I grew up on Western movies and films. In the fifties and sixties they were as thick at the theater and on television as fleas on a stray dog. Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, Cheyenne, Maverick, and so many others. Another big influence were the stories my father and mother told about the Western era; they were older parents when I was born, so their experiences were different than the parents of my friends.
My grandmother who died in the 1980s at nearly a hundred years old had seen Buffalo Bill as a child and remembered it vividly. She had traveled to Texas by covered wagon, and if memory serves me, her folks had been involved in the Oklahoma land rush, but gave it up and came to Texas. She had seen Indian encampments, had run-ins with wild animals, and like my father and mother, had relatives who had fought in the Civil War. My grandfather was a horse trader and had two families, one on either side of the Ozarks, neither aware of the other until the 1970s when we met my mother’s half sister, who looked almost exactly like my mother. Now there’s a story.
My family were storytellers, and one of my fondest memories was them sitting under a tree telling stories, and me soaking it all up like soft ground under a good rain. I’m still mining those stories. There were also tales about famous outlaws they had heard and passed on to me, about country living, and day to day business. While the other kids chased fireflies, I kept coming back to sit under the tree and listen. I loved it far more then childish games, and boy, am I glad I did. I’ve made a living at it.
Later, in the seventies, I became interested in Western fiction, not just films, stories, and history. Before that, I read all manner of fiction, but very little Western fiction, and most of what I had read didn’t move me. I am still that way about Western fiction. When I like it I’m absolutely bonkers for it, but when I don’t, it leaves me as cold as a polar bear’s toes. I read The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout, True Grit by Charles Portis, Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, Last Reveille by David Morrell, and a very underrated novel, The White Buffalo by Richard Sayles. Later I read Wild Times by Brian Garfield, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and certainly Alan Le May’s novel, The Searchers. I suppose Twain had something to do with it, as he haunts me like a happy ghost in so many things I write. But it was my main intention to tell a story the way my folks told stories, with pacing and detail and interesting asides. Toss in adventure and action, and you have all of the influences for The Thicket.
Writing it was like a satisfying primal scream. I hope you’ll love reading it.