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Kat Meets Cowboys #5: An Interview With James Clay

James Clay spent his childhood watching Hopalong Cassidy on TV and devouring Fran Striker’s Lone Ranger novels. Not surprisingly, he yearned to be a western hero. While toiling as a literary agent by day, James would write westerns by night. This approach allowed him to play cowboy while proving that he didn’t always have to live off the work of other people. James is now a full time western writer. He lives in San Diego with his wife and two cats, all of whom, he notes, are very patient with him.

KA: When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

I was around in the late fifties, which was the last inning for radio’s golden age. I would listen to radio’s Gunsmoke as well as watch the TV version. Both programs were superb but very different. Radio’s Gunsmoke tended to be grim while the TV series was upbeat. Comparing the two programs got me interested in the Old West, as well as the craft of storytelling.

KA: How did you to come up with an idea for your first novel?

I decided to take a contemporary problem and put it into the Old West to see what happened. My first character had lung cancer. He would start to cough when he smoked so he knew that he had a problem. He was a gunfighter. He could fight all these battles but couldn’t give up cigarettes, even though they were killing him. I still do that—take a contemporary problem and put it into the Old West. My novel, The Justice Rider, deals with a journalist who’s building up an outlaw to look like a hero. Fake news was also a problem in the old West.

KA: How do you develop your story ideas?

What really prods me in my writing are the people who say the Western is dead. Nonsense! Westerns deal with life’s ultimate issues: individualism vs. community, how do you live an honorable, meaningful life? Can you maintain faith in a violent society where might seems to define what is right? These are vital issues that every generation must contend with.

KA: What advice would you give to new authors?

Get out of adolescence and become an adult. Don’t submit a novel to a publisher who doesn’t do fiction. Go to the publishers that specialize in the genre you want to write in. Know their market needs.

KA: Is there anyone who influenced your writing style?

I would say Ray Hogan and Lewis Patten. They were two that I love. I like their very economical style. Some people like a lot of description of scenery and buildings, but I like novels that move the plot along quickly with more emphasis on the characters themselves. When I got older, I read Raymond Chandler’s excellent mystery novels. With one line, he could really set a scene.

KA: Where did the idea come from for your latest series?

I love both the hard-boiled mystery and the Western. Rance Dehner is a private eye who operates in the West. I enjoy combining the genres. I wanted to put humor in there, too. I like to have humor in my Westerns.

KA: How would you approach it differently if you were to repeat it today?

Aspiring writers are encouraged to know the market. Unfortunately, few new writers take that advice. They think they have a special voice and don’t have to play by the rules. Most writers go through that phase, but we must move out of it. Take what publishers tell you seriously.

KA: What do you think makes for the perfect Western?

Alas, there is no perfect Western, but we must keep trying. You have to grab the readers’ interest on the first page and hold it. Never lecture your readers; keep them wanting to know what will happen next. I believe a special quality of the Western is that it acknowledges that life is hard, but nevertheless remains optimistic.

KA: What can we look forward to from you next? Do you wish to explore more genres?

I plan to keep writing westerns. The genre has so much to offer. I’m just getting started.

Katrina Achey resides in Pennsylvania with her fiancé and child where she works as the Social Media Manager for Dusty Saddle Publishing. Katrina enjoys reading, writing, painting and playing her guitar—anything that lets her express her creative freedom. When she’s not working, you can find her curled up on the couch with a good book or having a fun game night with her loved ones. Please email admin@dspublishingnetwork.com

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