When — and why — did you first fall in love with Westerns?
Watching them on TV as a kid. “Gunsmoke still rules.” The West looked and felt a whole lot different than the tobacco fields and swamps where I grew up in South Carolina, and it’s true: I did play hooky my senior year in high school to watch “Fort Apache” on TV. The literature came when I was in my teens. I’d read a lot of Westerns and liked many of them, but can’t say I fell in love with any until I discovered Jack Schaefer, Dorothy M. Johnson and A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Who are your three favorite Western writers?
I’m a faithful lover. Jack, Dorothy, Bud.
Which Western do you wish you’d written?
I’ll take the fifth on that one. But I can name quite a few that I wish I hadn’t written. As John Jakes once told me, “Books are like children. You love them all, but sometimes they might not turn out the way you’d hoped.”
What is the most recent Western you’ve read?
Nonfiction: “Shotguns and Stagecoaches: The Brave Men Who Rode for Wells Fargo in the Wild West” by John Boessenecker.
Fiction: “The Which Way Tree” by Elizabeth Crook.
The “Desert Island” question. What are your three favorite Western books?
Fiction: “Monte Walsh” by Jack Schaefer. “The Hanging Tree and Other Stories” by Dorothy M. Johnson. “The Big Sky” by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Nonfiction: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain. “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Eagan.
What are your three favorite Western movies?
“The Searchers.” “Lonely Are the Brave.” “The Grapes of Wrath.” But if I’m stuck on an island, I’d rather watch something less depressing than those three films. How about “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “3:10 to Yuma” (the original) and “Callaway Went Thataway”?
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite — and why?
“Camp Ford.” It’s a baseball novel, my first baseball novel and American literature’s first Civil War, POW camp escape, baseball Western. And it was my first novel to win a Spur Award from Western Writers of America. I loved baseball before I loved Westerns. I was a crappy player, but turned into a pretty good coach and umpire.
What is the most recent Western you’ve written?
I just sent “The Fall of Abilene” to my agent. That should come out next summer. It’s about the last year of Abilene, Kansas, as a cattle town, and a teen who pals around with John Wesley Hardin and Wild Bill Hickok. The most recent release is “Taos Lightning,” about a boy competing on a half-tame mustang in an endurance horse race from Texas to New England in 1886.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
The next book scheduled for release is “MacKinnon,” I think, due out in December. It’s about a loser whose plans for revenge get interrupted by a young woman and two young siblings stuck in the desert. It was inspired by Eugene Manlove Rhodes’ novella “Pasó Por Aquí,” which was turned into an underrated gem of a little Western in 1948, “Four Faces West” starring Joel McCrea. If I could have four movies on that island, that would be my choice. And I could’ve put the novella down, too, for an island read, but didn’t want to make Jack, Dorothy and Bud jealous.
If you could go back in time, what would be the time and place in the Old West you’d like to have lived in for a year?
Last Monday morning. Santa Fe, New Mexico. My office. I could go back and have one whole year to revise “The Fall of Abilene.”
Is there a question you wish I’d asked?
Nope. I’ve got an office to finish cleaning before getting started on the next projects. Thanks.