June - August 2009
Blast to Oblivion
Tyler Hatch and Twins
December 2008All Guns Blazing
Jim Bowden & Co.
Revolver ConversionsSeptember 2008
Power of the Premise
West on Wheels
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
The Phenomenon from Pontypridd Hoofprints
Heroes Too Good to Kill off
Riding the Range New Black Horse Westerns
The advent of author Jack
Martin this year has been an astonishing episode in the history of the
Black Horse Western line if not all genre fiction. Jack's real
name is Gary Dobbs and The Tarnished Star is his first
novel accepted for publication, which is set down by Robert Hale Ltd
for June 30.
Many months earlier than June, still unprinted and unseen by the
public, the book was topping online book
retailers' bestselling charts for the western genre!
More than one thousand copies of Gary's title were pre-ordered
while five other BHWs scheduled for simultaneous June publication were
ignored. Not that their long-serving authors don't have a thousand-plus
total between them, but it's a different one, being the sum of the separate,
published western novels they have to their credit.
What is so special about The Tarnished Star ? The novel
is at least the
fifth western to carry the title. The best-known ones were penned by
bestselling masters of the western Lewis B. Patten and George G.
Another, by M(ary). Duggan, is an earlier BHW still on library shelves.
Gary is the first to agree that his story's synopsis might sound familiar: "Well,
of course it does -- it's a
western and it must follow the tried and tested conventions of the
An award-winning small publisher (not Hale) has said, "The quality of
a work isn't necessarily the key -- books are successful based on the
amount of marketing effort and spend by the publishers."
But Gary's success comes down to his own hard work. He survives on
sleep a day, and has belief in himself, a successful blog,
and a reputation in related fields. Gary has had short stories
published widely over the years -- recently at free, non-paying websites
like Beat to a Pulp. He has had plays broadcast on Welsh regional radio
and on the UK's nationwide cultural station. Also, being an actor, Gary
enjoys a degree of celebrity. He has had roles in several top-rating television series, including Dr
Who, and has appeared on the British stage in pantomime and stand-up
comedy routines. On a local scale, Gary works shifts as a sociable
South Wales taxi driver!
Most important of all these in terms of pre-selling his book was the
blog, the Tainted Archive, which he subtitles "Spearheading the Western
Revival" and where he runs constant, prominent announcements and links
to online booksellers. Here, Gary has to date launched and organized
"Wild West Mondays" on which readers are urged to make known their
requirement for western fiction at bookshops and libraries. Gary's
publicity drive has been supported from the outset by established BHW
writers, notably Chap O'Keefe and Jack Giles. O'Keefe made available
his scarce, 1994 BHW The Sheriff and the Widow
for online serialization at the Archive -- at the time giving the blog its
largest one-day total of visits -- and provided the book prizes for a Misfit
Gary is also present on most of the Web's social networking sites,
like Facebook. Signing up as a "follower" or "friend" in these circles
apparently can be a precursor to giving and receiving support in the
The waves made by Gary have led to conventional newspaper interviews
and to a surprising change of heart by John Hale, BHWs' venerable
doubt impressed by what Gary had been able to achieve beyond the
efforts of a succession of
in-house publicity staff, Mr Hale relaxed a working lifetime's rule to
an interview. The Extra's overtures were rejected by Mr Hale's
spokesperson in October 2006 in these words:
"I have finally
managed to discuss with Mr Hale your suggestion of interviewing him with
the aim of running a website article. Unfortunately he has always declined
any such publicity on a personal level, and will thus have to decline your
Your comments and western news are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
But now the interview has been granted -- to newcomer Gary and his Tainted Archive, where it appeared on 5 May.
The consolation prize is that we are pleased to offer here "The Phenomenon
from Pontypridd", a backgrounder on the amazing Jack Martin, which may help
both potential and time-wearied authors to a better understanding of what
really catches the imaginations of today's book-buying public and their publishers.
We hope readers might also enjoy the Hoofprints newsbriefs, a three-author
debate about writing series, and the latest article from the ever-informative
and reliable Greg Mitchell, who tells us about the Old West cowboy's skill with horses.
FREE excerpt here
||A new BHW entrant takes centre stage |
THE PHENOMENON FROM PONTYPRIDD
Sheriff Cole Masters wants is to raise a family with the woman he loves.
However, upholding the law in an era when gunfire speaks louder than words
can be a risky business.
Cole makes an arrest for the brutal murder of a saloon girl
but the killer is the son of a wealthy rancher and it is clear the old man
will do anything to see his son set free. Soon the peace of the small town
is shattered with deadly force and Cole finds himself a lawman on the run
The rancher wants Masters dead and the two deadly gunmen on
his tail are sure they can do it. Soon blood will run as Cole Masters attempts
to reclaim his tarnished star.
The Tarnished Star
"I’M always chasing rainbows," says Gary Dobbs who as Jack Martin sees
his debut novel, The Tarnished Star, published this
June. "I guess I still am. I’ve never really
been conventional and the thought of being so scares me. I was in a
punk rock band, Vibrating Flesh, and I guess part of me will always be
that anti-establishment, anti-norm, kid."
Born into a Welsh working-class family and raised in a community
where every male over the age of sixteen seemed to be a coal miner,
Gary found himself looking at his grey surroundings and dreaming of
"It must have been a hard life for my parents but as kids we were
shielded from the hardship. My father worked and my mum kept house – it
was as simple as that in those days. And although we were never
financially comfortable, I look back at my early years with great
affection. We didn’t have computers, video games and DVDs to keep us
occupied and we’d spend most of our free time playing down the local
woodland – building swings, constructing dams across the river,
collecting conkers. Just the usual stuff that everyone used to do."
Imagination was always important to Gary.
"My mum taught me to read – she was horrified to discover that I
couldn’t read properly when I left junior school. She decided to put
her foot down and it became a battle of wills between the two of us –
she kept me in for weeks until finally I gave in and concentrated. When
I went to the comprehensive school after that summer holiday I was
literally the top reader in the class. Teaching me to read was the best
thing anyone ever did for me. It opened doors to a colourful, imaginary
world that has helped me through life's knocks and blows."
