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?
Wild Bill, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill Cody in 1873 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?
For the most part I prefer to stay in the area of non-fiction for two reasons. The first is that I really enjoy telling people’s stories. I truly believe everyone has a story and I genuinely enjoy bringing those tales to life. The second is it’s just too dang hard to come up with all those characters and plot twists. How do you fiction writers do it?
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Seeing my books on the bookstore shelf. Seriously though, I think it is the process I most enjoy. I remember sitting around the kitchen table hearing the stories of my relatives and neighbors as told by the grownups in the group. While all the other kids were playing in the other room, I sat captivated by the tales being spun. Now when I write one of those tales myself, I picture my readers sitting around that same kitchen table intently listening as I weave my tale.
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?
First I take a deep breath. Then I take my two dogs on a hike while I try to figure out what to write next. Non-fiction writing isn’t like fiction writing. I’m not pitching a successful character with a good track record in a great new story. I have to pitch every idea from scratch. Every new book has to stand on its own. Just because my publisher accepted a book about haunted places in Las Vegas doesn’t mean she’ll accept my proposal to write about how the University of Wyoming basketball team won the national championship in 1944 (she didn’t by the way). Someday my name will be strong enough on its own to write what I want. Until then…well you just keep pushing ahead don’t you?
Have you got a favorite place to write?
I do. I love my desk. It is big and shaped like an “L”. I have a large color printer that is decorated with stupid little toys that make me smile. I have several Batman figures, an Alfred E, Newman dressed like the Joker and Donald Duck dressed like Darth Maul. There is a large picture window in my office and it lets in the best natural light. The rest of my desk is a bit of a mess so I’d rather not discuss it.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
That’s a good question because while it goes more to fiction writers, it still surprisingly applies to nonfiction as well. I actually do a little of both. Of course what happens in the story doesn’t have to be planned—since it has already happened—but how the story will be presented still needs to be decided. I like to take walks with my dogs and do some overall planning as I walk. However, I also like to see where the writing will take me.
What inspires your stories?
I would have to say people. I like to get into the head of the people I write about. I wonder, for example, what Custer could have possibly been thinking when he realized he was outnumbered and there was little chance of survival. Why didn’t he call off the attack? Why did he keep going? I guess it is the people more than the event that makes me want to know more.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
Sorry, I can’t answer that; I have food in my mouth. Actually, I don’t snack as much as I drink—not that kind of drink, though I have considered it—I usually have iced tea or a Coke by my side. In fact, when I’m in writing mode I often forget to eat. That fact, sadly, hasn’t had any effect on my waistline.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading two books: Life’s That Way and Front Page Fatality. The first is a nonfiction book that contains the emails actor Jim Beaver sent out when dealing with his wife’s cancer. It is a touching and wonderfully written book. It has made me laugh and cry. The second is a work of fiction by the wonderful new author Lyn Dee Walker. I love mysteries and this one is top notch. My favorite quote: “But that’s the thing about dead people: they can’t warn you to keep your nose out of things that are going to put your ass in danger” Great stuff!
With no financial limits where would you vacation and why?
It would be a tossup between Italy and the Caribbean. Italy because I’ve been there before and fell in love with the place and the Caribbean because I’m a displaced pirate and have a strong need for places that combine water with little latitudes.
Do you have any odd habits or childhood stories?
Odd habits…let’s see, that may be a question better asked to the people I live with. I do have a childhood story though. When I was a kid, about 5 or 6, I was hit by a car as I ran out into the street to get my ball. When the car hit me I flew into the air, coming down hard on the hood of the lady’s car who hit me. I hit the car so hard I left an indentation the size of my body in her hood. I was rushed to the hospital amidst cries of “I’m so sorry” from the lady to my mom. She later sued my mother for damages to her car.
Do you have any pets?
Two dogs, both miniature Schnauzers. One gray (Gypsy) and one black (Jet).
Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?
No writing groups, but I do belong to online chat rooms on both Facebook and Goodreads. I spend most of my time in Writer Unboxed.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I used to write comic books when I was a kid, maybe 11 or so. I created a totally unoriginal character named “Catman,” who had a Catmobile and a lair (hmm, I wonder who he was based off of). I didn’t start any real writing until well into my 30’s.
Do you have a book published? If so what is it called & where can readers purchase it?
I have 3 books published. It Happened in Las Vegas, Haunted Las Vegas, and It Happened in Wyoming. I am also under contract for The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Nevada. You can find them in local bookstores or online through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you want a signed copy you can get it through my website http://paulwpapa.com/
If you could meet one favorite author who would it be and why?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. Probably Tim Dorsey. His books are great and his characters are way out there. He must be a fun guy to hang around with.
If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be?
I have three proposals in right now. Two of them are in the Haunted series and another is a trail guide for biking in Southern Nevada (I’m an avid mountain biker). I’m also considering self publishing a book about Boulder City, Nevada.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
My fiancé, soon to be wife, Melissa. She supports all of my crazy dreams and is patient enough to wait and see what I just dream up and what I actually pursue.
Cropped screenshot of Michael Landon from the television seres Bonanza. Episode: “Bitter Water” (1960). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you are like me (showing my age here I know- it was the re-runs honestly!) you will immediately think of the TV show. It was a good old cowboy show in an era before political correctness. In hindsight it’s basis was very stereotypical – cowboys = good and Indians = bad or subservient, which was probably worse. Anyway I digress. The story revolved around a family, their cattle ranch and the trials and tribulations they encountered. The characters were conventional and their reactions predicable but nevertheless it was enjoyable for its time. I’m sure it would be viewed as outdated and bland to the youth of today.
Modern movies are fast paced, action packed and include, in the most part gruesome realism. Looking back at movies like the original King Kong, the special effects of that era are laughable. Technology has advanced beyond all expectations in the last 80 years or more, but somewhere along the line we lost our innocence, our sense of wonderment. Of course rubber model monsters walking through a scale model city do look rather idiotic now but they were cutting edge at one point. Violence was portrayed but for the life of me I can’t remember it being so, well violent. Do you understand what I mean? It seems to be a prerequisite for all movies nowadays to contain a certain amount of violence in one form or another. Is it all really necessary?
As for the special effects used today we seem to forget that what we are watching isn’t ‘real’ but images on a blue screen. They even have virtual actors! We’re not amazed at how a real actor can ‘act’ with a cartoon character. Just think on that for a minute, the actors can’t see anything in front or around them, all they have is a big blue screen. How difficult must that be? Take Avatar for instance large blue beings and humans together on the big screen but never on the movie plot.
With this ability to ‘make’ creatures, landscapes and other objects seemingly interact with human actors they are delving into the writing realm. Our words create worlds and characters, which are conjured up in our reader’s imagination. No two readers will ‘picture’ our characters and their environment exactly the same. So in essence we write superior ‘movies’. The same story can be seen ‘visually’ in a multitude of ways instead of a single persons interpretation. We deliver our own bonanza.