Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Interview with Joseph Hirsh - Author of ORPHAN ELIXIR

The Western Online: Can you describe Orphan Elixir for our readers?

Joseph Hirsch: Orphan Elixir could best be described as a Weird Western, or maybe what Jonathan Rosenbaum once called an "Acid Western." It mixes traditional elements of the genre with ones not usually associated with the Western, specifically horror in this case. There are also some historical influences, specifically the Donner Party/Alferd (sic) Packer tales.

TWO: What motivates the protagonist in your story? What is he trying to prove?

JH: I think the main character, James Gallowbraid, is somewhat jaded, both by his experiences in prison and as an outlaw. Ultimately, while his mission was not clear to me while I was writing the work, it appears to me with hindsight that he is looking for something to push him in either direction, either toward total cold-hearted cynicism, or back in the direction of humanity. I won't ruin the experience for those who haven't read it yet by telling them which way James goes.

TWO: Do you write in other genres besides the Western? If so, what?

JH: I like to test my mettle in various fields. Some I'm better suited for than others. I've written Science Fiction and had some success there. I've written in the crime genre, but the better practitioners, like Jed Ayres, made me hang up my hat. Crime requires a terse, spare style, and I'm a bit of an expressionist. I think Jed Ayres could write the hell out of a Western. If you haven't read Peckerwood, it's the best piece of Southern-fried fiction I've read in quite a while. I'd call it a Western in spirit, as the filmmakers John Carpenter and Walter Hill have, I believe, categorized their own works, no matter how far afield of the genre they seem to go.
My newest novel, Kentucky Bestiary, was just put out by Paragraph Line, run by the incomparable Jon Konrath, a great surrealist who I have been unsuccessful in wooing to the Weird Western genre, thus far.

TWO: There are some Horror elements in Orphan Elixir. The Western seems to lend itself well toward blending with other genres. Why do you think that is?

JH: I think that the unsettled West was an incredibly violent place, and, as frightened as we are of violence, death, and disease, we're all fascinated by it, and the West, with its lore and larger than life characters, amid the backdrop of wars and Native American mythology, just continues to stoke the imaginations of people all over the world. Germans like the painter Karl Bodmer, or Italians like Sergio Leone, were drawn to this distant and mythic land. I think Cowboys and Aliens didn't do too well at the box office, but it showed the genre's limits can be stretched to the stars, literally. 
Some of the best genre-hopping being done right now is by the writer Scott Phillips, whose Westerns Cottonwood and Hop Alley are what I would call "Western noir." He's an original and exciting talent.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

JH: The most prosaic and honest answer I could give would obviously be the violence, the action. I like a good adventure yarn. It's been years since I've had a gun in my hand (when I was in the Army), but, like a lot of people, I'm fascinated by outlaws and battles. The terrain of the West, the open vistas and the splendor of nature, also give a writer a chance to wax poetic and flex his or her descriptive powers. 
Also, while the rest of the country was settled, the West was still wild, something of a meritocracy, where one's skills, rather than one's station at birth, determined their pedigree, as opposed to the way of things in New England at the time, and it's more fun to write about rugged individualists than to write about someone inheriting his father's company.

TWO: How would you define the term "Western" and what does it mean to you?

JH: It's tricky to pin down, exactly. A lot of people say it's about manhood and masculinity, which is right to a degree, but then a great Western film like Meek's Cutoff shows you that it can be about womanhood, too. I guess it's about grit, and ultimately endurance. "Endurance is more important than truth," as Charles Bukowski once said. I also think it's about morality, as I think even the title of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly makes explicit. There are good guys, bad guys, and then fence sitters, who eventually have to hop one way or the other. R.I.P. to Eli Wallach, by the way.

TWO: What Western movies, television shows or novels influenced you the most? Why and in what ways?

