Saturday, April 19, 2014

Remembering Ellen Recknor


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:
Ellen, were you born into a creative family?

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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Don Worcester, Part II

Don Worcester's grandparents were avid readers and encouraged the children to regularly check out books from the small county library.He said, "We had books of Longfellow's and Kipling's poems, and I read them many times and memorized dozens of them. My favorite authors were Zane Grey, Clarence Mulford, B.M. Bower, and Sir Walter Scott."

Bused thirty-five miles to school in Lancaster, Worcester soon lost his enthusiasm for education. There was a two -mile walk to catch the bus and "The only courses I halfway liked were English, history, and biology. Math and chemistry were ugh!"

The Worcester children spent part of the year with their mother in Berkley, before the budding writer graduated from Peekskill Military Academy in New York, where he played football, basketball, and lacrosse, His first publication was in the Willard Junior High yearbook in Berkley, "Some wild story involving Ivanhoe." He remembers his first rejection, an article about sea power and Chilean Independence that had been part of his senior project at Bard College in New York State.

"It was amateurish and not worth publishing, but I later wrote a monograph on the subject that was published by the University of Florida Press while I was teaching there." Two articles extracted from his master's thesis were published in the New Mexico Historical Review and the American Anthologist while he was a graduate student. He used the University of California's library later for research while serving  in the naval reserve during World War II, stationed at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

Five of Don's seminar papers were published during the last two years of the war, and one of them was reprinted as a model research paper in Modern Rhetoric. "Scholarly articles are not bought ," he said. "My first sale came as a result of a suggestion of my major professor. I had just written an article, 'Use of Saddles by American Indians,' that he suggested I rewrite, omit the footnotes and call it, 'The Indians Used Saddles.' I sent it to a magazine called The Horse that was published by the Remount Service and got fifty dollars for it." The magazine later bought a number of his articles.

Worcester taught Latin American history for a number of years after earning his Ph.D in 1947, and he wrote half a dozen books on the subject. He also spent a year in Spain as a visiting professor at the University of Madrid, before teaching in Florida for sixteen years. Among his work are seven children's books that have prompted letters from young readers. He said, "Some of them are better than a small royalty check."

The tall, lanky writer researched a topic until he was confident he had all its pertinent facts. "The Chisholm Trail books required nearly a year of research. The Apache history took two years.. I research or write every day, unless there is something else that mast be done, such as reading a doctoral dissertation for one of our students. I have no set hours, but usually get in a couple before eating breakfast at 6:30. Even in the age of word processors, I write first drafts in longhand and on the back of early manuscripts or whatever is handy." He then typed his final draft.

Worcester wrote Western history because it was his "first and enduring love. When I was young, I wanted to be a cowboy, and did become one, but learning to read and write ruined It. At one time I might have wished that I could have lived in the cattle trailing era of the 1870s and 1880s. Now I'm content to read about it."

Don Worcester was most proud of his two Spur Awards and his son, Harris, who followed him down the writing trail.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Remembering Don Worcester


Former WWA president Don Worcester was best known for his southwestern and Latin American books. Residing on a 145-acre ranch near Aledo, Texas, twenty miles from Fort Worth, he raised Arabian horses. The rancher-scholar-professor emeritus and award-winning writer taught at Texas Christian University, serving as mentor for a number of young writers. He told them that determination and perseverance are the most important qualities to cultivate; that a nonfiction writer must be able to shed preconceptions and biases in order to tell an honest story.

He also told them, "Don't sit down to write until you have thought out what you intend to say. Sloppy thinking makes for sloppy writing. It usually takes much more time to work up something to write than it does to get it on paper. If you don't have your ideas clear in your own mind, why should a reader waste time trying to figure out what you were unable to say clearly.

"Never use cliches or expressions read in newspapers or viewed on television. Come up with fresh metaphors, and never say 'dry as dust' or 'crystal clear' or you'll make some sensitive reader barf. Don't use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut out a word without changing the meaning, always eliminate it. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon word if there is an everyday English equivalent. And don't use passive voice when you can use active.

