Western Writer: Les Savage Jr.

This is the third installment in the Western Writers Series at MontanaWriter.

Like fellow western noir writer H.A. DeRosso, Les Savage, Jr. does not, at the time of this posting, appear to have a Wikipedia article. It is more than a little interesting that two of the first three western writers I have chosen for the Western Writers Series do not yet have such articles. It certainly says something about the state of western noir and something about my reading tastes.

As is the case with De Rosso, what I know of Savage’s life is what I have read and  pieced together from various book introductions.

Les Savage, Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles. He began writing at the age of 17 and sold his first story to Street & Smith’s Western Story magazine. He was a steady contributor to the pulp magazines for many years, writing close to 100 short-stories.

Les Savage Jr as a writer worked hard to bring realism and authenticity to his fiction. In the 1950s, this meant that his work was often heavily censored and reworked by editors and publishers that did not like his realistic depictions of  the various kinds of multi-cultural and non-traditional male-female relationships that would have been very common on the frontier. Most modern editors and publishers of his work have tried to restore his manuscripts back to their original forms.

Savage is a wonderful noir writer. His west is not the sun-lit hollywood backdrop of most of his contemporaries. It is a place of shadows and dark places where morally complex men and women live and fight and struggle. His work is often violent yet also has that touch of the poetic that is a feature of great noir fiction. That delicate balancing act between the brutal and beautiful seems to me to be one of the defining characteristics of noir fiction. To realistically portray life is to bump up against the beautiful, the brutal, and the banal. Savage portrays it all well.

As a western writer, his work has that essential quality of the mythic or iconic that is part of every true western. As has been said before on MontanaWriter, westerns are the essential American myth. The great challenge for the western noir writer, indeed any western writer, is to balance realism and myth. This balance may be one of the most difficult challenges for a writer of American Fiction to undertake. Yet when it is pulled off well, as Savage often does, it remains one of the most satisfying reading experiences you can ever have.

Les Savage, Jr. who suffered from diabetes died at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, California on May 26, 1958, at the age of 35. In his short life he wrote novels, a few hollywood screenplays, and short stories. Some of his work is available again electronically as well as in reprints, most redacted to reflect his original intent. He may be little known but he is not, thankfully, completely lost to us… yet.


Les Savage Jr. Partial Bibliography

     * The Bloody Quarter [Nov 1999]
     * The Cavan Breed [June 2003]
     * Coffin Gap [May 1997]
     * Copper Bluffs [Jan 1999]
     * Danger Rides the River [Aug 2002]
     * The Devil's Corral [Jan 2003]
     * Fire Dance at Spider Rock [Nov 1995]
     * Gambler's Row [Feb 2002]
     * Hangtown
     * In the Land of Little Sticks: North-Western Stories [Aug 2000]
     * The Lash of Senorita Scorpion [July 1998]
     * The Legend of Senorita Scorpion [July 1996]
     * Medicine Wheel [Aug 1996]
     * Phantoms in the Night [Nov 1998]
     * The Return of of Senorita Scorpion: A Western Trio [July 1997]
     * The Shadow in Renegade Basin: A Western Trio [June 2001]
     * Silver Street Woman [July 1995]
     * Table Rock [Nov 1993]
     * The Trail
     * Treasure of the Brasada [Jan 2000]
     * West of Laramie [May 2003]
(source: Ultimate Western Database)

Western Writers: H.A. DeRosso

This is the second installment in the Western Writers Series at MontanaWriter. Other writers in the series can be found by searching Western Writers Series.

There is currently no Wikipedia article for H.A. DeRosso. Because he is my favorite of all western writers, this has led me to consider undertaking the task myself. What I know though about DeRosso’s biography is limited to what I have read in Bill Pronzini’s excellent introductions to volumes of DeRosso novels and short stories that he has edited. (Bill Pronzini does have a Wikipedia article, by the way.)  I can only  assume that the information Pronzini provides is accurate.

H. A. DeRosso (1917-60) lived and wrote in Hurley, Wisconsin, which is just over the state line from the Upper Pennisula of Michigan. The UP of Michigan is as close to the west as the Midwest can ever be. Pronzini tells us that from the beginning of his writing career DeRosso struggled to be published, apparently sending out 79 manuscripts before the Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine picked up his first story in 1941.

DeRosso’s struggles with getting published were part learning his craft and marketplace. But it was also the inevitable outcome for someone trying to bring the moral ambiguity of noir into the sunny genre of the western. The work of fellow western writers like Noel M. Loomis and Les Savage, Jr. and four years of war and the Holocaust made Post-World War II America more open to more realistic fiction.  From 1945 until his death by suicide in 1960, DeRosso was a professional writer.