JH: The filmmaker Andrew Dominik is on record saying that he doesn't view The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as a Western, which is a pity, since I believe it's at least the best Western film since Unforgiven. For me, it is to the genre what 2001: A Space Odyssey is to Science Fiction. It's a real mystery, a Russian nesting doll of a film that becomes a new experience every time I watch it. A lot of Westerns don't work for the same reason most period dramas don't work. The costumes are right, but somehow the behavior isn't believable. With Jesse James, it feels as if these actors are inhabiting the Old West, with the way they talk and behave.

TWO: If you could go back in time and meet one famous person in the Old West, who would it be and why?

JH: I'm a research junky, and I remember in my efforts on Orphan Elixir I discovered the concept of the travelling lyceum, where luminaries like Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain would speak in theaters and one could pay a general admission fee (something on the order of a dollar) to hear them speak. I would have liked to meet Mark Twain, probably.

TWO: What changes/if any have you seen within the last decade when it comes to Western fiction? Where do you see this genre in five years?

JH: Of all the genres, people love to proclaim the Western dead the most often. But just when people are convinced the genre is stale, something new and surprising crops up and proves the naysayers wrong. The Western always works as a metaphor or allegory, and thus I don't think it ever goes stale. Robert Benton's Bad Company is, at face value, about some draft dodgers running from the Union Army, but it's also obviously about the Vietnam War. 
I concede that Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is the new bar, but I'm confident that in time someone will leap that hurdle and surprise us all.

TWO: What are you plans for the future? Are you working on a sequel?

JH: I share Norman Mailer's superstition about not talking in detail about a project while it's brewing, but I definitely want to revisit the genre again sometime in the future, and I want the work to be longer, something on the order of a novel. Hopefully The Western Online will be open for submissions at that time!

Joseph Hirsch's book Ohio at Dusk was published by Damnation Books. His novel War-Crossed Eyes was published by Mélange Books, and his novels Rolling Country and The Last Slice of Pizza were published by Moonshine Cove Publishing. He has sold work to Underground Voices and Zahir Tales. His novella House of Crystal was published by Silverthought and his novella Orphan Elixir was published by The Western Online Press. His short stories were also featured in 3 AM Magazine. Some of his stories can be found at www.paragraphline.com. He previously worked as a sports correspondent for Fight Hype covering boxing matches around the globe, and he was also a finalist in a Glimmer Train Short Story Award Competition for New Writers. His novel Kentucky Bestiary was recently published by Paragraph Line Books.

He served four years in the U.S. Army, wherein his travels took him to Iraq and Germany. He currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attends the University of Cincinnati.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Western Online Press Book Sale

Howdy, Pilgrims. We are celebrating the official launch of The Western Online Press with a Facebook event. Visit this URL and be sure to join it.

Over the next few days, there will be trivia questions with prizes given away. Don't miss out.

Both books, ORPHAN ELIXIR by Joseph Hirsch and THE CALL CHRONICLES by KC Sprayberry are on sale. Right now they are priced at $0.99 as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal that will last from October 6 - October 9th. From October 9th through October 13th, they will be priced at $1.99.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Western Online Press is Now Open!

The Western Online Press is a publisher of Western fiction. We have existed as an online magazine for five years and have recently expanded to include eBooks. We are dedicated to all things Western.

In our magazine, The Western Online, we publish fiction, historical articles, book reviews, author interviews, Western themed artwork and even a comic strip. At The Western Online Press, our eBook imprint, we will focus on quality Western fiction.

We publish novella length works of at least 20,000 words up to full length novels.  Review our submission guidelines and if interested, request a copy of our writers contract via the contact form. Submit your work today!


The saga of the Call family begins when twins, Matt and Jason, return to their home to find their parents dead and the family homestead burned to the ground at the hands of the Griswold gang. They send word to older brothers, Hank, Adrian and Brian and along with aid from a dubious Pinkerton agent, the Calls set out on the arduous road to justice.

