Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Story Behind the Story: Abigail Blake Stands Her Ground

By Richard Prosch

A few different elements, separated by time and space, came together to make up this month’s story.

They didn’t all come at once. First came Abigail Drake, the grizzled old constable of Willowby, Wyoming. In my Jo Harper stories, Abby Drake is cool and experienced. But it wasn’t always so, and I’ve been wanting to visit her early days for quite a while. 

Almost a year ago, I wrote most of a story called “Abigail Drake Stands Her Ground,” but I wasn’t satisfied with it, and I wasn’t sure why. 

Scrapped and forgotten, I tossed it into a junk folder.This month, in thinking about a story for the Western Fictioneers blog, I remembered that story and pulled out the title.  Thinking about the character anew, I recalled that Abby was a contemporary of Annie Oakley.

When I was a kid visiting my grandma’s house, I used to peruse the childhood books that belonged to my dad and his siblings. My aunt had a copy of Whitman’s TV Tie-In Annie Oakley in the Ghost Town Secret, and I read it one summer afternoon.  The book stayed with me not so much because of the story, but because it was one of the first TV tie-in books I read.  Later, I read others from Whitman: The Rifleman, Maverick, and Bonanza. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to write my own book based on a fictional TV show character?

What if Abby Drake was that character?  What would an episode of Abby Drake’s adventures be like? Surely she’d wear an outfit like Dale Evans with stars embroidered on the shoulders?  Easy enough! And wouldn’t she have a male side-kick?  Well, Abby’s already got one of those in the person of Clay Chandler.

Now all I needed was a plot. Something suitably dramatic, but sort of goofy too. Something like Beaver Cleaver getting his head stuck in a fence. Or Barney Fife getting stuck in his own jail cell.

Or maybe stuck in a bank safe… 

And so “Abigail Drake Stands Her Ground” came together in its second form after a couple hours and 1,800 words. Nothing too serious, but it was a fun story to write. Hopefully, you’ll have fun reading it.

Please read Abigail Drake Stands Her Ground here.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WF (Western Fictioneers) Peacemaker Award Submissions

Submissions for the 7th Annual WF Peacemaker Awards are now being accepted for works published in the year 2016.


First time in print must be between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016, no reprints.  Limit of 2 entries per category.

Books and short stories may be published in any country in the world (submissions must be in English) in print or electronic format. Electronic submissions must be made with Kindle/mobi or Word/text files. WF reserves the right to decline any submission for consideration of an Award.

Authors, agents, or publishers may submit a work for consideration of an Award.

At least three entrants in a category must be received during the submission period for an Award to be presented.

Novels and short stories must be set in the time period between 1830-1920 to be considered Westerns under WF guidelines. Time periods beyond the 1830-1920 traditional western focus may be included in submissions as long as the periods outside of the 1830-1920 span constitute no more than 50% of the story. At least 50% of the story MUST TAKE PLACE in the 1830-1920 period. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Nominees for the WF Peacemaker Award will be announced on 05/15/2017 and the winners will be announced on 06/15/2017.

The WF Peacemaker Award will be awarded in four categories:

Best Western Novel – Any novel published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 30,000 words and higher. There are no format requirements. The novel may be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western YA/Children Fiction– Any fiction written for ages 1-17 published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920). May be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western Short Fiction – Any short story, novelette, or novella published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 500 words to 29,999 words. There are no format requirements. The short story may be published in any publication, print or electronic.

Best Western First Novel – Must meet the same requirements as Best Novel, and must be the author’s first published Western novel. If the author has published novels in any other genre they will not disqualify the author from the Best Western First Novel Award competition. Submissions for Best Western First Novel may also be submitted in the Best Novel category in the same year.


If sending print form, one copy of the work must be sent to each judge (3 per category), and the Awards Chair accompanied with the appropriate form. Electronic versions should be emailed to the Awards Chair with the appropriate submission form. The electronic submissions will be distributed to the judges by the Awards Chair. All entries must be postmarked or received via email by midnight, CST, January 15, 2017. Judges should not be contacted by any entrant concerning their entry during the consideration period. Doing so may result in disqualification of eligibility for the WF Peacemaker Award. Works submitted will not be returned after the awards have been announced. There is no fee to enter. There will be no exceptions made to the submission procedures, for any reason.