The town of Squaw was named after an old Indian legend in which the
arid land was made fertile by the tears of a squaw weeping for her
lover slain in glorious battle. Once the area had been desert but the
discovery, and eventual re-excavation by an aging cattleman named Sam
James, of a prehistoric canal system built by a long forgotten Indian
tribe had created a fertile wonder in the middle of a once barren
landscape. The water originated from deep within the bowels of the
Squaw Caves and seemed never ending. Some said the squaw was still
there, far beneath the ground, weeping for all eternity.
From then on, Gary couldn’t get enough reading material and he
started exercising his imagination by writing his own stories, in
longhand in old school exercise books.
"I’d read every comic I could get my hands on, often swapping with
friends, and I progressed to the dog-eared paperbacks I’d
scrounge from friends or buy in jumble sales. I discovered Ian Fleming
and read every Bond novel several times and writers like Dennis
Wheatley, George G. Gilman, Guy N. Smith, James Herbert would fuel my
young imagination. I remember writing a novel when I was about
thirteen. The Ultimate Spy was a cross between The
Dollar Man and a character from 2000AD comic called Mach 1. It
two school exercise books and I wish I still had that. That was my
first writing. And then one year I had a W. H. Smith typewriter for
Christmas and there was no holding me back."
Gary’s maternal grandfather, Jack Martin, was a tall, no-nonsense type,
who could have stepped out of the pages of one of the lurid paperbacks
Gary used to devour. He was a retired coal miner with chest problems
due to exposure to the thick, lung-clogging coal dust, but to Gary he
seemed ten feet tall and strong as an ox.
"If anyone gave me my love of the Wild West then it was this guy. I’d
spend hours and hours with him, walking the dog, doing the garden and
watching each and every western that played on the television. He was
also a voracious reader of western novels from writers like Zane Grey,
Louis L'Amour, Max Brand and too many others to remember. And
he’d pass his old books down to me.
"He’d also tell me stories of his own time in the West. In
truth, the furthest west he’d ever been was Tonypandy. It didn’t matter
though, and as a kid I believed every word of those wild stories. The
tales would often see him teamed up with John Wayne, Audie Murphy or
Gregory Peck. An aunt recently told me he had told her he was a
one-legged fighter pilot during the War. Of course, the fact that he
two legs seemed to pass us by as children!
"So when I started writing western fiction it was an honour to
adopt the Jack Martin name as my byline. When The Tarnished Star
this June, you'll see it's dedicated to my grandfather and I like to
he’s looking down smiling from that big ranch in the sky."
Sheriff Cole Masters sat there in silence, the only sound being the
gentle parting of his lips as he puffed on his pipe. He took his time
with the smoke, savouring the earthy taste of the burly tobacco; doubly
sweet because in all likelihood it could prove to be his last.
Daleks in Manhattan
As well as writing, Gary ekes out a living as a bit-part actor and
he considers acting and writing as two sides of the same coin.
"It’s all-creative – when you’re playing a character you’ve invented
facets of that person in your subconscious and it’s the same with
writing. And although I primarily consider myself a writer, I do love
acting and like to think I’ve learned some thing of the ancient art
from the years I’ve spent cropping up in one TV show or another,
usually as a piece of the background but sometimes playing fully
"To date my biggest role was in the movie The Risen,
Films, which is still to be released. But I had a decent bit in the
two-part Dr Who adventure Daleks in Manhattan playing a
prisoner of the
Daleks and I can currently be seen as one of the village residents in
the new BBC series of Larkrise to Candleford. I recently
technician on an episode of Larkrise who had worked with John Wayne on
the movie Brannigan. That was a thrill – kinda’ like
Wayne by association. And we spent hours chatting about The Duke."
Actor, writer, owner of the successful Tainted Archive blog, Gary
certainly keeps busy.
Larkrise to Candleford
"Ain’t nobody in town wants to be deputised." Cole said. "The judge is
on the way and I guess the state marshal thinks I can handle the
matter until he arrives."
"I also drive taxi cabs to make ends meet. And that can be a laugh …
walks of human life have staggered into the cab at one time or another.
I once had an argument with literary writer Rachel Trezise over the
merits of genre fiction while taking her home one night. I pointed out
that Oscar Wilde wrote genre fiction, Conan Doyle wrote genre fiction,
even Shakespeare wrote genre fiction. I shouldn’t have really, but I
remember stating, in my best working-class accent, that literary
fiction was written by writers too lazy to follow structure. Whoops!
"Acting and writing are hardly the most lucrative professions – that is
unless you are lucky enough to become the next Stephen King or Tom
Hanks. But that doesn’t matter to me.
"I’ve always written and over the years have published stories on
Radio 4 and Radio Wales, as well as having work in countless magazines.
I also wrote the successful computer adventure game Operation
Thunderbowel for Sacred Scroll Software for the ZX Spectrum
ago. In fact that game is now available from World of Spectrum.org as a
"But it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I managed to sell my first novel.
I’d written several others and did come close a few years ago with a
comic thriller, Smith’s Way, but The Tarnished Star is
the real deal. A
full-fledged novel, professionally published by a respected publisher.
And Hale have purchased a second western from me,
Arkansas Smith, which should see light of day early in
"Don’t know anyone else who’d take pleasure is cutting up a defenceless
That seemed to anger Clem. "Woman," he roared. "It weren’t no
woman. This was a whore. Just because God gave her titties don’t make
her no woman."
So what does Gary feel his Jack Martin persona can offer western
"Thrills, spills and enjoyment – hopefully. It’s very much in the
classic western mould with the lone lawman up against massive odds.
It’s a story of courage and good and bad are very clearly defined.
Though I suppose there are some shades of grey in the Cole Masters
character and I hope that all the characters ring true. I’ve tried to
give them very clear motivations and make even the smallest of them
"Currently, I’m working on yet another Wild West Monday and the
Tainted Archive can be very time-consuming but rewarding all the same.
I think of it as an online magazine rather than a blog and I’ve picked
up a fair amount of regular readers. Some of these may buy my book so I
think of the Archive as an extension of my professional
So hopefully the future will be bright for both Jack Martin and Gary
"Well, the future’s unwritten but I’ve always been optimistic. I’m 40
years young at the moment, still a kid in the grand scheme of things,
and who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll attend the audition that changes my
life, or pen the prose that makes my name. It doesn’t matter one way or
the other because I enjoy what I do; in many ways I need to do it.