James Gallowbraid has been imprisoned longer than the Civil War has lasted and when finally released, he makes his way to a small village on a journey that seems rife with odd characters, pregnant women and men also named James. Born to a prostitute and possessed of a penchant for burning buildings, Gallowbraid seems unlikely to be the kind of man to confront the foreboding evil that he and the entire villages senses is lurking in the nearby woods. But when a pregnant woman vanishes from the hamlet and a gold-hunting expedition has James reuniting with a trusted old friend from his past, both men find themselves unwillingly facing a terror in the redwood depths of the forest that is more horrific than they ever imagined.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Interview With Gordon Rottman

The Western Online: Can you describe your story for our readers?
Gordon L. Rottman: Out of work cowpoke Bud Eugen comes across Marta, a mute sixteen-year old Mexican girl whose family has been killed by Indians. Bud reluctantly takes her along, even though he's never had to accommodate another person in his simple life. He's unable tofind anyone willing to take her. In spite of his prejudices, Bud grows to like the spunky girl (and her excellent cooking). Eventually, they both find work on a border ranch. Here, the relationship between the girl and the young cowboy hesitantly grows. But banditos raid the ranch kidnapping the rancher's daughters and Marta. Bud, with twelve other men, pursues the banditos into the most desolate reaches of Mexico. Ambushes and battles with banditos, Rurales and traitors are constant; and the brutal weather of the Great Die-Up is as much a threat as the man-made perils. Life and death choices are made at every turn as one side gains the advantage, then the other. The rancher's daughters are rescued and the exhausted party turns back. But Bud presses on alone, against insurmountable odds — determined to fulfill an unspoken promise to Marta.

TWO: How is your story one that would interest the readers of The Western Online?

GR: The Hardest Ride is a traditional Western, a historical, with plenty of action, a romance, and memorable characters. I tried to make it as authentic as possible and give an idea of what life was like in the 1880's borderlands. I've spent a great deal of time in the saddle on the very ground the story talks place on in Mexico.

TWO: What motivates the protagonist in your story? What is he trying to prove?

GR: A relationship slowly developed between Bud and Marta through the story's course. He was never able to tell her that he wanted a life with her; he speaks little Spanish. He'd bring her home regardless of the odds. Bud's also loyal to his boss, Clay DeWitt, whose daughters too were taken and he's driven to return them. And then there's Marta, she's very much a co-protagonist as the story is as much about her.

TWO: How would you define the term "Western" and what does it mean to you?

GR: Growing up I watched a lot of Western movies and TV shows. Admittedly I didn't read that many Western novels. In the Army I ended up in Special Forces (Green Berets) and realized those guys lived by what could be called a modern day "Code of the West." It stuck on me. Too, over 30 years of frequenting my wife's family's ranch in Mexico, I felt at times I had time-warped back to the 1880s. I learned so much from the vaqueros and what I learned was no different than how things were in the 1880s.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

GR: The Hardest Ride was originally envisioned as a contemporary border action story involving drug cartels. Previously I'd never considered doing a Western, I write non-fiction military history. I began writing several young adult adventure novels, some based on my daughter's experiences in Mexico. After reading Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, I decided that the story would be better served as a traditional Western.

TWO: What writers have influenced you the most?

GR: Hands down, Cormac McCarthy. I would never try and emulate him, but I learned to not hold anything back in a story.

TWO: What is your favorite Western, either novel or movie? Why?

GR: The novel, Blood Meridian. The movie, Rio Bravo. It's got all the elements of a good Western. I could easily list a dozen others, but Open Range would be No. 2.

TWO: If you could go back in time and meet one famous person in the Old West, who would it be and why?

GR: Having been a soldier for 26 years and then wrote exercise scenarios for Special Forces for 11 years, I'd like to sit down with a sergeant from the 1880s and pick his mind about every aspect of his experiences.

TWO:What are you plans for the future? Are you working on a sequel?

