Hi James. Thanks for accepting my interview and welcome on Liberidiscrivere. Tell us something about you. Who is James Reasoner?
A storyteller. A lifelong Texan. A husband and father. Not necessarily in that order.
Tell us something about your background and your childhood.
I was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up in a small town nearby. It was a very normal childhood. My mother was a schoolteacher, although she didn’t teach after I was born, and my father worked in the aircraft industry and also repaired television sets. I went all the way through school in the same town and attended college with the idea of being either a librarian or teacher . . . although I knew by then that what I really wanted to be was a writer.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been making up stories for my own entertainment. When I was growing up in the 1960s, Westerns were very popular on TV, and when I played with the other kids in the neighbourhood, I usually came up with some sort of story to go with it, instead of the group of us just running around and pretending to shoot each other. I started writing down my stories when I was 11 years old and continued to do so from then on. By the time I was 13 I knew I wanted to be a professional writer, but that seemed impossible. A few years later, though, I started submitting stories to magazines, so at least I was giving it a try.
Did you have much encouragement in those early times and if so by whom?
My parents didn’t actually encourage me, but they didn’t discourage me, either. They just couldn’t grasp the concept of someone actually being a professional writer, especially not someone from a small town in Texas. My friends, who sometimes appeared in my stories, seemed more enthusiastic about it, but I doubt if it ever occurred to them that I might write for a living someday. People where I was from just didn’t do that.
Tell us something about “Texas wind”, your debut now published for the first time in Italy by Meridiano Zero and translated by Marco Vicentini a great fond of american crime. How long did you work on it ? Where do you get your ideas?
I started writing TEXAS WIND in the fall of 1978 and finished it in January 1979. By the time I started working on it I had been a professional writer for almost two years. My first sale was in December 1976, and I had published quite a few mystery stories in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. I had been a fan of mystery fiction for many years, starting with juvenile novels, and I was particularly fond of private eye novels. I had done a couple of the Mike Shayne novellas in the magazine under the Brett Halliday name and decided it was time to try a novel of my own. Naturally I decided on a private eye novel and set out to write a realistic book about Texas that wasn’t filled with stereotypes. Also, on a practical level, most private eye novels that I’d read were set in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco, and I hadn’t been to any of those places. But I’d been around Fort Worth all my life and knew it very well, and I didn’t see any reason that a private eye novel couldn’t be set there. All the locations in the book except for two or three actually exist, or at least they did at the time.
Tell us something about your road to publication. Have you received many refuses?
Like most writers, I received many, many rejection slips, enough that I was seriously considering giving up. But then I got married, and my wife Livia Washburn (who eventually became an award-winning novelist herself) convinced me to stick with it and try harder. I sold my first story a few months later, and while I’ve had plenty of rejections since then, I’ve been able to sell pretty steadily, too.
Your first novel is a private eye novel set in Fort Worth. You start the novel with the Cody’s visit to a potential client. It remind me Marlowe in The Big Sleep or Lew Archer in The moving target. Do you think of any particular writers as having influenced your style, or approach? Crumley in particular?
When I was in high school and college, I read every private eye author I could get my hands on. Hammett, Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, of course, but also Richard S. Prather, Mickey Spillane, Brett Halliday (I was reading Mike Shayne novels long before I ever dreamed that I would write stories about him), Michael Avallone, and plenty of others, I’m sure. One I didn’t read at that time, though, was James Crumley. I didn’t discover his work until after I had started writing. I became friends with Joe R. Lansdale and Joe recommended Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS to me. It remains one of my favourite novels, with one of the best opening lines of all time, and I’ve read several more of his novels, but I don’t think his work really influenced mine to any great extent.
Could you tell us a little about your protagonist, Cody?
Cody (and I’m pretty sure that’s his last name, but to this day I don’t know his first name) is a smart, decent guy, and tough enough when he has to be. He was born and raised in Texas and loves the place, but he doesn’t necessarily like everything it’s come to be. He has a broad range of interests. One of my favourite lines from the novel is when Janice looks at the books in Cody’s apartment and says, “That’s the first time I’ve seen Herman Hesse and Zane Grey on the same shelf.” One thing I don’t recall if I’ve ever mentioned about him is that I came up with the name not because of Buffalo Bill Cody but rather Phil Cody, who was an early editor at BLACK MASK before Joseph T. Shaw became editor.
Forth Worth is not Los Angels or New York. It isn’t a metropolis. It’s a semy rural town of South very pecurial. In wich way the setting influenses the plot?
Fort Worth has an influence on the plot because at the time I was writing the book, it was still a small town in many ways. It was possible to know your way around, know the ins and outs of most of the neighbourhoods, and be acquainted with somebody who lived there, as Cody was. Mostly, though, it’s just a place I knew well and was confident I could write about it with some degree of authenticity.
