Welcome author, screenplay writer and California cattle rancher D.B. Jackson! I am super excited to share D.B.’s interview! He has written a handful of novels, as well as short stories, celebrating horses and cowboys. He is a multi-award winning author; has a couple of new releases in the works, a screenplay in production, and much more…
Do you have a favorite Western saga? How has it inspired your writing career?
I’m not sure I could pick just one movie, but three come to mind that I think are iconic and a good lesson for any storyteller: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because it is a great example of using historical facts as the basis for an excellent fictional story, Dances With Wolves because it shows how cinematography and good writing can captivate an audience and, finally, Lonesome Dove because it demonstrates how powerful and memorable a story can be if the characters are well-developed and compelling.
In terms of books, three top my list there as well. Homer’s, The Iliad, is almost poetic in its unique use of language and imagery. The Bible is written in such commanding language almost any writer would benefit from studying the word usage and direct subject/verb style that makes it so impactful. At the top of my list, however, is that classic and wandering masterpiece, Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s powerful use of language, his development of universal themes, strong visuals, and unrelenting hammering at the readers’ emotions is rendered in an archaic fashion that seems to defy all the rules. It’s simply a literary tour de force that overwhelms the reader.
As an author of many novels, how do you come up with story ideas, characters and plots?
Well, as an author yourself, you know that’s the part of the creative process that is magic when it works and sounds trite when you attempt to explain it but, for me, it’s looking at situations that occur in everyday life and asking, “What would happen if?” From there I take it into the embrace of one or more of the classic themes that are always present in what the academics consider good literature. In the course of any given day, the people I meet, the things I observe, and the successes and failures I witness are all material for the next story. I tend to skip the big and obvious and seem drawn to the common challenges people face—the ones in which they are easily able to see themselves.
For example, the conversations that come up riding out at daybreak to gather cattle produce more insights and ideas than a year’s worth of sitting in a writer’s workshop. It’s all there, right before our eyes—all we need to do is look up once in a while to see it.
The concept is generally first, but not always. Then come the characters. Ultimately, the characters are the most important element of most stories, so I make sure the relationships, their personalities, and their names fit them.
Of all your characters, which one is your favorite?
This is the “If you had to cut off a finger, which one would you choose?” question. I like a 15-year old kid in a short story called, Last of the Cowboys. His name is Bobby Earl Lee but they called him Early (a contraction of Earl Lee). He is innocent enough to be endearing, wise enough to be respected, and tough enough to admire—but mostly he is just a good person who his 82-year old cowboy friend trusted with his last wish in life.
I like Early because success to him was getting to cowboy for a big outfit despite a gimpy leg that caused most people to write him off.
How does writing novels differ from writing screenplays? Which do you prefer?
There are similarities between the two disciplines in terms of painting a verbal picture, but the requirements of a screenplay quickly force you into a whole new world where pages are money, sparseness is a virtue, and imagery is everything.
In my opinion, a novel is more forgiving than a screenplay because the novel allows you all the room you need to tell your story since page count is not a restriction. The rambling blocks of dialogue we sometimes put into our novels are an actor’s and a director’s nightmare when they are put into a script. Novels also allow the author the freedom to go along for the ride as the characters wander from the beginning of the story through the middle, and finally to a conclusion that the author may never see coming.
A screenplay is far more structured than that. The first third sets up the story and the characters, the second third establishes the conflicts, dreams, setbacks, etc., and the final third wraps it all up, resolves the issues, and brings closure to the story in one way or another. The 120-page limit of the screenplay is a limiting factor that always hangs over the head of a screenwriter.
My preferences: The most fun is the screenplay adaptation of the novel. The next most fun is the original writing of the novel itself (a little less fun because of the uncertainties of where the story is going), and lastly is the original screenplay—it has all the hurdles to get over as the novel and the screen adaptation combined.
Describe your horse history and the horses you now stable...
The horses. Not to sound overly dramatic, but they are the soul of it all. They are what holds a cattle operation together, they are at the heart of every story I write, and they are the reason I believe I understand people better. Most horses are the reflection of the treatment they get from us. They are also completely honest with us—a trait most people find hard to understand.
We ride registered Quarter Horses because of the overall breed traits and the high-accuracy pedigrees that give us some insight into the temperament and physical attributes we will end up with. The Quarter Horse is generally solid-minded, tough, willing, and capable. When a horse gets too old to work on our place, he has earned the right to stand in the shade, eat hay, and live his life out with good care and no pressure…he’s earned it.
They say looks and color are immaterial as long as the horse is reliable and tractable. I know lots of people who say that, but it’s hard not to be influenced by a good-looking, soggy ol’ horse with great conformation, good color and eye-catching markings. We generally want it all, and I’m partial to the understated “cowboy” look of a stocky bay or sorrel…we currently have two bays like that, a nice sorrel, and a retired dark brown rope horse that has been there and done that...they are all geldings which seems to help keep everything on a more even keel that you don’t get when a mare is in the mix.
Do you show your horses?
Our horses are working cowhorses and, except for a roping or a team penning, they are solely ranch horses with jobs to do.
What is it like to be a California rancher, award-winning novelist, expert cowboy and the owner of great horses?
In a word: It’s FUN. Cattle ranching in California is a dying proposition due to shrinking land availability, high costs, and a general population that has little appreciation for the contributions the industry makes to the economy and the food supply. But there isn’t much that’s any more rewarding than seeing new calves being born, spending long days in the saddle, being with good people who know how to work for a living, and being able to experience a way of life that will eventually disappear. What a privilege. Owning good horses is just a part of that.
Writing novels and having the opportunity to be involved with the television and movie industry on top of cowboying is the equivalent of winning the lottery and then coming home to see the Publisher’s Clearing House crew waiting on the porch holding a 3 foot by 6 foot check with your name on it.
