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Monday, March 26, 2018

ANDREW McBRIDE interviewed about THE PEACEMAKER, writing etc. by BEN BOULDEN for the GRAVETAPPING Blog

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive wide acclaim already for my Sundown Press novel THE PEACEMAKER. Of 22 reviews and ratings 2 are 4 star, 20 5 star! This includes 5 star reviews from 2 of the most successful western authors. Spur award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author ROBERT VAUGHAN describes it as ‘a great book’. Meanwhile RALPH COTTON (also a Pulitzer-prize nominated novelist) writes: ‘For pure writing style, McBride’s gritty prose nails the time and place of his story with bold authority. …this relatively new author has thoroughly, and rightly so, claimed his place among the top Old West storytellers.’ I’m very grateful to both Robert and Ralph for their fantastic support.

One of the most promising new western authors is BEN BOULDEN, whose contribution to the BLAZE series has won acclaim. Ben also keeps the excellent GRAVETAPPING Blog. He’s been kind enough to interview me. The full interview on the Gravetapping site can be found here: https://gravetapping.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/interview-andrew-mcbride.html
Here’s an edited version, with Ben’s questions in bold italics.

What’s your latest novel?
THE PEACEMAKER. It’s a western set in Arizona in 1871, when the white man and the Apache Indians are at war. The hero is an 18 year old young man who gets roped into a dangerous mission to talk peace with the most important of the hostile Apache chiefs – Cochise. He guides a duo to Cochise’s camp – a white man and his adopted Apache daughter. Along the way, the hero and the Apache girl fall in love. Fans of the TV Western series ‘The High Chaparral’ will spot I’ve borrowed the basic premise from a High Chaparral episode, but the second half of the novel goes somewhere else entirely. I felt the original episode could be the springboard for a tremendous adventure story. It’s published by Sundown Press and available on Amazon and the usual outlets.

Without breaking any of your personal taboos, would you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?
I’m not sure I have any personal taboos, I’m not that interesting! I was planning to launch into another novel, but finishing off other projects has put me slightly behind schedule. Right now I’m readying a finished western for some publishers. After that I’ve got to finish off another novel that’s such a complete departure from what I’ve written before I’d have to publish it under another name. Sorry about the mystery but I’m keeping quiet about that one for now. I’ve also got a completed Robin Hood novel I’m trying to find a home for, so I can join my heroes Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece among the ranks of historical novelists. Then I can get properly started on my next novel: a western with an elegiac, end-of-the-west, ‘Wild Bunch’ feel.


How do you go about writing?
(Where do you write, when do you write, do you outline, do you write longhand / on a computer, how do you develop a story, etc.)
Where: At home on a computer. I know some writers have to write longhand, almost as if they have to feel the ideas coming out of their brain, down their arm, through the pen etc. Doesn’t work for me! For me it’s all about efficiency, getting my ideas onto the page as quickly as possible, which means bashing away on a keyboard on a desktop PC. I feel cramped using small devices like laptops. I’ve never tried writing in places like cafes, too many distractions. I like to work alone in my home study. I find silence oppressive so I usually have music on – something like jazz instrumentals that won’t distract me.

When: About 1991 I committed to being a writer, so since then I’ve turned down full-time work whenever I can, taking part-time jobs that free me up so I can write at least 2 days a week. It’s not always been possible to keep to that, and sometimes the finances have been precarious. In the last 8 months I had a bit of luck and came into some money unexpectedly, so I’ve been able to live the complete writer’s life, writing sometimes 4 or even 5 days a week. To me, that’s the equivalent of dying and going to heaven! This won’t continue much longer, alas, but it has been seriously great while it’s lasted! I tend to work a day shift, writing from about 10 a.m. until whenever in the afternoon the inspiration flags. I rarely write in the evenings, I like my brain to be fresh when I’m hitting those keys.


One thing I learned from Phil Caveney, my writing mentor, is that novelists need to have a time/ word count discipline. Give yourself a DEADLINE. For example you may decide you want to write an 80,000 word novel in 2 years. That works out about 110 words a day. Make sure you keep to your routine and write those words, otherwise you’ll join the ranks of would-be novelists who spend 7, 9 or 11 years writing a novel. So hitting my daily (or at least weekly) word count, rather than hours spent, is how I measure my progress.

As for outlines: I usually have a (very) loose idea of what the novel’s going to be about when I start out, a 2 minute trailer rather than a fully developed movie. Some of my novels have been fictionalizations of real historical events, so that helps provide an outline.

I tend to write a chapter at a time, and don’t plan much further ahead than that. I know some writers have to get a first draft of the whole novel down before they start revising. I don’t. I write a chapter and then revise it. It’s usually a 3 day process. Day 1 is the grind of the first draft of the chapter, which I find is the hardest part. You tell the tale of the chapter, you cover the story points, but it’s a slog and the writing may not be that good. But on Day 2 you wake up and re-draft it into shape, which in my case is almost always cutting. I may re-write or re-arrange bits but mostly all I do is cut – like pruning a hedge, or clearing the weeds out of the garden so you can see what you’re after. Day 3 is usually easy – polishing, just doing a bit of tweaking and tidying up. Then I sit back for a few days and let the next chapter simmer in my head until it’s ready to be tackled. Which means by the time I’ve finished the whole novel it’s about 80% done, so it only needs some tweaking and further cutting.


If ever I get stuck, I might just write myself some notes, along the lines of ‘what the hell happens next?’ Or ‘How do I get my hero out of this fix?’ I do also have a good friend I’ve nicknamed ‘Dr. Plot’ who I sometimes bounce ideas off. If I’ve literally ‘lost the plot’, he usually comes up with something. 

