SIX GUNS AND SLAY BELLS – A NEW ANTHOLOGY FROM
THE WESTERN FICTIONEERS
As both a writer and a reader, I have a personal preference for the short story form over the novel. Sometimes tales need to sprawl, but more often I prefer them to get to the point. I particularly like collections, whether it be old pulps, new mystery magazines, or anthologies, for two reasons: they expose you to a lot of different writers, and if you don’t like one story, you may like the next. If you don’t like a novel, you’re either stuck tossing it, wasting the money you spent, or worse, stuck wasting your time as well, if you make yourself finish it.
The WESTERN FICTIONEERS has published their second anthology of western fiction, SIX GUNS AND SLAY BELLS, and it is a hum-dinger. For those of you not familiar with the FICTIONEERS – and they are a very new outfit, so don’t kick yourself too hard – they are a group of professional writers of traditional western fiction. Though virtually all members also belong to the WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA, that organization, started in 1953, spreads a much bigger poncho, covering non-fiction writers, poets and songwriters among others. The FICTIONEERS was formed a couple of years ago to focus entirely on western prose, and “…preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century.” They’ve been mighty successful at it. Their first anthology, THE TRADITIONAL WEST, was a big success.
Their new volume has an unusual focus, which the full title reveals – SIX-GUNS AND SLAY BELLS: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas. Its fifteen “heart-stopping yuletide tales” have married the west and Christmas and the supernatural, and while some would say marriages are better between two rather than three, there is a great deal of pleasure to be found here among the graves and horses, and I heartily recommend it.
The fifteen authors featured include some of the most respected authors writing today in the western genre: Robert J. Randisi, Chuck Tyrell, Troy D. Smith, C. Courtney Joyner, Matthew P. Mayo, Douglas Hirt, James Reasoner, John Guin, Charlie Steel, Clay More, Cheryl Pierson, Larry D. Sweazy, James J, Griffith, Christine Matthews, and L.J. Washburn.
While making my way through the stories I have had the pleasure of chatting with three of the authors. I spoke to Matthew Mayo, whose story, O Unholy Night, concerns a pair of snow-bound cowhands who find shelter in a most disturbing place. His most recent book is the non-fiction HAUNTED OLD WEST. I asked him why someone who writes so well about the west lives in
MATTHEW MAYO: Western writers, I have found, live pretty much everywhere. They live in
New Zealand, Australia, all over Britain, all over Europe. I grew up in New England, though I have lived in Montana, and travelled extensively throughout North America. A love the West, especially, I guess you’d call it the Hollywood version, before you get old enough to worry about the real history of the West, that’s what started it all, growing up in a household where my dad liked westerns, books and watching the movies and TV shows.
HENRY: What westerns that you read or saw as a kid influenced you?
MATTHEW: Everything John Wayne did that was available on-screen. I really enjoyed BONANAZA, and later on GUNSMOKE, always in re-runs of course. I also liked THE WILD WILD WEST because it was a little off-beat.
HENRY: Were there any western writers who influenced you?
MATTHEW: I think I started out like so many people reading novels by Louis L’Amour, because his books were so ubiquitous. I still have tons and tons of them just because he’s so reliable. I can turn to any one of them, even if I’ve read it before, and still find something which will amuse me. He led to my discovering all sorts of other writers.
HENRY: You’ve written both novels and short stories. Is your approach to the two forms different, in terms of preparation, and how much you outline?
MATTHEW: Yes, in that a short story takes less time, but it doesn’t necessarily take less mental power. It’s a little more straight-forward, less complex. Certainly less time for subplots and that kind of thing. It’s as fun, maybe more fun, to write a short story. Because you can frequently shoe-horn them in between the bigger projects, and they’re so satisfying and gratifying when they come together. It’s like writing a poem. When you rearrange the words, and everything sort of works together, and you lean back and say, ‘Oh, great! I hope other people like this as much as I do right now.’ As a matter of fact I just cracked Louis L’Amour’s YONDERINGS, which is a collection of short stories.
HENRY: What was the first thing you wrote that got published?
