Featured Western Author
Growing Up a Cowboy
Western Author Dusty Richards
Interviewed by Robert L. Hall
in Arizona, Dusty Richards writes about cowboys, Indians, bad guys, good-uns,
sleepy Mexican border towns, hombres and shootists. Growing up he spent every Saturday with Gene and Roy at the
local matinee. His mother
read him Will James books and that didn't help his "affliction"
as he calls it. In school he
searched the library for the works of Zane Grey, Ernest Haycox, Will
Henry, Max Brand and Nelson Nye.
worked on ranches and cowboyed in his youth.
He remembers fondly how he "sat on the porch of the fallen-in
cabin on Mrs. Winter's ranch where Dr. Grey wrote his book in longhand in
a loose-leaf book" and vowed one day to write one of his own.
after a career with Tyson Food management, radio and TV anchoring, and
cattle ranching, he is finally pursuing his dream of writing.
Since 1992, Dusty has sold 32 books.
His other cowboy related hobbies, such as rodeo announcer, licensed
auctioneer, announcer of the National Championship Chuck Wagon Races, as
well as his literary affiliations as President of Ozark Creative Writers
Conference , President of the board of Ozark Writer League in Branson,
Missouri, member of Western Writers of American
keep him busy as well.
and his wife, Pat, live on a small ranch in western Arkansas.
They spend their summers in their fifth wheel RV up in the high
country of the west researching future books and participate in a lot of
cowboy gatherings across the U.S. Did
I mention trout fishing? He
has an "aversion to do that," as he says.
asked Dusty about his childhood, his adult experiences, his books and
style of writing. I'm just
sorry there isn't enough room here to tell you everything he shared. But, he writes things that make you imagine vivid images of
the west and the lifestyle of earlier days. Here's some of what he shared
please share with us some of your childhood memories of Arizona?
didn't use to care how old you were to work.
My mother was from Dutch parents and they had a tough work ethic
about them. "Empty hands are the Devil's workshop," she would
say. So I always had a job.
Delivered groceries, sold my grandfather's extra garden
produce door to door with a red wagon, raised rabbits and laying hens and mowed yards and caddied and rode polo ponies. I worked in a sale barn every weekend too. So when I moved to Arizona at the ripe age of 13, I went to work on a farm (ranch), milked cows, fed hogs, had citrus trees, picked oranges and grapefruit. Also ran lots of Mexican cattle in the wintertime in the cotton fields. We fed them cull lettuce and carrots beside their pickings and they got fat. I learned to ride chasing Corrientes in stiff six-foot cotton stalks that were more like trees.
I had a horse of my own. The
next spring, Joe Chavez, an Arizona rancher took me on his roundup.
They all spoke Spanish and called me the little Gringo.
I learned quickly enough to get by, but they laughed when I tried
to string words in Spanish. I
speak Spanish much better today. So,
at fourteen I got a nose full of branding smoke up my nose and learned how
bloody castration and de-horning could be.
|The next year we moved from Mesa to Phoenix and I went with my resume to get a job on Milky Way Hereford Ranch. I got the job, which paid fifty cents an hour. I wanted to work the fancy cattle, but they gave me a bucket, a tin can and sent me out with sacks of 10% chlordane to poison all the red ants. I moved up to washing all the fancy bulls, (that were 100,000-dollar bulls in the 1950's. I graduated to driving the ton and half truck that the other cowboys had torn the two speed out of. I was driving without a license at 15 at the time.|
about later, Dusty?
made plenty of roundups on ranches, played extra parts
several western TV series - rode in the posses of Zane Gray Theater and
The Bountyman with Steve McQueen, was on the set for Rio Bravo and several
Gunsmokes. Tried my hand at
rodeo one afternoon in Chandler, Arizona at a punkin (small) rodeo.
The man who provided the stock told me to go upstairs and announce
the rodeo. When I said I
wasn't an announcer, he said, "You sure ain't a bull rider
either!" He was right.
I bought a rough ranch in the Boston Mountains in Arkansas, taught high school biology, sold real estate and auctioneered. Then Tyson Foods came down the road and asked me to come help them convince farmers to grow chickens. I did that for 33 years. I worked a radio show before I went to work for them, for 13 years. Then I anchored a TV morning news program for 7 years. In March, '96 I retired to write books.
do you develop the characters in your books?
I have met plenty of characters to populate western books.
They were men like we know today in my estimation.
There were tough ones and meek ones.
I've known some big ranchers, big business men, politicians, worked
as a reserve deputy sheriff, arrested several folks. In fact, I tell people to keep a log and write in two
sentences the people they see in MacDonalds.
I steal people for my books. One
evening at supper, I made some good mental notes of the hostess.
The way she waved her arms and the way she walked, gestured and by
the time we paid the bill, I told my wife I had found the heroine for the
recently read a McMurtry novel. His
characters seemed inflexible and unchangeable. What do you imagine the
people in the "real" west were like?
people were gutsy who came west. The
weak, the less daring, stayed and worked in sweatshops and died an early
death from fumes and bad food filled with poisons to keep it from
spoiling. You were better to
go to a witch doctor than a real doctor back then.
That is were Americans fear of doctors came from.
It is ingrained in tradition.
No sanitation. They
amputated and your chances to live were slim.
had to have grit, determination to endure.
