Saturday 28 February 2009

Black Horse Express

Anyone interested in Westerns whether as a reader or writer cannot go far wrong by visiting the Black Horse Express site.

On the one hand you can join the chatboard at Yahoo Groups and talk to the authors and other readers. Sometimes it is about trivia but most of the time it is down to the serious business of writing and the western way of life.

The Black Horse Express site itself contains many articles on writers, interviews with authors like Lance Howard and Jory Sherman; historical articles and tips on writing westerns - all aimed at the young and old alike.

If you've never tried an author's work or never read a western then click into an array of excerpts by authors like Ben Bridges, Clay Burnham, Lance Howard, Neil Hunter, Matthew P. Mayo, Ross Morton, Chap O'Keefe, I.J.Parnham, Lee Pierce, Derek Rutherford, Gillian F. Taylor, Chuck Tyrell, Richard Wyler and Jack Giles.

In 2007 Black Horse Express went that stage further and produced an anthology of fourteen short stories under the title 'WHERE LEGENDS RIDE' - all the authors were either Black Horse Western writers or readers but all members of Black Horse Express.

At the moment Black Horse Express is planning another volume that is attracting new writers like Jack Martin to make a contribution.

So why not click into and take a look around - and join in. Authors, readers or those just curious about the western genre - all are welcome.
Since the above was written Black Horse Westerns now has its own blog which can be found at

And don't forget Wild West Monday - March 2nd.

Friday 27 February 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Triggernometry by Eugene Cunningham

Eugene Cunningham

Eugene Cunningham was born in 1896 in Arkansas and died in California in 1957.

Cunningham's first western novel was 'The Trail To Apacaz' which was published in 1924. He continued to write westerns into the 1950s. Three of these were published under the name of Leigh Corder.

Triggernometry was first published in 1934 and was revised and re-issued in 1941.
As the blurb on the front of the books this is a gallery of master gunfighters of the old west. Many come with eye-witness accounts with the likes of Florencio Chavez who was involved in the shoot out with Billy The Kid at the McSween house.
Or Billy Breckenridge who was John Behan's deputy in Tombstone and gives a different slant on the Earps and the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
There is nothing authoritive in Eugene Cunningham's tone - more like a man sitting beside you and recalling a story. Whether he is recounting the gunfight between Long Haired Jim Courtright and Luke Short outside the White Elephant Saloon or reconstructing the death of Dallas Stoudenmire the reader is left feeling that they were a witness to the action.
Although the attention is on seventeen gunfighters - each part brings in other well known characters from western history.
Triggernometry tells the stories of Bill Longley, John Wesley Hardin, Ben Thompson, Billy Breckenridge, Billy The Kid, Dallas Stoudenmire, Jim Gillett, Long Haired Jim Courtright, Ranger Captain John R. Hughes, Bass Outlaw, Wild Bill Hickok, Sam Bass, John Slaughter, Captain Bill McDonald, Butch Cassidy, Tom Horn and General Lee Christmas.

The final chapter contains 'technical notes on leather slapping as a fine art gathered from many a loose holstered expert over the years'.

Eugene Cunningham's Triggernometry was named by the Western Writers Of America as one of the best of thirty six non-fiction books. It is also one of my favourite factual books - my copy is forty two years old, dog eared with tanned pages - just as an often read book should be.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Chap O'Keefe and Wild West Monday - 2nd March

Coming up on The Tainted Archive next Monday 2nd March will be the first part in a four week serial of Chap O'Keefe's 'THE SHERIFF AND THE WIDOW'.
At the same time the on line magazine Beat To A Pulp will present a new and exclusive Chap O'Keefe story 'THE UNREAL JESSE JAMES'.
This Friday, 27th February, also sees the publication of Chap O'Keefe's new Black Horse Western novel 'BLAST TO OBLIVION'.
David Cranmer will also be putting some western related articles on his blog 'Education Of A Pulp Writer'.
Links to all the above are in the left panel.
Now I would be grateful for a little help from all the western fans out there.
For some time I have been trying to get Gary some exposure on the BBC Breakfast show. Not only for Wild West Monday but for the phenominal success of his book 'THE TARNISHED STAR'.
To date I have not had even the courtesy of a reply or an acknowledgement.
In typical BBC fashion they do not take the western seriously.
So please help me give them something to think about and give Gary some support by e-mailing the BBC at and/or - in fact use both addresses.
It is one thing to hit the stores and the libraries - but to get the message across all western writers and readers need the exposure to a larger audience.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Steve M of Western Fiction Review - An Interview

