March – May 2010
Faith and a Fast Gun
Sex and Violence
Gold robbery mystery
Riding the Range
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
A Tough Act to Follow Hoofprints
Justice and the Western
As Frederic Remington Saw It New Black Horse Westerns
to this quarterly online magazine result from interest in or
curiosity about the Black Horse Western novels published by Robert Hale Ltd
of London. The ezine's aim is to expand on the titles, blurbs and covers
found at www.halebooks.com. The Extra offers news and comments from readers and authors about BHWs and westerns at large.
One author sent us this pithy feedback on our December-February issue:
"What is there to say? Once again a top-notch effort and you hit quite a
few nails very accurately – right on the noggins. Good, absorbing articles
that say something: good or bad, according to whoever reads them, but there's
meat there, mate, and always a pleasure to read. No bullshitting, I sat down
at the computer to have a quick look at the BH Extra and then push
along with chapter 5 of my work in progress. Hey! I'm still here – an hour
later and haven't even noticed the time passing."
Strangely, the Extra attracts
five or six times more visitors from the United States than from Great Britain.
The core subject matter is the Hale books, and in the US they have only patchy
distribution, partly explained perhaps by the publisher's long-held conviction,
notably shared by a prominent literary agent in the field, that
America is a closed shop to "British" westerns. This is regardless of the
research which goes into the work done by the better writers, several of whom are Americans
or resident other than in Britain!
Quote from London: "So far as the USA is concerned we find the only market
is large print which originated in this country. Westerns written by non-Americans
are only too obvious, I am afraid, to Americans and consequently we find
American publishers do not look very kindly on products from elsewhere."
And the Hale marketing director told one BHW author way back in 1992:
"As you may know, this light fiction series in hardback is sold exclusively
in to the public library system and not through the retail trade, where the
paperback rules supreme. In recent years, the level of public money available
for book purchasing has been severely reduced as a direct consequence of
inflation and the recession. So bad are things that we are struggling to
keep the series alive. I hasten to add that this is not through any lack
of demand, but merely through lack of money available for book purchases
for public libraries."
We have seen history do more than repeat itself. Last year, with the fear
of an allegedly picky library market accepting only the tamest of westerns,
it was decided to test the waters for original paperback westerns. So far,
two Black Horse Extra Books have been published on a "print on demand" basis,
supplementing their author's Hale titles. Similarly, a group of other BHW
writers and supporters have produced successfully two anthologies of western short stories,
the latest being A Fistful of Legends.
All these books have been welcomed by Americans who are thoroughly
knowledgeable about the western genre. One of the articles in this Extra,
"Justice and the Western", contains reviews from Texas and California of
a paperback BHE Book written by an author who was born in Britain and now
lives in New Zealand. The blanket claim that Americans won't read westerns
not written by Americans has clearly been challenged and found wanting. We
urge others, please, to place orders for the reviewed book, which retails
in the US for less than an imported Hale BHW.
Elsewhere in this Extra, Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) tells us about a follow-up
to the big sales success last year of his debut BHW, while Paddy Gallagher
(aka Greg Mitchell) comments on paintings by Old West artist Frederic Remington
Your comments and western news are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
FREE excerpt here
|Jack Martin roped for fresh interview |
A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW
Smith: the name was legend. Once he had been a Texas Ranger, but now he was
something else entirely. Some said he was an outlaw, a killer of men and
a fast draw. Others claimed he was a kind of special lawman, dispensing frontier
justice across the West and bringing law to the lawless.
Arkansas Smith arrived in Red Rock looking for those who shot and
left his friend for dead. He vowed to leave no stone unturned in his quest
to bring the gunmen to justice, and soon those who went against him had to
face the legendary fast draw that helped tame the West.
UNDER his pen-name Jack Martin, Gary Dobbs produced in 2009 the
fastest-selling Black Horse Western ever. The Hale-published fiction
line, established in its present
form in 1986, had previously been
actively only to British and Commonwealth public lending libraries.
Gary's runaway success
achieved by way of online, retail, non-library sales.
The performance was outstanding and managed largely on the Net via
Gary's hugely popular blog, The Tainted Archive. Gary quickly realized,
as the sales of his debut novel totted up, that it was going to be a
hard act to follow
– a feeling with which he had possibly been familiar before only in
his blossoming stage and television career as an actor.
He said, "After The Tarnished Star I wanted to try a new
kind of character, one that would develop over a series of stories."
Black Horse Extra, of which Gary is a committed supporter, was kindly
given the chance to grill him – in a polite way, naturally – on his
intentions. We began by asking if his new hero, Arkansas Smith, had a
literary tradition. We knew that might sound a mite pompous to some
ears, but we wanted to know if Gary had in mind other characters in
western fiction and movies with whom Ark shared traits.
thought I was dead and seeing a ghost when I saw you hovering over me. I
heard you’d been hanged down in Reno,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time.’
‘A lot of folk seem to have heard that one,’ Arkansas muttered.
Gary: I suppose the biggest influence on what I am trying to
create with Arkansas is that shot of John Wayne's Ethan standing alone,
framed in the doorway in The Searchers. That's such a
powerful scene and tells us so much about the character of Ethan
Edwards. It's that sense of loneliness, of righteous dignity that I'm
striving for. Arkansas can be with a crowd of people and yet truly he
is still alone.
BHE: We note that while Ark is invested with his own
originality, you make no real attempt in the first book to write what
might be called a definitive description of him. Presumably this is
Gary: I read once that Ian Fleming said he kept the description
of James Bond vague to allow readers to step into his boots. Well, with
Arkansas I wanted to create something of an enigma – a paradox who
although the main character in any story is also standing on the
sidelines and can never be a real part of anyone's life other than his
own. I hope with each novel to put more meat on the character since
much of his history is still a mystery at the end of the first novel.
You get little hints and snippets of his past but nothing solid. I
can’t give too much away as it will spoil the experience for the
reader, but by the end of the book it is evident from the type of
character Ark is that he can be placed quite logically anywhere in the
BHE: It seems then that Ark will be a character who grows.
Gary: Yes. The thing with a series character is it gives more
scope to develop certain aspects over a series of stories. You can
plant the seeds of future stories as you go along and create
anticipation with the reader.
years a Ranger can give a man a case of wanderlust,’ Arkansas said and offered
Will the cup. He had only served six years himself, but all the same their
ways were in his blood. He, too, would get that
restless urge if he felt the grass growing beneath his feet.
George G. Gilman
BHE: Most of your followers already know that you like reading
about series heroes yourself, but would you like to expand?
Gary: I love series characters. George G. Gilman's Edge is a
fave with me and although the BHW books are in a different style to the
blood and thunder of the '70s adult westerns, there are some
similarities there. I'm always nicking little bits from Terry Harknett
[Gilman] in any case. I'm as much a fan of Edge today as I was as a
kid. Due to all those years of entertaining me with the Edge books,
Terry will be getting a signed copy of each Jack Martin book. That'll
teach him! He says he doesn't read westerns, but he had to read Tarnished
Star and soon Arkansas will be sitting on "Mr
Edge's" shelves, too.
And the Sudden books [by Oliver Strange and Fred Nolan as Frederick
H. Christian] were a big influence. They, I suppose, are the closest in
theme to what I am trying to create with Arkansas Smith.
BHE: We've discussed the pros and cons of series characters here
before, notably last June with BHW authors Jake Douglas, Ben Bridges
Chap O'Keefe, in the debate "Heroes Too Good To Kill Off". One issue
raised concerned treading the line between familiarity and freshness
as points of series' appeal. How will this be tackled in the Arkansas
Gary: Of course, even though each story will be fresh, the
reader will come to it with some familiarity of the character and know
to some extent what to expect. I think the trick is to surprise them –
give them more of the same but different and allowing a very real
development from book to book.
I always feel that with westerns, like other genre fiction, the reader
certain elements and would feel cheated without
them. The art of it is to take that old cliché and turn it on its head,
make it work so that it seems fresh for the duration of the story.
Nothing at all is totally new.
I was brought up on a diet of classic
westerns and I feel more comfortable telling that sort of story. What I
am aiming for is to create something that could have been read or seen
up on the screen during the golden age of the genre. Angst is all very
well but I want a larger-than-life western adventure and that’s what I
hope I’ve delivered with Arkansas Smith.
are you doing?’ Edith asked, fear very much evident in her voice. She was
visibly upset, which was to be expected since they had just come across a
body-strewn battlefield. Not something a woman should see. Not something
anyone should see.
BHE: "Larger than life" takes care of the truly fictional side
of your aims, but we know you won't be ignoring reality. Can you tell
the readers what your plans are there?
Gary: Over time I’d like to see Ark involved in many of the
iconic moments in western history – the Indian wars are just one
obvious scenario. Mind you, I’ve got plans for Ark to be in a town
called Tombstone on an October night in 1881. I think that particular
legend would be a great one to play around with – try and create a
story that runs on the sidelines of the actual historic events. The
fictional story must enhance the actual events and make perfect sense.
That’s the main difference I think between reality and fiction –
fiction must make sense while reality often doesn’t.
BHE: Knowing the Hale resistance to Indian wars stories, please
fill us in on how that idea will work.
Gary: I have some kind of loose story arc worked out for the
Arkansas character. I'm fitting him into an aspect of the Indian wars
for the next book. Arkansas' feelings towards the Indians at first will
mirror those of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. They are
very, what we would now term racist, but that doesn't make him a bad
man. He is of his time – and after the first book readers will
understand Ark's hatred of the Indians. However, through the
developing story he will find a dignity in the Indians and grow to
respect them. Throughout the books, I intend to have a recurring Indian
character who will be introduced in the next book – but there is
something mystic about this Indian. I'm not sure who he is, but he's
being birthed in my subconscious at the moment. I can feel him there.
And he will be introduced in the second Ark book.
BHE: To return, then, to the other iconic moments: what is the
Gary: Another thing that appeals to me with the series character
is the possibility of having him meet all these real-life western
characters from book to book – people like Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane
– which is why I've kept the time period of the first Ark book very
vague. Of course, the danger with this sort of thing is to over-egg the
pudding. So it's not like historical folk will be popping up
willy-nilly, but when they do it will make perfect sense, I hope. I
want Ark's universe to be one that could have existed alongside the
got to go after Lance,’ he said, and bent and pulled the star from the sheriff’s
shirt. He pinned it on his own chest and rolled and lit a quirly. ‘Guess
this means I’m the law around here. Least for the moment.’
BHE: We can see some careful thought having to go into all this.
As you know, authors and publishers of fiction series are required to
quite meticulous when preparing guidelines for series heroes. Even
then, inconsistencies and contradictions can pop up in the very best –
in the Sherlock Holmes canon, for example.
Gary: I'm working on an Arkansas Smith "bible" at the moment.
This is a very useful thing to do with a series character as it gives
you a point of reference and helps with continuity. Although each Ark
will be standalone, there will be some continuity, and I want to point
back to previous books as the series continues. My plans at the moment
are to do a standalone western in between each Ark book. So my next
will be non-Arkansas but I'm also working on an outline of the next
Arkansas book. I hope to have them both ready towards the end of this
year. I'm snowed under with work at the moment and enjoying it.
For years I tried and tried to get something published and now I've got
so many irons in the fire. It's great! I've also got a lot of revisions
to go through on my historical crime book. This was A
Policeman's Lot but is now probably Deadly Echoes.
The publisher loved the book but hated the title, you see. I've not got
a firm contract yet, but it's close. I've been given a four-page list
of revisions and there's some major work there – but I'm excited about
this and can't wait until I'm able to announce more. The crime stuff
though will be written as by Gary Dobbs to keep it distinct from my
Jack Martin work. Westerns though, will always be my first love.