MATTHEW: I don’t really remember, because I started writing poetry, years and years and years ago. I’ve published poetry for a few decades now; and I still like to submit now and again to literary journals. And then I went on to short stories and I don’t recall what the first short story was. And wrote a novel, WINTER’S WAR, submitted it to Hale Heywood at Black Horse, published that in 2007. I just re-released it under my own imprint.
HENRY: Was UNHOLY NIGHT written for this anthology?
MATTHEW: I wrote a book early in 2012 called HAUNTED OLD WEST, that just came out the end of August. It’s a collection of stories about real places that are allegedly haunted. And one of them was the story, passed around campfires and such, about a haunted saloon, that has popped up over the years to various people in
. But nobody could ever find it again, once they stumbled upon it. So I wrote about that for the non-fiction book. And I liked the idea so I took the basic idea, and just ran with it for the short story. My characters, Maple Jack and Roamer, have appeared in novels and in a pile of short stories. Wyoming
HENRY: Can a writer actually make a living today, writing just short stories?
MATTHEW: (Laughs) That depends on how much overhead he has. I’m especially reminded of that in New England, although it’s a trait that people all across
share, but especially here, you piece your income together. I edit magazines, I write for magazines, I proofread and copy-edit. I write book reviews; I write novels for a house-name for Penguin, and I write my own novels, and a lot of non-fiction books. I wrote nine books last year, plus all the editing work. As well as short stories – I think I wrote six or eight short stories last year. You just fill your calendar and hope at the end of the year your spread-sheet isn’t bleeding. America
You can learn more about Matthew here: www.matthewmayo.com
Indiana-based Larry Sweazy’s story, THE LONGEST NIGHT, transports a traditionally Transylvanian milieu to the American West. However, his non-writing activities revolve around not bats, but birds.
HENRY: How did you get so involved with rehabbing birds?
LARRY SWEAVY: I’ve volunteered for six or seven years. I’ve always been a birder. I found an injured bird, and I ended up at a rehabbers ten minutes from my house. We hit it off, so I just started going out there once a week, at least. And then I run rescue, so I’ll get a call to go pick up an owl or a hawk or a baby humming-bird or whatever it may be, I go. One of the perks of being a freelancer. A lot of times they will have been hit by a car, or attacked by a cat. This has been a really bad year for
West Nile here. So they’ll be down and lethargic, and in need of help if that’s possible.
HENRY: I just finished THE LONGEST NIGHT, enjoyed it very much, and I was wondering if you’re much influenced by Jack London.
LARRY: (startled) How did you know that?
HENRY: Seeing the opening of the story from the point of view of the wolf.
LARRY: Hah, very good! Jack London’s absolutely one of my earliest influences.
HENRY: What other writers influenced you?
LARRY: A.B. Guthrie, as far as older western writers. Elmer Kelton of course. Present day would be a lot of the guys that are Fictioneers. Randisi, James Reasoner of course, Loren D. Estleman. James Lee Burke, who’s not a western writer. Long list really.
HENRY: Is your approach to doing a novel and a short story very different?
LARRY: Absolutely. I’m one of those guys who find short stories much more difficult to write than novels. Even though they don’t take as long, although sometimes they can, it depends; fits and starts. With a novel you can wander around and go off on tangents, and sometimes they turn out to be something completely different from what you started. You don’t really have the opportunity for that with a short story. If you don’t have that sort of O. Henry twist in your mind, something that you’re working toward, boy, it’s going to be a fight and a struggle. So I always really try and think it through, and have that destination, that little twist, or that revelation. I see a novel as an evolution, and a short story as a revelation. If you think about it, that’s what a good short story has to have.
HENRY: If income wasn’t a factor, would you rather be writing short stories or novels?
LARRY: Wow. You know, I like both forms. I started writing short stories, that was really where my focus was when I started writing. It took me a long time to work up the courage to try a novel, and to take on something that big. I really like writing them both. I really can’t say that I’d pick one over the other.
HENRY: Why westerns?
LARRY: Why westerns; that’s a really long story. Every western has a mystery, and I think I write mysteries as much as I write westerns. The whole genre conversation I find really interesting. I grew up in the ‘60s as a kid. So I turned on the TV and all three channels, what did I have? I had THE RIFLEMAN, BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, GUNSMOKE. Those are my early influences. They really kind of stuck with me. It wasn’t something I started out toward, when I started out as a writer. But I kind of found my way there, and the western found me, so it’s kind of interesting how it turned out.
