Wednesday 30 April 2014

Legend of the Dead Men's Gold

My 29th Black Horse Western is published today and is now available from all good libraries.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. I had always intended to write a sequel to Calloway’s Crossing, which was published in 2006. I’d enjoyed writing Trip Kincaid’s slightly outlandish adventure and I thought the character had more mileage in him, but I couldn’t come up with any ideas about what he might do next.

Eventually, as an absolute last resort, the thought came that if I had no idea what Trip did after Calloway’s Crossing, perhaps a quest to find out what Trip did next could be the plot for another Trip adventure. So I turned to Oliver Kincaid, Trip’s brother, and set him the task of finding out what happened to Trip, and in the end he got an answer.

I really like it when I start off with absolutely no idea what I’m going to write, and yet a story develops during the writing process. The title came early on, the actual legend followed shortly afterwards, and the rest of the novel progressed as an attempt to find out the truth behind the legend. I had no idea what that truth was, and so the only way to find out was to keep writing and trust that by the final chapter an answer would come. Pleasingly, as it turned out, the characters worked it out at the same time as I did by following the clues that were in the story, even though I hadn’t realized they were clues when I wrote them.

The other thing I liked about writing this story was the character of Oliver Kincaid. I like my main characters to be closer to ordinary rather than natural heroes, and Oliver is one of my least heroic heroes. He’s a short, fat, balding bartender, who has never picked up a gun in his life and is scared of his own shadow. Having such a character come up against deadly gunslingers in his quest for the truth made the story an interesting challenge.

Anyhow, the book is now out there.

Trip Kincaid had always been fascinated by the legend of the dead men's gold: it was said that the last member of the Helliton gang had cursed the stash, claiming that if he couldn't have it, nobody would.

So, with the gold still unclaimed, and the bones of a hundred men scattered around it, Trip Kincaid's disappearance is cause for alarm. His brother, Oliver, is desperate to find him and it seems the box canyon, where the Helliton gang once holed up, is the best place to start looking. But Oliver must enter the devilish outlaw stronghold and uncover for himself the truth behind the legend. Will he succeed or die in the process?

Wednesday 16 April 2014

All Must Die

I’m pleased to report that I’ve received a contract for my latest Black Horse Western, entitled All Must Die.

This one is a Cassidy Yates tale. One of the side-effects of publishing my early books on Kindle was noticing that I hadn’t written about Cassidy since 2011’s Sheriff Without a Star, so I thought it was about time I found out what he’s been up to.

This was one of those stories where the title came first and in this case the working title was All Men Must Die. I had the novel finished and ready to go off to the publisher when an advert caught my eye in the corner of a webpage advertising Game of Thrones with the catchy slogan of 'All Men Must Die'. I groaned and changed the title, although perhaps in retrospect I shouldn’t have done, as I’d guess George RR Martin got that phrase from the same source I did, namely Hamlet and the phrase ‘All that lives must die’.

I’ve slipped Shakespeare into a western before, but that was in The Miracle of Santa Maria where Thaddeus T. Thackenbacker the Third, the West’s greatest living thespian, performed his cowboy version of Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed myself writing stuff like ‘Romeo, Romeo, where in tarnation art thou?’ but I thought it was about time I made amends for that and Hamlet does have a lot of quotable lines. So I started with the intention of rewriting Hamlet as a western.

Thankfully common sense prevailed and I gave up on this self-indulgent idea very quickly, but even so I still felt an urge to get the ‘what a piece of work is man’ speech into the story. Although admittedly that probably has more to do with the fact it was used in the final scene of Lindsay Anderson’s Britannia Hospital rather than for any love of the Bard.

Anyhow, All Must Die will be my 31st BHW and it should appear around Spring 2015.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Left or Right

I’ve been scratching my head recently over a rather bizarre error I keep making when writing and I thought I’d ramble on about it. The error goes like this: although I don’t go in for excessive descriptions of the scenery, I do like to keep track of where objects and people are when my characters move around. I don’t draw maps or layouts of the scene, but the places exist in my mind and as I often re-use locations, I have a clear image of them.

Hence, at least on first draft, I’ll report that my hero leaves the law office and turns left to go to the saloon. He goes in and the bar is on the right. When he leans on the bar a truculent fellow standing to his left will pick an argument with him and so the hero swings round and thumps him with his right fist. The fellow has an accomplice who will come at him from the hero’s left hand side forcing him to slap his face with the back of his left hand. Then he’ll down his drink, step over the groaning bodies, and leave the saloon whereupon he’ll turn left to go to the bank.

All this exists clearly in my mind because the saloon is to the left of the law office and the bar is on the right hand side of the saloon. And when I picture the bar room brawl I can see where these guys are and so I can report on how the hero deals with them.

The scene will then go through several redrafts until I’ve got it into a state I like, and then I’ll move on to the proofreading stage of trying to make sure all the words say what I thought they said. It’s then that I hit a problem.

Although I know the saloon is to the left of the law office, it’ll suddenly occur to me that it’s actually on the right. Worse, the bar in the saloon is not on the right, it’s on the left hand side of the saloon. And when I envisaged that bad guy standing to the left of the hero, I was actually envisaging him being to the right. And so it goes on. That heap of boulders that was to the left of the entrance to the canyon where everyone holes up is really to the right, and the creek that’s to the right is really to the left.

The first dozen or so times I spotted myself making this error I just shrugged. Then I made a special effort to avoid doing it, but I still kept making the same error. I wondered if it was just one of those ‘I’m getting old and so I can’t remember why I went into the kitchen’ type of issues, or that maybe it was a left brain, right brain thing. Anyhow, the conclusion I’ve reached is this is an issue of me not quite doing what I think I’m doing when I’m writing.

My aim is to see the world through the viewpoint character’s eyes and report on what he sees and hears and smells, except maybe I’m not doing that. What I’m actually doing is seeing events unfold through the eyes of an omnipresent narrator who is standing back from the scene, so even when I’m looking through a character’s eyes, it’s like I’m looking in a mirror. So to me the saloon is to the left of the law office, but to the viewpoint character it’s to the right, and so on.

I’m not sure whether this theory will help me resolve the problem, but to be on the safe side I don’t reckon I’ll ever risk writing a story where the hero is called Lefty!