What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



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August 2013

I could not let this monthly blog go by without mentioning the passing of Elmore ‘Dutch’ Leonard on 20 August at the age of 87 at his home in Detroit. Yes, I know much has been and will continue to be written about his life and times and that my few words may not add much that is new; however, being a fan I feel I should pay my respects to someone I have admired for years.

Elmore Leonard has been turning out great stories and best sellers as a professional author for over 50 years, yet his writing career started from the humble beginnings of Western short stories and novels in his free time, when working as a copy writer for the Detroit advertising agency Campbell Ewald, a firm that is still around to this day.

I have heard Elmore Leonard say in interviews that when he started out writing it was to provide a source of extra income to supplement his ad agency wage. He also stated that the Western genre was an easy choice as the appetite of the American reading public for the Western at that time was huge. His first published and paid-for-story was issued in the popular men’s magazine Argosy in December 1951 and titled Trail of the Apaches. It was in fact the second story he wrote but the first to be published and had the original title of Apache Agent that was then changed, presumably by the magazine editor. The Argosy had a long history of association with Western stories, having published authors such as Zane Grey back before the First World War. Grey had written what is probably his most famous and successful novel in 1912 called Riders of the Purple Sage, which remains in print (and in a Kindle edition) to this very day.

The Apache theme continued in May of 1952 with publication of Apache Medicine, originally titled Medicine and You Never See Apaches, originally titled Eight Days from Wilcox in September, and both in Dime Western Magazine. These stories and the magazines that published them now fall into that basket term of ‘pulp fiction’, which is mostly used as a disparaging term having long surpassed the original reference to the low quality of the paper used to print the stories and onto the quality of the actual storytelling. However, I think it is foolish to dismiss all works of pulp fiction as being poor or inferior. Like most other aspects of popular culture, be it film, music or fashion, it can produce creative gems where the essential elements of plot, prose and character development are able to lift the overall story to the status of art. Film noir, rock and roll, and crime paperbacks immediately come to mind where the popular (or pop) has been transformed into art. In fact, let me give you some specific examples and favourites of mine:

Item one – Dashiell Hammett originally published the story The Maltese Falcon in a serialized form in the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1930. It went on to be adapted several times for the cinema with the most famous being the 1941 version starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. It is a great novel and a great film that was named in 2008 by the American Film Institute as number 6 in the top 10 mystery films. But the real gem for me happened the year before in 1929 when Hammett’s novel Red Harvest was released. It had previously been published in four parts in Black Mask in late 1927 early 1928. For me, this story is an ageless classic that reads wonderfully now over 80 years later. It has appeared in the best all time 100 English-language novels as recently as 2010. It is the quintessential tough guy detective novel on which a genre was built and still thrives to this very day.  

My second example is the short story Red Wind by Raymond Chandler, who also turned to writing to supplement his miserable financial situation during the Depression. Red Wind initially appeared in the January 1938 edition of Dime Detective. As far as short story writing goes, this is as close to perfect storytelling as you can get. The plot is intriguing; the pace fast; and the prose super smart. And then you have a lovely twist in the tail (or is that tale). To this day I still wonder if my wife’s pearl necklace is real or fake.

My third submission of evidence, in this case to show that art can come from modest beginnings, is Charles Portis’ True Grit, which was first published as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1968. This timeless and wonderful little novel is not just a great Western but also an American classic. Big call? Yes, but I have read this book on a number of occasions over the years and each time it excites my senses of adventure, action, romance and myth making. On so many levels this is clever, clever writing with its undercurrent of satirical humour.

Each example displays the skills and talents of their authors. Sure, I accept that the world is not filled with writers of the caliber of Hammett, Chandler and Portis, and that a lot of pulp fiction can be consumed like a Chinese meal that fills a need but is far from memorable. However, every now and then a serving arrives on the table that tastes like Madame Wu’s Chinese pressed duck in sweet and sour sauce! And Elmore Leonard pressed the duck on a number of occasions, and on that you can quote me.     

If you are not familiar with Dutch’s work (the nickname came from the similarity of surname to Major League Baseball pitcher ‘Dutch’ Leonard) then let me suggest a way to become acquainted. In 1961 Dutch quit the ad-man’s world of Don Draper to write full time. This was the same year that Hombre was published. Once again it had an Apache connection, but this story is told in a most interesting way using the first person perspective of Carl Allen as a witness of the events surrounding a young man (or hombre) by the name of John Russell. Five years later the book was adapted to the screen and starred Paul Newman as the protagonist John Russell, and the great Richard Boone as Cicero Grimes, the antagonist. If you don’t have the time to read the book, then why not go back and take a look at the movie, but if you do, please give a thought to the man who wrote the story, the great Elmore Leonard.

When the public appetite for the Western switched from the printed page to the TV, Dutch switched to crime writing and created a style that provided for little backstory; and where dialogue was often used for the reader to determine, plot, character motivation, and clues to who had done what to whom. It was style that treated the reader as a grown-up, believing that they were big enough to figure out what was going on. Once again these stories were attractive to Hollywood and still are to this very day. My pick of the crime bunch is Rum Punch published in 1992 and adapted to the screen by Quentin Tarantino as Jackie Brown (1997). It is my favourite Tarantino movie, surpassing even the great Pulp Fiction (1994) and Reservoir Dogs (1992), and that’s saying something.

The fans of Elmore Leonard will feel his loss, but fortunately his legacy will live on in 45 published novels. And that is a wonderful bequest for generations of readers to discover in the decades ahead.

Lee Clinton
September 2013


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