DeRosso is the high priest of the western noir story. No one does it better. As I have said elsewhere at MontanaWriter ( in my review of DeRosso’s masterpiece, .44) his style is classic noir: ” austere, hard-boiled, grim, lonely and yet,… poetic at times.” To further quote myself (always a risky thing):

There are, admittedly, more realistic western writers and much more historically accurate ones. And yet with the possible exception of Cormac McCarthy there are no western writers that are as satisfying as DeRosso in the end.

DeRosso is satisfying because his work is so mythic. Westerns, after all, are suppose to be mythic. To quote Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

DeRosso’s novels and short story collections can easily be found at Amazon.com or at Abe.com. As mentioned above, most of his short story collections have been edited by Bill Pronzini. I have been able to compare the pulp version originals of a few stories with Pronzini’s later edits. As far as I can see he tightened those stories up well. I can only assume that is the case with all the stories he touched.

Also, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, British publisher Anthony Rowe Ltd., reprinted in England a number of DeRosso’s novels under the Gunsmoke imprint in fine library-bound editions. I have have a number of these.

The current copyright holder for DeRosso who was a life-long bachelor is Marquette General Hospital. It seems to me that it would be in the hospital’s best interest to make sure there was a Wikipedia article on DeRosso and  to do more to get his work recognized here in the United States. It would certainly be in the best interest of all who really love westerns. Maybe I will do it after all.

H.A. DeRosso Partial Bibliography

  • .44
  • End of the Gun
  • The Gun Trail
  • The Dark Brand
  • Tracks in the Sand (edited by Bill Pronzini)
  • Riders of the Shadowlands: Western Stories (edited by Bill Pronzini)
  • Under the Burning Sun (Short Stories)
  • Those Bloody Bells of Hell (Short Stories)
H. A. DeRosso’s pulp magazine bibliography, from the Fictionmags Index: 
* Back Track, (ss) Ranch Romances Mar #2 1956
* Bad Blood, (ss) Western Short Stories Sep 1955
* Bad Girl on His Backtrail, (nv) Best Western Jun 1955
* Badman’s Heritage, (ss) Max Brand’s Western Magazine Sep 1953
* Bet on the Wild Heart, (ss) Star Western Sep 1949
* The Black Guns, (ss) Argosy May 1958
* Black Kill in the Desolados, (na) 3-Book Western May 1957
* Blind Gunman’s Bluff, (ss) .44 Western Magazine Jan 1942
* Blood and Texas on His Backtrail, (ss) Complete Western Book Magazine Feb 1943
* Bloody Valley!, (na) .44 Western Magazine Jan 1949
* Camp of No Return, (ss) Dime Western Magazine Jul 1950
* Cattle Queen’s Hired Killer, (ss) Star Western Aug 1951
* The Cold Running Iron, (nv) 10 Story Western Magazine Nov 1948
* The Curse of Cordoba, (na) Complete Western Book Magazine Oct 1950
* Curse of the Seven Corpses, (ss) Western Aces Jul 1945
* Damned by the Dark Trails, (ss) Western Short Stories May 1942
* Dead Man’s Luck, (ss) Fifteen Western Tales Sep 1953
Western Tales Magazine (UK) #19 1954
* Dead Man’s Trail, (ss) New Western Magazine Aug 1954
* Death Stacks the Deck, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Jan 3 1942
* Desert Deadline, (ss) New Western Magazine Aug 1949
* The Devil of Dodge, (ss) .44 Western Magazine Mar 1943
* Fear in the Saddle, (ss) Zane Grey’s Western Magazine Sep 1952
* Flight from the Desert, (ss) Mammoth Western Sep 1949
Mammoth Western Quarterly Win 1949
* For Love or Money, (ss) Texas Rangers Sep 1952; it was the last time she’d make a fool of him.
* A .44 Is My Best Friend, (ss) Western Short Stories Nov 1949
* The Girl Who Practised Aklat, (nv) Marvel Science Stories Feb 1951
Marvel Science Stories (UK) Jun 1951
* Greased Holster Heritage, (ss) Western Short Stories Feb 1942
Western Novel and Short Stories Jan 1950
* Gun Cry, (ss) Ranch Romances May #1 1950
* Gun Dust, (ss) Leading Western Feb 1948
* Gun Hand, (ss) Texas Rangers Feb 1956
* The Gun Rider, (ss) Ranch Romances Nov #1 1955
* Gun-Ace in the Hole, (ss) Western Trails v36 #1 1942
* Gun-Call!, (nv) .44 Western Magazine Nov 1952
* The Gunfighter, (ss) Argosy Aug 1957
* The Gunman and the Girl, (ss) Fifteen Western Tales Mar 1953
* Guns of Greed, (na) Three Western Novels Magazine Jul 1949
* Gunsmoke in Your Eyes, (ss) .44 Western Magazine Apr 1947
* Hangtree Kid, (nv) Max Brand’s Western Magazine Nov 1953
Max Brand’s Western Magazine (UK) #16 1953
* Haunted Spurs, (nv) Texas Rangers Apr 1953
* Hide-Away, (ss) Triple Detective Sum 1954
* Homicide Saddle, (ss) Western Trails Jan 1944
* Horse Crazy, (ss) Ace-High Western Stories Mar 1942
* Horse Thief [Pete Neighbors], (ss) Fighting Western Oct 1948
* I Ride Alone, (ss) Texas Rangers Jan 1952
* I Trust My Trigger, (na) Complete Western Book Magazine Dec 1950
* Iron Horse Rustler, (ss) Western Aces Oct 1943
* Jack o’Diamonds, (ss) .44 Western Magazine Jan 1948
* Kill One Kill Two, (ss) Manhunt Aug 1960
* Killer, (nv) Gunsmoke Aug 1953
Giant Gunsmoke v1 #1 1953
* Killers Also Die [Dan Drummond], (ss) The Masked Rider Western Magazine Jan 1944
Popular Western (Canada) Oct 1944
Hopalong Cassidy’s Western Magazine Fll 1950
* The Killing Samaritan, (ss) Star Western May 1948
* Last Manhunt, (nv) Dime Western Magazine Sep 1947
* The Last Sleep, (ss) Western Fiction Magazine Jul/Aug 1970
* The Long and Crooked Trail, (nv) 5 Western Novels Magazine Apr 1952
* Long Rope – Short Prayer! [Red Harrison], (nv) 10 Story Western Magazine Apr 1953
* The Longest Ride, (ss) Short Stories Nov 1956
* Look for a Blue Horse, (ss) Zane Grey’s Western Magazine Dec 1952
* Man-Breaker!, (nv) Max Brand’s Western Magazine Aug 1954
* Mankiller!, (ss) 10 Story Western Magazine Feb 1953
* Massacre Mountain, (na) Western Action Mar 1956
* My Lady Weeps, (ss) Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Jan 1955
Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine #8 1955
* My Saddle and My Gun, (ss) Fifteen Western Tales Sep 1943
* Never Sell Your Saddle!, (ss) Fifteen Western Tales Jan 1953
* Next Issue (Illustrated) (with [Editor]), (ia) 10 Story Western Magazine Feb 1953
* No Man’s Gun, (ss) Max Brand’s Western Magazine May 1954
* One Kiss… One Grave, (nv) Mammoth Western Mar 1950
* Only the Gun-Swift, (ss) Texas Rangers Aug 1948
Texas Rangers (UK) May 1949
* Racetrack Retribution, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Aug 15 1942
* Raw-Red Reunion, (ss) Western Short Stories Apr 1949
* Red Brand of the 88 Iron, (n.) Western Novel and Short Stories Jun 1951
* The Red Snow, (nv) Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Mar 1954
Verdict (UK) Aug 1954
* The Return of the Arapaho Kid, (ss) Argosy Sep 1958
* Ride a Dead Horse, (ss) Western Short Stories Oct, Dec 1948
* Ride the Dark Trail, (ss) Western Short Stories Dec 1951
* Rider from Hell, (ss) 10 Story Western Magazine Aug 1945
* The Rider from Wind River, (nv) New Western Magazine Mar 1953
* Rimfire, (ss) Popular Western Sep 1952
* She Had Red Lips, He Had a Six-Gun, (na) Best Western Jun 1956
* Shoot the Man Down, (ss) Lariat Story Magazine Nov 1947
* Silent Are the Guns, (ss) Fifteen Western Tales Dec 1942
* Six-Gun Saddlemates, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Jul 19 1941
* Song of Death, (ss) Thrilling Ranch Stories Sum 1953
* Song of the .45, (ss) Six-Gun Western Sep 1948
* Stacked Deck, (ss) The Rio Kid Western Jan 1952
* Stage to Destiny, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Jan 16 1943
* Stakeout, (ss) Mystery Tales Aug 1959
* Sundown Passes Through, (ss) Dime Western Magazine Sep 1941
* This Bullet Has Your Name on It!, (ss) Western Short Stories Aug 1942
* Those Bloody Bells of Hell!, (nv) Dime Western Magazine Feb 1948
* The Tinhorn Fills His Hand, (ss) New Western Magazine May 1944
* Tinhorn Heritage [Lonnie Madden], (ss) Fighting Western Jan 1946
* The Town Two Guns Couldn’t Tame, (ss) Complete Western Book Magazine Dec 1941
* Track of Fear, (ss) Web Detective Stories May 1961
* Trail into Fury, (ss) Western Short Stories Jan 1950
Western Short Stories (UK) Jan 1950
* Trigger Touchy, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Oct 31 1942
* Trigger Treachery, (ss) Street & Smith’s Western Story Nov 21 1942
* The Troubled Gun, (ss) 2-Gun Western Feb 1954
* Two Bullets to Hell, (nv) New Western Magazine Mar 1954
* Under the Burning Sky, (sl) Colliers May 30, Jun 6 1953
* The Unmarked Grave, (ss) Ranch Romances Feb 1961
* Waiting in the Moonlight, (ss) Texas Rangers Oct 1955; Never before had Tom Brady killed like this—for money.
* Way of a Gunman, (na) Western Novel and Short Stories Apr 1935
* The Ways of Vengeance, (ss) Texas Rangers Jun 1956
* The Wayward Gun, (ss) Ranch Romances Nov #1 1952
* When Hell Hit Haystack Flats, (ss) Big-Book Western Magazine Apr 1948
* The Wide and Hungry Loop, (na) Complete Western Book Magazine Feb 1952
* The Wild Town That Couldn’t Be Tamed, (ss) Complete Western Book Magazine Aug 1942
* Witch, (ss) Ranch Romances Feb 1962
* Wrong Side, (ss) Complete Western Book Magazine Jun 1956