For many Western Fiction Review is a great source for information on Western novels. Over the past few months Steve has interviewed many of the top Western writers like James Reasoner, Frank Roderus and Marcus Galloway.
So who is the Oracle of Western fiction?
I thought I would ask Steve M about his interest in the Western genre.
1. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Thanks for asking Ray, it was a surprise to say the least.

2. What started your interest in westerns - and can you recall the first western novel that you read?

I think this would be due to watching so many western films and TV shows when I was growing up. To give some idea as to my age I grew up with The High Chaparral, Alias Smith and Jones, and Kung Fu.

I still have the first western book I read and intend to read it again soon as I’d like to review it on Western Fiction Review. It’s The Rimfire Riders by John Robb and is one of a few books he wrote about Catsfoot. It’s a children’s book and it, and the others in this series, really got me hooked on series characters. I still pick up westerns by John Robb whenever I get the chance.
3. You have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the western to the point that with scant plotline or the name of a character you have been able to point people to a book. How do you achieve this?

I’m good a remembering useless information?

Truthfully I have compiled all kinds of information about westerns that is saved on my computer so is available at a click of a button. I also have a couple of reference books that help with writer’s names and pseudonyms and I’ve added all kinds of notes to them.
4. How many westerns do you think that you own?

I haven’t counted them for a long time now but it must be around 4,000. Most of them are from series. I have books from around 280 different series. I do have some stand-alone titles but not that many. My collection also contains about 200 BHW.

As storage space is getting to be a problem I keep thinking I really ought to sell some of them but just can’t bring myself to do it.
5. Do you think that over the years there was a time when the westerns were at their best? Or do you see that each era produced writers that are representative of their time?

I think the writers are representative of their time.

I like to think I can read a book from any era and appreciate it for the views and storytelling style of that time.
6. You have a chat board name 'Frontier Times'. Is this named for the famous publication of the same name?

No, it wasn’t named after anything. It was just the first short name that I came up with when creating the board and as I wanted the board up fast I just went with it, never gave it much thought other than “that’ll do.” Wasn’t until a few days later that I realized it was the same as that publication.
7. With Mike Linaker (Neil Hunter) planning to bring back 'Bodie' - is there another character created by The Piccadilly Cowboys you’d like to see return?

Easy answer, all of them!

If it had to be one it’d be a toss-up between Edge and Herne the Hunter – the latter would have to be books about his earlier life obviously. If it were to only be for one book then I’d say the often mentioned – never written – story that would have teamed Edge and Herne up in one book.

8. Are there any of the American series that you would like to see resurrected?

Probably more than I can mention here. Jake McMaster’s White Apache as this left many unanswered questions when Leisure cancelled all its western series except one. Josh Edward’s Searcher – although this did come to a conclusion. Clay Tanner’s Chance, Jim Austin’s Fury, Gary McCarthy’s Derby Man, Clint Hawkins’ Saddle Tramp, John Wesley Howard’s Easy Company, and Tim McGuire’s Rainmaker, to name but a fistful. I’d like to see the continuation of Don Coldsmith’s Spanish Bit Saga – there is another book but this has hit problems and it looks increasingly like it’ll never see the light of day.

There’s also a western series from Norway I’d like to see published in its entirety in English, and that’s Louis Masterson’s Morgan Kane.
9. Over the past few months you have interviewed some of the prominent western writers of today. So, who from the past would you have liked to interview and why?

Oliver Strange – author of the first ten Sudden westerns, as there seems to be so little out there about him and his work is often mentioned as a favourite of many readers. Peter C. Watts – who wrote most of his westerns as Matt Chisholm and Cy James. I’ve been a big fan of his work for as long as I can remember. Laurence James and Angus Wells – two of the Piccadilly Cowboys, whose books (along with a few others) started me, collecting westerns. Terry C. Johnston – think it’d be interesting to find out how many hours he spent on research and how easy it was. The list is endless really.
10. Having read many westerns - have you ever been tempted to write one yourself?

