Phil Dunlap, Western Author

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've been as much to blame as anyone, I suppose. I've fought the trend toward e-books for the same reason everybody else has: everyone loves the feel of a paper book and the smell of ink. Yeah, sure, me too. But I'm not such a dolt as to believe it is my sole responsibility to hang onto tradition in the name of saving an industry, or keeping our bookstore community alive. No, that hasn't been my rationale. Nobody has ever loved spending time browsing bookstores more than me. I could almost be considered a fanatic at picking up the latest tome, reading the back cover, flipping a few pages, maybe even starting to read the first chapter. I love the printed book. But, I can also commiserate with he who loves reading but dislikes the thought of trying to carry six hardcovers through airport customs, stuffing them under the seat in front of him, then struggling to squeeze one out for the long trip home. And I do mean struggle. Have you forgotten that clown in the next seat forward that has leaned all the way back, to the point of almost snoring in your face? Okay, paperbacks are some consolation, but what about the very light e-readers that are available? And their ability to store thousands of books? That's the argument of the techie generation.

Well, that hasn't been for me; I've been solidly in favor of sticking to the tried and true. The bound paper book with pages I turn manually, then turning back to see where I missed that last clue or a name that I must have forgotten. So easy, so user-friendly, so me. Where's this going, you ask? Well, I'll tell you, but some of you will stand and cheer while others will undoubtedly curse me under their breath. Here's my confession; remember, you had to pry it out of me. I, uh, have fallen prey to, uh, the weaker part of me. I've gone to the dark side, that of e-reading. Why did I turn traitor? Simple. And it's the easiest thing for an American to understand. After shopping at a Borders that is closing in my city, I stumbled upon an irresistible situation: a brand new, unopened Kobo. The last one in the store. It's a nifty e-reader with e-ink (no glares) and a nice capacity for huge book storage, takes epub downloads and is so easy to use. I bought it. Why, you ask?

I'm an American, and it was only $49.00. Wow!

Monday, March 21, 2011

How important IS accuracy?

As a kid, it never bothered me when some Civil War cavalryman fell off his horse in a river, then got up, drew his dripping 1851 Colt and started blasting away at the enemy. A little wet gunpowder didn't matter. It didn't bother me when gunslingers fanned their revolvers and hit everything they meant to hit. Shooting a gun out of a man's hand at a hundred yards? No problem. But, I was a kid and the thrill of the chase, the shooting, the ultimate defeat of the bad guys, well, that's what I went to the movies for. Those low-slung holsters were cool, hugely inaccurate, but very cool. And did cowboys really carry guitars around so they could break into song at every turn?

But when I grew up and knew I wanted to write about the old west, I was faced with the need to learn about what the frontier was really like. No low-slung holsters? No standing in the street fifty feet apart, watching the other fellow's eyes for that tell-tale twitch before the draw? Where's the romance in a holster riding high, or drawing before the actual confrontation and taking aim to assure a better chance of killing your opponent? The more I researched, the more I realized all those old cowboy movies were nothing more than entertainment. However, learning the truth of the old west brought even more excitement. When writing about a specific area, and then finding out that at the same period an Indian attack was taking place, or that Billy the Kid had killed a man only a mile away, opened my eyes to not only the need for research, but also the opportunities it brought with it. When you can add actual events, supported by history, well, the whole story just gets better. And the reader can put him/her self right alongside your characters. And be comforted that you're getting it right.

Yet, as inaccurate as they were, I still loved those old westerns. Still do, in fact.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why we do what we do.

"Why do you write stories? Why don't you get a real job?" someone asked, as I stood behind a table filled with my books, hoping to snag a kindred soul. "What a waste."

"Are you kidding? Give up working my tail off, sitting 10-12 hours a day at a computer coming up with one 'What-if' after another, struggling to get each sentence down just the way I want it, re-writing, and re-re-writing? Seriously? Dreaming is what I do best," I called after him, somewhat miffed that such a question might even be uttered.

Thankfully, he wandered away before something nasty happened. I did notice he was later grumbling at his wife who left the bookstore with a stack of new reads, her unhappy husband in tow. I had to wonder what it was that got him hooked. If anything. Don't we all need something to set our souls ablaze? Besides football, NASCAR, and beer, that is? My soul needs History and the excitement of revisiting life on the frontier. To my mind, the 1800s exemplified the most fascinating period in our country's history.

In case you're interested, I'll tell you what got me hooked on writing Westerns. I have a long list of reasons, but basically it boils down to : Wild Bill Elliott, Lash LaRue, Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, etc, etc–the multitude of great western actors, writers, movies and books that populated my youth right up to this very moment.

So, my intention with this blog is to come up with things that might pique a reader's interest or spark one's imagination–reader or writer, alike.

I'll try my best to keep posting about those things and people I find interesting, and maybe even strike a chord with another whose love of the old west is similar to mine. I'd love to hear from anyone with a comment, piece of advice, or critique of anything I might say. I'll not delve into politics or religion, but otherwise, if it has to do with Historical reading and writing, I'm up for it. Bring it on.

But, for both our sakes, always try to aim straight.