Do you have any specific pleasures, or displeasures, that come from writing?
I love the creative process, and the artistic side of a writer’s life. I like the way you can sometimes find creative energy and inspiration in adversity. I once sent off a manuscript and had it unexpectedly rejected. I got hold of the rejected manuscript at 10 p.m. The publishers liked the beginning and the end but felt the novel wandered too much in the middle. Partly because I was smarting from rejection, I couldn’t sleep that night. Instead I stayed up and re-read the whole novel end to end and went to bed about 4 a.m. I woke up 6 hours later and immediately started re-writing, with ideas that just seemed to have come to me. In 10 days’ I’d re-written the whole middle section of the novel. I sent it back to the publishers and they accepted it.

Like many authors I know, I love the creative side, but I find the ‘business side’ a real chore – finding publishers, agents, sending off etc. I personally don’t mind giving readings, but I find other aspects of promotion tedious. I’ve tried to make Social Media promotion and blogging fun, but essentially I would just rather be writing and let someone else deal with all that stuff. And rejection remains unrelievedly horrible. I’ve had many rejections, and it never gets any easier, or hurts any less. That’s when you cling on to the old writing adage: ‘What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published!’’

Are there any writers that inspired—or continue to inspire—your own writing?
 (Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. Any forgotten writers you would like to discuss here would be welcome.)
Many writers have inspired me. My first literary hero was Captain W. E. Johns, who wrote the ‘Biggles’ series, which I just devoured in my early teenage years. He gets a lot of stick now for not being very PC and maybe he isn’t but back then I enjoyed his books as your archetypal ‘cracking adventure yarns’ – they were a kind of junior level James Bond. 


Captain W.E. Johns with a portrait of his fictional hero 'Biggles'

Then I moved on to the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff. Getting into early adulthood I was a big fan of Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler.


Rosemary Sutcliff

Mostly, I read/still read westerns, thrillers and historical fiction, all of which you could call ‘adventure novels.’ In the western field that would include Gordon D. Shirreffs, Lewis B. Patten, Robert McLeod, Fred Grove, Louis L’Amour, Glendon Swarthout, Thomas Berger, Jack Schaefer, Will Henry, A.B. Guthrie jnr. and Dorothy M. Johnson. Thriller writers would include Walter Mosley, (earlier) Patricia Cornwell, Robert Harris and W.R. Burnett. ‘Classics’ would include Robert Louis Stevenson (he’s still unchallenged, IMHO, as writer of the world’s greatest adventure novel) the Brontes, Dickens, H.G. Welles and Graham Greene.


Forgotten writers I was a big fan of include Alexander Knox (who was also an actor) who wrote a tremendous novel about modern-day Eskimo life called THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE BEAR; Desmond Corey, who wrote spy thrillers with a hero called Johnny Fedora who was like Bond only cooler – he played jazz piano to wind down from the stresses as a ‘licensed to kill’ secret agent; and Henry Treece. Treece wrote for children and adults. He wrote two novels on the Arthurian legend – THE GREAT CAPTAINS and THE GREEN MAN - which are still startling in their originality.


I’ve discovered some good writers since engaging with Social Media. For example I gave a 5 star review (something I almost never do) to WHILE ANGELS DANCE, a novel about the James Gang, by Ralph Cotton. I also gave a good review to MERRICK by some chap called Ben Boulden…

3 writers I have to single out are Elmore Leonard, Matt Chisolm and John Prebble. (I’ve discussed these authors on other Sundown Press blogs. See my Sundown Press blog about Elmore Leonard’s ‘HOMBRE’ here: http://sundownpress.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2017-08-28T01:00:00-07:00&max-results=7&start=6&by-date=false

If you could write anything, without commercial considerations, what would it be?
You don’t need to ask me about that, I’m doing it! Anybody who writes in the western genre is writing without ‘commercial considerations’ – but if you love westerns and have to write these books you will. I have written in other genres, two historical novels and some contemporary thrillers/outdoor adventures, but so far it’s only the westerns, which I’d have thought were the least commercial of my product, that have been published. 

I know you’re a fan of both Western television and film. Do you have any favorites? 
Actually I’m not a huge fan of TV Westerns. There were lots of them about when I was a kid growing up in England in the 1960s, but I always thought them the ‘poor relation’ of western movies. I don’t like being too negative but they did tend to accept and re-cycle clichés about the western, rather than challenging them. Some of them could also get very soap-opera-ish. You’d catch ‘Bonanza’ for example and half the time the episode would be about a father’s relationship with his son, and didn’t need to be set in the Old West at all. Sometimes you’d catch episodes that were entertaining, occasionally excellent, but not essential viewing.  But my biggest beef against them was their cheap production values. Because of their low budget, many of them were filmed on familiar Hollywood backlots or sound stages, and made little of what is a key western element in my opinion – the landscape, and its physical magnificence. Given my taste in westerns has always run to the outdoor and the primitive that frustrated me. The exception – the one TV Western series I loved – was ‘The High Chaparral.’ It did ‘jump the shark’ sadly, but for its first two seasons the HC was an outstanding show – not only strong scripts and a superb cast, but the location shooting, in Old Tucson, Arizona. That gave the HC not only physical beauty but grittiness and authenticity – the sweat and dust were real! I’ve blogged about my admiration for the HC. (On the Sundown Press blog here:  http://sundownpress.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/andrew-mcbride-in-praise-of-high.html )


As for film: People ask me ‘What’s your favourite western movie?’ and I can’t answer – there’s too many great ones. A golden period was the 50s so maybe it’s hiding in there. But there were great westerns before – ‘Red River’ etc. – and after - ‘Hombre’ ‘The Wild Bunch’ ‘Unforgiven’ and more. If you had to narrow it right down, I think the two most important people in western film were John Wayne and John Ford, separately (so you could look at movies like ‘My Darling Clementine’ ‘Wagon Master’ and ‘Rio Bravo’) and together. Of the joint Wayne-Ford westerns it’s hard to find a more perfect script IMHO than ‘Stagecoach’- the 1939 version – and I’m especially fond of ‘Fort Apache.’ But I can’t pick an absolute favourite. 

