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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Interview With Jim Griffin

James J. Griffin, while a native New Englander, has been a student of the frontier West from a very young age. He has travelled extensively throughout the western United States, and has visited many of the famous Western frontier towns, such as Tombstone, Pecos, Deadwood, Cheyenne, and numerous others. 

For Painted Pony Books, Jim pens the Lone Star Ranger series. Recently, Richard Prosch caught up with Jim and visited with him as follows.


Richard: What inspired the idea of a teenager becoming a full-fledged Texas Ranger? Is there an historical precedent?

Jim: When Livia and Cheryl approached me about doing a series of Young Adult Westerns, I knew the main character would be a boy who ends up riding with the Rangers.  My favorite subject to write about is the Texas Rangers, so it was a natural fit. And yes, there is definitely an historical precedent, not necessarily in the time frame when the Lone Star Ranger books are set, the mid-1870s, but in the earlier days of the Texas Rangers, before and even during the Civil War. Back in the 1840s, when the Rangers were mainly a volunteer organization, boys as young as fourteen were full-fledged members of the Rangers. And Nate Stewart, and his best friend and Ranger partner, Hoot Harrison, are part of a long tradition of boys, which probably goes back to when the first soldiers picked up a spear way back in history, of lying about their ages so they can join a fighting force and head off to war.

Richard: One of my favorite things about your Lone Star Ranger books is that as Nate learns about roping, or working on a horse's hoof, the reader does too. I'm assuming a lot of that comes from your own life's experience?

Jim: Yes, when it comes to horses, anyway. I've owned horses most of my life, and they've taught me a lot. I've never actually roped, but I have team penned, in fact the first year we tried that, Yankee and I got Novice Reserve Champions for the series. So, when I describe how to saddle a horse, or how a horse might react in a given situation, I've been there, done that. As far as a lot of the other things Nate learns, some's my experience, other things I've picked up over the years, researched, or relied on friends with expertise in a particular field. For example, my good friends Karl Rehn and Penny Riggs of KR Training in Manheim, Texas answer all my questions about weapons of the period. And my (now retired) Texas Ranger friend Jim Huggins helps me with some of the Ranger history, although most of that is from my years of studying the history of the Rangers.



Richard: Nate and Hoot have an especially real relationship. Is their friendship based on your own experiences as a kid?

Jim: Absolutely! My best friend, Skip Caplan, and I, were basically inseparable. We mostly did three things. Watched Saturday morning Westerns on television, rode our bikes, and played cowboys. We were always running around with our cap guns, blazing away at each other, gunning each other down, and I mean a lot! In a couple of my books, one of the characters will talk about how, when he was a kid, he gunned down about a thousand or more outlaws, but also got gunned down a thousand or more time himself. That would be me and Skip.

My third Jim Blawczyk novel, Trail of the Renegade, has Jim trying to track down his cousin Ned, who's turned outlaw. Jim and Ned do a lot of reflecting on their childhood, and the times they spent playing cowboy together. That part of the story is mostly autobiographical, except for the part about my cousin turning outlaw when he grew up. My folks came from northeast Pennsylvania, and every summer we'd go back there for several weeks to visit our relatives, staying at my  maternal grandparent's house. My dad would drive us there, spend the weekend, then head back to Connecticut to work, while we stayed behind. As soon as we got to our destination, I'd head down to my aunt and uncle's place, to get my cousin Neil. His father was the watchman for the local water company. Every morning, we'd jump in my uncle's Jeep to go "up the Mountains", meaning to the reservoirs. He'd open the gate, drive up this rutted dirt road that was barely passable even with a tough 4WD, and drop us off at Second Dam for the day, while he made his rounds. These were the days when water companies held hundreds of acres of land around the reservoirs, all strictly no trespassing. So, once my uncle left us, it was like me and Neil having our own private forest and lake. Two young boys couldn't ask for anything better. There was an abandoned house behind the dam, which made a great fort, and some old cars to play in also. We'd spend the day fishing, picking huckleberries, looking for snakes, catching salamanders, walking underneath the dam through its overflow spillway, and exploring the woods. But mostly, we played cowboys. And boy, did we play cowboys. 

