Stay True to the Genre
Posted by Literary Titan
Beyond the Goodnight Trail follows a former Texas Ranger who goes on a trail drive where he expects danger, but finds much more than expected. What was the inspiration for the setup to this wild western?
My love of the mythic West. The inspiration was that I really just wanted to write a good cowboy story. I have always loved westerns. My generation grew up reading Westerns, and I have always been thrilled by them. My books revolve around real-life historical characters and I do intense research.
A large factor, although I’m not so sure it was a conscious decision, is the racial makeup of my family. My son is black, as are my five grandchildren. Writing a story with identifiable characters they can relate to, I guess, was always somewhere in the back of my mind. In Beyond the Goodnight Trail, my protagonist Pete Horse is a Black Seminole, and real-life black cowboys and frontiersmen Bass Reeves, Britt Johnson and Bose Ikard play prominent roles.
I also thought following a cattle drive would be a good plot device for delivering what Western readers want in a story, and a way to cross paths with many of the amazing people from that era. Originally the book was going to be about the Chisholm Trail and the protagonist was going to be Cage Carew, the college professor turned Civil War warrior from my first novel, How Can A Man Die Better. However, once I started Beyond the Goodnight Trail, I decided the “easterner new to the wild west” story had been done to death, and that there was only so far I could go with Cage without it devolving into cliches. I wanted to stay true to the genre, while hopefully avoiding that trap.
Pete Horse, a minor character in How Can A Man Die Better, emerged as the fictional narrator of Beyond the Goodnight Trail. Pete’s backstory is that he is the brother of real-life Black Seminole hero and leader John Horse. He was a child-warrior in the 2nd Seminole War. After some more investigation, I discovered the immense role the Black Seminole had in the settling of the West, and that became the central focus of this book and the forthcoming series. The more and more I researched the Black Seminole, I found it to be an absolutely fascinating history that very few people seem to know about, or have ever written about.
Following the history of the Black Seminole, I just kept finding one great character after another that I wanted to read more about, write about, and not only tell a good story about, but inspire folks to look into these fascinating people even deeper. I knew once I had decided Pete was going to be the protagonist, I wanted to add Bass Reeves. While I was researching Bass Reeves, I discovered the incredible story of Britt Johnson. Some of the other historical characters in Beyond the Goodnight Trail are Charlie Goodnight, Bigfoot Wallace, Bose Ikard, Quanah Parker, and James Henry Carleton. So, I was researching several different historical stories at once and they slowly dove-tailed into what I thought was a pretty original, and historically detailed, story. I stayed true to the real-life experiences and personalities and each one of their respective backstories kind of guided my story to its conclusion.
I discovered Charlie’s close ties to Quanah Parker, which I did not realize went so deep. Being true to history, I could not make Quanah and Charlie adversaries. Also, researching the Goodnight trail drive, I discovered legendary gunslinger Clay Allison was actually on that drive. Of course, Clay needed added.
Even though legendary Texas Ranger Jack Hays doesn’t appear in this book, he will in later books in the series and I wanted to show his influence on Texas. The vast landscape plays an important role, the beauty and ruggedness of the Llano Estacado and the Palo Duro Canyon.
Saying all that, it’s not a hodge-podge, slap dash collection of western fables. It’s a carefully crafted and accurate historical fiction.
What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this story?
That’s actually a pretty tough question, as I didn’t really go into it thinking in terms of literary themes. It’s about the quest, and the code of the mythic West. Individualism. Personal courage. Self-determinism. Independence and self-dependence. Traits and attributes that seem to be taking a beating in the media these days. I tried to portray the wanderlust of the cowboy, the nomadic wanderer, the “knight errant” with his own code of honor. A cowboy that is always loyal to “the brand.” One who has Integrity. Chivalry. It’s about revenge and redemption.
It was important to me that I stayed true to the genre that I grew up reading, and re-reading, and re-reading: Ralph Compton, Charles Portis, Louis L’amour, Owen Wister, Alan LeMay, Elmore Leonard. It’s somewhat of a morality tale. I wanted to give the readers exactly what readers of Westerns want. Identifiable good guys, bad guys. A sense of the land. Justice. “True Grit.” That good wins and that even if reached by a circuitous route, bad guys get their deserved fate.
