Six Guns & Cattle Drives: What’s So Fun about Writing the West

An anthology is different than a single author collection of stories in the same way that a dinner party is different than dinner for two.  An anthology need not be a raucous affair, with tail-coats and lamp-shades, or broken glass and loud music.  It need not be a New Year’s blow-out or a July Fourth picnic with fire-works.  But, at the very least, it ought to be fun.

Express Westerns’ A Fistful of Legends edited by Nik Morton and Charles T. Whipple does get pretty rowdy.  This anthology of “21 New Tales of the Old West” is very much a celebration of the short form Western.  Not only is it filled with great stories well told, it’s is also filled with… exuberance.

“For many authors,” says James Reasoner, “the Western is as much fun to write as it is to read, and always has been.”

And that is one of the ways in which Legends stands out—the authors are clearly having whooping good time at what they are doing.

“Of course,” says Gary Dobbs, who writes Westerns as Jack Martin, “the Western is fun by its very nature–gunslingers, bounty hunters, soiled doves, Indians, outlaws–all the cool stuff, really.”

Below, eight of the contributor’s to A Fistful of Legends return to Booklife to talk about how much fun it is to write Westerns.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin is the author of The Tarnished Star, Arkansas Smith, and the forthcoming The Ballad of Delta Rose.

Raymond Foster/Jack Giles is the author of Coalmine, The Fourth Horseman, and Lawmen.

C. Courtney Joyner is a screenwriter and director who also writes fiction and non-fiction, including The Westerners: Interviews with Actors, Directors and Writers.

Matthew P. Mayo is the author of Winters’ War, Wrong Town, and Hot Lead, Cold Heart.  Mayo also edited the Express Western anthology, Where Legends Ride.

Nik Morton/Ross Morton is the author of Death at Bethesda Falls, The $300 Man, and the forthcoming Blind Justice at Wedlock.  Morton also is the co-editor of A Fistful of Legends.

Bobby Nash writes comics, screenplays, and fiction, including the novel, Evils Ways.

Alfred Wallon writes Westerns in German and English.  He’s co-written the Doug Thorne Westerns, All Guns Blazing and Alaska Hell, with David Whitehead/Ben Bridges.

Charles T. Whipple/Chuck Tyrell is author of Guns of Ponderosa, The KillingTrail, and Hell Fire in Paradise.  Whipple is also is the co-editor of A Fistful of Legends.


James Reasoner says that “for many authors, the Western is as much fun to write as it is to read, and always has been.”  What’s fun about writing Westerns?  What do you enjoy about it?

Gary Dobbs: I think writing in any genre can be fun, especially when things are going well, but I know what Mr. Reasoner means–it’s a great feeling when you manage to place a well-worn Western cliché into your work and make it somehow original.

C. Courtney Joyner: The “genre canvas” of the Western is so huge – life after the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad, the Plains Indian Wars, the formation of the Western states, the battle for Texas, the OK Corral – the list goes on and on, and these elements can simply be backgrounds to any story you want to tell, from the true history, to our own incredible inventions.  And what could be more fun for a writer than that?

Ross Morton: I enjoy the research and blending fact with my fiction. The period of the Old West also encompassed an interesting worldwide history that often impinged on the characters who visited or moved to America.

Alfred Wallon: It’s just in my blood; I cannot describe it. I’ve always preferred this kind of literature to read.  You can develop nearly every storyline: from the early pioneering days up to Pancho Villa in Mexico.  There always have been and always will be enough ideas to write about.

Matthew P. Mayo: The challenge in writing Westerns is in trying to convey the raw honesty of the times, in unearthing details that help reveal more about a character, motivation, and the idea that, despite long odds, good can prevail. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write about six guns, lynchings, and cattle drives.

C. Courtney Joyner: When you’re writing a Western, you get the chance to write action – lots of it!  Detailing a gunfight or a river crossing in a different way – finding your own voice in descriptions; making the words count – these are the joys (and sorrows!) of the writing process, and writing a Western is the greatest way to have that creative experience.

Raymond Foster/Jack Giles: Creativity is fun–but it depends on your interpretation of “fun”. Some find the writing part of it a chore. That’s not the way to write.

Bobby Nash: One of the fun parts for me in writing a Western story is remembering the feeling of playing “cowboys and Indians” when I was a kid. In Western fiction, people tend to pull their guns first and ask questions later, most arguments are solved by a strong right hook, and you were free, just you and the land. For a writer, those are fun concepts to play with and explore.

Raymond Foster/Jack Giles: The playground now becomes a blank page. The fun you once had as a child and as you grew up–the imagination fires up the creative juices.  Those days stay with you.  The game is yours to play and instead of telling friends what to do, you put characters in their places. The work ethic is there and if you like what you do then you enjoy it.  It’s fun.  Even better when the finished piece is accepted for publication.

C. Courtney Joyner: There is amazing freedom; characters can be as big or as violent or as stoic or mythic as you’d like. You can find the simple beauty in the pioneer spirit, or explore the darkness of a gunfighter. You can also draw upon the legendary figures of the west and introduce them to your story.  I think the “Western formula” allow you to follow a classic structure, or blow the walls off!  You can combine the Western with other genres like horror and sci-fi, letting imagination run wild, and yet still being grounded in a true historical period.

Charles Whipple: I’m a grandson of the pioneers. My grandfather moved to Arizona from Nevada in 1876. My father wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy. I grew up with the stories of pioneers ringing in my ears. By writing Westerns, I feel I can keep those hardy people alive. I grew up with Apache, Navajo, and Mexican-American classmates. Several of my protagonists are half-breeds, to use the vernacular. Indians rarely play antagonistic roles in my stories, and are often heroic.

Yes, it’s enjoyable to reconstruct those pioneers in fiction. It also gives me the feeling that I’m helping give depth and breadth to the lives they lived.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.




6 thoughts on “Six Guns & Cattle Drives: What’s So Fun about Writing the West

  1. A great conversation by some of the best voices working in the Western field today. Kudos. And thanks again, Jeremy, for continuing, and paying attention to, the conversation about Western fiction.

  2. A great conversation piece, thanks, Jeremy. And the appeal of the western is broad – young, both sexes, old… My latest book acceptance is Old Guns – about a 62yr old ex-lawman and how his past of two decades ago catches up with him. As Courtney says, anything is possible in a western – social commentary, psychological suspense, thriller or romance; or even more than one of those in the same volume!


    aka Ross Morton

  3. Thanks so much Jeremy, for the fine questions, the posting and allowing me to be a part of it. I am really enjoying – and being inspired – by reading the other comments from the terrific authors you've spoken to. The western anthology is such a terrific form – and so versatile – and your support is much, much appreciated. Salute, amigo!

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