John Ford and John Wayne
If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book, what would it be?
SWORD AT SUNSET by Rosemary Sutcliff. She was a writer for children who ‘found her voice’ writing about early history – the Romans, the Vikings etc. Here she went into adult fiction with the definitive modern take on the Arthurian legend IMHO, depicting Arthur as a Dark Age British war leader fighting barbarians, rather than a medieval king. It’s incredibly deeply wrought, what one reviewer called ‘a bracing plunge into the heroic world.’ She gets to the essence of the story, which is a universal theme of the sacrificial leader who buys the life of his people with his own life. You find that theme in ‘Beowulf’ too, and in the story of the Alamo. It’s deep stuff, with great battle scenes!


If you were allowed only to recommend one of your own novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?
THE PEACEMAKER. I like all my first five published books, but they were of necessity short, which meant they had to be action-centric, dependent on a fast pace. With a longer book like THE PEACEMAKER, I could slow down a bit, spend more time on character and atmosphere. I could get into Native American culture. I got to play around with a real historical character (in this case, Cochise.) I was able to write a proper love story, and flesh out the women characters. I could provide what John Ford called the ‘grace notes’ in his movies, quiet, reflective bits where not much happens, but they give the story added richness and depth. I was very grateful to my publishers for letting me do that.


BLURB for THE PEACEMAKER:
Eighteen-year-old scout Calvin 'Choctaw' Taylor believes he can handle whatever life throws his way. He’s been on his own for several years, and he only wants to make his mark in the world. When he is asked to guide peace emissary Sean Brennan and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin, into a Chiricahua Apache stronghold, he agrees—but then has second thoughts. He’s heard plenty about the many ways the Apache can kill a man. But Mr. Brennan sways him, and they begin the long journey to find Cochise—and to try to forge a peace and an end to the Indian Wars that have raged for so long. During the journey, Choctaw begins to understand that there are some things about himself he doesn’t like—but he’s not sure what to do about it. Falling in love with Nahlin is something he never expected—and finds hard to live with. The death and violence, love for Nahlin and respect for both Cochise and Mr. Brennan, have a gradual effect on Choctaw that change him. But is that change for the better? Can he live with the things he’s done to survive in the name of peace?
 
EXTRACT:
Choctaw blinked sweat and sunspots out of his eyes and began to lower the field glasses; then he glimpsed movement.

He used the glasses again, scanning nearer ground, the white sands. He saw nothing.

And then two black specks were there suddenly, framed against the dazzling white. They might have dropped from the sky.

They grew bigger. Two horsebackers coming this way, walking their mounts. As he watched they spurted into rapid movement, whipping their ponies into a hard run towards him.

The specks swelled to the size of horses and men. Men in faded smocks maybe once of bright colour, their long hair bound by rags at the temple. They had rifles in their hands.

Breath caught in Choctaw’s throat. Fear made him dizzy. His arms started to tremble. He knew who was coming at him so fast.

Apaches.

And you killed them or they killed you.
**** 


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

New Release -- PUSHED TOO FAR by J. L. Guin #NewRelease #SundownPress @prairierosepub #western

James Stone has been on his own almost all his life after the death of his parents early on. Kindly neighbor Eldon Greyson takes young James under his wing, making him a partner in his freighting business—until the fateful night when they’re robbed, and Greyson is murdered by “Laird” a mysterious man James vows to find and bring to justice.

Though years have passed, James has not given up on finding his mentor’s murderer. When he is caught in the middle of a train robbery, he sets out after the outlaws to recover the money they’ve stolen from him. Tracking them leads him to the small town of Eaton, where a bank robbery takes place minutes after he rides in.

With the town’s lawmen killed and wounded, Stone takes over temporarily, but all hell breaks loose with the arrival of Ike Langley’s gang of thieves—and James Stone finds he’s been PUSHED TOO FAR…

EXCERPT

     Branson stepped forward and shook out a gunny-sack. “Toss everything in here.”
     An elderly woman seated in the front row, hiked her chin in defiance. “What if I don’t choose to give up my possessions?” When she looked behind her at the men, hoping for support and not one moved, her hopes sagged.
     Clint Easy pointed the six-gun at her. “Then I’ll just shoot you. Now, follow orders.” Color drained from her face. Her hands trembled as she dug into her bag.
     Murphy Branson stepped in front of her holding the sack and jiggling it until she dropped in a small wad of bills and some coins.
     Branson spied the gold band on her finger and ordered, “The ring, too!”
     Tears pooled in the woman's eyes as she worked the wedding band off her finger then dropped it into the sack.

      

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

ANDREW McBRIDE interviewed by PAUL BISHOP about THE PEACEMAKER etc.