BHE: This interview will be going online very shortly before
publication of Arkansas Smith in March. Is there
anything more you'd like to add to tempt its readers?
Gary: What can I tell you
about the plot of Arkansas Smith? Well, Arkansas is
visiting a friend, a man he once rode with as a Texas Ranger. However,
finds his friend wounded and close to death – a pretty run-of-the-mill
plot really, but there’s more going on and several flashback scenes
fill in detail to allow the reader to get closer to the real Ark. For
instance, one flashback deals with Arkansas’ birth on a battlefield
during an Indian attack....
BHE: Forget "run-of-the-mill"! That sounds full of human
interest and punch and a receptive western reader's mind will surely
run on. We were going to say good luck with the series, Gary, but on
past record, you'll need no such help to reach an enthusiastic
audience. Thank you for sparing these moments from your busy schedule.
Tale of relationships.
|Impressions of a diverting kind
The author name M. M. Rowan makes an unexpected return to the BHW list in April. Between the Winds is understood to be the first western with the Rowan byline since 1991. The earliest, No Long Farewell, appeared in 1985. It was followed by Beyond the High Mesas (1986), Absarokas (1989), The Powder River Raid (1988) and Singing Wind Rise (1991). Fellow author David Whitehead
told Hoofprints in answer to an inquiry, "I was very surprised to hear M.
M. Rowan has a new BHW, especially after so many years. I'll watch
out for it with interest! Unfortunately I don't have any more information
on her than what appeared in Twentieth Century Western Writers.
I did have some personal correspondence with her but I cleared all that out
years ago. A charming educator from Glasgow, Marie Rowan's writing frequently
explored the relationships between ordinary pioneer stock, and her plots
were distinguished by unexpected twists and a largely unglamorous view of
the West. On average, Rowan took between 12 and 15 months to write a book,
but in 1990 confided to me that she hoped to write faster in future. After Singing Wind Rise, however, she vanished from the scene altogether." From its blurb, the new book runs true to Rowan form. It begins: "Kaid McEntyre
hates his father with a vengeance and blames him for the life of drudgery
the whole family has endured. Nevertheless, when his father is beaten half
to death in Flat-Stone Creek, Kaid decides that he deserves some kind of
Paramount Pictures has acquired Chad St John’s
action adventure "spec" screenplay The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday
St John is currently one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood and had
two screenplays on the 2009 "Black List", a listing of the best unproduced
screenplays in Hollywood. He has also developed screenplays for the film
adaptation of the Ronin
and Sergeant Rock
comic books. Paramount and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
were keeping the details of the Doc Holliday
project tightly under wraps.
Showbiz paper Variety described it “a history-based action adventure tale
in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean
. Doc Holliday, best remembered for his friendship
with Wyatt Earp
and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, has featured in many big screen feature films,
including Howard Hughes’
1943 film The Outlaw
and John Ford’s
classic My Darling Clementine
. He was portrayed by Val Kilmer
and Dennis Quaid
in Wyatt Earp
Doc rides again.
Hitting the right note.
Looking for music to read (or write) westerns by? Peter Joelson
Audiophile Audition, recommends a Membran CD release, Great Western
. The track list is: The Big Country
, High Noon
Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Magnificent Seven
, Once Upon a Time in the West
, Blazing Saddles
For a Few Dollars More
, A Fistful of Dollars, Rawhide
, The Green Leaves
and Gunfight at the OK Corral
. "Mike Townend
for these excellent arrangements for
the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to evoke the sweat, dust and heat of
the somewhat out-of-fashion western movie, and the results remain
entirely in keeping with the originals. Those expecting music for
westerns in the style of Elgar
will be sorely disappointed, or
considerably relieved." The orchestra is conducted by former New Yorker
. "Most notable are the
touching cor anglais solos, and the authentic-sounding parts for guitar
and percussion which left a smile on my face." The remastered
recordings date from
Here's more about Arthur Kent
, author of the December BHW The Kansas Fast Gun
mentioned in Hoofprints last time. Bibliographer Steve Holland
writes: "I've spoken to Arthur on a couple of occasions but not for
He was born in Stoke Newington in 1925 and educated at City Literary
Institute in London. He worked as the night editor on the Daily Express
in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, having gained journalistic
experience as editorial assistant on the News Chronicle and as a
feature writer for the Australian Daily Mirror, which you've already
noted. Published his first novel in 1953, written in quiet moments on
the news desk. It was a gangster thriller which he sold to Curtis
Warren who published it under one of their house names. He wrote a
handful of other titles for Curtis before they went bust and he
switched to Panther Books, which is probably where he first came into
contact with editor Bill Baker
, for whom he was to later write six
yarns. Panther Books published his bestseller The Camp on Blood
novelization of the movie which sold out and went through a number of
editions, much to Arthur's displeasure. He had received a flat fee,
shared with his co-author Gordon Thomas
, and wasn't paid a penny
extra when the book became a hit....
rather pleased to see his westerns getting a second outing. Hopefully
there will be a royalty or payment of some description." And for those
who have asked about the stunning Sexton Blake cover Hoofprints ran,
this was the work of Ferdinando Carcupino
, born in Milan in 1923 and
well respected in Italy, drawing everything from comics and
cartoons to colour covers and glamour pin-ups. He died in 2003.
Bestseller didn't pay.