HENRY: What’s the first thing that you had published?
LARRY: The very first thing was a mystery short story, Loretta’s Garden, in a little magazine called HARDBOILED in 1993.
HENRY: Do you think the traditional western is endangered?
LARRY: Every genre goes through peaks and valleys. If you look at TV right now, depending on your interpretation of a western, JUSTIFIED and LONGMIRE and the new CBS thing VEGAS, they’re all westerns. They’re not set in the traditional 1870s or 1880s west, but they’re still westerns. And you’ve got DJANGO UNCHAINED coming out. I think westerns are enduring. I don’t think they’re ever going to go away. But I think it’s important that people who love or write or want to write traditional westerns have a place to go. (To the WESTERN FICTIONEERS.)
HENRY: Did you write THE LONGEST NIGHT with this collection in mind?
LARRY: I wrote it specifically for this collection, this anthology. They put out the call, ‘We’re going to do a western Christmas supernatural anthology.’ And I thought, wow, now that’s a challenge. That’s not something that comes along every day. How am I going to incorporate all three of those elements, and bring something fresh to it? And at the same time, you’re dealing with Christmas and holidays and (the) supernatural, and that’s kind of a conflict in itself, unless you go…. I went a little dark. (chuckles) I didn’t go touchy-feely with it.
HENRY: Was there anything in particular that triggered this story?
LARRY: You know, I started thinking about Christmas being a celebration for us. And it is the longest night. So it would be, for these creatures, their reason to celebrate. Their longest time when they can exist with the energy that they needed. So I started thinking what ‘The Longest Night’ would incorporate, and that was kind of where the idea came from. And the title kind of stuck. Oddly enough, another one of the authors picked that title too, and he acquiesced gracefully to my story, which I greatly appreciate.
HENRY: Have you ever written something with a supernatural bent before this?
LARRY: Yeah, I’ve written short stories that had a supernatural twist to it. I wrote a steam-punk short story that came out last year in an anthology, WESTWARD WEIRD, that Marty Greenberg (edited). I think it was his last one, actually, before he passed away.
HENRY: What are you writing that people should be looking out for?
LARRY: My next Josiah Wolfe novel, which is my series, comes out in May.
HENRY: How many Josiah Wolfe’s have you written so far?
LARRY: The fifth one just came out in August. The one in May will be number six. You have a great site, by the way. I subscribe on the RSSP. It keeps me informed, and it keeps me hopeful about the western, because there’s always things going on that I learn from your site.
You can learn more about Larry here: http://www.larrydsweazy.com/
C. COURTNEY JOYNER
C. Courtney Joyner’s story is Christmas for Evangeline, and it deals with the fact that, when two people commit a crime, and someone dies, even if they get away with it, the two are, in a way, joined for life. I told Courtney that as I was reading Evangeline, I found myself picturing it in black & white, with Alfred Hitchcock doing the opening and closing.
C. COURTNEY JOYNER: (laughs) I think it just goes from my background, and a tendency to write in a way that reminds people of a movie or a TV episode. That can be a good thing, but that can also be a bad thing. The switch in shifting those gears, as I’ve been working with the novel, really trying to adjust myself to the freedom that comes with prose, hasn’t been easy for me. I don’t want to water down whatever strengths I have because of my professional background, but by the same token, one of the great reasons to do prose is you’re stretching your muscles. But thank you very much; that’s a lovely compliment.
HENRY: Is your approach to writing a short story very different from your approach to writing a novel?