Not really, did start a few about 25 years ago that I did just for my own amusement. I still have them somewhere, I think I finished five or six of them but they are all in very rough drafts and are handwritten. I never had any intention of trying to get them published and that still applies today. I prefer to read them than write them.
11. What do you think of the western today and how do you see the future of the genre?

I think the biggest problem facing the genre – and others – is getting the younger generations to buy the books. This is something the publishers need to be more active in, promoting the western. There are many good stories to be read, both old and new but they won’t be bought if people don’t know about them. This is a problem I had when westerns all but disappeared off the shelves in the UK and this is something that could happen on a wider scale if people don’t know about them. The internet has helped in getting the word out and making books published in other parts of the world more accessible but I feel more could be done.

For today’s buyer there is still a number of publishers putting out great reads, both original work and reprints, meaning there are more westerns being published than I can afford each month. And there’s a new means to finding westerns and that’s through the many writers self-publishing, through a wide range of internet based publishers, meaning there even more books available than one might first think. So as a buyer of westerns, I’d say there’s plenty to choose from at the moment and I don’t see this changing in the foreseeable future.
12. Thanks again for your time.

Anytime Ray.
If anyone has not visited Western Fiction Review then a link can be found on the left panel.

Jack Martin - The Tarnished Star

Question: Are we heading for a Western best seller?
Already Jack Martin's June issue of the novel 'The Tarnished Star' is at the top of Amazon's pre-order chart.
This is quite an acheivement for a new author with his first book - and it puts the Black Horse Western brand at the top of the list as well.
Jack Martin has already had a short story - 'A Man Called Masters' - published in the popular on-line magazine Beat To A Pulp that received enthusiastic praise.
Jack Martin's second novel 'Arkansas Smith' has been accepted for publication - let us hope that in the light of the growing success of 'The Tarnished Star' that the publication date is brought forward.
Keep up to date with the saga by visiting The Tainted Archive (link in panel to left) and continue to support Wild West Monday on the 2nd March.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: The First Fast Draw by Louis L'Amour

The First Fast Draw
Louis L'Amour
published 1957

Louis L'Amour is not a forgotten writer. There was a time when shelves were filled with his books that other writers were crowded off. Very much the same as Mozart takes up more space than any other classical composer.

The First Fast Draw was the first western by Louis L'Amour that I read and it made an impression. I borrowed it from a friend and once read I was loathe to part with it - but I had a bubble gum wrapper that he wanted so a deal was struck.
I not only got a better deal - the book cost him 2/- (10p) and the bubblegum cost 1d (work that one out) but I grew to like the novels of Louis L'Amour.

The novel concerns the return to Cass County in East Texas of Cullen Baker. He hides out in the swamps of the Sulpher River bottoms and attempts to farm his father's land while making a stand against the Reconstructionists and the carpetbaggers during 1868.
Cullen Baker is a marked man for there are many who dislike him enough to want him dead but he does have friends in the shape of real life character Bill Longley as well as some who are fictional.
The story is told in the first person so we see the world from Cullen Baker's perspective. What the reader gets is the iconic hero defying the odds against one form of tyranny and the conclusion is not so cut and dried. Nevertheless the book was a good read and still is.