Western Writer: Will Henry

This is the first installment in the Western Writer Series.  Other writers in the series can be found here by searching Western Writers Series.

Tom-Horn-Will-HenryEvery now and then, I am asked to recommend a western writer or a western novel to someone unfamiliar with the genre. In most cases as I probe to see what they may have already read and hence what may be a good fit for them, I find that they really only know: two names, Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry… and one book, Lonsesome Dove.

Over the next few weeks, MontanaWriter will be highlighting some good western writers that may be household names as far as western fans are concerned, but are relatively unknown to most other people.

Will Henry, the pen name of Henry Wilson Allen (1912-1991), was a prolific writer: novels, short stories, and screenplays… western and otherwise. His work garnered him five Spur Awards. (For the un-initiated, Spur Awards are the western equivalent of a Hugo or an Edgar.)

Most of his acclaimed work – Chiricahua, The Gates of the Mountains, From Where the Sun Now Stands, Tom Horn –  tends toward the historical-fiction end of the western spectrum. While solid research and real life-experience as a cowboy and a gold miner ensure that all the little western details are correct, in the end it is his strong writing style and wonderful story-telling ability that won him his awards… that make him worth reading.

Allen (Will Henry), like most of the writers of his day, lived and wrote in the shadow of L’Amour who so dominated the western marketplace that in the end it was probably not much different than what it is like writing westerns today: what you publish is virtually invisible. Allen spoke of this phenomenon in an interview:

 Louis L’Amour, for the past many years, worked for the same company Will Henry has worked for, namely Bantam Books, and if you think standing second in line to Louis L’Amour is any great riot of fun or delight, try again. After Louie, the fall to number two place would kill anyone; would kill an ant or an elephant. And yes, Will Henry has certainly been affected by the presence of Louie L’Amour at Bantam Books. There are, or have been, other authors: Luke Short, Jack Schaefer, all types of name brand authors at Bantam Books through the years–the Louie years–who have been affected by him. But that’s inescapable. Not just at Bantam, either. If you are in the western writing business retail sales points, looking for a copy of your novel, and you have one little single copy in the last part of the rack, farthest from the front, where, if you don’t have your flashlight or a cigarette lighter with you, you can’t even see it. Now, that’s being affected. (cf. “Will Henry Interview by Jean Henry-Mead)


A quick look at Amazon show that there are some kindle editions available of his work but most of what is available is from the used marketplace. Little has changed apparently for Allen (Will Henry). Louis L’Amour is everywhere… but Will Henry westerns remain difficult to find. But certainly worth the search.


