Monday, May 21, 2012

Wayne D. Dundee, Manhunter’s Mountain

Review and interview
This bracing Cash Laramie adventure has been available for several months, and don’t ask how it happened to take me so long to give it a proper reading. Wayne Dundee spins a helluva yarn, and this novella-length novel really delivers.

Cash Laramie, the sometimes rogue U.S. marshal, is the creation of David Cranmer, writing as Edward Grainger. It’s fun watching this character perform in Dundee’s capable hands. Typically coming to the aid of the oppressed and downtrodden, Cash has a more routine job this time—taking in a wanted man.

His familiar no-nonsense attitude prevails, however, and it’s soon needed as he deals with the uncooperative bar owner in a boom-and-bust mining settlement. Before we know it, the man is dead or dying and the saloon itself is a flaming inferno. Which happens to put two prostitutes out of work.

Plot. The main plot proceeds simply enough then as Cash heads down off the mountain with the ill-mannered fugitive he’s come to arrest and the two women, who join him. But what starts as a straightforward man-against-nature story—they need to make it over a pass before winter weather descends—quickly gets more complicated.

Cash learns that he’s being followed by three men who intend to ambush him. One of them, a bounty hunter, is about the meanest villain you’d ever care to be within 100 miles of. The other two have their eyes on the whores.

Magic. Dundee is a precision-sharp storyteller, and he shines when he turns his talents to the western. His story is well paced and briskly told. You keep wondering just how he manages such a tight grip on your attention. Part of it is the simple matter of continuing to raise the stakes for his characters, which itself is easier said than done.

Another part is the enigmatic character of Cash himself. There’s a shadowed ambiguity about him you can’t quite explain. Raised by Indians, whose culture is embedded deep within him, he’s like the brother from another planet—never quite at home in this world. Meanwhile, he has this dangerous and never pleasant job to do.

He’s a displaced person, and you might say his frequent identification with the disenfranchised and marginalized is a reflection of that. We identify with him in our own benighted age because he’s connected to a moral center in a world that doesn’t recognize one. It respects only material gain and lethal force.

Part of Dundee’s magic is the ability to make plot emerge from character. Each of his people is vividly original. Each of them wants something and wants it badly. Thus each brings his individual complications to the story.

Dundee shows how he can take a few of the western’s standard elements and fit them to a familiar plotline—hunter and hunted, in this case. His characters then do the work of creating a narrative pressure that doesn’t stop. This is a story to read once for the plot and once again for the art of storyteller. Every aspiring western writer can learn from it. Manhunter’s Mountain is currently available for the kindle at amazon.

Wayne has generously agreed to spend some time here at BITS today to talk about writing and about Manhunter's Mountain. So I am turning the rest of this page over to him.

Wayne D. Dundee

Ernest Hemingway said about writing, “All you need is a perfect ear, absolute pitch, the devotion to your work that a priest of God has for his, the guts of a burglar, no conscience except to writing, and you’re in. It’s easy.” Has that been your experience?
No. Not at all. With all due respect to Hemingway and others of his ilk (or stature, if you will), every time I read one of those overblown, overly dramatic, angst-ridden quotes about how one must suffer for his or her art and how you must open up your veins onto the blank piece of paper ... blah, blah, blah ... it makes me want to slap 'em up alongside the head and tell them to knock off the bullshit and get real.

Writers write. It is something you chose to pursue—or maybe it chooses you. Either way, if and when you DO decide to go down that path, it becomes something that, like any other skill or craft you seek to develop, you can enhance only by working at it and having a burning desire in your gut to want to KEEP working at it until you (hopefully) hone it to an acceptable level, and then keep honing to try and make it sharper.

I've put in 14-hour shifts at hard, physical labor and then gone home and written another two or three hours at whatever my current WIP was because I had that burning desire to get it down and get it done and tell my story as good as I was able. To me, THAT'S what writing is about. Neither God nor an aspiration toward the priesthood nor a burglar's fortitude nor limiting my conscience in other areas ever entered into it ... But then, I don't have a Pulitzer Prize for literature either. So what the hell do I know...

How do you define the term “traditional western,” and is Manhunter’s Mountain an example?
To answer the last part of your question first, yes I think Manhunter's Mountain is very much a traditional Western. How do I define "traditional Western"? Broadly put, it is a story taking place in the time frame between 1870 and 1910, and set in the United States somewhere west of the Missouri River. The northern regions of Mexico bordering Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California also often serve as a setting and, to a lesser degree, perhaps the Yukon region of Canada.

Basically, that's it. Within this framework, the Western can envelope many other genre categories. At its heart, however, there is always a broad, sweeping awareness of the land and a sense of the rugged frontier spirit propelling the people trying to tame it (either by fair means or foul).

How did it affect your usual way of telling a story to have a central character created by someone else?
Once I got into it, not as much as I thought it might. For starters, I was already very familiar with the Cash character from having read all of David's previous stories. Plus I cut back and forth between different "sets" of characters as the story progressed, so Cash's POV became one of many (although the most prominent) and once I had his character fixed in my mind it felt fairly natural and easy to work from that perspective.