Cullen Baker was a real person who was born in Tennessee in1834 and died in Cass County, Texas in 1869.
It does not matter where you go on the 'net the real Cullen Baker was a deserter from the Confederate Army, a renegade, a thief, a rapist .... the list goes on and I come to the conclusion that he was the meanest kind of un-herolike character.
The odd book review that I come across is, in the main, derogatory towards both Louis L'Amour and the book. And don't forget that this is one of my favourite westerns here.
As I delved deeper into the story of Cullen Baker I discovered that certain key parts gelled and I came to the conclusion that some of the reviewers had not read the book - sure, they had opened it and read the words but had not taken in the contents.
Cullen Baker, the real one, was regarded as psychotic and suffered paranoia. Switch to 'The First Fast Draw' - ' A cold black rage seemed to overcome me and I did not know where it came from'.
Fact: Cullen Baker married Martha Foster (no relation - not as far as I know anyway). She was his second wife and history does show that Cullen Baker was settled for a while until she died. He went off the rails and then turned up in Cass County and proposed to Martha's sister, Belle, but she turned him down as she was going to marry the local schoolmaster, Thomas Orr.
Thomas Orr was a friend of one of the Foster cousins - one that Cullen Baker had had a run-in with before - so no love lost there.
The First Fast Draw: Cullen Baker meets up with Kitty Thorne who shows concern that he has returned. He confuses friendship with love and when he asks the question she says that she is going to marry her cousin's friend, Thomas Warren - the local schoolteacher.
Fact: It is said that William Foster, Martha and Belle's father, laced a bottle of whiskey with strychnine which Cullen Baker and Matthew Kirby drank. They were later found lying in the grass amongst some trees where Thomas Orr and some others shot them.
Question: No one has come up with a reason why William Foster would do such a thing - so where did that come from?
The First Fast Draw: Thomas Warren shoots Matt Kirby and another gang member - get the picture?

Sure, Louis L'Amour used some poetic licence and romanticised the story - but then he wasn't the first nor will he be the last. One thing is certain though - when the book is read then for the most part the facts are there.
The interesting thing that I found was that a lot of what has been written about Cullen Baker can be traced back to a book that was written in 1870 and this original life of Cullen Baker can be found in Washington D.C. The author? Thomas Orr. A man with no axe to grind - then.

Finally, was Cullen Baker The First Fast Draw?
Eugene Cunningham: Triggernometry - 1941 - "of the long line of Texas gunmen, for - even more than Cullen Baker - (Bill) Longley was Number One of the modern gunslingers."

Thursday 12 February 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: CHUKA by Richard Jessup

Richard Jessup
(1925 - 1982)

Published 1961

It is November 1876 and the gunfighter known as Chuka is riding towards Fort Clendennon when he meets up with two men who had, once, taken him in when he had been wounded in a gunfight.
Now, they were on the run from a local rancher who wanted their land and punish them for the help that they had given to Chuka.
They arrive at the fort at the same time as the stage.
On board are a drummer John Sheppard and his new wife Evangeline - a one time whore with her own agenda; Helena Chavez who is en route to New York - the reluctant participant in a marriage arranged by her father and Veronica Kleitz who is Helena's chaperone.
It soon becomes apparent that Fort Clendennon is not a good place to be for the troopers have their own nicknames for the place -Fort Hell, Fort Blood and Fort Death. Nor is there much to be said for the thirty strong garrison that consists of theives, rapists and cowards and that includes the officers. The exceptions to this are the commanding officer Colonel Stuart Valois and Sergeant Hahnsbach a big man who keeps the men in line with his voice and, if necessary, with his fists.
As soon as Chuka arrives he is branded as an example of the man he is - a gunfighter. Valois is biased against him from the start and attempts, over an evening meal, to show up his fellow officers by listing their crimes to show that the gunslinger is no different.
After the meal Chuka drifts out to look after his horse and meets up with the Fort's scout , Lou Trent. Trent is fifty and aware of his own limitations but feels that he has no choice than to what he's paid for. He is concerned that the local Arapaho chief Hanu has not moved south for the winter and that the number of lodges are multiplying as the Chief is joined by Commanche, Ute and the Cheyenne.
Although Valois has reported Trent's findings to the nearest fort the claims are dismissed on the grounds that Hanu would not dare to attack Fort Clendennon.
Inevitably, Hanu does attack the fort.

Chuka is a character driven book during which layer after layer is stripped from the gunfighter's character until the reader discovers the real man. In contrast there is the unlikeable, rigid, Army loving Stuart Valois for whom the reader begins to have some respect for (and it is my view) because the reader makes a judgment on Valois in the opening scenes very much in the same way that Valios sees the gunfighter.
Richard Jessup only wrote a handful of westerns but I found Chuka to be the most interesting. There is a smooth quality about the writing style that draws the reader in to keep on turning the pages. The characters are interesting and when the action comes it comes abruptly and in a natural way.
This is not a shoot 'em up western and the attack on the fort does not come until late in the book which in no way detracts from the story. Like the characters you know it is coming and like them you do not know the when.

Richard Jessup is maybe better known for 'The Cincinatti Kid' but I think that this western is better.
Chuka was turned into a movie with Rod Taylor as Chuka, John Mills as Valois and the late James Whitmore as Lou Trent.
Although the screenplay was by Richard Jessup and produced by Rod Taylor the movie was not up to the standard of the book. Some of the key scenes remained and there was a completely differant beginning and ending. Much as I like the film I have to divorce my mind from the book.

This is certainly a case of where the book is DEFINATELY better than the film.

Monday 9 February 2009

Flash Fiction - BEHIND THE MASK by Ray Foster

Ray Foster

Even expecting the power out, Paul panicked when he couldn’t see a thing. Stick to the plan, he told himself. Sharon had come down after him. All he had to do was follow through.
He waited for his eyes to adjust – soon there was a touch of light filtering through the window to etch the panes against his eyelids every time he closed his eyes.
Stick to the plan.
Well, it had been a good idea at the time.
Now that Sharon was here he felt as though his personal space had been invaded.
He had noticed how she had taken note of his computer, the widescreen TV and the books in the bookcase. Almost wilted under that distasteful look as she caught sight of his X-Box 360 and the ‘Resident Evil 5’ game box that sat on top. Her eyes accused him of playing games instead of writing.
For God’s sake, he thought, Brett Shayne’s hero plays on an X-Box 360 – it’s there for research.
And this was his place so he could do as he damn well pleased.
He swept aside the sudden spurt of guilt.
Paul had come a long way from the days when he had pounded away on an old battered typewriter writing short stories that nobody wanted. Stories that Paul believed that no one wanted to read. Things had changed now for a Brett Shayne story was in great demand with publishers fighting over them.
Brett Shayne had never experienced Sharon’s tut-tutting as he hammered away at the keys.
Brett Shayne was the big hit these days. Brett Shayne appeared on television happy to give interviews or dispense his knowledge of the literary world on radio talk shows. It was he who was invited to big, literary lunches.
Not plain Paul Underwood.
Paul drew a deep breath.
Stick to the plan – who’s plan?
Paul was confused and the darkness did not help. It just deepened his mood to the point that he was not sure what he was meant to do.
The book – that was it – THE book. Sharon had laughed when rejection slip after rejection slip had passed through the letterbox. Sharon had told him to give up and, maybe, he would have done had not that inner voice whispered – and later screamed – at him to try again.
If he had ignored that voice Brett Shayne would not have existed. It happened one morning when he picked up that envelope. The letter began ‘Dear Brett Shayne…..’ and the rest was history. The book then the movie then the sequel and the movie and Brett Shayne had become a celebrity.
The only recognition Paul Underwood got was his name on the cheques.
Sharon had been there for that first cheque and all the others that followed, with her hand out – not wanting to share the moment – just wanting the money.
She had not minded when he said that he was going to get a place where he could get peace and quiet while he wrote his books. Sharon didn’t mind as he wouldn’t be under her feet all the time.
Then she was there interrupting his thoughts as she demanded if he had any candles. Paul stumbled through the affirmative answer as he rummaged in his trouser pockets for a lighter.
A snort came from behind him as he felt his way towards the table by the window. Sharon thought that he would have been better organised – a comment that stung him. He just wilted under her tone as his thumb snapped the wheel against a flint that refused to spark.
Damn it – Brett Shayne would have lit the candles with just one flick of the lighter.
The twin flames shimmered over the pink icing decorated with a bunch of pink candy roses. The flickering flames sparkled along the edge of the blade of the knife that lay on the plate alongside the cake.
Paul picked up the knife.
And Sharon burst into tears as she uttered her surprise that he, Paul, had remembered her birthday. Her voice was soft – as soft as the day that they had first met thirty years ago and before they had embarked on a childless marriage that had made her bitter and Paul sought solace in writing.
It suddenly hit him – she had called him Paul.
Stick to the plan – his mind screamed.
He wished her a happy birthday as he plunged the knife into her heart.
As Sharon died so Paul ceased to exist – for neither belonged in Brett Shayne’s world.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Night Of The Tiger by Al Dewlen

