Plot or Not Debate
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk
Peace at Any Price
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver
The Walker Colt
Sydney J. Bounds
Jake Douglas & Co.
Facts for Fiction
Writers and Money
Can a Black Horse Be Noir? Hoofprints
The Power of the Premise
Wheels West New Black Horse Westerns
The Extra aims to look
both back and forward as it discusses the Black Horse Western novels from the
independent publisher Robert Hale. In this edition, two western writers of
today find occasion to revisit the books of Lewis B. Patten, which were published
in UK editions by Hale from the 1970s to the '90s.
James Reasoner, respected US
author in several genres and a busy contributor to publishers' house-bylined
series, says, "The West he [Patten] writes about is often a dark and dangerous
place, where no one can be trusted completely, not even your best friend
or the woman you love, where good men sometimes do bad things and bad
men do even worse."
BHW contributor Chap O'Keefe
looks at several of Patten's books and his own, and asks how they fit in
with the concept of "noir" -- a sub-genre of crime movies and fiction which
has grown in popular acceptance to be more than a cult interest.
Classic film noir has been described
as a screen depiction of human reality edging toward darkness. It had
its heyday in the 1940s through to about 1960. The darkness arises not out
of spooks and supernatural shenanigans reminiscent of Hardy Boys yarns or
B-movie weird horror. Instead, it typically involves crime gone disturbingly
out of control, and the blackest depths of the human soul. Too black, too adult, for
a Black Horse Western?
O'Keefe has been trying to discover
an answer. With action aplenty, multidimensional
characters and moral dilemmas, a measure of noir would seem at first glance
just the job to add spice to a galloping good western.
Elsewhere, Candice Proctor --
half of the C. S. Graham writing team recently starred by the influential
Publishers Weekly -- explains the importance of premise. It's recommended
reading for those who plan to write novels, western or otherwise, of their
own. And it's a fascinating insight for everyone who has an interest in commercial
Paddy Gallagher, aka BHW author
Greg Mitchell, and always welcomed by the Extra's regular readers, offers
a wrap-up on wheeled transport in the Old West. Again, it's excellent reading
and a handy resource for writers.
Catch up, too, with what favourite
writers are doing (and western news in general) by following the latest Hoofprints.
Your comments and western news are always welcome at email@example.com
|Chap O'Keefe revisits a master and asks. . . |
CAN A BLACK HORSE BE NOIR?
Sheriff Sam Hammond was nudging fifty, conscious of his
years and sometimes wondering just why he’d become a
lawman in the first place. Then the troubles really began.
First, he narrowly escaped with his life after a moonlight
gun battle with a trio of rustlers. Then the abrasive range
detective Herb Hopkirk rode in. Gun-handy, Hopkirk shot
dead a rash cowpoke, crippled Sam’s young deputy, Clint
Freeman, and pestered Miss Sarah, pretty daughter of
rancher John Snyder.
A man-hungry widow and a bunch of newspaper cuttings
about a mysterious bank robber dubbed Dick Slick added to
Sam’s headaches. Was it time for him to quit the peace-officer
business before he wound up dead?
A Gunfight Too Many
TO a Frenchman a Black Horse would have to be un Cheval
Noir. But in present-day English parlance, "noir" has deeper connotations
than colour when used to describe films and books. I wonder whether
a Black Horse Western has been written that is wholly noir. Or ever can
The comments that led to this chain of thought came from
prolific and much-respected author James Reasoner at his blog, Rough
Edges. As a long-time supporter of, and writer for, genre-fiction series,
including westerns, what James had to say shouldn't be missed by any
BHW reader. Here it is, in full:
"Over the past few years, Lewis B. Patten has become one
of my favourite western authors. The West he writes about is often
a dark and dangerous place, where no one can be trusted completely,
not even your best friend or the woman you love, where good men sometimes
do bad things and bad men do even worse. His Gold Medal novel Rope
Law, originally published in 1956, fits right in with that description
and is probably the best Patten novel I’ve read so far.
"The story begins in the middle of the action, with a posse
chasing down a fugitive atop a rugged plateau. When the man they’re
after holes up in an old cabin, the posse members surround the place,
but then the sheriff throws them a curve, by riding up to the cabin and
walking in to confront the outlaw . . . who, as it turns out, is the lawman’s
"From there, as the posse waits for nightfall so they can
close in, Patten backtracks to fill in the story of what brought the
characters to this point, and it’s a years-long saga of drunkenness,
prostitution, robbery, and murder worthy of any of the more contemporary
Gold Medals. Sex serves as the motivation for most of this, and while
the scenes aren’t graphic, there are quite a few of them for a traditional
western published in 1956. He also puts his heroes through a lot of torment,
both emotional and physical, that was unusual for the time period. Patten’s
tendency to come up with somewhat happy endings keeps his books from falling
completely into the western noir category, but they come close enough to
satisfy most readers of crime fiction, I think. Rope Law
"A couple of words of warning, though: Not all of Patten’s
novels are as dark as what I’ve described here. Some of them are very
traditional westerns with nothing really to distinguish them except
a competent readability (not something to be taken lightly in its own
right, mind you). And he’s also an inconsistent writer, especially in
his later books which are carelessly written to the point that I’ve
started some of them and not finished them. But pick up Rope Law
or Lynching at Broken Butte or The Scaffold at
Hangman's Creek (Patten likes hangings as plot instigators,
too) or any number of other novels, and I think you’ll be thoroughly
I responded with a short comment of my own:
"Patten is one of my favourites, too, and copies of his books
are not as hard to find as some of the other western writers of the
'50s and '60s.