Keith Hetherington (aka Jake Douglas, Rick Dalmas and others) found much to enjoy in the last BH Extra. "The piece about the truncated text in Faith and a Fast Gun [January] was spot-on. The author [Chap O'Keefe]
had a reason for 'spelling it out'. And I might add that these days there's
not always a lot of subtlety with the readers. 'In your face' is necessary
to get your point across to some; as an integral part of the story, pointing
up the subsequent actions of the character, it's needed! There was not much
cut, but it was an important not much. However, the publisher said
it all: You can write what you like, but we are equally free to delete what
we don't like. You can't argue with that, but I find the morals issue a little
out of kilter. Candice Proctor in her article about gratuitous sex
and violence summed it up well: if it doesn't do something to move the story
along, then scrap it. If it does, leave it alone. I recall working for [TV
company] Crawfords when there had been complaints about violence and too
many spectacular car crashes. The boss addressed a meeting of writers and
said, very reasonably and succinctly, 'Action does not necessarily mean violence.
It is something that helps with the story's development, which can be conflict
between two characters or, equally, simply a kiss. As long as it's meaningful,
tells the viewer something, prepares him for a forthcoming development, perhaps
previously unsuspected....' I've always remembered it and tried to apply
it in my own work."
Every Saturday, writer Robert Silva contributes a westerns column for
AMC TV's movie blogs. One entry has been "And the Hero Rides Off Into
the Sunset and Eight Other
Western Clichés". Silva wrote, "Westerns have always incorporated
traditional elements more than
other genres do. But as time's gone on, some characteristics have
calcified into clichés. Look no further than Blazing Saddles
for a wonderful spoof of all the outworn cowboy hokum." He then listed
as his eight clichés besides Riding Off Into the Sunset: Evil Ranchers; Saloon Brawls; Spineless Townspeople; the Evil
Sheriff; the Heroic, Mysterious Loner; Savage, Noble, Spineless,
Illiterate Injuns; Colour-co-ordinated Villainy ("look for the guy
decked out in black") and the Duel to End It All. On the last cliché,
Silva commented, "Sergio's Leone's movies went wild with the concept –
complete with at
ten-minute long showdown.... But of all Western
clichés here, this is the one that won't go away – and that few
Westerns can do without."
Spot the cliché.
(aka BHW writer Ross Morton
) reports that his World War II French
Resistance story Codename Gaby
the Book Awards short story competition for 2010. It can be read here
. The site says, "The Book Awards have attracted thousands of votes since they were
announced in 2008. These awards are voted for by ordinary readers, not
a closed panel, and so are truly open to any author who has a body of
satisfied customers willing to support their nomination." Nik's tale
was originally slanted at another
competition that required the story to begin with the words "Missed
it!" He says, "What was missed and by whom was up to me. I didn’t get
placed in the competition and the story gathered dust; but I was
drawn back to it frequently, knowing it could be improved. Two years
later, a rewritten version has won the Book Awards competition. The point of all this is, never give up
on a piece. That original idea just might need to germinate and could
later bring you success. That applies to any genre fiction you want
to write. As I tell the members of my writers’ circle, the more you
write, the better you become at writing. Indeed, we can always
improve, no matter how many books we have had published. Keep
writing!" Nik has also just edited A Fistful of
(Express Westerns), 21 new tales of the Old West from BHW
authors and some newcomers. And Nik's second novel about
psychic spy Tana Standish
, The Tehran
, set in Iran in 1978, is out now.
US Postal Service announced in Washington that Cowboys of the Silver Screen
are among the subjects headlining its 2010 stamp programme. Watch your mail
for appearances by William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
The stamps go on sale in mid April. "The service honours four extraordinary
performers who helped make the American Western a popular form of entertainment.
Film stars from the silent era through the singing era are featured on the
stamps." The portraits for all four stamps are by artist Robert Rodriguez.
The notes on the Hart stamp say, "William S. Hart (1864-1946) brought a powerful
presence and serious approach to early westerns. Tall and trim, with acting
skills honed by years of experience on the New York stage and in productions
across the country, Hart became one of the most popular leading men of the
silent film era. In his movies, the actor insisted on authentic depictions
of the Old West and its people, from their clothes to their lifestyles and
complex personalities. He frequently played the stalwart, tough-as-nails
cowboy, and his favourite horse was a brown and white pinto named Fritz."
Never licked yet.
A blogging hit.
At the end of January Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) ran a BHW themed weekend at his
Tainted Archive blog with contributions from Hale publicist
Nikki Edwards and authors Lance Howard, Clay More, Ross Morton, I. J.
Parnham, Chuck Tyrell and David Whitehead. A standout feature was
a complete Blackbow comic strip, resurrected from the 1967 annual of
Britain's legendary Eagle, published when Gary was just two years old! The scriptwriter was Keith Chapman, at the time of the item's origin in
the early years of a professional writing and editing career that
had begun in his teens. Today Keith is best known as BHW author Chap
O'Keefe. For an earlier themed weekend, based around the Saint
books, films and TV series, Keith had supplied a vintage Saint comic script.
Gary said, "The Archive's cooking now.... The most hit upon section of the
Saint weekend was the digital publishing debut of the long-lost comic strip.
It has been downloaded over a hundred times and still receives readers week
after week." Gary's bumper BHW weekend can also still be visited and consists of
more than a hundred posts, comprising new and recycled material plus reviews of recent
BHWs that have appeared elsewhere online, such as in Steve Myall's Western Fiction Review and Evan Lewis's Davy Crockett's Almanack.
Paddy Gallagher (aka Greg Mitchell) follows up his article in the last
BHE about Frank Gardiner: "The other day I read of a new
book claiming that Thunderbolt (real name Fred Ward), probably
Australia's most popular
bushranger, was not killed by Constable Walker at Kentucky Creek
in 1870. It is now claimed the man positively identified and
photographed was not Fred but his uncle, and the police knew they
had the wrong man but covered up the deception. The story gets wilder.
It was claimed the real Thunderbolt went to America and teamed up
with Frank Gardiner. They would have made a hell of a team but, as far
as is known, Gardiner lived a respectable life in San Francisco and
stayed on the straight and narrow. The story reads like fiction but it
isn't the first claim that Thunderbolt really escaped. People don't
like letting go of folk heroes or popular villains.When I
was a kid, there were many ancient characters about who were claimed to
be Dan Kelly, youngest brother of Ned. It now seems Thunderbolt
has joined Jesse James and Butch Cassidy and even Elvis in the Never Really Dead Club."