I’m attempting a
historical crime novel that I’ve been planning for a couple of years.
It’s set in 1904 South Wales and contains a Wild West style shootout
involving Buffalo Bill that takes place in Pontypridd. And then there's
the remotest of
possibilities that I could be the next James Bond!
"I guess I’ll always be out there chasing rainbows. One of these days
I’ll catch one."
A long, long ride.
|Impressions of a diverting kind
Keith Hetherington turned to writing westerns full-time in 1957. Today, packages of author
copies arrive monthly at his Queensland home as souvenirs of his
labours under four names. The latest, Bad Day in Babylon, was
published in May. "Those books . . . I never know what to do with them!"
Keith says. "Yes, I've hundreds, in cartons and trunks and ports up in the
shed, on the back porch and, until recently, taking up floor and wall space
in my office. I give a few away to my brother-in-law (mostly large-print
as he doesn't see too well), to the odd friend who shows some interest, to
a bloke I've known for years who for some reason has an interest in Mexicans
and who -- whenever I see him; he's a volunteer library worker now -- asks
if I'm 'still killing 'em off!' If I have a story with Mexicans in it, I
usually give him a copy. There's a book exchange guy I've known some twenty
years, but a bit of a rogue. I know I could sell copies to him for a couple
of bucks, but that seems like betrayal in a way. Probably not, but I've never
taken him up on the offers that come from time to time.... Mate, summing-up,
the freebies are a damn problem! I keep a couple of copies, of course, but
still run out of room. Even after a massive, recent re-organization, my shelves
are crowded with BHWs!"
voiced fears in our last edition
that his new BHW, Blast to Oblivion
, partly inspired by classic detective novel The Valley of Fear
, might not please the huge, world-wide Sherlock Holmes
community. They proved groundless. The book quickly went out of stock at
the publishers, and the Sherlockians were delighted. In its newsletter, the
aptly named District Messenger, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London said, "Mr O’Keefe
has reworked the plot of a Sherlock Holmes story as an exploit of his ex-Pinkerton
protagonist Joshua Dillard
. The result is clever, atmospheric and exciting." Peter E. Blau
a trustee and secretary of the society's famed New York counterpart, the
Baker Street Irregulars, similarly circulated his members with the advice
that Chap's book "opens with an epigraph from The Valley of Fear
and with good reason: the book is a western, with plenty of colour and atmosphere
and violence, and a mystery that will not be a surprise to those who have
read and remember Conan Doyle's
story." Blast to Oblivion
was also favourably reviewed or mentioned at the blogs Mystery File, the Tainted Archive, and of crime fiction author Rafe McGregor
. Fellow BHW author David Whitehead
wrote, "I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and have long admired The Valley of Fear
, so of course I eagerly await the opportunity to read Blast to Oblivion
(neat title, by the way). The BH Extra article really whetted my appetite. Now I see that the game truly is afoot!"
A hit by any name.
, one-time spaghetti western star -- and "artist's
model" for countless BHW covers! -- was interviewed in the 20th
of Empire magazine. Eastwood told how he met director Sergio Leone
in the early sixties, when
Sergio was prepping a script
called Il Magnifico Straniero
(The Magnificent Stranger
) based on a
Japanese classic, Yojimbo
. "Sergio had only done one movie, but
he was well thought of in Rome as a guy with a great sense of
humour. I said, 'I can tell he has a great sense of humour by his
writing.' And I thought it was a good opportunity, too. I
was doing a TV series, Rawhide
, for quite a few
seasons, so I was kinda bored with it. I didn't necessarily want to do
a western . . . but it seemed like a nice thing. Especially because Yojimbo
, when I first saw it back in the
fifties, I thought of as a great western screenplay. I thought nobody
would have the nerve to do it that way. But, fortunately, Sergio did."
Leone settled for the 34-year-old Eastwood for the title role: "because
I was cheap." After
production wrapped, The Magnificent Stranger
disappeared. "Then I started reading in Variety about this picture
that was causing quite a stir in Rome and Naples. It was called Per un
Pugno di Dollari
(For a Fistful of Dollars
) and it didn't seem at all
familiar. I just kept reading about how well this picture was
doing. And finally, I guess after a couple of weeks of reading
about this film, I noticed they said, 'A Fistful of Dollars
Clint Eastwood...' I thought, 'Oh my God, it's that picture!' It didn't
even have Sergio Leone's name
on it, because he'd changed his credit to Bob Robertson
, to have an
English or American-sounding name. So I didn't get
the association until they called me up and asked me to do a second
Two main characters quoting poetry to each other? Is this a first in a BHW? What have Walt Whitman
and Christina Rossetti
got to do with anything, especially the Civil War? These are only a few of the questions raised by Nik
aka Ross Morton
in The $300 Man
, published in May. From his home in Spain, Nik tells Hoofprints, "I had thought of using Emily Dickinson
but her work was published after the events described in the narrative."
The story's central character is one-handed, half-Mexican Corbin Molina
who always carries $300 -- what he was paid as a substitute soldier for the
Union. "His past emerges to confront him during a tense showdown that threatens
not only him but a new-found love." Meanwhile, another writer tells us he
has incorporated a quotation from the Bible in every one of the many BHWs he has written
-- and no one has commented!
Nik the poetry man.
Farewells to Walt.
Tributes to the late Christopher Kenworthy, aka Walt Masterson, author
of nine fine BHWs, continued to arrive at the BH Extra
office. Nik Morton wrote, "I, too, was saddened by the death of Walt Masterson; I’d only finished his Showdown at Painted Rock
a few days before learning about Chris’s demise. I thought that you
gave a moving eulogy to him in your last edition." David Whitehead
wrote, "The tribute to Chris Kenworthy was extremely moving, at least
to sentimental old me." Meanwhile, reader Dominic Fox, reviewing the
last Walt Masterson book, Left-Hand Gun, at his recently launched blog,
said, "I have always liked this writer's style. It's like listening to him
telling the tale that is so vivid that it can be seen like a movie. Looking
at his website I see that he had some great contacts with writers like
C. S. Forester and had dinner bought for him by Louis L'Amour."
New BHW arrival Joanne Walpole, author of the May title Long Shadows under the pen-name Terry James, says, "For
me, the two most important factors in any novel are character and
story, with each element driving the other. With that in mind, I try to
make my characters as believable as possible by throwing them into
extreme situations that will test their resolve and reveal their true
colours – good or bad – through their actions and reactions. Hopefully,
this makes for a story that keeps the reader eager to turn the next
page and culminates a satisfying conclusion." In Long Shadows, the
characters include: Jake Rudd, a hero saved from a brutal beating; Ros
West, the attractive redhead who saves him but, although an old flame,
can't remember him and has no reason to trust him; family and friends threatened by a power-hungry businessman. The blurb asks, "When the smoke clears, will old scores be settled or will the truth prove more dangerous than a smoking gun?"
