The virtual campfire, sat beneath a sky of pixilated stars, is where I caught up with western writer Matthew P. Mayo for a good old chinwag. We were both armed with Colts, which fired binary bullets, and we had the old guy, who couldn’t hold his beans on lookout. So pull up a seat, help yourself to the coffee and please eveasdrop on our good ol’ chinwag.
Matt is the author of several Black Horse Westerns as well as a string of other work including the Spur Award nominated short story, Half a Pig that appeared in the western anthology, A Fistful of Legends that incidentally also features a story from a certain Jack Martin. Recently the news came through that Matthew’s Black Horse titles are to become mass-market paperbacks from Dorchester Publishing - The first, Winters’ War, is due for release in May, 2011, followed in roughly six-month intervals by Hot Lead, Cold Heart, and Wrong Town. The books will appear in print, audio versions, various e-book formats, and possibly foreign-language versions.
Matthew’s own corner of the Wild West Web is HERE but for now enjoy our little chat.
GD: Howdy Matt, great to hear that your Black Horse titles are going mass market. This can only be good for you, the genre and the imprint in general.
MM: Hello Gary. Yes, the news that my three Black Horse Westerns will come out in the US (and elsewhere) as mass-market versions is darned exciting, indeed. It's bound to boost my exposure to US book buyers, and it's gratifying to note that the folks at Dorchester, whose books I've been reading forever, it seems, feel that my books are worthy of including in their roster. As far as being good for the BHW imprint, I'd guess that would be the case in a general way, perhaps through increased recognition and attention. I hasten to add that my sale doesn't necessarily translate to similar sales for everyone who writes BHWs. Rather, it's a new possibility for BHW writers.
GD: Indeed - mind you those that have read your books know they are good enough to grace any list. So does this mean that you'll be writing in the future with this market in mind? I suppose it must do really but again congratulations. And speaking of the future are you working on anything at the moment?
MM: Thanks, that's very kind of you to say. If by market you mean mass-market, then in a way I've never not written with that market in mind. My goal, ever since I was a kid and figured out I'd like to write, has been to see my name on a mass-market paperback. They're the books that have given me the most reading satisfaction and I think it will be a singular treat to one day see a beat-up, used copy of one of my paperbacks in a musty little used-book shop--even better if a kid's buying it!
I'm working on a handful of short stories in several genres, a couple of them are expected and have homes already. Novelwise, I have a new standalone Western nearly ready to roll, and two series (non-Western) either with my agent or out for consideration at publishers.
Non-fictionwise, I just signed a contract for another narrative non-fiction book along the lines of Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears. The new one is Sourdoughs, Claim Jumpers & Gry Gulchers: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Frontier Prospecting. And my second in that series, Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England, is due out this October 4. It's a bit bigger than the last and looks like it will clock in at 300 or so pages.
And my wife and I just signed up for two more coffee-table books, this time on New Hampshire and Vermont. We turned in the book about Maine on May 1 and I'm correcting text proofs now. It should be ready to roll in April, 2011.
GD: The Mayo household is a busy one then! I'm glad to hear about your non fiction work, though as I especially enjoyed Cowboys, Mountain Men and Grizzly Bears. It's a great volume that now has a home on my western reference shelf, your rubbing spines with the Lewis and Clark journals. But tell us a little about these standalone westerns you have with your agent.
MM: I'm pleased to hear you enjoyed the book. I'm also pleased to hear that on your bookshelf I'm squeezed in with such impressive company. I had lots of fun writing the non-fiction books. They are a pile of work, more difficult than writing a novel, in some respects, though primarily because the research is so intensive and there are so many moving parts. My wife, Jen, helps me track down the vintage photos and illustrations, which is a tremendous help. A bonus is that I also learn so much while writing them, and get great ideas for novels and short stories, too.
Sorry, I can't talk about any of the novels currently out for consideration, other than to say that the series aren't Westerns, though I do have a fair amount of Western fiction--short stories and novels—coming up.
GD: Then tell us about the western fiction you can talk about.
MM: Just to clarify, with fiction, I prefer to keep mum about work that's not published yet, unless it's about to be. It keeps it fresh for me (because some of it's still being worked on), and it keeps that element of surprise that I think is all-important, both for potential readers and for me, too. It's too easy to talk about things beforehand and then they just fizzle. No fun.I can tell you that I had a sci-fi/Western crossover story in a DAW Books anthology in March called Timeshares. The book is time-travel themed and my story takes place in the Old West, where our man wishes to go on holiday. But something goes wrong, terribly wrong.... That book has sold well and it's been grand to be included in an anthology with some big name sci-fi writers.
Then in early November, 2011, I have a sci-fi/Western crossover story coming out in another DAW Books anthology, called Steampunk'd. This one is, naturally, steampunk themed, and my story has to do with a naive someone who's out for the bounty on a notorious person's head. But things go from bad to worse for this naive person and before too long, well ... you'll have to buy a copy to find out!In addition to those, I just completed two other Western short stories for anthologies that hopefully will come out within the next year.
