June – August 2010


March 2010
Jack Martin  #2
Justice and the Western
Frederic Remington

December 2009
Ross Morton
Faith and a Fast Gun
Sex and Violence
Gold robbery mystery

September 2009
Steve Hayes
BHE Books
Paul Lederer
Accurate words

June 2009
Jack Martin
Series Heroes
Riding the Range

March 2009
Blast to Oblivion
Tyler Hatch and Twins
Night Herding
Walt Masterson

December 2008
All Guns Blazing
Jim Bowden & Co.
Revolver Conversions

September 2008
Western Noir
Power of the Premise
West on Wheels

June 2008
Plot or Not Debate
Jack Giles
Whitney Revolver

March 2008
Walt Masterson
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk

December 2007
Peace at Any Price
Dan Claymaker
Horse Sense

September 2007
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver

June 2007
David Whitehead
Realistic Ballistics
Plot Twists

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

December 2006
Lauran Paine
Jake Douglas & Co.

September 2006
Misfit Lil
Greg Mitchell

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


Putting Imagination in the Saddle    Hoofprints
Last Word on Back-Cover Copy
Remington Revisited   New Black Horse Westerns

The western genre is categorized by Robert Hale Ltd,  publishers of the Black Horse Western books, as "light fiction". In the days of print catalogues, the BHW list, like the publishers' Rainbow Romances list, was kept apart on a separate sheet of paper. This gave only price, titles, dates of publication and authors. Today, we have a Hale online catalogue where westerns and romances (especially historicals) are better acknowledged.

But in an age when often fiction writing is seen as a laudable occupation only if the material offers commentary of wider social relevance, light fiction sits uneasily.

Westerns especially notwithstanding Shane and Lonesome Dove – are regarded as inferior. They are trivialized as non-literary, dated entertainment, not worthy of shelving alphabetically by author name in many public libraries. Indeed, authors are told library systems buy westerns only in a job-lot, quota fashion on standing order. And when times are hard, the quota shrinks on every arising pretext, which includes the mildest complaint, sneer or unjustified slur.

Fay Weldon is an award-winning novelist, TV writer and professor of creative writing at a London university. After participating as one of a group of writers commissioned by the BBC to do updates of Shakespeare's plays, Weldon later commented: "Free of the dead hand of script editors, and able the cite Shakespeare as their excuse, the writers could write what was not politically correct or motivationally sound. Very little in contemporary literature or drama surprises any more. Literature is seen, as it was in Russia and in China and now increasingly in the West, as a tool for the improvement of the nation: that's why it gets so dull."

The "mass-market" paperback publishers have largely deserted the traditional western, declaring it no longer a selling item. At one late point they did make a futile effort to promote the genre as a sub-genre of historical fiction, on the assumption this would endow it with broader respectability. Books by writers like Louis L'Amour, T. V. Olsen and Cameron Judd  were reissued with new covers that, as well as having the tag Historical Fiction on their spines, trumpeted slogans like "epic works of historical fiction" and "an epic story of the building of our mighty nation". It did not spark a revival in the western's fortunes.

So what will? No guaranteed answer comes to mind, but promotion and top-notch stories might help.

Promotion. . .  While fiction writers generally have awoken to the opportunity offered by websites, Black Horse Western writers – who the number of different bylines suggests run into scores – have with notable exceptions not availed themselves of the chance to bring their books, or their personal websites, to public attention via this ezine. Invitations to contribute, forwarded by the publishers, go unanswered. Without the profiles and views of a range of writers, a project such as a regular, quarterly Extra serves no purpose and is unlikely to continue in its present form.

Top-notch stories. . . David Whitehead, an author of BHWs from year one, 1986, presents below some excellent thoughts for your consideration in his lead article, "Putting Imagination in the Saddle". One of our responses at BH Extra, in addition to the suggestions Dave offers, is that we could start with more attention to originality in titles. Too many recent offerings cry out "old-hat" to even the newer and younger readers.

No copyright exists in titles, of course, and nothing is inherently wrong in re-using an old title if it's apt and appealing. But do we need yet again the familiar like of  The Vengeance Trail, Gun Law, Rangeland Justice, Rough Justice, Two-Gun Marshal and Gun Fury? Regardless of the contents of the books behind them, all these tend to confirm the general public's mistaken view that the genre offers nothing fresh or imaginative.

Old pulp magazine story titles from the 1940s, like The Devil Sent His Gun Angels! or Brand of the Mustang Queen or Mortgaged to the Dark Trail, might be over-the-top, melodramatic and invite dismissal as "garish" trash. But like the alluring cover paintings they graced, they do catch the eye and suggest excitement and colourful characters.  Escapism!

Another unhelpful canard is one that has been put about by some of the writers themselves – namely, the plotlines of their westerns number only a dozen which they repeat over and over. If this is true, then they must be catering for an audience of constantly changing membership. Consciously of otherwise, the modern reader seeks more than the simplest variations on tried and tired themes and characters.

Novel twists and approaches are vital. The good Black Horse Western rewards the reader who spends his or her precious leisure time in its world. But more on that from Dave. . . .    