Links to forms to include are at the bottom of the list of judges. You will need 4 copies for each printed entry, one for each judge and one for the Awards Chair. (Two of the judges in BEST WESTERN YA/CHILDREN'S FICTION are not in the United States and prefer electronic copies. Those should be sent to Kathleen Rice Adams, who will forward them to the judges.)

Awards Chair: Kathleen Rice Adams
3128 Ave. P
Galveston, TX 77550
EMAIL kathleen.riceadams@gmail.com

Peacemaker Awards 2017 Judges and Forms can be found on the WF Website.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

East Meets Western: Cowboys, Samurai, and Shaolin Monks

by Troy D. Smith

If you've been watching the AMC western about the transcontinental railroad, Hell on Wheels (which is ending its five-year run next week), you know that for the past couple of seasons the Chinese workers have been a heavy focus. Only fans of the Western Fictioneers novel series Wolf Creek would notice that many of the subplots, such as the Chinese criminal kingpin Chang and his importing "hatchet-men" from San Francisco, appeared in that series first. Both series, though, are part of a long tradition of bringing the East to Westerns.

That tradition started in a big way in the 1960s and flourished in the 1970s. Before that, the only time you saw Asians in westerns was as servants, most notably the caricature Hop Sing as the family cook on Bonanza (1959-1963). Also notable was Paladin's unfortunately named hotel clerk Hey Boy in Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963). That show, which featured writing by Gene Roddenberry and was generally more progressive than many westerns, also featured a character named Hey Girl. It did occasionally go beyond the stereotypes and show some elements of the Chinese characters' culture.

But the real East-West conduit was the Japanese director Akira Kurasawa. Chanbara, or sword-fighting films, became extremely popular in Japan after WWII and into the 1970s (oddly enough, also the golden age of the Hollywood western). Kurasawa's chanbara became popular in Europe and the U.S. as well, in part because his style -heavily influenced by American director John Ford -translated well to western audiences. Several of his movies -which often starred Toshiro Mifune -were re-interpreted as westerns: The Seven Samurai (1954) became The Magnificent Seven (1960); Yojimbo (1961) became A Fistful of Dollars (1964); and, less successfully, Rashomon (1950) became The Outrage (1964) -which probably flopped due to the very questionable casting of Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit (!)

Kurasawa's chanbara and westerns had a circular relationship. The samurai movies appealed to American audiences because they felt like westerns; they felt like westerns because Kurasawa was influenced by John Ford; Kurasawa modeled his samurai movies on John Ford westerns because he recognized the cultural similarities.

What similarities? Both these archetypal national heroes -the cowboy and the samurai -can be viewed as representing a romanticized lost way of life, and perhaps a lost attachment to honor. A common theme for both is that they are men out of time, holdovers in a changing world.

These two worlds crossed over in the ultimate way in the 1971 film Red Sun. In the movie, a samurai (Toshiro Mifune) teams up with a gunslinger (Charles Bronson) in the Old West. Unlike previous westerns, Mifune -an international action movie star -is an Asian presented as a capable and sympathetic hero, equal even to the gunslinging cowboy.

It was the popularity of foreign martial arts films which would also bring the Chinese action hero to the western. Kung Fu movies from Hong Kong, dubbed into English, became all the rage in the early '70s -especially those starring Bruce Lee, whose previous American claim to fame was playing Kato on the Green Hornet TV show. He rocketed to international fame with 1973's Enter the Dragon, a joint Hong Kong-American production (he had starred in several Hong Kong productions after his stint on American television.)

But Lee's career trajectory was almost different. In a 1971 TV interview, he talked about pitching an idea to Warner Brothers for a TV series about a Chinese martial artist in the Old West. Such a series was in fact developed -Kung Fu (1972-1975) -with Lee in mind for the lead role, a Shaolin monk named Kwai Chang Caine wandering the West looking for his long-lost American father. In one of the most famous bad decisions of all time, producers decided that Bruce Lee (not yet a superstar) looked too Chinese for the part, and went with David Carradine instead. The show was a huge hit- but what if! {Note: multiple sources tell me this is actually a persistent Hollywood myth, and Lee was not considered- his proposal, The Warrior, was never picked up. But we can engage in wishful thinking! What if Lee's proposed series had been picked up after all?}

Martial arts came to the big-screen western in the 1974 Spanish-Hong Kong production The Stranger and the Gunfighter, starring Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh (at the time one of the major Hong Kong action stars). This "spaghetti western" was produced by the Shaw Brothers, who were titans in the Hong Kong martial arts film industry.

