Monday, July 11, 2011

The Monday Interview -- James Reasoner

The Monday Interview is on hiatus today.  This interview originally appeared on 2/28/2011

Spur Award nominee James Reasoner is one of the most prolific and in—demand Western writers working today, with more than 200 books to his credit, both under his own name and under various pen-names. He was a contributor to Bantam's New York Times bestselling Wagons West series. In the mystery field he is best known for the novel Texas Wind, which has achieved legendary status as a collectible paperback. For several years early in his career, he wrote the Mike Shayne novellas in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE under the famous pseudonym Brett Halliday. Under his own name in recent years he has written a ten-book series of historical novels set during the Civil War and several historical novels about World War II. He lives in Texas with his wife, award-winning mystery novelist Livia J. Washburn.

Tell us about your new novel:

REDEMPTION, KANSAS is the first book in a series from Berkley about a small but growing town in Kansas. Redemption isn’t one of the famous railhead towns such as Abilene or Dodge City, although it’s close enough to the cattle trails so that the cowboys driving longhorns up from Texas sometimes visit there. Bill Harvey, one of those young cowboys, winds up staying in Redemption, but not by choice. He’s injured during a stampede and has to be left behind to recover. But once he’s in Redemption, he discovers things going on there that are more dangerous than any stampede.

How is this novel different than your previous novels?

I’ve done series set in Western towns before (ABILENE as Justin Ladd and WIND RIVER under my own name), but the protagonists of those books were tough, experienced frontiersmen. Bill is tough enough when he needs to be, but he’s definitely not that experienced. He’s a young man who’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life, and as a writer, to me Bill’s struggle to grow into being a hero is one of the most appealing things about this series.

What are the triumphs and trials of writing a series?

I like the way a series allows the characters to evolve over a longer period of time. I’ve always enjoyed thinking in the long run and planting seeds of plot developments that won’t grow into anything for several books down the line. Obviously, these plans can change over time, too, as the characters do, but when I start a series I have a general idea of what happens not only in the first book but in later books as well. The difficulty in writing a series is in not repeating yourself but coming up with fresh ideas instead. Of course, that’s true of non-series books as well, but I think it’s an easier trap to fall into when you’re writing a series.

Why do you write westerns?

Although I’ve always read and enjoyed Westerns, I didn’t set out to be a Western writer. My goal was to write mysteries, and I was somewhat successful at that. But I also didn’t want to tie myself down to one genre, so when an editor asked me to write a Western, I jumped at the chance and found out that I was good at it and enjoyed it. Since then I’ve written more Westerns than anything else, although I’ve turned out quite a few books in other genres, and as long as the opportunity is there I’ll continue to write Westerns because I love them. Simple as that.

When did you know you were a writer?

December 27, 1976. That’s the day I opened an envelope and found a check inside in the amount of $167.50 for a short story I’d submitted to a magazine in New York. My first sale. Before that I thought I was a writer, I hoped I was a writer (I’d been making up stories for my own enjoyment ever since I was a little kid and writing them down ever since I was 11 years old), but I didn’t know for sure I was a writer until I saw that check.

What’s a work day like for you?

I’m at the computer turning out new pages about eight hours a day, four hours in the morning (9:00 to 1:00) and four in the afternoon (2:00 to 6:00). Lunch and checking email in between. Of course this is approximate, because real life often doesn’t cooperate with a rigid schedule. But I try to get in that much work most days.

What’s a day off like for you?

Days off (and I use the term loosely) are spent running errands, working with my wife, who is also a writer, on plots for future books, researching, going to the library to get research books, etc. Occasionally if we’re back home from all those errands in time, I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon watching a movie or reading. Most of the time, though, I’ll go upstairs (my office is in a room over our garage) and try to turn out a few more pages.

There’s a line about how a writer is someone who sits in a room and types for thirty years. There’s a lot of truth to that, especially if you’re a midlist writer trying to make a living at it, like me. With me it’s going on thirty-five years.

If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?

At one time in my life, I thought I’d probably be a history teacher. After that I considered being a librarian. I think I would have been decent at both of those jobs. But I never really wanted to be anything other than a writer. I’ve been pretty stubborn about that.

How do you define success?

As a writer, being able to write what I want and make a living at it. I’ve made a living, but I haven’t always written exactly what I wanted to. I will say, though, I’ve never written a book that I didn’t enjoy, at least to a certain extent, and most of them have been and continue to be great fun. I’ve been extremely lucky in my career.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be writing books under my name (the REDEMPTION series) and under several different pseudonyms well into next year and I hope far beyond that. I’ve written more than a million words of fiction each of the past six years and plan to continue at that pace for as long as I can. Other than that, I love to read and watch movies, I enjoy working on my blog, I have some more back-list books I want to put up on Amazon as e-books, I have a great family . . . When people ask me how I’m doing, I usually say, “Pretty good. Staying busy.” That’s the plan. Stay busy.

For more information about James, visit:

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