Tuesday, January 25, 2011


         Finally saw the Coen Brothers' remake of TRUE GRIT last Saturday night and figured I'd use this space to throw in my two cents' worth, as so many others have already done, on how it compares to the 1969 version starring John Wayne.

            First, full disclosure on a couple of points: 1.) I've never read the Charles Portis novel upon which both films were based, so none of the following will be influenced by how faithfully either film stuck to the book; 2.) I am a huge John Wayne fan so, although I'll try to be as objective as possible, some amount of bias may possibly leak through.
            Having expressed my feelings about the Duke, let me further say that TRUE GRIT was never in the top tier of my favorite Wayne movies. I liked it well enough, but my recollection has always been that it was way too hammy in the "drunk scenes" and the inclusion of Glenn Campbell in a key role really dragged down the entire picture. This wasn't the first time Wayne included—for the sake of helping to attract younger audience members—a popular singing artist of moment in one of his films. Ricky Nelson in RIO BRAVO (and Dean Martin, too, although he's out of a different mold) and Fabian in NORTH TO ALASKA worked surprisingly well; Frankie Avalon in THE ALAMO was even worse than Campbell but his screen time was thankfully very limited. These shortcomings (and a few others) aside, however, I nevertheless found the original TG enjoyable and recognized Wayne's display of acting chops, especially in the quiet camp scene where he tells Mattie about his past life, ex wife and son, etc. I felt his Oscar was deserved … although, as often happens in that particular race, it likely was earned as much for his body of work as for one particular film.

            Now. The remake. The new TRUE GRIT is a very good film. Top-notch production values and direction (as you would expect from the Coens), strong acting across the board. Hailee Steinfeld is superb as Mattie Ross, and as of this date she has just received an Oscar nomination in the category of best supporting actress. Jeff Bridges puts his own distinct brand on the role of Rooster Cogburn and he, too, has just received an Oscar nomination in the best actor category. I would agree both are probably deserving, although I would be inclined more strongly toward Miss Steinfeld. The rest of the cast also turned in good performances, particularly Matt Damon putting a serio-comic spin on his interpretation of Texas Ranger LeBoeuf. I would note, however, that Josh Brolin, who has proven to be a very capable actor in many previous roles, seems ill-suited and used to little advantage here in the role of Tom Chaney.

            As a whole, this new TRUE GRIT may be a more powerful, better-constructed film. It is certainly darker, grimmer, grittier, and thereby perhaps a more realistic representation of the period.
            I think it's fair to remember, though, that the original version was made over forty years ago, at a time when Westerns were still being done in a gentler, more romantic and idealized way.

            Still, upon re-viewing the original TRUE GRIT, which I purposely did before going to see the new one, I found it also to be realistic and somewhat grim in many of its scenes. And I gained a better appreciation for Wayne's portrayal of Rooster (perhaps now seeing it through the prism of time as someone who has himself grown older, crankier, and thicker through the middle as opposed to the relatively young sprout I was back in '69). It struck me, too, that despite recent comments dubbing that version as being tilted primarily toward the Wayne/Rooster role it really wasn't—not that much more so than the current version. There are entire long scenes early in the movie centered on Mattie and her various dealings, with Wayne being absolutely no part of it (other than as a discussion point in some instances). As for Kim Darby's portrayal of Mattie in the original, while it is not as powerful as Miss Steinfeld's, I think it is underappreciated, probably in large part due to sharing scenes with the afore-mentioned Mr. Campbell. (No matter that Wayne also shared scenes with Campbell—whoever he was on-screen with, he simply blew them away; as Montgomery Clift famously said after seeing screenings of RED RIVER: "When Wayne comes on camera, I just disappear.") The rest of the cast was made up largely of old-pro character actors (Robert Duval, Strother Martin, John Doucette, etc.) all of who provided yeoman-like performances and gave the whole thing a nice, comfortable feel.