Matthew Baugh helpfully provided this LINK to spaghetti eastern westerns... there were a lot more than I imagined.

Since then, the Easterner in the West -as a hero, though usually teamed with an American cowboy -has become fairly common in various media. In the 1980s there was an adult western series, Lonestar, which teamed a voluptuous cowgirl named Jessie with a Japanese martial artist named Ki. In the mid-90s Marvel Comics had a miniseries called Sunset Riders, which had perennial Marvel western masked man the Two-Gun Kid leading a diverse group that included a samurai named Hijiro Nguri. The early 2000s saw Shanghai Noon and its sequel Shanghai Knights, comedy-action westerns with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson as the kung fu master and the gunfighter.

Richard Prosch informs me there was a short-lived adult western series in the 70s, predating Lone Star, called Sloane. By short-lived, only two volumes, but it was apparently memorable. You can read all about it HERE .

Matthew Baugh reminded me of several 1960s TV shows that had episodes featuring Asian themes/guest stars, including The Rifleman ("The Sixteenth Cousin", 1963), Wanted: Dead or Alive ("Black Belt", 1960), and the over-the-top western comedy F Troop ("From Karate with Love", 1967).


 Here are some more TV episodes:

Wagon Train ("The Sakae Ito Story", 1958)
Laramie ("Dragon at the Door", 1961)
Bonanza ("Day of the Dragon", 1961)
Cheyennne ("Pocketful of Stars", 1962)
Rawhide ("Night of the Geisha", 1963)

In The Wild, Wild West, secret service agent Jim West was trained in the martial arts in Japan and China. There were several Asian-themed episodes, including "The Night the Dragon Screamed" (1966), "The Night of the Samurai" (1967), "The Night of the Camera" (1968), and "The Night of the Pelican" (1968).

I find it interesting that all those TV episodes are from the 1960s (and in one case the late 50s), and almost all of them are focused on Japanese rather than Chinese characters. This is probably a reflection of the growing popularity of Kurasawa samurai movies in the 50s and 60s and the fact kung fu movies had not yet arrived on U.S. shores from Hong Kong.

Similar to the comic book Sunset Riders of two decades ago, the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven will have a more diverse group of heroes than one finds in older westerns. This includes South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee as the assassin Billy Rocks. Lee previously played an assassin in the 2008 South Korean film The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a kinda-western remake of the Sergio Leone classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly set in the Manchurian desert in 1939 (Lee took the Lee Van Cleef role as "The Bad."

In recent years Eastern Westerns have been coming out of the East. In 2007 Japanese director Takashi Miike (who has made his share of classic samurai movies in recent years) gave us Sukiyaki Western Django, a pastiche homage to various conventions in both genres. 2010 saw Jang Dong-gun in the New Zealand-South Korean western The Warrior's Way, which co-starred Geoffrey Rush.

In a more serious vein, there have been two well-received movies -one on the big-screen and one on cable -about Chinese women being sold as sex-slaves in the mining camps of the American West. 1991's Thousand Pieces of Gold follows the experience of Lalu (Rosalind Chao) in Idaho, and her efforts to raise the $1,000 price of her freedom. In 2006 AMC aired the mini-series Broken Trail, in which an aging cattleman and his nephew (Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church) risk everything to rescue and protect a group of Chinese women imported to be sold as prostitutes. The production won the Emmy for best mini-series or TV movie, and Duvall and Church both won Emmies for their performance (best lead actor and best supporting actor.)

This theme, also, has been a major subplot in the last season of Hell on Wheels, as hero Cullen Bohannon falls in love with a Chinese woman named Mei who is in hiding as a boy because the villainous Chang "owns" her and wants to force her into prostitution. It is also worth noting that the wife and lost love of the DC western hero Jonah Hex was a Chinese woman named Mei Ling, introduced in 1979 in the story "Massacre of the Celestials" (Jonah Hex #23). Speaking of the western slang-term Celestial, we should note the focus on Chinese in a mining community in HBO's Deadwood (most notably Wu, who could rival Ian McShane's Al Swearengen in villainy.)

