I’m not gonna lie… I love Westerns. Whether it’s an old Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie, a new one that isn’t an obvious attack on this country’s cultural heritage, or a novel depicting an untamed frontier with limitless potential, I know that if I see a Western novel of film on a shelf, there is a better-than-good chance that I will enjoy it. That might sound weird coming from a guy who grew up in suburban Illinois, but ever since I found my first dozen Louis L’Amour books in the basement of the farmhouse that my mom grew up in, I’ve been hooked.
Sadly, there are large swaths of the country, to include the area where I grew up, whose bookstores and libraries are devoid of anything remotely resembling a Western novel section. I find that sad. Regardless of one’s personal background, Westerns are a homegrown genre that helps us connect to our Nation’s past; good, bad, and ugly (see what I did there?). The unique setting allows authors in the genre to tell powerful stories with strong, resonant messages and unique, memorable characters.
Anyway, I recently purchased Zane Sterling’s debut novel, ‘Debt of Vengeance,’ and really enjoyed it. It’s got everything that I look for in a good story. The plotting is fast paced and enjoyable, the supporting characters are fleshed out in great detail, and the bad guy is both intelligence and ruthless. I knew that he would be a great start to what will eventually be a long list of profiles of authors active in the western genre today. He agreed to an interview and offered some pretty solid advice. Enjoy.
-For the readers who are unfamiliar with you and your work, would you mind describing your personal background and what influenced you to become a writer?
I was born and raised in Scurry County, Texas on a farm and ranch owned by my family for three generations. I guess you could say I grew up with cattle and horses and the western way of life flowing through my veins. In my mid-twenties, I set out seeking new horizons. I worked derricks on a pulling unit in the West Texas oilfields before moving to Reno, Nevada and becoming a dice dealer in a casino, eventually working my way up to Pit Boss. The casino industry led me from Reno to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and then back to Reno. I diligently pursued history at every stop along the way. Tiring of the corporate world, I returned to the deep roots of my past. I began training colts and shoeing horses with a renowned horse trainer in California. I have always been an avid reader, many genres, but especially westerns, so it seems it was a natural progression which led to my first writings.
-What makes Western fiction unique among other genres and why should readers who have never tried it before take the plunge?
The western genre to me, especially post-Civil War to the 1890’s (cattle barons) was an era that came to symbolize, in many ways, America and its people. It was a hard land that required men and women of equal toughness and independence to survive. Many of those same traits are evident in America today. I believe a good story is a good story, no matter the genre.
-What are you looking for your readers to get out of your books, and what tools have you found to be most effective?
In my stories there are no super heroes, no larger than life characters, they are people much like ourselves that are thrust into tough situations and are forced to survive as best they can. I think when you write believable stories and characters the readers can, not only relate to the characters, but can place themselves in the characters situation. I want my readers to experience every range of emotion that they have, anger, fear, sadness and happiness. If the reader feels all of that, I done my job.
-How would you describe your path to publication (i.e. submissions, agenting, self vs. traditional publishing, ebook sales, editing and editors, whatever you feel to be relevant)?
I am a published author, both a novel as well as newspaper and magazine stories, of that I am proud. Having said that, it is a very, very tough journey. With the internet today and companies like Amazon, as well as others, the whole publishing business has changed. I believe for the better. Most of my new works are being published as e-books on Amazon. It is my opinion that I had much rather my work be judged by the reading public, than one person sitting behind a desk in New York.
-How would you describe your writing process?
The best advice I ever received from successful authors was to write what you know. That is what I do. I quickly realized I am not a structured and outline type of writer. When I set down to write a story I know the beginning, at least one major climactic point in the story, and the ending. But nothing is set in stone. To me the creativity is the key to my writing. I allow the story to take me where it needs to go. Many times it takes me down paths I had never envisioned.
-Where do you see Western fiction going in the next ten years?
Sad to say, but I believe the western genre is slowing fading and will continue to do so to a certain degree. However for an author, I believe it is a very viable market. It is a genre that, unlike many, is not overwhelmed with thousands of authors.
-In addition to your writing, you are an active poet and playwright as well. How do these experiences factor into your writing?
My first writings were Cowboy Poetry. That was my first introduction into the artistic world of writing as well as performing. That poetry was what led me into novels and short stories. When I was approached about writing a play for the theater, I jumped at the opportunity. Every type of writing is different from each other in many ways. But, like most things in life, the more you expand your knowledge of your craft the more well-rounded your work will become.
-Do you have any future projects that you would like to tell your fans about?
I am currently writing a sequel to “Debt of Vengeance.” “Long Trail to Rosa” is scheduled for release as an e-book at amazon.com the first of December. After that I will be turning my attention to writing the screenplay for “Debt of Vengeance.” That is my next major goal, to see my work brought to life on the Big-Screen.
– What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing your first novel?
I had several friends that were published authors, so I went into writing with my eyes wide open. I knew from the start it was a very, very tough business. One thing I have learned over the years is find every bit of information you can get your hands on to help you get to where you’re wanting to go. Leave no stone unturned and set your goals high and give everything you have to reach them. Never take “No” for an answer. For every door that closes, and there will be some that do, kick another one open. But most of all write because you love it! Any success that might come your way is all icing on the cake!
Hopefully, some of you are feeling at least a bit curious now. ‘Debt of Vengeance’ is a great start if you are looking for something in the genre, as is anything written by either Louis L’Amour or Larry McMurtry, which were written back in the ‘golden age’ . If you’re more of the literary type, then do yourself a favor and pick up a Cormac McCarthy book. You won’t be disappointed.
Author’s Website (There is music that plays when you open it in case you’re at work)