eBay or through online used-book dealers -- and are, enthusiastically, despite often being in only "fair" condition or worse.

Black Horse Westerns can similarly be bought online, and while you won't find them new on bookstore shelves, a dedicated bookseller will order any book specified. But because BHWs are fine hardcover books produced at increasing cost, most readers living in Britain and Commonwealth countries depend on borrowing them from a public library. Thus several reports from reliable sources are a worry.

From Australia comes word that the best state for sales of westerns is Queensland, but an insider with a measure of control over distribution was "intrigued" by minimal sales in the Northern Territory, where tastes would be similar to Queensland's. A search in Canberra for that elusive person the acquisitions librarian led finally to an online enquiry officer based at a small regional library in southern New South Wales. She couldn't tell for sure how books were bought, a situation generally encountered with counter staff.

Back in Canberra, a phone enquirier says he was "put through to a bloke who knew how things worked. He said that some libraries ordered individually and some worked on a centralized system. Finally I extracted the information that he bought books for 'some' Australian Capital Territory libraries. It would have been easier to find out Osama bin Laden's address."

In New Zealand, a city library buys BHWs  -- one copy of each -- on standing order, then spreads them around the library's eight far-flung branches inconsistently, making it difficult for borrowers to follow any one author or recurring story character. 

From Britain, the report is, "It does not much matter what publisher, reviewer and indeed the individual reader thinks . . . the public libraries are the only customers for westerns in the UK. These public libraries are in turn supplied by just three companies, and the libraries themselves have been formed into consortiums, so that in general decisions to buy or not are made by a very small number of people. . . . Consequently it behoves both author and publisher to tread very carefully indeed."

The last sentence is intended to warn that the publisher of the only series of new westerns still appearing in Britain must now vet closely material intended for adult reading. The books don't have "literary pretensions" and  "the average librarian is well aware there is nothing to stop children borrowing these books".

This was discussed by two established BHW writers. The fear was that a story like that of the recent, award-winning and commercially successful TV movie Broken Trail (two wranglers save a wagon-load of kidnapped and abused Chinese girls from prostitution), might be unacceptable to UK libraries: "You can keep the horses but those gals have to go!"

One of the writers said, "I don't think any Mrs Grundys will be as big a problem as today's readers leaving westerns on the library shelf because they are out-of-tune with the present taste -- which I figure is for realism as opposed to romanticism. Nor do I think librarians should have to act in loco parentis."

For BHWs, the extremes of TV's Deadwood, it was agreed, would be impossible: "Festooned with sex, sadism, sudden death, rampant profanity, and mud, mud, mud, Deadwood was not your father's 'cowboy' show," declares a Web summary. But, with that recognized: "The series, about hard-bitten men and hard-living women in a gold-rush town, drew huge ratings and enthusiastic critical plaudits. . . ."

What is the message here for readers? Simply that if you want your local library to stock BHWs, you must make it known by requesting and reserving the kind of "alive" books you enjoy, be they stories written by an elderly gentleman with his young grand-daughters in mind, or something more rugged. As harsher economic times reduce libraries' book budgets still further, this becomes increasingly important.

Your comments and western news are always welcome at feedback@blackhorsewesterns.com    



Jake Douglas

Greg Mitchell

Walt Masterson

Chap O'Keefe
The secrets behind the gunsmoke. . .


Bayes: Play does not go on? I don’t know what you mean: why, is not this part of the Play?
Yes, but the Plot stands still.
Bayes: Plot stand still! why, what a Devil is the Plot good for, but to bring in fine things?
Smith: O, I did not know that before.
The Rehearsal
George Villiers, 1628-1687

"PLOT or not?" That was the question, and in our last edition historical-mystery writer C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor) gave her answer, firmly declaring herself in the camp of  writers who plot their books before they begin, rather than those who don't but trust to instinct, experience, natural talent -- whatever -- to produce the right words and a cohesive story as they go.

This time, we discuss the same question in depth with a panel of four Black Horse Western writers: Jake Douglas (real name Keith Hetherington, and who is also Tyler Hatch, Hank J. Kirby and Clayton Nash), Greg Mitchell (P. J. Gallagher), Walt Masterson (Christopher Kenworthy) and Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman).

Black Horse Extra: Welcome, writers, and thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts.

For many years, fiction writers were virtually required to outline proposed novels and scripts in advance. This may not have applied in the Victorian and Edwardian era, when lady and gentlemen writers with other callings dabbled in producing fiction for the emerging popular press as a sideline. It almost certainly didn't apply to Beadle's dime novelists who churned out westerns at the rate of a thousand words an hour for twelve hours at a stretch, albeit to a formula.

But it did apply for many decades of the last century -- the "journeyman" era. Certainly by the 1960s "submit a synopsis" was invariably an editor's first requirement, even of the established contributor. TV and movie scripts were as much as a five-stage assignment: the premise, the treatment, the step outline (or scenario), the first draft, the final polish.

Then markets shrank, and producing revised MSS -- going back and changing finished work -- became much easier with the computer replacing the typewriter. Significantly also, payment plummetted in relative terms.

Like it or not, the wheel has come full circle. Most fiction writers are back to being, like many Victorian forerunners, hobbyists, part-timers. As BHW publisher John Hale has pointed out, "I am only too well aware of the low rewards to authors on these westerns, particularly in the light of continuing inflation. However, the sad fact is that if we had to pay more we would have to stop publishing them. Writing westerns for us really has to be regarded as a labour of love."

