Monday, June 27, 2011

Western Writer Pete Peterson

What was your first Western novel or story and was it published? The first manuscript that I wrote was THE SHAME OF JACKASS JAKE,  retitled A DARK TRAIL WINDING at the request of the publisher. It found print only after several years of trying to get someone to even read it, and was actually my third book to be published. The first novel I had published was THE RELENTLESS GUN.

What Western writer or writers of the past were the biggest influence on your work? Louis L’Amour, Will Henry, Tony Hillerman, Elmer Kelton

Is there a particular scene from a Western novel that was so powerful when you read it that it stuck with you? Perhaps has become a scene you've tried to live up to/equal in your own writing? .       I’ve read a lot of powerful stuff by western writers: the opening scene of Lonesome Dove with the pigs eating the rattlesnake; the scene where Estleman’s Page Murdock finds the lynched lawmen, …and you can’t read Elmore Leonard, Will Henry, Elmer Kelton and a host of others (including WF’s Reasoner, Sherman, Randisi, Roderus, ad infinitum) without having your socks knocked off again and again.

What's the first Western you remember reading from cover to cover? MOUNTAIN MAN by Vardis Fisher.

Who is your favorite historical Western figure, and why? JEDIDIAH SMITH, mountain man, explorer, trapper. His thirst for new horizons took him and his followers throughout the west. He was an educated and spiritual, bible-toting man in an often pagan and hostile land.

How much historical research do you do, and how do you go about it? Everything I’ve written has been thoroughly and painstakingly researched, and is true to the conditions and character of the country and its inhabitants as they existed during the period in which the story takes place. I still mostly use references from municipal and private libraries, preferring the tactile solidity of books to the ether of the web.

How important is setting? How important is it to get setting right? What's the best use of setting in a Western as far as you're concerned? Setting is vital! Every picture needs a background. The reader must imagine he feels what the character is feeling. Is it hot? Cold? Stormy, or a bright, sunny day? Is the hero in a lush forest, feeling serene, or in a dark cavern where danger is lurking?

How do you choose where to begin your story? Do you use prologues? I use a prologue only if I feel it is needed for background or history to establish the plot, to flesh out characters, or to pre-condition the reader to a situation. Where I begin depends a lot on where I’m going, and on pre-planning. Sometimes that little voice just says, “start here”.

 Do you do all your research ahead of time, or as you go along? Most of it from notes or outline, then I fill in as I go. A lot depends on the story, the complexity of where, how and when.

Which of your characters do you identify with the most, and why?  Was there a role model for this particular character? Jacob Eriksson, “Jackass Jake,” of A DARK TRAIL WINDING. He made some self-serving and bad decisions that pushed him to the edge of destruction, and only a complete change of  lifestyle, and the help of a mentor, saved him. Me, and others like me, were the role models.

Do you outline and plot your story or do you write as the inspiration or MUSE leads? I mostly outline, at least use plot notes.  Again, the complexity of the story dictates the amount of research. I’ll admit to inspiration, but I’m not so sure that I have a ‘muse’.

Are you a conservative in your writing and stick with traditional ideas for your characters and plots or do you like to go beyond the norm and toss in the unexpected and why? Traditional and conservative pretty well describes my writing style, though occasionally one of my maverick characters takes off on a tangent of his own and surprises me. I am not always politically correct; I tell it like it was then, not how modern society thinks it should have been.

Do you need quiet when you write, listen to music, or have the TV on and family around? I prefer quiet, but sometimes it’s hard to come by. I occasionally write at night when the household is asleep.

Have you experienced the "dreaded" writer's block and how did you deal with it? Jack Dancer of THE RELENTLESS GUN and RECKONING AT RAINDANCE is my favorite creation so far. I caught him when he was young and brought him up right.

Who is your favorite fictional character that you have created? Writer’s block? Sure… about twice a day when I’m writing. I just write through it, then go back later and polish and shine it. I think it’s called editing.

Who is your favorite fictional character that someone else created? There are many, but Estleman’s Deputy Page Murdock jumps to the fore. He is salty, irreverent, tough and humorous, and wise enough to be scared when the situation calls for it.

Do you address "modern" issues in Westerns? Racism. Feminism. Downs Syndrome. Mental disabilities. Genetic disorders. Sociopathy. Immigrant questions. Brutality. Pedophilia. Any more? Not intentionally, but sometimes they crop up in the telling. Again, I am not always politically correct. Time and place. Time and place.

What are you writing right now? Nothing. I’m trying to sell what I’ve already written: a 107,000 word historical adventure, and what I believe to be my best work.

Have you found that being able to self publish through Kindle and Nook, that you find yourself writing more of what you want rather than what the agent, editor, and publisher wants? I’m just getting into e-publishing. I still prefer the heft and feel and smell and looks of the printed word, but I see where we’re headed, too, and I guess I’ll tag along.

Do you make a living writing? If not, what is your day job? No, I’m a retired advertising man. I dabble in writing and in painting.

What do you plan to write in the future? More westerns, with maybe a foray into crime fiction.

What made you decide to write Western fiction? I love it. As a callow youth, I imagined myself a mountain man, fighting wild beasts and savages. What I ended up fighting was boards of directors. So now, I can strap on my sixgun and fight editors and agents.


  1. Your answer to memorable scenes is the same I'd have given- the opening of Lonesome Dove. Really enjoyed learning more about you!

  2. Enjoyed the interview, Too bad they tampered with the title "The Shame of Jackass Jake." Sounds good to me and I would probably buy it over "A Dark Trail Winding."

  3. Thanks. Publisher leans toward YA and library markets and the 'Jackass' bothered them. No big deal. Pete