Joanne has a blog, where she also publishes her short fiction,
and is a keen member of an exclusive Yahoo! group open to
readers and some writers for the BHW line. Asked for a photograph, Joanne told Hoofprints, "I'm a bit shy."
Face in the shadows.
Punchy blog content.
Ever thought how convenient it might be to go online and find a
complete Black Horse Western ready to read, free? Livewire Gary Dobbs
(aka Jack Martin
) decided to do something
about it. In late February, he heard that rights in a
1994 BHW, The Sheriff and the Widow
, had reverted to the author after
it had sold out its library print-run and the publisher
had been unable to commit to a reprint. Amazon sellers were
today offering used copies of the rare book for prices in the
region of £90! Gary -- self-described "Welsh arm of the Chap O'Keefe
fan club" -- said why not serialize the book at his blog in four parts on
consecutive Mondays in March? Author Chap replied, "Go for it! I think
it's a tremendous idea and surely another
first -- a blogger running a fiction serial! I reckon it will be
well received by your friends and fellow
bloggers. For example, I think James Reasoner
and his Rough Edges
readers will go for the Gold Medal-ish Sheriff and the Widow
Originally it had a tagline the library publisher didn't, of
course, use: Gunplay
and seduction . . . the makings of a lawman's acid test!
James said, "Great news ... I just put up
a post about it ... If reprinting Keith's book goes over well (and I
can't see how it wouldn't!), maybe you can do some more classic BHWs in
the future. Oh, and I entered your Misfit Lil
contest, too." Gary's pageloads
soared. When the serial finished, one reader with withdrawal symptoms
commented that Mondays wouldn't be the same. Those who missed the free
read can still catch up on all four parts at their own pace. It's at the
. Follow the links in the right-hand column.
BHW writers live around the world: the UK (England, Scotland and
Wales), the US (from Maine to California), Spain, Australia, New Zealand. Sometimes
you hear of them globetrotting, too. The crime writer who writes BHWs
as Eugene Clifton and lives near Peterborough, England, recently flew
to the South Island of New Zealand. "I made the most of the opportunity
to look up a cousin who lives in Nelson, giving him a copy of my latest
BHW, Long Road to Revenge, for which he expressed his gratitude.
(Sorry, Ken, if you'd have preferred something from the duty-free
shop!) A couple of days later when I stopped at an internet café to
pick up my emails, I found he'd been making enquiries about my
previous works, and discovered that three of my early titles were
available at the local library. BHWs certainly travel!"
Hoofprints located California author Paul J. Lederer (aka Logan Winters
and Owen G. Irons) by using conventional mail after being told "he doesn't
have email". Paul responded, by email, "Sorry you had to go to the extreme of
actually going postal to find
me. I didn't know anyone but me still knew how to lick a stamp. I
recently changed computers and servers at once. . . . No matter! It's
interesting that someone would think the Black Horse Western books I
now have out
might be reprints. I read something like that on the web the other
night as I was -- being between projects -- just sitting around having
beer. Made me feel more than old! I checked my pulse, then decided I was
still alive and kicking. As far as contributing to your website, I'd be
happy to, but that will
take some thought. . . . My life has been a little strange, they tell
me. Anyway, I will remain in touch and do my best to feed you some
information. However! Tell everyone I'm still kicking and the books are
not reprints." Paul is another BHW writer with a long-earned
reputation and literally hundreds of books behind him. Western fans have fond memories from the 1980s of
his novel Tecumseh and the seven-book Indian Heritage series, beginning with Manitou's Daughters, which Publishers Weekly called "strong" and "winning".
The Logan Winters pen-name was first used on the distinctive, four-book Spectros
occult western series. A good magician and his companions chase an evil sorcerer
across the Old West. Monsters and gunplay! Owen G. Irons books -- very traditional
-- have appeared from the mid-1970s.
BHW authors Jack Martin
), Jack Giles
) and Ross
have contributed short stories in several genres to David
new, must-read Beat to a Pulp
website. And the ubiquitous Chap O'Keefe
came up with a multi-crossover offering. Announcing it, editor Elaine
said: "The Unreal Jesse James
is set to blow writers and readers
its genre-busting mix of western, sci-fi, historical-romance and humour.
It takes great skill to toss so many elements into one story and make
anything more than a mess – but Chap O’Keefe does it with style and
David and I are thrilled to debut The Unreal Jesse James
on BTAP. . .
I’ve begged Chap to consider writing a novel based on the story but he
explains that he’s very busy writing his series novels for Black Horse Westerns." Later, Elaine added, "It will likely
be my favourite story of the year." The yarn tells how its strange,
time- and space-travelling Jesse James is foiled by a sassy American frontier lady called Verity
: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mister James!"
A match for Jesse.
Scene of change.
Comings and goings picked up apace at Clerkenwell House, London home of Robert Hale Publishing and BHWs. Helen Ogden,
who became publicity and marketing assistant last September, told us in February,
"I have been given the opportunity to teach in an orphanage in southern India
for four months, something I have always wanted to do and I think I would
always regret turning down. Although it has been brief, I have really enjoyed
my time at Hale and working with so many kind and helpful authors, so thank
you. My replacement, Nikki Edwards, is very nice and I am sure will do a great job." From California, BHW contributor Steve Hayes,
one-time Hollywood actor and a writer since 1957, said of Helen's swift departure,
"Fulfilling her lifelong dream, she wrote me -- teaching orphans in New Delhi. Makes me feel like a pretty
worthless human being." We also learned that long-serving Shirley Day,
of the production department, was retiring. Looking back to the early '90s,
another BHW writer said, "Many names have come and gone since then, especially
in the publicity area, but Shirley Day retiring does seem to mark the end
of an era, though I can remember when production was in charge of director
Eric Restall." It was understood that Gemma Williams was taking over Shirley's duties. We also heard that Julia Hardy, who worked on Hale covers, had also left and Catherine Williams was her replacement. In early April, Nick Chaytor took over as subsidiary rights manager from Elizabeth Robson, who had held the role since October 2006 when she replaced Florence Pinard.