This said and accepted, any pragmatic author's methods of working for "love", rather than money, must surely be geared to extracting the greatest of pleasure from the process. How do you go about this?

Walt: Do I plot each book carefully beforehand, or do I just leap into the saddle, whack in the spurs and let her rip? Well, the answer is that I always do both. One of my favourite stories about Louis L'Amour concerns his family calling him to the dinner table when he was writing one day. "Later," said Louis. "I  want to find out what happens." Well, that's me, too. I always want to find out what happens.

Greg: Possibly if I had a tidy mind I would carefully plot my stories before starting. But things get a bit chaotic between my ears at times, so I just muddle along in the way that suits me. If I find a better method I might change in future, but at present I am comfortable with things the way they are. By not sticking to a strict outline I find the flexibility to introduce new people or change the roles of some of the other characters.

BHE: Can you mention for us how this has worked in some of your books?

Greg: In Outlaw Vengeance, the petty thief Frank Rydell was originally introduced just for the purpose of informing the outlaw of the hero's whereabouts. Having done that, he could quietly have faded from the story. But then it occurred to me to put a bit of criminal ambition and murderous intent into his character and he was ideally suited for making more important events happen.

In Killer's Kingdom, the bandit Murray Halloran was initially intended to be just another of King Lesley's henchmen. Then I saw that his role could be extended to provide a more stable lieutenant for the increasingly alcoholic Lesley and by the end of the story he is the real brains behind the gang.

My latest book, Range Rustlers, features a half-breed named Chico. I planned for him to have a very limited role as a tracker for the sheriff's posse. Then I realized that he could take a much more important  part and  eventually  provide a surprise twist to the story.

Chap: I can appreciate how new ideas occur as stories unfold and characters develop. But I can also relate to your comment, Greg, about the chaos between the ears. Life increasingly produces that, which may be why I cling to the synopsis-first routine.

That way, I don't paint myself into an impossible corner or end up with the embarrassment of forgotten loose ends. Also, after dealing with the tax return, the house painting, the family occasion, I can return to writing my book any time and pick up the threads from the outline I prepared weeks earlier, before the actual writing began.

The plot outline is both a crutch and a safety net. Moreover, I preface it with notes on my six or seven main characters. This is not so much to avoid changing the colour of a character's eyes or their name -- I've seen it happen! -- as to be sure I know what drives each character, what he or she has done previously and will seek to achieve. 
Another reason I suspect I stick with outlining is because it was the way I was told to work in the beginning, way, way back when I was writing scripts for 130-frame British picture-libraries [graphic novelettes]. In those days, why waste heaps of typewriting time and paper on a story an editor or publisher wasn't going to want, an artist never draw? It was best to know first that you were working on something that could bring in a worthwhile cheque.

Today, I still submit outlines for BHWs before writing them. They've always been given a go-ahead with amendment seldom requested, and that takes care of the basics. You know you're not going to be told there's something majorly  wrong with your novel's plot and storyline after you've written it, though you may be asked for a change of emphasis -- for example, to tone down sex or violence.

Most writers with the ability to edit their own work are ready to comply with reasonable requests for alterations, as long as they aren't going to destroy a book that will carry their name or pen-name.

Unlike in the pre-computer days, modest rewriting doesn't involve having to retype thousands of words. . . . So, yes, you could say certain reasons for working to very tight outlines have gone, that there should be more freedom.

BHE: Jake, we mentioned TV scripts in our introduction. Now as one who has written for drama series in Australia, like Homicide and Matlock Police, how has that shaped your approach? Are you a plotter?

Jake: At one time, I worked from such detailed plots that the writing of the book required little more than filling out the notes with appropriate prose. It suited Cleveland, my then publishers for westerns by Kirk Hamilton and Brett Waring, as they required very detailed plot lines for upcoming stories.


But when I went to Crawford Productions, they explained tactfully that while my scene breakdowns were great, they read like a novel. A definite no-no where these TV scripts were concerned. Most times locations as envisaged by the writer didn't match up with reality and improvisation had to be the name of the game. So, instead of a nicely rounded description of a scene, it was reduced to "car chase", "fist fight", "cops in foot chase" et cetera -- and labelled "director's sequence". Of course, the directors loved this: it gave them free rein to use their inventiveness.

The long-winded point I'm trying make is that the ruthless paring of hard-written scene outlines, reducing them to a couple of descriptive words, paid off when I returned to writing westerns. So much so that now, while I believe I'm writing from a plot, what I'm actually doing is writing from a series of plot points. I have an outline of the story and characters, but the incidents are only briefly mentioned: ambush by Black Pete; hero wounded; bad guy gets his comeuppance . . . and so on. I find this is enough and doesn't restrict me as long as the details fit the main story.

BHE: Hmm. That sounds like you know what you'll be driving at before you start. A plotter who keeps it reduced to essentials, perhaps . . . the things you must have.

Jake: Whether you work from a plot ot not, there is one thing you must have -- a good opening -- in fact, a damned good opening. You're in the business of getting the reader to keep turning the pages, so grab his interest right from the "go".

I like to grab the reader as quickly and as firmly as I can. Action is much better than launching into a leisurely description of someone riding into town. Any western reader know what a western town looks like, so a very brief description, if any, is all that's necessary. I like to get the people moving into the story, featuring the hero if possible.

Hector Crawford
This is a hangover from my TV scripting. All Crawford shows had a "teaser" before the titles and at one time at least one of the four main stars had to be featured in this. After a while,  Hector Crawford realized how it restricted the writer, so he made it that one of his stars should appear as soon as possible after the first commercial break. But I've hung on to the idea that introducing the reader to the hero straight away pays off. I admit I don't always do it -- there are good reasons not to sometimes, depending on your storyline.