"Many were reissued as Leisure doubles in the '90s. Others
appeared in Britain and the Commonwealth countries as Black Horse
Westerns, the last, I think, in 1996. (It was an honour to see my own
early hardcover westerns alongside them in the same format.)
"I agree with your assessment of Patten's work, James. Lynchings,
sex crimes and guilty towns feature frequently, and there is a definite
noir-ish quality to all this, which some of us still try to inject
into BHWs today. As for 'somewhat happy endings', maybe they are there,
and the sex scenes toned down, then and now, at the behest of the publishers?"
My own answer to the question mark is, "Yes, partially at
least." But before we go to that, and because here we have the space
for it, let's pick up a few more excellent Patten titles, as James
suggests. Patten's previous British publishers for westerns included
Ward Lock and Collins, who put out the Wild West Club hardcovers and White
Circle and Fontana paperbacks. After Collins abandoned the genre, Patten's
UK outlet became Robert Hale Ltd and ultimately their Black Horse Western
In Lynching at Broken Butte (Doubleday 1974; Hale
1978), the plot centres on events put in train five months previously
by a liquor-fired mob's hanging of two men falsely accused of the rape
and murder of fifteen-year-old Eloise Carberry, a girl "so sweet and
demure in her photograph" but who "had been nothing but a slut with no
more morals than an alley cat". The sheriff of the small Arizona town,
Jasper Horsley, had "an uneasy premonition that examination of the place
where Eloise Carberry had been killed would prove they [the lynched] had
been innocent. If that happened, the guilt of the townsmen who had participated
would become intolerable. And they would lay the blame on him."
It falls to hero August Cragg, a pipe-smoking US marshal, to sort
out the mess . . . but not before other innocent lives are put at stake.
"Which left only one course of action open to him. He must become a
scourge, a silent, unseen killer, taking vengeance against one after
another of the lynchers until he had killed enough of them to throw terror
into the hearts of those that remained."
The Star and the Gun (Ace Books 1967; Hale BHW
1996) is the story of Sheriff Morgan Garth and his wild-living son,
Tom, who returns to their small town in New Mexico pursued from Texas
by a posse with a necktie party in mind. Morgan locks Tom in jail for
his own safety, to await formal justice. The thwarted leader of the so-called
posse -- grossly fat, smelly and vicious Jake Elmore who would have been
equally in place in a gangster thriller -- takes on Morgan, his estranged
wife Lily, who runs the Ace High Saloon, and the rest of the terrorized
town, which is all for giving up Tom to the hangrope.
Turning up the heat, Jake's crew takes hostage pretty nineteen-year-old
Isabel Moreno, who has stayed in love with Tom during his three-year
absence: ". . .tell Garth that I've got his boy's sweetie here. He's got
half an hour to surrender Tom to us. If he don't do it, then we're goin'
to take all the clothes off this girl and make her wait on us like that
until he does." The time elapses. After screams and sobbing, Isabel's ripped
clothes are delivered to the jail in a bundle. But Morgan is "harder and
more ruthless than Elmore had been". He shoots Jake's helpless son Jess,
previously taken captive, in the leg. "Blood was coming through his pants,
pouring from the hole in his thigh that Garth's bullet had made. It was
bright red blood, glistening, coming in little gushing spurts." If the
Garths are to win, it isn't by being soft. The violence and suspense continue
another 60 pages.
Giant on Horseback (Ace Books 1964; Collins 1966) opens
with sentences rich in recognized noir imagery: "Rain fell, gently drizzling, shining on the
slicker worn by the stationmaster, dripping softly from the eaves of the
weather-beaten, yellow-frame station. The train hissed patiently as it
waited for the passenger to alight. . . ." The story that follows, based
on the situation arising from the circumstances of the hero's parentage,
is packed with moral complexities.
The hostage-taking of scout Frank Healy's wife by an Indian renegade in
the The Trail of the Apache Kid (Doubleday 1979; Hale 1981)
saw Patten again pushing the envelope in the field of traditional westerns.
The brutality of the Kid toward Nora Healy included her rape: "When it was
over, he rose and looked down at her with contempt. 'Damn poor squaw. Healy
fool for following.'"
Each of these Patten novels has characteristics that qualify
them partly for a "western noir" tag. They had happy endings, by and
large. James Reasoner suggests, "I think it was just the climate of the
times that led Patten to come up with happy endings for his books, but
there could have been some editorial influence there, too."
Sam Hammond heard the crash of the cabin door above the incessant
hiss of the rain. Flinging caution aside, he ran between the tumbledown,
crumbling shacks, his feet picking up dust that had turned to cloying mud
and would soon be under puddles.
He whipped the cold, blue steel of his Colt
revolver from the holster at his hip. A feeling of unease churned his stomach.
A foreboding of misfortune. He had a premonition Hopkirk and Lorraine had
discovered John Snyder’s hiding-place and murder was about to be done.
From the online Wikipedia, we have the following definition
"Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe
stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize
moral ambiguity and sexual motivation. Hollywood's classic film noir
period is generally regarded as stretching from the early 1940s to
the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white
visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography, while
many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic
noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged
in the United States during the Depression."
The glossy, technicolor glory of most BHW covers is at wide
variance with a "low-key black-and-white visual style". This includes
Prieto Muriana's competent, generic cover for A Gunfight Too Many
. . . though we found it an interesting exercise to reduce it to monochrome
for the head of this article. Quite effective, too!
By the way, the breakout quotes punctuating this article are all
from A Gunfight Too Many and highlight facets of the story
which might indicate its suitability for a noir label.
Sometimes a cover does come along that looks at home on western
noir. Ulverscroft company Magna came up this year with a fine example
of Gordon Crabb art for their Dales large-print edition of Sons
and Gunslicks -- a grim tale of murder, infidelity, rape and
madness featuring a missing daughter and Joshua Dillard, the impecunious
ex-Pinkerton detective. Joshua, as readers of the books that feature
him will know, operates as a kind of nineteenth-century, hardboiled private-eye.
The next Dillard adventure, to be published in 2009, is Blast
to Oblivion. Again, it will have elements that could easily
be described as noir, being the story of the gruesome shotgun murder
of a mining millionaire in Denver. Joshua's investigation of the crime
takes him through the tawdry streets of the city's red-light district
and to a raw mining town in the mountains. His client is the millionaire's
sister. "Gossip had it that being a mining millionaire's maiden sister,
Flora Bennett, though a handsome and exciting woman, was a mite forbidding
to the average, uncultured western male. Her gaze could be cold and her
tongue sharp with suspicion, they said. Maybe this accounted for her continued
spinsterhood at age 28 despite her classical beauty." Flora is suspicious
of her widowed sister-in-law and her brother's secretary, Joseph Darcy,
who seem to be living in an improperly close relationship.
So yes, an attempt has been made for "stylish crime drama" which
"emphasizes moral abiguity and sexual motivation". And at the end there
are dark scenes bordering on the horrific with a disused ore-crushing
mill brought back into use for grisly purposes.
(View extract and
Sarah readied the second black horse as she’d seen Sam do
the first and mounted up. Straining her eyes into the growing darkness, she
set off in pursuit. The rain and the coming night put coldness into her.
Icy fingers seemed to clutch at her very heart, making it beat faster.
The other Chap O'Keefe series, running between standalone novels,
features Misfit Lil. Although her stories have a good helping of comedy
-- as in the recent Misfit Lil Hides Out -- they, too, have
their darker moments. The next novel, Misfit Lil Cleans Up,
will be published in October. Among the principal characters are a retired
British Army officer, Major Albert Fitzcuthbert, and his abused young
wife, Cecilia, who was formerly his ward.
Women in traditional westerns, even the saloon girls, are often
described as being treated as princesses by the "knights of the range".
But contemporary accounts tell us the facts were otherwise. During
the nineteenth century it was not uncommon for women to be sold like
cattle and worked to death. They had no recourse, few rights, and
male relatives regarded them as chattels.
All this should make promising raw material for the fiction writer
intent on introducing a noir quality to his westerns, yet he needs to
tread very carefully if intending to pitch his stories at the Black Horse
Western market. Both the new novels just mentioned -- the Dillard and
the Lil -- were accepted only after careful modification of some key scenes.
And in reading the proofs of the previous standalone book, A Gunfight
Too Many, I noted two paragraphs had simply been deleted, presumably
because they were considered unsuitable for inclusion in genre library
fiction. The art of being graphic without being explicit takes some accomplishing.
What might trigger objection is, it seems, always going to be there
in the eyes of unidentified beholders.
The refrain from the publisher is: "Thank you for your very full
synopsis. . . . Perhaps you could apply a little brake on sex and violence."
And further: "As you say, there have not been any complaints in the past
but nothing is cast in stone in this respect. The libraries would resist
any suggestion that they are dictating to writers and publishers. All they
do is just not buy copies."
Soon she could no longer pick out Sam’s tracks through the
slanting rain, but the trail to Horsehead Mine was clear enough, though broken
and uneven because it had been left to fall into disrepair since the mine’s
closure. By the time the ruins of the mine buildings came into sight, she
was breathing hard and her heart was pounding. The dark buildings were sagging
and paintless and conveyed an impression of decay and emptiness. Of desolation. She felt afraid.
In the event, much has apparently become unacceptable in the current,
less favourable climate for sales to libraries. For instance, an "experienced
editor" was asked by the publisher to go through Misfit Lil Cleans
Up and found several passages which, in the editor's view, fell
"very clearly outside the parameters of western writing".
Nor was the
editor satisfied this time with light revision. He told the publisher,
"What remains -- although less specific -- is still a detailed description
of a sex scene. I don’t agree with the author that, ‘These details are
supplied only by the reader’s mind’ and that these descriptions are not
so as to allow their full meaning to be obvious to an innocent mind. . .
. I think it would be perfectly possible to show the danger to Mary of working
as a dancer in a brothel without these specifics."
But even soberly stated facts were challenged by the editor. Lil at
one point tries to encourage Cecilia by saying she has the right to
break free of an abusive husband, Major Fitzcuthbert. She tells Cecilia
she will seek advice from her friend, the frontiersman Jackson Farraday,
an educated man who "knows most everything" including seven Indian lingoes.
Cecilia bites her lip and shakes her head violently. "That only sounds
fine in theory! And Indian culture has no lessons for a white woman. Their
women are depraved and promiscuous. I've read about it. Before the white
man came they had orgiastic fertility rites and danced, naked and singing,
around erotic emblems." Lil snorts her derision. "So sky pilots've preached
European ways, the morality of male-dominated marriage and female sexual
The editor said, "There are two questions here, namely: Misfit
Lil’s analysis of the rights of women is rather academic and therefore
perhaps not quite in the right style for a western. . . . Cecilia’s views
[as above] are dismissive of Indian culture and so possibly something which
needs attention as material to be published in the twenty-first century."
This analysis had the vital point totally screwed up. Informed
twenty-first century readers have more access than ever to social history
and the authentic writings of bygone times. For the beliefs of a character
in any historical story to be credible they must be in tune with the
contemporary attitudes known to be prevalent, however mistaken or otherwise
these might strike today's editors/readers in the light of their superior knowledge.