The original > 1.) Has a better opening sequence, giving us a more complete feel for Mattie, her family, and the low character of Tom Chaney; 2.) The lead-up to Rooster Cogburn is better, giving us a brief glimpse of him in action and allowing us to learn a number of things about him before Mattie actually confronts him for the first time; 3.) The "rat writ, writ for a rat" scene (absent from the new film and, from what I understand, also no part of the book) gives us a very telling - and important, I think - glimpse into Cogburn's character and what makes him tick; 4.) The scene where Mattie skips the ferry and rides her horse across the river is better done and includes the classic line from Rooster – "By God, she reminds me of me" – which gives us another peek into his character and also is the first clear sign of his growing admiration for the girl; 5.) The big one-against-four shootout in the meadow is more rousing, partly due to Elmer Bernstein's wonderful music, partly due to seeing Duke twirl his famous Winchester, but largely because, well, it's John Wayne, man; 6.) Having LeBoeuf die at the outlaw's hideout (and here I don't know if this was in the book or not) is effective because it finally allows Rooster to show grudging respect for the man with the great line: "Damn Texican, saved my life twice … once after he was already dead."; 7.) Finally, I like the more upbeat ending with Duke saying: "Well, come see a fat old man some time" as the camera goes to freeze-frame with him jumping his horse over a three-rail fence in response to just being told he was too old and fat to be jumping fences.
The remake > 1.) The spot-on perfect performance by Hailee Steinfeld will last in filmgoers' memories for a long time; 2.) Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Rooster is gutsy for its distinction and for veering Cogburn away from drunken, quasi-charming buffoonery toward mean, grungy, dangerous nastiness; 3.) The LeBoeuf character, not only because of Damon's superior acting skills, is written and presented in a more layered and entertaining way; 4.) The cabin scene with Quincy and Moon is better written here due to the knife that is brought into play coming from a hidden place – I could never understand, in the original, the logic of Rooster handing a weapon to Quincy in such close quarters; 5.) The Rooster vs. four climax here, while not quite as rousing as in the original (for reasons noted above) was far better choreographed and edited, making it still very exciting in its own right.
Quibbles/Flaws > 1.) The word emphasis in certain phrases from the original have always bugged the hell out of me. There were a number of different places where this occurred, but the most prominent one was Mattie cheering LeBoeuf after he shot Lucky Ned, proclaiming: "Some bully shot!" —like bully and shot were all one word, bullyshot. It should have been: "Some bully shot!" That may seem a stupid quibble to some (or most) but, like I said, it's been bugging the piss out of me for forty-plus years so I wanted to get it off my chest; 2.) After Mattie is snake-bitten, the whole reason Rooster rides out with her on Little Blackie is because that's the only horse he could catch. This is clearly stated in the original. In the remake, however, they ride right past Pepper's horse, still standing in the meadow … Why didn't Rooster take that second horse along so they could switch to a fresher mount after Little Blackie started to play out? Serious oversight in a key scene, to my way of thinking.

Bottom Line: Both versions are very good films, capable of standing proudly on their own merits.

One hopes that the popularity of the new version is due to the viewing public's hunger for more good Westerns like Hollywood seldom makes any more. I have to wonder, though, if the new version would be as successful if not for the popularity of the original and, moreover, the enduring popularity of John Wayne. Thirty-odd years after his death, Wayne rates among the top favorite male movie stars in poll after poll. Yet there are many who still despise him and his image. I think part of those who went to see the new TRUE GRIT were life-long Wayne fans (like me) hoping this remake would do justice to our icon; while others were Wayne haters who went hoping the new one would give them cause to put down Duke's version and then (as some have hastened to do) praise the superiority of this one. That, by turns, saddens me and pisses me off.
But I nevertheless give props to the new TG. Like I already said, it is a very good film.
Tell you what, though: After another forty years, when movie viewers think of TRUE GRIT, I'll bet the one they think of first will be the Wayne version.

Persevere, pilgrim  — WD

Thursday, January 20, 2011

INTERVIEW: Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold is a hugely popular author of action-packed Westerns. He has written dozens of books, under his own name as well as the pen name Frank Leslie. He also has written under the Ralph Compton banner and has done a number of titles in the popular Longarm series.
Recently, Peter graciously agreed to do a Q&A interview with yours truly. I think you will find what he had to say enjoyable and quite informative.