Having mentioned the descriptive opening, I recently opted for a version of this in Silent Wolf. I decided to build up the atmosphere and as I began to write, I realized I was introducing a note very close to mysticism. I'd never done this before and, intrigued, I kept it going and built up quite an eerie feeling with wolves howling in the night, nervous nighthawks and an imminent cattle stampede -- before my hero, literally, drops in. You'll have to read the book to find out what I mean by that!

Most times, I work on the first sentence. Those few words that open the story can make the difference between instant reader interest or lack thereof -- even, perhaps, between publication and rejection. To my mind, the way I write, the opening is as important to the story as the plotline, whether sketched out or written down in detail.

BHE: As the author of not tens but hundreds of books, can you give us some illustrations of how you think a western should open, and how this ties up with plotting?

Jake: I've opened many a yarn with a gunfight imminent or in progress. A chase sequence also gets the blood pounding right from the start. Fist fights are always good. The hero doesn't necessarily have to walk away bloody but victorous -- he may lose this one and it can become part of his motivation for going after the other feller later in the story. Experiment. Use the ideas you want to incorporate in the story. By that I mean relate your opening to something that's coming up later. No need to go into heavy explanation. If the story's written well enough, the reader will know the whys and wherefores, anticipate them, and keep turning those pages, just as you planned all along!

Walt: When I  started Mogollon Rim Rider, I had  a series of ideas in my  mind and one very vivid picture: a hunted man on a tired horse riding down one of the precipitous canyons which plunge from the Rim a thousand feet to the Tonto Basin, where places like Deadman's Mesa and Hardscrabble Mesa awaited him. I  constructed a reason for him to be there, a reason why he was both pursuer and pursued. 
But the same thing always happens with my well-laid plans. I find I have left something out -- in this case, the love interest supplied later by Lady Sarah, lost and in danger because she wanted to be independent. Anybody who doubts there are such women never met my late mother-in-law: she always wanted to go west on a wagon train. If she had, it would have got there!

Chap: Settling on a grabbing opening is as good a starting point for your planning as any. But mostly I prepare a plot by listing the characters and their aims, then look for the scenes. Maybe that's why so many of my titles have ended up with the "and the" formula. The Sheriff and the Widow, The Outlaw and the Lady, and so on. Lazy man's approach to titling, too, perhaps!  

Greg: I have only a rough idea of a story when I start out, mostly just the hero and the villain. Then I figure a way to bring them into conflict. In this process it's necessary to introduce other characters to move the story along. If the scene is in a town, what is the local lawman, if any, doing about the situation? Is this the right time to introduce a heroine? I find that the need for new characters becomes apparent as a plot starts to take shape.

Sometimes the introduction of a seemingly minor character opens opportunities to add further to the plot. It might not have been originally intended, but suddenly an opening is there. For example, the barman in  the saloon sees someone familiar walk in, a sinister character from the past. The story expands. Why is he where he is? What is the barman's connection with the newcomer? With a few words a character originally destined for a minor role can have a strong bearing on the plot.

A chance word might suddenly trigger a new idea. At other times a bit of background research into a new situation might indicate that my original intention really did not fit and there could be a better way of telling the story, even if it means a radical departure from what I was thinking. By putting characters in certain situations, I can play with their reactions, be they courageous, cowardly, romantic or just plain dumb. One thing can lead to another and sometimes my stories end differently to how I had originally intended.


Walt: My trouble is that my writing always outstrips my planning.  This doesn't matter, because by the time I realize that I'm running too fast, the characters have usually taken over.

Back when it was my business to interview authors instead of being one, I would hear them complain that the characters seemed to go their own way of their own volition.

I'd give a patient little smile to show I was willing to listen to this tosh, but didn't have to believe it. Now I know better. When you create a real character, at some point  he or she takes over and begins to breathe for himself.
It is at this point really that he or she also begins to mould the storyline. Would John Best in Guns Along the Gila allow the Wheatley family to set out from Maricopa Wells to Fort Yuma across the Sonoran Desert by themselves, knowing the Apaches were out? No way! He laid plans to deliver his messages and come back to guide them -- vainly as it turns out, but he did his utmost.
In Sidewinder Flats, Carnigan set off to reclaim  his stolen horses. I had no plans to make him the sheriff of a thieves' kitchen. He did that all by himself.
Tombstone is a time capsule, and I fully intended to set the whole of the story of Tombstone Lullaby within its streets. You can walk where the Earps walked, drink in the saloons, eat at Nellie Cashman's, see a "gunfight",  visit the Birdcage Theatre where the girls  used to practise the oldest profession, see the OK Corral, even visit the courthouse. But Mart Donohue had to go off and seek  that darned Mexican beauty, and I found myself trudging up Apache Pass to see Fort Bowie where he started his search. 
Apache Country was a straight rescue story of a family during an Indian uprising, until a bunch of outlaws hijacked the story and the wagons, and drove them into the hills south of Tucson.

BHE: Chap, as a plotter, don't you envy Greg's and Walt's freedom to head off in pretty much any direction? To enjoy the surprises that will also entertain their readers?

Chap: I like to think my planned plots do contain surprises for the readers. And I find plenty to concentrate on, and enjoy tackling, while writing the book . . . like the book's shape and pacing, which I assess as I write. For instance, I don't decide in advance where the curtain will fall to end a particular chapter.

