Sunday, April 27, 2014

Interview: Richard Prosch (author of ONE AGAINST A GUN HORDE)

In the past couple of years, Richard Prosch has become one of my favorite contemporary writers. Maybe that's partly because I know he is Nebraska bred and born, and remains a devout cornhusker at heart even though he presently resides in Missouri … No, that's really only icing on the cake; I'd still like Richard's writing as much, even if he was a "coaster" of some ilk. He's that damn good.
Prosch writes Westerns. Some in a contemporary setting, most set in the more traditional "Old West era" of the late 1800s. His writing is subtly stylistic, thoroughly evoking the time and especially the place he is writing about. His characters are simple and human, yet at the same time somehow colorful and memorable.
With the exception of one novella (and a fine one) entitled HOLT COUNTY LAW, Prosch's work so far has been in short stories, some appearing elsewhere, most of them gathered into story collections of his own. Many of his stories feature two recurring characters: Featured most prominently among the stories collected in DEVIL'S NEST, there is John Coburn, also known as The Peregrine (a wanderer or drifter), who has a mysterious, quasi-mystical air about him, a man with a reputation for being good with a gun yet not a gunslinger per se`; and Whit Branham (featured in the aforementioned HOLT COUNTY LAW), a young lawman who at first seems somewhat unassuming – a horse lover and a bit of a dreamer – but gradually proves to be as tough and resourceful as his job and the frontier demand.
I could go on, but there's really no need to when the best thing is for interested readers to check out Richard's work, all available on Amazon. A good place to start is with his just-released latest, ONE AGAINST THE GUN HORDE (featuring John Coburn/Peregrine in the title story) --- for which, in conjunction with this blog post, I recently put up a 5-star review on Amazon.
Also, to get to know a bit more about the personal side of the man behind the byline, I offer the following Q&A session he recently agreed to participate in with me:

WD:  You grew up on a Nebraska farm and then went on to become a writer,
artist, and teacher living in such places as Wyoming, South Carolina,
and Missouri. Can you give us some details about that transition?

RP: The transition was abrupt. Living in the city, even a small place
like Laramie, brought both petty annoyances (night noises of traffic and
the AC unit at a nearby grocery store) and simple luxuries (walking to
the store for a Coke whenever I felt like it). The move from Wyoming to
South Carolina was much more of a culture shock. What’s funny is that,
after ten years in the Upstate, moving back west was an equal shock.
Once again, I share my days with cornfields and cattle, but it bothers
me that I can’t find local green peanuts to boil!

WD:  Not surprisingly, writing seems to be at the core of all beyond the
farm work. Is it safe to say that writing/becoming a writer has always
been the strongest force driving you? At what age did you first
recognize you wanted to be a writer yourself, and when did you first
produce what you consider a significant piece of work?

RP: Growing up, I was always writing and drawing. Commercial art and
cartooning was my initial career choice because I could make more money
at it, but I was always making up stories in my head while on the
tractor or doing chores on the farm. I remember turning in a short
vampire story in the 5th grade and my teacher saying, “You should be a
writer when you grow up.” I held onto that. First significant piece is
hard, but I’d have to say that co-writing the Emma Davenport comic strip
in 1993 for the Comics Buyers’ Guide was both personally and
professionally gratifying. Up until then, my published writing creds
were all for nonfiction business journals or fluffy romance and
religious pieces. So I think that comic forced me to grow in ways that
are still valuable today. You have to make your words count when they
need to fit inside a word balloon.

WD:  I presume you likely took some writing courses --- anything to
share from that? Perhaps a teacher who was particularly encouraging (or
not)? Obviously, things like plot basics, proper formatting, query
letters, etc., can be taught. But I've often wondered if you can
actually make a writer out of someone who, at their core, doesn't
already have something pulling/pushing them in that direction? Any
thoughts on that?

RP: There’s all kinds of writing, from business copy to commercial
fiction, and I think anyone can learn the craft they choose. I learned a
lot in school about writing, but very little about being a professional.
That said, I do think it takes dedication if you want a professional
lifestyle. Lots of people can make a sale or two, but continuing to
work, to learn, to improve, that’s a choice. And it’s easy to fool
yourself for a while. It’s about sitting down and doing the work. The
writers I have learned from have work ethics like my old German farmer

WD:   In 1988, during your journey from farm boy to professional writer
and co-honcho of Lohman Hills Creative, you met and married your lovely
wife Gina (the other co-honcho of Lohman). You have told me how
supportive and important she is to your writing, and it is clear to
anyone who reads her recurring "Simple Pleasures" observations on
Facebook that she is a very talented and perceptive person in her own
rite. Care to tell us more and brag a bit about Gina? Also your son
Wyatt? It is clear from our personal correspondence back and forth as
well as the Facebook posts by both you and Gina that you have a very
close knit family, one you are --- and should be --- very proud of.

