Monday, August 31, 2009

Could You Write a Book in a Month?

A lot of people think they can – 119,000 people to be precise!

That’s how many signed up to the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) website last year to try and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (that’s about 1,666 words per day).

NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of Chris Baty who kicked it all off in July 1999 with just 21 people. But the idea has obviously scratched a creative itch for a lot of people and now, every year more people sign up and pass the magical 50,000 word target.

There is a full set of rules on the NaNoWriMo website but basically, starting at midnight November 1 people start churning out a novel which must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before 11:59:59 PM on November 30. Strictly speaking, of course, you will have had a year to think about your book and plan it accordingly but that’s okay as long as no previously written material is used.

Novels can be on any theme and in any genre and in any language. The definition of what is a novel is pretty relaxed. "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too,” say the organisers.

50,000 is pretty short for a novel but is a perfect length for Black Horse Westerns. (It’s not a novella which is generally agreed to be about 40,000 words.) Notable novels around 50,000 words include The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and The Great Gatsby – proof if any were needed that a ‘short’ novel can punch way above its weight!

Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. What is really refreshing is that there is no prize - anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner and the only reward is the achievement of the finished novel.

So if you need a deadline to get down that best-selling novel you’ve sitting on for years, why not try NaNoWriMo this year? Chris Baty has also written “No Plot? No Problem” which is a guide to the whole process of trying to write a novel in 30 days.

I’m seriously considering doing it myself to see if I can churn out a BHW. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Good Luck!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Short Story Challenge Part Four!

The fourth installment of the weekly Short Story Challenge is now available on the blog of author Dave Lewis'
Riveting stuff.
Look out for Part Five coming soon!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New BHW Review - Packing Iron by Steve Hayes

Thanks to Thomas McNulty for this great review. Read more about Steve Hayes remarkable career at Black Horse Extra

The Western is not dead. I say this with total assurance because I have just read a Western that has rekindled my faith in a genre the critics have attempted to flog to death with their incessant negativism. It’s true the Western has had its high and lows, but this is natural for a genre so fraught with the very essence of the American experience.

The book I’m referring to is Packing Iron by Steve Hayes and it’s published by Robert Hale in London as part of their famed Black Horse Western series. For those unfamiliar with the Black Horse Westerns, they appear monthly and are generally lending library titles with a small print run. They have a devoted and passionate following among readers and writers alike, and in recent years the Internet has made acquiring titles a tad easier. The stable of Black Horse writers include many British, Australian, and American writers (men and woman) devoted to the thrill-a-moment action story that made Louis L’Amour a household name.

These writers are not getting rich; they are writing these books because they love the genre and they love to write. The books all run no more than 45,000 words and are packaged as small hardbacks with classic pulp-style illustrated covers. Certain titles, such as Haunted Pass by Lance Howard, command premium prices from collectors. It’s not uncommon for titles to go out of print within a few weeks because of the high demand and low print run. The stories are all noted for their attention to detail, fast pace and solid action scenes. Some occasionally rise above the traditional, entertaining oater. This brings us to Steve Hayes.

Steve is no rookie; he’s enjoyed a fantastic career as a screenwriter and novelist. Now he’s turned his attention to Westerns. It’s not necessary that you read his previous Western, Gun for Revenge, although that fine book does introduce the central character in Packing Iron. Gabriel Moonlight is one of the more refreshing characters to appear in decades. He is the heart and soul of Packing Iron. A third Gabriel Moonlight novel, A Coffin for Santa Rosa, is forthcoming.
Steve isn’t a writer to waste words. His style is concise but each paragraph is loaded with more description and insight than you’ll find anywhere. This is a writer that cares about his story. Caring is a rare commodity among writers these days. While Packing Iron fulfills its obligation to be a traditional Western on one hand, on the other it’s unconventional simply because it’s so good.

With Packing Iron part of Gabriel Moonlight’s history is told in flashback, but Hayes is more concerned about Gabriel’s immediate plight. Wounded in a shootout, he is rescued by a young girl named Raven and her mother, a young widow named Ingrid Bjorkman. Raven is not your usual teenage girl. She had rescued a black stallion from an injury and hand-fed it water until the horse recovered.