COURTNEY: Of anybody who has contributed to these collections that I am fortunate enough to be in, THE TRADITIONAL WEST, LAW OF THE GUN, FISTFUL OF LEGENDS, I am absolutely the new kid on the block. These other writers not only are terrific writers, but they have enormous background, an enormous catalog of material. They are novelists with extensive publication histories. And that just isn’t me: I’m a screenwriter, and I came to this very late in the game. So I’m still brand new – my first novel has yet to be published. And it’s been a direct result of the few short stories I’ve been fortunate enough to have published. Straight out, none of this would have happened if I’d not been involved with either the Western Writers of America and the Fictioneers. Because that’s where I got to know Matt Mayo, and that was so instrumental in getting me going with Nik Morton and Blackhorse Express Publishers. Western Writers of America is completely how I got to know Gary Goldstein, and Gary Goldstein is Pinnacle Books, and they’re publishing my first novel. None of this would have been possible without all of these incredible veteran writers – and half these guys are younger than I am, but they’ve done so much more in this area. It’s the most supportive community of writers that I’ve ever seen.
HENRY: What writers influenced you as a youth?
COURTNEY: Because of the connection with the movies, it really boils down to Elmore Leonard. The first that I ever read was a dog-eared copy of HOMBRE that my father had. And George Gilman, creator of THE EDGE series, a very violent paperback series out of
. During the western boom and the mass market paperback boom in the ‘60s – when I’m a kid, 13 or 14 years old -- I’m buying the novelizations of FIRECREEK; CAHILL, U.S. MARSHALL; HEC RAMSEY. And I’m reading the MAN WITH NO NAME books that Joe Millard was writing. I didn’t realize at the time how many of those writers were English, The Carnaby Cowboys. England
HENRY: Did you know you wanted to write when you were very young?
COURTNEY: My mother was a newspaper woman, and also wrote a lot of non-fiction. She wrote a very good book about furniture refinishing that is still cited as one of the best books for antiquers. My father was not only a physician, but a professor of medicine, so he also had written several text books; in fact he’s considered the father of ultrasonic medicine in the
. My father’s best friend was Harold Hayes, the editor of ESQUIRE MAGAZINE. So I kind of grew up with all that stuff, not in the highfaluting way, but I was around that quite a bit. United States
HENRY: What was the first thing you wrote that got made?
COURTNEY: I did an episode of a television show, I’ve never been able to get a copy of, called LAMP UNTO MY FEET (a religious series that ran on CBS from 1948 to 1979). Keenan Wynn was in it, and it was one of the last things he ever did. He was deaf as a post, I remember that. When I got out of college, (writer-director) Virgil Vogel brought me over to Universal. He had read a screenplay of mine, and put me together with a writer on a project that didn’t happen. But then Virgil and I wrote a spec MAGNUM P.I. that got sold, and we also did a spec AIRWOLF that got sold. The first feature was FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, with Vincent Price. That was made independently with my college roommates and I. The very first things I had published were newspaper cartoons. The first print that I had published was movie journalism.
HENRY: How has the Fictioneers been important to you?
COURTNEY: Wanting to be so actively involved in publishing certainly gives an opportunity to writers like myself to get their work out there and exposed, and also to be put in a collection alongside some pretty amazing fellows and ladies. It’s a wonderful open-door policy for members to participate in these projects.
HENRY: I was wondering if anything in particular triggered the idea for Christmas For Evangeline?
COURTNEY: I thought about CHRISTMAS CAROL; what is that about? It’s about guilt, and the sins we carry with us, and how they effect us. And that’s what I wanted to do something about. You have these guys who have this terrible bloody secret, and it’s driving one of them literally crazy. And if you have someone like that, can they be manipulated?
You can learn more about Courtney here: http://www.ccourtneyjoyner.com/
In addition to the anthologies, the Fictioneers are also publishing a series of collaborative western novels called
. Written under the name Ford Fargo, different authors create major characters, and write from their perspective, and an editor oversees them all. WOLF CREEK
You can learn more about WESTERN FICTIONEERS, and order any of their books here: http://www.westernfictioneers.com/
The official release date for SIX-GUNS AND SLAY BELLS is Halloween, October 31st. If you’re in
Southern California, and would like to pick up a copy autographed by one of the authors, Courtney Joyner will be signing at Dark Delicacies on Friday, November 16th, at 6 p.m. http://www.darkdel.com/ And on December 1st Courtney will be signing at OutWest in Santa Clarita. http://www.outwestmktg.com/
RENEWS ‘COPPER’ FOR SECOND SEASON AMERICA
On the eve of tonight’s airing of the final season-one episode of COPPER, BBC America has announced that the series has been renewed for a second season. Better still, while the first season was ten episodes long, the standard for cable series, season two will have thirteen episodes. According to BBC America’s General Manager Perry Simon, "BBC
's first original scripted series, COPPER, has proven to be a perfect fit for the channel. Our viewers have made it our highest-rated series premiere ever and highest-rated drama series ever. Production led by Tom Fontana, Will Rokos, Barry Levinson and Christina Wayne, along with the cast from both sides of the pond, truly captured the boiling pot that was AMERICA in 1864. We can't wait to get started on the second season." New York City
SILVER SPUR TICKET PRICE SLASHED!