There is also a theme just sort of emerged with the work. There’s an interconnectedness of the historical characters that pops up about every third paragraph. That’s how the research progressed; that’s how the story progressed. Going down those rabbit hole was great fun, even if it slowed the writing process considerably. I could get lost for days researching and reading about new people.
I wanted to show my reader that history is cool and messy and ugly and enlightening and illuminating and fascinating and ignored at our own peril.
Westerns these days seem to get very bad, and un-earned, rap as sexist, racist, whatever. However, the fact is, Westerns have always taken a leading role in addressing social issues of the day. Maybe not as “sophisticated” as these issues are allegedly addressed today in books and movies, but they often tackled, and in a very progressive way, women’s rights, racism, immigration, government corruption, war, violence. Sure, the cowboy can be cliché, but there’s nothing wrong with heroes. If people spend a few hours watching them, or reading them, with an open mind, they might be surprised.
I’ve received mostly very positive reviews, but there were a couple, from a review service, that actually criticized my Western for being…a Western. Which in itself tells me we need more Westerns. Kind of irritates me, saddens me at the same time, that apparently so many (actually only three, but it still stung) people were so unfamiliar with the traditional western theme. I stay true to the genre, but I also think it will appeal to many readers.
Pete is an interesting character with an intriguing past. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?
The Black Seminole played a huge role in the adventures and settlement of the West. There were many more black, brown and red cowboys than are usually depicted. Pete is John Horse’s brother, and John led the Black Seminole from 1835 through the 1870s. Pete’s background stays pretty close to the actual tale of the Black Seminole. They did fight the U.S. Army to a standstill in the 2nd Seminole War. They were removed on the Trail of Tears. Once out West, they did face repeated slave raids by the Creeks, whites, and Comanche. They did later scout for the U.S. Army, U.S. Marshals, and Texas Rangers. They did become the U.S. 10th Cavalry that conquered the Comanche and charged up San Juan Hill in 1898.
I’ve had an interest in Black Seminole history for 40 years, but I didn’t actually create Pete to ever be a protagonist or even central character. However, Pete was persistent and as I dug deeper into Black Seminole history I realized I could use him to explore another fifty years of history of the American West. As his personal backstory grew, it really served as a great catalyst to work the other characters into the story in a natural way.
Pete has a past. He’s done some bad things in the violence-filled West. However, he’s not a conflicted, angst-ridden, guilt-filled narrator. The brooding, introspective (or moping, self-pitying and whiney, depending on your perspective) anti-hero filled with inner turmoil and doubt is sooooooo boring. So 2020. So tedious, but Pete’s not exactly the ever-virtuous Hopalong Cassady in his enormous white ten-gallon hat either. There are still things that need done, unpleasant, tough, dangerous, but he’s going to do them, because that’s what cowboys do.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am working on a series featuring Pete Horse and the Black Seminole. The next is actually a prequel, beginning in 1835 and covering through 1844. Teen-aged Pete is removed from Florida and forced to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. He then becomes a scout for Jack Hays’ Texas Rangers. Right now, it’s four or five more books, just depending, that will follow the Black Seminole from the Second Seminole War through the relocation to the days of their being the U.S. 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” that eventually conquered the Comanche in Texas. The Black Seminole 10th remained an active U.S. Army unit for many years and led the way in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1898 famous charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. I’d like to follow them that far. We’ll see. I’m still looking into the Black Seminole story between the 1870s and 1898.
I’m also nearly finished with a hard-boiled private detective novel set in 1940s Hollywood. I also plan to make that a series. Unlike now, back then there were real tough guys in the movies. There were several big stars of the time that played heroic roles in World War II. Stories that should be told. My series will focus on a different one of those guys, Jimmy Stewart, for example, in each book.
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Posted on December 15, 2020, in Interviews and tagged action, adventure, author, author interview, book, book recommendations, book review, book reviews, book shelf, bookblogger, books, books to read, ebook, fantasy, fiction, goodreads, kindle, kobo, literature, nook, novel, read, reader, reading, Roy V Gaston, story, western, writer, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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