Westerns for the world.
also tells us, "I was surprised to see Flipkart, an online Indian bookseller,
selling BHW, Linford and Dales editions of some of my books. They were advertised
as imported editions, so weren't pirated. I knew there was a small interest
in westerns in India. I once saw a very bizarre western made in that country
but have no idea of the size of the market. Given India's huge population,
even a tiny percentage of western readers would probably account for the
entire output of all three companies." With rights being held on a world
basis, Paddy thinks the small output of BHWs can barely be meeting any global
commitment. "It would be interesting to see just which countries buy these
books and in what numbers. The Japanese are very fond of cowboy movies and
have large English-language sections in their bookstores. It could be they
are taking a few as well." Black Horse Extra draws visitors in unexpectedly
large numbers from across the world – from China and Russia to the Philippines
and Indonesia – or, as Paddy remarks, in places where the everyday language
is not English. "Is the western genre better established than we thought?
It would be interesting to know how many countries our work reaches, and
whether our efforts are reaching English speakers among the general public
or just going to military bases and the like. Maybe some of the readers in
unusual places would like to comment." Emails from any location are always
welcome at email@example.com .
BHW authors have long been told
there's no place for their books in the United States. But times are a-changing
in the heartland. The City of Waverly, Iowa (motto "Simply the Best"), has a fine public library
with a newsletter called Check It Out! It recently ran a list
under the heading: "If You Like Westerns...Try These Authors". The first
column of the list began, predictably enough, with some classic names: Grey, Zane; L'Amour, Louis;
Brand, Max; Raine, William McLeod. Then in the fifth position came a BHW author, O'Keefe, Chap.
A quick check of the library's online catalogue showed that the library's
holdings were all of the Dales large-print editions and included favourites
like Sons and Gunslicks, Ghost Town Belles, Frontier Brides and Ride the Wild Country. Also featuring on the library's list were two more BHW authors, Lance Howard and Ian Parnham.
Why the large-print bridgehead in the US cannot be used as a means to introduce
original, standard-print, BHW editions of books by writers with international
followings continues to mystify us. No audience? Visitor statistics show this website attracts
six times more readers from the US than from the UK.
Iowa offers the best.
Chap O'Keefe collects critics' verdicts
JUSTICE AND THE WESTERN
Bob McGill played Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake and his old heart was pierced.
The young woman Sheriff Dan Vickers had brought to share the isolation of
his fishing retreat was McGill's sweet daughter, Liberty. What McGill didn't
learn was that Liberty had been blackmailed. Her self-sacrifice was to preserve
the dubious security of marriage to spineless rancher Tom Tolliver, caught
changing a cattle brand with a running-iron.
Meanwhile, Joshua Dillard, ex-Pinkerton agent and range detective, came to
Montana working undercover for Vickers' boss, cattle baron Barnaby Lant.
He quickly clashed with Vickers' deputies, supposed allies, and Vickers'
wife Sophie, on her own vengeance trail.
Then lynching and gunplay muddied the picture. Could Joshua bring justice to the range and save Liberty?
Liberty and a Law Badge
IT was a special pleasure to watch the DVD of the 2008 western movie Appaloosa,
based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. The film had been reviewed less
than flatteringly in several quarters, so my expectations hadn't been
high. One review I re-read after viewing the production was at DVD
Verdict, a website which uses a mock courtroom setup to interesting
"Judge" Dan Mancini found Appaloosa unsatisfying –
"guilty as charged". In the course of doing so, he made some
sweeping, near patronizing comments about the western genre.
acting nor directing experience in westerns," Mancini said, "Ed Harris
makes a noble
effort with Appaloosa but ultimately fails to deliver a story that
satisfactorily around its genre framework. The problem is that Harris
over-indulges his thespian love for nuanced characterizations when a
directorial restraint in the name of coherent, to-the-point
have better served his movie. Subtlety and nuance are wonderful
making art; they can also be disastrous when forced to wrestle against
dictates of genre."
Now Appaloosa is a story I would consider strongly
character-driven. Was Mancini trying to tell us westerns must always
"congeal" around simplistic action and to venture further is
pretentious? I took from his statement I've quoted and what followed that he was. I believe he completely misread the
character of Allison French, played by Renée
Zellweger: "...oddly incongruous performance ... her behaviour is
cartoonishly craven, slutty
The story would work better if we were allowed to hate her as a
Well, it wouldn't have worked better for me, or possibly anyone who was
following the story's finer points. The widow Allison's agenda was survival
– no small task for a lone woman on a largely unsympathetic 19th century
frontier. In pursuit of this, she aligned herself with the man she thought
best able at any one point to continue protecting her into an uncertain future.
Visitors to the DVD Verdict website were asked: "Did we give Appaloosa
a fair trial?" Less than 30% said yes, so it seems the "jury" of public
opinion wasn't in agreement with Mancini.
knew she’d been on a slide to hell just weeks after she’d married Tom Tolliver,
but she’d decided it took a woman considerable less pride than she possessed
to renounce her vows and quit. More courage, too.
But like the romance, the western currently remains a much-maligned
genre, even by publishers and authors who surely stand to lose every
time they trot
out their semi-apologetic assessments of their own offerings in it.
I was appalled late last year when it was discovered a published
BHW writer – a fairly recent entrant to the stable but busy under
several pen-names in the encouraged fashion – was recommending the
his website because its stories were of "the simple life". He
presented, too, a
Formula for writing BHWs, to which he attached his real name and which
he also called "fiction writing for dummies". The dummies were
the people who aspired to writing BHWs and who would succeed once
they'd adopted his by-the-numbers "recipe". To me, this sounded
insulting to both the
writers and, by implication, the readers for whom the books would be
I don't feel persuaded to read the author's books, although they are
usually given some of the more attractive Hale covers and I suspect
they are of a kind that would be regarded as appropriate fare for
western fans by Judge Mancini.
