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Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

An Interview

with Ken Farmer and Buck Stienke

 

Ken Farmer and Buck Stienke are co-authors of five novels. Their most recent, The Nations, a Western novel will be available everywhere around August 20th, but autographed copies can already be purchased from their website.


The Western Online: Can you describe your story for our readers?

    Ken Farmer: The Nations is a historical fiction action western that takes place in the eastern portion of what we now call Oklahoma, that had been given to the five civilized Indian tribes, Cherokee, Chocktaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Siminole following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The area was also known as "Robber's Roost" and "No-Man's Land", and was regarded in the latter part of the 19th century as the bloodiest and most dangerous place in the world.

    It is the year 1885. A notorious band of outlaws, known as the "Larson Gang", has been terrorizing Arkansas, Missouri and the Nations for years. Judge Issac Parker, the Hanging Judge, orders an all-out concerted effort to capture the gang and bring them to justice. "If they will not respect the law; then, by God, we will make them fear it."

    Marshal Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi, along with his partner Jack McGann, two other deputies and two Indian Lighthorse are tasked to take the youngest member of the gang, Ben Larson, on the treacherous journey to Fort Smith with their prisoner shackled to the bed of the Tumbleweed Wagon.

    "It is not the severity of the punishment that is the deterrent... but the certainty of it." - Judge Issac C. Parker. The Nations blends historical and fictional characters to create a fast-paced action western.

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

    Ken: It deals, of course, with what many feel is the most identifying segment of American history world wide— The Old West or the Western. Even though the period we call 'the old west' was very short-lived, it has created a lasting image of Americana that doesn't seem to be waning. Maybe it has to do with overcoming tremendous odds, the expansion of our Nation or the 'character' of the people involved in that time of our nation building— the cowboys, the Native Americans, the lawmen, the farmers and even the outlaws. The great director, John Ford, once said, "There's nothing quite as thrilling as the eternal battle of good against bad faced by dedicated men determined to do the right thing".

   

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

    Ken: Our protagonist in The Nations is Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi is not really out to 'prove' any thing. Bass, a former slave, was a man of extraordinary character and a man with character doesn't have to prove it. He signed on to be a Deputy US Marshal and he was going to do it to the best of his ability. Excerpt from The Nations:

    After a moment, Jed spoke back up, "Marshal?... How is it they is coloreds... that's marshals?" "Wells'r... some folks think that because a man looks different that he is different... But, here in the Nations, a man is judged by the way he does his job... 'Night, Jed," said Bass. "Night, Marshal."

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

    Ken/Buck: To us, it's more than a genre, it's a way of life, it's about true character, it's about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, it's about finding someone to ride the river with, it's about our history, it's about sacrifice, it's about mistakes (How we treated the Native Americans). Now there you go, we've been up the hill and over the mountain.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

    Ken: Well, they say to write what you know about. Raised cattle and Quarter horses most of my life. Got a lot of hours in the saddle. Spent years studying and researching the old west. Grew up in the '40s and '50s watching the B westerns and then later all the TV series. Then, as an actor, got to play in them. Later on, started researching the genera to write screen/teleplays and low and behold, we find that Hollywood had greatly romanticized the period. With shoot-outs at high noon, tied-down buscadero rigs (actually not developed until the early 1900s), outlaws portrayed as Robin Hoods. It seemed that everyone in a Hollywood movie was a outlaw, a lawman or a cowboy... Then there was the ubiquitous school marm always in distress. Based on my background as a movie and real cowboy, I occasionally get tabbed to judge western reenactors gatherings. I'm usually not too popular with the contestants. I knock them on clothing, guns & gun rigs, boots/shoes, dialogue and even their hair (usually way too long for the 1870 to 1895 period) and facial hair. Most of them seem to think they have to be Hollywood rugged and not shave; a weeks worth of stubble. It was considered 'rude' for a man not to shave, mustaches and goatees notwithstanding. Trail herd cowboys even shaved daily.

    We decided to write westerns they way they happened. If you do just a little research, you'll find the period doesn't need any dressing-up or romanticizing. It was pretty darn exciting as it was. We elected to write with as much accuracy as possible— from the weapons, the clothing, tack, dialogue, wagons, trains, you name it. It's correct to the period.

    Our first novel, Black Eagle Force: Eye of the Storm, modern day except for the prologue, that takes place in 1836. Our editor suggested that we use contractions in the prologue dialogue — we're, don't, ect. We had to educate her that contractions didn't come into use until the late 1800s. They still spoke with a Victorian flair. "Do not worry, girl, it was just a doe and her fawn," Jonathan said to his spooked gelding.

    Buck: I like the contrast between good and evil that can be embodied in a great western. Those earlier times allowed a man to stand for something and take responsibility for himself and his family. Frontier justice was not always right but it can be said that it was more immediate than we see today! The times to me represent a epoch of discovery, rising to challenges, and self sufficiency.

TWO:What writers have influenced you the most??