All the awards are like a bow on the whole thing. It’s humbling and gratifying, and just makes you want to do better.
Why are there two irons on one calf (referencing the pic on your website)?
Certainly, one iron is the owner’s brand and the other could be added identification like a number for the birth year, or shared ownership. Typically, if you saw a horse with multiple brands, it was a red flag that the horse was not working out and traded hands a lot. Hard to know for sure the reason for it in this old picture, but it was unusual to put more than one on a calf.
What are your views on BLM's current stance on America's wild Mustangs and the horse slaughter debate?
Personally, I would love for there to be a solution that allows the feral horses to live and die free and unmolested. We have had first-hand experience with the issue, and I can tell you that holding these horses in facilities like Palomino Valley, and out-placing them through the Adopt-A-Horse program are not solutions. Conversely, pitting the horses against cowmen to compete for the same range isn’t working either.
The wild horses find themselves in the same fix we put the American Indian in—you can see how that turned out.
We have to find a protected sanctuary for the horses where they have adequate feed, water, and a chance for long-term survival. If that means the BLM has to set aside land to accommodate the program, so be it. At the same time, the government cannot go in and pull the economic rug out from under cow producers who have built a livelihood on those grazing allotments.
This program is still not a high enough priority for the government to put the necessary time and resources against it, and will probably go unresolved until that changes.
What are you currently writing?
My latest novel, Waiting On Rain [available later this year], is in editing. It was inspired by the short story, Last of the Cowboys. It takes place near the fictional border town of Bufort in West Texas in 1958. The editor, Pat LoBrutto, who also edited the award winning Unbroke Horses, has previously edited Stephen King, the Louis L’Amour estate, Dune Sci Fi novels, as well as lots of other notable works by various authors. Pat is one of the best in the industry and a pleasure to work with.
Hardin and Tripp: Murder on the Bear Paw is also in process. It’s a contemporary story of two Montana cowboys (Will Hardin and Justin Tripp) who graduate from college, sign up for duty in Iraq, and return home with enough money to put a down payment on a cattle ranch. Their dreams are derailed when a sniper’s bullet meant for one of them kills a friend and kicks off an investigation that uncovers a local survivalist operation bent on taking out both men.
Also, just finishing up on the television pilot for They Rode Good Horses.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m deep into film and TV trade journals as well as student work from a local high school creative writing class. So, reading for pleasure has been put on hold for a while.
Do you have advice for novice writers?
Getting advice about writing is like getting advice about horses. There’s a lot of it out there, and most of it can get you off-track. Be selective about the advice you consider. Writer’s groups can be helpful to a point, but they can also be a real trap. Avoid getting so wrapped up in the group dialogue you lose sight of your real purpose in writing in the first place.
Learn the craft of writing. If you decide to break the rules, at least you will know which ones you are breaking.
There is a growing supply of poor quality writing on the market as a result of self-publishing, which bypasses the quality control step in the process. In order to break through the clutter you must produce a quality product. I strongly suggest employing the services of an editor with top credentials if you want to compete at the highest levels.
Learn to take constructive criticism, which is not likely to come from your parents or friends.
Writing is a solitary experience for the most part. Learn to deal with that.
Do not let arrogance guide you. I hear authors say things like, “I only write for me.” I guess that’s okay if you do not intend to sell or share your work. If you do not write for the reader you may be missing the point. On the other hand, there is some validity to the practice of writing as a means of coming to terms with personal issues, but that’s a different proposition than writing with a commercial goal in mind.
Recognize that writing is a business. If you do not understand marketing or are unwilling to do what it takes to promote your work, get used to the sound of crickets in the background.
Writing should be fun. It is a lot more fun when you are recognized for it. It’s not good enough to simply say “I’m doing the best I can,” and let it go at that. Sometimes you have to do better. Figure out what that is and do it.
They say more than 80% of the people in the USA feel they have a book in them and a desire to get it out. Less than .02% actually see it through, and only a small fraction of those experience any meaningful level of success. That’s not meant to be discouraging, but it does illustrate the extent to which you should be prepared to go to run at the head of the pack.
If you are writing just for the fun and experience of it, go for it and have the time of your life because it really is a magical experience, and totally do-able.
If you’re looking for literary success, get ready for the learning experience of a lifetime—it’s a huge education (and still fun).
Discover your voice and develop it.
Write a great opening sentence every time—do the same at the end.
Never forget that this is an individual experience and it’s rarely the same for any of us. Never take anyone’s advice 100%. Adapt. Learn what you need to know to be a quality writer. Write with integrity—always.
They Rode Good Horses, my debut novel is under contract with a Hollywood production company who is in discussion with one of the leading television original content companies for consideration as a possible upcoming television series. I have completed the 2-hour pilot summary as well as the three season episode breakdown, and a feature-length screenplay.
Unbroke Horses, my second novel is under contract for a feature film, and I have been retained as the screenwriter on that project as well.
I started writing late in life, I do not have a writing background, and did not major in English, literature, writing, or any related subject in school. But I did take the time to learn.
I do not believe that everybody can write a good book. I also do not believe everybody can paint a good picture, or carve a good sculpture. Some say the more you read and the more you write, the better you will become as a writer. That’s probably not very good advice for very many people. I see it in horsemanship all the time—the longer you do something wrong, the better you get at doing it wrong. There is no substitute for formal training and an honest appraisal of where your talents lay. I have never taken golf lessons, but I have played with and watched a lot of good golfers for a long time. I’m pretty sure I suck at golf, but I sure have a good time playing it.
One thing I do know about writing: You will never know how good you may be if you do not try.
Connect with D.B.…
Join on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authordbjackson
Visit the website: http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact via email: email@example.com