Clearly, the day of Asians appearing in westerns only in menial and demeaning, unsympathetic roles is past. Their appearance as either heroes or fully developed supporting characters (or even villains) is no longer out-of-the-ordinary.

A final note: I'm sure I missed some, so if you think of any other examples please let me know!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Illustrators and writers, especially those new to the craft, found plenty of work between 1920 and 1950 when hundreds of inexpensive fiction publications—commonly referred as "Dime Westerns"— flooded the American market.

To satisfy the appetite for these magazines, covers and thousand of inside pages needed art and written story lines, produced in assembly-line fashion on a weekly or monthly basis.

The pulp magazines, which sold for between a dime and 25 cents, measured six-by-nine inches in size and were made of cheap wood pulp paper, which made the manufacturing process economical. 

The 32-page Dime Western novels were popular. Distribution averaged in the tens of millions. 

The pulps featured a broad range of genres: detective stories, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, gangster, war, mysteries, and sports—all usually featuring memorable main characters.

The most popular pulp themes centered around cowboys and Indians and the Wild West.

According to The Pulp Magazine Projectthe inaugural issue of the first all-western pulp appeared on newsstands July 12, 1919—Street and Smith's Western Story Magazine.

Hundreds of writers wrote for the magazine, which enjoyed thirty straight years of publication promising "Big Clean Stories of Outdoor Life." 
Pulps attracted prolific writers who sometimes two or more stories for the same issue.

Frederick Faust, also known as Max Brand, ranked among the most versatile of the writers. He sometimes wrote as many as three stories for a single issue but under different pen names.

Others included Paul S. Powers, who wrote for a variety of magazines, including Wild West Weekly, Thrilling Ranch Stories, Exciting Western, and others.

Laurie Powers, his granddaughter, discovered six stories never before published and included them in a book she edited, called Riding the Pulp Trail, Altus Press (2011) and consists of twelve Paul Powers stories.

Several legendary literary figures got their start and polished their writing craft in pulp magazines. Among them: Louis L'Amour, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Mary Rinehart.

At the same time, plenty of no-name writers logged grueling hours for paltry wages—no more than a penny a word—to meet the production demands of pulp magazines. 

John Dinan, who authored, The Pulp Western: A Popular History of the Western Fiction Magazine of America, wrote, "The art of the ballyhoo may not have been invented by dime-novel writers, but they certainly raised it to new heights."

Among the hundreds of publications, Western pulp fiction appeared in such magazines as:

  • The Black Mask
  • Crackshot Western
  • Argosy Weekly
  • Dime Western Magazine
  • Indian Stories
  • Masked Rider Western
  • Outlaws West
  • Quick Trigger Western
  • Spicy Western Stories
  • Texas Rangers
  • Lariat Story Magazine 

Changing market factors accelerated the decline of pulp fiction magazines.

By the 1930s, more than a thousand different pulp titles were in circulation. With the need to print so many publications, the industry got hit hard by paper shortages after World War II.

Some publishers, to trim expenses and keep pace, switched to digest-size formats that were cheaper to produce.

Declining popularity, however, proved an insurmountable problem. 
The public began turning from pulp to other forms of entertainment, such as comic books, paperbacks, and radio.

Television drove the deepest nail into the pulp fiction coffin. Post-war sales of RCA television sets skyrocketed and helped accelerate the demise of the pulps.

At the same time, talented writers discovered they could make much more money by writing novels and having them serialized.

Pulp Westerns proved an entertaining channel of storytelling while it lasted, and gave new writers and artists an unparalleled training ground.

Frank Munsey, an American newspaper and magazine publisher who launched the first ten-cent periodical in 1889, once wrote: 

"The story is worth more 
than the paper it is printed on."


Tom Rizzo invites you to “Discover the Historical West” and read about characters and events that shaped the American frontier. Join the StoryTeller Posse and receive occasional dispatches from the High Plains and beyond.