Phil Dunlap is an award-winning author with seven published novels to his credit. He was a newspaper journalist and free-lance magazine writer for years, but his love of history and of the old west inspired him to write Western fiction. Avalon Books has published several of the author’s previous novels: Call of the Gun; The Death of Desert Belle; Fatal Revenge; Blood on the Rimrock; and Ambush Creek. Apache Lawman is due in 2012. Saving Mattie, published by Treble Heart Books in Trade paperback and E-book, won the EPPIE Award for the Best Traditional Western 2009. “Blood on the Rimrock” was a finalist in the 2009 Best Books of Indiana (Authors), sponsored by the Indiana State Library and the Library of Congress.
Cotton’s War is the author’s first in a four-book series from Berkley Publishing, division of PenguinGroup. It is available in paperback and ebook.
“My heroes are born of my imagination, though I suspect they embody much that is me. To craft a convincing depiction of life, especially when writing historical fiction, you must plant yourself in a time and place of which you can have no firsthand knowledge. Therefore, you contribute those elements conjured out of your own intuitiveness, added to necessary research, to build stories that will resonate with readers. Westerns satisfy my need to better understand a distant period of time.”
The author’s website (www.phildunlap.com) is a good source of information on forthcoming books and appearances.
Tell us about your latest novel:
Cotton’s War takes place in New Mexico Territory in 1880. It was a time of considerable activity that made for great reading. Outlaws were thick as fleas–robberies, killings, Indian raids–all the elements were there to fuel fascinating novels about the frontier West. This book, the first in a series, centers around a small-town sheriff whose lady friend is kidnapped for the purpose of keeping him at arms-length while an outlaw gang plans a train robbery. The sheriff, Cotton Burke, enlists the aid of a disreputable acquaintance who isn’t known in the sheriff’s town for the purpose of infiltrating the gang in order to get information about the lady’s whereabouts. Her safety is the driving force behind the sheriff’s reluctance to just start shooting every guy he feels might be involved.
How is this novel different than your previous novels?
In several ways. First, it is grittier. That is to say it tends to tell it like it was rather than create another Roy Rogers story. I call a whore a whore instead of sugarcoating the oldest vocation in the world with terms like: lady of the evening or fallen angel. It is longer than previous novels, also, thus I have space to develop the characters better.
Do you feel like you ever have to defend yourself for writing genre fiction?
Never! I am honored to be accepted by readers of Western novels. I was aware when I started that it wasn’t the widest-read genre in the world, but I love the West and find the challenge to come up with new stories from different angles something to which I eagerly adapt. Besides, nothing feels better in your hand than a vintage Colt .45 single action Army revolver. Defending myself isn’t a problem.
Why do you write westerns?
When did you know you were a writer?
As soon as some editor looked at something I’d submitted and said, “I’d like to pay you for this,” I knew. When anyone is willing to cough up some bucks to read your work, you are a writer. And it doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do, either. If all you do is write billboards, and get paid for doing it, you’ve earned the same job description as Hemingway or Steinbeck.
What’s a work day like for you?
It’s a jumble of scrambling to meet some deadline, scratching my head to come up with a plot twist that I haven’t seen before, checking e-mails to make sure I’m not supposed be somewhere I forgot about, leafing through reference books looking for facts to support an idea I may have for a story, and then actually putting some words down on paper. I am not a morning person, so I get a late start on things, maybe 10-ish, but then I don’t get home before 8 or 9 at night, either. I get my best ideas in the shower in the morning and my best writing spurts in the afternoon.
What’s a day off like for you?
Uh, what’s that? Since I’m unable shut out all the gunfire in my head, I guess I don’t know what that is. Next question!
If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?
I’ve already been just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of: a pilot, a flight instructor, a TV Director, journalist, college instructor, advertising agency exec and an illustrator. The only thing I’d still like to do is learn to play a five-string banjo. That’s all. Basically, I love writing too much to even think of ever changing hats, again.
How do you define success?
When someone says, “I just read your last book, and I loved it. It was great. Couldn’t put it down.” That is success. A fan, a reader, an appreciative voice. Money doesn’t necessarily make for success, acceptance of your literary effort sure does, though.
What’s next for you?
There are three more books to come in this new paperback series from Berkley, and one more in my hardcover series from Avalon. After they are done, I’ll still write more Westerns. Oh, I’ve probably got a mystery in my head somewhere, but I’m somehow too haunted by the strange and exciting characters that peopled the frontier to give that up. If publishers should turn their back on me, and reject my future offerings, maybe I’ll mow lawns. I’m banking on my future being secure as long as the well doesn’t run dry of stories folks want to read.