 Will Henry Partial Bibliography

  • No Survivors, 1952
  • Death of a Legend, 1954
  • The Tall Men, 1954
  • To Follow a Flag, 1955
  • Who Rides with Wyatt, 1955
  • The Fourth Horseman, 1956
  • The North Star, 1956
  • The Texas Rangers, 1957
  • Yellowstone Kelly, 1958
  • Journey to Shiloh, 1960
  • The Seven Men at Mimbres Springs, 1960
  • From Where the Sun Now Stands, 1962
  • MacKenna’s Gold, 1963
  • The Gates of the Mountains, 1966 (Spur Award)
  • Custer’s Last Stand: The Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, 1968
  • One More River to Cross, 1968
  • Alias Butch Cassidy, 1969
  • Outlaws and Legends, 1969
  • Chiricahua, 1973 (Spur Award winner)
  • I, Tom Horn, 1976
  • Summer of the Gun, 1978
  • The Squaw Killer, 1983
  • The Ballad of Billy Bonney, 1984
  • Reckoning at Yankee Flat, 1989
  • Jesse James: Death of a Legend, 1996
  • The Hunting of Tom Horn, 1999


On Rifles, Remingtons, and Research

As I have been polishing up one of my latest western stories, I have been doing a little research on rifles. In the process, I came across this entry at Wikipedia about the Sharps.

Movies which showed the strengths of the Sharps rifle are the 1990 western Quigley Down Under where Tom Selleck‘s title character’s Sharps rifle has a 34″ barrel as opposed to a standard length barrel of 30″ and Burt Lancaster‘s character, Bob Valdez, in the movie Valdez Is Coming.[6] Also, in the 1976 film “Missouri Breaks“, Marlon Brando‘s character, Robert E. Lee Clayton, uses an 1859 Creedmoor rifle. As a result of Quigley Down Under a Sharps match is held annually every year in Forsyth, Montana known as the “Quigley Match”. A 44-inch target is placed at 1,000 yards for each shooter, remniscent of a scene from the movie.[7] Theater Crafts Industry went so far as to say, “In Quigley Down Under, which we did in 1990, the Sharps rifle practically co- stars with Tom Selleck.”[8] This statement was echoed by gunwriters including John Taffin in Guns and Lionel Atwill in Field & Stream.[6][9] Gun manufacturers such as Davide Pedersoli and Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company have credited these movies with an increase in demand for those rifles.[6]

Guns play an important role in westerns. It is part of the convention. Maybe one of the reasons that people do not read or watch westerns any more is that not as many people hunt or grow-up with guns as they used to. If you grow up believing that guns are something only right-wing extremists, Republicans, and criminals have, you are probably not going to be comfortable reading or watching something where a Sharps rifle or a Colt pistol is “a co-star.”

John Wayne’s 44.40

Westerns and guns go hand-in-hand. Guns can play both the hero and the villain in a western. Violence and violent men can also be both. Maybe it is this “morally nuanced” understanding of violence in general, and gun violence in particular, that makes the western seem most anachronistic to the literary and film trend-setters of today.

I love the movie Quigley Down Under. Selleck does a great job. So does his Sharps. It has been a long time since I have seen either Valdez is Coming or Missouri Breaks. I am going to be putting both into my NetFlix queue.

I am thinking now of other westerns and other guns….

Growing up I loved the show The Rifleman and Chuck Connors. His Winchester was certainly the “cool” co-star of the show.

John Wayne, of course, also used Winchesters and Colts in many of his movies. But with the Duke being the Duke, no rifle or pistol… no matter how big… could ever truly be called his “co-star.”

I could, I suppose, do a little research on famous guns and famous westerns. That is the nature of research. It is so fun to move from subject to subject…. And with Wikipedia and “The Google,” it is so easy that sometimes you can lose sight of where you are supposed to be going.

For me I am supposed to be polishing up another western short story that I will soon be sending out…. But hell, wouldn’t it be fun to go to that Quigley Match in Forsyth?

“Cottonwood Death” Voted Favorite Story

Montana Noir (photo by m.a.h. hinton)
Montana Noir (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I found out yesterday that my western noir short story, “Cottonwood Death,” was voted favorite December short story by the readers of Frontier Tales Magazine. To all who voted for my story, thank you.

I have been asked by a few readers, if I have other short stories in the works. I do. A few more western noir short stories I am polishing up and a few… others. I hope to have one or two ready in the next few weeks. I will keep the readers of MontanaWriter posted. And to all who have cared enough to ask, thank you for that as well.

The lot of the writer can be a lonely one. A lot of time alone, working on something that may or may not: ever see the light of day, ever amount to anything in the end, ever work as intended or imagined, ever be finshed, ever be enjoyed by any one at all. So to have some people say they enjoyed something I have written is gratifying.

