Ellen Recknor lived with a variety of animals in Scottsdale, Arizona. A night owl, she wrote western novels during the wee hours under her own name as well as Wolf MacKenna. Me and the Boys and Prophet Annie won her two prestigious Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, and she said at the time of the interview several years ago that she would love to write additional novels with eccentric, humorous women as lead characters. Her talents and humor are apparent in the following:
Creative? We were the Midwestern version of the Von Trapps. Dad played the trumpet and cornet on “Armed Forces Radio” during WWII. My mother played jazz piano by ear and also sang in the Ames Trio with two of her sisters before she married Dad. In fact, her siblings include a much–publicized poet and several natural musicians.
When did you take an interest in art?When I was sixteen, I had my first dog portrait published in a national magazine. This was something I had been doing for quite a while to make extra money. Eventually, I acquired a stack of magazines and magazine covers with my portraits of show dogs on them. Later on, I found out that horse portraiture paid better, and I started doing more portraits of show horses and racing stock.
When did you begin writing?I had always been interested in writing, but as more of a hobby than anything else. I think I figured that my aunt, the poet, filled the literary niche in the family, and so I was going to fill the artist niche.
When did you switch from art to writing?
In the late 1980s, when the stock market took the famous major nose dive, the money I was making in horse portraiture suddenly wasn’t there. By this time, I was specializing in Arabians, a breed whose value, overnight, went from about four million for a good horse to about a buck-sixty. A short time before this disaster happened, I had read a magazine article about some girl who had just sold her first romance novel for $50,000. There was an excerpt included, and I remember thinking, “I could do better than that.” Famous last words, right?
I sat down one night with a yellow pad, and wrote the first chapter of a novel, set in the West. This was a natural thing, I suppose, since I grew up during the golden days of Westerns, and was a Jesse James junkie and John Wayne’s #1 fan. The next day I borrowed a friend’s computer, and learned how to use it—and wrote the book in six weeks. This, in spite of never having read a romance novel in my life. I had a friend who read them all the time and she said, “Just talk a lot about the color of their eyes and use lots of adjectives.” I took her at her word. A year later, I had not only an agent, the great Oscar Collier, but a contract for that book. It was titled Wild Captive Fire by some addlepated marketing genius at Zebra, and was published in 1990. I think I used a pseudonym. And, by the way, I did NOT get $50,000. That magazine lied. Big time.When did you start writing adult Westerns?
I wrote Westerns from the start. I was inundated by the culture of the West, I guess, both by choice and circumstance and by that time, I had moved to Arizona, so it was inherent. I wrote a total of eight western historical romance novels, plus a novella, under three different names. I have also written one contemporary woman’s novel, whatever that means, short series of Western historical mysteries as Kate Byran, my own western historicals as Ellen Recknor, a dozen or so books in the Slocum series for Berkley, and a couple of Trailsman books for NAL/Signet. I’m currently writing as Wolf MacKenna for Berkley.
What’s the most difficult aspect of writing for you?
The part that I don’t like. And this can be different in each book. Since I don’t plot ahead I just take a character and run with him or her—it’s usually when I’ve run my protagonist up a tree and chucked so many rocks at him that I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get him down. But I always do. Eventually. Usually with a great deal of hair loss and gnashing of teeth.