Raven has a knack for handling horses. She’s also impetuous and highly intelligent. The heart of Packing Iron involves Gabriel’s growing fondness for Raven and her mother. His slow recovery from a near fatal wound offers him plenty of time to get to know them. But Gabriel has unfinished business, and there are men hunting him. To say more about the plot would be an injustice to the author. I leave it to inquisitive readers to discover Gabriel’s story on their own.
What distinguishes Packing Iron from other Westerns is the emotional investment Hayes offers his readers. As the story builds, it became impossible for me not to care about Raven and Gabriel. I soon forgot this book was even a Western. Naturally, Steve Hayes doesn’t let his readers down. Those requiring gunplay will find it, but the real heart of Packing Iron are the splendid characters.

In his introduction to his 1921 novel, To the Last Man, Zane Grey wrote: “Romance is another name for idealism; and I contend that life without ideals is not worth living.” I recalled those words as I read Packing Iron because Gabriel Moonlight lives by his own code of honor. Moonlight is the literary descendent of Zane Grey’s Lassiter from Riders of the Purple Sage or Buck Duane from The Lone Star Ranger.

It’s this attention to detail and, again, this compassion that Steve Hayes infuses into his narrative that elevates the book above the usual fare. Hayes has written a novel that outshines anything you’ll find among Dorchester Publishing’s monthly offerings, and Signet hasn’t published a notable Western in decades. The New York publishers have lost the footrace when it comes to Westerns, but the Brits at Robert Hale Publishers have kept it alive. Novels like Packing Iron are precisely why the Black Horse Westerns are prized by collectors.

I was fortunate to read an advance copy of Packing Iron. Hayes is a superb storyteller, with masterful pacing and plotting, strong characters, and swift action; his novels belong on a shelf with Louis L’Amour and Jack Schaefer. Given that the demand for Black Horse Westerns is growing, I suspect copies of Packing Iron will be scarcer than hen’s teeth upon publication. I recommend ordering it the moment it’s available, either through Robert Hale’s website or at (UK).

No, the Western isn’t dead. It’s in the hands of Steve Hayes and Robert Hale Publishers, and may they ride a long and fruitful trail for all of us to follow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stagecoach RIdes Again!

I'd forgotten how good this movie was!

I remember watching it as a kid the first time with my grandfather, tucked up on the sofa with him on a rainy Sunday afternoon. He loved the old Westerns and kindled my life-long interest in them!

Last Sunday I was browsing through a car boot sale when I came across a DVD of Stagecoach so I gave the guy a couple of quid for it and last night settled down to watch it. It was as good as I remembered!

A quick search on Wikipedia provides lots of interesting back story to the movie; for example, John Wayne had starred in nearly 80 'B' movies before he got his big break, and Gary Cooper was the star the studios wanted in the lead role but John Ford held out for John Wayne and the rest, as they say, is Hollywood history.

I also think that watching these movies is a boost when writing BHW's. It reminds me to keep the action going, to develop strong, believable characters, to give the story a cinematic quality. I know everything that came out of Hollywood wasn't historically accurate but they knew how to entertain, which is what BHW is all about!

So I'm glad I watched Stagecoach again. For just sheer enjoyment of a movie that heralded the golden age of Hollywood westerns, I don't think it can be beaten.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Short Story Challenge Part Two

Part Two of the Short Story Challenge can be found HERE

Getting interesting....

Short Story Challenge Part One

Here's a great idea from veteran BHW writer I.J.Parnham.

His suggestion is that he would start writing the first 500 words of a western story and then hand the gauntlet over to another BHW writer who would then carry on with the tale and see where it goes. Part One of the Short Story Challenge can be read HERE.

While you're there, have a read at the wealth of information on I.J.Parnhams blog The Culbin Trail. He has written over 20 novels and is a genuinely nice guy who is full of support for other budding writers - including myself (he lives here in Scotland, too!)

As each writer takes up the challenge, you'll be able to keep up with the story here and I for one am looking forward to seeing where this thing goes...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gun Law - Now Listed on Amazon and Ready for Pre-Orders!

Holy smoke!

I was looking at some other Black Horse Westerns last night and decided just to punch 'Gun Law' in for a search and lo and behold the image of my new book came up! The official launch date is not until sometime in December so I was surprised to see it listed for pre-order.

Time to take a leaf out of Jack Martin's book and get moving with some marketing activity and spreading the word!

Feel free to order it through your local library!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Howdy! - I'm Back in the Saddle!

It's been a while since I've posted on my blog mainly because I was busy packing up from Kuwait and heading home to Bonnie Scotland.

I've been back for a few weeks and hopefully now that we are settling into our lovely lives here in Lanark, I can knuckle down and get writing again - not to mention keeping this blog up to date!

Look forward to talking to you again soon!