Sunday, October 9, 2016

Writing True West: An interview with author Jim Christina



Writing True West: An interview with author Jim Christina
by Gina McKnight
Archived interview from the September 2016 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission

Recently, I had the great opportunity to connect with horseman and author Jim Christina. Besides being a natural horseman and a prolific writer, Jim is the host of LA Talk Radio’s The Writer’s Block, a nationally syndicated radio program engaging authors to talk about their books, writing, and much more.

Jim’s new book The Return is a continuation of the realistic old West series featuring The Hunter, Jeff Stryker and more.

Welcome Jim!

Author Jim Christina
GM: You’ve written 12 books, all of which showcase the true old West. Are all of the books connected as a series or sequel?
JC: They are all series, but not sequels. The main characters are The Hunter and his protégé Jeff Stryker, living in the 1880s in Arizona Territory. They are not bounty hunters; they are man hunters. For example, if you were a rancher, you would pay them x amount of dollars and they would go find a person; someone who stole some cattle from you, owes you money, or may be a ling lost relative. You don’t want to get the law involved. The Hunter is a tracker and has been at it a lot of years.

GM: What was your motivation to write the realistic accounts of the old West?
JC: It stemmed from a desire to tell the story of men who were deemed throwaways. When you first meet The Hunter (in the book The Hunter), he’s in his late 50’s, a little bit crippled over, a little overweight, and he’s been in the saddle for a lot of years. He hurts here and hurts there, but, he’s a normal guy. He has his friends and he has his detractors.

GM: How much of your own personality and life experience is in your books?
JC: Every author puts their personality in what they’re writing. You can’t get away from that because that is who you are. Over the years The Hunter has been a viable character in my books; he has developed his own personality and his own way of doing things. Now he just writes his own parts. I just give him the forum and he says, “Okay! Let’s go!”

GM: Out of all the books that you’ve written, which is your favorite?
JC: I have two personal favorites, Contraband Cowboys and Still Waters. Contraband Cowboys tells a different story of two black brothers. One of them works for The Hunter on his ranch, that would be Bountiful Jim Lent, and Jim’s brother Louis Bishop, who owns a ranch up by Prescott. They are being run out of the territory by the Night Riders. The remainder of the ranchers all band together with a bunch of the hands from The Hunters ranch help them along with some guys who are from Williamson Valley and  are in the 10th Cavalry go to help. They get a pretty good size band to run these hooded Night Riders out of the valley.

GM: Written as historical novels and capturing the 1880’s in all of its glory – or not so glory – must require a lot of research. How much time do you spend in research?
JC: It depends upon what I am writing. There are times that I know the subject and I don’t really have to research, and there are times when I do have to research. There’s a lot of real people who wind up in my books – good or bad. What they did is always the actual fact of what they did. For example, in my book The Rights of Men, there are three characters who actually existed and were bad guys in Arizona in the 1880’s. One of them was James Addison Revis who is known as the Barron of Arizona. He actually high jacked the land grants into Tucson away from the Peralta family. Then there is Big Ed Burns who was a conman, loan shark, card shark, everything you could called a bad guy, nefarious. He’s a real guy. Then there is Mike Warner who was the head of the Arizona Rangers, who were supposed to be good guys, but were actually bad guys.

GM: You are restoring history and capturing the true West. What are you currently writing?
JC: After The Return came out, I thought seriously about taking a hiatus, but then my bookie got on me about it. My wife Gerry, who is actually the bookie for the radio show, said I can’t stop, that I have to keep going. I actually started a book, the working title is The Way of the Gun, but I don’t think it’s going to last. I think it’s going to wind up something different. It’s a story of a very tired, not so old, traveling marshal who is hired from town to town to clean up. He winds up in this little berg in New Mexico called End of Line, which is prophetic, because he actually is at the end of his line. You learn halfway through the book that he has heart disease. There is also another character from the other stories, Jeff Stryker, who is following a bad man named Jesse Morgan, one of the family that is out to get this Marshall. It’s all convoluted. It’s a pretty good story actually. I just need to get it finished.

GM: How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
JC: It depends. Anywhere between six to nine months. When I wrote The Return, which is a sequel to The Dark Angel, it took me almost ten months just for The Return, but, when I finished it, I put them both together - they are now titled The Return in two parts; Part One is The Dark Angel, Part Two is The Return. That one took me almost a year.

GM: How do your horses, horsemanship and horse history play into your writing?
JC: For years and years, I had horses. Horsemanship is something that you either have or you don’t have. It is very hard to learn. You can take lessons and everything, but if you don’t have a relationship with the animal, you are not a horseman. You have to understand the animal and give it time to tell you what it needs, or don’t. I was a trail rider for years and years. I went backpacking up in the mountains with friends. We used to take off and go for weekends in the high Sierras. It is a getaway time, really relaxing and it is fun to get out there with your horse, and the horse loves it, too. You have to cross rivers and all of that. I put all of that horsemanship, all of that information and knowledge I have about horses, in my books. Nothing pisses me off more to read a book where the rider of the horse is galloping, galloping, galloping, then pulls up in front of a store, jumps off the horse and leaves it standing there. That is not how it works. That is the impression that most movies and western books give you. They never took the time to take care of the animals. In all of my books, whether protagonist or antagonist, they all take time to take care of their animals before they do anything for themselves.

GM: Who is your favorite author and inspiration?
JC: I would say if I had to make a choice on favorite author it would John Sanford, because he writes a really good descriptive definitive story. And Michael Connelly.

GM: Do you get writer’s block?
JC: I don’t get blocked, per se’, I get stuck. I’ll read what I’ve got written, then take a break, and go back and write a whole different passage on something like an action sequence that I can plug in later. That frees the brain up and you can go back and say, “Oh, okay. I’ve got this!”

GM: What is your editing process?
JC: I edit as I go. Then it goes to the editor, then I edit, then back to the editor. I re-write and re-edit and then it goes back to her. It’s a long process.

GM: What are you currently reading?
JC: I just finished a book by Peggy Chambers called Secrets of Sandhill Island. It’s an excellent book. For the weekly radio show, I read a lot. Do I always like what I read? No.

GM: LA Talk Radio’s The Writer’s Block Radio Show is really great! How did it begin?
JC: We started this radio show because it was a dream of mine, it was my idea. There were shows for writers and about writers, but they usually gave them five or ten minutes, and then they would go to something else. It bothered me that these writers didn’t have enough time. Writers have a lot more to say than five or ten minutes, most of us anyway. Most of all we like to talk about ourselves, which makes a great forum. We have one guest on a week and they have the entire time to talk about whatever they want to say. We don’t restrict what they say, we don’t restrict their comments, well, Gina you would know.

GM: Do you have advice for novice writers?
JC: Any advice I have for a new writer is don’t stop; don’t give up. Eventually you are going to have a story someone is going to like beside you. You are never going to get the story right out of the boat. Write to tell your story. It can always be edited; it can always be refined. Write your story, whatever your story is.

If you’ve never given western fiction a try, the new western fiction authors are coming out and they are awesome. There are some wonderful stories. They are not like the old boring cowboy stories of days gone by. There are some very good books out there. It behooves whoever wants to begin a new genre to delve into the new western stories. Most of them are extremely well written; Johnnie D. Boggs, D.B.Jackson, Eric Heisner, Bob Brill and more.

Connect with Jim jimchristina.net

Gina McKnight is an author and freelance writer from Ohio USA gmcknight.com

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