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

FREE excerpt here


David Whitehead on westerns for changing times


The Texas Rangers sent Carter O'Brien south of the Border with orders to kill a madman. It was said that his target – a murderous bandit named Salazar – had the face of an angel and the heart of a demon. Given the choice, he'd sooner have faced Salazar in a head-on gunfight than turn back-shooter and kill him from hiding, but the only trouble with that idea lay with Salazar's eight-strong gang of cut-throats. It was common knowledge that if you took on one of them, you took on the lot – and even a professional fighting man like O'Brien had to draw the line somewhere....
Back cover
Shoot To Kill

ONE of the things that concerns me more and more about the western is not only how we’re supposed to keep interest in our beloved genre alive, but also increase it. In the recent past we’ve seen a number of highly original online initiatives designed to spread the word, but what happens after the word has been spread, and potential readers rush down to their local libraries or visit online bookstores to discover for themselves what’s so special about the Black Horse Western?

It’s one thing to encourage readers to give the western a try, but something else entirely to keep them coming back for more.
There was a time when the western was a simplistic, straightforward story of good versus evil: a classic morality play. And that was fine ... for the times in which those books were first published. But today’s increasingly sophisticated readers rightly expect more. They want a new take on the old themes, original stories told in an engaging style, with strong, well-drawn characters and plots that are almost impossible to predict. Certain factors remain constant, of course – the hero must always win through and the bad guy must always get his comeuppance. But it seems to me that too many writers are reluctant to modernise their approach – and make no mistake about it, my friends, we have to modernise or die.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of excellent writers working in the genre, and their love of and commitment to the form is beyond question. But what of the stories they’re telling, and the way they’re being presented?

Sometimes I think I’ll scream – or at very least loose off a strangled Apache war-cry – if I read one more range-war story, or a tale about a man who spent years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I’ve read all that, many times over. What I want now – what I believe our readers want – is something different.

O’Brien said, “Just how am I to supposed to stop this gang when the Texas Rangers, the federales and the Guardia Nacional can’t even get near ’em?”
“Oh, that’s simple,” Taylor replied, and O’Brien knew then that it wasn’t going to be simple at all. “As far as we’ve been able to ascertain, the gang is about eight men strong. Half of ’em are mentioned in the bible,” he said, referring to the comprehensive list of wanted men that the Rangers updated and amended as the need arose. “The rest we’re not sure about.
“One thing we do know, however. That a common link unites all of them. Destroy that link and they’ll break up, drift apart, head for pastures new.”


I’m not for one moment suggesting that we start producing stream-of-consciousness westerns, or teen-market westerns, or using the genre to explore the frailty of the human condition. There may be an art to writing a good western, but let’s not kid ourselves here: the westerns we produce are not and should not be considered as Art with a capital A. Our readers by their very definition are highly moral, down-to-earth, no-nonsense types, and these are the people we need to entertain, not alienate.

So what’s the answer? Since all the great western stories have been told, many of them more than once, where does that leave us?

It leaves us with a very tricky balancing act.

On the one hand, we must retain enough of the traditional to please long-term readers. Take away too much of the traditional and then our westerns cease to be westerns.

On the other hand, we have to go back to the history books and start winkling out some of the lesser-known aspects of the period and creating new stories around those. We need to work harder to make our readers feel the heat of the deserts we describe, the biting cold of our snow-blocked passes, the pain of a well-aimed punch or bullet-strike, and above all we need to make our protagonists just as realistic as we can. After all, where’s the point in following the exploits of a cardboard character who’s always going to win through with hardly a smudge on his freshly-pressed shirt?


O’Brien licked his lips. “And in this case, the link is ... ?”
“Their leader,” said Taylor. “Angel Salazar.”
O’Brien digested that. Then, just to be absolutely sure there were no misunderstandings, he said, “So you want me to catch this Salazar and bring him in alone?”
“To hell with bringing him in,” Taylor replied, eyeing him steadily. “We want him assassinated, O’Brien. Understand me? When you find him, we want you to
kill him.”

Steve Hayes

We need a greater degree of realism, then, not necessarily in our portrayal of the period but certainly in the way we portray our characters, and to this I would also suggest a greater emphasis on style. Even if our plot isn’t necessarily the greatest, it will still succeed in entertaining its audience if it’s told in an entertaining fashion, with a clever and colourful use of language and dialogue.

At the moment, the western here in the UK remains a much-maligned genre – and, I have to say, with some justification. If we’re to turn that opinion around and encourage the respect it so rightly deserves, we all need to set our work standards higher, and finally move into an exciting new era of storytelling..

It’s beyond dispute that our readers want a good, original, fast-moving tale. But likewise, we’ve got to move with the times if we’re to appeal to the next generation of readers. By now all the classic themes have been reworked many times over, and some of them, frankly, done to death. We need to find new takes on old themes, but retain just enough of the traditional to avoid alienating our older hands.


I believe that one relatively painless way to modernise is to pay more attention to our characters. As it stands, I sometimes think there’s too much emphasis on historical accuracy and nowhere near enough on character development. Speaking for myself, it’s never the promise of a good showdown that attracts me to a western – it's first and foremost an original twist on the old theme, followed closely by the style of the writing and then the strength and credibility of the characters.


In a recent interview for the Extra, author and Hollywood screenwriter Steve Hayes said he had read a few BHWs that reminded him more of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers than anything contemporary. This would be a compliment if it was 1950. But we’re now well into the new century, and so we MUST modernise or wither.