WD:   Peter, you have quite a varied background, growing up on ranches and farms in South Dakota, later attending college (earning a B.A. in English), took a Creative Writing course at the University of Arizona, and taught English at the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in Montana. All the while you dabbled on and off writing articles and some fiction, eventually settling on penning rousing, wildly adventurous Westerns which have become quite successful. Please expand on this, in your own words, for our readers.

PB:  I didn’t grow up on farms or ranches, but lived around friends and family who had them so I spent a lot of time in the country.  I lived in little towns that could probably qualify as “country,” even more so today when most of the little towns in the Midwest are going the way of the wooly mammoths.  I lived all over North Dakota because my dad was good at his job—he was a soil conservationist for the Dept. of Agriculture—and got promoted a lot.  But I loved the small town life, especially visiting friends and family on farms and ranches; riding horseback a lot, and driving grain trucks when I could just barely see over the dash. Getting into all kinds of “country” trouble.  But I’ve always had a very vivid and dramatic imagination, and from a very early age I knew I was going to be a writer.  I was in the 5th grade when I read several Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Ray Bradbury stories, and a great story by Roald Dahl called “Beware of the Dog”. It's about a British fighter pilot recovering in a German hospital, though he doesn’t know it’s German because they tell him he’s in England. But then he sees this German sign that says, “Beware of the Dog,” etc.  Just a great story, and the vivid way it was written, creating that whole world with all the sights and smells and horrors ... Man, I knew I wanted to do that myself.  Everything leading up to it was just paying the bills in the most efficient way I could.  But living and teaching on that little remote Montana Indian reservation for five years was great experience for a Western writer.  And that’s what I always knew I’d write—Westerns; because those were the only movies I really loved from a very early age, and those were the first novels I read for fun.  My God, I had a toybox full of pistols and shell belts and neckerchiefs and battered hats.  In my head, I was always a cowboy. I think I still am, though I haven’t ridden a horse since Montana. I’d like to have enough acreage again to run a few in a big pasture, and ride up around Horsetooth Mountain, close to where I live now in Colorado.

WD:   You strike me as what I would call a "natural" storyteller. How much did the English and Creative Writing courses—versus your life experiences and what I suspect was this very strong natural gift—impact on what we see in your work today?

PB:   English and creative writing courses were great at opening up my world for me, my world of literature and writers.  I mean, I’ve read a broad range of folks—Harry Crews to Graham Greene, John Updike, Saul Bellow.  I love Tolstoy, and A Sportsman's Sketches by Turgenov is probably my very favorite book of al time. I’m always flipping through it to re-read passages here and there, though I think I have to whole thing memorized.  I like poetry—Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Justice, Mark Strand, Mary Oliver, James Galvin, who writes about the country here in northern Colorado. All this was grist for the mill.  A writer needs to read anything he can get his hands, be curious about everything you see, and all the books and movies out there.  It’s strange and wonderful how when you’re writing and you’re entire unconscious is completely opened up what things from your past or what you've read and heard will drift into your mind and somehow flavor what you’re writing at that very moment. So to answer your question in a nutshell: Those classes introduced me to things to read and taught me how to go about finding them.  They made me more curious and aware of the whole wide world of literature out there.  But they did very little for me, practically speaking, as far as learning how to write. That’s something you really can only teach yourself with a lot of hard agonizing.

WD:   You cover a wide range of the West in your numerous books, and generally use a large cast of characters (many of whom end up dead when they tangle with your protagonists)—how do you keep track of all the places and character names you have used so as not to unintentionally repeat any of them?

PB:   Yeah, new characters and plot ideas turn up in my head all the time while I’m writing, and I just go with it.  I censor nothing.  Writing is such a blast for me because it’s all about discovering what my unconscious is going to throw at me next, and I often really have no idea.  It’s even happening as I type this—holy shit!!  I do have a hard time keeping track and I usually write too fast and hard, working up a sweat, to be able to slow down and write things down. So I usually jot names or places or the type of horse a particular character is riding after I’m done with that sprint.  I sometimes screw up, however, and I’ll get emails telling me this guy fired nine shots from his six-shooter and this gal was riding a paint on p.32 but the paint was suddenly a coyote dun on p.102, and I really hate doing that because it’s sloppy.  I should catch it in the galley proofs, which I usually try to read very carefully.  I hate sloppy editing.  Seeing one typo in one of my books will really make me wince.  Or a flub like the one in my second book, BLOOD MOUNTAIN, where I have a one-armed man pushing himself up off a wagon bed with “both hands.”  Oh, man ...