To what extent did Cash’s boyhood among Indians affect the way you imagined him in this novel?
Not a great deal, not for the purposes of this particular story. As I said, I already had Cash's character fixed pretty well in my head before I started—his mannerisms, his outlook on things. Since his upbringing was obviously a part of FORMING those traits, I just went with that.

Otherwise, there is a scene where he tells Faye, one of the prostitutes he is rescuing, about his time with the Arapaho. And near the climax, where he is struggling to survive the blizzard after being swept downstream in frozen waters, he calls upon his Indian stoicism and perhaps even a bit of mysticism to not only survive the ordeal but to come out stronger and more focused for what he has to do next.

What was it like working with David Cranmer, who developed the Cash-Miles series?
Easy as pie. Once we agreed I would do a short novel in the series, David sent me the "Cash Laramie Bible" that had all the necessary histories and references. I followed it. He liked what I sent him.

I don't recall a single request for alteration other than I made a mistake on the name of Cash's horse. Oh yeah, and at one point he kinda nudged me to open up a bit with the violence. Otherwise, he kept saying that I'd nailed the character of Cash right from the get-go, and I was happy to go with that.

Does it concern you that a certain kind of reader might get off on the novel’s scenes of rough sex?
I don't really see where there were any "scenes of rough sex" ... There was some abuse of the two prostitutes implied and/or discussed, but any actual scenes involving sex were "off camera" and, I thought, handled realistically but rather discreetly.

At any rate, if I'd seen fit to include such scenes then I would stand by them as something I felt necessary. I owe the readers a good, well crafted story told to the best of my ability. I don't set out to offend anyone but at the same time I don't shirk from possible offense if there's something I think fits the story or a particular character. There's always the possibility I will strike the wrong chord with some readers—I can't help that.

All this fuss over trying to be politically correct all the time drives me nuts. There are way too many people in this whine-ass/watch-dog world we currently live in who spend way too much time LOOKING for something to be offended by, either for themselves or "for the sake" of someone else ... they need to lighten up, get a sense of humor and focus their attention on some of the REAL problems in our society.

What went into the decision to use an African-American as a villain?
I can't exactly say. It may have been subconsciously meant as an "evil" counterpoint to Cash's sometimes partner, Gideon Miles, who is also black (although he was not a part of this particular story). At any rate, I wanted a villain who was colorful, at first outwardly charming and disarming, but then very nasty when it came down to it.

I gave him a feather in his hat, a gold hoop earring, a gold tooth, and a sort of French-Cajun name—Cole Bouchet. All of that was meant to suggest a sort of underlying voodoo-ish dark evil about the man, before his actions removed all doubt as to what a bad hombre he truly was.

Did any of the characters surprise you as they took shape in the writing?
Yes. Little Red, the second of the two prostitutes Cash ended up stuck with trying to rescue, was originally envisioned as a much more minor character than she turned out to be. At first I saw her as rather simple-minded and whiny, of little use except for menial chores and therefore relegated to the periphery of things and even becoming a burden of sorts.

But, after describing her background as the abused daughter of a vile old mountain man who'd eventually sold her into whoredom, I realized her knowledge of the mountain from the years spent with her father could actually prove to be a real benefit to the escape efforts from Silver Gulch.

How closely does the finished story compare to the way you originally conceived it?
When I sat down to start writing, all I really had fixed in my mind was a title and the idea of having Cash bringing a fugitive down from an obscure mining camp and also being saddled with the two fleeing prostitutes whom the miners didn't want to let go. The title ended up being altered a bit but otherwise all of those ingredients remained.

So, in that sense, I guess the finished product stayed pretty true to my original concept. It got fleshed out a lot more, obviously, with additional characters, a couple subplots, a few unexpected (hopefully) twists, and all sorts of added complexities and difficulties. But the core of what I had in mind at the start was always there.

Talk about how you decided on the novel’s title.
I have this personal quirk of not being able to get started on any project until I have a title fixed firmly in mind. For me, the title sets a great deal of the tone and theme that I work TOWARD once I begin writing. I sometimes agonize for days over a title before I finally come up with something I'm satisfied with so I can finally begin writing. I have seldom varied from my beginning title once I get started.

Manhunter's Mountain was one of the exceptions. The working title when I began was Cash Laramie and the Mountain of No Return. I can't recall the exact point, but somewhere after I'd introduced the idea of the miners setting out after Cash's party to reclaim their prostitutes and then the bounty hunter showing up and also going in pursuit ... well, "Manhunter's Mountain" popped into my head and I liked that a lot better.

Do you think of or "hear" any kind of music to go along with any of your stories?
Nope. I like it quiet when I work. I keep a loud fan blowing in my office (even in winter, when it's pointed away) to blur out incidental surrounding sounds and create a sort of "white noise" ... No music in my head either.

Far as that goes, some might suggest there isn't much of anything in there. But I DO have all these voices and characters and all the sometimes-nasty things they do to one another rattling around in there, vying for attention ... that keeps it crowded enough to suit me.

