When — and why — did you first fall in love with Westerns?
I have to admit I didn’t really start reading Westerns until recently, but I have been a Western movie fan for as long as I can remember. I used to stay up late with my mom watching movies on the “Late Late Show.” Our favorites were “Bowery Boys” movies and Westerns with stars like John Wayne, Gabby Hayes, Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott.
We also watched serials together. I was fascinated with the cliffhanger serials they used to play in movie theaters before the main features (this was before my time, but they eventually showed them on TV). I loved those shorts. I used to tape as many as I could on VHS tapes and then bought DVDs of them whenever I could find them. I’m sure that is why I modeled my book series after the cliffhanger movie shorts. They were such a big part of my childhood. I don’t even know how many times I watched the Lone Ranger shorts. I still love them.
My mom was a big influence in this area. She actually dated a few men when she was young who were stunt men in Wild West shows. One even went on to be in numerous movies as an actor and a stunt man. Later, she married my dad, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. I always tease her that her life is just one big game of Cowboys and Indians.
My maternal grandmother was also a huge influence. I remember my Granny always reading Westerns. While I was in college, I worked for a bookstore, and I used to bring her bags full of Westerns. I eventually started reading a few of the Westerns she loved. She would give me honest, often blunt to the bone, reviews of them. She was a big reason why I started writing Westerns, which is why the first book I published under my name was dedicated to her.
Who are your three favorite Western writers?
My favorite Western authors tend to be influenced by my favorite Western movies. If there is a movie I love, I will search out the book, if there is one that inspired the movie. Two such books are Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” and Glendon Swarthout’s “The Shootist.” These authors are great at the classic Western story that gives you a glimpse of what it was probably like to live in the Old West. I also tend to like stories that highlight the struggles of lawlessness that were often rampant in the Wild West. Ed Gorman’s “Wolf Moon” is a good example of that type of Western thriller.
Which Western do you wish you’d written?
I’d probably have to go with Ed Gorman’s “Wolf Moon.” My first degree is in journalism but my second is in forensic criminology. I had been planning to pursue a career as a firearms and tool-marks examiner and got certified to work on a crime scene unit. Unfortunately, just as I was starting to apply for jobs, life decided I needed to go in a different direction. I still love reading true crime and case studies, so anytime a writer can bring that criminal/thriller element into their fiction, it captures my attention.
What is the most recent Western you’ve read?
Ed Gorman’s “Wolf Moon.”
The “Desert Island” question. What are your three favorite Western books?
Easy answer to that question — the three I mentioned already: “Wolf Moon,” “The Shootist,” “Lonesome Dove,” in that order.
What are your three favorite Western movies?
Not surprisingly, they are all John Wayne movies. My absolute favorite has always been “Angel and the Badman.” I could watch that movie over and over until the DVD gives out. Second is “North to Alaska.” This is definitely one of my favorite weekend, feel-good movies. The last has to be “True Grit.” I will admit I’m also fond of the Jeff Bridges remake, but in my opinion, no one will ever beat John Wayne for classic Western movies. (I’ll admit to a guilty pleasure here too; I kind of like “Cowboys and Aliens,” but don’t tell anyone.)
Now, if I could take the entire series of a cliffhanger short Western serial as one movie, then I might have to change my answer on this one. If I could have all the “Lone Ranger” shorts, I’d be good to go.
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite — and why?
“Into the West: The Orphan Train” is easily my favorite. So much of this book comes from old family stories I heard from my dad and his sisters, my mom, and Granny. The original idea even came from a friend of mine. His great aunt had actually come to Kansas on the Orphan Train. She was taken in by a family but never adopted.
After I heard her story, I went to the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia, Kansas. I spent a day researching some of the stories of riders of the Orphan Train. It is a fascinating and heartbreaking time in history. While some of the orphan train riders did end up having great lives, many others had rather sad tales of isolation and abuse. It touched me so much I knew when I was ready to write my own serial I wanted to bring some of what I learned there to light.
The riders of my train fall across the entire spectrum of the realities I learned about at the museum with some of my own family histories peppered in. There is one scene in “Into the West: The Orphan Train” that many people have told me brought them to tears. It is a scene in the orphanage when my main character, Elizabeth, is punished for being out of bed after bed time. This scene was based on an actual family story. When people find out that it really happened to a child and to one of my relatives, it really touches them emotionally. That is the thing I think every writer wants to achieve, to be able to reach their readers on a deeply emotional level. Nothing compares to that.
What is the most recent Western you’ve written?
I just finished my forth micro-short story for your Western collection books. Of course, only the first two collections, “The Shot Rang Out” and “A Dark & Stormy Night,” have been published to date. It’s been an amazing privilege being a part of these Western short story collections.
The last book I wrote was “Into the West: A New Home.” It’s book two in my “Into the West Serial Saga.” Currently, I’m working on book three, “Into the West: Sharon Springs.”
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
“Into the West: Sharon Springs” is the third book in the “Into the West Saga Serial Collection.” I’ll admit I’m struggling with this one. The first two just flew out onto the computer screen with very little effort, but book three is proving to be an exercise in determination. I think part of my problem is I have been working so much on promotion for the serial that I’m losing focus on my story. I was hoping that writing the micro-short stories for your book collections would be the creative push I needed to get the ideas flowing again, but I’m so distracted with trying to generate some attention for my books it’s difficult to keep the momentum up.
I knew when I started out on this path that it would be an uphill battle to get my work noticed, and I was ready for that. However, I had mistakenly assumed that I could, at the very least, wrangle all my friends and family into reading my books and posting reviews online to help get things rolling. I laugh at how naive that idea was. Nowadays everyone has to hustle so much every day just to meet their own needs there isn’t always time to sit down, read a book and post a review, even for someone you love and want to help out. It is especially difficult to make time if you are just doing it as a favor to a friend and not because you have a genuine interest in the genre. Many people have sacrificed for me and made time to support my work, and I am forever grateful to each and every one. You will see their names in the acknowledgments of my books and often on my webpage, but it’s going to take a lot more work to actually start reaching people beyond my own personal circle.
I’m currently trying to find a balance so I can still work my first job, teaching English as a second language; have time for chores, Honey-dos, and family time with my better half (P.R.); focus on all the marketing and promotions; and also have days scheduled every week which are focused on nothing but writing and story development . . . and sleep, I always forget sleep on that list. I’m fairly new to this career path, but I’m confident I will find my balance . . . eventually.
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?
I would have liked to have seen Kansas around 1864. I was born and raised in Kansas, so I’m interested in its history. This was right after the Civil War and so much was changing. It was a very dangerous time but also incredible as far as civil changes that were taking place. There was a rumor in the family that a great-great-grandmother was the aunt of Frank and Jesse James. It would have been interesting to be around back then to see just how much of their legend is true and how much is Penny Press fiction.
Is there a question you’d wish I asked?
Where can I find out more information about you and your books?
So glad you asked. I have several pages on different social media platforms, but the easiest way to find out everything is to go to my personal website: StephenBurckhardt.com
From here you can find links to absolutely everything: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon Author Page, Google+, Instagram and YouTube. You can also find information about all of my books that are in print and books that are still in the works as well as links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble where the books are currently on sale in paperback and as e-books. Audio books are in the works.
There is even a Members Only page, which is free to join. Here you can find kids coloring pages, printable downloads, free short stories, and personal photos of me, my family and our amazing Russian rescue dog, Shaggy. Don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list by emailing [email protected], subject line: sign me up! I do not bombard people with email. I average one to three emails at the most per month.
Thanks for having interest in me and my work! It is greatly appreciated!