A BHW panel discusses series characters
HEROES TOO GOOD TO KILL OFF
. . .The story was The Hound of the Baskervilles
and, to the great delight of Conan Doyle's readers, Sherlock Holmes was
its protagonist. Nothing unusual in that, perhaps,
but for the fact that his creator had apparently killed Holmes years
before. In 1896 he wrote of his detective: "I have had such an overdose of him that I feel
towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too
much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day."
Readers notoriously find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine
that their favourite authors can grow tired of a series character. For
their part, they never tire and suppose that the writer is as
spellbound by the hero he
has created as they are. Conan Doyle was persuaded of this and at last
restored his detective to the public in fiction form. The first episode
the story or novella which he published in 1901 appeared in August.
Queues formed outside the Strand magazine's offices and at bookstalls.
. . .
His author brought him back for the collection called The Return
Sherlock Holmes and, later, for His Last Bow. . . A
of these stories is that, though some are superior to others, none is
very inferior and, above all, there is no noticeable decline in their
quality as their author grew tired of his creation.
The Guardian, September 13, 2008
"A NUMBER of
authors seem to abandon their series characters once they begin to tire
of them -- which I can certainly relate to -- starting with
Doyle and Holmes," says Steve Lewis in a post at his wide-ranging
Mystery File blog.
Steve admitted it was no more than "a premise", and counter-examples
would strike him as soon as he had hit the submit button to circulate
He went on, "But also sometimes (not always) their non-series books
something their series characters provided . . . their previously
established personalities that the books they’re in can rely on for
easy reader recognition and (even better) a solid foundation from the
The BH Extra put Steve's contention to a panel of BHW writers: Keith
Hetherington (aka Jake Douglas, Tyler Hatch, Hank J. Kirby and Rick
Dalmas), David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges, Matt Logan and Glenn
Lockwood), and Keith Chapman (aka Chap O'Keefe).
Thank you, as always, for agreeing to share your reflections
with us. All three of you have written BHWs that stand alone and others that
feature a recurring character or characters. Where does it begin? When
do you make the choice?
My first encounter with series writing came, believe it or
with the publication of my first western short story -- carrying the
very original title of The Texan
. The publishers used it
as the cover
for their magazine but changed the title to The Texan Rides On
.... My father said, "I reckon they're telling you they wouldn't mind
another story about this Jim Tyler lawman, mate..."
So, flushed with the thrill of seeing something I'd written in
print (I was a WRITER!), I did. It was the late 1940s and I was influenced by my heroes of the
time -- Jim
Hatfield, Texas Ranger, written by Jackson Cole, and his clone, Walt
Slade, written by Bradford Scott. Both these bylines were "house" names
owned by a publisher and had several
authors. Anyway, I wrote two more Jim Tyler stories, but that was it.
I wanted to explore other western characters in print -- outlaws,
gunfighters, regular cowboys, prospectors, and so on.
Even now, nearly six decades on, I'm not sure whether I prefer
series or one-off stories. I enjoy both. My Bronco Madigan series for
BHW gave me a lot of pleasure -- a hard-nosed US marshal dispensing
justice as he saw it, even if it meant breaking the law on occasions.
Ben, your first western, The Silver Trail
(1986) featured Carter O'Brien, who also became a series character and
last appeared in Draw Down the Lightning
fourteenth adventure. Does your experience tally with Jake's?
always been attracted to series books, though I have no clear idea why.
I suppose the uniform appearance, an eye-catching logo, a run of great
artwork featuring the same character in different poses and
situations, or perhaps simply the numbered format, appeals to the
collector in me. For whatever reason, I always preferred series
westerns to standalones, and always aspired to be a writer of series
fiction as against a string of one-offs.
written properly, series fiction offers tremendous possibilities for
character development. An example which springs immediately to mind is
David Thompson's Wilderness series, which begins with
character as a nineteen year-old greenhorn. Through a series of events
he is taken from the civilized surroundings of New York and thrust into
the untamed wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, circa 1840. As the
series progresses, the reader is able to follow the hero as he meets
the woman who goes on to become his wife, as she gives birth to his
son, then his daughter, as the children grow to adulthood and then
themselves get married. Of course, every step of the way the
characters gets into one scrape or another -- and with such a large
of characters the possibilities are almost endless. But the main thing
is that the changes are constantly being rung. Series like Longarm,
Gunsmith, Slocum and others allow for very
little but more of the same.
BHE: And what about you, Chap?
I came into the business of western writing already
well-versed in series fiction. My earliest working experience, as a
junior editorial assistant, was on the venerable Sexton Blake detective
series in London, one of the longest running series of all time to
which more than two hundred authors contributed over the years. Later,
I wrote a quantity of scripts for comic books. The characters featured
were often the properties of the various publishers or other authors.
They included all sorts: the Saint, Blackbow the Cheyenne, Dr Graves,
Rubberman, Kelpie the Boy Wizard, Jeff Curtiss, the Iron Man, the
Legend Testers . . . these come to mind.
My first BHW, Gunsmoke Night
, was a standalone, but my
at Hellyer's Creek
, introduced ex-Pinkerton detective Joshua
who is still going strong. Misfit Lil didn't turn up till 2006, but
certainly took off quickly with the readers. I am currently enjoying
writing her seventh story, but having to second-guess what will be
to the publisher's cautious editors is inhibiting. A satisfied reader
from Ormskirk said at the GGG forum of the last book out, Misfit Lil Cleans Up
actually surprised by the level of, er, friskiness. Sounds like
the good times may have stopped rolling.
To be honest, the
marketing strategy of the hardbacks-for-libraries-only publishers is a
bit beyond me."
Steve M, at Western Fiction review, said, "Misfit Lil
makes for an engaging lead character.
O’Keefe also includes brief mention of her past adventures that makes
me want to find those books and
discover just how she and the other characters, already known to her,
came to like or dislike each other. It is also unusual to find the main
character in a Black Horse
Western being female and, for me, this made a pleasant change."
I'd like to pick up on a point Ben makes, if I may.
Of course, Chap.
I don't think a series has to show change in the character
of its central figure to be properly written. Sexton Blake, whom I've
mentioned, developed much over the seventy years his stories regularly
appeared. But the evolution in his saga had more to do with reaction to
changing times, the successive writers' updated narrative styles, and
the kind of books an audience would be prepared to buy and support in
later decades. The character's bedrock values and background were
I think if I were to write about Misfit Lil growing older, marrying
perhaps, having children, changing with her maturity, I wouldn't really
have a series character but linked episodes in an ongoing, single
story. I might also lose the readers who like the idea of a lively
young woman testing the boundaries and defying the conventions of the
Victorian-age West. That's part of the books' appeal for me, too, and
it isn't flagging yet. I always have some other major characters in
every book who are changed by the story's events, but their
participation begins and ends in their one entry in the series.
BHE: Over to you, Ben! Is familiarity, as described by Chap,
part of the series package?
Ben: We shouldn't forget this "familiarity" is precisely what
readers want. It's like going into the candy store and buying your
favourite box of chocolates, because you know when you open
it you're going to get everything you expect and no nasty surprises.
this can also be a double-edged sword, and familiarity can all too
quickly breed contempt. I have tremendous respect for Ben Haas. He was,
I think, a near-brilliant writer of popular western fiction. But as
good as his
Fargo and Sundance westerns are, he always insisted on adding almost
word-for-word descriptions of Fargo's or Sundance's respective arsenals
to every book. Even a die-hard admirer like myself finds this
tiresome after the first ten or twelve times.
BHE: Ed Gorman, who writes mysteries as well as westerns, has
problem with mystery series, at least for me, is that too many of them
go on past their prime. Part of this is because readers don't seem to
notice the fall-off that begins with adventure number thirty-one and
all the way through adventure number seventy-eight. The writer is on
auto pilot and so is the reader. The whole thing becomes a ritual, like
mass." I take it you'd agree, Ben?
Ben: By its
very nature, there has to be familiarity in series fiction. But to
truly succeed there also has to be change and evolution, something
more that keeps your reader coming back for more. I've recently been
editing an English-language version of a Morgan Kane
western called $10,000 For Jesse Rawlins.
Kane was a
lawman created by
Louis Masterson, aka Kjell Hallbing, and he was and remains a
staggeringly popular character in his native Norway. Why? Because the
author went to great lengths to give him a complete history, and
ensured that his experiences, as the series progressed, constantly
shaped and changed him. As a reader, I find this particularly
attractive -- that you can really follow Kane’s complex life.
BHE: Your view does tie in better with the many authors who have
had an ambivalent approach, Ben. For instance, respected pulps writer
Les Savage Jr, like Chap, had a female series character, Señorita
Scorpion, but you couldn't say he was her biggest fan. Literary agent Jon Tuska
has reported Savage wasn't as fond of the stories as was Malcolm Reiss
at Fiction House. So his writing of them
inclined to be sporadic. In the 1950s, Savage expanded several of his
short novels for
into book-length novels, but he never went back to do so with any of
the Señorita Scorpion yarns,
nor did he try to bring them together into collections. Jake -- as a
western writer whose long and impressive career began in those days --
how do you feel
about the familiarity aspect in series books?
Jake: I enjoy seeing my character develop as the series
progresses. He begins to feel his age, old wounds slow him down,
perhaps make him more cautious -- and that could be fatal. . . . But he must
develop with passing years, otherwise you have Peter Pan with a
tied-down holster and not a spot of acne or a hint of stubble in sight.
Oh dear! Looks like I'm out on my own here. Joshua Dillard is a troubleshooting
gun-for-hire. The notion of a slowed-down Joshua doesn't appeal any more
than an age-sobered Misfit Lil. Maybe I'll have to take the Conan Doyle trail
and try killing off Joshua instead! After all, he has already taken one leaf
out of Sherlock Holmes' book for Blast to Oblivion. But at the moment he has an
eighth adventure -- Faith and a Fast Gun -- out next
year, and a ninth is simmering quietly in my imagination.
BHE: Perhaps Jake could tell us more about some of the series
characters he has written about.
the Australian Cleveland Publishing Co. I wrote the Clay Nash series,
about a Wells Fargo detective working mostly undercover --
plenty of scope for different adventures and locales. Also while
working for Cleveland, [publisher] Les Atkins, top writer Anthony
I worked on The Enforcer series, which starred Yancey Bannerman,
for the Governor of Texas. We thought about giving him an older
sidekick to help keep his youthful enthusiasm in control, but Tony
Veitch said why not turn it around? Make the older sidekick the
hellraiser, and Yancey, besides running down the Governor's enemies,
has the added responsibility of keeping sidekick Johnny Cato in line. It
worked and the series ran for many issues over a few years. It was
immensely popular in Germany where they called it "Johnny Colt".
The thing is with a series hero, you must make sure the attributes
you give him are there in place every time. Don't give him a
Wesson after a couple of stories using a Colt -- at least, not without
some explanation. I worked in television during the '70's for Crawford
Productions, writing dozens of episodes for Homicide, Matlock
Police, Division 4, Young Ramsay,
Solo One, Cop Shop and even a couple for a
soapie, The Box. The characters for these shows were
and you could not deviate from the person the viewers had grown used
to. If you did, even in a minor way, Crawfords were inundated with
protests the very day after the episode had gone to air.
BHE: That would have kept a writer on his toes!
Jake: It's a kind of compliment in a way. You've made a
character -- at least to some people -- and they want to make sure you
keep him in the mould.
Hornblower is a prime example of a well-developed character,
ranging from a seasick midshipman to a cranky old Lord-Admiral, and
still with his protesting tummy after all those years! To make it more
notable, the books were not written chronologically. The first, The
Happy Return, was actually book five in the series. Mr Midshipman
where it all began, did not appear till years later. A very disciplined
writer, C. S. Forester....
