Monday, March 2, 2009

Interview with a Western Writer

I have always been a fan of Western movies and literature particularly when they’re comedies, and I recently had the opportunity to interview my favorite funny man and Western author Erv Bobo. I own, and have read, most of his books. Bobo is a talented, intellectual writer known for both humorous and serious Western novels, short stories, political essays and satires. Throughout his extensive writing career, Bobo has continuously produced well-written, entertaining tales, including at least twelve action stories to various men's magazines and twelve western stories to Far West Magazine. His books include The Velvet Brand, The Cheyenne Brand, Seven Against Texas, The Velvet Scar, and All the Glory Gone. He was nominated for the Western Writers of America SPUR Award twice. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild. He currently has a series of four fiction books and a collection of short stories in print and another fiction book coming out this month. You will find books by Erv Bobo at: http://stores.lulu.com/dasher1945


DSD: Mr. Bobo, your characters and plots are both interesting and unique. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Are they based on real people?

Bobo: Several of the short stories in All the Glory Gone--those dealing with a callow youth contending with an old-timer - are inspired by (but not based on) my father, whom I came to know only near the end of his life.

I think every writer puts some of his own character into his creations and, as I explain in one of the "story behind the story" notes in that volume, I surprised myself when re-reading those stories and finding how much of my own circumstances found their way into tales of the old west.

As for the Hellbenders series, I flatter myself in thinking that many of the off-center characters might have been created by Lewis Carroll if he had imagined a Wonderland of sagebrush and cactus.

DSD: With your intellect and talents I have no doubt you could choose any number of topics to explore in your writing. Why did you choose the Wild West?

Bobo: I've always been a fan of western movies and of some of the better western writers, but my entry into the field had a lot to do with formulas. Although I'd had some success in writing for men's magazines, they were stories that required heavy infusions of sex and violence. When I wrote my first western story, I was a new father and wanted to write something I would someday be proud to show my children.

Aside from that personal note, I see the West as a stage on which any kind of story can be played out: comedy, tragedy, love stories - anything.

Although it was not a reason for writing, I soon found that the writer of westerns is heir to a kind of shorthand: If your character enters a saloon, there is no need to describe the interior; everyone has seen enough western movies that he'll supply his own mental image, leaving the writer free to write about the action.

DSD: Is there a reason why you choose to approach the Wild West from a humorous perspective?

Bobo: Yes. My first humorous story was “The Night They Shot the Piano Player.” The title came first and as I tried to frame a story that fit it, I came up with a simple theme: that Texans don't care who wins as long as they get in on the fighting. In shaping the story toward that end, I had to invent believable characters that would live up to that theme.

Wayne Denton and Roy Lee McAllister performed just as I wanted them too, with a certain kind of batty logic, and I liked them so well I used them for two more short stories (all three were later incorporated into The Velvet Brand.)

Then I thought about doing a novel about them but I had only the title and a mental picture of the climax. Novel lengths are daunting for short story writers (which is why I included the short stories as chapters) but once I had those and the climax, everything else fell into place.

DSD: Lifestyles in American have changed tremendously since the days of the Wild West. If you could bring back one aspect of life in the Wild West, what would it be?

Bobo: This may shock you: I'd like to see every man with a six-gun on his hip and every woman with a Derringer in her reticule.

Now, it's not that I want to see people shooting one another at high noon. But what I like most about that period is that, in the absence of duly constituted law, people were responsible for their own lives and their own actions. The carrying of guns symbolizes that.

Too often today, we expect the government to take the responsibility we won't take for ourselves. In effect, we place our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor into the impersonal hands of politicians and bureaucrats and then we listen to the evening news and wonder where everything went wrong.

DSD: You obviously know a great deal about the Old West. If you could meet one person from this time period, who would it be?

Bobo: Wild Bill Hickok. Once you strip away the myth and the fluff of the dime novels, you're still left with an authentic man of the west. Hickok was a wagoneer, a hostler, a spy for the Union, a lawman and so much more. Probably one of the best gunfighters and most accurate shots of that era. Even today, he is the model for every fictional town-tamer you've read about or seen on a movie screen.

Next choice would be Buffalo Bill Cody. Aside from his many adventures - as authentic as Hickok's - his Wild West Show not only kept the West alive beyond it's allotted time, he introduced the West to most of the civilized world.

DSD: Thank you, Erv! I can't wait to see your next book!

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