The government solved the unemployment and the possibility of
armies marching on Washington, by taking the land from the Indians and
giving it away in rushes. Land
that should never have been plowed, but folks wanted to be independent and
raise their own food - not to eat the contaminated slop sold in the
cities. Read Upton Sinclair's Jungle to know how bad it was.
That land they homesteaded would not grow whippoorwill peas, but by
the time they found that out, they either had starved or gone on to other
work. Read Maria Sandoz.
She tells of the people and the times.
mentioned McMurtry. I spent
an evening visiting with him once and I have read all of his books.
The man is a great fiction writer, but some of his books disappoint
me. I laughed all the way
through Texasville, I mean laughed out loud.
told me it took you ten years of "developing" as a writer before
you were discovered. What
about that period of time?
Ten years to be accepted is a long time, but six months is ten minutes in an editor's life. I warn brave submitters of that all the time. Patience is a virtue in this business. Dr. Frank Reuter, who, if you don't know him, lives in Berryville (actually down on the King's River.) He is one of the greatest teacher/editors I have ever met and trust me; I have met a lot of them. He did more to help me get published than anything did. The first book I took him, he marked on every page, and every line was a corrected mess. Book two had some places he didn't write on. Book three even less. Complaints, complaints! Then I took him book four and he apologized when I went to get it and said he didn't think his editing was strict enough because he fell into the story. That was his way. When I recently introduced him at a conference in Missouri, he said he had met writers who he sure thought would be stellar stars as authors, but they gave up. The most determined man he knew was Dusty Richards, who never gave up on the dream and he had succeeded.
was it like when your first book hit?
Pat Labruta from M. Evans called me about Noble's Way, I had returned for
my weekly writers meeting and the message was on the phone.
He said, "This is really a wonderful story, so I want you to
call me so we can discuss it."
My wife and I went into orbit. It was a sale. I called an agent I knew and when she heard it she shouted, "You sold the book?" Then she asked how I sold it? I said, "Hard work!" She picked up representing me and still does.
are YOUR villains and heroes like?
bad guys and women have greed and selfishness behind the façade of being
real people. Of course, fictional people are all bigger than life.
I use internalization, the descriptions, the narration, the body
movements as well as dialogue. Like a doctor, I must dissect the corpses to see what makes
The cowboys are men of vision, a cut above the rest. In From Hell to Breakfast, a man wanted to be a cowboy rather than a hay cutter. The Scotsman, in By the Cut of Your Clothes, wanted to be a rancher. In Noble's Way, McCurtain wanted a place not to be persecuted. Sam T. Mayes was a detective gone bored, and Major Bowen a marshal that lack adventure in The Lawless Land.
projects-How about those?
Lawless Land and Servant of the Law are already out.
The third in the series comes out this summer.
The storyline is that a rancher, Luther Haskell, a former
Confederate soldier, cattle drover, Deputy U.S. Marshall for Judge Parker,
is hired by Bowen to solve the lynching of three ranchers in the Arizona
high country. It is a story
of treachery and greed gone beyond sanity.
have a book in progress - a different kind of work for me. It is a contemporary rodeo book, about a rodeo announcer who
meets a young rookie who can ride; he's got lots of problems.
Brad Turner, the announcer, tries to help him.
The girls in my writer's group say the excerpts from the book make
them think that they are right there in the rodeo arenas.
write so much. How do you
produce quantity and retain quality in your work?
is fear when you sign a contract for three books: the advance money comes
and you must in the next eighteen months dredge up 1,00 pages of lies and
figments of imagination that will please a reader.
When a book is on a roll, I can type in 35-40 pages.
*18 hour day) When I
am searching my subconscious for the next scene, it may be only two pages.
Then I must go away and let the idea ferment. At night this story's advocate will waken me at 2 a.m. and
say, like some cocky sailor, "Hey, mate.
I got me an idea about this book you are working so hard on."
see, there are days when you can't write, but you must!
Use your muse when it is writing, then rest on those other days.
But away from the chair, my mind is conditioned to be probing and
thrusting like a sword fighter for the next scene, the next action too.
It comes spilling out when I return to write.
When a book is finally drafted, then I wear another hat.
I leave the computer with hard copies, forget the trees, the ink. Hard copies, double-spaced and tear it apart.
Add, subtract, and then read aloud.
I scribble on it in pencil and hi-lighter.
I always use the spell checker before I print that first copy, then
I use it again after I make the second one.
New copies, take it away and devour it again.
That can sure get redundant and it's like repeating;
had a little..." over
and over, until it is a book and you mail it off.
books are not about gunfights. They
are about the people who made the place bad and the kind that corrected
that situation. I have walked
or rode over most all of my scenery in these books.
I have stood in the sweltering courtroom where convicts were found
guilty by a military court at Ft. Bowie.
That is a scene from a book I have projected to write this year.
Does my work have to be symbolic, mystical and grand?
Probably not. Quality
to me is the power to entertain, and I will let the more literary produce
those books that people "ooh" and "aaw" over.
They are the kind that are never read by some and placed on coffee
tables to impress their couth friends.
more? Go to Dusty Richards
web site at: http://www.dustyrichards.com
Richards has written 25 novels for hire.
In addition, under his name are the following:
Way, hardback, 1992, M. Evans
Hell to Breakfast, 1993, Pocket Books
the Cut of Your Clothes, 1994, Pocket Books
Lawless Land, 2000, paperback, St. Martin's
of the Law, 2000, paperback, St. Martin's
Law, 2001, paperback, St. Martin's
Natural, 2002, North American Library
© 2001, Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved