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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

From the Archives - Johnny D. Boggs interview

Over the years I have conducted many interviews for the Tainted Archive - they're all stashed away in the archives. However many more people visit the Archive and so I am starting to repost some of my favourites under the From the Archives, banner and so to kick off we present this chat with western great, Johnny D Boggs.

Born in 1962, Johnny D Boggs was destined to write about the West. He spent his formative years on a farm in Timmonsville in South Carolina. At school Johnny found he had a talent for storytelling and he would write down wild stories in longhand and sell them to class mates, detective and super hero stories.

His interest in the western developed when he discovered the true West rather than Hollywood's West - this history fascinated him and then later when he discovered the novels of Jack Schaefer and Dorothy M. Johnson he was hooked.

These days Johnny is an author of many bestselling westerns himself, the recipient of multiple Spur Awards and he is currently sitting in the exalted position of being president of the Western Writers of America.

I wondered what his duties were as President?

"As president, I try to put Western literature, and Western Writers of America, in the forefront. We've worked on building up WWA's Star Speakers Bureau, and promoting our Best Western surveys. We voted on the 100 Greatest Western Movies last year, Best TV series/miniseries/movies this year, and will vote on the Greatest Songs of the West next year, and after that, I hope, get into the books. We have a new anthology coming out, titled ROUNDUP!, which will be published by La Frontera Publishing. Duties, of course, include running board meetings, serving as a spokesman for Western Writers of America, putting out fires, maybe starting some fires, and, above all, preserving and promoting Western literature. All while trying to make a living as a writer."

The Western Writers of America do much good work for the genre but many feel that not enough is being done for the western on the Wild West Web. I put this to Johnny. What for instance can be done on the web to aid in the growth of the genre?

"You're doing it right here. Newspapers were once our target, but with the condition of newspapers, at least in the United States, these days, we have to do more promotion online. Look at Anderson Cooper on CNN. Between commercial breaks, he's blogging and answering emails. He's doing that for a reason, and the reason is more and more people are going online. Blogs such as yours, and other web publications, are doing much to push Western literature. I've heard some publishers site the web as one of the reasons they have seen an increase in Western sales. That's something we're well aware of -- not to mention Twitter and Facebook and Linked In -- but WWA is primarily a volunteer organization, so we can move a little slowly at times, and we're still trying to figure out how to make the web work for us."

Where does Johnny see the western going in the future? Do we need to widen the definition of the genre and include contemporary novels set in the West?

"Oh, I'm a big believer in tearing down fences. I think Tony Hillerman was one of the best Western writers we've seen in years. He wrote about men with hats and guns bringing law and order to the West, only his heroes happened to be contemporary Navajo policeman. Many publishers still define a Western as a story set west of the Mississippi River between the years 1865 and 1900, but the Wild West began when the first European settlers landed on the Atlantic coast. Actually, you can argue that the West began with the migration of our Native Peoples. We have writers who tell those stories, and tell them well. Jim Woolard's novels about the Ohio frontier are excellent. Michael and Kathy Gear write about Indians before European contact. Meredith Mason Brown won a Spur Award for her biography of Daniel Boone. The novels by Allan Eckert and James Alexander Thom are great studies of the frontier West -- often east of the Mississippi.
And I can step outside and find a cowboy at my local grocery. The West is very vibrant, and often wild and woolly, today, and there have been some great works set in the contemporary, or at least post-World War II West: Elmer Kelton's THE TIME IT NEVER RAINED and THE MAN WHO RODE MIDNIGHT. Max Evans's THE ROUNDERS and THE HI LO COUNTRY. Brady Udall's THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT. Aryn Kyle's THE GOD OF ANIMALS. Plus the contemporary mysteries by C.J. Box, Michael McGarrity, and, as I mentioned earlier, Tony Hillerman. And I think Larry McMurtry's best works, aside from LONESOME DOVE, are his contemporary visions of the West in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, LEAVING CHEYENNE and HORSEMAN, PASS BY.
One thing we'd like to see more of are crossover Westerns, that is, Westerns that can find new readers, and new life, in other book sections. Historical romances and mysteries, naturally, but look at Emma Bull's fantasy novel TERRITORY, a retelling of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday -- as sorcerers! It's a tremendous read, and Emma's historical research was dead-on terrific. I can't wait for Emma to finish the sequel."