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive wide acclaim already for my Sundown Press novel THE PEACEMAKER, including 5 star reviews from 2 of the most successful western authors in the business. Spur award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author ROBERT VAUGHAN describes it as ‘a great book’. Meanwhile RALPH COTTON (also a Pulitzer-prize nominated novelist) writes: ‘For pure writing style, McBride’s gritty prose nails the time and place of his story with bold authority. …this relatively new author has thoroughly, and rightly so, claimed his place among the top Old West storytellers.’ I’m very grateful to both Robert & Ralph for their fantastic support.



PAUL BISHOP was kind enough to interview me on his blog. Paul is a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, and was twice honoured as LAPD’s detective of the year. He’s published 15 novels and written numerous scripts for episodic television and feature films. On top of that he keeps a great blog, which he describes as an ‘eclectic mix of pulps, film noir, 60s spy shows and other topics – plus the required book news, articles and promotion.’ Find his blog here:  
http://www.paulbishopbooks.com/2017/12/britwest-wrangling-words-with-andrew.html 


Here’s the text of his interview:

Andrew McBride is another of the stellar writers continuing the tradition of popular western novels written by British authors. Following the trail-blazing efforts of J.T. Edson, Matt Chisolm, the Piccadilly Cowboys and others, Andrew has seen 6 of his westerns published, all featuring Calvin Taylor as the central character. Happily, Andrew has taken the time to step out of the saddle and join us round the campfire for a chat…

If it was tacked up in the Sheriff’s office, what information would be included on a Wild West wanted poster with your picture on it? (a convoluted way of asking for some bio details about you)

Andrew McBride. Aged about 63. Last seen in Brighton, England. Wanted for writing 6 published western novels: CANYON OF THE DEAD, DEATH WEARS A STAR, DEATH SONG, THE ARIZONA KID, SHADOW MAN and THE PEACEMAKER.

What was your introduction to Westerns—movies, TV, or books?

TV. I made a schoolboy friend in 1967 and his family had the new TV channel BBC 2 so I used to go round to his house to watch that. One of its signature shows was the new TV Western series ‘The High Chaparral’ which immediately impressed me with its grittiness, authenticity and location photography – I fell in love with the physical beauty of Southern Arizona. I’ve blogged about my appreciation for the HC. My latest western THE PEACEMAKER is partly based on a HC episode, so it’s sort of my homage to the show, a mere 49 years later. The HC kicked off my love for western movies, particularly those starring John Wayne and/or directed by John Ford.



What was the first Western you read?

I’m probably remembering this too neatly but watching the HC with my schoolboy pal sparked an interest in western history and Native American culture. He got interested in the historical background to the show too and was reading a novel called ‘Broken Arrow’ which was a junior version of Elliot Arnold’s great novel ‘Blood Brother.’ This is all about the great Apache chief Cochise. I read it and nearly half a century finally wrote my own novel with Cochise in it - THE PEACEMAKER. When I was in my early 20s, another pal turned me onto the McAllister westerns by Matt Chisolm and started me off reading westerns regularly – people like Gordon Shirreffs, Will Henry, Fred Grove and Robert MacLeod.   

What was it about the genre you found compelling enough for you to want to write a Western?
I’ve always been drawn to adventure stories set outdoors. I can’t see myself writing an urban novel. I like having my characters tested by the struggle to survive in a wilderness. For me westerns ticked every box – they not only had conflict and action in plenty but also strong dramatic tension because they’re essentially morality plays about the fight between right and wrong.

They deal with a broad range of moral dilemmas that the settlement of the West threw up: How do you tame a wilderness without destroying it? How much violence is necessary (and how much is excessive) in creating a law-abiding society? How can diverse cultures (for example the white man and the Native Americans) co-exist? All painted on a canvas of physical beauty and diversity. And there’s a lot of tragedy in western history – what happened to the Native Americans, for example, and to the basic environment – that’s the stuff of high drama.

There’s also beauty and poetry in the language, not only the laconic speak of everyday westerners but even in real names – when I first read about the Alamo, and people called Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Santa Anna etc. I was hooked!  

Had you written books before, or was your first Western your literary debut?
My western CANYON OF THE DEAD was my literary debut. Before that I’d written a couple of books yet to see the light of day – another western and a novel on the Arthurian legend. I’ve also written some contemporary thrillers since, but oddly enough, it’s the westerns – which I would have thought were the least commercial of my output - that have got published.

How do you see the current state of the Western genre?
I don’t really know. Based in Britain, I’d assumed western publishing was pretty moribund – the only UK publishers I was aware of doing westerns was Robert Hale (since taken over by Crowood Press.) But since starting on Social Media a year ago I’ve become aware that there’s a lot going on – Piccadilly Publishing and a bunch of publishers over in the States. So, it appears a lot healthier than I’d thought.

And despite being written off 40 years ago, western movies and TV shows keep popping up and occasionally succeed. I can’t say I’ve been too impressed by most of the recent re-makes of classic movies. I haven’t gone for some of these hybrids either (‘Cowboys and Aliens’ etc.) I’d like to see an original western film succeed on its merits, as ‘Unforgiven’ did, not just because it’s some kind of whacky novelty. However, whilst I can’t see the western ever coming back to the heights it commanded in the 1950s and ’60s, there seems to be plenty of life left in the old dog yet!  


'Unforgiven' (1992)


What was your journey to getting your first Western published?

In 1982 I submitted a western called SHADOW MAN to Robert Hale. They rejected it – quite rightly, as it wasn’t good enough. A dozen years later an author friend of mine – Philip Caveney – mentioned Hale were still looking for westerns, so, rather than writing a new one I dug out SHADOW MAN from the bottom of a drawer, dusted off the cobwebs and looked at it again. I re-wrote about half of it, re-submitted it to Hale and they accepted it – only they had another book called SHADOW MAN coming out. So I re-titled mine CANYON OF THE DEAD. It came out in 1996, 14 years late. As a sort of post-script, I later wrote another one for Hale – again called SHADOW MAN – and they published it in 2008. So getting one form of SHADOW MAN out there took 26 years!