GR: Taliesin Publishing is releasing my young adult survival-adventure e-book set in Nicaragua, Tears of the River, on June 5th. I'm working on the sequel for The Hardest Ride—Ride Harder—and am also working on the third book, Marta's Daughter.

TWO:Is there anything else you'd like to add?

GR: Westerns have grown on me since I started this project. Some say Westerns are dying out. I sincerely hope not. There's a lot of good Western writers today turning out excellent books in the many sub-genres. All we can do is keep plugging away.

Author Bio:
Gordon Rottman lives outside of Houston, Texas, served in the Army for 26 years in a number of "exciting" units, and wrote war games for Green Berets for 11 years. He's written over 120 military history books, but his interests have turned to adventurous young adult novels—influenced by a bunch of 'udacious kids, Westerns owing to his experiences on his wife's family's ranch in Mexico, and historical fiction focusing on how people really lived and thought—history does not need to be boring. His first Western novel is The Hardest Ride to be followed by more.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Symbolism in the Old West Story - Part 2 of 2

By Michael T. Pizzolato

In the previous post on symbolism in writing, we covered the topic of symbols in westerns. We found examples of how rocks and mountains can represent obstacles and how sunsets can depict endings of a life or of a story.

Symbols vary from culture to culture, but in the western, they are usually American or Native American. Symbols are objects in stories that represent something else, such as a concept or value that emotionally enhances a scene or story and makes a subconscious connection with the reader.

Often a single symbol can carry many different meanings, so you can use tried and true meanings of symbols or you can make your own interpretation. Consequently, if the reader really is all in and along for the ride in your writing, you can make an emotional connection to the reader with the image or symbol. Moreover, depending on the mood of a scene or story, you can at times use symbols as a contrast to depict the opposite of what you want to represent, but do this with some caution in mind as it is harder to make a reader connection this way.

Nature is full of symbols that can have multiple meanings. The writer’s overall message is what generally narrows down a symbol’s meaning, and keep in mind symbols work subconsciously. A sky can portray limitless possibilities, especially a clear sky. If a sky is gray or stormy, it can represent foreboding threat or danger. Fire can show a sense of safety even romance if it’s in a campfire, for example, or it can symbolize danger, destruction or even purification if it is widespread. A tree can mean strength and stability. An old tree can represent wisdom. A willow tree bending in the wind can lend a sense of compromise to a scene. Butterflies can be symbolic of freedom or even fragility, change or metamorphosis. Flowers, real or otherwise, can also mean love, new life or new beginnings. In Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, for example, the doctor marries Sully while on her wedding veil and dress are laced patterns of flowers, representing the new beginning and the new life they will share together.

The moon can be cold and void of emotion as it reflects the sun and has no light of its own. In our western culture inherited from the Greeks, the moon is considered feminine and associated with the Greek goddess Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo the sun god.

Calm water can represent peace as in the scene in Lonesome Dove where Gus takes a playful creek bath with Lorena nearby, peaceful moments at least until moments later when the villain Blue Duck makes a threatening appearance. Crashing waves or churning water can alert the reader to danger or emotional turmoil as when the cowboys in Lonesome Dove were crossing the thick currents of the churning river where one of the characters is bitten to death by snakes in the water. Crossing a river can also represent maturity, as it was Newt’s new best friend who had suffered the horrific snakebites, with young Newt left to learn a hard lesson about death on the other side of the river. The old man in westerns often represents wisdom, and old Gus offered much life wisdom to his friend Call, especially on the subject of women, a topic on which Gus was well versed.

The heart is the body’s major organ, but it can mean love or courage. In westerns, we often see the sheriff or marshal pinning his badge over his heart, symbolic of his bravery but maybe also of his love of upholding the law. And getting shot in the heart, as happens often to the villain, surely carries symbolic significance in the western story.