Maria rolled over, panic making her movements jerky and desperate. The rattler went with her, loath to release its grip. As O’Brien surged across the ground towards her, she shook her arm, hoping to hurl the snake away, but still it clung to her, the black eyes beneath its fused eyelids curiously dead as it whipped this way and that.
O’Brien estimated the snake to be at least four feet long, with a thick, scaly body the colour of mud, black diamond shapes and a distinctive black tail.

In fact, Steve illustrates the point nicely. For why is it that I really fear so much for the characters in his Gabriel Moonlight books? Why do I care so much? It’s because they’re brought vividly to life by what they say and how they behave, and the situations in which they find themselves.


As I said a few lines back, we HAVE to drag the western and our approach to it into the 21st Century. We have no choice if we’re to keep it going.


I’ve been reading westerns now for more than forty years. I love ’em. But I’m starting to get a little sick and tired of hearing the same response every time I mention the ‘W’ word. Without fail it’s always, “Oh yes. My granddad used to read those.”

Why over the years have people STOPPED reading westerns in such numbers? What is it about a good old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out, head-’em-off-at-the-pass style western that has gradually fallen out of favour? I guess it’s just that – old-fashioned.


Reaching the struggling girl, he thrust his right hand down at the spot just behind the rattler’s flat head, grabbed it, squeezed –
The snake’s jaws opened at last.
Amidst all the chaos, O’Brien saw the thin holes just beneath the knuckles of Maria’s left finger. The blood welled up from them and the snake began coiling itself around his right arm like some sort of bizarre living bracelet.

Owen Wister

The western has had a remarkable run. Setting aside the dime novels, the western novel started with Owen Wister’s The Virginian 1902. The first western movie, The Great Train Robbery, was shown in 1903. Staggering numbers of books and movies have followed, some good, some bad and some downright ... well, you get the picture. It’s a mark of the genre’s popularity that it has survived all the rubbish.

My thinking is not so much to produce “higher class” westerns, as westerns of a higher standard. To me that means trying to turn all the old plots on their heads and telling new stories with compelling characters in an entertaining style.

As I said before, it’s a very difficult balancing act. But let’s assume that the message is finally getting through to all those readers who have never read a western before and finally decide, what the heck, I’ll give one a try. Do we want him or her to say, “Well, I started reading one and it was just as I suspected – white hats vs. black hats/ cowboys against Indians/ range wars/ lawman hunting outlaws/ cattle drives/ cattle rustling/ delete as applicable.”


Or would we prefer them to say, “You know, I'd already decided I wasn't going to like that book even before I started reading it, but actually it was nothing like I expected it to be. In fact, I really enjoyed it.”


It’s all well and good to promote the western, but attracting new readers is only half the battle. If we’re to keep them then we MUST give them tighter and better-told stories, featuring more interesting and well rounded characters and more original, involving situations.

– David Whitehead, aka Ben Bridges, Matt Logan and others.
His BHW Shoot to Kill is republished in June
in a soft-cover edition by Magna Large Print Books.


Lost and found.
Impressions of a diverting kind


Gideon's Guns, the June BHW by top-hand Queensland author Keith Hetherington (aka Jake Douglas and several others) was on the verge of going no further than chapter one in February of last year. Octogenerian Keith had been super-busy reorganizing his office. Here's the story in his own words: "The job included assembling a ready-to-assemble desk. But who said it was ready-to-assemble? Something was lost in the translation, I think, between South-East Asia (read China) and good old Oz. Finally I got it going, but only by using logic instead of trying to follow the 'illustrated instructions'. Looked like a four-year-old kid had done them. Anyway, modified things a bit, adding an under-desk shelf where I can store my word processor, rearranged the room and its contents and ... you guessed it: couldn't find a bloody thing without a major search!" Mislaid items included notes vital for Gideon's Guns. Keith had been "on a bit of a run ... and after writing the first chapter out of my head, I realized I didn't know where my plot book was with all the info I needed so I could continue. Eventually I located it on my chairside table in the lounge, buried under local papers and current reading." Keith had no recollection of taking  it there, but "things were rolling again, that's what's important." The novel was completed and "much enjoyed" by publisher John Hale. By April 2009, the book contract had been signed and was on its way back to London. The blurb tells us, "Gideon Kirk had lived on the edge of the law for ten years, above and below the Rio. When he returned to Texas to take over his ailing father's freight business, he believed it was the deal he needed to shake off his past for good. But old enemies followed him and new foes appeared...."


Blogger Richard Prosch (Meridian Bridge) commented on the multi-tasking difficulties faced by fiction writers. "Maybe we can’t be good at everything. Should we even try? Where can we find inspiration? What would Ernest Haycox do?" We googled and came up with the following about Haycox, several of whose genre classics were reprinted in the 1990s as BHWs: "Haycox sought to eliminate distractions, although he was not particularly successful at doing so, being involved in Republican Party affairs, numerous community projects, and the activities of his alma mater, the University of Oregon. At the time of his death in October 1950, he was a trustee of the Multnomah Athletic Club, a director of the Oregon Historical Society (where he was put to work writing informational highway signs), and the immediate past president of Portland Rotary and the Oregon Dad's Club." All these activities involved different skill sets from those employed in fiction-writing. For most, they would easily have been not just distractions but killers to doing creative work. Today, what used to be called "mid-list" novelists are routinely expected to contribute, especially via Web activities, to promotion of their published work. Sometimes the author's efforts seem about all that's on offer. How, it was wondered, would Haycox have coped in the 21st century?