We  chase each other all over the place, in and out of the house, all through the woods and the field behind the dam. We'd climb to the top of the dam, get shot, and roll all the way to the bottom, then lie there, "dead". Sometimes we'd fight side by side against a pretend enemy, but mostly we fought each other. While sometimes we'd switch roles, Neil generally wanted to be the bad guy, while I wanted to be the lawman, so that worked out just fine. We'd wrestle each other, have pretend fist fights and pretend knife fights. But mostly we had gunfights. If I had a dollar for every roll of caps we fired off, I'd be a rich man. We'd blaze away at each other, get killed, then get right back up and start all over. When we had a fast draw showdown, whoever got shot (and it went about even, with me winning half the time, Neil the other half), we'd never die from taking just one slug. The climax of  Trail of the Renegade has  cousins Jim and Ned facing each other, ready to draw, and Ned stating he was going to put all six bullets in his pistol into Jim's belly. That's pretty much how our gunfights went. Whoever got killed took at least three bullets, usually right in the gut, before he went down. in fact, even today, I can still remember that was our favorite line: "Got ya right in the belly!" Sometimes, we'd even play frontier doctor, like we'd seen in the Westerns. When one of us got shot, the other would dig his pocket knife out, then use that to "dig the bullets" out of the shot man, who would of course always pull through, even it he'd taken half a dozen slugs in his belly and chest.

After we'd worked up a good sweat, we'd shuck out of all our clothes and go swimming in the reservoir. Luckily, my uncle never caught us doing that, or he'd have tanned our bare bottoms, but good. He didn't mind letting us break the rules by fishing, but swimming in a public water supply? Uh-uh. That was strictly forbidden.

Ever after we were back home, gone to bed, (most nights, Neil would sleep at our grandparents'  with me, or I'd sleep at his house with him), and were supposedly sleeping, we were playing cowboy, bouncing around on the bed, shooting each other under the covers, until finally, worn out, we fell asleep. Then the next day, we'd start all over again. True, like most boys, we had toy trucks and cars to play with, and spent a lot of time going to the store for penny candy, or rolling apples that had fallen from our grandparents' trees into the road for the cars to squash, but we mostly played cowboys. Even when we didn't go "up the Mountains," we'd play cowboys in our grandparent's yard. Those big apple trees made great cover, and also were great to climb into, then fall out of when you got discovered and shot. There was even an old outhouse my grandmother insisted we use, instead of dragging dirt into the house to use the bathroom, so we had a touch of "Old West" atmosphere right there in the yard.

Of course, those were the days when kids could be kids, and were allowed to play, unsupervised, for hours on end. As long as we got back home by the time the fire horn blew the nine p.m. test signal, we were just fine. Can you imagine what would happen today? Two boys of about ten, allowed to be alone in the woods, all day long, unsupervised? And at a unlifeguarded lake, no less? DCF would have our parents and grandparents arrested for child neglect, and put us in state custody. And of course, playing with cap guns? How horrifying, to a lot of misguided people. Being alone with my cousin, playing cowboy all day long, didn't do me one bit of harm. In fact, today's kids could use more of that kind of freedom.

Richard: And you still play cowboy with Yankee, your horse. Can you tell us about the photos here?

Jim: These photos were taken at one of our nursing home visits and reenactments, for my college's, Southern CT Stale, alumni magazine. They got word of my writing and therapy work and ran an article about us last fall.  What we usually do is find a volunteer to play the bad guy. He guns me down, but then Yankee revives me, and I end up plugging the outlaw.

Richard: You recently wrote about selling books to a father and son at a book signing. Do you find that there's still an interest in Western adventures? Any idea how we can foster that interest and make it grow?

Jim: I find there is, but there's a huge gap in age groups. Older readers, who grew up with Westerns, still look for them, of course. And kids, especially boys, who like a lot of action in their reading, seem to be looking for Westerns, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, there's a whole generation in between who grew up without Westerns, or dismissed them as not fit to read. I find it's the parents who are more resistant to buying their children a Western, rather than the kids themselves. Given the opportunity, most kids will at least try one. So, we somehow have to reach the parents. And the mainstream media hasn't helped. Disney in particular has helped kill a lot of interest in Westerns. They've pretty much taken any reference to Westerns out of their theme parks, even in Frontierland, and their disaster of a Lone Ranger movie, which made a mockery of the character, has probably done more to set back interest in Westerns than any other one thing in years. Unfortunately, I have no easy answer to the problem. If the Western does make a comeback, and we all know it never will to the level it was at years ago, it will be slowly and gradually, one parent, one child, one family at a time.  It's a shame, because the Western is part of our heritage, and it's being lost.

Richard: What can we expect of A Ranger to Stand With?

