Friday, January 21, 2022
Who Is This Guy, and How Did He Get In Here?
I’m not particularly new to Western Fictioneers, but I might be new to a lot of our members, so I thought my first blog post might serve as a kind of introduction. I’ve been a member for a few years now, originally invited by Troy Smith, to whom I remain indebted for letting me know about this great organization.
The story actually begins decades earlier, though, in the late 1950s, when I watched Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy and all the other TV cowboys. I did my best to emulate them (see photo in full Hoppy gear, with my late big brother Michael). But when I was six years old, my father, a defense department civilian, was transferred to Paris, France—which he’d wanted to get back to since WWII.
That was one of the events that set me on the trail my life followed. I started reading and collecting comics, and I’ve done so ever since.
The trail led me to Virginia, where I discovered the book that truly changed my life: Mystery of the Haunted Mine, a 1962 juvenile novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs (originally titled The Haunted Treasure of the Espectros). I got the Scholastic Book Club paperback edition in 1965 and devoured it. This book had it all—western action and adventure, suspense, seemingly supernatural horror, and puzzling mystery. Even at that age, I knew that Shirreffs’ “Espectros” were a stand-in for the Superstitions, and that the treasure Gary, Tuck, and Sue are hunting for was really the Lost Dutchman Mine.
After Virginia, I lived briefly in Worms, Germany, a city with a huge Roman wall still standing in the middle of it—real history you can reach out and touch. From there I headed to San Jose, CA, where I saw my first comic shops (and worked in one, briefly). At San Jose State University I won third place in a regional short-story contest and made $30—my first money from writing.
A few years after college, I got into the book biz, as a bookseller at local chain Books Inc. Our store was the South Bay hot spot for sf, fantasy, and mystery books and author events, but we had other genres well represented, too—one of these days I’ll tell you about our Louis L’Amour signing and the Louis L’Amour complete works box set we created.
Books Inc. had a few stores in southern California, and after three years at the San Jose store, I was sent down to manage the La Jolla store. La Jolla’s a beautiful and pricey resort town on the coast, and our store was a regular stop for visiting celebrities. On one occasion I sold a huge volume of Western art paintings to Phoebe Cates, as a birthday present for her father, Gil Cates—the man who produced more Academy Awards telecasts than anyone else.
While working there, I made my first fiction sale, to a prestigious science fiction anthology called Full Spectrum. I also met superstar comic artist Jim Lee—his then-wife had become my assistant manager. When Books Inc. closed its southern California stores, Jim hired me at his new publishing company, part of the fledgling Image Comics brand. It was there that I started writing comics and graphic novels, and then actual novels—my first being a collaboration with a friend on a novel about one of our company’s superhero teams.
At one point, after we started an imprint of non-superhero comics, Jim—knowing of my fondness for westerns—asked me to create a western comic series. But he wanted it to have a supernatural angle; to be what’s now called a weird western. I happily obliged and came up with Desperadoes. That’s the work that brought me to Troy’s attention, and it’s still my most popular comics creation more than 20 years later.
But thanks to Desperadoes, I got the occasional chance to write some western short stories—some weird, others not—and to appear in anthologies with such personal heroes as Elmer Kelton, Loren Estleman, Louis L’Amour, Johnny Boggs, and others. I was also introduced to the weird western role-playing game Deadlands and wrote a story for one of its earliest fiction anthologies.
Much later, I was able to broker a book deal between Deadlands owner Pinnacle Entertainment, Tor Books, and Visionary Comics, which had the Deadland print license at the time, for three novels. I wrote the second one, Thunder Moon Rising, and that became my first published western novel, albeit a weird western.
Despite my lifelong love of western fiction, comics, movies, and TV shows, I kind of thought it would remain my only published western novel. I was able to write weird westerns and had developed somewhat of a reputation in that area, but nobody was clamoring for traditional westerns from me. Then Livia Reasoner issued a call for stories for the Western Fictioneers anthology The Untamed West. I had recently written a somewhat offbeat novella called “Byrd’s Luck”—not a weird western, but not entirely traditional, either. I didn’t know what to do with it, but when I saw that call, I submitted it, and it went into the book. In fact, it was the lead story, and it wound up being a finalist for both the Peacemaker and Spur Awards.
That was the moment when I thought maybe I could make a go of this western thing, after all.
Last fall, Sundown Press published my first actual, straight western novel—the doorstop-sized historical epic Blood and Gold: The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta, which I wrote with Peter Murrieta, a fifth-generation descendant of the Gold Rush-era bandit. It has, to my great relief, been well received and earned attention in such disparate places as True West Magazine, Deadline: Hollywood, People en Espanol, and the Los Angeles Times.
And on January 26th, Wolfpack Publishing is releasing O’Meara’s Gold, the first in a traditional western series featuring Cody Cavanaugh and Freeman Douglas. I had more fun writing these than any other of those 50-some novels.
But it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t be here—or part of this esteemed organization—if it hadn’t been for Mystery of the Haunted Mine. If there’s a book that you feel changed your life in a significant way, please let us know in a comment!