A few people who have written have also asked me about the dark nature of my stories. I really have not yet figured out how best to respond to that question. One reader, who had taken time to also read some of my poems, said that it seemed to him like I save all the “light” for my poems and all the “darkness” for my short stories. Maybe poetry lends itself better to the language of grace and prose to the language of judgement. I do not know. I only know that I am trying to write the kind of stories I would most like to read.

Either way, thanks to all who take the time to read what I write. You can never know how much I truly appreciate it.

For those who may have missed  ”Cottonwood Death,” or would like to read it again, here is a link to Frontier Tales Magazine.




“Cottonwood Death” by Mark Hinton

frontierbanner2My latest short story, a western entitled “Cottonwood Death”, has just been published in the December issue ofFrontier Tales Magazine.

I remain convinced that westerns are not merely an anachronistic genre. While they may seem to belong to another time, and may have long ago ceased being big-sellers, the form is far from exhausted and offers a great many possibilities… especially the noir western.

The western is as close to mythology as we have in America. We do not have Olympian gods or faeries or Valhalla, what we have are cowboys and Indians and wilderness and great open spaces.  A pure “western” ismythology in every sense of that word.

Myths tell us about what is best and worst in ourselves and our world. They can inspire and remind us of what is most important… of what we should never forget. A people who forget their myths, who turn their backs on them, are easily lost. It is no coincidence that westerns were put on the shelf in our culture at the very time that America began to lose its way… began to diminish. We lost our mythology and we lost ourselves.

I am making no claims for my stories being mythology… yet. But I will say that mythic is what I aspire for them to one day be. That is the kind of western I would like to write… the kind of western I wish more people were trying to write… the kind of western I like to read.

Thank you to editor Duke Pennell for liking my story enough to publish it.

You can find Frontier Tales Magazine and my story “Cottonwood Death” here.



Pet Peeves: Romance & Sex in Westerns

john-wayneLike most things cinematic and western, John Wayne understood perfectly by the end of his career what role romance should play in a western movie: almost none. Unfortunately many western writers, no matter how many westerns they may write, never come remotely close to figuring this one out.

There is little in life more frustrating than settling into a great western novel – one with strong writing, a great understanding of the relationship between landscape and plot, and the right kind of dialog – only to have everything come to a screeching halt when a two-dimensional female character enters the picture. Bang! Another potential western masterpiece shot down by a clumsy, pointless, cobbled-on, two-dimensional romance.  The only thing worse is the movement in some more modern westerns to transform the bad romantic scenes to bad pornographic scenes.  “Disappointment… thy name is Legion.”

Truism One: Westerns are primarily a male genre… written and read by males. There are exceptions, of course. But they are just that, exceptions.

Truism Two: For most men, sex is way more interesting than romance. By definition most men would rate a romance novel or a romantic movie somewhere on a continuum between “deathly boring” and “completely pointless.” Sex, of course, is something altogether different.

Truism Three: Reading about sex is boring. Even though men find sex interesting they do not like to read about it  [Note: I said “read” not watch or look at] any more than they like to read about romance. Go to any bookstore and look in the Erotica section. Erotica is for women. Women like to read about romance and sex… not men.

Truism Four: Male writers cannot write convincingly about either romance or sex. There are, of course, notable exceptions.. but these are few and only Larry McMurtry writes westerns.

Truism Four: Westerns should have no romance or sex.

Truism Five: There are exceptions to every rule… or at least there should be. But before you think, dear western writer, that you are the exception, please do us all a favor and show the story to at least six women. If they think it is really not the same old  two-dimensional, adolescent bullshit, publish it. And I will promise to buy it.

On the Pile Next to My Chair

A regular reader of MontanaWriter recently emailed me asking me what I was reading these days. Since it is in my nature to read more books at one time than I can quickly recall, and since it is also in my nature to never  get around to reviewing most of those book, I hope I have hit upon something that may become a semi-regular feature here: highlighting books I am currently reading.

So on the first weekend of August, 2011, here are the physical books that are piled next to my reading chair and on my nightstand, some time down the road I may post the ebooks I am reading:

The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Carl Sandburg
Details: 770 pages, hardbound
Purchased: Half-Price Books
Regular readers of MontanaWriter know that my recent visit to Sandburg’s birthplace and burial-site in Galesburg, Illinois, inspired me to want to look at Sandburg poetry again in a more thorough way. Complete Poems includes a wonderful introduction by Archibald MacLeish. Reading 770 pages of poetry, when you read each poem twice, means that I anticipate this volume sitting next to my chair for sometime to come. 
Favorite line so far:
 too many to pick, but from MacLeish’s introduction comes this, “Poets, when they are poets, are as unique as poems are when they are actually poems: which is to say incomparably unique, essentially themselves.”

