05 March 2022

What's a Western Doing in My Mystery Magazine?


  

Those of you who know me know I like Westerns. I like the time period, the geography, the characters, and the often well-defined line between right and wrong. An extra attraction for me as a writer is that when I write a Western I don't have to worry about whether to mention Covid. Small pleasures . . .

The fact is, Western mysteries have been good to me--I've recently sold Westerns to AHMM, Pulp Modern, Crimeucopia, and The Saturday Evening Post, and two of my latest three stories to appear in Mystery Magazine have been of the horse-opera persuasion. My very latest, called "Lily's Story," is featured in MM's current (March 2022) issue.

"Lily's Story" is really two stories in one. The first involves a pair of newspaper reporters from back East who arrive in a California town on an assignment and then discover that a legendary outlaw is also in town and planning a bank heist. The story-within-the-story is told by another of the characters--the owner of a local restaurant--and involves travelers on a wagon train to Oregon some thirty years earlier--a group that has a fateful encounter with a band of Indians. What I'm saying is, "Lily's Story" is one of those "framed" double-story narratives that I sometimes like and sometimes don't, because they sometimes work and sometimes don't. If you read this one, I hope you'll enjoy it. 

My second most-recent Western was "Bad Times at Big Rock," in the January 2022 issue of Mystery Magazine. If that title sounds familiar, it came from my fondness for an old Spencer Tracy movie called Bad Day at Black Rock. The story and the movie are nothing alike except for the title, though--my story's set many years later and farther east, and features weirder characters and more violence and even a paranormal element, which is unusual, to say the least, for a mystery/Western. Plotwise, it's about a brand-new settlement in the middle of the desert that gets taken over by two killers, and the townsfolks' struggle to reclaim their lives and property. It's also a far different kind of tale from "Lily's Story." For one thing, "Bad Times" is told from the POV of the good guys; in "Lily" there aren't many good guys. (But both stories were great fun to write.)

What's your opinion, about setting mystery/crime stories in the past--whether it's the Old West or another historical period? Have you written and sold any? How about (specifically) Westerns? Personally, I've found that some of the best recent mysteries I've read were period pieces. In one sense, they're harder to write well because of all the details that must ring true, but there's a certain fascination in reading (and sometimes learning) about the way things were done--and the way justice was served--in the distant past. Again, it all boils down to whether the plot and characters are interesting, and when they are I think historical fiction can be spellbinding.

Whatever you're writing/publishing, whether it's literary, genre, or mixed-genre, I wish you the best.


Now . .  to those kind friends who have expressed concern about me: I'm doing fine, just been laid up for a bit. Thank God for wives who are nurses and offspring who are physicians. They not only know what they're doing, they're willing (to a point at least) to put up with husbands and fathers who are difficult patients. Many thanks also to those who've sent me well-wishes--I hope to be back up to speed shortly. Meanwhile, I'll see you back here in two weeks.




16 comments:

  1. Always liked multi-genre stories, historical mysteries, western mysteries, science-fiction mysteries. Way to go, John.

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    1. Thank you, O'Neil. You of course know all about historical fiction, and you're one of the best at writing it.

      Take care, and keep up the great stories.

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  2. When will the new stories appear in print/pixels? I am a fan of western mysteries for all the reasons you mentioned. Also because it's easy to move the action from one place to another. Steve Hockensmith's "Holmes on the Range" series (5 book-length and one SS collection; I wish there were more) is a very good example.

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    1. Don, those issues of Mystery Magazine are available now via Amazon, in both Kindle and print--I haven't yet seen the March 2022 print issue but I have the January one. As for Steve's Holmes series, I love those books. (Though I didn't know about the short-story collection--I'm off now to find it.)

      Thanks for stopping in, here!

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    2. Fond memories of the weekend morning I sat by the attic window in my old house and read the first "Holmes on the Range" story.

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  3. Congratulations, John!
    The one story I set in the Old West was "A Time to Mourn", set in homesteader Dakota Territory. (AHMM Jan./Feb 2011) I'm honored to say that it received Honorable Mention in "Best American Mystery Stories 2012".

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    1. Thanks, Eve. I remember that Western of yours in AHMM, mainly because you and I both had Hon. Mention stories in that 2012 edition of BAMS (mine was from the Strand). Looking back through old AHMM issues, there have been a good number of Westerns published there.

      Thanks again for the note!

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  4. No Westerns on my list of publication credits, but I love writing historicals. I have two ways of getting around the need to get everything right for eagle-eyed readers. In my 16th-century short mysteries set in the Ottoman Empire, I've done my research, but writing from the POV of my broadminded Jewish woman protagonist, I focus on details that hardly anyone else knows. And in my mysteries set in the 1950s, I'm writing what I know very well indeed. I've accepted that the era in which I grew up is now indubitably "history."

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    1. Ha! Liz, it's scary to think of 50s stories being historical fiction, but I guess they are. And your method for getting around every last detail has been used by others as well. I once heard that if you need to write about a country you've never visited, do as much research as you can, but also make your POV character a person who's never been there before either. Not a bad idea.

      Thanks for the insights!

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    2. In the case of my protagonist Rachel Mendoza, it's not that the Jews were new to the Ottoman Empire (the Sephardic Jews who came in 1492 were, but Greek Jews and others were already there) as that what their life was like there is mostly relegated to tiny footnotes in the dusty stacks of libraries.

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    3. Liz, sounds to me as if you've done enough research not to ever have to worry about getting details wrong. And anyone who's read the Mendoza tales knows that you do a great job with those.

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    4. A friend of ours had some genealogy done (by his cousin) and found out he is (part) Sephardic Jewish! He knew he was Israeli, New Yorker and Arab, but the Sephardic came as a surprise!

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  5. I love historical mysteries as well as plain old westerns! I've written a few historical mysteries (and am revising one right now!) Haven't done a western mystery, but I should: I grew up in Kansas which is kind of the Wild West! Glad you are feeling better!

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    1. Jeff, one of my Westerns this past year was set in Kansas. It was most definitely the Wild West. (Ask Marshal Dillon.) And thanks for your well wishes.

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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