RP:  Thank you, Wayne. Gina taught at a college level for many years and
is my best friend and critic, first reader and teacher, and I trust her to slap me as
needed. Her knowledge of literature and the humanities far exceeds mine,
and I don’t think I ever would have continued in art and writing without
her. During the last 25 years we’ve written a lot together, more than
the comic strip. We co-wrote dozens of business articles and have
produced web site copy for a lot of different industries. We’ve even
remodeled a house together without bloodshed! Wyatt is the opposite of
his parents. For him, it’s all about science and engineering, and that’s
widened my perspective and opened windows I thought were shut long ago.
He continues to inspire both of us.  

WD:  Tell us a bit about your writing regimen. Do you have a particular
schedule? Are you a careful plotter/outliner or are you what has become
commonly called a "pantser"?

RP: Until recently I outlined everything. Didn’t always follow the plan,
but I needed that anchor in place to even get started. Lately, like with
the latest batch of stories, I’m more often “writing into the dark” as
author Dean Wesley Smith says. As far as word count, I’m still doing
wind sprints. Sessions of a few hundred, to a few thousand words on any
random day. Then I go for a day or two without writing. Never more than
two or I start feeling anxious. More than three and Gina doesn’t want me
around.  But I’m not happy with that. It leaves me feeling jangled. I’ve
rearranged my schedule for summer to try for a more even keel.

WD:  What writers have influenced/inspired you?

RP:  From the printed page it’s Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, Dorothy M.
Johnson, and Robert B. Parker. I have so much admiration for the
wordcraft of David Edgerley Gates. In personal, one on one advice, Peter
Brandvold and Dean Wesley Smith have turned my head around more than
once. These are people who take the work seriously, who care about the
writing. Not the awards, not the blogs or the association memberships
–the writing.

WD:  Can you discuss what you're working on or planning now? What can
readers look forward to next from the Prosch byline?

RP: Right now, I honestly don’t know. I have a few irons in the fire,
each of which might go a different direction. I’m most enthusiastic
about finishing up the current body of work and getting a fresh
perspective this summer. Like I said before, trying more to just “write
into the dark.”

WD:  Finally, why have you chosen to primarily write Westerns? Don't you
know that dusty, musty old genre was pronounced dead many years ago ---
and several times since?

RP: Unlike anywhere else, the West lets me tap into my personal
experience and opinion. There’s a sense of integration when I write
about walking the range or chasing a cow, things I’ve done over and over
for decades. In my earliest memories I sat on a stool and watched my
grandparents work cattle. And only yesterday, I chased a cow out of our
garden. That sense of continuity keeps me planted firmly in small town
and western settings.

WD:  Thank you for your time, Richard.

RP: You’re welcome, Wayne. It’s great to visit with you!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Another Look: (1967, THE LAST CHALLENGE starring Glenn Ford and Angie Dickinson)

This 1967 film from MGM is a largely predictable Western drama with a slightly more adult edge to it, but otherwise not too different from some of the Western series still playing on TV at the time it was released. Nevertheless (with apologies to Aesop), since familiarity often breeds content rather than contempt (which may well be the battle cry of the Western's durability), it remains a solid entry in the genre. In the sure hands of established pros like Glenn Ford and Angie Dickinson --- backed by a supporting cast that included many other pros such as Jack Elam, Gary Merrill, Royal Dano, Robert Horton, Frank McGrath, etc., all directed by Richard Thorpe --- it could hardly be anything less.

The plot is a slight variation on the oft-used "weary older gunfighter trying to avoid ongoing confrontations with cocky younger gunnies looking to make a reputation" theme. In this case, the older gunman is a town marshal (Ford) trying to live down his past reputation by keeping the peace in a quiet little town; yet he still doesn't hesitate to use his gun if/when necessary and when he shoots (as is shown in the movie's opening scene) it is to kill. Enter the younger gunslinger (Chad Everett, in a change-of-pace role) out to prove he's the fastest gun around and unwilling to settle for anything less. "If a man is second best, he might as well be dead," he says at one point.
Due to a chance meeting at Ford's favorite fishing hole, as Everett happens by on his way into town, the two men at first seem to like each other as they share some fish and conversation --- until Everett (not knowing who Ford is) reveals his goal for coming to the area. Overall tension builds from there as Everett proceeds on into town, making it clear he still intends to go through with what brought him there; and Ford, wanting to avoid a showdown with the likable young man if at all possible, nevertheless vows that he will kill him if given no other choice. Angie Dickinson, playing Ford's romantic interest who owns/operates the local saloon and brothel, has great concern for Ford's safety if the gunfight takes place. To prevent it, she tries everything from simple persuasion, to a buy-off of Everett's character, to hiring a desperate ex con (Jack Elam) to kill him from ambush. 
In spite of everything, the shootout between the two men occurs. Rather than tell you the result, I will resort to that annoying old grade school practice when giving a book report of saying only: "If you want to know what happens, you'll have to (in this case) see the movie for yourself."
Nothing ground-breaking or spectacular, as I said at the start, just basic, often stereotypical stuff --- but very well done.