I asked Johnny how he would describe his books to new readers, mentioning that I had just read and enjoyed his novel, The Big Fifty.

"Thanks. My mother's a big fan of THE BIG FIFTY. FORD's about a baseball game between Confederate guards and Union POWs. EAST OF THE BORDER's about the theatrical career of Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and Texas Jack Omohundro. NORTHFIELD recounts the James-Younger Gang's blunder of a bank robbery, told by more than 20 different first-person narratives. Next up is HARD WINTER, due out in December, which is about a young cowboy's experiences during the disastrous winter of 1886-87 in Montana. I try to make my next book as far removed, in story, plot, setting and structure, as my previous novel, but I also strive to tell an entertaining, and maybe educational story, as historically accurate as I can. I also don't often write about white hats and black hats. Mine are definitely more gray. I write about people with strong convictions about what's right and what's wrong, and often those convictions are opposite, which leads to trouble."

On his own website Johnny writes that excluding, The Searchers, he much prefers the works of Anthony Mann and Bud Boetticher to John Ford. I asked him what it was that drew him towards these two directors?

"Mann and Boetticher had an edge to them, a depth to their heroes -- those characters played by James Stewart in Mann's films and Randolph Scott in Budd's were carrying a ton of baggage -- and superb villains. That's something screenwriter/director Burt Kennedy -- who wrote a number of the best of the Boetticher movies -- once told me: Make your villain stronger than your hero. That way it'll mean more when the hero wins out in the end. Burt also told me to put your hero in a situation where he can walk out of any time. That way it's more dramatic when he stays.
Budd never had much of a budget, and his movies are spartan, lean, but the best of the bunch -- THE TALL T, RIDE LONESOME, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and COMANCHE STATION -- grab you by the throat and don't let go. And I admit that BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE is a guilty pleasure.
Mann was more polished, but really savage. WINCHESTER '73, THE NAKED SPUR and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE get a lot of analysis, but I think two of his best Westerns are DEVIL'S DOORWAY -- MGM released it after the success of BROKEN ARROW, but it's a tremendous movie about Indian-white relations, and an amazing political statement in 1950s America -- and BORDER INCIDENT, which is a film noir about illegal aliens and slavery in post-World War II Arizona. They're just dynamite motion pictures.
Ford, of course, gets the glory, and THE SEARCHERS remains my favorite movie, not just Western, but movie. John Wayne's Ethan Edwards has a lot of baggage in that one, and Ford turned Monument Valley into his own canvas. Yet the more I watch Ford's movies, the more his Irish humor wears thin, and the more flaws I find in his Westerns. On the other hand, I think some of his non-Westerns -- THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE QUIET MAN and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, in particular -- are among the best movies ever put on film."

As a British writer of westerns I ask Johnny if there is still the attitude in some quarters that you have to hail from the US to write westerns?

"The West isn't so much a physical place. It's more how you feel it. It certainly helps to live here, to know what the wind feels like, or the sound of coyotes yipping, but we're writing fiction. At some point, imagination has to take over, and if your prose can take me to that place, I don't care if you live in Leadville or Liverpoole. It's the words that matter, not your locale. I think most of my contemporaries feel the same way."

Desert Island Western - film and book?

"THE SEARCHERS and A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s THE BIG SKY. !"

And finally for fun - The Duke V Eastwood - Who wins?

"he Duke. He's a much better actor than he's often given credit for. His performances in THE SEARCHERS, TRUE GRIT, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, HONDO and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE really stand out. Then again, Clint has proved to be a fantastic director with his behind-the-lens work in MILLION DOLLAR BABY, MYSTIC RIVER, UNFORGIVEN and PLAY MISTY FOR ME. And THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES has grown on me over the years. Wayne's turns as a director, THE ALAMO and THE GREEN BERETS, are pretty much train wrecks."

The Tainted Archive thanks Johnny for his time

Johnny's books can be bought anywhere books are sold - there are links to buy any of his available titles on his website HERE

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