Wednesday 7 January 2009


Writer James J. Griffin, author of the Texas Rangers series, does more than most to promote the western genre. And not just by penning a series of western novels centered on the Rangers, maybe the most famous law enforcement agency in the world, but also by visiting schools and putting on entertaining presentations to educate children about the Rangers and the old west. If that's not enough he is a well known historian on the Texas Rangers. Indeed he even contributed a fair amount of Ranger artifacts to the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, Texas.

Jim lives the western lifestyle - pictured above he's riding his horse, Yankee. He is a lifelong horseman and rides true western style.

"I only partially live the Western lifestyle. As much as I love the Western US and Canada, visiting there and travelling all over that area, I'm a bred and born New Englander, and I love my adopted home state of New Hampshire more than anywhere else in the world. And I have to work in an office for a living.
That said, I've been a horseman most of my life. I've always ridden Western, not English as is the prevalent style in the Northeast US. I wear western clothes, even to work. That includes cowboy boots, western style shirts, and a Stetson (well, technically some of my hats are Stetsons. But all of them are cowboy hats, and one's a Texas Ranger service hat. And I've also got a genuine Texas Ranger service belt, which was a gift from Jim Huggins (a Ranger friend) . It's a really nifty belt, and one I greatly appreciate.
I ride whenever I can. I'm a member of the Connecticut Horse Council Volunteer Horse Patrol. Yankee (my American Paint horse) and I act as auxiliary park rangers and help patrol state parks and forests. Unlike the Texas Rangers; however, I don't carry a gun, and don't have any law enforcement authority."

So when Jim was prompted to try writing by his friend, James Reasoner it was only natural he'd turn to The Texas Rangers.

"As most people are aware, the Texas Rangers are probably the most famous law enforcement agency in the world, and have been for well over a century. The only others that might come near the same amount of fame and reputation are Scotland Yard and the FBI. Interpol might run a distant fourth.
I've been enamored of the Texas Rangers since I was a kid growing up in the 1950s (no, not the 1850s... although my friends have accused me of being stuck in that era. They're partially right. I was born a hundred years too late and in the wrong part of the United States) and discovered the television series Tales of the Texas Rangers. Since then I've always been fascinated by the Rangers. So when James Reasoner finally convinced me to try my hand at writing, the Rangers were the only logical subject for me to choose. And since I've been collecting Texas Ranger artifacts for years, and have a friend who is a Texas Ranger, Sergeant Jim Huggins of Company F in Waco, it was only natural I'd write Texas Ranger stories."

Let us be thankful that James Reasoner was so persuasive - Jim's books, featuring his Ranger hero Jim Blawcyzk, have been critically acclaimed and are enjoyed across the board, by readers young and old. So what elements does James think must be present to make a good piece of western fiction?

"First, and most important, there should be a strong hero (or heroine) who has good moral standards. Second, there should be lots of action. I'm not talking graphic violence, but a Western should have plenty of riding, fighting, and gunplay. And I think there should be a clear boundary between right and wrong. The hero may have to struggle with some of the decisions he or she makes, but he or she should always stand for justice and right. I don't write anti-heroes.
My books are written with no cursing or foul language, no sex, except for that which is implied, and no overly graphic violence. For the most part, they are suitable for almost all ages. In fact, I have had many of my readers tell me they read my books to or with their kids. I'm not saying a Western, or any other genre, can't include cursing or sex. It's just that I write mine without those aspects."

Go into most bookshops and you may get the impression that the western is dead and yet with guys like James J. Griffin about, that is clearly not the case. Where does the author see the genre going over the coming years?