WD:   You have several series going—Sheriff Ben Stillman, Cuno Massey, Gideon Hawk, Yakima Henry, and Lou Prophet. All are hard, tough men on the Western frontier. I find it very commendable, however, that each is a very distinct character with mannerisms and qualities all his own. Can you give us some background on how you created each of these memorable hombres and how you maintain their individuality?

PB:   Not really.  I guess I just see each one as a person—and we don’t know any two people alike, do we?  Unintentionally, I gave Gideon Hawk and Yakima Henry similar features—dark hair and green eyes, and they’re both half-breeds—but in my head they seem very distinct, not very alike at all.  In fact, they’re almost polar opposites, psychologically speaking. Yakima tries to avoid trouble, as where Hawk goes looking for it.

WD:   Do you move in sequence when writing about these characters—i.e., one book about Stillman, then one about Prophet, then one about Yakima, etc.? If not, is there any particular pattern that you follow?

PB:   The pattern is pretty much dictated by my publisher.  They offer me contracts based primarily what seems to be selling best at the time.  I sort of like having the decision made for me.  I really don’t have any favorites amongst my characters, don’t even mind writing to of the same series back to back.  I just love getting into that world, saddling up, and touching steel to flank.

WD:   You have lived and/or traveled extensively throughout most of the country where your stories take place. This, I expect, provides much of the necessary description, history, etc., that you need to tell your tales. Do you do much additional research? If so, please describe.

PB:   I travel all over in my truck and trailer, and that’s fun because I can then set books where I am at any given time, and it just makes the writing so much more immediate.  I can just look out the window and see a turning cottonwood and know exactly how to describe the sunlight playing on it.  Or how a particular ridge looks or the way shadows slide across a mountain slope with the sun’s movement.  I wrote The Guns of Sapinero up in the Wasatch Mountains, outside the little ghost town of Tincup, and since I was on open range there were cattle all over the place.  They’d wander through my camp whenever they wanted, and I’d see them in the willows when I was fishing my favorite creek.  One morning I woke up to my trailer pitching up and down.  I rolled out of bed, looked out the door, and there was a big Angus heifer using the front corner of my trailer for a scratching post!  That image went into Guns when my hero wakes up to a scratching sound outside his cabin. 

WD:   You spend much of the year "RV-ing" around the country—much like a roaming cowboy of old—stopping to camp and spend time where and when it suits you . Sounds pretty enviable. Can you expound on this lifestyle for our readers?

PB:   It’s a lot of fun.  When I get bored with a place, I pack up and move elsewhere.  I spent one winter near Quartzsite, Arizona, and several summers in the Colorado mountains.  I also spent a good part of last summer in North Dakota, staying in a couple of little towns I grew up in as well as one close to Minot, where I have an ill aunt, my Aunt LaVerne, who was/is like a second mother to me and certainly filled a big gap when my blood mother died in ’98.  We had a good time touring the countryside together, LaVerne showing me where the old farm was and that sort of thing, and telling stories of the old days like what they did all winter and where they had to pick up coal.  That’s what become available when you can travel a lot and at will.  I love it.  I’ll always have my trailer.  I’m not going to say it doesn’t get lonely at times, though, because it does.  It requires one to go out and make new friends and that’s always been hard for me.  But you can’t beat the quiet time for writing.

WD:   You write under your own name and also as Frank Leslie. I assume you chose that name after "Buckskin Frank Leslie", a gunslinger of some renown around Tombstone, AZ, during the time of Wyatt Earp. Leslie eventually shot and killed Billy Claiborne, one of the survivors of the OK Corral shootout, and very possibly also killed Johnny Ringo (despite popular claims via recent movies that it was Doc Holliday). Can you comment on this?

PB:   Nope, you got it.  I like the old-West baggage the name "Frank Leslie" carries.  It’s the same thing with Fred Glidden calling himself "Luke Short".  It’s kind pulpy, isn’t it?  I love pulp and all it’s history so I guess the name is also a nod to that pulpy tradition.