Haycox's busy life.

Art isn't spaghetti.
Italian composer and conductor Ennio Morricone is best known to western fans for his distinctive scores for director Sergio Leone's groundbreaking movies A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). But the Oscar winner has composed and arranged scores for more than 500 film and television productions. Gearing up in April to conduct a programme at the Albert Hall in London he was described by The Times of London as "the 81-year-old dapper don of soundtracks". The newspaper also said Morricone preferred to call Leone’s classics "Italian westerns" and strongly disliked the "spaghetti" nickname. He said: "It is impossible to compare something that belongs to art with something you eat."

Much more goes into the making of a genre fiction line than a liking by its staff for westerns, romances, SF or whatever. Digital publishing advocate Angela James was appointed executive editor of the Harlequin publishing group's new e-book venture, Carina Press. Putting together her editorial team, she said, "I made some inroads into working through the copy editor tests and developmental editor emails. I’ll be sending out some emails today, but I’m still working on copy editors. Copy editors are actually much more difficult to hire than developmental editors, for some reason. Part of it is that, over the years, I’ve found that some people think they have the chops for copy editing, because they pick out typos or missing punctuation in the books they read, but the truth is that copy editing is an incredibly multi-layered position and to be a copy editor, you have to be highly skilled, very detail-oriented, know the ins and outs of The Chicago Manual of Style and grammar rules quite well, and be able to remember details, timelines and other things in order to compare and spot inconsistencies. In short, it takes amazing focus and not many of us have that."

Truth about editing.

What do "outsiders" make of BHWs? Blogger Michael Peverett reviewed Alan Irwin's Raiders of the Panhandle alongside a Scandinavian translation of Chet Cunningham's Die of Gold (1973), which had used the same cover illustration. Michael said: "In 1973 the western was not a dead genre, nor is it now, but the transmutation that produces  Raiders of the Panhandle (2000) is particularly odd. You may have noticed your local bookshop does not brim over with unpretentious westerns. The Black Horse Western series is published, moreover, in hardback and I suppose it is aimed entirely at libraries, whose audiences will sometimes want to read what they would never buy, and may include some who never normally read at all....  Irwin's narrative is entirely functional and even its dialogue is of the plainest, preferring indirection ('The rancher went on to tell Jim of the entirely unforeseen catastrophe which had befallen the family on the previous day'). The extremely chaste courtship of Jim and Miriam ('I'm all in favour of that idea of yours' – Jim kissed her...') seems comically out of synch with the usual medley of knives plunged in the heart and multiple shootings. (The villains, surprisingly, are carted off to be hanged by due process, somehow a far more disquieting end than being gunned down in a shootout.) Atmosphere and detail arise solely from Irwin's precision about hardware ('his old American Arms 12-gauge shotgun') and about notating the action.... Remarkably, something survives that we recognize, in a malnourished way, as the same old genre with the same old power."  A comment left at the blog pointed out not all BHWs had relationships 'extremely chaste' or 'comically out of synch' with blood-and-thunder, although this direction was allegedly now favoured by libraries. Some writers still strived to meet the exacting reader's requirement for atmosphere and detail, narrative more than functional and dialogue more than plain.


Western authors have a quaint and longstanding habit of naming characters in their stories after fellow writers. It was followed, for instance, by the British coterie of the 1970s and '80s who became known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. But here's a new twist. Lee Floren (1910-1995) was a prolific writer for the pulps in the 1940s who later moved on to supplying the mass-market paperbacks. Reprints of his books were among the earliest BHWs. His Black Gunsmoke was published in 1951 by Star, then in 1968 by Paperback Library and in 1987 as a Linford large-print. In chapter four, Floren introduces Jack Martin, straw boss of the stage and freight line hero Mark Aswell has just bought: "A burly  man, red-headed and wide, sat at the desk, filling the chair with his muscular body. His back was to Mark and Mark saw the red hair on his freckled arms. The man wore a blue chambray shirt and evidently he had once used suspenders, for the marks of the suspenders were dark against the faded blue of the shirt.... The swivel chair squeaked around. Mark saw a wide, almost ugly face, gross with freckles and red whisker stubble, complete with a flat nose that either a man's fist – or a mule's kick – had flattened ... a big young man, ugly and uncouth and smelling so strongly of the stable...."  Jack Martin today, of course, is the  BHW  pen-name of  writer, Tainted Archive blogger and good friend of the Extra Gary Dobbs. We know he'll be smiling!

Floren's crystal ball.

Just call me Clint!
Actress-scriptwriter Emma Thompson's character Nanny McPhee, a formidable and mysterious governess with magical powers, is ostensibly based on the Nurse Matilda books by British crime writer and children's author Christianna Brand. But the Australian Northern Rivers Echo reported that Londoner and double Oscar winner Thompson's true inspiration lies elsewhere. "Nanny McPhee is a western," Thompson said. "It is, in fact, exactly the same form: she comes in and does the job and then rides off into the sunset." Thompson's heroes weren't so much Mary Poppins, but more the enigmatic gunslinger played by Clint Eastwood. She recalled growing up in London and curling up with her parents on the sofa to watch film and TV westerns. "The Virginian – I loved that, it was absolutely fantastic. I just loved those forms and they are all about conflict and the resolution of conflict by people using strange and unorthodox methods. And that's who she is: Nanny McPhee is The Virginian for kids." Thompson's new movie is Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang.

