My 10 Favorite Western Authors

71UgoZxb2ML._SL1500_I love a good western novel…but there are so few writers who can do them well, avoiding the dusty cliches and tropes of the genre to deliver a powerful, memorable, original story with flesh-and-blood characters. So here are my 10 favorite western authors, in no particular order:

Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo are two of the best westerns ever. Some of his follow-ups were entertaining, but never matched these two.

Frederick Manfred (aka Feike Feikema) – His Lord Grizzly is a classic, but I’d also strongly recommend Scarlet Plume, Riders of Judgment (made into a miniseries entitled The Johnson County Wars scripted by McMurtry) and Conquering Horse.

Bill Crider – I loved his books Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, which should be read back-to-back as one, wonderfully-told tale. I’ve been trying for years to get a movie version of those books off the ground and have come tantalizingly close several times. But I haven’t given up hope! He’s also written several other great westerns, too.

A.B. Guthrie – His novels The Big Sky and The Way West are not only classic novels… but classic movies, too. His wonderful westerns should be read in order (Big Sky, Way West, These Thousand Hills, Arfive, The Last Valley and Fair Land, Fair Land) since they are essentially a series.

Ed Gorman – I’ve raved about his books Trouble Man and Wolf Moon on this blog many times. But you’ll also enjoy Death Ground,Guild, hell, anything with his name on it.

H.A. DeRosso – One of the darkest western writers out there…and one of the least well known. His books include .44 , The Gun Trail, and Under the Burning Sun.

Glendon Swarthout – His terrific novel The Shootist is a classic and, fittingly, was the basis for John Wayne’s final western.

Harry Whittington – His westerns (Trouble Rides Tall, Vengeance is the Spur, etc.) are every bit as tightly-plotted and leanly-written as his fine crime novels…and were his only books to be adapted for films and movies.9780618154623_p0_v1_s260x420

Elmore Leonard – Before he was the king of crime, he was the king of westerns…many of his books and stories became beloved western movies, too… like 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre and Valdez is Coming.

Thomas Eidson – His book The Last Ride became the vastly under-rated film Missing directed by Ron Howard. His western St. Agne’s Stand is also terrific.

Other western writers I love include James Reasoner, Richard Wheeler, Bud Shrake (The Borderland), Marvin Albert, Lauran Paine, Frank Bonham, Thomas Berger (Little Big Man), Robert B. Parker (Gunman’s Rhapsody and Appaloosa), Tom Franklin (Hell at the Breech)Scott Phillips (Cottonwood), Jonathan Evison (West of Here), Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) and Philipp Meyer (The Son). There are many more. In fact, I’m sure other authors and their great books will occur to me the instant I’ve posted this list…but that’s the risk you take when you do one of these.

(Hat tip to James Reasoner…whose list of his favorite western authors inspired me to share mine).

The Unsung Pros of Crime Novels and Westerns

Robert VaughanThere are scores of professional writers out there who are incredibly prolific, sell huge numbers of crime novels and westerns, and yet are virtually unknown. One of those writers is Robert Vaughan, who has sold 40 million books, mostly westerns. He was interviewed about his under-the-radar career recently and he’s pretty frank about his lack of celebrity.

I have written well over 400 books. If I had written every one of those books under my own name, Robert Vaughan would be a name that is immediately recognized. I would have established something of value that my survivors could capitalize on after I die…(such as I am doing for others now….continuing the name of a deceased author for the benefit of his survivors). Don’t get me wrong. I am also benefiting from this name….but with this author….and with two others, I have had seven books make it onto the NYT best seller list. Two novels, LOVE’S BOLD JOURNEY, and LOVE’S SWEET AGONY, which I wrote as Patricia Matthews, made number one on the list. In 1981, I sold 6 million books. In my life time, I have probably sold 40 million books, but nobody knows who I am.

But I bet he didn’t really have a choice. Like many writers, me included, he probably took the jobs that came along to pay the bills (do you think I wanted  to write for The New Adventures of Flipper or Baywatch?) and didn’t necessarily take a long-range view of what the cumulative effect might be on his career.

I have enormous respect for authors like Vaughan. They are true craftsman, and don’t get nearly the attention, or financial compensation, that they deserve for their crimes novels and westerns. I’m talking about pros like James Reasoner, Mel Odom, Bill Crider, Robert Randisi, Ed Gorman, Raymond Obstfeld, Mike Newton, Chet Cunningham, Donald Bain, to name a few… guys who can write just about anything in any genre…thrillers novels, crime novels, western novels, romance novels and do it well.  And who have ghost-written scores of books, or toiled under house names (a pseudonym created by a publisher or book packager for a novel or series of books), while others repeated the lion’s share of profits from their efforts. A few such writers have emerged from the shadows into wide popularity… guys like Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, John Harvey, and John Jakes… but most toil in obscurity, writing sometimes hundreds of books in virtual anonymity as “work-for-hire” authors.

But I believe that is finally changing, thanks to Amazon and the e-book revolution. There has been a massive shift in the economics of publishing, and it’s increasingly becoming financially impractical for a prolific, self-starting professional author to toil in the “work-for-hire” field,  where you don’t own the copyright, advances can be as low as $3000, and royalties as pitiful as 1 or 2%…if you get any at all.  When-Hell-Came-To-Texas-183x300

More and more writers who used to live on work-for-hire gigs are now turning to self-publishing…which offers them the opportunity to own their books, make more money, and become known for their work. For example, Crider, Odom and Reasoner are writing and publishing the Rancho Diablo westerns… just the kind of “house name” series they used to toil on as anonymously “work-for-hire” writers with no ownership stake.

Vaughan, meanwhile, has a new western out under his own name (When Hell Came to Texas) and is also writing romances for Pocket Books with his wife Ruth under the pen-name “Sara Luck.”

And though the Sara Luck books don’t have my name, Ruth and I at least own the name.

And that means something.

 

Pondering the Ponderosa

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I’ve been reading a bunch of TV and movie reference books lately, most of which have been a disappointment.

There’s a great book to be written about the writing and production of BONANZA, something akin to the brilliant and comprehensive GUNSMOKE: A COMPLETE HISTORY. Sadly, A REFERENCE GUIDE TO BONANZA by Bruce Leiby and Linda F. Lieby, now out in paperback, isn’t it. A scant eight pages — eight pages!– are given to the creation, writing and production of the show. The bulk of the book is a workman-like episode guide to the 14 seasons and brief synopses of the TV movies, hardly worth the price of purchase. The only thing interesting and worthwhile about the book are the appendices listing various BONANZA merchandise, books, comics, and records. However, I wish the effort the authors put into gathering so much pointless information — like listing all the shows available on video featuring Tim Matheson — had been focused instead on giving us the definitive history of the show. Consider this a lost opportunity.

The same can be said of STEPHEN J. CANNELL PRODUCTIONS.