Featured Western Author

Growing Up a Cowboy

Western Author Dusty Richards

Interviewed by Robert L. Hall

Raised 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.       

He 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.     

Now, 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.

Dusty 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.     

I 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 with me:

Dusty, please share with us some of your childhood memories of Arizona?

Folks 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.

Soon, 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.

What about later, Dusty?

I made plenty of roundups on ranches, played extra parts

In 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.

How do you develop the characters in your books?  

See, 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 new novel. 

I recently read a McMurtry novel.  His characters seemed inflexible and unchangeable. What do you imagine the people in the "real" west were like? 

These 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. 

Westerners 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. 

You 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.

You 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.

What was it like when your first book hit?

When 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. 


What are YOUR villains and heroes like?                           

The 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 them tick.

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.


Current projects-How about those?     

That 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.

I 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. 

You write so much.  How do you produce quantity and retain quality in your work?

There 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."

You 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;

"Mary had a little..."  over and over, until it is a book and you mail it off. 

My 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.

Want more?  Go to Dusty Richards web site at: http://www.dustyrichards.com 


Dusty Richards Bibliography

Dusty Richards has written 25 novels for hire.  In addition, under his name are the following:

Noble's Way, hardback, 1992, M. Evans

From Hell to Breakfast, 1993, Pocket Books

By the Cut of Your Clothes, 1994, Pocket Books

The Lawless Land, 2000, paperback, St. Martin's

Servant of the Law, 2000, paperback, St. Martin's

Rancher's Law, 2001, paperback, St. Martin's

The Natural, 2002, North American Library

© 2001, Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved