MONDAY, APRIL 7, 2014
Born to Write Westerns
I've read and enjoyed Westerns for as far back as I can remember. Zane Grey, Max Brand, the Hopalong Cassidy novels by Clarence E. Mulford, I read 'em all. When I was a kid, I watched more Western TV shows and movies than anything else. John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hoppy, Matt Dillon, Paladin...those were my heroes.
But when I decided I was going to be a writer, my first goal was to write mysteries, because I read even more of them than I did Westerns.
So I did. I became a regular contributor of short stories and novellas to MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and the first novel I sold was a private eye yarn set in Fort Worth, TEXAS WIND. A few years went by, and
Then the door sort of slammed in my face. I had written four or five novels—TEXAS WIND, THE EMERALD LAND (a historical novel written in collaboration with my wife Livia Washburn), and several ghost jobs that are still shrouded in secrecy. But my proposals went unsold, my short story markets didn't pay much, and I needed a fresh start. I saw an ad in WRITER'S DIGEST for a company called Book Creations Inc. They were looking for writers. The company was owned by Lyle Kenyon Engel, whose name was familiar to me because he had packaged a number of book series which I'd read. I sent him a letter and enclosed copies of the two novels I could claim.
Lyle must have seen something he liked in those books, because a few weeks later the phone rang and he was on the other end, offering me a job writing for BCI. It didn't take me long to say yes. Lyle said one of the editors would call me when they had something for me to write. Another few weeks went by before I got a call from Paul Block, a writer and editor who worked for BCI. He introduced himself, then asked if I could write Westerns.
What do you think I said? Of course I can write Westerns, I told him. I'd been reading them all my life.
Paul said they needed a book for a series BCI was doing called STAGECOACH STATION. I had seen the books around but hadn't read any of them. I took care of that pretty quickly, racing through half a dozen of them to get the style down, then I wrote an outline for a novel called PECOS. Paul wanted some revisions in the outline, but we got that worked out without any trouble, and I wrote the book (which is actually sort of a mystery novel, too, no surprise given my background) and had a great time doing it.
BCI had a couple of quirks in their house-style: you couldn't use contractions in narrative, only in dialogue, and you couldn't end a chapter in the middle of an action scene. If you started a fight, you had to finish it before the next chapter break. Neither of those rules bothered me, although I haven't followed them in anything else I've written, only in my books for BCI.
Everyone was pleased with the way PECOS turned out. Paul asked me to do an outline for another STAGECOACH STATION book. Sticking with a Texas setting, since that's what I knew best, my next one was called PANHANDLE. I had finished the manuscript but hadn't sent it in yet when Paul called and asked how it was going. One of BCI's other writers had failed to turn in a book on schedule and they needed to rush mine into production, he said. He wanted me to send him however much I had done so they could start working on it.
I said, "Paul, I'll send you the whole thing. I just finished it."
That must have impressed them. They wanted more books, as quickly as I could get them done. So one after the other I wrote TAOS, DEATH VALLEY, and BONANZA CITY. Paul asked me if I would be interested in writing a Texas Ranger series. He had created one and planned to write the first book himself. It was going to be called VICKERY'S LAW. After Paul wrote the first book I would take over the series with #2.
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