"I think there will always be at least a core market for the Western. I'm meeting kids who have never read a Western, but who once they have attended one of my programs develop a deep interest in the genre, and in their own (in the US and Canada) heritage.
That's where I disagree with the Western Writers of America, of which I am a member. The organization keeps expanding its definition of a "Western". A lot of what the WWA is calling "Westerns" by no stretch of the imagination fits the traditional definition of a Western novel, story, or film. Instead of expanding the definition of a Western so the claim can be made sales of Westerns are on the upswing, when in fact the opposite is true, we need to be educating young people, especially in the United States and Canada, about their own heritage. The people who promote "Renaissance Faires" here in the United States have had great success with them. Yet Renaissance Faires basically celebrate the history and heritage of Middle Ages Europe... white male, middle ages Europe. If we could get young people interested in the fascinating history of the American West, including the history of the American Indians (or Native Americans), and the contributions of Hispanics, African-Americans (who made up at least 40% of the cowboys in the frontier West after the Civil War) and women to the settling of the West, then the Western will have a bright future indeed. The key is education and imagination."

I agree with Jim's sentiments to a point - though I do think the western is fluid and can incorperate many different times and settings. I wonder if the author would ever do a Ranger book set in the modern day?

"Yep... entirely possible. I'd like to do a novel with Jim Huggins as a fictional modern-day version of himself, but that will have to wait until he retires. I'm also trying to talk him into letting me write his memoirs/biography after he retires.."

Now that would be one to read but what influences Jim's more conventional western work?

"A review of my latest novel, Ranger's Revenge, in the WWA Roundup Magazine compared the book to a Max Brand novel. I never thought of Brand as being a major influence on my work, but I guess he's had some influence. Louis L'Amour, of course. And some of the pulp and paperback writers, such as A. Leslie Scott, Tom Curry, and Peter Germano. I don't particularly care for some of the overly "purple" prose in the pulps, but I do like the clear definition between right and wrong. I also like the action most of the old pulp and paperback writers conveyed."

So what projects can we look forward to from the modern day voice of The Texas Rangers?

"I've almost completed the manuscript for my next Texas Ranger Cody Havlicek novel, Ride to Redemption. That book should be released late this year or more likely in 2010.
I'm also helping put together an anthology of short Western stories, which will include several of my own. That should be released sometime this year.

(NOTE - The planned anthology will also feature a couple of stories from yours truly, Jack Martin.)

Besides those two projects, I'm just starting a manuscript for a novel featuring a new Texas Ranger character, Sean Kennedy. Again, that book will be released sometime this year.
And of course there will be at least one more Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk novel, probably to be released in 2010.
Plus, I will continue to give programs about the West and the Texas Rangers to wherever I can find an audience. If we want the Western to survive and thrive, we need to get as many people as possible to rediscover this uniquely American genre.

You won't get any arguement from the Tainted Archive on that score and it'll be great to have Jim doing his bit for the forthcoming Wild West Monday.

Jim's presentations are a hit with whoever sees them and gives a taste of the old west in this modern world. They include readings and reenactments.

"When I was first asked to give a presentation about my books, at a local seniors' day care center, the recreation director and I decided just coming in and talking about my books would not be very exciting. So we worked up a program which included a couple of gunfight reenactments, and a reenactment of a scene from one of my novels.
The program went over very well. Since it was such a success, I decided to continue with it at senior centers, convalescent homes, and public libraries. I always have a member of the audience participate as the "bad guy". Since I portray a Texas Ranger, it's almost like being an actor in a Western movie. (Or perhaps more appropriately the stunt double, since I do get "shot" at the beginning of the program).
One of my favorite recollections is of a presentation at an assisted living residence last year. Tracie, the recreation director, brought her four year old son and two year old daughter to the event, along with her husband. I gave the kids a couple of Junior Texas Ranger badges I always carry.
Marcus, the four year old, wanted to participate. He couldn't really take part in the actual event, but at its conclusion his dad and I worked up a sketch, where Marcus' dad was a "good guy" I was the "bad guy" and Marcus was the sheriff. I shot Marcus' dad, then "Sheriff" Marcus and I had a showdown, in which he outdrew me and shot me down.
We had to reenact that scenario more than once for the residents. And Tracie told me that for weeks afterward all Marcus would talk about was that he was a "real cowboy sheriff."
And last May, I gave a Wild West day to benefit Miracles in Motion, a therapeutic riding center in Keene, New Hampshire. For that one Yankee came along, and also my Horse Patrol partner Debbie McConnell and her B.L.M. Mustang mare, Joya.
That day included bank robberies, shoot-outs, cowboy singalongs, and Yank and I doing our stunts. Over three hundred people attended, many of them kids, others parents and grandparents who wanted their kids to see some Western action and heritage. If we could get more people to put on reenactments like that, to both educate and entertain people about our Western heritage, then the future of the Western novel would no longer be in doubt."