Plot and characters, or rather their motivations, dominate in the preliminary outline, possibly making its few thousand words dense and confusing to an outsider. Since action is a prime ingredient of the books we write, the impression this gives can be misleading, because like Jake I miss out the detail of action sequences. Whole intended scenes which I think of as "set-piece" are regularly reduced to a sentence or two of cause and result.

Mr Hale commented on the outline for A Gunfight Too Many, coming out in July: "I have read the synopsis and as you say it is pretty complex. Nevertheless, I am sure it will work out very well as it always has done in the past. I note that the ending is satisfactory rather than happy."

To which I replied: "I will try to find space along the way to work in suggestion of a romance between the deputy who is crippled, Clint Freeman, and young Sarah. Consolation for both at the end . . . 'Some months later, Sam was best man at the wedding of Sarah and Clint Freeman. It was good to see Sarah was over the bad times. Sarah kissed him after the ceremony, and said they would ask him to be the godfather of their first-born. Sam got to thinking again about retirement. . . .' Something along those lines to inject the bit of happiness."

And Mr Hale said simply: "Many thanks for your email and your very acceptable proposal of a happy ending. Splendid." After which I got on with writing the book, adding in the new material. Since my complex main plot was already down on paper for reference, any distraction this introduced during the storytelling wasn't fatal in the sense of causing some other, essential detail to be overlooked. Most of my variations from outline are the result of new and better ideas that occur to me as I write the novels. It would be hard to list a fraction of them, let alone remember them all, since there are some in almost every book.

BHE: Perhaps you could name examples in some of your BHWs reissued recently by the Ulverscroft companies in large-print editions.

Chap: In Ghost Town Belles, significant additions and departures involved the bear that raided M'liss's garden, the river sequence and the clue of the family Bible.

In Misfit Lil Gets Even, most of the changes centre around the order in which some events are told, and the intercutting of scenes, including a key chase, to heighten suspense. But importantly, Sheriff Hamish Howard is introduced. In the synopsis he is no more than Silver Vein's unnamed "new, weakling sheriff". In the book, he is much more. Also, it became clear to me that he should go on to appear in later Lil stories.

In The Lawman and the Songbird, Joshua Dillard's cover is blown by a sneaky deputy called Steve Wye, a character who didn't appear at all in the synopsis. "Wye considered himself a cut above other men in Cox City of greater experience and probity. . . . But his high opinion was backed merely by a badge." The stagecoach holdup that opens the second part of the book is also entirely new, injecting some extra action I judged was needed at that point.

Having a clear plot before you begin your book doesn't mean manacling your imagination. In fact, I think you're freed to put more of it into the details.

Duke of Wellington

We get the picture. So, closing thoughts anyone?

Jake: More often than not, the writing will diverge, apparently of  its own accord, from the original storyline, but usually it's the characters and the environment that dictate this. I might have a shootout planned in a dead-end gulch, but when I reach that point in the writing I recall one of my characters earlier mentioned in passing that there are abandoned mines in the area -- sounds like a good locale for a dramatic gunfight, and maybe a chase down into the bowels of the earth . . . especially as one of the characters is claustrophobic. Sadistic s.o.b's, we writers! Doesn't require much changing to bring this about -- though it may also change something that has already been written or is about to be. A little juggling usually accomplishes this and any boo-boos can be picked up and attended to in the editing. As long as I arrive at the original conclusion, I'm happy enough to add the new stuff and, perhaps more satisfactorily, write in those lovely words "The End".
Walt: Really, I suppose that what I do is make myself a map, but I'm prepared to go off my planned route if I see some promising vista opening up just off the road. My only justification is that I seem usually to get there in the end -- and the trail is so much fun. 
Greg: People often say, "There is only one way to do something and that's the right way." In reality what is right for one can be wrong for another, and many things can be effectively done in a variety of ways. The trick is to find what works for you, but that does not mean that the other person is wrong. When the Duke of Wellington was asked the difference between his and Napoleon's plans, he said that the latter's plans were like a very elaborate harness that could all come undone if a small strap broke. The Duke likened his plans to a rope and if it broke, he simply tied another knot and continued. His idea sits pretty well with the way I work.

Jake: Basically, if I'm asked do I plot or not, I have to say I'm a switch-hitter -- whatever pleases me at the time -- as long as I'm happy with the result. If not, the story won't see the light of day or smell printer's ink until I am. And that's the bottom line: if the result is satisfactory, it doesn't really matter how you reached trail's end . . . by following a detailed plot -- or not!



Angel's last shot?
A new set of western tracks


BHW publication of Duel at Cheyenne has completed the reprinting, in collectable, hardcover editions, of the Frank Angel series by Daniel Rockfern. The books were written in the 1970s by "Piccadilly Cowboy" Frederick Nolan under the pen-name Frederick H. Christian. First published in the UK as Sphere paperbacks, the Angel books reappeared in the US under the Zebra and Pinnacle imprints, mostly with the titles that have been used for the BHW editions. In the last to be issued, Frank Angel is detailed to deliver a $250,000 ransom to George Willowfield -- a seeker of easy money who has stolen a train and asked the US Government to pay up to get it back. No government likes to be held up and Angel, special agent of the Department of Justice,  is there to see the debt paid -- one way or another! Fred Nolan is considered one of the foremost authorities on the life and times of Billy the Kid and the history of the American West in general. He has appeared in TV documentaries dealing with the subject, as well as lectured to historical societies in the UK and US.