"Let verbs do the work and a story will have movement and flow. Overuse of adjectives is a sure sign of an amateur, and understatement is often more effective than excessive verbiage. Mark Twain was a master of understatement.

"Always persist until you find the word that means exactly what you want to say. Don't just come close and expect readers to figure out what you mean. Readers aren't amused by guessing games. Use Roget's Thesaurus and Webster's Dictionary of Usage and Style, not only to find the word with the meaning you want, but to improve your knowledge of words and their use and misuse."

Dialogue must have a genuine ring to it and characters must sound natural and convincing "unlike housewives doing TV commercials for detergents. Hemingway was a master of dialogue. Developing one's imagination is equally important, and mulling over story angles to add suspense, site emotions and responses should be routinely practiced."

Worcester said that most fledglings wait for the perfect time to write, when circumstances will be just so, "and inspirations is ready to whisper in their ears. You should live so long! If you wait for a perfect time, your output will be at most a chapter or two. Develop your powers of concentration so you can write anytime, anywhere. I developed mine by writing a doctoral dissertation with a year-old  twin daughter on each knee. I also found that insomnia can be made useful in planning whole chapters, but  I don't recommend it."

Good writing is that which conveys fully and effectively the writer's facts, ideas, and emotions, he said, and is not only a matter of skillful phrasing, but clear and logical thinking. Active voice and proper arrangement of words will eliminate confusing sentences such as, "The queen ordered the king hung by her supporters."

As a child growing up on the edge of California's Mojave Desert, Worcester knew he wanted to write. He was born in an adobe ranch house near Tempe, Arizona; the middle child with an older sister and younger brother. They were deserted by their father when Don was four. His mother had briefly attended Radcliffe College, and supported her children by working as a news reporter.

"She was working for a Phoenix paper when the first airmail flight was made from Phoenix to Tucson," he said, "and the first reporter chosen to make the flight.She later attended the University of California at Berkley, and went all the way to a Ph.D in astronomy. She taught one year at Rollins College in Florida, then at Vassar until she retired." Don's wife Barbara was a student in his mother's class when they met.

The Worcester siblings lived with their grandparents on a homestead bordering the Mojave Desert in southern California, while their mother attended classes at Berkley. Years before, a prolonged draught had forced small ranchers from the area, leaving their horses to roam the open range. There were as wild as deer when Don and his younger brother Harris caught a few of the colts. He remembers that "we and the horses learned about riding together. A bunged-up cowboy taught us a lot of tricks about handling the wild ones."

(Conclusion of the Worcester interview next week . . .)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Conversation With Stephen Overholser

Steve (left) with father, Wayen (right)

Spur winner Steve Overholser was interviewed at the same time as his father, Wayne. He was only four when his family moved to Colorado, and he admitted to being both shy and gregariuos in school. He showed signs of inheriting his dad's writing talent in the sixth grade when he wrote a Knights of the Round Table-type play and performed in it.

"It was pretty heavy duty stuff," he said, "and that was the high point of my dramatic career. It's been downhill ever since."

He wrote short stories about his dreams as a child. "I thought if the dream stirred me--and frightened me enough--I could write it down just the way it happened, and it could have impact on others. I thought I had some powerful things to write about, but they really didn't come off." He also remembered writing in church with a Big chief tablet and pencil his mother had given him to keep him occupied." I was probably seven or eight, and I wrote about outlaws being trapped in a cave. Wyatt Earp used dynamite to finish them off."

Steve was a "C" student. His parents were told that he was not working to his potential, and his teachers commented on his sense of humor. "I would pop off in class just to make people laugh," he said. "I wouldn't clown around physically. It was more the comment-the well-placed smart ass remarks." He majored in journalism and fine arts in high school but building race cars was his prime love and interest. But  as early as the seventh grad, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. "When we were asked to write our future iographiews I wrote how my lie was going to be as a writer."