A couple of background notes you might find interesting:
  • In real life, Glenn Ford was an accomplished fast-draw artist. He was generally considered "the fastest gun in Hollywood".
  • This was the final film directed by Richard Thorpe, an MGM workhorse whose career spanned over three decades. He was originally slated to direct The Wizard of Oz, but after only a couple weeks' filming was replaced because his scenes did not capture "the right air of fantasy". Nevertheless, Thorpe's body of work included directing projects in a wide variety of genres with stars such as: Wallace Beery, Ronald Reagan, the Tarzan series, the Lassie series, Robert Taylor, the Thin Man series, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, and Steve McQueen. It appears that less than a dozen of these were Westerns, yet his handling of Challenge nevertheless shows a sure hand.

Glenn Ford also had a long career (over five decades, including time out for military service – awarded several medals and ultimately reaching the rank of Naval captain – in WWII and Vietnam) playing a wide variety of roles. Particularly later in his career, he did a lot of Westerns (on TV, as well as movies) and it suited him well.
As for Angie Dickinson … well, it's Angie Dickinson, man. In this movie she plays a saloon/brothel owner, does a competent job and looks damn good doing it. What more do you need?

As I said at the start, THE LAST CHALLENGE is good, solid Western entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. If that's what in the mood for, you could do a whole lot worse.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Noteworthy Reads: KLAW by W.L. Fieldhouse

When James Reasoner contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reading a galley of KLAW and possibly providing a promotion blurb, I vaguely recalled the title from many years ago and thought I may even have had a copy of it at one time. But I couldn't actually remember ever reading it. At any rate, I told him to go ahead and send me a copy and I'd find time to have a look.
Upon receiving said copy, I began reading and two things became quickly clear: One, I knew I had *not* read it before; and Two, boy was I ever glad James had made one available to me now! This is one tough, terrific Western --- well-written and gripping from start to finish.

Following is what I had to say in a recently-posted Amazon review, along with the blurb I submitted to James and Livia.

Review: This first title in a series by W.L. Fieldhouse delivers a payload of gritty, hardboiled Western action! I was tempted to name a couple other tough Western authors from the great Gold Medal pbo days that Fieldhouse reminds me of, but his writing has some distinctions strictly to his own style that would make such comparisons inadequate either way. Suffice to say that KLAW is a well-written, tough, satisfying yarn of Western vengeance. What you might even call a "classic" of sorts, first published two decades ago and now re-released by Rough Edges Press. And the added good news is that there are two more titles in the series that will be coming soon.
Don't miss any of them!

Blurb: “Western fiction has seen plenty of avenging protagonists over the years, hardened by savagery and betrayal, hell-bent on a course to settle the score with human scum undeserving of taking another breath. But few have ever been more embittered or relentless than Klaw … Replacing tortured flesh and bone with cold steel and determination, he turns the bloody remains of a body left for dead into a killing machine who can't be stopped … Bill Fieldhouse has created a memorable, uncompromising character with the grit, savvy, and willingness to go up against the toughest odds. Told in a no-frills, unflinching style, KLAW is an exciting Western adventure that will leave you clamoring for more.”

As evidence of how widely appealing KLAW is, it has also gained praise from the likes of Steve Mertz and Peter Brandvold. You'll want to be sure and check this one out, I promise you won't be disappointed. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Noterworthy Reads: HIGH AND WILD by Peter Brandvold

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this rousing new Western by Peter Brandvold and have been busting a gut ever since, waiting for its release so I could post a review.

Pinkerton agent Bear Haskell is one of Brandvold's most colorful and exciting characters --- and if you're familiar with Lou Prophet, Yakima Henry, or any of Mean Pete's other hell-for-leather heroes, then you know that is saying something! And Bear's sultry, sexy sometimes partner, Raven York, is hardly any less memorable. Combined on a case, they are a couple of holy terrors for the bad guys. And combined in the sack (even though such behavior by Pinkerton employees is strictly forbidden) they are holy terrors for the bedsprings … or wherever else they happen to pause and, er, hold a consultation.

The action (and the sex) comes fast and furious in this series opener when the two Pinks go seeking a missing man in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Wendigo. There's danger and double crosses and dirty dealings aplenty before Bear and Raven crack the case. All with a strong, satisfying mystery element and a surprise twist.

Like I said, this is the first in a new series. Now that he's gotten warmed up, I can't wait to see what Brandvold delivers next. (Which can be found out in WILD TO THE BONE, scheduled for a May release.)

Big recommendation!