Wilkes University, Pennsylvania,  figures students and graduates love the music of the western movies. It offered -- "Exclusively!" -- bargain tickets to a pops concert by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. The orchestra was to perform Frank Oden's Cowboy Jamboree.  "For only $10, you can enjoy high energy, good ol', down-home fun with music from all of your favourite westerns. . . don't miss out!  Hope to see y'all there!" Oden writes and performs lyrical concert programmes merging poetry, humour, drama and education with live symphonic performance. His Cowboy Jamboree has been an audience favourite with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and at the Vail Valley Music Festival. We're told the "journey westward" includes scores from The Magnificent Seven, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Buckaroo Holiday, and more.

Frank Oden knows the score.
Purr-fect for Pete.
Sad about Saddlebums. . . . After about six months of entertaining operation, the online Saddlebums Western Review lapsed into what looked like a state of suspension. Co-owner Ben Boulden announced a Spur award to Max McCoy at his other blog, Gravetapping. He explained: " I started a new job at the first of the year, and with all the stress, time pressures, and blah of life Saddlebums has been neglected, and neglected badly. I hope that we can get it running again, and hopefully add a little help into the mix. It is a surprising amount of work and realistically Saddlebums is a little more than two working stiffs can handle. Although I enjoyed doing it, and I especially enjoyed the author interviews. I always felt inadequate going up against many of my writer-heroes -- Ed Gorman, Bob Randisi, James Reasoner, just to name a few." Gravetapping's mascot, Pete "Black Jack" Ketchum the cat, will no doubt be purring louder now that his "lap" is no longer regularly whisking itself away to ride the range!

Hoofprints has commented before on how western movie-making has encircled the globe. Dead Man's Bounty comes with the tagline "The First Polish Western" and has Val Kilmer playing the role of a dead body. IMDb says Kilmer "worked for a significantly discounted salary" and "signed on was because he was impressed with the director's vision". Video Business, reviewing the DVD release, described the Lionsgate movie as an oddball homage to Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. "The film . . . is the world's first sagebrush saga shot in Poland. As odd as that sounds, the film is even odder, helmed by artist and first-time director Piotr Uklanski. The plotting is sketchy and the visuals ugly but colourful, as a stranger (Karel Roden) and a drunken sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) square off over a dead body (Val Kilmer) and a barmaid (Katarzyna Figura). There are lots of Sergio Leone-esque close-ups and hallucinatory camerawork, a shrieking score punctuated by a couple of American songs (one by Lorne Greene) and lots of blood and shooting that will keep western fans hanging in — even while scratching their ponchos." The VB Shelf Talk verdict? "There's undoubtedly still an audience for westerns (3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and neo-westerns (No Country for Old Men) these days, so a congenial reception for this truly one-of-a-kind confection is not totally unexpected."  The film "best resembles some of the weirder examples of the genre" and is rated R for mature themes, language, violence and sexual situations.

Kilmer. . . plays dead.
Sorbo. . . plays drunk.
As reported in Hoofprints last year, companies associated with the legendary movie-making brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein have embarked on a series of westerns for TV and DVD. Online at Rough Edges, James Reasoner tells us the first movies have now been shown in the US. "Prairie Fever stars Kevin Sorbo and Dominique Swain, and while the production values aren’t just top-notch, it’s not a bad little film, with a more interesting script than I expected. Sorbo plays an ex-lawman who gave up the badge and became a drunk after a tragedy during a shootout with a bank robber. Needing money, he agrees to take three former mail-order brides to the railroad so they can go back east. It seems that all three women have come down with 'prairie fever' – or gone plumb loco, as characters in my books tend to say. One of the women constantly quotes Scripture, another is mortally terrified of the sun, and the third plays a piano that isn’t there, when she’s not trying to strangle every man who comes within reach, that is. . . .  Things are complicated by outlaws with a grudge against Sorbo’s character, the husband of one of the crazy mail-order brides, a beautiful but somewhat crooked female gambler, and her murderous husband, played by Lance Henrikson, who gets stuck with one of the goofiest-looking hats in the history of western movies. Various shootouts ensue along the way, as the characters all struggle with their own inner demons and try to achieve some sort of redemption."


But what happened to the ubiquitous, simpler TV western of the '50s and '60s? J. Fred MacDonald, author of Who Shot the Sheriff? The Rise and Fall of the Television Western, tells how it deteriorated to the point where it was irrelevant and meaningless. It had been "an American genre of entertainment and communication whose symbols and rhetoric helped define American society", he says. He ties the western to the political innocence and confidence of the Cold War years and suggests that the social re-evaluations that began in the 1960s undermined its believability and entertainment value. "In the halcyon years, from the late 1950s until the mid-1960s, the genre projected a world of danger. Frontier robbers and killers were a threatening breed. . . . In addition, there were natural calamities -- fire, storm, flood, drought, and the like -- that on occasion undermined the harmony of western existence. It was within these parameters that TV western characters operated."

In another age.
 Suspense tip.
Ed Gorman, whose long bibliography includes BHWs, is better known for his mystery and suspense novels. BHW publishers Robert Hale have been reissuing his series of books with pop-song titles from the '50s and '60s. The latest of these is Everybody's Somebody's Fool, in which struggling lawyer and sometime private eye Sam McCain finds himself, not unusually, hauled into a case by the incorrigible Judge Esme Ann Whitney. Jealous husbands, philandering spouses, jilted girlfriends, outraged parents, a long-suffering wife -- Sam does not want for suspects. Ed admires many of the novels of the late John D. MacDonald, which were also first published in UK editions by Robert Hale. One of them, in 1959, was The Executioners -- later filmed twice as Cape Fear. Ed recently picked up this book "for bedtime reading and read to page 102 before turning out the light". His verdict contained a famous tip, as applicable for westerns as other fiction: "This is a virtually perfect suspense novel. MacDonald wisely hews to the Hitchcock rule -- suspense comes from knowing that the bomb is under the chair. MacDonald plants the bomb in the first chapter and then slowly lets the wick burn lower and lower. Several lesser incidents anticipate the final explosion."