GD: The western crossovers sound interesting and I think sometimes that these western crossovers are where the immediate future lies for the genre. Jonah Hex for instance is very much the western twinned with a supernatural element, which of course is not unique because it can be argued that Clint's High Plains Drifter contained supernatural elements and that's just off the top of my head. I am sure there are many more. And the big budget Cowboys and Aliens should be in the cinemas late next year. So maybe the genre is credible with a young audience - the most popular video game at the moment, Red Dead Redemption, is western based. What are your thoughts on this.
MM: I think you're dead-on correct. In addition to the movies and game you mentioned, I'd add steampunk as a strong possible cross-over genre. Lots of interesting new books are coming out in which the Old West is melded with a steampunky future past to offer readers something that is not wholly Western, not wholly sci-fi. Cherie Priest's books, set in what she's called her "Clockwork Century," are fine examples in which the setting is a Civil War/post-Civil War America, slightly skewed ("Boneshaker" is a great read, by the way). And this year's Steamcon in Seattle is going with the "Weird, Weird West" theme.
I've corresponded with Ray Foster/Jack Giles about "Red Dead Redemption" and it certainly sounds like fun. In addition, my brother, Jeffrey, is a fan of the game, and another friend of mine, the novelist Marcus Pelegrimas (make sure you read his Westerns, written under the name "Marcus Galloway," they're top-shelf reads). All this Wild West traction and action packaged in something cool for people new to the genre, surely that can't be a bad thing. I've no doubt that it will translate into increased interest in Western fiction.
GD: I feel the same way about these crossovers - they can only be good. When I was a kid there was a character in 2000AD comic, Strontium Dog and this was a far future landscape where mutants made a living by bounty hunting. I believe the character is still popular, despite being killed at one point. And these stories were very western influenced. Steampunk is of course suitable for westerns because of its Victorian trappings. Maybe Billy the Kid in Space is the next step - please no, I still remember seeing a movie once about Billy the Kid fighting Dracula. Suffice to say it was not fangtastic. But of course I like to think there will always be a place for the good traditional western.
MM: Egads--Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Better yes, how about Billy as a vampire? He was a bit of one, anyway. And yes, as much as I like and promote the idea of crossovers, give me a solid, traditional Western and I'm a happy boy. I think it'll be a long time (if ever) before traditional Westerns fade away. They better not--I'm having too much fun writing them.
GD: Me too: Tell me where do you start with your westerns? Do you have an outline before you start?
MM: I usually start Westerns, or any story, with at least a bit of an outline, and usually something more extensive. I've tried the seat-of-the-pants method and I found that I spent so much time wandering down dead-end alleys and circling in cul-de-sacs that for me, for now, outlining is more expeditious. Though I'm never so scrupulous with it that I'm still not frequently surprised by what's happening on the page, usually between characters.
GD: And isn't it a lovely feeling when characters come alive on the page, even if they won't do what you want? I got that with my next BHW, The Ballad of Delta Rose when Delta simply refused to do what I had planned and went off on a tangent, which altered the outcome of the novel. Do you ever get characters that take over to the extent that they change what you had planned?
MM: I don't believe I've ever had a character take over to a major extent, but what I find interesting are the many minor alterations to the course that take place. Something happened just today--I knew I was going to let someone escape from a fight, but at the last minute, he seemed to need to die. A possibility had opened up and I followed that line of thought and it seems a good one, though repercussions of his death might necessitate further nips and tucks. We'll know tomorrow. Or not....
GD: Being dead sound like, “to a major extent.” Tell me what is your working routine?
MM: Ha! Well, his death might be a major blow to him, but not necessarily to the story. Time will tell....
I do write every day, six days a week, sometimes seven if too many deadlines are piling up. I always wanted to write books for a living, which I pretty much do now. But I find that I have so many ideas that I can't stand it if I'm not working toward a new goal. I figure there are plenty of hours in a day/days in a week, and if I'm not filling them working toward something I want to do--and enjoy doing, then I'm wasting time.
I get up about five, five thirty, and sit down at the typer by six, six thirty. I pepper the day with non-chair chores, work on the house a bit here and there, help my wife in the gardens, mow the lawn, walk the dogs, that sort of thing. I also try to get plenty of reading in, and we watch a few movies a week, though no TV (mostly because there's no reception--not a bad thing, in my estimation).
GD: And not a million miles away from my working day - except to say my dog walks me. But I know what you mean - at the moment I'm snowed under with work. What with my own stuff, trying to finish Arkansas Smith 2 (no title yet) and getting the first Edge book ready for it's eBook debut. Mind you I thrive on it and am miserable when not working. As you say all your life you wanted to make a living as a writer so I guess you'll (we'll) always have to work at it. It's been great chatting and so to wrap this up is there anything special you'd like to point out to Archive readers?
MM: Enjoyed this e-confabulation, Gary. I appreciate the attention and I'm flattered to be included on your site. It's been a great year for me so far, writing-wise, and I hope (knock wood) that it continues--It won't be for lack of trying. And with any luck, I'll have a few decent-size announcements to make before the end of the year. In the meantime, thanks again for this opportunity and I hope your own projects are primo!
RELATED: If you want more of Matt and his westerns – check out this great podcast HERE in which Matt was the guest. It’s a great and very interesting episode of what is a brilliant podcast in general.