The cross can represent the Christian faith that was prevalent on the frontier, and it can also represent redemption, sacrifice or suffering. We’ve all seen in western movies and novels the church topped with a cross at the end of the corrupt town representing its’ isolation from a corrupt society, and we’ve also seen in Pale Rider the forceful Christian symbolism of the main character that Eastwood himself has called “a ghost.”

A flag is but a section of cloth, but its’ meaning can transcend a scene and evoke feelings of courage and longing for freedom. In Two Flags West, with Joseph Cotton and Linda Darnell, the Union and Confederate flags represent the division in the country at the time of the movie’s setting.

A baby can represent innocence, vulnerability or new life. A president, a lawman, a soldier, a pearl, even types of clothing are symbols that trigger inner responses from your reader of which you should be aware.

Symbols are so important to westerns that western movies like Once Upon a Time in the West, The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Searchers (in particular its iconic ending) would not be the same without them. Sergio Leone, John Ford and Clint Eastwood are probably the best directors at bringing symbolism from the printed script page to live action film, and we’ve looked at how writers like Bret Hart and Meg Mims used mountains as symbols in The Outcasts of Poker Flats and Double Crossing. We’ve also seen how mountains can mean something different in Native American culture where mountains can mean a connection to the spirit above. This Indian aspect of mountains as a spiritual plane, however, can have similar meaning in both American and Native American cultures. In Christianity, the primary religion of the frontier, Christ went up into a mountain and ascended to heaven so that the mountain, in addition to be a symbol of an arduous journey in American culture, can sometimes have a spiritual plane meaning akin to the Native American meaning. Narrowing down the meaning just depends on where you are with your reader and what you are portraying in the story.

The next time you write, read or watch a western, be alert to symbols. And as a benefit to you the writer, they will not only enhance the emotional impact of your story but also better connect you to your reader.

Mike Pizzolato is the Associate Editor, Art Director and Facebook Coordinator of The Western Online.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Symbolism in the Old West Story

By Michael T. Pizzolato

A symbol is an object in a story that represents itself along with a thought or emotion that we may sense or feel when we see the object. In any story, symbols are important because they can lend subconscious sentiment or emotion to a scene or story.

Symbols vary from culture to culture, but in the Old West story, symbolism is American as well as Native American.

Here are some symbols and their meanings along with some examples from western stories, which you may find helpful in your short story, novel or screenplay:

Rocks and mountains in a story can represent obstacles and difficulties. Set in Gold Rush California, the short story The Outcasts of Poker Flats by Bret Harte is about so-called “undesirables” who have been expelled from an Old West town and must make a journey over the mountains that represent the arduous tasks ahead replete with danger.

In the novel Double Crossing by Meg Mims, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierras symbolize the sizeable trials and difficulties ahead that will include the heroine being pushed off a railroad trestle, nearly pushed from a train as well as fighting for her life on mining hillside as she tracks down her father’s murderer.

In the movie Shane, as the young boy cries out to the severely wounded main character, Shane heads off into the mountains that represent the final obstacle of Shane’s own eventual death.

In Native American culture, however, the mountain can represent a journey or a spiritual connection with nature. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, as Josey talks with Chief Ten Bears, notice the mountain range behind Wales as he speaks spiritual truths to the chief. The domestic scene of the Indian village behind the chief symbolizes the land as the Indians home. Blood exchanged by knife cuts on each man’s hand represents not only brotherhood but blood as a powerful symbol of purification and redemption, perhaps a foreshadowing of the movie’s ending when the wounded Josey bleeds onto his own boot before saying to the forgiving and reluctant villain Fletcher, “I guess we all died a little in that damn war.” Again, the mountain, this time larger and closer, is behind Josey in the ending as he converses with Fletcher and then rides off into those mountains and into the sunset, another symbol we’ll discuss shortly.

The sun can be a symbol of giving or taking life, depending on how it’s portrayed. The sun can break through and show brighter days, or it can be boiling hot and deadly if lost in the desert as in the western movie Seraphim Falls.