At his Bear Alley site, researcher Steve Holland recorded the pioneering merchandising boom for westerns that accompanied William Boyd's adaptation of the Clarence E. Mulford character Hopalong Cassidy. Steve's insightful observations began, "Westerns have always had something of a cyclical success in the UK. Hugely popular in the 1930s, the 1950s and 1970s, they've gone through a variety of downturns; in the mid-1950s, science fiction grew in popularity, exploring the frontiers of space rather than the frontiers of the wild west; the boom in grim and gritty westerns began with the arrival of George G. Gilman's Edge novels in 1972 and came to an end a decade later, although Gilman's novels continued to appear until 1989. Just as Gilman's Edge and Steele novels came to an end, there was a small surge of interest in literary westerns around the time of Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves (1990), and movies such as Brokeback Mountain (2005) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007) have proven that the western can be as diverse a genre as any." 

Sweet-talkin' Boyd.

Trail to skid row.
Public Lending Right (PLR) enables authors in some countries to receive payment under legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. A British writer told Writers Talk, a publication from the British PLR organization, "Dwindling royalty earnings, thanks mainly to high discounting, have greatly increased the value of PLR payments and made them, for me, an important part of core income." Other research findings published by the organization were: A typical professional author has seen income drop by £3000 a year since 2000. A typical writer earns an average of £4000 a year -- less than a supermarket check-out assistant. The top 10% of UK writers earn 50% of total income; in other equally skilled professions the bottom 50% earn almost 40% of total income. Nearly 80% of UK authors need a second job to survive.

Paul Wheelahan is known to BHW readers as authors Ryan Bodie, Matt James and Ben Nicholas, but he earlier had a memorable career as an artist in the days when Australia had a comic book industry. In an interview appearing at OzComics.com, Paul told how, at age 20, utterly disillusioned by his lack of artistic success in Sydney, he went back to live with his family in Armidale, New South Wales, and found a job on the Oaky River Dam project, where he worked as a jackhammer operator, tree cutter and powder monkey. "A powder monkey stuffs with gelignite the long, deep holes drilled by men operating wagon drills," Paul said. "He attaches fuses and blows out huge chunks of mountainside. I worked with a certifiable maniac who was unbeaten in countless street fights and who was probably the most vivid personality I ever knew. Sometimes we would put much more explosive down a hole than was required. We did this one day and a chunk of rock the size of a Holden car sailed high over where all of us were taking shelter. It came down through the iron roof of a workshop, missing a migrant worker by a whisker. Next day, I was back on the jackhammer and the Dutchman, named Steve, was en route for Sydney and Amsterdam!"

Explosive action.

Marines' "never enough westerns".
"Are you a reader of westerns?" Trudy W. Schuett asked. Trudy is a contributing editor to the blog Dean's World and works in the library at the Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona, where her husband teaches marines how to fix their cars. Answering her own question, Trudy said, "If you are, you probably realize new books in this genre are in short supply. These days, they are the 'poor relation' of the publishing business. Take heart, though, the indie publishers haven’t forgotten the dedicated readers of western novels. . . . At the library, we have a surprising number of dedicated readers of westerns who check 'em out by the armload. This makes our collection look about 30 per cent smaller than it actually is. Their major complaint is that there are never enough new ones. Mainstream publishing has largely deserted this genre, which I find surprising since they are so often read -- at least by the military."

Prices for new BHWs rose in May to £12.25. Such is the inflationary world we all live in. . . . All, it might be added, except for the books' writers whose work must largely be its own reward. It has not been possible to raise the authors' payment for at least 15 years, or from the days when a BHW sold for £7.25. Readers who buy their BHWs, rather than borrow them from the library, tell us they search out good, secondhand bargains at auction sites like eBay or through online used-book dealers. Web explorations and comparisons one day in April showed BHW prices ranging astonishingly from $1 or 50p, for titles like Ernest Haycox's Gun Up ("good condition, cover slightly worn"),  to $83.75 or £42.10, for Chap O'Keefe's Doomsday Mesa ("valuable title in great condition"). For new books, attractive discounts can be found at www.halebooks.com, the publisher's official site. Price reductions are 30% and sometimes more.

Shopping around.

Writer's strange journey of rediscovery

Tom Ford, the sheriff of Stanton, was gunned down while trying to keep the peace between the hands of rival ranches. Accusations of corruption against the sheriff were rife and the way things looked a range war was about to erupt. News of Tom Ford's death reached his son, Chris, and Marshal Sam Ward while they are hunting down a killer.
    With both men out of their jurisdiction and receiving no assistance from the local law, Chris returned home to face his past and to find his father's killer. The only way he could do that was by taking up his father's badge -- only to discover that not everything was as it seemed.

Back cover,

In the Hoofprints section of our last edition RAY FOSTER, who began writing westerns for Hale as Jack Giles in the 1980s, told how a stroke in 1999 effectively disrupted his work as a BHW author and he "lost" almost thirty years of memories. Now he has recommenced writing westerns after going through the unusual process of rediscovering his own bygone books. We told Ray we thought his latest news would make a fascinating BHE article.

