Charles T. Whipple, an international prize-winning author, uses the pen name of Chuck Tyrell for his Western novels. Whipple was born and reared in Arizona’s White Mountain country only 19 miles from Fort Apache. He won his first writing award while in high school, and has won several since, including a 4th place in the World Annual Report competition, a 2nd place in the JAXA Naoko Yamazaki Commemorative Haiku competition, and the first-place Agave Award in the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition. Raised on a ranch, Whipple brings his own experience into play when writing about the hardy people of 19th Century Arizona. Although he currently lives in Japan, Whipple maintains close ties with the West through family, relatives, former schoolmates, fellow western writers, and readers of his western fiction. Whipple belongs to Western Fictioneers, Western Writers of America, Arizona Authors Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Tauranga Writers Inc.
Tell us about your latest novel:
By latest, I assume you mean the latest in print. Or maybe the latest to be accepted by a publisher. Or maybe the latest one I’m working at the moment.
Lets talk about the last one accepted for publication. The title is Dollar a Day. In a word it’s different because the people who win never fire a shot. Gabriel Winston Lee is recruited by friend Tom Easter to do some gun work, protecting a group of settlers, a cult if you like, who have foresworn violence. One of the women, a young bride, is the daughter of a rich Texas rancher. He wants to make sure she (and her community) are safe. The pay for the gun work is a dollar a day and found. Gunmen have to pay for their own ammo. By coincidence, the four men who go to “save” the Assembly of Christ ride horses reminiscent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Tom Easter on a black stallion, Real Lee on a red sorrel, Finn McBride on a white horse, and Wolf Wilder on a pale one, a brindle dun.
The Assembly of Christ, led by Pastor Eli Jackson, builds a small community called Respite. The four horsemen do their best to guard it. Real Lee finds that the man who wants to own Green Valley is a nemesis from his days at VMI during the Civil War. In the end, the land-grabber sends a small army of gunmen to destroy Respite.
The fight begins with sound and fury. The phalanx of hired guns makes one run through the town. Real Lee and his fellow dollar-a-day gunmen shoot some. The hired guns gather on the far side of the community, and the dollar-a-day gunmen walk out of the village and form a line abreast, facing the hired guns. But Pastor Jackson walks through their line, goes to a point halfway between the two fighting forces, and kneels. Let’s say he saves his town without firing a shot.
It’s a bit different than other Westerns I’ve written. I had planned to have Real Lee and his fellow gunmen win the fight with guts and straight shooting, but Pastor Jackson pushed his way through my plans and the story’s better for it.
How is this novel different than your previous novels?
In a way, it’s much the same as the rest, because all of my Western novels are set in Arizona, the place in the west I know best.
In another way, it’s different, because I’ve never written about the religious communities that sprang up here and there in the West. People in the old west tended to be God-fearing, and churches were erected before schools in many towns. I hope people enjoy it.
Do you feel like you ever have to defend yourself for writing genre fiction?
No, but I get in fights (spats?) with people who push “literary” writing. Highbrows tend to piss me off.
Why do you write westerns?
My answer to this question is probably the same as many. There was no TV when I was a kid. I listened to the Lone Ranger, Red Ryder, Tom Mix, and Roy Rogers on the radio. I even listened to Gunsmoke. William Conrad was Matt Dillon’s voice. I can here him say, “I’m the first man they look for and the last they want to see . . . .”
I was and am an omnivorous reader, but I devoured westerns. Everything Louis L’Amour wrote (as he wrote them). My very first novel was written in about two weeks for a Louis L’Amour write-alike contest. I didn’t win and took that as proof that I couldn’t write fiction, and so I put the manuscript (wrote it on an IBM Selectric typewriter) in a bottom drawer, where it stayed for 20 years or so. That novel was Vulture Gold, which was recently re-issued as an e-book and POD paperback.
When did you know you were a writer?
Late. I decided I was going to earn my living with my pen in 1974, when I was 33 years old. I sold my first magazine article in 1976, the first of hundreds. I was a reporter in Honolulu, for a tourist newspaper. A Japanese man offered me a job in Japan, which I took. From that day to this, I’ve written advertising copy, corporate literature, magazine articles, nonfiction books, and Western novels, in about that order. I still earn my living with my pen, but I get paid a lot more for articles than I get for a novel. And even more than that for advertising copy. I write a portion of my current work in progress every day, if only a few words. I finish two or three westerns a year. (I remember writing “copywriter” as my occupation on a rent-a-car application (Hawaii) and the woman at the counter wanted to know what that was.) Oh, well.
What’s a work day like for you?
Today I got up at seven, gobbled bran flakes and milk, drove to Tokyo, spent 40 minutes at Starbucks writing on the current Western entitled “Mother,” went to a client meeting from 10am to 12:30 (I am a global branding consultant to a major medical equipment maker), met my photographer (working on an article together) for lunch and planning, returned to the office at 3pm, proofread a Lexus brochure (53 printed pages), blogged, edited a video narration, and filled out this interview questionnaire. It is now 11pm.
What’s a day off like for you?
On Monday, two friends and I will take my little 21-ft yacht out on Tokyo Bay. We’ll probably leave the slip about 9am, sail the length of the bay and back, and settle the boat back in her home by about 6pm. There’s nothing like a day on the water to relieve the stress.
If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?
A yacht designer.
How do you define success?
Making a living at what you want to do.
What’s next for you?
I have a collection of short stories set in Japan coming out soon. I will also publish a series of novellas set in an alternative 10th century Japan sometime this year. I’m helping Nik Morton edit westerns for Solstice Publishing. I’ll finish up my first western for 2011 in April, probably, and do one or two more before the end of the year. I have a gumshoe set in Tokyo that I’d like to whip into shape. And I’ll be attending the WWA convention in Bismarck, if any of you are going.
For more information about Charlie's novels, be sure to visit www.chucktyrell.com