A series does take discipline; more so than one-off yarns. In my
case, I like it.
BHE: Other advice for beginning writers, anyone?
series offers tremendous potential for a writer. But there’s a very
fine line to walk. For a start, your hero, if he's to maintain his
appeal over a number of books, must be appealing. I can think of two
series characters whose adventures appear in the Black Horse Western
series who are, quite frankly, reader-unfriendly, and having sampled
them once I never went back for seconds. I mention no names, of course!
The challenge for the
series writer is first and foremost to create a
character "with legs", as they say -- a character with the potential to
run and run. The author of series fiction also needs to remain sharp
with his plotting, so that each
book has a distinct identity all of its own and doesn’t just blur in
the mind of the regular reader. He must avoid repetition, always aim to
surprise his long-term reader with some new trick, and strive to
the newcomer in order to make him seek out the other books in the
the fun part of writing series fiction -- rising to these various
challenges. As a reader, I think the enjoyment comes from picking up
each new book and seeing what our hero is going to go through this
time, of seeing how this new book stacks up against its predecessors
and then, if it ticks all the boxes, the anticipation of looking
forward to the next book in the series.
Chap: I find both advantages and disadvantages to writing
series. Yes, you have a ready-made character or characters when you
begin a new book, but as Jake says you can't afford slip-ups. You have to get all the "continuity" issues right -- from
what actions would or wouldn't be in character, as revealed in the
previous stories, right down to the smallest physical details. That can
be demanding. New characters are usually more malleable, for want of a
better word. You have to like -- really like -- your series
character. Otherwise living with him or her can get to be a pain.
In this way, fiction is obviously like life.
And when I want to write a novel in which all the principal characters are
changed irreversibly by the story's tumultuous events, I do a standalone
like Peace at Any Price, which has just been reissued in a
Linford large-print paperback. In that novel, war, love, vengeance and natural
catastrophe change lives in intensely dramatic ways for ever.
Series aren't always encouraged by lines like Black Horse Westerns.
They aren't made apparent from the way the books are presented or from
cover illustrations, which are largely chosen from stock art. This
handicap applies more so when your character's name isn't included in
the book's title. (It isn't for any of the Joshua Dillard books.)
Not least because of their haphazard distribution among the lending
libraries, the requirement for each book to be self-contained is
stronger than it has been at different times elsewhere. The old
Piccadilly Cowboys paperback series, for example, could count on a
previous book in a series being obtainable by the same reader who
picked up a newer one. Numbers in the case of the Herne books were the
biggest type element on the cover, so it was all very clear. In New
Zealand, I know of a city where the first Misfit Lil book is held at
one branch library, the next at another, and so on. The authority
responsible has eight libraries and spreads the titles around north,
south, east and west. The series aspect is not recognized or given any
Jake: If I can
come up with a
character and see ongoing adventures for him beyond the current
story, I'm prepared to play around with the series idea. Harking back
Bronco Madigan -- I've never been too happy about the way I left him,
with half a memory, about to be married, using another name and
quitting the Marshal Service. Maybe if some old enemy recognizes him
and decides some long-delayed vengeance is in order -- makes a target
Madigan's wife -- now that could be explosive, the kind of man
Hmmm . . . maybe I'll just finish up here and give the matter a little
more thought -- between writing one-offs meantime. Yeah, it's nice to
have the choice!
|Horses and cowboys with Greg Mitchell|
RIDING THE RANGE
Joe Kelly bought a half share in Travis Neal's ranch in an area
reputed to be Comanche territory. While searching for his missing
partner, Kelly encountered a Comanche war party, three former
Confederate soldiers fleeing a killing in Mexico, the Mayne family and
a renegade gang. The arrival of a self-promoting US marshal added to
Kelly and the Maynes had to face hostile Indians, white
murderers and a fanatical lawman before they could claim their
ranches. Then, when the troubles appeared to be behind them, another
Suddenly the danger was that friends would fall
out. More lead would fly before the situation was resolved!
"COWBOYS know about cattle but they don't understand horses," said a
prolific writer of westerns in 1990.
really true? Twice, in different books, I have read this announcement
by a writer considered by some to have been an expert on cowboy life. I
would dispute his claim. To my way of thinking, it only
advertised the fact that the writer concerned had few clues about the
cowboy life that he professed to know so well.
It could be
the case today because ranches are smaller, cattle are quieter and
many cowboys have become jeep jockeys. But in the Old West, a high
degree of proficiency with horses was considered essential.
was the cowboy's tool of trade and the better he understood it, the
easier his work was and the greater was his efficiency. People whose
lives and livelihoods depend upon their horsemanship get to
understand their horses pretty well. The high-priced,
"horse-whispering" gurus who have come out of the woodwork
in recent years, were few and far between in the Old West and those
who were about mostly plied their trade in the cities. Cowboys had to
train their own horses and they trained them on the job. Cattle
ranches were busy places and ranch hands did not have the luxury of
spending hours in a corral working on a single horse.
"A cowboy calculates that it takes four to six years before he has
the crack horse he wants" -- European writer, 1995.
statement presupposes that a cowboy stayed at the one place and rode
horse for the required number of years. Cowboys were nomadic by
nature and their work was seasonal. On big ranches they would ride many
different horses in that period. The "cowboy" quoted above
is training show
horses, not working ranch mounts.
were given a smattering of an education at the hands of professional
bronc busters, but their real training was done in working situations by
the cowboys. The bronc buster's job was just to get them to the stage
where a good horseman could ride them and work around them without too
many dramatic incidents. Modern writers have a wrong concept and one
well-known equestrian author stated that bronc busters were "not
much esteemed" because they were paid only $3 per horse while
ranch hands were getting $30 per month. He was thinking in terms of
European horse-breaking where the job is long and costly and can take
several weeks or even months for a single horse.
wrong to compare European situations with the Old West. By having
several horses at different stages of training, a professional bronc
could easily turn out six horses in a week. The horse was considered
broken when it could be handed over to a good rider, but its training
barely started. Many bronc busters were rough to the point of being
brutal and rushed the horses to start as many as they could as quickly
possible. Some of the horses they turned out would buck on and off for
the rest of their lives but a good cowboy could still get work out of
horse breakers were brutal and some could get quick results by more
gentle means. The brutal ones usually did not stay long in the breaking
if they had another job to go to. Luck usually runs out for those
who have too many violent confrontations with animals as powerful as
horses. Cruel breakers are either young and ignorant or are starting
to lose their nerve. It is indisputable that many rough breakers
existed in the Old West but you can bet your boots that there were
also skilled operators who turned out good horses by being as gentle
as they could. Unbroken horses that have been running wild for years
are frightened and dangerous. They play rough, and even the gentlest
of breakers has to take strong measures at times. There
were good and bad bronc busters as there are good and bad in every trade.