The characters' beliefs are -- like Cecilia's -- never more clearly revealed
than in their dialogue.
I wondered, too, if the experienced editor had ever researched, say,
the Hopi Pueblo women and a culture which saw assertion of their sexuality
not as depravity but as divinity; or read about America's Spanish conquerers and
the European clerics who condemned the indigenous women's "promiscuity"
and, by Lil's and Cecilia's time, had effectively substituted it with
male tyranny as practised in the Old World.
(View extract and
La Delrose knew John was in line to inherit much of his father’s rich cattle
ranch. It was part of his attraction for her, I’m sure. But Rex, being the
elder, would be due to inherit the best, the richest acres. Potentially,
he therefore represented an even better catch. My daddy was furious when
he found his brother in bed with his wife.’
Yes . . . rightly or wrongly, a deal of unexpected "cleaning up"
had to go into Misfit Lil Cleans Up
before it was seen
fit for publication.
And the exercise had to be repeated for Blast to Oblivion.
At the synopsis stage, John Hale wrote, "This gives every impression
of being a strongly plotted novel and I cannot see why it should not
work perfectly well . . . certainly all the right ingredients are here."
But his first reaction to the completed MS was, "Sadly I just do not
think this would prove a suitable addition to our Black Horse Western
list. . . . I think the story would need a lot of rewriting and omission
of detail in order to prove suitable for us."
I responded, in part, "My assessment is that about 70 pages will
need to be resubmitted. . . . Plot and storyline will remain the same,
though some scenes will be altered or cut right back (e.g. those with
the girl in Holladay Street; the bedroom scene Joshua stumbles upon
in Silverville). . . . Reworking of the last chapter can include expansion
of the gunfight at the mine to help make up for lost pages.
"Possibly some of your worries have to do with the book's depiction
of Denver in the late nineteenth century (e.g. pages 21-22, which
I will trim/euphemise). If so, may I point out that the city itself
does not reject its bawdy past? Indeed, it is actively promoted as
a tourist attraction. This for the very good reason that the topic
better holds the interest of today's adults than cosy stories of the
'Roy Rogers' variety. The old hang-ups are largely gone, thank goodness.
Please go to this link:
"Whether I want to rewrite -- or for that matter believe the rewriting
will leave as strong a book -- is largely immaterial. Blast
does need a publisher and is already the product
of at least 150 hours' work."
After the book was revised and accepted, the outline for another
Misfit Lil story was submitted. Mr Hale's comments on it ended, "You
are, of course, well aware of my caveats regarding what we do and do
not find acceptable in westerns so I hope that when you write the novel
you will bear all this in mind."
Whether BHWs with a noir streak can be produced within this framework
-- or, more correctly, survive through compromises to publication stage,
then satisfy readers -- I don't know. It would be disencumbering to
know for sure they can. Elsewhere, neo-Victorian novels are being well
received. Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet
other writers are allowed to expose in detail the seedy underbelly of Victorian
society with feisty females as lead characters. Is this -- the emphasis
on moral ambiguity and sexual motivation -- banned in westerns?
One encouragement is that Wikipedia noted the classic noir period
was in the 1940s and '50s, when censorship in most quarters was more repressive
than now. Yet the writers and other creators managed. They reacted, as
James put it, to "the climate of the times" -- in Lewis B. Patten's case
providing happy endings of the kind for which there is still a preference,
however much noir we might hanker to deliver in the run-up.
|A new set of western tracks
Comedian Rich Hall, in the British Guardian
newspaper, recalled how western movies have helped shape US presidential
attitudes. Only three modern presidents haven't referred to westerns as
their favourite movies: Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. But
the total could become four if Barack Obama (Casablanca) defeats John McCain
(Viva Zapata!) in November. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon
all pick the 1952 classic High Noon as their movie choice. Hall said,
"One wonders what George Walker sees in the story of Gary Cooper's retiring
sheriff who bravely takes on a gang of armed killers by himself, damn the
consequences?" Other presidential picks were Stagecoach (Lyndon B. Johnson),
Bad Day at Black Rock (John F. Kennedy), and My Darling Clementine (Harry
S. Truman). "Why?" Hall asked. And answered, "Because America is a nation
that believes almost religiously in individualism and self-reliance,
the two values that inform every western."
Queensland BHW writer Keith Hetherington
(aka Jake Douglas
, Hank J. Kirby
and Tyler Hatch
) can rely on his son, Rick
, for help
with the home maintenance chores. "Rick always enjoys such work," Keith
tells us, "and I like to get him involved, using the power tools and so
on. He's pretty good with a saw and drill. He has also just painted a fiery
dragon in his art class. He was enthusing over it for weeks. 'Wait till
you see it, Dad -- red and yellow fire, great flapping wings. . .' My wife
and I got to wondering what the hell was taking so long -- three or
four weeks -- and when asked how big, Rick always spread his arms: 'This
big! It'll look great on the lounge room wall near the TV where I can sit
and look at it.' Mate, everyone can look at it! He wasn't exaggerating the
size -- over a metre long and about a metre high. Big-screen artwork . .
. Rita had to remove one of her wall hangings to make room." Keith also
reports that, under the baleful glare of the said beast, he has begun work
on another new western. Title? Dragonfire Trail
. . . .
Telling it how it was.
The IMDb website has picked up an external review of Prairie
, the TV/DVD western mentioned in Hoofprints last time. Linda Winsh-Bolard
of Wiggly Socks Movie Reviews, said, "As far as I know, this is the only
western showing the widespread abuse of women during the 19th century.
Women were sold like cattle, raped, worked to death and had no recourse.