Have you been to the West, and if not, how do you do your research?

Yes, I’ve been to the west, although not to some of the areas I write about. I think my first ‘western’ experience was when we were driving southwest from San Antonio, Texas, towards Mexico. San Antonio was great but it seemed more southern and Mexican than western. We stopped at a place called Cotulla, Texas, on the Nueces River and getting out of the car I suddenly felt the wind blowing warm desert heat and a peppering of dust on my skin. That’s when I knew I was ‘west.’

To me the west starts with two things: when it gets empty, and there’s wide open spaces and big skies; and when it gets dry. But I don’t think you need to have been there to write about it. When he started writing westerns Elmore Leonard, who wrote classics like ‘Hombre’, was living in the Midwest and had never been west of the Mississippi.



As I’m interested in the history of the west I’ve accumulated a library of reference books, such as The Old West Time Life series. And the internet is fantastic. If 20 years ago a Brit writing a western wanted to describe say, Apache Mountain Spirit Dancers, he’d have to go to his local library and hope they had a book about them – otherwise he’d have to order one in and wait a month until it arrived. Now, in 5 minutes, you can google Apache Mountain Spirit Dancers, read about them and watch a Youtube video of them.  

Is there any difference between Westerns written by British writer’s and Westerns written by homegrown American writers?
I don’t think so, if they’re skillful enough to hide their ‘Britishness’. I’m a great fan of Elmore Leonard but I noticed, reading some of his westerns, he’d get little facts wrong, names of plants etc. So I wasn’t surprised to discover that when he started writing westerns he was living in the Midwest and had never been west of the Mississippi. On the other hand I read ‘The Buffalo Soldiers’ by John Prebble and the McAllister westerns by Matt Chisolm and thought both authors had totally authentic ‘American’ voices – so I was pretty surprised to discover both were British.



Do you currently read Westerns, and if so, who is/are your favorite Western author(s)?
I’ve always read widely, not just westerns, but I still read them. In the past, alongside the authors I’ve already mentioned, I read Jack Schaefer, Glendon Swarthout, Dorothy M. Johnson, Thomas Berger, Charles Neider, Louis L’Amour, Louis B. Patten, A. B. Guthrie jnr. etc. Since engaging with Facebook I’ve become aware of and FB friends with authors like J.R. Lindermuth, Robert Vaughan and Ralph Cotton, all of whom were kind enough to give good reviews to THE PEACEMAKER. I reviewed Ralph Cotton’s novel ‘While Angel’s Dance’, about the James Gang, and gave it 5 stars – which is a very rare thing for me to do.  And there’s lots more I intend to check out. 


Do you have a writing mentor?

I did have. I started reading out my stuff at writing groups in the 1980s. At one of them, a guy called Philip Caveney suggested I seriously consider writing for a living.
That impressed me because he was the first person to take me seriously as a writer, and I valued his opinion because he was also the first published author I’d met – he’s been successful writing thrillers and now children’s fiction – so I reckoned he knew what he was talking about. So it’s all his fault!

I still go to a writing group, a small band who critique each others work. I think getting constructive criticism and positive (but not fawning) feedback is essential to mastering the nuts and bolts of how to write well.


When you start writing a new Western, do you pick a standard Western plot (I think there are about six) and look for a way to turn it on its head, or do you look to history or some other source for inspiration?

You can argue until the cows come home about how many basic plots there are to anything. I do think it’s better to try a ‘new wrinkle’ on things rather than just re-cycling clichés. Plotting’s not my greatest strength, so I often look to history for inspiration. DEATH WEARS A STAR was a fictionalisation of the Earps in Tombstone story, and THE ARIZONA KID fictionalized Billy the Kid’s story. There was something of Lt. Howard Cushing – a cavalry officer who fought Apaches – in DEATH SONG. I also have a friend I nickname ‘Dr. Plot’ who’s good at helping me out when I get stuck about what happens next. Western author Thomas Rizzo, one of my FB friends, keeps a wonderful blog and almost daily posts little vignettes of historical frontier escapades. Anybody stuck for an idea for a novel only needs to visit his blog and they’d find material for 20 westerns!    

Where do you stand of indy versus small press versus traditional publishing?
I haven’t gone into it in depth but, if I had plenty of money and time, I might consider self publishing. It cuts out the middle man but I suspect it requires a huge amount of time and effort on Social Media and self-promotion just trying to attract an audience. For me the best model is still a publisher who pays you a fair advance and does most of what we in Britain call ‘the donkey work’ for you – e.g. promotion, advertising etc. – and leaves the writer to mostly write. It may be an increasingly impossible dream but that’s what I hanker for.  


What is your latest Western and what are you currently writing?
I have two novels with publishers – one about Robin Hood, and another western. I’m finishing up a project that’s so different from what I normally do, I’m keeping very quiet about it. Sorry about the mystery. It wouldn’t fit the Andrew McBride canon so I’d have to publish it under another name. I’ve started another western which I hope to launch into properly by next February. It’s going to have an elegiac, ‘Wild Bunch-y’ end of the west feel. That’s the plan anyway, but you know what Robbie Burns said about plans! (‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men, Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, For promis’d joy.’)