The sunset is a symbol for death and often for story endings. Though it has been used countless times in western movies and novels, readers never seem to tire of the age-old symbol of the sun setting on the cowboy riding or walking off into the sunset. 

In The Searchers, the sunset symbol is both an ending as well as a death, as Ethan turns from the closing door and walks off into the sunset, estranged to a spiritual death away from the family he worked so hard to unify.

Animals can also be symbols. In Dances with Wolves, the wolf is analogous to a dog, and a dog in American culture (Fido=Fidelity/Faith) represents faith. When the wolf is killed, it demonstrates how Dunbar’s faith is now tested and will be shaken by the events to come. But the same symbol can mean something different in another culture. To the Indian culture, the wolf represents a medicine of courage, strength and loyalty, and so they name Dunbar “Dances with Wolves” who will courageously leave his American culture for the Native American way of life.

Symbols are important to any story. There are many more than presented here, and symbols are not universal, that is, they are different for each culture. However, in western stories, symbols will generally represent American and Native American values.

More importantly, symbolism can add subconscious emotional power, not only to a scene but also to the story itself.

-More on symbolism in a future post.

Mike Pizzolato is the Associate Editor, Art Director and Facebook Coordinator of The Western Online.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Drawing Tips

By Michael T. Pizzolato
Associate Editor and Art Director

Draw every day. Practice makes perfect in anything. If you don’t have a lot of time, draw something, even if it’s on a sheet of loose-leaf paper that will find its way to the waste can. Draw and sketch a face, a horse a cow, a cartoon, anything. Just get your pencil busy and get in practice.

Study anatomy. You don’t need a medical knowledge of anatomy, but learn what muscles look like underneath the skin. Learn some bone and muscle basics. Protruding muscles are where you’ll place small definition lines on the skin that will help the drawing look authentic. Muscles underneath shape the outer edges of the anatomy as well. Faces are also anatomy, so learn where all the parts-eyes, ears, nose, etc.-go when you draw them in.

Let 3-D construction lines guide your work. If you draw a horse, for example, make a 3-barrel for the chest and sketch around that. The same goes for the horse’s legs-make 3-D cylinders and draw them in as well. Also, make use of references. If you’re drawing a horse or a person, you need to know what one looks like in detail, so this means having an image of one on your table as you draw. After a while, you will reach a point where little or no reference is needed. The same holds true for the human body, where torsos, legs and faces are made with a series of blocks and planes that after you learn them, will require less and less reference over time.

Understand one-point and two point perspective. There are many books and web sites out there on this often difficult and confusing topic. You can grasp 3-point perspective later, but one and two-point perspective are the most important. One point is like you’re looking down a long hallway to where the ceiling and floor of the hallway come to a single point. For two-point, think of a small box rotated to where the edge is facing the viewer. Now tilt the box upward or downward. Let’s say a downward tilt for our purposes where you see over the top of the box. If you follow the parallel box edges, the top of that box actually forms two long hallways, one ending on a point far over to the right and the other far over to the left side of the drawing. Those two points are on a straight line above the box called the horizon line (or ground line). Here is a link that may clarify things a bit better: Two Point Perspective

And when you create the lightly drawn perspective lines (to be erased later), this is the space where your drawing of people, horses, cows, etc., will go.
Use drawing manuals, online resources and even art classes to help you get better. There are many excellent books out there on how to draw as well as many online resources. More importantly, if the local university’s adult education department is offering a drawing course, take it.  They are usually fairly inexpensive and fun. There‘s no substitute for face-to-face training and learning.

Dance to your own music.  Make no apologies for your work and fear no one’s opinion. The special thing about your art is that no one else in the world can replicate it. It is a unique and special creation from your own God-given talent. Your artwork will speak to some people and not so much to others. You can always weigh whether or not criticism is valid and worthy of your making a change, but don’t let that stop you from making more art. The best advice I can give any artist is to make art every day without fail.

Check out some of artwork featured at The Western Online.