Saturday, January 12, 2013


In the last two years, almost 90% of my ebook sales have come from just three short stories: “The Blackwell Claim,” “Blackwell’s Stand,” and “Blackwell’s Run.” Perhaps you notice a theme there.
About fifteen years ago, not long after I started getting fiction published, I plotted out a series of stories centered around four brothers from Tennessee who headed west during the California gold strike, then dispersed- the plan was to follow them, and eventually their descendants, and thereby get an overview of the history of the American West through the experiences of one family. If this seems similar to Louis L’Amour’s Sackett saga, well, that was a huge influence on me as a writer. My thought was to make my effort an homage- and it was only natural for me to choose Tennessee as a starting-off point, as that is where I am from and have spent most of my life (in fact, L’Amour set the origin of his Sackett family in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, which is the next county over from me.)

But there are some differences in my approach. The Blackwells are not always stalwart (though usually well-meaning), nor are they invincible. Sometimes they make very bad decisions, and sometimes (in stories to come) it gets some of them killed. The original set of brothers are introduced in “The Blackwell Claim” –they are very young in that tale, ranging from late teens to early twenties. Max is the eldest- he is very staid and responsible, and eventually joins the army as a dragoon (a title which, by the Civil War, will become cavalryman.) Next is Duke –full name Duke Cumberland Blackwell, named after a figure in early Tennessee history. Duke has their mother’s red hair, as well as her passions, temper, and gift of gab. He is a lot less inclined than the other brothers to care what the law says, and eventually becomes an outlaw –though a very likeable one. Next is Caleb- who is very much the silent type. Caleb continues his pursuit of gold long after his brothers move on to other pursuits, and in the mid-1850s travels to Australia for the Victorian gold strike. He eventually becomes a lawman in Colorado. Finally there is Jake, who has a strong sense of duty –he spends decades as a Texas Ranger, training under the famous Bigfoot Wallace. The Blackwells also had a sister, who died in childbirth- her daughter will play a part in future stories.

I wrote five Blackwell stories in the 1990s, and got three of them published. Well, I wrote four-and-a-half –the fifth one I got halfway through then shelved, finishing it over a decade later. “The Blackwell Claim” appeared in Western Digest in 1999, and “The Divided Prey” was published in The Shootist a year later. “The Windigo” –a horror story set during the Klondike Gold Rush and featuring Max Blackwell’s son Billy as the hero –also appeared in The Shootist. A fourth story, “Blackwell’s Stand,” went unpublished –it was very short, under two thousand words, and was intended as an exercise in “heroic action.” I wanted to catch the same feel as some of those old Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs tales, and related stories, in which the hero performs absolutely herculean (and unbelievable) feats as a matter of course –in this case, Caleb Blackwell fights not one, but two, grizzlies. I plan to make a running joke in future tales of the fact that none of his brothers believe his story.
I had mapped out a large number of Blackwell tales, but wrote no more for a long time, being distracted by other things (like a decade of secondary education.) I wrote other things instead, although I sometimes had Texas Ranger Jake Blackwell pop up as a supporting character in my westerns.
Then, in 2010, the Blackwells got a new lease on life.
A friend of mine (and fellow WF member), Kit Prate, told me that there was a new player in the digital publishing world, WESTERN TRAIL BLAZER. I contacted the publisher, Rebecca J. Vickery, and told her I had a lot of old short stories that might work as digital shorts –she offered to give them a look, and accepted several, including all four Blackwell stories.

And “The Blackwell Claim” and “Blackwell’s Stand” took off like crazy. Both stories spent about a year on amazon’s top 100 western list, with “Blackwell’s Stand” peaking at #3. I noticed that the two stories that didn’t have “Blackwell” in the title did not sell nearly as well, so when I dusted off that unfinished story from the 90s and wrote the second half of it, I changed the title from “The Vision Man” to “Blackwell’s Run.” I was deeply honored when that one not only sold well, but was a finalist for the 2011 Peacemaker Awards.
When I realized how popular the brothers B were with readers, I decided to write all those other stories I had once intended to produce. In the last few months I’ve added five more, with another due soon. Rebecca Vickery at WTB will be releasing Blackwell collections, with six or so collected stories in each book, while I continue to release new ones as individual shorts. I plan to look at the next Blackwell generations as well (the stories are not written in chronological order), including a multi-part saga at some point that will feature two cousins in opposition to one another- one a Texas Ranger and the other a Depression-era bank robber. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

I hope you’ll take the ride with me.

Meanwhile, here is your opportunity to visit with the Blackwells... one person who comments on this post in the next week, and leaves their contact info, will be randomly selected to receive a free pdf copy of the stories "Blackwell the Highwayman" and "The Blackwell Gang."
Here is a list of the Blackwell stories so far:
The Blackwell Claim               All four brothers
Blackwell's Stand                   Caleb Blackwell
The Divided Prey                   Jake Blackwell
The Windigo                           Billy Blackwell
Blackwell's Run                      Max Blackwell
The Blackwell Raid                Max and Jake Blackwell
Blackwell Unchained              Jake Blackwell
Blackwell the Highwayman     Duke Blackwell
Blackwell's Star                      Caleb Blackwell
The Blackwell Gang                Duke Blackwell
Blackwell Down Under           Caleb Blackwell (coming soon)


  1. I'm curious as to how long your Blackwell stories are. I could buy them and see, I suppose, but thought I'd ask.


  2. Average 5,000 words- standard short story length. Except the aforementioned "Blackwell's Stand", which is shorter.

  3. How many stories do you have planned? Do you think you'll write them all? More? Fewer?

    I'm curious because my reading habits have gone to shorter works lately. While I love novels, there's just no time to get them read, and I like to read the whole thing in one or two sittings. So the question is, now that we have a viable ebook market, are shorter works the way to go?

    BTW, I've read part of one story--loved it! Lack of pleasure reading time is the definite downside of being a writer. I can't wait to get back to your stories. :)

  4. I plan to keep writing one every couple of months or so for the foreseeable future. So far as the ebook market goes, I'm not sure if my short stories sell so much better than my full-length works because people are going for a short read or because they're only 99 cents.

  5. I'm going to go check them out on Amazon. Good luck with them.

  6. I have always been a fan of the short story form. When an author ties shorts together with theme or family they become even more enjoyable. This family sounds so real. Thank you for bringing them to life and continuing to tell their stories. More for my reading list. (Thank goodness I am a quick reader, but at the rate I'm going I'll still be catching up at 150 years of age ).

  7. Troy, I love your Blackwell stories, though I have not read them all yet. I'm still waiting for someone to invent the 60 hour day, so we'll all have more reading time in our lives. LOL You have a great mind for series and family and tying everything together character and plot wise, so I definitely will be reading all of these--it gives me something to look forward to. There is no better publisher than Rebecca--anytime, anywhere.

  8. I love the Blackwell series. Though I have some catching up to do, I can't wait to see what happens.


  9. Im a great fan of The Blackwell series,i hope there is many many more to come.Keep up the great work.

  10. Your books sound great. I've always been a big western fan and looks like you have enough stories to keep me going for a while. Best of luck with continued good sales. :)

  11. I love your concept for this family saga, Troy. I also like that you don't make the brothers saints and that some of them meet with ill fate. Not knowing what will happen next makes it even more exciting. BTW, your covers are fantastic.
    I wish you tremendous success, Troy.

  12. What a great resource! Thanks and more power to you.