In itself, "formulaic" doesn't have to be a term of
contempt. Every game has to be played to rules. In the decade after
World War II, the
writer of an advice manual for authors could say allegorically,
"Tennis is played on a court of fixed size, with various squares and a
net. Possibly some tennis players possess so much originality that they
feel a sense of claustrophobia on such a court. Well, they can set up
rules of their own, or play without rules. The crowd will continue to
watch the game on the familiar court."
But I know the end of the story market to which that writing
instructor was alluding has long since disappeared. Today the
diminishing, discriminating crowd that will still make time for reading
fiction when so much else beckons expects something extra.
I took scant comfort from the BHW novelist's intention to move on to
"better" things. "Now for the good news," he said. "After writing four
crime novels and having each of them kicked back, I finally got one
accepted! This is important for a number of reasons: first off, crime
pays better than cowboys and Indians but the main thing is with the
crime I'll have my own name on the cover. Oh, one's ego explodes! ...
ain't it fun?"
Given his attitude on westerns, his tongue-in-cheek (?) glee still
More comfort was found in that although the writer claimed a background
in journalism, he gave incorrect names for all three of the
companies that have published his westerns. That, I felt, spoke volumes
|“Sheriff won’t like a Peeping Tom, you ol’ has-been,” a voice graveled.
That was the only real warning he was given before a gun barrel cracked him
across the back of the neck. He cried out in pain as he fell, his body sliding,
bumpety-bump, down the log wall to slump in a heap at the bottom. Then the
gun iron was applied again, harder this time.
Meanwhile, in other quarters, I'm happy to say it has been possible to
continue the effort
to bring out "Western Fiction for Today's Readers". Just published as
the second Black Horse Extra Books title is Liberty and a Law
Like Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope
is another paperback original. The intention with BHE Books is that
they will be published in their convenient pocket-book format to
supplement the hardback books published by Robert Hale Ltd for
the British & Commonwealth public-library market. And they will
offer "extra" in
For example, with Liberty and a Law Badge
we have been able to use cover artwork commissioned for the story,
whereas Hale and other
western publishers are invariably reduced to choosing their books'
illustrations from agency libraries of generic art showing men, guns,
horses and landscapes. Sometimes the
works; sometimes it annoyingly doesn't.
Linford and BHW artist Michael Thomas has given us a brilliant cover
picture for Liberty
, enhanced by what has been applauded
as the attractive BHE
Books design. "A lovely-looking book" is a typical comment. Michael's
illustration captures the characters from the
novel graphically. The body language in the young woman's eloquent
hands and the threatening
sheriff's arrogant stance are most expressive.
Gratifyingly, reviews of the novel have also been approving. Two that
highly appreciated came from James Reasoner and Laurie Powers. Both
these critics know their stuff when it comes to traditional westerns.
James is a
respected veteran in western novel-writing and a life-long follower of
fiction. Laurie is the grand-daughter of pulp writer Paul S. Powers,
who wrote for Wild West Weekly
and other now-famed
pulps, often under the pen-name Ward M. Stevens.
At Rough Edges, James wrote: "Liberty and a Law Badge
[is] another adventure of range detective Joshua Dillard, a former
Pinkerton operative with tragedy in his past that drives him to fight
outlaws of all stripes.
"[It] is the first Chap O’Keefe novel I’ve read, but it certainly won’t
be the last. As the book opens, Dillard is on his way to his latest
assignment, stopping a range war in Montana and finding out who has
been rustling cattle from his employer’s ranch. Pretty standard stuff,
you say? Well, maybe at first glance, but not by the time O'Keefe gets
through throwing twist after twist into the complex plot.
of the title is actually a young woman who has been blackmailed into a
sordid affair with a crooked sheriff, who’s the brother-in-law of the
cattle baron who hired Dillard, who owns the cattle that Liberty’s
husband is accused of stealing. Got that? Then there’s the cattle
baron’s sister, who’s married to the crooked sheriff, and she goes on a
rampage when she finds out about her husband’s adulterous affair with
Liberty (said affair really being nothing more than a series of rapes).
Add in a brutal deputy with an agenda of his own, and there’s a whole
lot for Dillard to untangle before he can straighten everything out.
Naturally, that untangling involves a number of fistfights and
"This book is a lot of fun, pulpish but with a sharp, contemporary
edge. The dark, complex plot, the emotional angst, and the gritty
storytelling remind me very much of many westerns published in the
fifties by Gold Medal, by authors such as Lewis B. Patten, Dean Owen
and William Heuman. The pace is very fast, the action scenes are
handled well, and Joshua Dillard is a very likable hero, tough and
competent enough to handle just about any situation, despite his
occasional self-doubts, but not a superman by any means. I’m ready to
read more about him right now. . . . If you’re a fan of hardboiled
action westerns, I definitely think you’ll enjoy it."
At her Wild West blog, Laurie chose to enlarge upon the more noir-ish
elements, taking a very personal slant.
"Ostensibly Liberty and a Law Badge
is centered around
Joshua Dillard, a disgraced Pinkerton detective hired sight unseen by
cattle baron Barnaby Lant to investigate rustling from Lant's Flying L
Ranch. But when Dillard arrives in town, he witnesses the beating and
dumping of an old man, Crazy Bob McGill. When he starts to investigate
the assault, Dillard finds himself in the middle of a wasps' nest of
crooked lawmen who are in cahoots with Lant.
"Dillard finds out McGill was beaten because he was witness to a
horrifying scene, one that would not play well with law-abiding people.
