Western fiction is set in the American Old West frontier and typically ranges from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. The genre peaked around the early 1960s, largely due to the popularity of televised Westerns. Readership began to drop off in the mid- to late 1970’s and has reached a new low in the 2000’s.
In pre-1850’s the predecessor of the western in American literature emerged early with tales of the frontier. In the 1850’s–1900’s the Western became a specialized genre starting with “penny dreadfuls” and later “dime novels”. In the 1900’s–1930’s it had a new medium of pulp magazines, which helped to relay these adventures to easterners. By the 1940’s several seminal Westerns were published and the genre peaked around the early 1960’s, largely due to the tremendous number of Westerns on television.
In the 1970’s the author,Louis L’Amour began to catch hold of most western readers and he has tended to dominate the western reader lists ever since. George G. Gilman also maintained a cult following for several years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, by the 1990’s and 2000’s the readership of western fiction reached a new low and most bookstores, outside a few western states, only carry a small number of Western fiction books.
Did you read western fiction when you were younger? Do you read them now? What changed if you stopped reading them?
It energizes me the same way climbing a small mountain might energize you.
You’re exhausted by the effort but feel good about what you’ve done, so you have enough left in the tank to climb down – and do it over again the next day!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
The mid-point of any novel. I always begin novels in a fever of excitement but half-way through I get bogged down and have to work really hard to keep going to the end. I suspect a lot of authors feel the same way.
What’s the best thing you’ve written?
That would have to be my latest novel Manchester Vice.
I’m very proud of the positive reviews it’s had, including a great video review in “Words on Words” (The Eclectic Storm radio).
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Robert Bose and Axel Howerton of Coffin Hop Press have become good friends of mine. Rob edited my novel Manchester Vice and in the process taught me a lot about tightening up a narrative; Axel told me he liked my novel and because he’s a literature graduate that boosted my confidence no end!
I have a writer friend called Martin Mulligan who has a great way with words – he’s helped me get my sentences flowing better, just by being a good influence.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I’d like to build a body of work, but the books aren’t interconnected. There are probably common themes, though. My future critics and reviewers may one day work out what those themes are!
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Oh, such a good question! Probably the money I spent on the novel It Happened in Boston? By Russell H Greenan. That was the book most responsible for my decision to write novels myself. It was – is – a great read.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My parents telling me off when I was little; my Dad in particular knew how to scare the hell out of me!
Later I began reading books by the likes of Harlan Ellison and began to get a feel for language from them.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
It Happened in Boston? By Russell H Greenan. It’s well-written, well-plotted, has a compelling central character and a cast of wonderful secondary characters.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
As a cat-lover it’d have to be a cat. That said, there’s a cat in my novel Manchester Vice which is drugged by its owner. I got a rap on the knuckles from a couple of reviewers for that part of the story!
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I always have a few on the go.
Right now I have a finished novella that’s looking for a publisher: I also have a novel that’s about two-thirds written; and two or three half-finished manuscripts I’ll be bringing to completion some time in the future.
What does literary success look like to you?
I’ll know it when I see it!
But seriously, I want the full enchilada: a substantial body of work, great reviews, and great sales figures.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I seldom do much research because my books are about personal relations so it’s a matter of drawing on experience, twisting it around, and using my imagination to transform it into something new, and, hopefully, entertaining.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I can’t put a figure on it. All I can say is as many as I can, other commitments permitting.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Names are important to me and I try hard to get them right. The old adage about a rose smelling just as sweet by any other name doesn’t seem to apply in fiction. People get a handle on a character through his name – at least in my view – so the name has to be right.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I wrote an attempted rape scene in one book.
I didn’t want it to be pornographic, or gratuitous, and I didn’t want to make the woman on the receiving and appear to be a victim.
Most difficult of all, I wanted women to be able to read it and feel comfortable with it, not see it as some kind of sexploitation scene.
For those reasons, that was the most difficult scene I’ve ever had to write.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I started out by reading sci-fi and horror when I was young. This pretty much doomed me to become a genre-writer with an emphasis on speculative fiction.
I write more than one genre (so far I’ve tried my hand at comedy horror and crime) but all my books could be classed as pulp fiction – or pulp with literary pretensions.
I like to grab the reader’s attention from the opening sentence and keep him or her hooked with cliff-hanger chapter endings and twisting plots right up to the final sentence.
As for how I balance them – pass. It’s instinctive, I guess – just like it was for the pulp writers of old.
How long have you been writing?
As a serious fiction author – about 5 years now.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything, particularly people and anecdotes friends tell me. I often think, when somebody tells me a story about themselves, that with the right development it could become a written piece.
How do you find or make time to write?
I have to be ruthless, mainly with myself, and stop myself from goofing off doing other stuff. That’s my only secret. I think it’s every writer’s secret.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m very excited about the novel I’m two-thirds through, which I jokingly refer to as my bestseller. That’s because I’ve researched what kinds of book sell well, and I’m aiming to write one which falls squarely into a bestselling category.
That category is Domestic Noir – ie, a thriller in a domestic setting.
Everything else is taking a back seat at present.
What do your plans for future projects include?
More domestic noir if the current project sells; and a sequel to my psychopath novel.
Thank you Mandy, I will. It’s been great talking to you!
Jack is an English author, who loves genre fiction, particularly thrillers and horror, although he can find just about any genre fun, as long as the story grabs him and doesn’t let his attention go. Jack is not so big on literary fiction but has read the occasional classic.
Jack’s own writing tends to be dark and funny – or so he is told.
His interests are: Reading (unsurprisingly), Writing (naturally), My own books (sorry!), Self-promotion (ok, I admit it, I can be a bit of a bore sometimes). Walking, Strength training with body weight, Strength training with barbells, Fitness, Judo, Boxing. Jack’s home town is Huddersfield, which is in West Yorkshire, England.