    Ken: I was first impressed by Edgar Rice Buroughs, started collecting his books in junior high. First the Tarzan series (I own all 26), then John Carter, Pellucidar, and his western series, Apache Devil,The Bandit of Hell's Bend, The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County and The War Chief.

    Burough's family had moved west and started a cattle ranch in 1891. Later, in 1896, he enlisted in the army and was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory where he said he "chased Apaches, but never caught up with them." Then I discovered Louis L'amour (have all of his books too). Today I read, Cussler, Dale Brown, James Patterson, Tami Hoag. It all boils down to "Characters". They say there are actually only seven 'stories', so what is it that draws us to certain writers or novels or even genera? The Characters. It is the characters that tell the story. It's the characters we remember. It's the characters we become attached to. It's the characters we often emulate. Get the point?

    Buck: I have a more eclectic group of authors that effected my reading appreciation. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, The Old man and the Sea by Hemingway and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. were standouts as were anything from Edgar Rice Buroughs and Jack London. Sometimes the antagonist is simply the weather or desolation. A great story is one that draws the reader into it, rather than simply tell the story to the reader. Current favorites include Dale Brown, Dan Brown and Clive Cussler.

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

    Ken: Don't have a favorite Western novel, our The Nations, not withstanding. There are many I like. However, my favorite western movie is John Ford's The Searchers with John Wayne. Why? Again, it's about the Characters. Ford had a penchant for filling his movies with wonderful characters — Ben Johnson, Harry "Dobie" Carey, Jr., Ward Bond, Hank "Old Mose" Worden, Ken Curtis, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles. 'Nuff said. Except I also have to put in a plug for Silverado. I enjoyed doing the movie. The American film industry invented only one genre... The Western; it always has been and always will be the American West.

    Buck: I really enjoyed the Quigley Down Under and Dances with Wolves movies for their well drawn characters and realist portrayals. Nobody can forget the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove written by Larry McMurtry. Neither gave the impression of being filmed on a sound stage or a back lot. I work out in the afternoons after work and usually watch Encore Westerns while I'm doing it. It's really funny for someone with movie making experience to watch season after season of Marshal Dillon, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel and Cheyenne. One will see the same ranch house appear with different families and different story lines during the same week! Also, watching ten hours of a particular show over two weeks will give a writer an appreciation for how tough it can be to come up with new story lines and ideas week after week and year after year. Far too often, the same basic story gets a new cast and little else! I feel it helps make me a better writer to force myself to try to avoid the same old cliches and time worn B Movie plots.

TWO:The Western has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent times and is returning to both the box office and television. Why do you think that is?

    Ken: Could be that we live in a tight group and in Texas; but we just don't know anyone that doesn't like a good western — emphasize good. Who didn't play cowboys and Indians growing up? Every actor I ever worked with in Hollywood would give their eyeteeth to be in a western. It's a mystique. People are just hungry for a good old-fashioned western. We need another John Wayne. Maybe they want to hear that lead in by Fred Foy to the Lone Ranger series again.

    "Hi-Yo, Silver! A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi-Yo Silver"... The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!"

    Buck: There is always room for a great movie. HBO had success with the TV series Deadwood. Westerns are more expensive to make than sitcoms and many times more costly than unscripted "reality" television shows that I never watch. The key to a great movie begins with a great script. Cowboys and Aliens made money, although I have not seen it personally. What is hot with the under thirty crowd is Zombies. Guess I'll have to crank out a Cowboys and Zombies script with Matthew McConaughey as the star!

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

    Ken: Keep writing and promoting our existing novels. Buck and I are both working on a western individually, wouldn't call either a sequel. We're also completing our fourth Black Eagle Force novel, Black Eagle Force: Blood Ivory.

    Ken is a celebrity guest at the Bobby Norris Roundup for Autism in Ft. Worth, Sept. 7 & 8. He is also a celebrity guest at the Spirit of the Cowboy Festival in McKinney, Sept. 21 & 22. Autographed copies of our new western novel, The Nations, will be available at both events.

    Buck is working a Civil War era novel called Trail To Durango. It centers around a young man who gets drawn into the war when his family is murdered by a marauding band of Union cavalry. He trails them and ends up volunteering to serve with a Confederate Cavalry unit. After the war he moves west and settles in Colorado. After an incident with a bully and his brother in a bar, he finds himself a wanted man with a bounty on his head.

 

   

Ken Farmer, served in the Marine Corps and graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University. Ken has been a professional actor/director/writer for over forty years with memorable roles in Silverado, Friday Night Lights and The Newton Boys, wrote and directed Rockabilly Baby. He was also the OC an VO spokesman for Wolf Brand Chili for over eight years and participated in the Ben Johnson Pro-Celebrity Rodeos until Ben's death in '96.

   

Buck Stienke is a former fighter pilot and retired captain from Delta Airlines. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, he was also executive producer for the award-winning film Rockabilly Baby and co-author of five novels with Ken Farmer.

 

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