This conversation between Gary Dobbs, author of the best-selling Black Horse Western Arkansas Smith and master of the blog, The Tainted Archive, and Charles Whipple, who writes westerns under the pen name of Chuck Tyrell, took place some months ago and was originally used as a little xtra something in Chuck Tyrell's Snake Den eBook, but has never appeared here on the Archive. Yep, we've been keeping it for Wild West eMonday.
Gary: It's great that eBooks are making so many westerns available again - almost like the good old days. And it's nice to see so many writers embracing the new technology. It really is a revolution in publishing. It may even change the way we write. What do you see as the advantages of publishing digitally?
Charlie: There is so much flexibility with digital media. People reading this little book are experiencing it first hand. A good story, The Prodigal, originally published by Express Westerns, was released to me by the publisher so I could put it in e-book form and offer a good read for 99 cents. But look what the reader is getting besides that. This conversation between western writers. It could happen on your blog or mine, but not in the hallowed halls of traditional publishdom. Even the Good Old Boys, like James Reasoner, are jumping on this wagon. James did his with help from J.A. Konrath, who’s been preaching the digital gospel for many moons. This, my friend, is only the beginning.
Gary: Where do you see the eBook going? Do you, as many believe, think that extra content such as the extra features on a DVD, will become more or more common? Or is this just a gimmick?
Charlie: Someone was wondering how to take an e-book to a book signing. A wise soul on one of the authors lists I belong to suggested burning it onto a DVD, working up a little pamphlet to slip into the shell of the DVD case, and adding some photos. Sign wherever. Good idea, I thought.
One other thing. Maybe we’ll talk about it, but my westerns are set in real country. Take Guns of Ponderosa for example. I modeled the town of Ponderosa on the real town of McNary, now almost a ghost town now. I added Bogtown, a place where the more unsavory elements found their fun. Then, when it came time to write Hell Fire in Paradise (the title came after the fact), Laurel and Jack Baker just naturally bought Paradise Valley in the White Mountains east of Ponderosa. Now I have photos of the sawmill, the general store, the mail road, a segment of Paradise Valley, and the cliffs of Paradise Gorge. With today’s technology, it would be easy to add those photos to the reading experience.
Gary: Yeah, the possibilities are endless, really. Photographs and essays could even be added to a book, in the way they put making of documentaries on a movie. Who knows maybe one day we’ll see video – the author reading the passages of the book direct to the reader. That would be incredible – imagine they had this in the old days. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a eBooks with Hemingway, Scotch and ciggie in hand, reading to the reader.
Charlie: Interesting you bring that up. I think we western authors (me) ignore audio books too much. I personally know a number of people who have long commutes by car, and they listen to books on their onboard audio systems. I also know that truck stops in the US are prime retailers of audio books. And America’s truck drivers are the closest people to the cowboy living today.
Gary: The western, though. Does the genre have a future in this modern world? Can it be relevant to today's readers?
Charlie: That’s a strange question coming from a Welshman. How many countries do you know where fans of the western reside? UK. USA. Canada. Australia. New Zealand. Spain. Turkey. Italy . . . need I go on. I can’t see the genre dying out. In fact, I’m encouraged by the recent spate of popular western films, and I think e-books will make it easier for new readers to dip into the genre and get hooked.
Here’s what a new reader wrote:
For the first time I read a book via the computer. I didn't know if I'd like it or not, but Chuck Tyrell's The Snake Den made it an entertaining experience. Around page 2 or 3 I was hooked and the computer took a back seat.
This is from a dyed-in-wool romance novel reader. If we can get people to try westerns, they keep reading westerns. My opinion.
Gary: I’m glad to hear you say that. As you know I’m crazy about the genre myself and you are quite correct, it will never die out, but I like to see how the other dream makers think. That’s how I think of anyone who writes genre fiction, a dream maker. We dream the dreams and put them out there and hope the readers will come along with us.
Charlie: Yes, we are writing about dreams. And we’re writing about people who build societies, who made important moral decisions, who lived back then like we should live today.
Gary: The Snake Den is a great western, not only because of its authentic setting. Where did the idea come from?
In 2000, I sailed a boat from Olympia, Washington, to La Paz, on the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The first long leg ended in San Diego, where I tied the boat up at the Chula Vista marina.
The second leg of the voyage began on Christmas Day and we docked the boat in La Paz on January 3, 2001. Naturally, my car wasn’t waiting for me at the marina. I flew the now-defunct Mexicana airlines to Tijuana and walked across the boarder into Chula Vista.
I don’t get to the States all that often, and when I do, I try to go back to my home town of Show Low, Arizona. That meant renting a car in Chula Vista, driving through Arizona to Show Low, and then back to Los Angeles to catch the plane to Japan.
I figured as long as I was at the bottom end of California anyway, I might as well drive across the state to Yuma, and take a look at the Yuma Territorial Prison, which is still in a very good state of preservation.
There are many records in the archives about the prison, but one fact stuck out at me. The youngest inmate to be incarcerated at the Yuma Hell Hole was only 14 years old. No specific information other than the age. But that started it.
When I was writing Trail of a Hard Man, I created a fictional town called Grant’s Crossing at the juncture of the Zuni and Little Colorado rivers. That town shows up in The Prodigal, in this publication, and it is where Shawn Brodie’s father homesteaded. I started writing from there.
In 2003, at the WWA convention, I mentioned the work in progress to a nice couple who just happened to be counselors at a major prison in Washington State.
“Fourteen? In prison? You know what’s the most likely thing to happen to him?”
I shook my head.
I had my story, and you’ll have to read the book if you want to know how young Shawn handles the assault on his sexual integrity.
Gary: Which must have been a difficult subject to write about? Did any prison dramas influence you for this book?