After high school he "went to college like the good Lord intended.  Just liberal arts, though. I went to three different Colorado college. The longer I stayed in school, the unhappier I got. I think that school was only making my adolescence last longer, and I wanted to attain a kind of maturity so I could write better stories. School School was just not satisfying my needs. In the mid-sixties your whole future was determined by haing a college degree, so the pressure to stay in school was enormous."

Jaws dropped when he quit school during his senior year. "My parents didn't say, 'Get your little butt back to school.' They had treated me as an adult since I was seventeen or eighteen, and I made my own decisions. When they asked what I was going to do, I said I was going to vounteer for the draft and get it over with. So that's what I did."

He was a truck driver in a transportation unit stationed in southeast Asia. "I had this dream while I was int he army about becoming a writer, and by visualizing that dream, I think it really helped me maintain my sanity, because the army was hard on me. I'm a person who likes to be myself, and it was tough."

After his twenty-one month enlistement, Steve returned to his parent's home in Boulder, Colorado. By the following spring, he had purchased a used pickup truck, filled it with clothes and his typewriter, and driven to the Pacific Northwet where he "toured and had a great time" writing fragmented stories and character sketches. "

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Remembering Wayne D. Overholser

(Pictured with son Steve)

Wayne D. Overholser won WWA's first Spur Award for best novel in 1953, writing under the pseudonym Lee Leighton. He also wrote as John S. Daniels, Dan J. Stevens and Joseph Wayne, all combinations of his three sons' names.

Wayne's father expected him to retrace his own steps through their Oregon barnyard, but the budding author had other goals in mind. He said, "It's a sad story. I think my dad didn't have the slightest idea where I came from or how I got into the family. I was a complete failure as a farmer and he didn't know what to do with me." 

Later, Wayne didn't encourage nor discourage his own son, Steve because, full-time writing "is a precarious way to make a living."

Losing himself in books as a child, the elder Overholser enjoyed stories of King Arthur, Greek legends, Scottish chiefs, and the works of G.A, Henty. "I've always felt that there's a strong connection between the tales of King Arthur and Western stories of our time. And that may be one reason I liked to read and write Western stories."

As a member of his high school debating team, Wayne was interested in social and political problems, which he carried with him to the University of Oregon in Eugene, majoring in history with a minor in English. He then taught at the elementary level, gradually working his way up through the grades to high school, where he specialized in social studies.

The deep-voiced novelist remembered writing "some wild short stories" while a sophomore in high school. "At the time, the Ku Klux Klan was pretty notorious in Oregon, as they were in many other states. But the bloody story he envisioned never got past the title he wrote in pencil. 

The novelist remembered his first short story sale in 1936. "That's one of  the highest points in a writer's life. I was teaching junior high school in Tillamook, Oregon, and school had just started in September. I had a few stories back in New York with an agent but had never made a sale. Along about eleven o'clock, the school secretary came down the  hall and tapped on the door of my classroom. She struck a check under my nose for $13.50, with a note from my agent that said, 'You are now an author.'"

His agent, who doubled as a writing coach, asked his clients for six to eight story outlines, one of which he selected for them to write. "I think he made more money out of the class he ran than from  sales, but he remained in business for a good many years. So maybe he was a good agent, although I didn't stay with him long."

Wayne's long-term association with literary agent, Gus Lenninger, was a happy and profitable one. The novelist sold a hundred books over 38 years. He had also written hundreds of short stories and novelettes before the short story market dried up. Books were then a pulp writer's salvation. Disillusionment with the school district's pay scale motivated him to quit his teaching job to write full time after ten years of part-time writing. The multi-Spur-award winner recalled being "looked down on, particularly by the English teachers, because pulp writing was not considered a very big thing."

The move from Oregon to Colorado was an important one for the Overholsers, although risky at best. The writer moved his wife and two small sons to the Village of Montrose, later buying a home in Boulder, where a group of writers lived. It was there his career as a novelist was established. "At that time, we didn't know what a chance we were taking, but any writer's life is filled with gambles. I look back and wonder how I ever had the guts to leave a teaching job in Oregon to move to Colorado, where we knew nobody, to start writing without a friend in the whole state."