What do you learn from your readers?
I'm often surprised by the insights and/or perceptions that readers point out in my work. Some of it bears little or no resemblance to what *I* saw there—and that's not necessarily a bad thing, it can be very interesting. Other times, when somebody keys in on EXACTLY what I'd intended then I have one of those satisfied "Aha - yes!" moments.

Mostly what I learn is that there is a kind of magical chemistry that happens between a reader and a writer ... and I don't mean that to claim there is anything particularly "magical" about my writing. I write stories that *I* would like to read and hope that others like reading them, too. Some will, some won't; some will "get" what I'm trying to do, others won't; still others will "get" things I never intended (or realized).

Bottom line: What I've learned from readers and reviewers is not to try and over-analyze what I'm writing. Mostly, it seems to be working so I'll just keep doing what I'm doing—and not do anything that might risk screwing up the magic.

How would you hope to influence other western writers?
I'm too new to the genre and still have too much to learn about the whole writing thing in general to think I rate having any influence over others. I would just say that rich characterization, sincerity, and a passion for what you're doing will always matter.

It's hard to imagine there is any Western plot line that hasn't already been done dozens, maybe hundreds of times. So, for me, it comes back to those three things to give a depth and freshness to one's own "voice". Since the influence on my own Western writing is probably as much from cinema as from other writers, I often think of the director Howard Hawks. He only did four Westerns in his career. Three of them—Red River, Rio Bravo, El Dorado—are screen classics; the fourth, Rio Lobo, only so-so (yet still head-and-shoulders above many others).

My point is, all had very basic storylines that had been done many times before. Yet Hawks *enriched* the characters and their interactions so thoroughly and skillfully that you ended up caring so deeply about them and the events they were caught up in that you totally forgot you'd seen similar events played out dozens of times before ... That's what I try to do in my Westerns, and actually in all my writing. My writing is not gourmet fare—rather it's tried-and-proven, stick-to-your-ribs, meat-and-potatoes servings that I hopefully have prepared to your liking.

What can readers expect from you next?
My second Lone McGantry western (sequel to Dismal River) is due out later this month (May). It is called Reckoning at Rainrock and takes place mostly up in northwestern Nebraska near the Toadstool Badlands. In this case, I think I've introduced some plot elements and twists that *haven't* been seen very frequently before in the Western genre.

I am currently finishing up Rio Matanza, which features my Southwest bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick (seen previously in Hard Trail to Socorro) and I expect it to be out late summer/early fall. Next I start work on another Cash Laramie short novel for David - this one tentatively called The Guns of Vedauwoo (tip of the hat to Richard Prosch for introducing me to Vedauwoo).

In the course of the year I will be having short stories appearing in Thomas Pluck's Lost Children II: Protectors anthology; in John French's collection of genuine noir stories called To Hell In A Fast Car; and Paul Bishop's C.O.B.R.A. anthology of '60s-style spy stories. Finally, inasmuch as this fall will mark the 30th anniversary of the first appearance of Joe Hannibal, my signature blue collar PI, there will be a new Hannibal novel, Blade of the Tiger, celebrating that.

Additionally, we hope to do a collection of Hannibal short stories, featuring the first-ever reprint of "The Fancy Case", where he debuted, along with some other select ones, including an original. Joe will also be appearing in David Cranmer's Beat To A Pulp II anthology due out soon and, as part of the anniversary tie-in, plans are for him to show up in the (electronic) pages of the BTAP web magazine in the fall.

That’s it. Thanks, Wayne.
Thank you for the opportunity to make some noise about myself and my work.

Wayne D. Dundee’s books can be found at amazon and Barnes& Noble.

Coming up: Randolph Scott, Man in the Saddle (1951)


  1. Thank you, Ron, for the nice review of MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN and also for allowing me to spout off and promote some of my upcoming work in the interview. Greatly apreciated.

  2. Great interview! Wayne is among the very best 5 or 6 Western writers around these days, and Manhunter's Mountain was a thrilling and intense novella.

  3. I enjoyed this book very much. You tell it like it is, and don't pull any punches.

  4. Enjoyed the review and the interview. Mr. Dundee makes good sense regarding writing and political correctness.

  5. Thanks, Ron, for a great set of questions. Stick-to-your-ribs, meat-and-taters -AMEN, Wayne! Your writing is all that AND a cool beverage on a warm day. I was struck by your hankerin' for a good title because I'm the same way. 'Course I've got about 100 titles scattered around here but always searching for the new one. (Looking forward to "...Vedauwoo" --Did you take that road trip?)

  6. Thanks all, for the kind comments.

    Heath - You place me in mighty high company and I really appreciate it, especially coming from someone whose own work I admire.

    Thomas - Same to you. If the Cash Laramie series is what it took to get you reading Westerns, I'm glad.

    Richard - Meat-and-taters rock! Unfortunately, the road trip hasn't taken place yet. Was scheduled for last week but the time and expense for some unexpected car repair sort of put a crimp in that plan ... Gonna be real soon, though, as I want to walk the land and breathe the air before I start the new Cash adventure against that backdrop.

    And, finally, thanks again Ron for the review and interview.