Women had no rights, often could not even inherit (it was the son who would
inherit) and simply became a possession of their male relatives to do
with as they pleased." Chap O'Keefe
responded, "Your comments about women
in westerns may very well apply to old movies, and probably also applied
to the novels of an earlier era, which tried to suggest that the men
of the West were perfect gentlemen, full of respect for womenfolk, even
the whores. As far as fiction written in more modern times is concerned,
I like to think the conclusion is wrong. In my own books, I have always
made an effort to inject some researched reality since 1993." O'Keefe
tells us, "My next BHW, Misfit Lil Cleans Up
(October), contains the
strongest of illustrations of the situation described by Ms Winsh-Bolard."
American novelist Ben Haas
(1926-1977) is probably best remembered
by western readers as John Benteen
, creator of the tough, pulps-influenced
and John Cutler
series. Late in his career, Haas also wrote
the five-book Rancho Bravo series as Thorne Douglas
. Now England's David
and one of Germany's leading western writers, Alfred Wallon
homage to Haas by bylining a collaboration for the BHW line with the name
. All Guns Blazing
will be published by Hale in late November.
A further collaboration, Alaska Hell
, will appear in 2009. Haas, like too
many writers of popular fiction, died relatively young, but as more than
one keen fan has observed, if a book has John Benteen's name on it, chances
are that Ben Haas wrote it and it will be a good read. Meanwhile, "Doug Thorne"
co-author Dave includes the Thorne Douglas book The Mustang Men
in his list
of all-time top fifty westerns.
Jumped at western.
Most men over the age of 90 have long since retired, but not actor Ernest
Borgnine, reported Artist Direct. The Academy Award winner -- a nine-time
Oscar nominee -- has continued to act semi-regularly on the big screen,
in TV movies, and guesting on sitcoms. He has has now accepted a role in
the supernatural western Death Keeps Coming, which was written and
will be directed by Derek Milton. Eighties "scream queen" Dee Wallace and Muse Watson also star.
Borgnine (91) is said to have jumped at the chance to feature in another
western. This one tells of a mysterious, lone gunfighter who rides out
of the desert to save Sara, an innocent victim of a terrifying gypsy curse.
Borgnine appeared in such cinematic classics as The Wild Bunch, and on episodes
of TV western series like Wagon Train and Zane Grey Theatre. Other, countless
film credits include Bad Day at Black Rock, Vera Cruz, Johnny Guitar and Hannie Caulder.
A series of messages about Sudden author Oliver Strange at the ever-lively
Piccadilly Cowboys forum developed into a discussion of ancestry. Ray Foster,
aka BHWs' Jack Giles, said, "My take on forebears is that whoever or whatever
they were it would make no difference who we turned out to be. I come
from stock who were shipwrights, carpenters and men who worked with
their hands. Me, I just couldn't saw a piece of wood in a straight line
to save my life. (I'd have to use it as a weapon instead.) I'd have to
go back to the 1700s to find just one, X-times great-grandfather who shared
the same profession [in a law office] as me -- and then he's a step great-grandfather.
But my grandfather changed jobs and was a printer -- and was always bringing
From ships to westerns.
Progress from Shoreditch?
On the same topic, Keith Chapman, aka Chap O'Keefe, told Piccadilly Cowboys,
"Last year, an English cousin contacted me with some background she'd
hunted down on our family. I learned that the Chapmans had participated
in the Norwich silk industry in the nineteenth century. Later, a Washington
Chapman, our great-grandfather, was living in Shoreditch, London.
The 1891 census listed him as Secretary of the Shoemakers' Society." Keith's
cousin said, "I pursued this. The Shoemakers' Society was an early
version of a trades union, and as secretary Washington was in charge of
it. It wasn't huge but it was important in the London shoe trade. I had
been told by my father, Bill, that this was the case, and that Washington
used to go to bigger shoe-trades meetings in Northampton, and that he was
so good in this position that the local MP in Shoreditch had invited him
to stand as an MP in another part of East London, but that Washington had
declined. Dad and I had many a discussion about what this would have meant
for his family -- and for all of us -- had he chosen to do such a thing."
O'Keefe says, "Maybe the world would have been spared Misfit Lil!"
David Whitehead, aka Ben Bridges, alerts all fans of "stories told in pictures"
that Prion Books is issuing High Noon, a collection of reprints from Fleetway's
long-gone Wild West Picture Library, in October. Prion's blurb says: "Whooping
Injuns, wandering cowpokes, grizzled prospectors, mysterious hombres in sombreros
and masked outlaws -- this is the untamed West of our childhoods, where the
heroes are rugged and honest, the villains are yellow-bellied cowards and
only the toughest survive. From the Great Plains to dusty Texan trails and
lawless prospecting towns, every thrilling story in this book is jam-packed
with gunfights, jaw-busting saloon punch-ups, racing stagecoaches and tomahawk-throwing
Commenting on the shooting of Navtej
during the armed robbery of a liquor store in New Zealand, Sunday Star
Times columnist Rosemary McLeod
said, "The other night I watched again one of
my favourite westerns, High Noon
. In a way, that Auckland shooting
of a Sikh shop owner was a western in miniature. Sikhs, and the Indian community
in general, are a hard-working, law-abiding, devout people making their
way in a new land. They have hopes and dreams, like the townsfolk in westerns,
and live family-centred lives. Ranked against them are their polar opposites,
people without respect or meaningful ties, whose sense of family is destructive,
who are often drug-addled, impulsive and cruel. We don't say this, though.