Frederic Remington drawing of the two bronc busters saddling a young
is a classic portrayal of the old, rough breakers at work.
around the neck with a half hitch around the nose is a very severe way
hold a horse. No effort has been made to win the animal's trust and the
use of painful restraints is really counter-productive. The man
pulling up the latigo is wisely keeping out of range of a cow kick
cowboy who did not understand young horses would quickly ruin them. It
the rider who first put the horse into real training who had the most
important effect on its future. Sometimes a good cowhand could undo
the work of a bad breaker.
on a bucking horse was a good subject for painters like Remington and
Russell, but they were not always breaking in horses, as many observers
think. Most range-raised horses would buck when they were fresh.
painting of the rider on the chestnut horse could well be a cowboy
dishing out a bit of retribution to a horse that had got into the
habit of throwing riders. It is stupid and counter-productive to flog
a young horse that could be bucking out of fear, but sometimes
punishment will change the attitudes of rogues who think they can
Such strong measures don’t always work. Sometimes the
horse will buck harder. It gets backs to the rider’s understanding
of the individual animal and the reason for its misbehaviour.
this painting, the clue is the bridle on the horse. Young horses were
often started in hackamores which work on the nose. The presence of a
bit indicates that the horse might have had a reasonable degree of
experience and could be a broken-in rogue. These are usually worse
than unbroken horses.
young horse had been allocated to a rider, its training began in
earnest. Most riding breeds take naturally to cattle work. It is not
sole domain of the quarter horse but there is much to learn.
horse has to accept a rope being swished about it. It learns to run
down cattle and to drive them. It must have the confidence to
negotiate rough country at speed with a man on its back and starts to
develop teamwork with its rider. The very best will develop into
cutting horses, skilled at separating individual cattle from the
Horses have a certain amount of natural herding skills but it
takes a good rider to develop these. If the rider does not know how
to train the horse, its “cow sense” never grows. Today, professionals train cutting and roping horses but once it was just
another cowboy skill
seen it written that no great skill was required to ride along quietly
with a herd of cattle, therefore the cowboy did not have to be much of a
rider. Unfortunately, the author did not realize the amount of fast and
dangerous work involved in putting a herd of wild cattle together.
cattle went, the riders had to pursue, get around them and turn them
in the correct direction. These days fencing, small pastures and
regular handling have made cattle quiet, but on the big, unfenced
ranches of the Old West, they were virtually wild animals that fled
at the sight of a man. And they did not head into places where it was
easy to follow them. To be successful, men and horses needed to work
together and mutual trust was vital.
In my book, The Raiders (to be published September 30) I have described what it is like to ride in thick
brush. In this case the hero, Hewitt, is chasing another rider,
Bramley, but the same situation would apply if he was after cattle:
the lawman reached the trees he could hear small branches breaking as
the rider smashed his way through densely growing timber. In such
terrain hitting trees was inevitable but a good horse in the brush
chose the easiest path and did not duck under low branches that could
sweep the rider from its back. A rider with confidence in his mount
did only minimal steering leaving the selection of their path to the
horse with its faster reflexes.
had never been much of a rider in the brush and avoided it wherever
possible. Consequently, his horses were not familiar with the task
that now confronted the grey. The horse and rider had different
opinions about the safest route. The horse might select one side of a
tree but Bramley, at the last moment, would decide that the other
side looked better. The grey would try to answer the reins but
sometimes had little room to move. More than once it bumped a tree
and sometimes the rider’s knee or foot collided painfully with a
tree trunk. Where it had a chance to avoid a collision, the horse
momentarily stopped and lost ground on its pursuer every time it did
and training were not the old cowboys’ only skills. Many could shoe
their own horses and treat injuries and illnesses. Despite frequent
mentions of “horse doctors” in western fiction, the veterinary
profession was really just developing in the 19th
century and again the money was to be made in the cities. Very few
vets headed west. Most ranch men did their own vet work.
vouch for the modern cowboy, because situations have changed, but
modern critics of the old cowboys are living in a very different
world. Those who claim that the cattlemen of the Old West did not
understand horses are kidding themselves. Certain things could have
been done better but in most cases the old cowboys had more horse
experience and knew more about them than their modern critics.
old-timer might not have known how to braid a mane or apply cosmetics
to a show horse or work a horse solely to gallop safely in a sand
arena. His clothes, his hat, the style of his chaps and probably the
colour of his saddle would outrage the western clothing industry, but
you could put him on a horse just about anywhere in the world and he
could get work out of it. The same cannot be said of many of those
who “really understand” horses today.
-- Paddy Gallagher, who writes his BHWs as Greg Mitchell. His
latest, published in April, is Comanche Country.
Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
|Time to Kill
||0 7090 8739 7
7090 8740 3
|Land of the Lost
7090 8742 7
|The $300 Man
7090 8750 2
|Return of the Gunfighter
7090 8751 9
|Bad Day in Babylon
7090 8757 1
|The .45 Goodbye
7090 8681 9
|Lanigan and the She-Wolf
Ronald Martin Wade
7090 8709 0
|Owen G. Irons
7090 8715 1
|Showdown at Bonawa
7090 8747 2
7090 8758 8
|The Tarnished Star
7090 8761 8
|Portrait of an Outlaw
|J. D. Kincaid
|0 7090 8760 1
The Death Shadow Riders
7090 8765 6
7090 8767 0
|Riders of the Barren Plains
|I. J. Parnham
7090 8768 7
|Ready for Trouble
7090 8769 4
7090 8770 0
|The Short Creek Rustlers
|J. D. Ryder
7090 8771 7
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