With computer technology, historical research for western novelists has become a heap easier and faster. Putting a search engine to work is often step one. Nonetheless, while some very senior writers bravely adapt, reports continue of veteran and not-so-veteran BHW writers unashamedly proclaiming themselves digitally illiterate. Says one, "I'm too much of a Luddite. I don't have an email address – or even a computer." Hoofprints remembered a letter written in 1941 by Ernest Haycox  (who has already featured in this set) to his editor, Ray Everitt of publishers Little, Brown: "We'll let the reference stand. Condensed milk was first processed in cans circa 1885 and is therefore accurate enough in point of time for our story [The Wild Bunch]. Incidentally, what this country needs is a good reference book dealing in the history and usage of our common, everyday articles. Take the match, the lamp, the field of illumination. It is an all-day chore to search out when the present phosphorus-tipped match came into current usage, how long the sulphur match had vogue before it, when tinder and flint gave way to the sulphur match. Take tobacco. When did the cigar ...."  We can think of no better argument for computers than reducing what in 1941 were all-day chores!

Striking argument.

Puzzling trail.
Nothing like baffling western fans! In the 1960s and '70s, Frederick Nolan (British novelist, editor, sales director and much else) wrote 14 westerns as Frederick H. Christian. Five were sequels to the Sudden series of the 1930s and '40s created by Oliver Strange. These were published and reprinted over and over as Corgi paperbacks and as library hardbacks by White Lion. Nine others were stories of  Frank Angel, troubleshooter for the US Attorney-General, published in the US by Pinnacle and in the UK by Sphere. In 2005, Robert Hale Ltd reprinted four of the Christian Suddens as BHWs under new titles not naming Sudden. The first was Beyond the Badlands (previously Sudden Strikes Back). BHW reprints of the Angel series began in December 2004, using Fred Nolan's anagrammatic pen-name Daniel Rockfern and some of the titles that had been used for US reprints. Two of the eleven Rockfern Angels reissued as BHWs were books ghostwritten by Mike Linaker and were new to English readers, having appeared previously only in German translations. The BHW series concluded with Duel at Cheyenne (previously Take Angel) in April 2008. But a fresh Daniel Rockfern title is listed for June 2010: Hell in the Mesquites. Steve Myall, of the trusted Western Fiction Review blog, tells us, "The new Rockfern book is the fifth Sudden book written by Nolan. For some reason it's being put out as a Rockfern book rather than by Christian like the previous four. Hale hasn't published the Sudden books, or the Angel books, in the order they were originally published. Some Angel books, and Sudden (I believe), had different titles given to them in America. The biggest problem with both series is the reading order is different to the published order and this has caused great debate with fans." Hell in the Mesquites was previously Sudden Troubleshooter.

Hoofprints stayed on the trail and discovered Sudden Troubleshooter has been published twice before in library hardback under the Frederick H. Christian name – by White Lion and Chivers (Gunsmoke Western). But more importantly it was time to track down author Fred Nolan, who kindly gave the following explanation of the new Rockfern/Sudden mystery: "Put simply, the answer is 'a cockup'. What happened was that Hale sent the contract to my agent. He kept one copy and sent the other two to me to sign and return to Hale. We were all so pleased – my agent and I because the forgotten Sudden had found a home, Hale because they now had the full set – that none of us noticed the author's name was Rockfern, not Christian. I haven't bothered to tell Hale, because I imagine it's probably too late to do much about it, but there is no hidden agenda."

What's in a name?

Ubiquitous no more.
We're asked, "Are more titles planned for the brilliant Black Horse Extra Book series?" Immediately, no. But for the future, who knows? The intention was to offer today's readers western fiction in a convenient, pocket-book format, like the slim paperbacks of happier publishing times when they were seen on racks everywhere. It was also to restore to writers a measure of freedom to work outside the constraints of new restrictions on content (see the article "Justice and the Western" in our previous issue). It wasn't to set up any alternative supply of books for "free" borrowing from libraries who purchase with public-purse money on standing order. That limited market is well catered for by the regular Black Horse Western series. So far, the level of sales of the BHE paperbacks doesn't make it feasible to extend the series to include more authors. We believe the writers we would want to feature should be paid properly, whereas the books on sale now are priced to cover only manufacturer's and sellers' costs. If you want to see more original paperbacks – brimming with action, interesting characters and new twists – more buyers are going to have to place orders for the two titles already available! They are the universally well reviewed Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope and Liberty and a Law Badge.

Candy Proctor

Where "say it again" doesn't work

RINGING the changes in storylines for genre fiction is crucial. Rewriting what has gone before ad infinitum has already been discussed in this edition. Mention has also been made of titles and – in several previous editions – of generic book cover art only loosely connected to text content. But what about  blurbs?

What do readers and authors think about them? The blurb writer is tightly confined by word count and clichés too easily become his or her stock-in-trade. For example, a blogger recently noted, rightly, that if mystery plays a part in your novel the phrase "tangled web" or similar is likely to occur!