His prolific writing stopped in 1983, when his eyesight began to fail and his Westerns no longer sold. "The combination of the two stopped me dead," but he admitted that if market conditions  and his eyesight improved he would have liked to have another "crack at the Western market." During his declining years, he wrote sporadic bursts of poetry. And a number of his books were purchased by PaperJacks for reprints. 

Wayne D. Overholser took pride in his three sons. "Steve is a better writer than I ever was," he said,  but his second son protested.

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 1989)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Candy Moulton Revisted

      Candy Moulton has written thirteen Western history books, co-edited a collection of shortfiction and an encyclopedia. She also wrote, produced, and has been a reenactor in several documentary films. She won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America in 2006 for her biography, Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People and another Spur in 2010 for In Pursuit of a Dream, the documentary film she wrote and produced with Boston Productions Inc (BPI) for the Oregon-California Trails Association.

      That production won an Oregon Heritage Award, Best Experimental Film from the Oregon Film Festival, Silver Remi Award from the USA Film Festival in Houston, and was a Finalist at the International Family Film Festival in Hollywood. “Footsteps to the Wes,t” written for the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming, was a Spur Finalist for Best Documentary in 2003.

            Candy, what prompted your book, Forts, Fights and Frontier Sites?
I attended the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association quite a few years ago as a representative for Wyoming Writers. We had a publisher walk up to our booth and tell John Nesbitt and I that she was looking for a writer to do a book in a series she was publishing about frontier military sites in Wyoming. John told her I could do the book. We took her information and published it in the Wyo-Writer newsletter to let all members of the organization know about the opportunity. Approximately six months later I contacted the publisher and asked if she had a writer lined up. She did not and I told her I was interested in writing the book, which I did. As fate would have it, before she could publish the book, she sold her company. The new owner did some additional work with me on the manuscript, but also did not bring it out and I was able to reclaim rights to the book (before long this publisher went bankrupt).  

Once I had my rights back, I took the manuscript to the one publisher best suited to do it in the first place—High Plains Press in Glendo, Wyoming.  I had already done other books with Nancy Curtis at High Plains and she agreed to publish this volume as well. We jointly decided to expand the book to include other frontier sites in addition to forts and conflicts that involved the frontier army. I had a lot of information and many photos related to my years of traveling across Wyoming for various articles, and traveling with wagon trains on the many overland trails in the state and it was fun to incorporate that into Forts, Fights and Frontier Sites.

      What does your job as executive producer for BPI (Boston Productions) entail?

I plan and produce multimedia projects for museums, visitors’ centers, and interpretive centers. This gives me an opportunity to work in a number of interesting venues, generally working on projects in the West. Among the projects I’ve produced (or co-produced and written) are exhibits at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming; exhibits at the Washakie Museum and Cultural Center in Worland, Wyoming; a documentary film “In Pursuit of a Dream” for the Oregon-California Trails Association; and other projects in Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Kansas.

      How do you find time to write books while you’re editing WWA’s Roundup magazine, the Oregon –California Trails Associations News from the Plains as well as freelancing for True West Magazine and other publications? You must be very organized.

If you saw my office you would know that organization is not my strongest suit. But I do have a lot of different projects ongoing at any one time. I manage things through the use of lots of lists, and find that I never have to worry about “writer’s block.” If for some reason I can’t seem to get moving on one project, there is a guarantee I have something else on which I can spend my time working. I also have a regular work routine. Freelance writing is my job and I treat it as one that I do full time, at a minimum of 40 hours a week, but more often 50 or 60 hours each week. If I’m involved in film production as well, I am often putting in 14 to 16 hour days. I do it because I absolutely love what I do. It is work and fun and gives me great opportunities to learn or do something new almost every day. And as for writing the books…I don’t do them as quickly as I ought to…and have a publisher who is probably wondering even now whey I’m not concentrating on the one I should have done!