We like to focus on their personal problems, in order to 'understand' them,
not on the misery they cause. This is where we differ from westerns, and
not only in lacking a hero to sort bad people out. You may find, in westerns,
reasons why the Evil Men have become what they are, but those reasons are
never magnified into excuses. And in the end they pay for what they've
done by natural justice, in gunfights they initiate, making the hero justified
in killing them. Westerns, I realize, are out of fashion . . . . But bear
with me. I sometimes hanker after a world in which we'd all be clearer on
right and wrong, in which criminals would be understood for what they are,
not what we wish they were, and in which punishment would fit the crime more
snugly than it does."
author Ron Watkins
' next BHW (November) will be Return of the Bounty Hunter
He hopes its launch will be smoother than that for one of his previous books,
A Bullet for the Preacher
. An exhibition of his book jackets at the Treorchy
library was cancelled because asbestos was found in the roof and the building
promptly closed. Even for Ron, that was a somewhat unusual library experience.
Ron says, "I’ve spent nearly all my life in the Rhondda, and most of my working
life in the library department of the Rhondda Borough Council and Mid-Glamorgan
County Council. I took early retirement in 1983 when I was deputy county
librarian." Ron learned Welsh and has run classes in Treherbert library,
where he taught the language using computers and children’s stories he'd
written in Welsh. "My favourite occupation is spending time with my
six grand-daughters. My favourite interest is collecting children’s books
– particularly Richmal Crompton's William
Crossing to crime.
Nik Morton, aka new BHW writer Ross Morton, writes, "Your
blackhorsewesterns.com website is as informative as ever. I thought you might
be interested to know that while my second BHW, Last Chance Saloon, was
out at the end of May (and you mentioned it at the website), my second book
was recently published, and this is a crime thriller. So far, everyone who
has read it has given favourable comments, even Marina Oliver, author of
over 50 books and Writing a Novel (How To Books). Iwan Morelius, a Swedish
gent who lives out here in Spain, has been corresponding and meeting famous
authors for over 40 years and he reviewed the thriller in his Swedish magazine,
The Swingbed; needless to say, he had to give me an English translation!
In the same magazine he also favourably reviewed the short-story collection
Where Legends Ride, which I co-edited with Matthew P. Mayo, and which you
also mentioned in Hoofprints." Nik's thriller is titled Pain Wears No Mask
and is published in paperback by Libros International, an independent
firm based in Spain. The tagline reads, "When she was a cop, she made
their life hell. Now she’s a nun, God help them!"
Whither the western novel? Since 1985, books' share of entertainment
spending has fallen 7 percentage points, said the National Endowment for
the Arts, a US federal agency. Meanwhile, costs of paper and cardboard,
printing and shipping are rising. Print on Demand (POD) is seen as cheaper
than standard methods for print-runs of less 1,200, and the Harlequin group,
world's biggest publisher of romance fiction, now sells short ebooks for
reading on PCs or other devices in a lunch hour. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos
said Kindle ebooks accounted for 6 per cent of sales of the 125,000 titles
available at his online store in both print and electronic formats. The Economist
newspaper said, "Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors
and readers. As with music, any technology that brings these two groups
closer makes the whole industry more efficient -- but hurts those who benefit
from the distance between them." Other observers noted that ebook readers,
though an improvement on a computer screen, remained crude simulacra of
books. A poll found that 82 per cent of Americans strongly favoured paper
The western continues to draw larger than expected audiences. The response from buyers/collectors for Film Score Monthly's
CD release of The Naked Spur: Music from the MGM Westerns
was such that it
was declared out-of-print a whole nine days before its official release in
late July. It was the second in FSM’s series of budget collections -- between
a regular release and a box set. Like the first (The
Unforgiven: Classic Western Scores From United Artists
), it featured western
movie soundtracks. The MGM library is today owned by Warner Bros, and the
music on the new release was from five movie classics from the period 1950-1956.
and Alexander Kaplan
wrote detailed essays and commentaries
for the scores on the album, and these were made available free, online
at the FSM website.
writes, "Hi , I came across your site and was wondering
if you have a section for secondhand books? I've a collection of approximately
100 hardback books in mint condition that I would like to sell. Do
you have such a section on your site, or could you suggest a place to
sell them on? I'm in the UK." Sorry, Jason, we don't have or plan a
section for sales. Most authors who support the Extra tell us their available
BHW time is taken up with writing and promoting new books, though one or
two others do sell remainders -- sometimes with autographs -- at personal
websites. An auction site, like eBay, might be the place to go. One problem
you will run into selling any secondhand hardcover books, even those in
demand, is the high cost of posting parcels, which will reduce the appeal
of the bargains. Meanwhile, keen BHW readers tend to have preferred authors
whose latest books can be bought in complete security at the publishers'
official site, www.halebooks.com
. Their policy
is "Free UK shipping on all titles; 30% discount on all new and coming-soon
titles." That's hard to beat!
Cost in ambush.
Candice Proctor offers a guide to. . .
THE POWER OF THE PREMISE
CANDICE PROCTOR is not a creative writing instructor. She is a successful,
working writer who frequently posts "must-read" accounts of her experiences
at Candy's Blog. That means valuable short essays -- like the one we re-publish
below with her kind permission -- are available online at www.csharris.net/blog.html
, free to all writers and prospective writers. As we've said on previous occasions,
Candy's observations are usually as apt for Black Horse Westerns as for other
fiction. Candy writes the Sebastian St Cyr Regency mystery series under
the name of C. S. Harris and thrillers as one half of Steven Graham, the
other half being her husband, army intelligence officer Steven Harris.
LIKE all successful screenplays, successful commercial fiction is based around
a powerful premise. So, what’s a premise?
A premise is, essentially, the kind of sound bite you read in a TV guide
or Pub Lunch’s weekly list of hot deals. (All you prospective writers out
there are signed up for this free email from Publishers Weekly, aren’t you?)
