Sundown Press, operated by Cheryl Pierson and Livia Washburn Reasoner, has brought out my first three novels as reprints in e-book and print format. One-Eyed Cowboy Wild is now available on Amazon. I am grateful to Cheryl and Livia for their kind and considerate treatment as they have brought out these works.
I wrote about One-Eyed Cowboy Wild in my earlier blog, so I will reproduce my earlier post. Here it is, as I wrote it in 2009:
One-Eyed Cowboy Wild was my first traditional western and my first full-length book. It was published in March 1994 by Walker and Company, a well-respected hardcover publisher in New York. I had been writing short stories and getting them published, some of them in some pretty good places, for over fifteen years, and I had also done a couple of monograph and chapbook works on a small scale, but it was hard to break into book publishing. I was elated when I did.
When I was in college, reading westerns for fun and then doing my doctoral dissertation on the classic western novel, I had the ambition of writing a western some day. It was a hard thing to gear myself up for, however, because I was afraid I would write something for a narrow purpose and then fail at it. My first published short story was a traditional western piece, and I sold it to a commercial, pulp-like magazine called Far West. Having gotten paid well for it, I got inspired and wrote another, which the editor rejected with a comment that said it was way over-written and I could do better. I went ahead and wrote another story or two in that line, but I couldn’t place anything more with that magazine, and then it folded. Meanwhile, although my other stories eventually found homes, I had one short story that I had written specifically for the commercial market, and I couldn’t find a place for it. I did not want that to happen on a larger scale, so I put off trying to write a traditional western novel.
My first complete attempt at full-length fiction was a contemporary novel entitled Keep the Wind in Your Face. In the course of trying to find a publisher for it, I corresponded with an agent who liked the story but didn’t think she could sell it. She suggested that I try to write a novel that fit into an established genre. As she put it, publishers needed to see a niche for a book when there was no name familiarity.
That was the single most useful piece of advice I have received. At the time, there was a going genre called men’s adventure fiction, but my contemporary novel did not fit there, and as I looked at some of the books on the rack, I could see that I did not have the aptitude for writing about tanks and grenades, machine guns and helicopters. For me, genre meant a western. I brooded on the agent’s advice for a while, still hesitant to start a novel that might not go anywhere, or, to put it more bluntly, that might fail. I had one novel manuscript on my hands, and I didn’t want another weighing me down. Also, as I always told myself, I needed an open space in my life so I could devote myself to such a project.
The open space came in the form of emptiness when I went through my second divorce. Alone in a big house in the country, with winter keeping me indoors and my financial situation keeping me from going anywhere, I got started on a manuscript that would become One-Eyed Cowboy Wild. By late January of 1991 I began to close in on the end of it, so I wrote the agent who had encouraged me earlier. She wrote back and said sorry, she had decided to give up agenting. Back at square one, I finished the manuscript and started to try to find a publisher. On the basis of advice from published novelists, I tried to find an agent first, but after many tries over a period of a year and a half, I began to get discouraged. I decided to contact editors directly, even though the effort might get me rejected with a good house that might accept my work through an agent. And so I started sending query letters and submission packages to such places as Bantam, Doubleday, and Dell (whose assistant editor sent me a rejection letter two years later).
In the fall of 1992, I attended a conference on the western novel in Laramie, and there I had the good luck to sit next to Jackie Johnson at dinner. I found out she was the westerns editor at Walker and Company, so I asked her several questions about the company. She seemed surprised that a person like myself, who was there in an academic capacity, should be interested in the publishing aspect of traditional westerns. A few months later, when the rest of my queries and submissions came trickling back in with no positive results, I submitted a partial manuscript to Jackie Johnson and reminded her that we had visited at the conference in Laramie. She wrote back within a week and said she had read what I sent, was hooked early, and would like to see the rest of the manuscript. This was in February of 1993. I sent the whole manuscript to her, and then she couldn’t get to it right away, but, considerate person that she is, she sent me a note and told me when she could. By May she was able to make a tentative offer on it, and by August I had a contract. In the meanwhile, we went through a trial edit and then a second edit, so she was accepting the revised manuscript. After that, it went through a final edit and a copy edit.
Skeptical and superstitious as I am, and having heard many stories about publishers who had to cancel plans to publish a writer’s precious work, I had a mix of caution and optimism in the months that followed. However, Jackie coached me through the whole process. She knew how insecure and worried a first-time author could be, and she let me know what I could expect at each step along the way. Finally, in February of 1994, I received a padded envelope with the first copy of my first published novel. Along with it was another letter from Jackie, telling me how to work with other Walker personnel in publicity, sales, orders for myself, and subsidiary rights.
The book went on sale in March 1994, and it was well reviewed in standard journals in the book industry as well as in other magazines, journals, and newspapers. It sold out the initial press run of more than 2500 copies, and then it went into large print. In 1997, it went into paperback reprint with a cover that I found enthralling, and it helped me in my start with Leisure Books and Dorchester Publishing.
As most writers who have had a book published will agree, it is a life-changing experience. A person can write short stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces for years and win prizes for them, as I did, but when a person has a book, the world sees him or her, as if for the first time, as a writer. On a personal level, also, one feels a deep gratification at having a lifelong dream realized. I will never be able to express my gratitude enough, for it was Jackie Johnson who saw my potential and gave me that great opportunity.
Of all the emotional memories associated with my first book, one comes to me once in a while. I was talking on the phone to a young woman in publicity / promotion, a very competent but also endearing person, who listened to all of my urgent questions and comments. Her name was Jo Ann Sabatino, and she had a beautiful, calm, reassuring voice. She said, “Don’t worry so much, John. Slow down. This isn’t your last book. It’s your first one.” She was right. Thanks to Jackie Johnson, I went on to write two more westerns with Walker and Company.