Check out Jim's Story The Youngest Ranger online.

Main author pics by Patricia Johnson.
Ranger Belt Pic by Amanda Cruz

This is especially for those from outside the United States and Canada who might want to try one of my Texas Ranger novels, but who don't want to face the high cost of the price of the book combined with the expensive overseas shipping charges. My five iUniverse titles are available as ebooks directly through the iUniverse website at . The cost is only $6.00 US. The ebooks can be ordered by going to the website, click on the bookstore link, then type "James J. Griffin" in the search box."


Ray said...

Great interview with an interesting writer. Jim really does believe in the western and that the period is part of American history. I read a short story of his on Rope and Wire and was impressed by the depth of character and story told in a few words.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

RAY - I've also got a follow up piece that I'll run around the next Wild West Monday in which Jim speaks more about the western presentations he does.

Jo Walpole said...

I absolutely agree with what a good western is. It's as if we read the same manual. I'll definitely try to get hold of one of Jim's books. Good interview, Gary, and I like the way you flavour it with a few of your own thoughts. Jo

Steve M said...

Really enjoyed this interview Gary. I've two of Jim's books sitting on my shelves: Border Raiders and Trouble Rides the Texas Pacific. I really must get around to reading them soon.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Steve - There's more from Jim coming up on The TAINTED ARCHIVE when I look at the western presentations he holds in more detail.

Glad you liked the interview.

Unknown said...

I've swapped emails with Jim Griffin. He's a good guy and gave me some valuable advice on equine temperament which I incorporated, with acknowledgment, in Ride the Wild Country. At the GGG/Piccadilly Cowboys board the other day, Andreas asked, "What is the point of a western without violence or sex?" True, he was coming at the issue from the angle of publishers inflicting absurd cuts, but Jim (and I) could have pointed to many points. That said, I don't see the Old West, or any place and period in history, in such clear, black-and-white terms as Jim. I could never write satisfying fiction from such a standpoint. Nor, interestingly, could Zane Grey or Max Brand. To be convincing, the heroes must have their weaknesses; the bad guys must have their strengths.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I think there's room for both schools of thought on this - I agree characters having weaknesses make them more complex but quite often the spirit of a damn good adventure can carry you along just fine.

Saying that I would like to one day write something with the uber violence of the Italian westerns. Extremely graphic but tongue in cheek - The Edge books do this well

Unknown said...

Indeed, Gary, the Edge books do what they do very well! I've tried to incorporate that tongue-in-cheek flavor to an extent in the Misfit Lil books. The very name "Misfit Lil" contains this implication surely. Just this week someone wrote they'd enjoyed Misfit Lil Cleans Up and its level of "friskiness" (good word that, Roy!). It is very frustrating for the author when he gets to the seventh book in a successful series, Misfit Lil Robs the Bank and the publisher mentions intentions to take out the friskiness in copy-editing.

By the way, "good" always wins out over "bad" in every Misfit Lil story, so we're not talking about a real anti-hero(ine) here. And we are not far apart at all when it comes to demanding a fast-moving, action-packed adventure story.

Unknown said...

Sorry, ML Robs the Bank is the sixth Lil yarn. The seventh will be the one currently outlined, ML Cheats the Hangrope, which I should be working on. I'm sure Lil's followers will like it, but it's difficult to know whether the successful series can continue to both the author/readers' satisfaction and the publisher's.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I think a lot of readers are eager for the next Lil adventure. Keep them coming.

Bob said...

I live in Texas and I know how famous the Rangers are, but I believe the Northwest Mounted Police are probably more famous than the other police organizations cited.
I think everyone is familiar with the Mounties and their bright red coats.

Just my opinion....


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