WD:   Finally, what does the future hold, writing-wise, for Peter Brandvold and Frank Leslie? I know you currently have a "weird Western"—entitled Bad Wind Blowing—appearing as an Amazon Kindle original, Peter. I also know, via our e-mail exchanges, that you soon will have a book series of "weird Westerns" coming out. Please tell our readers more about that and about any other news you care to share.

PB:   Yeah, I’m working on a weird western series for Berkley tentatively called Dust of the Damned. I’m pulling out all the stops on this one.  I have vampires and werewolves and beautiful Indian witches and even dragons.  My hero is a bounty hunter who specializes in hunting a particular breed of werewolf that helped the North win the Civil War at Gettysburg, and the heroine is beautiful deputy United States Marshal, Aubrey Coffin.  Together, they take on the weird frontier and also make the mattress dance a time or two.  Ha!  I have several other books done and they should be out over the course of the next year, including another Rogue Lawman called Gallows Express and two more Leslie books, Revenge At Hatchet Creek and Dead River Killer, respectively.  Right now my Leslie book, Bullet For A Half-Breed is on the racks, as well as my latest Lou Prophet yarn, The Devil's Winchester.   

WD:   Thank you for your time and candor, Peter. This was an interesting, informative interview. I trust our readers—and your many fans, I'm sure—will enjoy it. And I urge anyone who's reading this and hasn't checked out any of Peter's exciting, action-packed yarns to get your butts in gear and give them a try. You'll be glad you did. You can find Peter's books at any full-service book store and also through Amazon and other internet outlets. You can learn more about Peter by checking out his blog at http://peterbrandvold.blogspot.com or visiting his web site www.peterbrandvold.com .

Persevere --- WD

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ANOTHER LOOK: 100 Rifles

            100 Rifles (1969 – 20th Century Fox) has long been one of my favorite films. Not among the top tier perhaps, but nevertheless holding a prominent spot somewhere in the middle of the mix.
            I believe I first saw it at a drive-in theater (where I did most of my movie viewing in those days) and then saw it again, as part of double- or triple-bills probably, at least two more times in subsequent months before it was pulled from circulation. It had (and still has, upon re-viewing) a lot going for it: It's a tough, gritty "Western", albeit set in revolution-torn Sonora, Mexico, circa 1912; it has plenty of slam-bang action; exchanges of snappy, rough-hewn dialogue, most of it between stars Reynolds and Brown; a few touches of wry humor; and, of course, Raquel Welch in one of her sultriest and possibly most under-rated roles.
            When it was first released, 100 Rifles garnered a good deal of attention. Trouble was, most of this was publicity surrounding the film's steamy interracial love scenes (something still fairly uncommon back in '69) between Welch and Brown. Adding to this bit of controversy were reports that, contrary to what showed up on screen, tensions between the two performers were hardly loving on the set and at the core of this, at least in part, were some alleged racial issues. These distractions aside, the film met with decent reviews and box office success.

