This is the first in a planned series of Forums highlighting a different member of the Western community every Friday. I can’t imagine a better person to start with than Mr. James Reasoner. More than four hundred novels to his name, without trading quality for quantity, is an amazing achievement. I hope you enjoy reading his responses to what I plan on using as my set questions. Please let me know if you have any questions, feedback or thoughts.
Thanks for reading!
When — and why — did you first fall in love with Westerns?
The first Westerns I recall are the ones I watched on TV in the late ’50s and early ’60s: “The Lone Ranger,” “Gunsmoke,” “Have Gun — Will Travel” and many more series, as well as the B-Western movies featuring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy and all the rest. I was a huge fan of those TV shows and movies, so it was natural that a few years later I started reading Western novels. The ones available to me in the school library were by older authors such as Zane Grey, Max Brand and Clarence E. Mulford (Hopalong Cassidy again). The first currently published Western I read was “Bigger Than Texas” by William R. Cox, a Gold Medal paperback that I bought off a drugstore spinner rack in the little oilfield town of Goldsmith, Texas, in 1963, which was also the first non-kids’ paperback I ever bought. I can’t pin down the date any closer than that late ’50s /early ’60s era, but that’s when I started loving Westerns — right from the moment I started watching and reading them, I think. As for why, they’re just great stories. Mostly clear-cut good vs. evil yarns, but with enough touches of moral complexity that they appealed to me, even though I wasn’t 10 years old yet.
Who are your three favorite Western writers?
The answers to a question like this will always change some from day to day, but today …
Walt Coburn, who could be terribly inconsistent, but when he was good, his stories have a ring of authenticity (he grew up on a Montana ranch) and a tangible, bittersweet sense of the passing of the Old West. Plus great action scenes.
T.T. Flynn, who wrote the traditional Western action yarn about as well as it can be written.
Robert E. Howard, who isn’t thought of as a Western writer at all, but he practically invented both the Noir Western and the Weird Western. And some of his sword-and-sorcery stories are really Westerns in disguise, such as “Beyond the Black River,” a retelling of the Comanches vs. settlers clash in a fantasy setting.
Which Western do you wish you’d written?
It’s hard to beat “Shane.” I would have liked to have written that, or something that good.
What is the most recent Western you’ve read?
The last Western I read was a manuscript by another author that I edited, but it’s not out yet so I can’t mention it. I’m currently reading the June 1952 issue of the Western pulp Texas Rangers, featuring a novel called “Warpath” by Jackson Cole, a house-name. In this case the story is actually by Clark Gray. I’m partway through the novelette “Trail Without End” by Joseph Wayne, who was really Wayne D. Overholser. That’s the most up-to-the-minute answer I can give.
The “Desert Island” question. What are your three favorite Western books?
I’d pick some nice fat anthologies, because of the variety of authors. Maybe pulp anthologies like the ones edited by Jon Tuska: “Star Western,” “The Big Book of Western Action Stories,” and “Shadow of the Lariat.”
What are your three favorite Western movies?
“The Comancheros,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite — and why?
I really love a book I did called “Under Outlaw Flags,” which is part Western, part World War I novel. It’s about the last outlaw gang in the West, and when they get captured by the law, they’re given the choice of going to prison or going to Europe to fight the Germans. When I described the idea to an editor, he offered me a contract just on the concept and said, “Make sure lots of stuff blows up real good.” So I did. What I really like about the book, though, is the narrator’s voice. And the fact that I’m in it as a character (a little kid) in a framing sequence.
What is the most recent Western you’ve written?
The most recent Western under my own name is “Outlaw Blood,” the eighth book in the “Wind River” series, which was co-written with my wife L.J. Washburn. It’ll be out later this year. I also write under some other names I’m contractually obligated not to reveal.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Nope! See the answer to the previous question. Seriously, though, I don’t have anything in the works under my own name right now except for a short story I’m supposed to write for an anthology later this year. That will be a Western/crime/suspense yarn.
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?
Without air conditioning or the internet? I don’t know about that … I would have been a terrible pioneer, so I would have had to live in a town somewhere. Fort Worth, maybe, during its Hell’s Half Acre era.
What was the first Western you wrote?
My first real Western was “Pecos,” an entry in the “Stagecoach Station” series published by Bantam Books in 1987 under the house-name Hank Mitchum. Earlier, I had collaborated with my wife on a historical romance called “The Emerald Land” (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1983, under the pseudonym Livia James) that had some Western elements, but I regard “Pecos” as my first true Western, and writing it was great fun. I haven’t looked back much since.
About James Reasoner
A lifelong Texan, James Reasoner has been a professional writer for more than forty years. In that time, he has authored more than four hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres. Writing under his own name and various pseudonyms, his novels have garnered praise from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as appearing on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. James Reasoner lives in a small town in Texas with his wife, award-winning fellow author Livia J. Washburn, five dogs, and thousands of old books and pulp magazines. His blog can be found at http://jamesreasoner.blogspot.com.