Robbie Burns

BLURB for THE PEACEMAKER:
Eighteen-year-old scout Calvin 'Choctaw' Taylor believes he can handle whatever life throws his way. He’s been on his own for several years, and he only wants to make his mark in the world. When he is asked to guide peace emissary Sean Brennan and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin, into a Chiricahua Apache stronghold, he agrees—but then has second thoughts. He’s heard plenty about the many ways the Apache can kill a man. But Mr. Brennan sways him, and they begin the long journey to find Cochise—and to try to forge a peace and an end to the Indian Wars that have raged for so long. During the journey, Choctaw begins to understand that there are some things about himself he doesn’t like—but he’s not sure what to do about it. Falling in love with Nahlin is something he never expected—and finds hard to live with. The death and violence, love for Nahlin and respect for both Cochise and Mr. Brennan, have a gradual effect on Choctaw that change him. But is that change for the better? Can he live with the things he’s done to survive in the name of peace?
 
EXTRACT:
Choctaw blinked sweat and sunspots out of his eyes and began to lower the field glasses; then he glimpsed movement.

He used the glasses again, scanning nearer ground, the white sands. He saw nothing.

And then two black specks were there suddenly, framed against the dazzling white. They might have dropped from the sky.

They grew bigger. Two horsebackers coming this way, walking their mounts. As he watched they spurted into rapid movement, whipping their ponies into a hard run towards him.

The specks swelled to the size of horses and men. Men in faded smocks maybe once of bright colour, their long hair bound by rags at the temple. They had rifles in their hands.

Breath caught in Choctaw’s throat. Fear made him dizzy. His arms started to tremble. He knew who was coming at him so fast.

Apaches.

And you killed them or they killed you.
**** 


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Thursday, December 7, 2017

NaNoWrMo Behind, New Year Ahead

This post by Gayle M. Irwin


I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo), which occurs annually in November, … and, I achieved my goal! At the end of the month, I had more than 57,000 words for my pet rescue romance. Granted, I started the project last year so I already had several thousand words, but my goal was to finish the first draft – and I did!

Now that NaNoWrMo is behind, a new year looms on the horizon. What are my writing goals for 2018?

  • Edit he novel and publish it for the summer reading season (it’s a romance, so I believe a May/June release will be quite timely – romance and weddings seem to bloom during those months!)
  • Market my writing better. I attended a writer’s workshop in Cheyenne the latter part of October, and was totally inspired by speakers who talked about social media marketing for writers and business strategic planning for authors. I’m already working on marketing my dog devotion books for the Lenten/Easter season.
  • Write more magazine articles. I have a good relationship with a Wyoming magazine (that’s been through 3 editors in a year!) and I’ve asked for more assignments … and received them. There’s good pay in magazines.
  • Guest blog on pet sites. I’ve reached out to a few and look forward to expanding my writing reach in my niche.
  • Become an affiliate for pet products. I’m gearing up to become an Amazon affiliate, as well as an affiliate for a well-respected dog training program. Something new to me, but hopefully will expand my stream of online income.   


I’m excited to have completed the first draft of my first-time novel, and as I start the editing  process and learn more about marketing my work, I hope to not only increase book sales, but also educate people about pet rescue groups while simultaneously growing my writing income.

How about you? Did you take part in NaNoWrMo? What are your writing goals for 2018?

Whatever your hopes, plans, goals, and dreams, remember there are tales to be told! May you enjoy a blessed holiday season and a wonderful New Year!


Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning author and freelance writer. She enjoys sharing lessons people can learn from pets as well as educating others on the importance and joy of pet adoption. In addition to her own inspirational pet books for children and adults, she is a contributor to seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books. One of her short stories appears in Sundown's Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart. She regularly writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric News) magazine and Colorado's Prairie Times. A portion of her book sales are donated to pet rescue organizations. Learn more about Gayle at her website and sign up for her free monthly pet newsletter. You can also follow her blog, also found on her website. www.gaylemirwin.com



Monday, November 27, 2017

BEST OF THE BAD MEN #2: THE HATEFUL EIGHT by ANDREW McBRIDE

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive wide acclaim already for my Sundown Press novel THE PEACEMAKER, including 5 star reviews from 2 of the most successful western authors in the business. Spur award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author ROBERT VAUGHAN describes it as ‘a great book’. Meanwhile RALPH COTTON (also a Pulitzer-prize nominated novelist) writes: ‘For pure writing style, McBride’s gritty prose nails the time and place of his story with bold authority. …this relatively new author has thoroughly, and rightly so, claimed his place among the top Old West storytellers.’ I’m very grateful to both Robert & Ralph for their fantastic support.