Jim: As you said, the first three Lone Star Ranger books were tied into each other. Plans are for a total of ten. The remaining books, just like A Ranger's Christmas, will be part of the series, but can be read as stand alone books. In A Ranger to Stand With, Nate learns another lesson about making sure he does the job thoroughly, when he nearly gets killed through his carelessness. He also finally learns the art of the fast draw. The main story is something that happens to most teenage boys. Nate and Hoot get into a violent argument over, what else, girls. This fight will test their friendship to the limits when a band of Comanches raids the ranch where the Rangers are staying, kidnaps the family's youngest son, and attempts to flee back to Mexico, with the Rangers in pursuit.


Richard: Is this your first foray into all ages books? What other titles are you writing?

Jim: To answer your first question, yes and no.My Texas Ranger Cody Havlicek novels were intended as adult westerns, but they tuned out to be suitable for younger readers, particularly Big Bend Death Trap.

As far as future titles, besides the Lone Star Ranger books, there are several in the works. My latest Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk novel, The Ghost Riders, will be released on April 7th by Rough Edges Press. Volume 6 of my Faith and the Law serialized ebook, Which is Which, from High Noon Press, will be out within the next several weeks. I'm also working on three projects that are a bit different, at least for me. One is a Western romance, Heart of a Ranger. That will be a short story ebook, written under the name J.B. Blanchard, and  published under Livia and Cheryl's new imprint, Sundown Press. Another is a contemporary murder mystery, set in my adopted home state of New Hampshire, which as of yet only has a working title, Mountain Murders. That one will be published by Rough Edges Press, for release in late spring. And finally, I'm going to be writing a biography/memoirs of my retired  Texas Ranger friend Jim Huggins. That will also be published by Sundown Press.

I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't urge everyone to check out your excellent Jo Harper series.

Richard: Thanks for the great conversation, Jim. Everybody can learn more about Jim at his web site:  www.jamesjgriffin.net


8 comments:

  1. Jim, Yankee upstages you every time! :-D

    It's nice to discover more about you and your background. All authors include a bit of the autobiographical in our novels and shorter works. We can't help it. All those experiences made us who we are. It's nice to be able to use all those memories, huh?

    I'm looking forward to Jim Blawcyzk's next adventure (that man does get himself in some sticky situations!), and of course to Nate's. I just love the Lone Star Ranger series.

    HUGS, darlin'!

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  2. Jim, I have really enjoyed the Lone Star Ranger series and all of Nate and Hoot's adventures. I can't wait to see what they get into next. You do a great job of putting us right there with Nate in his experiences, and that is a true gift.
    Cheryl

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  3. Great article, guys. A wonderful read!

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  4. Jim, your childhood sounds like what I wish mine had had more of. Loved playing cowboys, but the other neighborhood kids just weren't into it. Never figured out why, since we all grew up during the period where the Western was king at the movies and on tv. Really enjoyed reading about your adventures as a youngster.

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  5. What fun! You sound like the perfect person to write these stories. I, too, grew up watching old black and white Westerns in the Rose Theater in Levelland, Texas, along with my little sister. Mother dropped us off and she'd go shopping or visiting, and we chose seats and began watching, wherever the film was at the time. We didn't bother with times. We'd watch until one of us would say, "This is where we came in." And maybe we'd pretend we didn't know and keep watching. The plot wasn't important. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue, etc. and their actions is all we cared about. Thanks for "the thrilling return to yesteryear!"

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  6. Jim, I so enjoyed reading about your childhood and the fun you had with your friend, Skip. I had no idea the Texas Rangers allowed volunteers as young as 14. Wow! That just took me back. Now I can see how a youngster like that could learn about life, being a good horseman, and growing into manhood even though it must have been rough sometimes faced with the hardships and darkness of the adult, criminal world. Your interview took me back into my own childhood and my desire to be a cowgirl. All the very best to you, Jim. Great interview, Richard.

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  7. Thanks, everyone. Richard asked the perfect questions. I was a bit after the Roy Rogers/Gene Autry movie time frame. I remember Roy and Gene from TV. My favorite show was Tales of the Texas Rangers, which is what got me started. That, and seeing Roy and Trigger at the old New Haven, CT Arena back in 1956. Fell in love with Trigger, and horses, from that day on.

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  8. Great interview! You are living your dream, Jim. Congratulations for all the successes with your writing skills and the tales of adventure. I enjoyed your sharing of personal experiences growing up. Wonderful memories.

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