A premise immediately and provocatively answers several important questions:
Who is the hero or heroine of this story? What does he want? What is standing
in his way?
The catchier your premise — the sharper its hook — the more successful your
book will be at snagging both editors and readers.
Of course, a book can have a wonderful premise without the writer ever having
heard of a premise. It’s one of those things many writers do instinctively.
But if your book is floundering, it’s a good idea to take a look at your premise
and make sure it’s solid. In fact, Alex Sokoloff thinks a writer should BEGIN
with her premise, and work from there. Listening to her, I thought, what
There is a formula I’ve seen so many different places I can’t say who originally
came up with it. It works because it forces the writer to reduce his story
to its most basic components: protagonist, goal, motivation, conflict (and
no, the originator wasn’t Deb Dixon, because I was using this handy little
formula long before her book came out). Any and every piece of successful
commercial fiction can be plugged into it. So what’s the formula?
It goes: “This is a story about a __________________ who wants __________________
because ____________. But can he succeed when ____________________?”
The first blank, obviously, is for your protagonist — your hero or heroine.
The best way to describe your protagonist is with an adjective-noun combination.
Why? Because you want to make sure you’ve developed a profoundly intriguing
character. If you say, “This is a story about a girl….” you’ve already got
people yawning. But if you say, “This is a story about a psychic orphan…”
or “a wounded Iraq vet…” you’ve already intrigued a lot of people who will
go, “Oooh, I’d like to read about that kind of person.” You’ll also turn
off a lot of people who’ll go, “Eeew, I don’t want to read about that.” Accept
Since this is supposed to be about Premise, I’m not going to go into the
whole goal, need/want, conflict thing. We all know our hero needs to want
something, right? We know he needs to want it for a powerful reason, and
we know there needs to be something or someone (i.e., the villain) standing
in his way.
When you formulate your premise, you lay it all out there in black
and white. If your setting is intriguing, work that in. If the stakes are
high, that’s part of your “because” and belongs in there, too.
all done, look at your premise — really look at it — and think, is this
as strong as it can be? What would make it bigger? What is the hook, the
X-factor that makes this story different?
When my agent ran the premise for The Archangel Project
the Pub Lunch, she had over a dozen production companies call her in one
week — that’s the power of a good premise. That’s what you want: a high concept
so intriguing it has both editors and readers instantly wanting to know how
it turns out.
|Join Greg Mitchell for another fact-packed ride|
Outlaws are plaguing the Santa Rosa area and Marshal Tim Cleary is sent
there to investigate the theft of military rifles. He joins forces with Sheriff
Lou Braga in an attempt to curb the activities of the gang.
Diaz, a delusional Mexican goat herder has seen the bandit leader and believes
him to be the Devil.
Now the two lawmen must try to decipher Diaz's terrified ravings and weave
their way through false trails and desperate situations before they finally
track down the Devil.
Track Down the Devil
WHEELED transport took many forms in the Old West, from light buggies to
the giant wagons that were the semi-trailers of their day. Just as trucks
have different engines, the westerners' vehicles had varying types of power
to move them. Draught could be provided by a single animal or a team as big
as the 20-mule teams that hauled freight wagons joined in tandem.
Writers sometimes get a bit confused when they have to write about teams,
wagons and harness so I thought it might be helpful if we had a look at some
of these issues.
Ox teams were a slow but fairly reliable form of transport. They travelled
at the rate of about two miles per hour and the usual day's travel was about
15 miles. The cloven hooves gave a good grip on slippery ground and because
of their low line of draught and strong, steady pull, many teamsters favoured
cattle. By comparison horses pulled with a series of violent jerks.
Harness was minimal with the animals arranged in pairs with wooden yokes.
Metal bows went around the necks and through the yokes. The ox-bow, used
to describe bends in rivers or stirrups, takes its name from these. Metal
keys held the bows in the yokes. A chain was connected to the centre of each
yoke and that was the only harness required. Reins and traces were unnecessary.
Steering was a combination of whip and voice commands directed at the leaders
although some were prodded Spanish-style with a long stick called a goad.
The leaders were the most intelligent animals and the teamster who lost his
leaders was in trouble. The wheelers were the animals closest to the wagon
and they helped to slow it on hills by lifting their heads and holding the
yokes against the base of the horns. Ox drivers worked on foot, walking beside
their teams. Though shoeing was normally not needed, sore-footed bullocks
sometimes had old horse shoes cut in halves and nailed on to keep them from
Mules were also popular harness animals. They were strong, had few illnesses,
did not require as much feed as horses, were good walkers and could move at
faster paces if required. They were, however, fussy about their drinking water
and did not like mud. In unskilled hands, they could be troublesome, but
when treated properly, gave good service. Usual harness was a bridle and a
collar. Metal pieces called hames were fitted to the collar and leather traces
ran from the hames back to wooden spreaders that connected them to the pair
behind or directly to the wagon. Wheel mules often had leather breeching around
their rumps and they would sit back in this to help slow the wagon..
Josh Baxter rode as comfortably as the hard-seated Morgan saddle on the near-wheel
mule would allow but his mind was far from easy. He had been driving a jerkline
outfit for Carl Gustavson's freight company for a couple of years but that
day the familiar road seemed somehow to be different.
Horses were fast movers and less temperamental than mules. They were often
heavier so could put more weight into their efforts. Wagons drawn by horses
could make walk at about three miles per hour or trot at eight miles per
hour, depending upon the load and the state of the trail. But the really
heavy draughts worked best at a walking pace. The body structure of the heavy
draught differs from that of the lighter breeds and does not lend itself
to faster paces.