Al Dewlen
Published around 1957
As far as I know this was the only western that Al Dewlen wrote.
When Julius Rupp married his wife Jessie and set up home in her aunt's house Rupps life became hell. The aunt could never understand why her neice had married a man who would amount to nothing. Rupp walks out on his wife and goes off to make his fortune.
Eleven years later - August, 1884 - Rupp returns to the town of Coldiron, Cold County, Texas. With $17,000 dollars made from buffalo hunting he is looking to resume his married life. On the way he stops by a deserted camp where a fire is still blazing and a pot of coffee is bubbling away. He sits down and helps himself to the coffee as three men ride up. What Rupp has failed to notice is that buried in the fire is a branding iron. Accused by the three men of cattle rustling Rupp is branded with the iron and his money is taken.
With his burns tended by a local small rancher Rupp rides into Coldiron looking to get his money back and, at the same time, get his revenge on his torturers.
The town has changed, Jessie Rupp's aunt has died and Jessie has inherited the house and opened up a dress shop in the main street. The meeting between Rupp and his wife is felt when she rejects who she sees as a dirty, smelly saddlebum - there is no recognition. She confides in her husband to be, the banker Brooks Durham, about the stranger who seems to be stalking her.
It takes a while before it registers with Rupp that he is considered legally dead.
However, it is Brooks Durham along with the foppish Johnsy Hood and the alcoholic ranch foreman Elwood Coates who had branded Rupp and taken his money.
As the tension rises Elwood Coates seeks the company of an imaginary friend The Little Whiskey Man - an interesting study of a man's mind disintegrating.
The book builds to the climax as promised by the logo on the book - 'The people of Coldiron would never forget The Night Of The Tiger'.
The book concentrates on the central characters rounding them into real people and the reader is drawn into the story as though it is an eyewitness account of real events. There are no good guys and bad guys in this book - and Al Dewlen uses this to good effect as while the reader can relate to Rupp we see the others in their own light.
'The Night Of The Tiger' was made into the movie 'Ride Beyond Vengeance' with Chuck Conners as Rupp, Michael Rennie as Brooks Durham, Bill Bixby as Johnsy Hood and Claude Akins as Elwood Coates. The movie is worth seeing just for Clauds Akins portrayal of Elwood Coates especially in the scene where he talks to The Little Whiskey Man on whose advice he acts.
The movie was the first western to receive an 'X' Certificate in the UK.

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Night Of The Tiger by Al Dewlen

25 Writers

I picked this up at James Reasoner's blog Rough Edges (link on side panel).
So I'm going to do the same and list 25 writers who have influenced me over the years. There is no set pattern nor an explanation other than I still read these writers books and they can be found in my bookcase.
In no particular order:
1. Frank C. Robertson
2. Erle Stanley Gardner
3. Leslie Charteris
4. Jack Kerouac
5. D.H.Lawrence
6. J.D.Sallinger
7. Alan Sillitoe
8. Louis L'Amour
9. Oakley Hall
10. John Braine
11. Francis Durbridge
12. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
13. Jack Trevor Story
14. Nevil Shute
15. Colin Wilson
16. Alan Hunter
17. Grace Metallious
18. Amelia Bean
19. George G. Gilman
20. Nell Dunn
21. O. Henry
22. Tennessee Williams
23. Erskine Caldwell
24. Elleston Trevor
25. Peter Cheyney

These authors cover a wide range from detective novels, westerns, war and domestic fiction. There are no modern authors on the list but that's only because I couldn't make a list of 25 writers. There are western writers like David Whitehead, Jory Sherman and James Reasoner who through their books or just 'talking' to them have shed some influence on me. Most detective novels had left me cold with the exception of James McGee's excellent Hawkwood novels.
However, though the list belongs to writers of the past they were the ones who fired my imagination and, unlike writers today, they did not have to bother about political correctness or have to deal with the sensitiveness that is prevelant today.

The Tainted Archive - The Essential Westerns

Essential reading here - The Archavist is planning a months worth of interesting Western reading. He has started with his Top Ten western movies and books to see and read.
There is a link on the side panel - so head on over there.