While playing Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake, McGill had discovered
Sheriff Vickers, also known as 'Dirty Dan', forcing a young woman,
Liberty, to have sex with him. What made it even more horrible is that
Liberty is McGill's daughter, a sweet young woman who had been
blackmailed to preserve her husband, spineless rancher Tom Tolliver who
had been caught changing a cattle brand with a running-iron. The
prolonged kidnap and rape of Liberty, not only by Vickers but by others
who join him later, is at the centerpiece of this book.
"Like many people, I've never been comfortable reading scenes where
sexual violence is inflicted on women, and I've been known to walk out
of theatres during rape scenes. This may partly be due to the fact that
I have two close friends who have been raped by strangers. I do not
take the portrayal of rape in books or movies lightly, especially when
the scenes are gratuitous or voyeuristic. So you can imagine how
uncomfortable I felt when as I continued to read Liberty and a
, I realized that this problem between Liberty and
Sheriff Vickers wasn't going to go away anytime soon.
"But what kept me going was O'Keefe's sensitive approach to the scenes
and his interweaving of the oppressive lives that women had to lead in
the 19th century into the book. It also helps that Dillard's focus
shifts instantly from dealing with the job that he was hired to do –
to investigate cattle rustling – to finding a way to rescue Liberty
from her plight in the cabin at Devil's Lake. Believe me, there would
have been men in the real 19th century west who would have shrugged
off Vickers' dehumanization of Liberty as just being the way of the
world. Dillard's determination to help Liberty as his number one
priority endeared him to me forever.
"It's an action-driven novel and a page-turner that will keep you going
until the very end. And the end is worth all of the discomfort you feel
when reading about Liberty's helplessness: the ending is chaotic,
surprising and actually pretty funny. Or maybe that's just my take on
it because I love it when women who have been victimized come back and
get theirs. Revenge can be so sweet."
Joshua saw they were beaten. Despite what he’d said about death being preferable
to facing the abuse of Lant’s bully-boys, he was obliged for the woman’s
sake to reconsider. Thus far, he’d failed her.
Where she had life, maybe she would have hope. He was forced to make a decision
that minutes before would have seemed to go against all sense.
Another reviewer with his finger firmly on the pulse of the western and
modern fiction scenes is Gary Dobbs, aka Jack Martin. Gary not only
reviewed the book fulsomely at his Tainted Archive, but commented at
Laurie's Wild West, "This is an excellent book, but then we wouldn't
Keith/Chap. I'd love to see this one do well and if there's any justice
Among the other "extras" that come with the BH Extra Books initiative
is a freer hand for the writer. Gary, in fact, claimed at his Archive
in a 2009 year-end wrap-up that the series had been launched to give
me, as Chap O'Keefe, "greater creative freedom". I would modify this to
say an eventual objective is to
restore the freedom BH Western writers enjoyed for years.
The other day I read an entertaining John Dyson BHW published in 1996,
Blood Brothers. It was loosely based on the train-robbing
Dalton gang. As the
blurb said, Their women were even more wild and wicked. Pearl Starr
became as profligate as her notorious mother Belle. Her lover, the
beautiful lesbian Eugenia Moore, used her wiles to seek the information
the gang needed and then joined the boys on their raids.
The book featured under-age sex,
inter-racial sex, swipes at institutional religion and even some CP play when Eugenia/Florence Quick
seduced a railroad man who was really Marshal Charles Madsen, allowing
herself to be forced across his knees, stripped of her pantalets and
beaten with a leather belt. "Got a thing about spanking Flo's ass.
Poor gal's so sore she can hardly sit down."
Nuns caught a 14-year-old Mary (offspring of a slave father and a
Cherokee mother) in a hayloft with a delivery boy and a bottle of
"I can't t'ink whad we're to do wid you," the Irish Mother lectured
her. "Ye'll have to say t'irty hail Marys dis time and beg forgiveness
for your sins."
"Aw, go piss down your knickers." Mary sent a wet pair of those
that she was busy washing slapping around the face of the poor nun. "I
ain't sayin' no more hail Marys to nobody. I don't believe in all that
Later, black preacher/marshal Bass Reeves (another historical
figure) had his way with Mary:
He took his key, and Mary's hand, and went with her up the stairs. As
they sank down on to the bed, brown body tight against black body,
Bass sighed. "I already broke the tenth commandment. I know
fornication's a sin, Lord, but" – he thrust himself deep into her –
"it sure is wonderful."
And Mary cried out, clutching him to her, "Gawd! It sho' is."
These are just random selections. There was plenty more in the same
vein, far more explicit and blasphemous than anything in Misfit
Lil Cheats the Hangrope
or Liberty and a Law Badge
So no, I don't think
BHE Books are giving anybody greater creative freedom – just
reclaiming the best of the pre-PC scope we were once allowed. And, as the
reviewers concur, using it wisely to produce powerful, dramatic,
|Greg Mitchell presents an artist's view of the Old West |
AS FREDERIC REMINGTON SAW IT
When a military deserter
robs a mail contractor and leaves him to the mercy of Apache raiders in a
remote corner of Arizona, the contractor's brother, Luke Adison, vows to
track down those responsible. Soon the tables turn, however, and Luke is
captured by the deserters.
Will he manage to escape and avenge his brother or will
he learn the secret behind the sinisterly named Murdering Wells?
IT struck me while looking through some books on Frederic Remington's
paintings that while not exactly promoting western novels, an examination of some of the artwork might
interest BHE readers and inform today's writers.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909) is world renowned for his depictions
life in the Wild West. Art critics may not always agree on the
artistic merits of his work, but the amount of small detail that he put
into his paintings and drawings told a lot about the subjects he had
selected and their way of life. He spent a considerable time with the
the 1880s and 1890s and his studies of frontier life are fine
reflections of that period.