Ray said he had to rely on his wife  to give her recollections for the missing years, and that he didn't think his new western fitted in with what Jack Giles wrote before. "But the fact that it has been accepted means I can afford to gamble. Well, to some extent . . . and I can draw on my own experiences. Another advantage of starting again is that I can experiment."

Our thanks to Ray for sharing another chapter in his absorbing comeback story.  .  .  .

HOW my new Black Horse Western, Lawmen, was started is quite humorous.

My wife said that I couldn't just go off and do something -- to which I replied that I could.  At the time I was taking off my three-quarter-length plaid jacket.  And that is the opening to the book, complete with said red plaid jacket.  The story then took over. . . .
Lawmen contains a murder mystery line within it. It also approaches old age and deals with a dysfunctional family.  So, not exactly the Jack Giles territory of old.

Poseidon Smith: Vengeance Is Mine and The Man From Labasque were both written more than twenty years ago as books with an eye on the Piccadilly Cowboys paperback market of the time. Two follow-ons were also completed -- one for each.

Rebel Run has PC elements -- but the ending is pure fact. When I watched the Civil War movie Gods and Generals, I half expected to see my characters burst out of the trees.

Hell's teeth," Sam Ward exploded. " You can't just go swannin' off.  We got a job to do."
 " The hell I can't," his companion retorted.  " Figure I can just do what I damn well want. This is family business -- an' where I come from that's what comes first."

In contrast are Leatherface, Coalmine and Duggan.  In those three books I found a far more serious depth.  Duggan is a town drunk who gets the opportunity to redeem himself only to discover that nothing really changes and that war produces no winners.

When Gareth Lloyd commits suicide in Leatherface, the people think he has done something gallant. In reality, he can't live with himself after he has been so badly burned.

Coalmine has an unnamed hero (until towards the end) but it was the sub-plots that held my attention. Perhaps, of them all, it is this book that showed that there was a definite look at a new direction. Maybe Lawmen will be seen as fitting in with them after all.

I have to say that if circumstances had been different, I would have collected the Jack Giles books as a reader. If there's a duff book, then it has to be Ten Thousand Dollar Bounty. It has some good sections, but I did find myself thinking that it could have been better. Maybe I'll do as Howard Hawks did with Rio Bravo and remake it.

Finally, there's The Fourth Horseman. I loved it and I've read a review of it.  Like the reviewer, I thought it great, with Death weaving his way through the storyline disrupting everybody's plans.  There is a moment when Death walks into a saloon and a man approaches him.  And Death says: " I haven't come for you." A magic moment.

What is strange to me is that I wrote those words. It is a very weird experience, to read them, and cannot really be explained.


He could not understand how any man could accuse his father of accepting bribes.  For all his faults, Tom Ford had always been an honest man who had dealt fairly with other men.

Margaret Thatcher
From two half-finished books I've also read, it looked as though Jack Giles was looking at new things to write about.  One had a lot of research notes; the other had nothing.  The backgrounds to both were real but one began with a funeral in New York. So some experimental work seemed to be under way, was being attempted, was evolving.

I have said I think Louis L'Amour and George G. Gilman were my writing influences.  But now, as I can see back into my childhood, Frank C. Robertson looms large. The first western I read was Horn Silver, which Collins published in Britain.  I've managed to locate a copy and it now sits in my bookcase.

Another early memory . . . at the age of 14 I was the butcher's boy who delivered meat to a certain Margaret Thatcher!


"My deputy has gone home," he explained.  "Tom Ford was his pa."
Carrick's jaw dropped: "Tom Ford's boy? Chris? The one that beat seven bells out of his father?  You have to be kiddin' me."

The first time I attempted to write a book was back in 1965.  It was called The Rebel and was about the Rockers. Everything I wrote in it was factual right down to the infamous Battle of Brighton where the Mods and Rockers clashed.  Yep, I was one of those people who rode a motorbike. Yet agents and publishers rejected the book on the grounds it was unrealistic. So much for following that maxim about writing what you know about.
I believe 1968-69 was an interesting period. I was "persuaded" to join the Young Conservatives -- even though I had no interest in politics. One thing led to another and I found myself writing again.  Each week a speaker would come down and the chairman thought it would be a good idea if someone did a write-up. Nobody volunteered, so doing a bad Yul Brynner impersonation I said, "Oh, hell, I'll do it."

For about a year I had a regular two-inch piece in the local newspaper, the Orpington & Kentish Times -- my only foray into journalism. I did get offered a job, but deadlines and me do not mix.  The pieces I did do had to be in by Tuesday, which gave me four days to play with.

All the rage, all the feelings that Chris hoped he would never experience again were in the punch that lifted Charlie from his feet and sent him sprawling.  Unlike their father, Charlie did not get back on his feet.

Today, Lawmen can be looked at only as "book one" to me.  The next will be in contrast, for it establishes from the start that the "hero" is not a nice person.  It is, probably, the first time that I've known what the end will be -- but the journey will be the most interesting part.

When I was at school, the teacher would put a sentence up on the board -- for example, "The guard blew his whistle. . . ." and it was up to us to finish the story.  It still tends to happen.  I get an opening and haven't a clue where the story is going until I reach the end.  This time I had both the opening and an ending of sorts -- but not The End.