Like many of the western writers I’ve corresponded with, I didn’t get into westerns from reading the kind of novels I’d eventually write. I was initially hooked by what I watched, on the cinema and on TV, during my boyhood in the 1960s. And entering the world of the screen western was like joining a family, peopled by familiar faces. Actors re-occurred in the same roles – the same leading men, leading ladies, ‘sidekicks’, character actors and bit players (usually stunt men given an odd line.)
But perhaps most enjoyable of all were the villains.
Westerns are of course morality plays and if the hero represented the best in people, they needed a foil, an opponent, to represent the very worst; worthy opponents against whom the hero has to be tested. They were often as enjoyable, and quite often more enjoyable, than the heroes.
In my blog BEST OF THE BAD MEN #1 I’ve already discussed many of the excellent actors who gave good villain in westerns – but there were too many ‘good’ bad men for one blog to do them justice. I felt the very best bad men deserved at least a blog of their own. So here’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT - the very worst of the west. Some were quite easy to pick, others I had to think about (and I’d probably change my mind about if I was to do this blog again next week.)
So here’s villains ranked 2-8, in no particular order:
RICHARD WIDMARK was an actor of wide range and ability. He could be a hero as often as a villain. He played the ‘good guy’ in films like ‘The Last Wagon,’ and ‘Backlash.’ His most heroic role was probably as Jim Bowie in ‘The Alamo’ (1960) a performance described by John Wayne – who directed it – as ‘magnificent.’ And he could play conflicted characters such as the outlaw who renounces his law-breaking ways in ‘Warlock,’ or the obsessive submarine commander in the powerful Cold War drama ‘The Bedford Incident.’
But much as I enjoyed these performances, I always had a special fondness for Widmark the villain. His bad guys always had a dangerous, seductive charm, whether he’s up against Gregory Peck (‘Yellow Sky’) or Gary Cooper (‘Garden of Evil.’)
One of his best bad guy performances is in ‘The Law and Jake Wade.’ There’s a great scene where Widmark talks to a U.S. cavalry officer. He’s pretending to be an upright citizen, and exudes charm and reasonableness. When the officer rides away, there’s a priceless moment when Widmark smiles after him; but once he’s out of sight Widmark’s smile turns into a leer of pure evil.

Richard Widmark in ‘The Law and Jake Wade.’
ROBERT RYAN was another actor of wide range who could sometimes portray characters of integrity and dignity – but he was also a tremendous villain. In the masterful modern western ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ he’s ostensibly a pillar of the community. He’s an intelligent, charismatic figure and a natural born leader – but he’s also poisoned by racism, in this case a hatred of the Japanese, which turns him into a ruthless murderer.

Robert Ryan in ‘Bad Day at Black Rock.
In ‘Return of the Bad Men’ there’s no such redeeming features – he’s just irredeemably villainous and loving it! In an enjoyable but wildly unhistorical western, he more or less steals the movie as The Sundance Kid - a snarling psychopath who’s a long way from Robert Redford! The movie climaxes in a shoot out in a ghost town between Ryan and Randolph Scott.

As The Sundance Kid in ‘Return of the Bad Men.
In the superb ‘The Naked Spur’ Ryan plays a ‘laughing’ villain – he even laughs during a fight with Ralph Meeker, which indicates someone teetering on the edge of irrational violence. Like a number of western villains he has a girlfriend (in this case Janet Leigh) who believes him when he says he’ll reform from his wicked ways. “Remember what you said.” she urges, to which Ryan responds with a classic bad guy line: “I remember what suits me!” As I’ve said, bad guys often had the best lines!

In ‘The Naked Spur.
In the field of ‘laughing villains’ none were better than DAN DURYEA. He played the bad guy in innumerable western movies and TV shows, bracing the likes of James Stewart and Audie Murphy. His long face, whining voice and most particularly his wild grin and jangling laugh marked him out as dangerously unstable, a powder keg always ready to blow. Perhaps his best performance in this vein is in the 1950 classic ‘Winchester 73.’

Dan Duryea in ‘Winchester 73’ (1950), a ‘laughing villain’

And coming off worst against James Stewart.
LEE VAN CLEEF spent years as a snake-like side kick to other villains (‘High Noon’ ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’) before ascending to top-rank villainy in Spaghetti westerns like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ I’ve always had my reservations about that title – Eli Wallach isn’t that unhandsome in my view, and it’s a bit of a stretch to describe Clint Eastwood’s amoral bounty hunter as strictly ‘good,’ but Van Cleef’s gleeful killer is definitely bad. In ‘Ride Lonesome’ Van Cleef commits one of the worst crimes of any western bad guy – he hangs Randolph Scott’s wife. A crime for which he pays the usual price, in the shadow of the hanging tree.

Lee Van Cleef in ‘Ride Lonesome.
Some western villains will remain famous for one role above all others. ELI WALLACH made relatively few westerns, but will be long remembered as Calvera in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960.) As the leader of a rapacious band of Mexican bandits, he’s more a tyrant with delusions of grandeur than mere self-serving villain. In his own warped view, he’s simply maintaining the natural order of things. And he gets to say one of the most memorable lines in western film. Regarding the Mexican peons he feels he almost has a divine right to oppress, he declares: “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

Eli Wallach in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960.)
Another bad guy famous for one role in particular is JACK PALANCE. In ‘Shane’ he’s the gunman hired by a cattle baron to terrorise Wyoming homesteaders. The lank, gaunt Palance, with his cadaverous features and gloating smile, is the epitome of evil – even dogs slink away from him. This blackest of black hats – literally – lovingly pulls one glove – also black - onto his gun hand as he prepares to despatch one of these pesky ‘sod-busters’. His victim is the pathetic but still brave ‘little man’ Elisha Cook Jnr. who falls before his gun, jolting backwards and ploughing into the mud of the street in the first ‘realistic’ depiction of death in the history of the western. Even in an age of much more graphic violence this scene still has the power to shock. And viewing the victim of his murder, Palance’s tight, brittle-eyed grin stays fixed.

