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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:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Behind Redbuds and Bullets

I read Great Expectations for the first time when I was a freshman in high school. My English teacher, Nancy Brooks, who routinely channeled Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks) in fictional name and temperament did a great job bringing the characters to life for us, and the weird relationship between Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham haunts me to this day.

Jo Harper read Great Expectations in 1911, and this fact was the only thing I had to go on when I started writing her sixth adventure. I didn't know it would involve uprooting Jo for the first time, flinging her across the midwest on a tumultuous train ride, pitting her against dangerous adversaries in a gritty urban environment, and ultimately involving an old character who just wouldn’t stay out of the picture. It was exactly the kind of writing experience a writer dreams about --sitting down without a clue and letting the story tell itself.

Redbuds have always been sort of symbolic to Missouri. I had never seen the small trees before visiting Gina there in 1986. Blossoming purple in spring, they are ubiquitous and one of the few flowering trees that doesn't cause my son to immediately start sneezing. Not so for everybody. Like the bullets in the title, the little flowers look innocent enough but can pack quite a punch for some.

So after putting the Dickens novel in her hands, I knew Jo had to end up in Missouri. But what could make a headstrong girl, one tied firmly to her Wyoming roots, leave her friends?  In Jo's case, only a sense of family duty.

And with that, I was off and typing.

Redbuds and Bullets takes a few chances that previous Jo Harper adventures don't take. The story puts Jo more alone than ever before. It tests her metal away from the humorous distractions of Frog or the tough security of Abby Drake. Not only that, but the fate of strangers is directly under Jo's control. It's not a responsibility she takes lightly.

Finally, if you're familiar with Great Expectations, I'll invite you to compare and contrast it with Redbuds and Bullets. Find the similarities, the differences, and see if you can recognize a couple Dickensian Easter eggs. Some were intentional, but some surprised me even as they poured into the keyboard.

That's the kind of fun that keeps writing Jo Harper stories fresh for me. I'd like you to come along for the ride!

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. Read more at

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#NewRelease--Redbuds and Bullets (Jo Harper Book 6) by Richard Prosch -- #Giveaway

Be sure and leave a comment for Richard Prosch to enter the drawing for a free ebook of REDBUDS and BULLETS.


Thirteen year old Jo Harper's trip to attend the reading of her mysterious uncle's will isn't welcome news to everybody in Willowby, Wyoming, and with the notorious Casper Brothers on the loose, the spring of 1911 isn't the best time to steam across the wide open west.

But with great expectations and grim determination, Jo hurtles into adventure, learning along the way who her friends are, and who wants her out of the way for good.

Blossoming danger! Dark captivity! And wildflowers galore!


Jo's face flushed hot. She was the poor country hick without a ticket.
"I said, is there a problem?" said the conductor with a gruff voice.
"I'm afraid I've lost my ticket," said Jo.
"Lost? Or never had one to begin with?"
"No, I had it when I got aboard."
"I doubt that very much."
"Where's the other conductor? He knows. He saw it. When I told him I was going to Kansas City."
"Other conductor? What are you talking about? I'm the conductor on this train. There is no other!"
What was going on here? Jo's mind was awhirl. There had been another conductor. Jo was sure of it.
Now, this conductor reached down and pulled her up by her shirt collar. "Pick up your hat and satchel," he said. "No ticket, no passage."
"Wait!" said Jo.
"I'm sorry, kid," said the man, now clamping a meaty hand on Jo's arm. "Off the train."
Off the train?
"But I've got to go to Kansas City," said Jo. "My aunt is waiting for me."
"Don't tell me no sob stories. Let's go."
Easily twice Jo's size and weight, it was easy for the conductor to push her down the aisle toward the back door. When they got there, he pulled open the exit, and a wall of wind hit them both.
The train clickety-clacked along the tracks and a new fear rushed into Jo's head.
The man was going to throw her off the train, all right. While it was still moving!

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Friday, March 6, 2015

All Ages by Richard Prosch

What does the title of this post mean to you? What do you think when a book is listed as all ages?

I have to admit, for me it means it's a young adult or kids’ book. I don't know when that idea first took hold, but as a reader it's rock solid in my head. 

And I should know better. 

There are scores of books I read as a kid that were written for adults, books that are --in fact-- good for all ages. Great Expectations, 1984, Hondo, and The Martian Chronicles were all written for adults. But you could read them as a kid. 

I didn't need an adult to tell me what was appropriate. If I could understand the prose, I read it. From The War of The Worlds and Dracula to The Black Stallion and The Hardy Boys, I didn't care who the intended audience was. I read it.

As writers, do you think we get too hung up on that intended audience?

Isn't it something every agent and/or publisher starts telling us from the get-go? Where does your book fit on the shelf?  Imagine the spines of the books next to yours. Who's the target audience?

I sure do understand the necessity of listing a book correctly when it comes to the marketing
But here I’m talking about how we think as writers. Before the marketing must come the story. We shouldn’t write to market. We should write to tell a good story.

Thinking about a couple literary greats: if The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, would they be listed in the catalog with the other adult material?  Or would they be labeled as young adult?  

I think they'd end up with the latter. 

Sadly, to list something today as adult fiction it's almost a given that there are potentially objectionable scenes or dialog inside. In other words, it's the sex and violence that make something adult.

The thing is, once somebody can read, I think it's more important to converse than to censor. Talk about the content instead of blocking it.

I'm here to tell you. In 1976, if somebody would've told my mom that Raymond Chandler or Isaac Asimov were adult books, those books would've been off my shelf pronto. 

But nobody told her. And I sure wasn't going to break the news.

So whenever somebody asks me what I write, I answer like a storyteller first. 

No matter the story's content, I write for all ages.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. Read more at