* * * * *

Outlaw Tales of Montana, Gary A. Wilson
Details: 212 pages, softcover
Purchased: Half Price Books
Price: $7.99

Though I would like to have some book about Montana sitting somewhere near at hand all the time, I cannot. The reality is that though the state is large and the sky big, there are surprisingly few books about Montana… and very few good ones. Wilson’s book is not in the category of a good one but it is at least an interesting history of lesser known outlaws who lived or operated at times in Montana. In rather ordinary prose, Wilson profiles six outlaws who have for the most part flown under the radar of outlaw lore. One, Con Murphy, operated in the area where I grew up.
Favorite line so far: 
A quote in the front of the book by Charles M. Russell, “They cashed in their chips under the smoke of the same weapon that let them live, and took their medicine without whining.”

* * * * *

The Clash: The Complete Guide to Their Music, Tony Fletcher
Details: 120 pages, softcover
Purchased: Half Price Books
Price: $3.99

The Clash remain “The Only Band that Matters.” In five short years Strummer, Jones, and the boys saved rock music from itself and changed the way a generation… my generation… would think about music forever. This small book provides brief  background notes and information on all five original Clash albums and every song,  as well as a few pages of pictures that will be already be familiar to most Clash fans. Fletcher is a dedicated fan of Strummer and the Clash and obviously a knowledgeable student of rock music in general and punk music in specific. It seems like a must have for a Clash fan.
Favorite line so far: “
 [Their debut album] The Clash, from violent sleeve imagery through provocative song titles, presented itself as nothing less than a call to musical and class warfare.”

* * * * *

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons
Details: 697 pages, hardcover
Purchased: Barnes and Noble
Price: $4.99 (clearance)
For sports junkies in general, and NBA junkies in particular, Bill Simmons and his work at ESPN.com and Grantland.com are legendary. This is the basketball equivalent of Bill James original Historical Baseball Abstract. It is quite simply the best book about the NBA ever written. It is one I am reading as slowly as possible. Trying to make it last. Because like the original Bill James baseball classic, there will never be another book like itever.
Favorite line so far: 
There are so many… here is just one from one of his famous footnotes: “All you need to know about NBA coaches: during every timeout, they huddle with their staff about 15 feet from the bench, allow the players to ‘think,’ then come back about a minute later with some miraculous play or piece of advice… I want to see an owner forgo the coach, put the players in charge of themselves and see if there is a difference.”

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Far Bright Star, Robert Olmstead
Details: 218 pages, softcover
Purchased: Magers & Quinn
Price: $7.99 
I always have a couple of westerns in play. This highly-acclaimed novel by the writer of Coal Black Horse gets more critcal attention and praise than most western’s do… and probably for good reason. Olmstead is a very a fine writer and stylist. Though at times I feel like he is trying to be like Cormac McCarthy… in the early going it has something of the feeling of Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses. (I gather from the cover comments and reviews that Far Bright Starmay follow McCarthy down the road of unrelenting violence.) Be that as it may, if you are going to emulate a writer, or a pair of western books,  McCarthy and those two novels seems like a good choice.
Favorite line so far: The opening paragraph sets the mood of the book well, “Thus far the summer of 1916 had been a siege of wrathy wind and heated air. Dust and light. Sand and light. Wind and light.”

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St Athanasius on the Incarnation, with an introduction by C.S. Lewis
Details: 120pages, softcover
Purchased: gift/hand-me down from friend
Price: n/a
There are as they say, no new heresies… just old heresies dressed up in new clothes. St. Athanasius defended the church after Nicaea from Arianism. It was a battle for the soul of the church as all heresies are. 1,700 years later the battle is being fought again between those who rightly understand the Trinity (in as much, of course, as the Trinity can be understood) and those who want to make Christ into something less than fully God and fully human. This is one of the great works of Christian literature. C.S. Lewis introduction makes it even more wonderful to read.
Favorite line so far: From C.S. Lewis’s introduction, “When I first opened [Anthanasius] I soon discovered… that I was reading a masterpiece.”

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The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten
Details: 144 pages, softcover
Purchased: Amazon.com
Price: $12.99 
For chess players, the title describes the book perfectly. The traditional English Opening in chess is considered to be a very conservative approach for white to take. Kosten presents ways to make it a more aggressive, hence more “dynamic,” opening…  full of surprises for your opponent. Over the years I have acquired a number of chess books that focus on the English Opening. This is the latest.
Favorite line so far: “For me, the English Opening is a fight for control of d5.” (Hey, it is a chess book… what did you expect?! But take my word for it, this is a good reminder about the basics of theonly opening I ever play.)

