When — and why — did you first fall in love with Westerns?
Scott Harris, first of all, like all authors, I welcome the opportunity for an interview and to express my viewpoint about anything dealing with the West. Since your sudden appearance in the Western community, you certainly have become a busy and well-known presence!
Even as a kid, I was a bit of a loner and lived to fish, going to the trout stream for many hours each day through the summer. I exulted in the outdoors and things to do with nature, roaming the woods with my BB gun and bow and arrows.
At 8 years of age (I’ve told this innumerable times) I broke into my father’s private library. I got a spanking for it — he believed me too young and that I would damage his precious books. (Spankings NEVER stopped me from what I wanted to do.) I believe the first Western I read was by Zane Grey, entitled “Arizona Ames.” The next one was “The Light of the Western Stars,” later called “Majesty’s Rancho.”
The words I didn’t know (there were a lot of them), I wrote down and looked up in the dictionary. To this day I mispronounce words that I learned the meaning of but had no idea how to say. Despite the grown-up language, I fell in love with Grey’s descriptions of flora and fauna and the magnificent landscapes, and his portrayal of characters. From that moment on, I was hooked and went on to read all the books in my father’s library. This included novels by writers such as Jack London and James Oliver Curwood, a great number of Zane Grey books and some by the Western author William MacLeod Raine.
It wasn’t hard to put the spirit of the West in a little kid’s heart. Going to the Saturday afternoon matinee for 25 cents and getting pop and popcorn for 5 cents (during the early 1950s), I watched Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and later, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, etc. When I did take time to play with other kids, between chores and rushing off into the woods, we always played cowboy with many shootouts, wearing our cheap cap guns and cowboy hats. Every kid who lived in the U.S. (I am sure) did the very same thing during that era. There was no T.V.
Who are your three favorite Western writers?
There are so many writers I like, and pinning it down is difficult. Because I am a product of the 1940s and ’50s, and because I read nearly every book written by these authors, I must stick with the three great icons: Max Brand (Frederick Faust), Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour — in that order.
Which Western do you wish you’d written?
Geez. Two of them are actually Hollywood scripts (written by scriptwriters) that Louis L’Amour was able to adopt and turn into books. “Hondo” is one, and “How the West Was Won” is another. Perhaps I am biased because I really like the movies.
It is very unique how L’Amour was able to turn these scripts into books with his name as writer. As an aside, “Hondo” was based on L’Amour’s short story “The Gift of Cochise,” and it was John Wayne’s scriptwriter, James Edward Grant, who came up with the script and name “Hondo” for the movie. L’Amour turned the script into a book in his name (with John Wayne’s blessing), which was released simultaneously with the movie. This was the EXACT starting point for Louis L’Amour’s tremendous fame. L’Amour owes a lot to John Wayne for the beginning of his national and worldwide recognition as a Western author. The early “Hondo” book covers had reference to the movie and John Wayne’s name on them. Later, that was dropped as L’Amour became more and more famous.
Also, to my understanding, “How the West Was Won” was first written by scriptwriter James R. Webb. Louis L’Amour followed the script and embellished more in the book. The script came first, and the book followed. I don’t want Beau L’Amour mad at me, but this is information I gleaned from careful research.
However, Louis L’Amour was a hardworking writer and clever book promoter. He was a fantastic short story author, and his book “Reilly’s Luck” is fabulous. My favorite short story by him is “Trap of Gold.” Note: Louis L’Amour has sold over 320 million books, making him one of the most successful writers (regardless of genre) in human history. IMPRESSIVE INDEED!
Also, I wanted to know the turning point that made Zane Grey and Max Brand famous writers and, after much research, found it (too much detail to provide here). I discovered everyone needs help from others, preferably from famous people. Luck, as well as skill, is needed in this writing business!
To go back to your original question, it is just impossible to answer this properly when there are so many authors and well-written Westerns.
What is the most recent Western you’ve read?
I used to read so many books a day for decades. Not so much in older age. Last books:
• “West of the Big River: The Lawman” by James Reasoner. As many of you know, James Reasoner writes more than a million words a year. He sits at his writing desk, meeting multiple deadlines on multiple books, publishing possibly 10 or more a year. Last time I checked, he was heading beyond 350 books published under his name and pseudonyms. James Reasoner is a New York Times best-selling writer and superhuman author.
• “Dead Man’s Boot” by Patrick Dearen is an interesting book I reviewed some time back. Almost every one of his manuscripts takes up to a year — writing in a notebook each day while walking. Dearen has many awards, including the Elmer Kelton Book Award, the West Texas Historical Association Award, the Spur Award, the Peacemaker and the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. To date, “Dead Man’s Boot” has managed to win the Peacemaker finalist award, the Will Rogers Bronze Medallion and other awards. Patrick Dearen definitely stands out among his peers as a consummate writer about Texas cowboy life.
The “Desert Island” question. What are your three favorite Western books?
To make it easier for myself and readers of this article, I’ll stick with my answer above under: “Which Western do you wish you’d written?”
What are your three favorite Western movies?
“The Searchers,” “How the West Was Won” and “Hondo.”
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite — and why?
I have said and written this many times. I have a plethora of unpublished manuscripts, books and short stories written over the past 50 years. My favorite is one that is NOT published: “SEAN: The Irish American.” My favorite published Western is really an anthology: “Desert Heat, Desert Cold and Other Tales of the West.” That book contains 17 very interesting short stories, each accompanied by illustrations.
What is the most recent Western you’ve written?
“Applejack & Bat Masterson: Trinidad’s Law,” a historical Western.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
For me, editing takes forever. Many books are waiting in line to be published. Some of the stories and books are well over 20 years old or older. I am currently working on three anthologies: a series of stories about Satan in the West, one about women in the West, and a group of selected short stories about the West. As far as books, a rewrite of my first book, “Fight for Wet Springs” should be out this fall. “SEAN: The Irish American” and a book entitled “ARCHIBALD” are all being worked on. I don’t know which of these will be finished first and published first by Condor Publishing, Inc.
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 like to have been a plainsman, one of the first, making friends with the Cheyenne Indians. Living among them and hunting the largest herd of animals God put on this earth. There were as many as 40 million to 60 million buffalo. So many people thought they could NEVER be exterminated — herds that were so large they took three days to pass. (How these magnificent animals were nearly driven to extinction is one of the saddest tales of the West.)
Is there a question you’d wish I asked? The answer?
Not a question, but a statement: We are all Western writers; we are all in competition with each other. Most of us try to do our very best in writing a story, editing and professionally publishing a book. Less than 30 percent of the public read, and that number is shrinking. Out of that group of readers, only a small percentage read Westerns. We, as writers, need to help and support each other, be congenial and work to promote stories of the GREAT AMERICAN WEST.
Arrogance and hard behavior, in my opinion, have no place in this business of writing. Unfortunately for us, due to technology, there are over a million books printed each year. And we have to compete with all that for limited readership. My thoughts are that we should do our best to leave a legacy of writing that is worthy of respect. Work that can be read by anyone of any age, stories revealing the human spirit, ones that are courageous and uplifting. For what it is worth … that is what I try to do.