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Howard Hopkins

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Black Horses, Cheap Women and Pulp
By Howard Hopkins   

Last edited: Monday, November 17, 2003
Posted: Monday, November 17, 2003

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The Western rises from the dust of yesterday!

Remember the days when action was king and nothing stood between a man and his horse except a saddle?

Recollect the times when the hero wore a white Stetson and soiled doves had hearts of tarnished gold?

Recall an era of blazing fiction when a knockdown, drag-out saloon brawl proved might was right and justice came at the smoking barrel of a Colt Peacemaker or a members-only neck tie party?

If you're a fan of the western pulps you durn sure do. For ten cents readers could saddle up a stallion, down bottomless glasses of redeye and cavort with the prettiest fillies this side of Dodge. Playing poker with Wild Bill or ridin' the written range with Buffalo Bill Cody, the only limits were imagination and Liberty dimes.

Those were the days. The Wild West. The Mythical West. Brimming with legend and crackling with tall tales told 'round the fire. Men were men, women were courted, and you dang sure knew who the bad guys were. By the end of the tale you could count on that desperado getting his, usually by hanging from hemp or riddled with .45 slugs.

If you are a pulp western fan you might also pine for the days when you could walk to the local newsstand and select the latest Wild West or even Spicy Western Stories Magazine. Sadly, those brittle paeans to six-gun sovereignty no longer exist.

Most modern westerns are a trail apart from those halcyon days of dust and danger. In fact, many are slapped with the Historical genre label as publishers' marketing departments try to pretend the western is deader than Wild Bill himself. But for fans of the horse opera a handful of modern writers seek to carry on the tradition, at least in spirit, while bending the literary horseshoe to the modern publishing requirements. Peter Brandvold, Ralph Cotton and a passel of others still pen tales of the Old West that hark back to the myth and pulp. Admittedly, the market appears minuscule at times, especially if you walk into a local Borders or Barnes & Noble in the North East, where I live, but rest assured they are out there if you search hard enough. Online ordering from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com have made it easier to locate these novels, as have a few specialty online western stores.

A couple sites that may surprise most western fans are AmazonUK and WHSmith, two British booksellers. You might wonder exactly what the Brits have to do with westerns, and rightly so. The answer may come as a pleasant discovery.

Two British companies -- one, a hardcover publisher named Robert Hale, Ltd. (these books are actually called "paperboards" and are small collectible hardcovers with colorful pulplike covers) and the other, a large print trade paperback company called Ulverscroft -- publish a monthly selection of old-fashioned westerns that come as close to the grand pulp days as you are likely to find. I know because I write for them under the penname Lance Howard.

Hale's imprint is called Black Horse Westerns (Ulverscroft's are called the Linford Western Library and Magna Dales Western Library) and they have been churning out 10 to 12 shoot 'em ups a month for over 30 years. The books focus on the mythical west: gunfights, jangling spurs, sateen bodices with bulging bosoms -- you name it, chances are a Hale western has it. The writing spans the range from passable to excellent, much the way pulp writing did. The flavor is dust and it goes down jest fine with Old Orchard.

For the record, my 18th -- The Silver Mine Spook -- saw print in February 2003, and is a direct homage to the old pulp tales that mixes the West with two fingers of spooky goings-on in a supposedly haunted saloon. A number of my tales involve such scenarios, influenced by a dash of Doc Savage, an ounce of Gunsmoke and maybe even a jigger of Scooby Doo. Heroes are distinct, whores might even have a few morals left, and good usually triumphs. My novel The West Wolf probably has the most pulplike cover in recent memory and, with little reworking, could easily have been interchanged with Doc Savage.

The cost to ship the westerns through AmazonUK, oddly enough, is no more expensive than getting the titles Barnes and Noble has available for the U.S. In fact, it is often cheaper, as exchange rates fluctuate. While I unabashedly suggest running an AmazonUK search for Lance Howard, try running Black Horse Westerns, then browse through the books that come up. Black Horse is carrying on the pulp tradition, with a minimal of modern intrusion. Give them a try! I think you'll enjoy them.

Web Site: Lance Howard Homepage


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Reviewed by Thomas Garrett 8/29/2006
Ah, another fan of pulp stories and the Old West. While I enjoy the "historical" westerns, it's still hard to beat an outright six-shootin' descendant of the diem novel for fun. There's still a lot of territory to mine. Keep up the good work.

Sonny G
Reviewed by Debra Conklin 12/11/2004
It's strange, I never thought I would like westerns and then a bunch of western movies came out. Young Guns (1 & 2) Tombstone, the incomparable Clint in Pale Rider and superb in Unforgiven, even Wild Wild West, a comedy set in the west starring Will Smith (not typical but really funny). I realized how entertaining a western could be.

Reading Lonesome Dove kept me enthralled and then when the movie came out, just as good.

Keep the genre alive, Howard! Oh by the way, I'm from Maine as well, more central than coastal, so Hi Neighbor!
Debbie
Reviewed by RON MCDONALD (Reader) 2/24/2004
Love the old pulps. Howard is in the forefront of the movement to help put the fun back into Western novels. We need more authors and readers like Howard Hopkins.

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