Candy Proctor (aka historical mystery novelist C. S. Harris and one half of thriller writer C. S. Graham) also explored the subject at Candy's Blog. As noted here before, her blog is an excellent meeting place for writing and reading minds from all genres. She wrote:

"You know what cover copy is, right? It’s that little blurb on the back of a paperback or on the inside flap of a hardcover dust jacket that tells you what the book is about. A great cover might lure readers to pick up a book in the store, but it’s the cover copy that usually seals their impulse to buy. Some people are amazingly adept at reaching into the heart of a story and distilling its essence in a way that is both intriguing and profound; most people, quite frankly, suck at it.

"I suck at it.

"Writing cover copy and writing books are two very different arts. Good cover copy is more like song writing or poetry; it's a skilful seduction that uses key words and the emotions they evoke to tempt and woo the reader. To quote one Internet guru, 'The words you place on the back cover of your book are the words that will either walk your book right up to the cash register or march it back to the shelves. Your back cover is the final billboard, a point-of-sale advertisement, and the last piece of promotional material that hits potential purchasers on their way to pay. It can either lure readers inside your pages with well-chosen words or knock the wind out of your sales with faint and feebly-phrased copy.'

"In other words, cover copy is scarily important. Did I mention the fact that most people suck at it? Unfortunately, a lot of those people are employed by publishing houses in what they call the 'copy department'.

"In the last week, I’ve had cover copy for both Where Shadows Dance and The Babylonian Codex land in my email box with notes from my books’ respective editors that said something like, 'This just in from the copy department. It’s awful! Can you fix it?' The problem is, an author is usually not the best person to have writing cover copy. I mean, I just spent 100,000 words telling this story and now you want me to reduce it down to 250 words or less, in a way that will seduce readers into buying it? Seriously?

"In the end, the final product is usually a mishmash of what the copy department wrote and what I wrote, with some tweaking by the editor. In other words, copy by committee. And you know how well that usually works out."

Charles Gramlich
In response, Melissa Marsh commented:

"I've written back cover copy for a major print-on-demand company (I won't name the company to protect the innocent...or guilty, as too many of the books are quite horribly written) for the past five years. No, it's not easy, but after doing probably well over 1,000 of them (I wish I was kidding!), I've found that there are some key tricks to making them work. One thing is for sure – learning this process has certainly helped me in writing my query letters for my own novels!"

Candy said: "Melissa, I think perhaps I am starting to get better the more I do. Some research I did on high concepts seemed to help. But 1,000 of them? OMG! I'd slit my own throat."

To which Melissa said, "Sad, isn't it? After you do so many, you can almost do them in your sleep!"

Charles Gramlich commented:

"Although I don't worry much about covers, I do indeed read and pay attention to cover copy. I've probably bought quite a few books based on back cover copy. I enjoy writing it myself, as I did for the Borgo Press books. But it isn't easy. It's much much more like writing a short story, even a flash fiction, than it is like writing a novel."

The "Internet guru" Candy quoted turned out to be Sari Mathes, of Llumina, one of those friendly, print-on-demand presses that will issue a book once its author has kicked in $799. Though this business method covers a press's back while doing zilch for its credibility as a publisher, Sari has a website piece neatly titled "Back Cover Copy is the Welcome Mat to the Front Door of Your Book".

It gives some of the basics as follows:

"Authors often submit synopses when it’s time to develop their back cover copy. No! Yes, you do want to give a tiny preview of what’s inside, a reader should get an idea of what to expect, but please save the Cliff Notes versions for the Ingram listings. Instead, take a lesson from the internet search engine marketers. Good back cover copy should include significant details that may incidentally appeal to your audience and make the difference between sealing the deal and sending your book back to sit on the shelf.

"Giving details about your book without giving away the story synopsis-style should be your goal.  Who-what-where-when is a good journalistic formula when used sparingly, but it should only hint at what’s inside."


David Whitehead

John Hale

Virtually identical advice was given several years ago by BHWs' own David Whitehead. He said:

"Personally, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a GOOD blurb. I've read a number in which the story is told, pretty much from start to finish. We all know the sort of thing: 'Jim loses his job on the Flying Z ranch. He then goes down to Arizona, where he becomes a Ranger. Here he foils a bank robbery and becomes the governor's personal bodyguard. An attempt is made on the governor's life, but Jim's quick wits soon bring the assassin to justice. Then Jim tracks down the man who hired the killer. It's Hank Franks, his old boss back at the Flying Z. Only when Jim shoots Hank dead can he really be free.' What's that all about? If anything, I tend to ask a lot of questions in my blurbs, hoping to hook the reader. 'What was Bill's secret? Who was the man in black...?"

Steve Myall, of the helpful online Western Fiction Review, a reader and collector of westerns for decades, said at the same time:

"If it's a writer I'm familiar with, and enjoy, then I don't read the blurb; I'll be buying the book anyway. If it's a series book and it's a character(s) that I enjoy reading about then, again, the blurb doesn't matter.

"If it's a new author to me, then yes I'll read it. If there's a few writers' work to choose from, I use the blurb to help decide which storyline appeals the most. For instance, there seem to be a lot of BHWs about range wars or lawmen of some kind, so if one had a different plot I'd probably choose that.

"Also I don't want a blurb that gives too much away. Sometimes the blurb outlines nearly all the events in the book, so it can seem pointless reading the book. This has happened on a few BHWs and books from other publishers. I remember David Robbins being annoyed by how much of the plot was given away on Wilderness #38. To me, the blurb should arouse interest not outline the whole story."