Remington's paintings and sculptures are owned by museums and private
collectors throughout the world, with the largest collection located in
Ogdensburg at the Frederic Remington Art Museum. The museum says,
"Remington is credited as being the primary image maker of the historic
After his marriage in 1884 to Eva Caton, his New York college
sweetheart, Remington returned to Kansas City with his bride. He then
spent two years touring frontier military posts. He rode with the
cavalry on several south-western campaigns.
Later, exhibition honours and publication of his illustrations in leading magazines like Harper's Weekly
led to numerous assignments that sent him west time and again to seek
out subjects of interest to eastern readers. His paintings and drawings
ran into thousands. We can do no better than to start with some of
Readers will see from his depictions of cavalry soldiers that away from
the parade ground a certain amount of individuality was allowed among
officers in the field.
The first picture is a superb painting of a Lieutenant S. C.
Robertson, in charge of Crow scouts. He was a West Point man originally
but has adapted to the ways of the frontier. His top half is soldier
and his lower half is cowboy. He wears chaps, a
cowboy-style gunbelt and a quirt dangles from his right wrist. It is
doubtful that the army ever issued the ivory-handled revolver he wears
and the weapon would have been privately owned. In most 19th century
armies, officers could supply their own revolvers as long as they took
The lariat attached to the
pommel of his saddle has not been secured in the proper military style
and actually could be dangerous as long coils of limp rope have often
ensnared a rider's foot when things went wrong. He is using a
double-rein, curb bit that was not military issue at that time. His
a nice type but might be a comparative newcomer to the frontier because
it has a bob tail and its mane appears to be hogged. Westerners
normally did not deprive their horses of nature's defences against
The second mounted officer is more conventional. The man's hat
probably is not military issue. Remington often painted his soldiers
wearing limp, badly made wool-felt hats but this soldier could be
sporting a fur-felt Stetson. He is not wearing the usual cavalry
boots but officers were free to supply their own boots. His
horse is a
good type fitted out with the standard cavalry equipment with a
single-rein curb bit.
picture is closely examined it can be seen that the rider is actually
back on the horse. This could be an artist's error or the depiction
be true to life. We cannot see the type of saddle though it is most
McClellan or a Whitman and might have been privately acquired and
Certainly the British army officers' saddles of the same era,
frequently placed the rider too far back. There was a theory around
time that saddles should be further back to take some of the weight off
the shoulders. Unfortunately this resulted in a reduction of the
horse's weight-carrying ability and gave the rider a more uncomfortable
ride. So this could be an artist's error or it could be true to life
but it certainly brings a touch of reality to the picture.
This lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry is fairly conventional except
that he is using a cowboy-style gunbelt.. It should be noted that if
swords were still carried they would have been attached to the saddle
so the Civil War sword belt and awkward military holster were no longer
The looped cartridge belt or "prairie belt" as some soldiers
called it, allowed quicker access to ammunition, made it more secure
and usually held more cartridges than the older-type pouches. The
officer's boots are standard cavalry issue as are the
spurs that he wears low on his heels.
This officer is a good example of the wide variety of clothing and
equipment used. His hat is military issue as are his coat and trousers
but the boots and their long-necked spurs look to be civilian.
Again he wears a civilian gunbelt but it is also adorned with a sheath
knife in a fringed, Indian-made sheath. It looks as though the knife
has been moved to a more prominent place for the sake of the painting
as it would be a nuisance to a rider in the position shown. An
example of native American craft appears to be hanging from the back of
his belt but it is unlikely to be another knife sheath.
While officers wore their six-shooters in civilian holsters,
ordinary troopers did not. They still wore their revolvers butt
forward on the right hip. This manner of wearing the revolver made it
readily accessible to either hand, and that was useful for a mounted man
who might need to use a revolver, sabre or carbine while controlling an
It has been said that every picture is worth a thousand words and if
this is an exaggeration in some cases, Remington could tell a good
story by his art and even today western writers might draw some
inspiration from it.
– Paddy Gallagher, who writes his BHWs as Greg Mitchell. His
new book Murdering Wells will be published in April.
Published by Robert Hale Ltd in February, March and April
|Two Gun Marshal
||0 7090 8793 9
|Guns of Ponderosa
7090 8857 8
|The Judas Metal
|Gillian F. Taylor
7090 8858 5
|The Legend of Tornado Tess
|Terrell L. Bowers
7090 8865 3
|The Tombstone Vendetta
7090 8866 0
7090 8867 7
7090 8875 2
A Man Named Shonto
7090 8839 4
|The Second Coffeyville Bank Raid
7090 8874 5
7090 8880 6
7090 8881 3
|The Devil's Gold
7090 8882 0
|Kincaid and the Barton Gang
|0 7090 8888 2
7090 8889 9
|Gone to Texas
|J. D. Ryder
7090 8877 6
|Between the Winds
|M. M. Rowan
7090 8887 5
7090 8894 3
7090 8895 0
7090 8911 7
|Doc Dryden, Gunslinger
|0 7090 8912 4
|By the Gun They Died
|0 7090 8913 1
Liberty and a Law Badge
978 1 4452 3857 9
Horse Westerns can be requested at public libraries or ordered at bookstores. They can be bought online from the publisher at www.halebooks.com,
or from other retailers including Amazon, Amazon UK, WH Smith, Blackwells
and The Book Depository ("free delivery worldwide").
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IN PAPERBACK . . .
"From the very beginning this book moves
at speed and then races along like a runaway train heading for a collision
and destruction. As Chap O’Keefe introduces more and more characters, so
the plot deepens through twists and turns, and all sides are brought together
for a final, exciting clash of wits, guns and knives.
"Chap O’Keefe’s writing style is very readable and soon sucks you into the
plot making this book very difficult to put down. There are plenty of strong
male characters and a couple of memorable women, namely Liberty and Sophie,
who take two of the leading roles in this tale. And if it’s action you want,
this story is brimming with it."
– Western Fiction Review
In stock now at amazon.com ($15.16) and amazon.co.uk (£8.56) with free Super Saver delivery