You describe the sunset of Texas, Cody is a sort of last cowboy with a moral identity and an unwritten code of honour. Is the regret for American Old West an important theme of the book?
When I first thought of the book, the title was going to be THE PASSING OF THE BUFFALO. The very first image in my head was Cody standing in front of the paintings at the Amon Carter Museum and regretting the passing of the Old West, feeling like he was a man out of his proper time. So that sense of melancholy and loss is a huge part of the book. A lot of people have drawn the comparison between the lone cowboy in Western fiction and the lone private eye in mystery fiction, and I feel that connection strongly. The idea that, whether it’s good or bad, nothing stays the same and everything changes is really what TEXAS WIND is about. Although I wouldn’t say it’s deliberate, that theme crops up a lot in my work.
You are so prolific.You have written in several different genres: historical military novels, westerns, mysteries. What genres do you prefer?
For a long time people thought of me primarily as a Western author because I wrote more Westerns than anything else. But I started out to be a mystery writer and had in fact sold more than a million words of mystery fiction before I ever wrote a Western. So mysteries are my first love, but I do enjoy a good Western. Really, I’ve been very lucky in that I can find something to like about every genre in which I’ve worked. I love the variety. The genre doesn’t matter to me as much as having the chance to write a good strong story with lots of action and interesting characters.
Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler?
If I really, absolutely had to choose . . . Hammett. But I love them both.
Could you tell us something about your books? Which one is your favourite?
I can’t narrow it down to one, but I can limit it to three: TEXAS WIND, because it was my first novel and has a lot of raw enthusiasm to it; DUST DEVILS, a crime novel from several years ago because I set out to write a book with a lot of surprises in it and I think I succeeded, plus there’s some nice writing in it, especially the end; and UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS, a historical novel that’s part Western and part World War I novel, because I really like the voice I captured in it and it’s a lot of fun (and because I wrote myself into it as a character, in the book’s framing sequence).
Do you read other contemporary writers?
Yes, a great many of them, and I’d start listing them except I’d forget somebody and I don’t want to do that. My reading is divided about equally between current or at least newer books, and stuff from the pulp and vintage paperback era, the 1920s through the 1970s.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read a lot. I read hundreds, maybe even thousands of the sort of books I wound up writing before I ever sold a word, and I still read more than a hundred books every year and am always learning new things and figuring out new ways to do what I’m trying to do. I sometimes tell people that I’ve been in the business for nearly 35 years, and I’m finally starting to figure out what I’m doing. The other important thing is to sit down and write, then write some more and keep at it. It’s classic advice, but it’s classic because it works.
I'd like to talk about the day to day process of being a writer. Would you describe a typical working day for you?
I start each day by going over what I wrote the day before, editing and polishing it for the most part but occasionally doing more extensive revisions. I work for two or three hours, take a break for lunch, and then write for another four to five hours in the afternoon. Researching and plotting other books is usually done on days off from producing new pages.
Do you prefer in a book the description of place, the description of characters or the dialogue?
Description of both places and characters has always been a problem for me. I have to work at putting in enough of it. I prefer the dialogue and the action. A huge battle always goes fast, or at least it seems to when I’m writing it.
Three Walker, Texas Ranger books, are written by you: Walker, Texas Ranger, Hell's Half Acre and Siege on the Belle. Could you tell us something about the books?
My agent at the time called one day and asked if I had ever seen the TV show. As it happens, we watched it regularly because our kids were fans of it, and I enjoyed it, too. So when my agent asked that question, I said, “I’ve not only seen every episode, I can sing the theme song.” Luckily, he didn’t ask me to. But he said that one of my regular publishers had just licensed the series for tie-in novels and an editor I worked with all the time was going to be editing the books. They thought I’d be perfect for them. I spoke with Aaron Norris, Chuck Norris’s brother, as well as a couple of CBS executives in New York, and they agreed that I should write the books. After that I worked with the executive producer and head writer of the series, developing outlines for the books. I never met or talked to Chuck Norris. They wanted the first one to be a sequel of sorts to one of the TV episodes and sent me the script of the one they had in mind. I came up with the ideas for the other two books. There was some brief discussion about adapting the third one into a two-part TV episode, but nothing ever came of it. I felt like I did a good job on the books. Some of the fans of the TV show agreed and some didn’t, but that’s common for tie-in novels. I really enjoyed writing them and would have been glad to continue, but the series ended with the third book.
What are you reading at the moment?
A collection of pulp Western stories by E. Hoffmann Price called NOMAD’S TRAIL. These stories originally appeared in the pulp Spicy Western in the 1930s. The book hasn’t been published yet. I’m going to be writing the introduction for it as soon as I finish reading the stories.
Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?
A Western novel in an ongoing series that will be published under a pseudonym I can’t reveal. But I can tell you that it’s a good yarn, with plenty of action and colourful characters.