Charlie: I did a lot of research on Yuma prison after I decided to write The Snake Den. The book is dead on in most places, including the brick yard, the prison population make-up, the number of prisoners, the cells, the kitchen . . . I even went into the “dark cell” where that 5-ft cube of iron straps still hangs from the roof of the cave. I looked up at the air hole, and I heard about the rattlers crawling in to get out of the sun. All the reasons inmates could get thrown in the Snake Den are authentic, too. Prison drama? Not in the form of novels or movies, but in the form of historical records, lots.
Gary: You've written westerns for many years and in all that time you must have learned a lot about the writing process. What is it, do you think, that makes us shun company to lock ourselves away for hours on end to produce our work? What drives you personally?
Charlie: If only I had great work habits. I do write on the novel in progress almost every day, but I don’t have 3,000 word days. I also own a small corporate literature production company. Here’s how my day went not long ago.
“Today I got up at seven, gobbled bran flakes and milk, drove to Tokyo, spent 40 minutes at Starbucks writing on the current Western entitled “Mother,” went to a client meeting from 10am to 12:30 (I am a global branding consultant to a major medical equipment maker), met my photographer (working on an article together) for lunch and planning, returned to the office at 3pm, proofread a Lexus brochure (53 printed pages), blogged, edited a video narration, and filled out this interview questionnaire. It is now 11pm.”
The other thing is this: I’m the grandson of a man who came to Arizona from the silver mines of Nevada in 1876. I personally knew many of his contemporaries, sat at their knees, listened to their stories, and saw the town they made. Those people worked hard. Some worked themselves to death. But as soon as they got a little ahead, they built a church, and then a one-room school. My great-grandfather built a two-storied house on a hill called the Whipple Fort. It was made to protect settlers if there ever were an Apache raid. There never was. But Geronimo did show up at Aunt Sarah Mills’s home in Forestdale (now a ghost town) with four ponies that he wanted to trade to Sarah’s father for her.
Those people built a land, a community, a state. And I feel that I would like to tell stories that show what kind of people built my state, good and bad. That’s where I come from.
Gary: And that’s what I envy about US western writers, particularly those brought up in the Western states – they are closer to the land and events that inspired and continue to inspire us. Man, I wish I was a Yank! Some of those old timers you mentioned must have been a hoot to talk to - I can’t imagine anything so fine as talking to these folks. Is it harder, do you think, for European western writers like myself to get the authentic feel to their prose? Also along the same lines – have you ever used any of your ancestors in your work?
Charlie: Funny you ask. No. I have not used my ancestors, but I’ve used the names of horses we rode, I’ve used the brands registered to my father, my uncles, and my grandfather. Of course I use the towns and the ranches that actually exist. In a way, I wish Amiel Whipple, the explorer, were my kin, but he’s not. And just because Fort Whipple was the first capital of Arizona, doesn’t mean it was named after my kin. It wasn’t. That said, their types populate my stories. And I’m so happy that I have the heart and the mind and the skills to put their stories into words.
Gary: It really was a hard time and from these years modern American sprung. I’ve often thought that the Old West, was the last time that an advanced people clashed with a prehistoric people. How do you feel modern day westerns should reflect the Native Americans? Should we bow to political correctness or should we tell it as it was?
Charlie: I can tell you’ve not read all my books. I try to treat Native Americans as people. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the tribes were living in perpetual peace and that they were in specific geographical locations for eons. American Indians play important roles in my books. Garet and Ness Havelock are half Cherokee and their heritage is important. Laurel Baker has important friends with the White Mountain Apache tribe (the only ones who never fought the US Army). Wolf Wilder, the man called Breed, is half Comanche, and the massacre at Sand Creek is an important part of his back story. A Jicarilla Apache chief I named Puma is in three of my ten novels. The young man P’tone in Hell Fire in Paradise was later chief of the White Mountain Apaches. An outdoorsman in Show Low found P’tone’s burial cave when I was a boy. Indians other than Apaches lived in the Show Low area. My grand uncle found a pit dwelling on our land above Show Low Creek. Carbon dated to about 1200 AD. A walk through the cedars from my boyhood home to a small pond called Reidhead Dam would yield as many as a dozen pottery shards, as if that whole area had been a village site. In answer to your question. Do you paint all the immigrants to the west in favorable colors? Or are some of the good and some bad? So it is with Native Americans. Some are good. Some are bad. Their cultures were different, but often quite helpful to the man or woman in the Old West.
Gary Dobbs aka Jack Martin
Freelance writer, actor and novelist. As an actor he has appeared in Doctor Who, Torchwood, Gavin and Stacey, Moonmonkeys, Larkrise to Candleford, The Risen. As a novelist using the name Jack Martin, his début novel, The Tarnished Star, is available now and a second novel Arkansas Smith is also available. 2010 also saw his mystery debut with A Policeman's Lot. And his third western, The Ballad of Delta Rose (his most hardboiled western) is due from Black Horse Westerns in 2011
Charles T. WhippleCharles T. Whipple, an international prize-winning author, uses the pen name of Chuck Tyrell for his Western novels. Whipple was born and reared in Arizona’s White Mountain country only 19 miles from Fort Apache. He won his first writing award while in high school, and has won several since, including a 4th place in the World Annual Report competition, a 2nd place in the JAXA Naoko Yamazaki Commemorative Haiku competition, and the first-place Agave Award in the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition. Raised on a ranch, Whipple brings his own experience into play when writing about the hardy people of 19th Century Arizona. Although he currently lives in Japan, Whipple maintains close ties with the West through family, relatives, former schoolmates, and readers of his western fiction. Whipple belongs to Western Fictioneers, Western Writers of America, Arizona Authors Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Tauranga Writers Inc.
Snake Den is available now