Jack Palance oozes evil in ‘Shane.’
Like Richard Widmark, RICHARD BOONE could also play the good guy – indeed they’re both heroic in the same movie. In ‘The Alamo’ (1960) Boone plays Sam Houston as a ‘father of Texas’, organising the defence of the new republic whilst Jim Bowie (Widmark) and others fight to the death, buying him the time to do so. Boone brought similar gravitas and authority – what one critic called ‘craggy nobility’ – to his role as the U.S. cavalry commander in the underrated ‘Thunder of Drums’ (1960.) And he was, of course, the hero of the long-running TV western series ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ as the enigmatic Paladin.
It’s a mark of Boone’s range and forcefulness as an actor that he could be equally effective as a villain. Over the years he gave a hard time to a range of western heroes, from Kirk Douglas in ‘Man without a Star’ to John Wayne in ‘Big Jake’ and ‘The Shootist.’
Perhaps his two best villains are in films based on Elmore Leonard stories – where he shows two faces of villainy. In ‘The Tall T’ (1957) he’s an intelligent, conflicted stage robber, tortured by his own loneliness. The nearest thing to a friend he finds is ostensibly his enemy, Randolph Scott, who he holds prisoner. We catch hints of the instability that’s perhaps brought him to crime – he has a sadistic sense of humour and laughs delightedly when someone burns their fingers on a coffee pot. But he sometimes shows affection and tenderness for the woman he holds captive. At the end he’s given a choice between staying bad or reforming – I won’t spoil the ending of this outstanding film by telling you which he opts for!

Richard Boone with Randolph Scott in ‘The Tall T.
If his villain in ‘The Tall T’ shows vulnerability and evokes some sympathy, that’s not the case in ‘Hombre’ (1967) – another example of a bad guy being bad and loving it. Boone’s swaggering Cicero Grimes exudes lusty, brutal energy, with his harsh laugh and aggressive demeanour leaving others cowed.

In ‘Hombre.’
It was a tough call singling out western bad guys from among so many worthy contenders and winnowing them down to a final eight. There’s undoubtedly some I’ve overlooked – but I had little doubt who would be in poll position, the best of the bad guys. So here he is, the very worst of the west, in my opinion:
Emerging in the 1960s, BRUCE DERN might have been the ‘son’ or ‘nephew’ of DAN DURYEA in that he had similar characteristics: His long face, whining voice and wild eyes marked him out as inherently irrational and unstable, poised  for sudden, unpredictable violence. This has kept him in work through a long and distinguished career. As he said: ‘I’ve played more freaks, psychotics and dopers than anyone.’ But he eschewed Duryea’s treacherous charm, which made him a genuinely chilling screen villain.
Although he has played in a wide range of films, he took very naturally to the western and was a staple of movies and TV series, adding his menacing presence to episodes of every show from ‘Bonanza’ to ‘Lancer’ to ‘The High Chaparral.’ He was particularly memorable as one of the homicidal sons of crazed semi-preacher Donald Pleasance in ‘Will Penny.’

Bruce Dern with Charlton Heston (having a bad day) and Donald Pleasance in 'Will Penny.'
Like the others here, Bruce is a fine actor of wide range. In the moving sci-fi fable ‘Silent Running’ he was literally the last defender of the Earth’s ecology, a voice of sanity (despite how crazy he might look) in a world lost to crass consumerism.


In ‘Silent Running.’
But that very same year – 1972 – Dern became possibly the baddest bad guy in western film or TV.
As John Wayne’s enemy in ‘The Cowboys’ Bruce commits a deed so dastardly that it dwarfs almost any other misdeed in the history of the screen western. I won’t give away what it was, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this blog hasn’t seen this excellent movie. Suffice it to say, John Wayne told Dern something like: “Oh, how they're gonna hate you for this!” – and viewers of ‘The Cowboys’ across the world proved him right.


Bruce Dern about to do the unthinkable to John Wayne in ‘The Cowboys.’
But prior to committing this blackest of crimes Bruce had already demonstrated his utter villainy in the way he terrorises the ‘cowboys’ of the title – a collection of schoolboys Wayne is forced to use on a trail drive. In one scene Dern tells one boy in chilling detail just exactly how he’ll sneak up on him in the dark and slit his throat. In another he snatches off another boy’s spectacles and lovingly crushes them between his hands, leaving only a buckled, glassless frame – it doesn’t get any badder than that!


The Cowboys.’
And thus Bruce Dern earns my top position in the ranks of actors who gave outstanding villain in westerns, and wins my accolade as the very worst of the west.
Feel free to disagree!
BLURB for THE PEACEMAKER:
Eighteen-year-old scout Calvin 'Choctaw' Taylor believes he can handle whatever life throws his way. He’s been on his own for several years, and he only wants to make his mark in the world. When he is asked to guide peace emissary Sean Brennan and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin, into a Chiricahua Apache stronghold, he agrees—but then has second thoughts. He’s heard plenty about the many ways the Apache can kill a man. But Mr. Brennan sways him, and they begin the long journey to find Cochise—and to try to forge a peace and an end to the Indian Wars that have raged for so long. During the journey, Choctaw begins to understand that there are some things about himself he doesn’t like—but he’s not sure what to do about it. Falling in love with Nahlin is something he never expected—and finds hard to live with. The death and violence, love for Nahlin and respect for both Cochise and Mr. Brennan, have a gradual effect on Choctaw that change him. But is that change for the better? Can he live with the things he’s done to survive in the name of peace?
 
EXTRACT:
Choctaw blinked sweat and sunspots out of his eyes and began to lower the field glasses; then he glimpsed movement.

He used the glasses again, scanning nearer ground, the white sands. He saw nothing.

And then two black specks were there suddenly, framed against the dazzling white. They might have dropped from the sky.

They grew bigger. Two horsebackers coming this way, walking their mounts. As he watched they spurted into rapid movement, whipping their ponies into a hard run towards him.

The specks swelled to the size of horses and men. Men in faded smocks maybe once of bright colour, their long hair bound by rags at the temple. They had rifles in their hands.

Breath caught in Choctaw’s throat. Fear made him dizzy. His arms started to tremble. He knew who was coming at him so fast.

Apaches.

And you killed them or they killed you.
****