The work process I use is that the morning session is cleaning and polishing. Evening session is to get a minimum of 500 words down.  If  I'm having a good day, then I might do an extra writing shift.  Using this system saves having to edit the book after it's complete.  The final polish means that it's ready to go.

I think that's all I can tell . . . but if there is anything else you would like to know, just ask. If I can't answer a question, I know someone who can. I met her at the Young Conservatives!

Design favoured by Blue and Grey


GREG MITCHELL describes another gun that shaped the history of the Old West, the Whitney .36 Navy Revolver.

IN 1858, the E. Whitney Corporation, of New Haven, Connecticut, brought out a very good revolver. It was chambered for the .36 Navy cartridge but was used by both the Union Army and Navy during the American Civil War.

The gun was a six-shot, percussion revolver with a seven-inch barrel. The Union forces purchased 11,214 of them. Others were bought privately by officers and they gave good service. Officially, the Army calibre was .44, but the Navy .36 was also popular with land forces. Though lacking the power of the larger bullet, the .36 Navy was considered adequate and was liked for its accuracy. By today's standards the .36 would be considered marginal as a man-stopper but it was not to be taken lightly and notched up its share of victims.

The Confederate government selected the weapon to copy for its own forces and had approximately 1,450 made by the firm of Spiller and Burr. The frames of these were partially iron and partially brass. Thousands more were required but the South did not have the facilities to supply them.

The Confederates were not the only ones to copy the Whitney. The design of the highly successful Army Colt .45 of 1873 was said to have been inspired by the Whitney. Certainly there is a resemblance between the two guns.

Some Whitney Navy .36s were exported. The South Australian Mounted Police used Whitneys and some expressed the opinion that they were superior to the Navy Colt that was favoured by certain other colonial police forces. The Whitney was also cheaper to buy, costing only £4.10s. (about $US18 in the currency of the day).

The founder of the Whitney company, Eli Whitney Sr (1765-1825), is best remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, but he also developed the concept of mass production of interchangeable parts and the assembly line.

His son, Eli Whitney Jr, was only five years old when his father died. The armory at New Haven was operated by two uncles, Philos and Eli Whitney Blake. When Eli junior came of age in the early 1840s, he assumed enthusiastic control of the family business, expanding the complex to include three factories along the Mill River. Before he retired in 1888, he had totally replaced the west bank structures built by his father. The use of machines and the specialization of labour begun by Whitney Sr after 1798 were extended. A workforce of 40 to 60 grew to about 200.

Westward expansion had boosted a demand for guns, both for civilian and military purposes. To diversify output from muskets and rifles to hand guns, Whitney contracted with inventor Samuel Colt in 1843 to manufacture the first of his revolvers for the Texas Rangers. With profits from the sale of these Whitneyville Walker Colts, Colt set up his own armory in Hartford. (See BH Extra, March 2007.)

Whitney also profited from the Mexican War (1846-48), during which he sold armaments both to federal and state governments.

Eli Whitney Sr

Eli Whitney Jr

The manufacture of handguns was a new venture for the Whitney Armory and it consolidated the younger Whitney's reputation as an entrepreneur. The Colt contract gave Whitney the chance to broaden the family firm's product, once again making it effectively competitive. By 1850, the armory was building revolvers of its own design. In 1851, it received a major contract from the Navy for the production of 33,000 revolvers.

The company's website records that in 1867 alone, the company manufactured 11,000 guns of various types at a cost of $76,764 and with return on investment of $17,785. "This activity rendered a healthy profit of nearly 25 per cent."

After the Civil War, the company name was changed to the Whitneyville Armory Manufacturing Company and specialized in small rimfire weapons in .22 and .32 calibres, said to be of good quality.

Chief Sitting Bull, the nemesis of General Custer, was known to carry a Whitney Navy.

The Whitney Navy never survived the change to metallic cartridges, although a few were converted by private gunsmiths to fire .38 cartridges. Had this weapon made the transition to metallic cartridges, it probably would have proved popular in the West. Instead, it ended its days as an obsolete percussion weapon.

-- Paddy Gallagher, aka Greg Mitchell, whose next BHW,
 Track Down the Devil, will be published in September.

Chief Sitting Bull



Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
Gunfight at Dragoon Springs Walt Masterson  0 7090 8546 1
Silent Wolf Jake Douglas
0 7090 8565 2
Logan's Gun
John Dyson
0 7090 8575 1
Riders from Hell
Lee Lejeune 0 7090 8579 9
Last Chance Saloon
Ross Morton
0 7090 8580 5
Hoke John's Land
Caleb Rand 0 7090 8589 8
Rogue Law
Logan Winters
0 7090 8577 5
Showdown at Dane's Bend
Jack Holt 0 7090 8596 6
Last Man Riding
Clayton Nash 0 7090 8615 4
Jack Giles 0 7090 8612 3
Two for Texas
Ethan Flagg
0 7090 8611 6
The Dakota Deal
Dan Claymaker 0 7090 8610 9
A Gunfight Too Many
Chap O'Keefe
0 7090 8456 3
Kill or Be Killed
Corba Sunman
0 7090 8555 3
Last Mile to Nogales
Ryan Bodie 0 7090 8609 3
The Revenge of Iron Eyes
Rory Black
0 7090 8608 6
Yuma Breakout
Jeff Sadler & B.J. Holmes
0 7090 8619 2
Montana Manhunt
Hank J. Kirby
0 7090 8633 8

Black Horse Westerns can be requested at public libraries, ordered at bookstores, and bought online through the publisher's website, www.halebooks.com, or retailers including Amazon, Blackwells,
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