Publisher John Hale responded to an author's complaint with an explanation of his company's policy on BHW blurbs:

"I am sorry not to have been able to agree to the inclusion of the original blurb you wrote.... The reason is basically that we wished to conform to a pattern which broadly comes down to a maximum of about 120 words compared with your 152, a proper beginning, middle and end, and a blurb which does not reveal too much of the plot. Incidentally we prefer the past tense rather than the present in most instances.

"As you are probably aware, most publishers seem not to consult authors at all about blurbs but our policy in asking for authors to supply them is to obtain a good indication of what the author would like and we then try to reconcile that with our own format. We believe it is advantageous from the point of view of sales that the blurbs follow a traditional pattern and whilst I accept that your blurb was indeed unique I am not sure that this point in itself has particular validity when it comes to sales."



This ultra-cautious approach continues to mirror much of the publishing policy in general when it comes to novelty as a point of appeal in westerns. Perhaps the libraries' acquisitions staff, or library supply firms, do look for a blurb that doesn't require them to read the book!

Other authors also had their blurb moans, as authors will.

One said: "They asked for about 125 words.  But for my first novel I gave them exactly what they asked for and they rewrote it, doubling the length. So, the next time I gave them about 250 words. They left it alone – all except the last sentence, which was better the way they edited it. I'd say to take your cue from other write-ups and, of course, KISS it."

A second said: "I've noticed Hale's sneaky tendency to rewrite blurbs with more words than the author is supposed to use. I was appalled when I saw the rewritten blurb for [the author's book], which had largely been turned into a string of clichés, ending in a phrase along the lines of  'the shadow of death overshadowing everything'. Not only was it terrible, but [the hero] had almost been removed from the blurb, in favour of another character.... Anyone reading the altered blurb would have been puzzled about why the book was titled [with the hero's name in it] and not [the other character's]! I was reluctant to interfere, but I hated the idea of this dreadful blurb being stuck on the back of my book, so I toned it down and asked if it could be changed. I was pleased to receive an apology, and [the book] got a much better blurb."

The author who had complained originally to Mr Hale then said: "This has happened to me a number of times.... They have really degraded some of my blurbs, adding redundancies and even mistakes."

Yet another prominent BHWer said:

"I couldn't help but smile at the blurb for Bill Morrison's Revenge Comes Late. I've often wondered if any author has dared to write a blurb that was so general they could stick it on the back of any novel and it'd still describe the story, and so save themselves the trouble of ever having to write a new one. And this one has a damn good try. The first sentence rather ruins the effect by hinting at what the story might be about. But thereafter it's a work of pure genius:

"'When two young gaolbirds were at last released, they had but one thought in mind: to seek revenge against the man who had betrayed them. However, the flame of vengeance is fickle, and sparks from it can alight wherever the tinder of resentment is dry and waiting, setting the land into a sudden conflagration. So it was in that hot summer, when men raised their eyes to see the dead past come alive into a terrible present, where old wounds reopened, and guns blazed to settle old scores. Many were drawn into the smoke and flame of the final battle. But such was the carnage that few would emerge unscathed.'

"Now, try writing a western where you can't use that blurb!"

Joshing aside, this author also told us: "I always write a draft blurb after completing the first full draft. As my method is to not plan my stories in advance, that first draft often has a lot of loose ends and cul-de-sacs, so I use the blurb to answer that all-important question of what the hell have I just written? The blurb helps me to define what the point of my story is, and armed with that I can focus on bringing out that point when I edit the next draft of the story."

Chap O'Keefe joined the debate with the observation that this was an excellent point "worth its weight in gold to a fair number of writers.... Writing a blurb will focus your mind on what the story is about: The main character(s), what he/she/they want(s), what's in the way."

But the creation of all his books began with a fairly detailed working synopsis, corresponding perhaps to a film script's scenario.

"Consequently, I could write my blurb before I ever set to work on the book. Instead, I find it best to write it somewhere along the way, usually around the fifty pages mark, because – as [the other author] says – it helps focus the mind on the issues. It's a double-check that I've not started to stray. Doing it last would be a mistake for me, since I don't do second drafts, only tidy-ups and the one printout for the publisher."

Greg Mitchell on an artist's view of the Old West


Part Two of a BHW novelist's examination of the paintings of
Frederic Remington (1861-1909) – world renowned for
his depictions of life in the Wild West.

THE details in Frederic Remington's illustrations for books and magazines lift the artist from the ranks of what some art snobs sneeringly call "simple illustrators". His work is always more than just depictions of men and horses.

Consider his Harper's Weekly illustration In from the Night Herd done in 1886.

Just a soldier on a horse ? Look again.

The trooper concerned is from K troop of the 4th. Cavalry. There are identifying marks on his canteen cover. For some reason, man and horse have been having some sort of disagreement. Possibly the animal became excited herding other horses, but there are flecks of foam around the bit and the rider is using a strong, sliding grip on the reins. This grip is never seen in show circles but is commonly used by working horsemen dealing with fractious animals because it gives almost instant control.

The 30ft (about 9m) lariat carried by cavalrymen can be seen and it is tied in such a way as to prevent dangerous coils that might ensnare a rider if an accident occurs. In my latest Black Horse Western, Murdering Wells, the cavalry lariat came in handy when the hero captures an army deserter and goes after his comrades.