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Donovan, Elmer Kelton
Details: 170 pages, paperback
Purchased: Book’em Book Sale fundraiser
Price: $0.50
In his long writing career, Kelton won critical praise from western fans and critics alike as well as multiple Spur Awards (given by the Western Writers of America). The marketing people who design covers for westerns quite often include the eye catching blurb, “the successor of Louis L’Amour.” Kelton, more than any other writer that has been said about, truly deserves that moniker. His work has always seemed closer to L’Amour in tone and intent. Donovan is one one of Kelton’s earlier novels, originally published in 1961. For the most part, I enjoy his earlier Westerns more than his later… more historically researched trilogies. So far, a great read.
Favorite line so far: The opening line sets the tone, “Even before his horse’s ears suddenly pointed forward, Webb Matlock was becoming uneasy.”

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Hammer of the Empire, Steve Parker, Steve Lyons, and Lucien Soulban
Details: 762 pages, softcover
Purchased: Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore
Price: $4.50
Warhhammer books are a staple on my kindle and iPod. They are like crack: hard-hitting, dis-orienting, and above all addictive. This is hardcore, military sci-fi. And I love to read it. The Warhammer series of writers are surprisingly goodespeically Dan Abnett and his Gaunt’s Ghost series… probably my favorite Sci.Fi. series of all time. But they are all very bloody… extremely so.. and dark.
Favorite line so far: A random line picked to show the tone and temperament of a Warhammer book: “The ground was a carpet ot smoking metal, big brown bodies and raw red meat. Ork carcasses covered every inch of sand and rock.”

Book Review: Nemesis by L.J. Martin

“I’d hoped no man would offend or threaten me or mine so much that I’d feel the need… the requirement to put them in hell.

Nemesis_Martin_Cover1As I have written elsewhere at MontanaWriter, traditional western fans usually need to comb used-bookstore shelves if they want to find something “new” to read. Since combing used bookstores for out-of-print books  remains one of my all-time favorite activities, this has never been an undesirable experience… merely an irritating one.

While publishers frequently re-publish western classics that are already available for free in the public domain anyway, most of what is published as “western” these day is really just historical and romance fiction that happens to take place in a western setting. Traditional westerns by living authors can be quite difficult to come by.

Nemesis by L.J. Martin is a traditional western through and through. A tale of western revenge, it is written by an author who brings an historical and contextual perspective on the western that only a student of western history living in the West could have. It is also clear that he has a deep and abiding love and understanding of the literary tradition of the western, and wants to remain true to that tradition.

Briefly it is the story of mountain man McBain who finds himself forced out of his lonely wilderness life to revenge the killing of his sister and her daughters. In his quest for vengeance, he becomes sheriff and, in keeping with traditional westerns motifs and trajectories, ultimately finds redemption.

Told in part in the first-person voice of McBain, the language in these chapters is rich with a wonderful authenticity that you have to appreciate. It is Martin’s ability to pull off this authentic first-person narrative voice for a 19th Century character that I most admired about this book. In the early chapters especially, I often found myself highlighting a number of  lines or images that I liked.

In plot and sensibility, Martin places his novel Nemesis squarely within the camp of the traditional western. And the traditional western fan is clearly his audience

Interesting Blog: “Buddies in the Saddle” by Ron Scheer

Ron Scheer
Ron Scheer

My recent article on the state of the western and my short story,  “Box Canyon” (published at TheWesternOnline), has brought me into contact with a number of new and interesting writers and bloggers. That is the power and promise, of course, of the internet… of the digitally interconnected world we now find ourselves a part of. Even lovers of the anachronistic can find “community.”

One of the more interesting bloggers who has contacted me of late is Ron Scheer. His blog, Buddies in the Saddle,  is the kind of place where a western fan can get blissfully lost. And I certainly have on more than a few occasions.

Ron bills Buddies in the Saddle as a blog “about how everyday life on the open plains and frontier small towns has been represented in books, films, song, pulp magazines, comics, radio, and TV.” And it certainly is. He brings a critical eye, a literary sensibility, and an encyclopedic knowledge to everything he writes and thinks about: American and western history; pop-culture; literature; movies; television…. It has become my favorite new blog.

Living as I do in economic exile in the land of “sky blue waters,” all things western usually seem as distant as… mountains.  As a western fan/writer sojourning in the North Country it has been easy to feel like I am alone in my passion, in my appreciation of the western as art form and mythosBuddies in the Saddle reminds me that there remains a number of dedicated and smart people who share my interests. And I have hope.

Thank you Ron for a great blog!