Sunday, 31 January 2010


1 - You write westerns under the name of Chuck Tyrell - Is there any meaning behind this pen name?

My name of Charles T. Whipple. Chuck is a nickname for Charles. Tyrell is my middle name and the family name of one of my father's favorite teachers. Simple.
2 - How long have you had your interest in westerns? How did it initially develop?
The first Western I remember reading was a biography of Wild Bill Hickock published by Landmark Books, which was a book club my parents bought for me when I was nine or ten years old. That same series had a biography of George Armstrong Custer and another of Angus McKay, the designer of America's famed Clipper ships. As I was born and raised in rural Arizona, the West was part of my lifestyle. I received my first real rifle, a .22 single shot, for Christmas in 1953. I always had a pistol and a rifle until I moved to Japan the first time in 1968. (Japan does not allow its citizens to bear arms.) Since I reached the age to buy my own reading material, I have consistently bought and read Westerns. In particular, I have probably read all of Zane Grey's works, ditto Max Brand, lots of Matt Braun, Clair Huffaker, Gordon Sheriffs, and Louis L'Amour, of course.

3- What can readers new to your work expect to find?
I tend to place my stories in areas of Arizona that I am familiar with. So the reader can expect the geography to be quite accurate, even when I use a fictitious town. My town of Longhorn, where the main action of The Killing Trail takes place, is based on Holbrook, Arizona. The town of Ponderosa is based on the sawmill town of McNary, which is now almost a ghost town The mill is gone, but the big log pond remains. Ponderosa is the site of Guns of Ponderosa, and Paradise Valley and Paradise Creek in the novel Hell Fire in Paradise is a few miles east of Ponderosa. My characters are entirely from my imagination, but historical characters often play walk-on roles. The one exception is The Killing Trail, in which the entire book, area and people, is fiction.

4- The western has been on something of a revival in recent years. Where do you see the future of the genre going?
Unfortunately, I am not a mainstream Western author and have few connections with the community of Western writers in the United States. Judging from what's going on in the Western Writers Association, I think Westerns are gaining some momentum. When I went to Arizona in September 2009, I found that many residents of the state, even newcomers, were very interested in Arizona history. There were also western novels in most of the supermarkets. I was quite encouraged about the future of our genre. While our novels tend to be escapist, I feel we would be sell served if we paid more attention of actual history and wove our stories around actual events and about actual places. Nevertheless, the success of any novel depends on its characters and the conflicts they face in their lives.

5- Tell us a little about the way you work - do you write a set amount each day, have a target to reach?
I write every day. I don't always work on a novel every day. Once I start a BHW novel, I try to finish a chapter a week in first draft. My chapters are 2000-3000 words long, and contain three to five scenes. When I worked every day in my office in Tokyo, I wrote westerns on my coffee breaks and usually got 250-500 words done each day. I started a BHW novel in December but found after two chapters that it didn't sound right so I shelved it and am currently noodling different story lines. Some writers have many stories already in their heads. I think Howard is that way. I have to think the story through and come up with a final resolution before I start. I find that if a writer has the opening scene and the resolution in mind, the middle of the book moves along quite smoothly. Then, when the first draft is complete, the opening may have to be revised.

6-What advice would you give aspiring writers
Keep writing. I wrote Vulture Gold in 1979. It was finally published more than 20 years later after a great deal of editing and rewriting. The story, however, held up well. So, keep writing and writing.

I also think some writing courses are very valuable. When I finally made the decision to become a writer, the first thing I did was spend money I could not afford on a writing correspondence class. That led to my first magazine article sale, and I continue to write for magazines and newspapers. I also read many books on writing. I think John Gardner is the one of the best instructors in the art of fiction. Orson Scott Card's books on fiction -- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Characters and Viewpoints -- give any fiction writer important incites about characters and stories. Finally, a book by nonfiction guru Jon Franklin -- Write for Story -- gives writers an important tool for plotting scenes and stories.

7 - you maintain a blog (this will be linked to). Is this the place to go for readers to learn more about our books?
At the moment, my blog is purely personal. While it contains information about westerns and the west, it is not designed to promote western literature. I plan to launch a new Western-oriented blog in coming months, but first must learn more about online promotion and effective blogging. My blog is

8-And you are very active in the BHW forum - does the fact that there is this community between BHW writers help you at all in writing your own books.
It's always good to have an active forum like BHW on Yahoo. Writing can be a very lonely profession, and the Group helps us feel part of a community. Activity on the Group gave me the fictional town of Longhorn, and I used it in The Killing Trail. The recent Story with No Name exercise was a very good look at the writing styles and thought processes of a number of BHW writers. That in itself was very valuable. I suppose that if we were a writers group, there would be more passing around of drafts for comments, but as everyone is working on several projects at once, the added burden of critique might be too much. I do think the process of putting together our anthologies -- Where Legends Ride, and A Fistful of Legends -- was beneficial to the writers because they had good editors to help them and beneficial to the readers because the anthologies give them top-notch
western fiction.

9-Tell us about any future projects.
I have a draft -- The Snake Den -- which I must edit to bring it within Hale guidelines. And I have a mystery that needs a rewrite. I'm doing a lot of research about America in Resolutionary War times and eventually plan to write about a privateer in that conflict. My model for this effort is Bernard Cornwell and his Sharpe series.

10 - Finally - desert island western - film and book
Ah, marooned on a desert island, eh? Hmmm. I would have to take a James Michener book and would vacillate among Centennial, Texas, Mexico . . . . My favorite Western film at the moment features Tom Selleck. It's based on a book by Elmore Leonard -- Last Stand at Sabre River. The conflict between the husband and wife, to me, is far more important than the big rancher vs small rancher one. It's a minor film, but a very good one.

1 comment:

Nik Morton said...

Good interview of a good writer & editor. Coincidence? Last week I ordered the DVD Last Stand at Sabre River...