      Where do you lecture and on which subjects?

I do not do many lectures because I honestly don’t have time for them. I have occasionally done talks at museums and libraries to share information about writing or history, most often related to my books and the research I have done for them, or about the overland trails, which are a favorite subject of mine. This year I was invited to speak at the Order of Indian Wars Conference, and that was a great experience because I got to attend and listen to some other speakers who shared interesting research.

      Briefly, why do you consider Chief Joseph the greatest Indian diplomat, philosopher and war leader? 

He worked all of his life to retain his tribal culture and do so from a position of diplomacy and cooperation rather than conflict. He did not seek out a fight with the federal army prior to, nor even really during the events that led to the 1877 Nez Perce war and the tribe’s epic flight across Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. He was not a war leader (his younger brother held that distinction for their Wallowa band of Nez Perces), yet he fought for the rights of his people. Even after he surrendered his gun at the Bear’s Paw Battlefield in October 1877 and was transferred with the ill, injured, young and elderly people of his band and tribe to Indian Territory, he worked tirelessly to eventually make it possible for them to return to the Columbia Basin. While many were allowed to return to Idaho, he and his closest followers were instead placed on a reservation near Colville, Washington.  All he ever really wanted (as did his father), was to remain on their tribal lands in the Wallowa Valley. Whenever I sign a copy of Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People I always write, “Cherish your freedom!” If you read the book you will understand that is all Joseph and his people wanted: to live freely in their home country.

      Is western literature on the comeback trail?

It never went anywhere so I don’t think it needs to come back. However, it certainly has evolved. I actually believe there are more Western books written and published now than ever before—they just all don’t look the same. Instead of novels about cowboys and Indians fighting each other, or cowboys fighting large landowners we have a broader range of stories than ever. There are tales of prehistoric people, mountain men, pioneer women, young people challenging the Western landscape, those who are involved in mysteries or contemporary law enforcement in the West, and more. And there are stories of Indians written by Indians, of Chinese in the West written by Chinese writers, and other ethnic stories that in the “good old days” may have never seen the opportunity for publication.

     Advice to aspiring western writers?

Write. Read. Attend a writer’s conference. Read. Meet other Western writers. Read. Join a writer’s organization and truly become involved. Oh, and finally, read more.

      How important is social networking and blogging to a western writer?

 My first newspaper editor told me when I was 16 that it did not matter how much you wrote, nor how good it was, if you did not have readers, your writing meant nothing. If you are writing and publishing books these days, you absolutely must be doing corresponding marketing. A way to do that is through attending book signings, giving talks at the local senior center or for any other group you might be able to visit, and now as our communications world evolves, by posting notices, and other material on social network sites. Some people are very, very good at this. I am only mediocre. I blogged when we were filming “In Pursuit of a Dream” and had fun with it. I’ve tried resurrecting my blog more recently, but find myself too busy doing the writing that I get paid to do that I don’t keep up with the “free” writing very well.

And how are writer organizations, both online and off, a great help to fledglings as well as old pros? They are essential. Writing is generally a solitary pursuit; writer’s organizations give you a network to tap into for inspiration, advice, and even opportunity. My involvement in such organizations as Wyoming Press Women/Wyoming Media Professionals, National Federation of Press Women, Wyoming Writers, Women Writing the West, and most especially Western Writers of America have provided me with my greatest opportunities and successes as a writer. If you want a career as a writer you absolutely must join—and become involved with—writer’s organizations.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      You can visit Candy at her website:
Her blog site: 
and LinkedIn

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Ton of Gold

by James R. Callan

For some time, I had wanted to include in a novel something on information retrieval. I had done some research in that area while working on my dissertation. I thought it could be interesting to have that play a role in a mystery. Then, I read an old Texas folk tale about a wagon load of precious metal being pushed into a lake to hide it from the pursuing Mexican army.  It was never recovered.

These two ideas wandered around in my mind for months. Ultimately they collided, and the germ for A Ton of Gold was formed.  How could a long forgotten folk tale affect the lives of people today? 