            100 Rifles was co-written (with veteran Western author Clair Huffaker) and directed by Tom Gries. Previously, Gries had directed some low-budget movies and several TV episodes ("Rat Patrol", "Rifleman", "Wanted: Dead or Alive", etc.) and had won an Emmy for his work on "East Side/West Side". The prior year he had won acclaim for directing Charlton Heston in another Western, Will Penny, based on an episode of "The Westerner" TV series which Gries had also written and directed. He would go on to direct another eight moderately successful movies until he died at age 55 after playing tennis at the end of a day's post-production work on the Muhammed Ali bio-pic, The Greatest.
            100 Rifles marked the start of the break-out period for Burt Reynolds that would take him away from his initial TV popularity and propel him to becoming the most popular screen actor of the 70s and 80s. His role as Yaqui Joe in Rifles (his fourth feature-length film) is early indication of both his comedic flair and the intensity he could bring to a role when called for (watch his silent reaction to the mass slaughter of Yaqui Indians by the rurale soldiers).
            Jim Brown, arguably at the peak of the spotty acting career that came immediately on the heels of his football fame, turns in a solid performance as Lyedecker, the Arizona lawman who has ventured down into Mexico on the trail of Yaqui Joe for a bank robbery committed north of the border. Brown had already established a strong screen presence in such films as Rio Conchos and The Dirty Dozen, and perhaps his best was yet to come in 1970's  tick … tick … tick.
            Raquel Welch was also at the height of her popularity with this film. In fact, movie-wise, she was probably the most solidly established of the three main stars. In 100 Rifles, playing Sarita, the hot-blooded revolutionaria, she is not so much flashy-sexy (the way she is in other films of the period like Fathom, Bedazzled, Magic Christian, etc.) as she is sexy in a sultry, smoldering kind of way. And she, too, is capable of ratcheting up the intensity when she somberly wields a rifle to fight the rurales or thwarts a would-be rapist by kicking him in the groin and then slamming the tip of a broken tree branch into his heart. Like I said earlier, in the opinion of this humble viewer the role of Sarita is one of Ms. Welch's most effective and underrated performances.
            Also of note is the work turned in here by Fernando Lamas, playing cold-blooded General Verdugo, scourge of the Yaquis. To be sure, Lamas does a good deal of scenery-chewing with his expansive gestures and smirks and wickedly dazzling smiles—but somehow it works, and only serves to emphasize his true ruthlessness. In one memorable scene he dispatches three Yaqui captives with a single bullet (from a pearl-handled, silver-plated .45 semiauto, no less) and then explains: "I know the value of things. These Indians, they are worth nothing … But a bullet, now that has value." You just know that he is going to "get his" before the movie is over and, to the viewers' delight, he surely does.
            It may be also worth noting that 100 Rifles is credited with being based on The Californio, a fine novel by Robert Macleod. Although the only resemblance between the two, at least as far as I could ever determine, is that they both are set around the Arizona/Mexico border at about the same time period. My advice would be: See the movie, enjoy it for what it is. Read the book, enjoy it for what it is. But as far as having anything in common, you ain't gonna find much.
            In a nutshell, 100 Rifles is an exciting, enjoyable Western. Kick back, spend the 110 minutes it takes to watch it, and I don't think you'll come away disappointed.

Persevere — WD

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

INTERVIEW: John R. Lindermuth

John R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaperman, author of several short stories and articles as well as eight novels (to date), including four in the popular Sticks Hetrick series. John's work is well written and highly entertaining, and I have reviewed some of the Hetrick novels here on this blog and elsewhere. In this new year John will be branching out into Westerns with his upcoming novel, Fallen From Grace.
I caught up with him over the holidays and conducted the following interview which I trust you will find interesting and entertaining.

WD:   John, you are a retired newspaper editor/writer. Prior to that you had intentions of entering art school but then served a hitch in the Army and were stationed in Korea. How did you make that transition? Did your time in the Army in any way lead to your newspaper career rather than pursuing art school? 
JRL:   The Army was actually responsible for my newspaper career. Initially, as a result of a battery of tests, the Army determined I had the makings of an investigator and had me as a candidate for CID (Criminal Investigation Command). A pre-qualification was going through military police training. After basic, they sent me to Ft. Gordon, GA, for the training—where I was promptly belt-lined (rejected on grounds I didn’t meet height and weight requirements). I can’t explain why they didn’t know that in advance. I do regret missing out on CID. It would have made a great background for a crime writer. After a short stint of infantry training, it was decided I had the makings of a reporter and they sent me to J-school at Ft. Slocum NY. It was a lucky break for me.
WD:   Can you tell us a little bit about your newspaper career --- i.e. what papers you worked for, and were there any particularly memorable or significant stories you covered?
JRL:   I had some good assignments in the Army and was offered a job on Stars & Stripes if I re-upped. But I’d had enough of the military routine. I managed to get my discharge in South Korea where I was last assigned. My first civilian gig was as copy editor for North Asia Press, one of several businesses of an American entrepreneur. I also did some stringing for a variety of U.S. media. Returning to the states, the best I could do at first was a reporter spot on my hometown weekly—a job which provided more excellent training. After that I had a year on The News-Dispatch (now News-Item), the local daily. This was followed by 20 years with the Daily News in Lebanon PA and some stringing for the Patriot-News of Harrisburg PA. I finished up my career with The News-Item. Over the years, I worked every reporter beat and posts as education editor, farm editor, wire editor, county and city editor. All of these have provided grist for my fictional mill. One of the more unusual murder cases I did work on was that of Susan Reinert, whose body was found in Harrisburg. Dr. Jay Smith got the death sentence in that case, which was the subject of Joe Wambaugh’s book, Echoes In The Darkness.
WD:   Now that you're retired, what occupies your time aside from writing and your work for the local historical society?