Every cavalryman carried a 30-feet lariat attached to his saddle in a tightly-wound hank.
Luke ordered his prisoner to lie on the ground while he detached the rope and expertly hog-tied him. Then he used Sandy's bandanna as a gag. "Now lie there quietly and someone will be along shortly to release you. This is your lucky day."

But back to Remington's picture. The trooper's saddle is a McClellan but it does not have the usual hooded stirrups. The Whitman saddle, used in limited numbers during that period, had open stirrups but a McClellan is clearly shown.

Was it just one man's preference or was K troop experimenting with a new type of stirrup? The cavalry tried many experimental pieces of equipment with the troops in the field.

The carbine raises another query. It is in a full-length scabbard and carried on the left side, butt-forward at a time when carbines were usually carried in a short socket on the right side with the butt near the trooper's hip. Most of Remington's art shows the carbine on the right side until well into the 1890s. By 1900 the full-length scabbard carried on the left was uniform throughout the cavalry, but we know from Remington's art that it was adopted gradually.

By contrast his cowboys carried their rifles on either side and often across the pommel, although Hollywood has deemed that rifles are always carried on the right side.

The butt of a revolver showing behind the trooper's left hip tells us that he is using a right-handed civilian holster that has slipped around on his cartridge belt. If he was wearing the military holster, the butt would be turned the other way and would not be visible. In its current position, the man could only reach his revolver with his left hand and for a horseman that would be impractical because reins are always held in that hand. Had the artist seen such an arrangement or had he just shown the gun butt to make the picture more colourful ? We will never know.


In 1902 Remington illustrated Theodore Roosevelt's book Ranch Life and The Hunting Trail.

At first glance there is little unusual about the sketch of two cowboys hauling a couple of reluctant horses along what the artist said was A Hard Trail.

The noticeable feature is that both cowboys are not carrying traditional, single-action, 1873 model, Colt .45s with their plough handle grips. The birds-head butts protruding from their holsters show that the weapons are later, double-action models, probably Colt Lightnings or Thunderers.

Frederic Remington

Theodore Roosevelt
The Couriers, done in 1883 for Harper's Weekly  is a very interesting illustration. We see two riders descending a hill, a civilian, possibly a Mexican, leading and a soldier following. It is not known how they fit into the story, but the foremost rider seems to be expecting trouble and appears to be carrying a rifle in his right hand. He is either left-handed or is a two-gun man.

But the real genius is in how the horse is depicted. At first the rider appears to have his reins too slack to be in any way effective but then the look on the horse gives the game away. It has the high-headed, nervous look of an animal with a mouthful of potentially painful ironmongery. A very close examination of the sketch showed a spade bit. These are particularly hard on horses and while it is argued that only the most expert riders can use them, one wonders if such an expert would need one. The rider is keeping the lightest possible pressure on the bit, hence the long reins.

Remington could have drawn an ordinary horse and rider and none would have been any the wiser. The small details he includes show not only his artistic skill but a true knowledge of his subject.

This artist's work varied greatly over the years beginning with simple sketches and going through to elaborate oil paintings and sculptures. The characters are all there, Indians, trappers, hunters, cowboys and soldiers.

We see glimpses of ranch life, the native-American tribes and details of the last Indian Wars. Not all this art has universal appeal but it contains a certain inspiration that could set a writer's ideas flowing and for that reason alone I would recommend it.

– Paddy Gallagher, who writes his BHWs as Greg Mitchell. His
 new book, Murdering Wells, was published on April 30.



Published by Robert Hale Ltd in May, June and July

Owen G. Irons  0 7090 8883 7
The Legacy
Logan Winters
0 7090 8899 8
Raiders of the Mission San Juan
Scott Connor
0 7090 8900 1
A Bullet for Ben McCabe
Peter Wilson
0 7090 8919 3
Big Trouble at Flat Rock
Elliot Long
0 7090 8920 9
The Sunset Kid
Michael G. George
0 7090 8921 6
Joseph John McGraw 0 7090 8922 3
The Killing Trail
Chuck Tyrell
0 7090 8898 1
The Hunting of Lope Gamboa
Jack Sheriff
0 7090 8925 4
Prairie Wolves
Corba Sunman
0 7090 8927 8
Gideon's Guns
Jake Douglas
0 7090 8928 5
Hell in the Mesquites
Daniel Rockfern
0 7090 8929 2
A. Dorman Leishman
0 7090 8932 2
The Treasure of Santa Maria
J. William Allen
0 7090 8935 3
Trailing Wing
Abe Dancer
0 7090 8934 6
Rangeland Justice
Rob Hill
0 7090 8936 0
Loner with a Gun
Ryan Bodie
0 7090 8938 4
Hideout at Mender's Crossing
John Glasby
0 7090 8939 1
Robbery in Savage Pass
D. M. Harrison
0 7090 8940 7
The Broken Horseshoe
Billy Hall
0 7090 8946 9
Return to Lonesome
Brendan Fagan
0 7090 8948 3

Liberty and a Law Badge
Chap O'Keefe
978 1 4452 3857 9

Black 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").

Trade inquiries to: Combined Book Services,
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"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 (£9.51) with free Super Saver delivery

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