I chose a heroine, Crystal Moore, who lost both her parents when she was seven years old and was raised by her grandparents. With her grandfather now dead, her only living relative was the grandmother, Eula Moore, who raised her.  When Eula is attacked, Crystal must come to her defense.

To complicate matters, Crystal had been emotionally brutalized in graduate school and, though brilliant in information retrieval, she has no self-confidence. Just the mention of the man’s name causes Crystal to crumble.

I gave Crystal a housemate, Brandi, who barely made it out of high school. Clearly these two are opposites. But Brandi is very streetwise, and often it is Brandi who teaches Crystal about life. 

Eula is a feisty, seventy-four year old who is not intimidated by anyone or anything. For a slight romantic interest, I introduced a former bull rider, who is now president of the information retrieval company in Dallas where Crystal works.  And of course, the powerful man who had damaged Crystal in the past is coming back.  This time, he can destroy her career.

With this basic cast, the story took shape and these characters led the way.  Eula’s role increased. Brandi demanded more space and ultimately became a favorite with many readers.

The plot evolves as the old folk tale is discovered at the information retrieval company where Crystal works. Through a series of events, the story gets into the hands of the thugs.  Since it came from a computer, they believe it must be true. The treasure is waiting for them.  Through threats, they force a staff member to use the company’s powerful programs to narrow down the possible location of the lake which hides the precious metal, now believed to be a ton of gold.

As attempts are made on the Eula’s life, Crystal has no clue who or why anybody would attack an old woman who lives alone in the middle of 320 acres of forest – with a lake. Even when the motive eventually comes out, there is no clue who the thugs are. The criminals resort to murder, arson, and kidnapping in their quest for the treasure.
The former bull rider and Eula herself are instrumental in helping Crystal deal with the attacks. But when the man from Crystal’s past enters the picture, it is Brandi who can provide the help Crystal needs.

Set between Dallas and east Texas, A Ton of Gold shows the growth of Crystal as she slowly regains her self-confidence, deals with criminals who would destroy her only living relative, and with the help of Brandi, learns how to stand up to the powerful man who would destroy her.

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

You can learn more about Jim Callan at the following sites:

Amazon Author page:
Twitter:  @jamesrcallan

A Ton of Gold is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Westerns Written From England by Keith Souter

Clay More is actually one of the pen-names of Keith Souter, a part time doctor, medical journalist, non-fiction writer and novelist. He is the current Vice-President of Western Fictioneers and is a member of the Western Writers of America and several other writers’ organisations. He writes in four genres – westerns as Clay More, crime as Keith Moray and historicals and YA as Keith Souter. He has won prizes for his short stories, including a Fish Award in 2006 for his short historical fiction. He lives with his wife in England, within arrow-shot of the ruins of a medieval castle.

When did you decide to write Westerns, Keith?

A few years ago I received an invitation to join a fledgling organisation called Western Fictioneers. This was based in the USA and included many prominent authors in the Western genre. The membership requirement was to have been paid for writing Western fiction, but not merely be self-published. By that time I  had published five Western novels with Robert Hale, a London based publisher of Westerns, so I joined. I must confess that I did so with some trepidation, as I was unsure whether I could actually cut it as a Western writer in the USA.

Almost immediately I heard that the Western Fictioneers were putting together an anthology of short stories by its members and everyone was invited to submit  a tale. So I threw caution to the wind and wrote a story, entitled Boot Hill Neighbors, which appeared in the anthology The Traditional West. That gave me a buzz to have a story in there with so many prize-winning authors in the genre.

Is the western written from England any different from those written in the USA? That is a difficult one to answer. When you watch a movie and you hear an actor trying to do an American accent, it may jar. But does the same thing happen with a writing style? Again, I am not sure that it does.

Of course, people may spot an inaccuracy about horses, gun lore, ranching practices and feel that it spoils the book. Yet those errors can occur just as easily in homegrown books. It all comes down to research, in my opinion. If the research is done adequately, then those jarring moments should not occur.