JRL:   Family, walking, lots of reading. I’ve made a vow to also get back to drawing, which had been neglected in recent years.
WD:   You have said that your grandfather was a natural storyteller and your father had an extensive library. So you were exposed to storytelling, both verbally and in written form, early on and this led to your interest in writing. During your newspaper time, did you also pursue writing fiction? (I ask this because in the past I spent some time doing stringer work for a newspaper and almost every reporter I got to know had at least one fiction manuscript or work-in-progress stuffed in a drawer somewhere).

JRL: You’re right—every reporter has at least one novel in the drawer. I was no exception. I churned out short stories and a few novels (which didn’t sell) and did interest an agent at one point. I succeedED in publishing a lot of articles in a variety of magazines, though, and also did PR for a little theater, a business and several charitable organizations.

WD:   In your Sticks Hetrick series, you write about the town of Swatara Creek, which is fictional. But there is a Swatara Township. Is this the actual setting you draw upon, as far as the physical terrain, types of people, local characters and/or places?
JRL:   In Something In Common, the first of the Hetrick novels, I included an author’s note stating there is a Swatara Creek, but no town of that name in central Pennsylvania. The Swatara Creek of the novels is solely my invention, though it’s representative of many of the older Susquehanna River towns which have become bedroom communities for the more metropolitan areas. I am familiar with Swatara Township, but it’s a much more affluent and cosmopolitan place than my fictional town.
WD:   You write so vividly of Pennsylvania's coal region, both in the Sticks Hetrick series and in other novels. And you are the librarian of the local historical society. You obviously have a deep affection for the area. Care to comment on that, perhaps give us some insight on your deep feelings for the area?
JRL:   Perhaps it’s partly due to my knowledge of the history and folklore of the area, but I’ve always had a deep affection for this, my homeplace, though its attractions may be less obvious to outsiders. It’s probably not something I can put into words. I’ve just not felt as content elsewhere, though there are other places I like to visit.
WD:   Can you give us some background on the Sticks Hetrick character? Many series authors invest a good deal of themselves into their main character --- is there some of John Lindermuth in Sticks?
JRL: I guess it would be impossible for a writer to create an on-going character without imbuing him with some comparable traits. Hopefully they’re more latent than obvious. Sticks is a good man (which I hope I am, too), loyal, compassionate, dedicated, tough when he has to be. I know he’s much braver than me. I play at chess, but he’s a real gamesman. He’s pretty much a steak and potatoes kind of guy while I’m a bit more adventurous in the culinary area.
WD:   I know you have a Western novel coming out next year. Can you give us a preview of what that's about? Also, what's next for Sticks Hetrick and, in general, what does the future hold for John Lindermuth?
JRL:   Fallen From Grace might be described as an historical mystery, but Oak Tree Press is billing it as a Western. Sylvester Tilghman is the third of his family to serve as sheriff of his small hometown. His biggest problems have been lack of a deputy and the reluctance of his longtime girlfriend to acceptance his many marriage proposals. When two newcomers are murdered in short succession, his life becomes much more complicated.                                                                                             
As to Sticks, I’m well along on the fifth in that series. Sticks and new girlfriend Anita have gone on a cruise prior to assuming his new job as county detective. In Jamaica he runs up against murder, which appears to have a connection back home. Meanwhile, Aaron Brubaker and crew are doing their best with crimes of their own. For the future, I’m hopeful of many more stories and readers for them.

Thanks, John. I encourage readers who haven't already discovered this talented writer to check out some of his work with all haste. I know that I, for one, am looking forward to Fallen From Grace as well as the next Sticks Hetrick adventure.

Persevere --- WD