Monday, March 28, 2011

In Spirit, If Not Place

Can a story set in Pennsylvania be considered a Western?

Probably not, if you want to get technical. But my publisher Billie Johnson thought Fallen From Grace met the test in spirit if not place and decided to make it the first entry in Wild Oaks, the new Western imprint of Oak Tree Press.

I couldn’t be happier, because I love the genre. I grew up (and now live again) in a house reputed to have been built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill. My mother said she devoured pulp Westerns while carrying me and I cut my reading teeth on the likes of Zane Grey (who, incidentally, began his writing career in Pennsylvania), Emerson Hough, Jack London and others from my dad’s well-stocked library.

All of this contributed to a lifelong interest in the history of the West and desire to trod in the footsteps of those legendary characters, both actual and literary, discovered in my reading.

As I’ve said before, Fallen was inspired by a character. I had written two short stories featuring a country sheriff named Sylvester Tilghman who asserted himself and demanded a book. Characters can be like that. They pop up, sometimes seemingly out of no where, in a writer’s imagination, develop personalities and go on to lead us into stories. Tilghman’s grandfather was in my first novel, Schlussel’s Woman, and his father has a bit role in Watch The Hour. Maybe he thought it was a family prerogative to be one of my characters.

Fallen From Grace is set in the 1890s. Tilghman is the third in his family to serve as sheriff in the small town of Arahpot, a generally peaceful place. Usually, his biggest problems are lack of a deputy and the refusal of Lydia, his girlfriend, to marry him despite many proposals. But that all changes when Conrad Runkle, a stranger in town, is fatally stabbed. Tilghman questions Valentine Deibert, an obese man with a wife half his age. Runkle's widow arrives in Arahpot and informs Tilghman her husband was in pursuit of a man who had scammed him, bankrupting his business. Suspecting a connection, Sylvester pays another visit to Deibert only to discover him dead of arsenic poisoning. Sylvester is plunged into a flurry of unusual activity and danger. And Lydia is pushing her obnoxious cousin on him as a candidate for deputy. Things go from bad to worse until Sylvester finally unravels the mystery.

Fallen From Grace is available from the publisher,, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering will I ever write a traditional Western, Oak Tree has the manuscript for another book, The Tithing Herd, set in the 19th century in New Mexico and featuring cowboys, bandits, Mormons and even an Indian or two.