My own approach when writing a Western is to steep myself in research into all aspects of a locality. I study the flora, the fauna, the geography, geology and the history of the area. Then I set it against the history of the time and then I begin to build my story. And nowadays with the Internet you can research anywhere anytime. You can find newspapers of the epoch you are writing about and you can get instant pictures of the terrain. I have to say that I love this aspect of my work as a writer. I write medical and all manner of non-fiction books and I am a medical journalist, so I have a good nose for research. In medicine you have to get things right and I try to do that with everything that I write about.

I use the old writing adage – write about what you know. I think it is a piece of advice that is often misunderstood. It doesn’t just mean that you should only write about the places you are familiar with, or about the background that you come from. What it means to me, is use the things you know about and let that give your writing authenticity. I am a doctor and I use my expertise in medicine and in surgery to good effect in my stories. Virtually all of my novels have a doctor in the story somewhere and I can make things seem real. I can make wounds and operations seem plausible.

I think that I have always had a love of the old west. I was brought up with all the old Western TV shows.  You may have guessed that my choice of pen-name is a homage to Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger. I loved those shows, along with Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, the Virginian and The High Chaparral. My father was a western aficionado and we had loads of books by Zane Grey, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour. I read voraciously, so they were all a great influence on me. Yet  I would have to single out the works of Elmore Leonard. Goodness, what a superb writer he was.

I have a couple of on-going writing projects at the moment. Firstly, I write the character of Doctor Logan Munro in the Wolf Creek series of novels for Western Fictioneers Library. These are collaborative novels featuring five or six authors at a time. Each author writes one or two chapters from the viewpoint of his or her character. Logan Munro is a Scottish doctor, as am I, so I can get authenticity in my stories from both the medical viewpoint and with my voice as a Scotsman. We have published ten of these so far, with the eleventh due out next month.
Adventures from the case book of Dr. Marcus Quigley

The other project is a series of short stories about Doctor Marcus Quigley, a qualified dentist, gambler and bounty hunter, who is on a long-time quest to find the man who murdered a friend some years ago. Here I use my knowledge of dental history, my knowledge of dice and gambling and I structure it as I do a crime novel. In fact, all of my Westerns are really mysteries. There is no ‘shoot ‘em up’ allowed in my tales. The protagonists have to solve the mystery and extricate themselves from danger using their brains rather than their brawn or their speed with a gun. And there is usually some love-interest along the way.

My latest book is due out in mid-April from high Noon Press. It is the collection of my short stories, Adventures from the Case Book of Doctor Marcus Quigley. Each story is self-contained, but linked into a greater quest.

You can learn more about Keith Souter at his website: 
 as well as at his Western blog – More on the Range:
and Western Fictioneers://

Friday, February 21, 2014

Matt Braun, Part III

There's no substitute for an engrossing, entertaining, well-told story, Matt Braun said. Unless it has action, conflict, and suspense, it won't  hold the reader's interest. It must also be authentic and accurate, and "evoke the sense of time and place." And no matter what the novel portrays, "it must have the smell of realism, of how it happened. No one will reinvent it, or write it better, than the way it actually was."

Literary agents are a necessity, he said, because most writers are not good businessmen, and few have the talent to negotiate their own contracts.  "Moreover, western writers are far removed from the publishing scene, and have neither the time nor the opportunity to develop contracts. I believe that writers who represent themselves all too often  get the short end of the stick. By paying an agent, a write insures that he will get fair market value for his work." Richard Curtis, a well known New York agent, represented Braun for many years, and was described by his client  as "shrewd and knowledgeable, and a holy terror in his dealings with publishers."

Curtis was responsible for Braun's emergence as Pinnacle Book's premier Western writer before the publishing house's  demise.  He began a sixteen-city tour in January of 1985 to publicize Bloodstorm, followed by another tour during the fall. "A writer can survive without promotional tours," he said. "However, to achieve great success, a writer must hit the road and promote himself as well as his books. Unfortunately, there's a bit of show biz in publishing."