Coach horses were more like heavy riding types rather than light draughts.
Coaches moved at approximately 8-10 miles per hour, but to maintain this rate
a fair amount of trotting, cantering and sometimes galloping was involved.
With stagecoaches, teams were changed about every 15 miles. But not every
coach was a stagecoach. Some might only ply for short trips between towns,
delivering passengers and mail. These might take most of the day to complete
the journey, stop overnight and return on the following day.
A driver seated on a coach controlled the team by the reins using the "in-hand"
style. But many drivers of wagons used the "jerkline" method of control.
The driver rode the wheel animal on the near [left] side. A long line was
connected to the bridle of the near-side leader whose harness was linked
to the other leader on the off-side. This was much handier than handling
reins for each pair in the team.
Until about 1890, the US Army used jerklines on its four- and six-horse
teams of both horses and mules. After that period, drivers drove from the
box with the reins in hand.
Carl Gustavson, returning to Santa Rosa in a mud wagon after a business
trip, complained to Reckitt, the driver, about the lack of padding on the
seats. Reckitt replied, "You're gettin' too fussy in your old age, Carl.
Just think back on the times before you made your pile. You'd figure yourself
lucky to be gettin' a ride like this."
Ralph Hutchens, Gustavson's newly hired mule skinner, threw in his opinion.
"This wagon mightn't be as comfortable as a coach but it beats hell out of
"That's right," Reckitt agreed. "Carl, it don't seem all that long ago that
you came ploddin' into Santa Rosa draggin' your whip in the dust beside an
ox team with the seat hangin' out of your pants."
Here are a few details of the more common wheeled vehicles used in the West.
The Conestoga was a large wagon capable of carrying five tons.The canvas
covers protuded beyond the wagon body at front and back to protect the load
from the weather. The floor sloped from both ends to the middle of the body
to prevent the load slipping while negotiating hills. Fully loaded, these
wagons needed a team of eight heavy draughts although mules and oxen could
also be used. Some considered that Conestogas were more suited to work in
the eastern states but many found their way west with ox teams replacing
the heavy draught horses.
Freight wagons could be anywhere between 16 and 18 feet long, and 4 feet
6 inches wide. Loads from five tons to seven tons were not unusual. Mules
and oxen pulled most of these.
The prairie schooner was popular with people moving west. It was usually
12 feet long and between four and five feet wide. It could carry about three
tons and was easy to repair or dismantle. Frederic Remington did a fine
painting of an Indian attack on a wagon train. In the foreground is a prairie
schooner with the teamster trying to defend himself with an ox goad.
The Concord coach was a favourite means of transporting passengers in areas
where there were no trains. Concords were considered the best coaches of
the period. They could carry 21 passengers with nine inside, two or three
on the driver's seat and the rest on the roof. Movie depictions rarely show
passengers riding on the roof but this precarious mode of travel was common.
The body of the coach was suspended on massive, layered leather thoroughbraces
at least six inches thick as these were considered to give a softer ride
than steel springs and were less likely to break.
Teams could be horses or mules, sometimes four or six animals depending upon
the terrain. Concords were also exported to other countries, including Australia
where their teams were five horses for flat country and six for mountain
work. The painting of a hold-up, done by Charles M. Russell, shows a Concord
coach in the background but there were several patterns made and the one
depicted seems to be a very basic type.
Not all coaches were of the Concord style and the mud wagon was another
common means of transport. This was basically a light wagon with seats in
a row like a bus's and a canvas canopy to keep out the weather. Teams varied
from two to six animals, depending on the load to be carried.
The buckboard was a favourite with westerners. It had four wheels, a flat
tray and one seat in front. These conveyances were light and rolled easily.
One horse could usually do the job, but if extra speed was required a pair,
or occasionally four ponies might he hooked up. They were ideal for people
in a hurry and a good team could do a 40-mile journey in around two hours
on a reasonably flat road.
Very occasionally cattle were fitted with horse harness and used to pull buggies.
In such cases the horse collars were turned upside down to make allowance
for the differently shaped necks..
Many other types of horse-drawn carriages were used but those mentioned above
are mostly the types that find their way into western stories and should suit
the needs of writers as well as they suited their role in opening the West.
-- Paddy Gallagher, aka Greg Mitchell, whose next
Track Down the Devil, will be published in September.
Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
|The Devil's Rider
||0 7090 8560 7
|Sacred Hills Massacre
|J. D. Ryder
7090 8635 2
|Blood on the Sky
7090 8636 9
|Joseph John McGraw
7090 8637 6
|The Killer's Brand
|Terrell L. Bowers
7090 8638 3
|Michael D. George
7090 8639 0
|Track Down the Devil
7090 8640 6
|Drummond Takes a Hand
7090 8641 3
7090 8646 5
|Showdown at Painted Rock
7090 8599 7
|Gun for Revenge
7090 8642 0
|The Chicanery of Paco Ibanez
7090 8651 2
|Misfit Lil Cleans Up
7090 8584 3
|Owen G. Irons
7090 8614 7
|The Land Grabbers
7090 8648 2
|The Buffalo Gun
7090 8652 9
|Hot Lead, Cold Heart
|Matthew P. Mayo
7090 8667 3
|Trail to Fort Laramie
7090 8664 2
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,
WH Smith and VinersUK Books.
to: Combined Book Services,
Units I/K, Paddock Wood Distribution
Paddock Wood, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 6UU.
Tel: (+44) 01892 837 171 Fax: (+44)
01892 837 272
For Australian Trade Sales, contact DLS Distribution Services, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Australian & New Zealand Library Sales, contact DLS Library Services, email@example.com
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