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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Wild West eMonday - guest post - D M Harrison

D. M. Harrison was born in the Midlands and moved to Worcestershire and didn't take up professional writing until she had retired. In the author's own words - "I decided to devote time to my love of writing. It has been a learning curve that has included Creative Writing at a local college, a plethora of rejections (many with extremely helpful comments) and latterly a bit of success."

And that bit of success means that western readers have a new powerful voice to follow. Now D. M. is here for Wild West eMonday with an entertaining post that looks at the African American Cowboy, a subject that's influenced the author's own work.

And so the Archive hands you over to D M and following the guest post we have reposted an interview we held with the author earlier this year.

The African-American Cowboy - The forgotten man of the West. 

D. M Harrison

In the Wild West of the 1860's there were 10,000 to 15,000 black cowboys.

I fell in love with the western genre when I watched the cowboy series on the TV (every day) and saw cowboy films at the cinema (Saturday morning) and also the TV (our Sunday afternoon fare)
Not once did I see a black John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. In fact like most people I didn't know there were any other types of cowboy.

The nearest the film makers came to recognizing the fact that black cowboys existed was 'Blazing Saddles', a 1974 spoof western, directed Mel Brooks. It's mainly remembered for its bad taste scene showing the results of eating too many beans. Hardly a trail blazer (no pun intended) for the black cowboy.

Perhaps none of the black cowboys them were famous?

Not so - while reading books and researching on the Internet I discovered that one cowboy in six was black. There were also Chinese, Mexicans, Asians, Irish and Welsh who made up the cowboys and frontiers men.

And plenty of characters existed to attract cinema directors, TV producers and of course writers.

So who are these characters?
To name a few-

Nat Love, better known as Deadwood Dick was born a slave freed via the New Union 2nd Emancipation Proclamation Act 1863 and if you could work through that then I reckon you deserved your freedom. He was an excellent horse rider and at 16 he got his first job as a cowboy by breaking the wildest horse in the Duval outfit. He was instantly recognizable by his wide leather chaps, broad brimmed hat and Winchester rifle.

Bass Reeves - born to slave parents in 1838 Paris Texas, became the 1st black US Deputy Marshal. He served for 35 years in Indian Territory, bringing 30,000 outlaws to justice and killing 14 men.
"I never shot a man when it was not necessary to do so in the discharge of my duty or to save my life".

Bill Pickett a black Indian, born in 1870 performed with The Buffalo Bill Cody show.
 Pickett invented 'bulldogging' in steer wrestling. He'd ride up to a steer and drop onto him, bite the steer's lip and subdue him. He'd watched bulldogs do this to cattle and tried it himself.

John Ware, born 1845, an ex-slave from Texas followed the expansion of cattle ranching. He drove cattle; he was a superb horseman and eventually established his own ranch in the prairies of Alberta.

Isom Dart, an outlaw, trained horses for the Wild Bunch aka Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
He was a gentleman outlaw who, rather than escape, helped an injured sheriff. The sheriff got him acquitted and Dart won his freedom. A Bounty Hunter, Tom Horn, finally killed him.

My favorite African-American has got to be Stagecoach Mary -

 "A black gun-totin' female of the American Wild West. She was six feet tall; heavy; tough; short-tempered; two-fisted; powerful; and packed a pair of six-shooters and an eight or ten-gauge shotgun"

And of course I can't forget to include the other role that the African-American played in the West - The Buffalo Soldier. A name given to them by the Native-Americans who considered the African-Americans looked like their revered buffalo.

Solstice Publishing published my book “The Buffalo Soldier”. With thanks here to Nik Morton's encouragement with the manuscript and Ed Ferguson's suggestions on how I could shape Buffalo Soldier into a very readable story.

I did suggest the idea to another publisher but the idea of a 'black' cowboy was not considered acceptable in this politically correct age!

Westward Dreams - D M Harrison interview

When looking into the ice-blue eyes of an Indian, Kit Bayfield's face was distorted by a myriad of emotions. The man standing before him was claiming to be his son, but he could see only a stranger. After believing his son dead for over twelve years, Kit struggled to make sense of the revelation. Russell and Tyler, his two other sons had been unable to find Mitch and yet here he was, calling himself the Comanche name of Broke. Kit reckoned folks, in their aptly named hometown of Hell, would find Broke's return difficult. Everyone should have played a part in searching for the boy and now his son's face was full of hatred and it looked like it wasn't only his brothers he had a quarrel with: the whole town was on his payback list. 

Author D M Harrison always had the urge to write, but like many of us the duties of a working life tended to cut down on the time devoted to writing, however after taking early retirement Diana, (well what did you think the D stood for? ) found that she now had the time to devote to following her dream. There followed a learning curve which involved various creative writing courses and soon Diana found herself selling short stories to various magazines.

"I've had enough reject slips to paper a whole room (large size) A couple of the books were rejected and I worked on them again and sent the elsewhere and they were accepted. You have to persevere and believe in your own abilities. A writers group is good and reading out loud helps a lot."

It was this perseverance that led to Diana making her first novel sale, with the western Robbery in Savage Pass and since then she has gone from strength to strength.

"My books come out under the name of DM Harrison because I didn't want to put male readers off. I don't write romantic books. Robbery in Savage Pass managed to reach no 1 in the UK Amazon Black Horse Western charts (Aug 2011) and my second book Kato's Army, made it to no 7." 
What is it about the western, I wondered, that appeals across the sexes? Once the genre was considered solely a male preserve and yet Diana is not alone in  the Black Horse stable, and there are several other female western writers producing books for the imprint.
"I love western films and TV programmes - I used to watch Clint Eastwood in Rawhide (I was extremely young!) My favourite story was always the lone avenger fighting for justice - bit of an anti-hero - but always on the side of right and wouldn't kill for the fun of it."
Diana's westerns read true and perhaps the fact that she had visited the areas where she sets her stories have something to do with this.
"I have been along the West Coast of America and seen the ghost towns and viewed end of the Oregon Trail just as the travellers of the 1800s would've experienced. Fantastic. I have visited the film sets in Alicante Spain where the Spaghetti Westerns were made."
So what advice would Diana give to others inspired by her story to take up the pen?
"I read as much as I can - if it's a best seller then it's as good as a writing course because they teach you what makes a reader carry on beyond the first sentence.I read plenty of westerns both modern and from the past era. I love Louis L'amour and Zane Grey. I like Appaloosa by Robert B Parker as a book but the humour didn't work as well in the film. Elmore Leonard is a gritty writer.... in fact the list is endless and difficult to say who is the best.

 I love Jack Reacher, Lee Child's hero - a present day cowboy I think. I read Stephen King - he's a master of the short story as well as being able to spin the block buster yarn. I'm reading at this present time George RR Martin Game of Thrones - got all the books and I'm working through them - a writer's dream inventing a whole new world. I haven't seen the TV series -  I want the characters to grow in my head rather than see a producers idea of what they look like."
Diana's Amazon page can be found HERE
Check out the all action eBook, Blood Brothers HERE

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