Pinnacle arranged for unusually handsome book packing, and reassured a Braun book each month. The novelist hoped that other publishers would follow suit. He said, "The publishing industry needs to revamp it's entire system of distribution. The system in effect smacks of the stone age."

Although he lives and writes on the East Coast, Braun is a bono fide Westerner. Born in Oklahoma, the descendant of a long line of ranchers, he lived in six states west of the Mississippi while growing up. He was raised among the Cherokee and Osage Indians, learning and adopting their lifestyles and philosophies regrading human dignity, and "the right of each man to walk his own path."

One of Braun's distant ancestors wrote The History of the American Indians, a definitive work of the Five Civilized Tribes, published in London in 1775. The colonial author married a Cherokee woman the following year. Mathew Braun married a woman who walks her own path. Bettianne Braun appeared in a number of Broadway musicals before switching to acting, and was later a successful model. She also served as vice president of one of the world's largest cosmetics firms.

"Bettianne is both my sounding board and my best critic. She reads the week's work on the weekend, and offers her frank appraisal. Her suggestions, particularly in regards to woman characters, have greatly improved every book. She is what every writer needs--a mate who shares the obsession."

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press.)

Next week: Westerns written by a Writer in England

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Matt Braun Interview, Part II

Matt Braun said that he maintained a story file with a normal gestation period of six months to a year. Average research time for a book was a month to six weeks although some of it was done in his spare time. 

"My hobby is reading Western nonfiction. Then, just before  beginning the book, I devote a concentrated period of three to four weeks to research." Braun's Western nonfiction library, located in a separate room from his office, contained some four thousand books. He relied heavily on state historical societies to gather needed information, and spent  two to four weeks a year traveling about the West.

A maverick in the sense that he didn't write the mythology of the Old West, Braun constructed all of his novels around actual historical characters and incidents, attempting to portray them as they really happened, rather than how legend dictates. He felt that Dee Brown had been the most persuasive writer of Western fiction. "His novels are a window into the past." And Dee Brown said of him,, "Matt Braun has a  genius for taking real characters out of the Old West and giving them flesh-and-blood immediacy."

Not one to shelve a project once it was underway, Braun took pride in the fact that he had finished every manuscript he started. Some were more demanding than others, and a few left him feeling as though  he had gone fifteen rounds with a very tough opponent. One such book, The Kincaids, required a year of research and writing, and won a Spur Award in 1976 from Western Writers of America.

Dismissing writer's block as a hoary myth, Braun said all too many writers use it as a rationalization and excuse not to work. "A writer who waits for inspiration to strike generally views himself as an artist rather than a professional craftsman. An aspiring writer must be dedicated and determined, obsessed with the craft. Otherwise, he or she will suffer anxiety, frustration, and an overwhelming sense of isolation. Anyone who believes that writing is simple--an easy way to earn a living--should earnestly  consider another profession. Writing requires an extraordinary belief in oneself and an absolute refusal to accept defeat. Character, willpower, and bulldog tenacity are essential to achieve even modest success."

Braun warns fledglings not to expect financial rewards at the onset of their careers. "A large income evolves from establishing a reputation and having many books in print. At that point, large advances become obtainable and royalties from works in print provide respectable earnings. I seriously doubt that more than a handful of Western writers are in the fifty percent tax bracket."

He said no matter how many novelists are writing within a genre, publishers will pick and choose, selecting those they consider the best. "Fads will only momentary affect the process. Talented writers, even in slack times, will always get published." He added that contacts within the publishing business are beneficial to a writer's carer as well as a good agent, but that in the final analysis there's no substitute for talent.

Braun's advice to aspiring writers is to continue rewriting until they believe their work is the best they're capable of at that given moment. "Then find yourself a mentor, an established writer, and let him tear it to shreds. Only when you've learned what the red pencil of constructive editing has to teach, will you have mastered your craft. At that point, write again before submitting to a publisher." Braun said his mentor red-penciled every sentence of his first three books.

(Conclusion next week . . .)