THE SILVER SPUR AWARDS is just days away, on Saturday, October 27th, and you need to BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! When I spoke to REEL COWBOYS President Robert Lanthier on Thursday, he told me tickets which were $125 are now just $99! Honorees are western leading lady Anne Jeffreys, Robert ‘Elfego Baca’ Loggia, Tom ‘Billy Jack’ Laughlin, Bo Svenson, ace stunt-man Clifford Happy, and the late, great singing cowboy Rex Allen. Presenters are Bo Hopkins, Louis Gossett Jr., Wilford Brimley, Terry Moore, Ben ‘Alias Smith & Jones’ Murphy and Boyd Magers. Rex Allen Jr. is your master of ceremonies, and he and Erwin Jackson and the Canyon Riders will provide the music. It’s at the Sportmen’s Lodge in
. I attended last year, and it was a blast! Here’s the link to my write-up of last years’ event: http://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2011/10/14th-silver-spurs-honors-best-of-west.html Studio City
Every year the non-profit REEL COWBOYS chooses a different charity to support with their banquet, and this year it’s the MVAT Foundation. When I spoke with Robert Lanthier on Thursday, things were, frankly, looking pretty dire. “We have 166 tickets left to sell. This is for charity, for quadriplegic veterans, for families of veterans.” But I just got off the phone with Robert on Sunday afternoon, and the great news is that since, the word got out, so many of you have stepped up to help, and happily there are still a few tickets left.
The biggest thank-you must go to the talented and beautiful Rhonda Fleming. She’s bought two tables, and offered them to the Wounded Warriors Charity, so that many of our heroes can attend! Robert tells me that the man who has been helping him pull all the talent together is actor Tommy Cook, the movies’ original ‘Little Beaver’ from THE ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER. To buy tickets with a credit card, call Sharon Evans at 818-352-7665. To buy by check call Robert Lanthier at 818-395-5020. For more information about the event, visit the REEL COWBOYS site at www.reelcowboys.org
TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!
And speaking of TCM (okay, nobody was), have I mentioned that the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here?
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepreneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permanent galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166.
WESTERN ALL OVER THE DIAL
INSP’s SADDLE-UP SATURDAY features a block of rarely-seen classics THE VIRGINIAN and HIGH CHAPARRAL, along with BONANZA and THE BIG VALLEY. On weekdays they’re showing LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, BIG VALLEY, HIGH CHAPARRAL and DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN.
ME-TV’s Saturday line-up includes BRANDED, THE REBEL and THE GUNS OF WILL SONNETT. On weekdays it’s DANIEL BOONE, GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, BIG VALLEY, WILD WILD WEST, and THE RIFLEMAN.
RFD-TV, the channel whose president bought Trigger and Bullet at auction, have a special love for Roy Rogers. They show an episode of The Roy Rogers Show on Sunday mornings, a Roy Rogers movie on Tuesday mornings, and repeat them during the week.
WHT-TV has a weekday afternoon line-up that’s perfect for kids, featuring LASSIE, THE ROY ROGERS SHOW and THE LONE RANGER.
TV-LAND angered viewers by dropping GUNSMOKE, but now it’s back every weekday, along with BONANZA.
AMC is the HELL ON WHEELS station, and they’ve been a block of episodes of THE RIFLEMAN, sometimes a half-dozen of them, on Saturday morning, before Western features.
That's a wrap for tonight's Round-up! Have a great week, and please DON'T send me emails mentionting how HELL ON WHEELS or COPPER ended, since I'm several weeks behind on both!
All Original Contents Copyright October 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved