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Published on Monday, June 25, 2012.

An Interview

with Julia Robb


Western writer Julia Robb granted an interview to The Western Online regarding her novel, Scalp Mountain. It was recently reviewed by Ron Scheer at his Buddies in the Saddle blog and by James Reasoner on his blog.

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

    Jullia Robb: "Scalp Mountain" is about Colum McNeal, a man fleeing gunmen sent by his enraged father. Colum pioneers a Texas ranch, a home which means everything to him, but struggles to stay there because José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache, seeks revenge for the son Colum unwittingly killed.

    At the same time, an old acquaintance, Mason Lohman, obsessively stalks Colum through the border country, planning to take his life.

    Other characters include Texas Ranger William Henry, who takes Colum's part against his father while wrestling with his own demons. Henry's family was murdered by Comanches and he regrets the revenge he took; and Clementine Weaver, who defies frontier prejudice by adopting an Indian baby, must choose between Colum and her husband.

    "Scalp Mountain" is based on the Southern Plains' Indian Wars. I've printed my bibliography on my website; scalp

    Those wars were morally complex, and the novel attempts to reflect those profound, tragic and murderous complications.

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

    Julia: My novel is set in 1876, in Texas, shortly after Custer and many of his men were killed on the Little Bighorn. Nothing had been settled between the White pioneers and the Indian peoples on the Southern and Northern Plains. It was highly dangerous to travel on the frontier, even in groups, and both sides declared they would give no quarter; and they didn't. S. C. Gwynne, author of "Empire of the Summer Moon," (don't you love that title?) noted that during the Comanche wars, in Texas, it was war to the death, every single time Indians and Whites fought. Life was literally on the line. It was an intense period in American history.


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

    Julia: Colum wants to hide from the men his father has sent to kill him, to live a settled life, to have something of his own, but he also wants to deny he's the author of his own predicament. But he can't hide because life always finds us out.

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

    Julia: I don't know the answer to this. I'd like to think many Westerns are really historical novels because they attempt to explain and describe specific times and conditions, and why those conditions existed. Westerns and/or historical novels often carry themes (as does "Scalp Mountain"). For instance, a great Western/Historical novel, is Tom Lea's "The Wonderful Country," also set on the Texas frontier, in about 1875. Lea's hero has been a fugitive in Mexico since he was a boy and he's trying to find his way home; but can he? "The Wonderful Country" is about what home is, the place we all long for.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

    Julia: The clash of cultures between White pioneers and Indian peoples draws me like a head-on train wreck: The morally complicated issues, the life and death existence, the sheer danger of living in that time and riding its enormous landscapes. The frontier was an elemental place, although not a simple place.

TWO: What writers have influenced you the most??

    Julia: For novels, Tom Lea, as well as Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim," (I am fascinated by books about personality and moral issues). But my very favorite books are frontier memoirs, especially Capt. John G. Bourke's "On The Border With Crook." Bourke served with the Third Cavalry, in Arizona Territory and the Dakotas, chasing the Apache and the Sioux. Bourke was a talented writer who made notes on everything he saw, then generously left his impressions for us. He also wrote other books and, later in life, became a noted anthropologist. I urge everyone interested in the frontier to read "On the Border With Crook."

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

    Julia: "The Wonderful Country." I forgot to say that this book is extremely lyrical and evocative.

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?

    Julia: I have no idea. Maybe people are just tired of the time in which we live. I'm tired of the 21st Century. I was tired of the 20th. But I do appreciate that our babies don't usually die (19th Century infant mortality could reach 70 to 80 percent, depending on place), that we have aspirin, good dentistry and good vet care.

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

    Julia: No sequel. I'm mulling over another novel, but not settled on the plot yet.

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

    Julia: I'm tired of historians and politicos assuming the worst about White Americans who spread over this continent. Both Whites and Indian peoples sinned against each other. Both sides committed atrocities. Both had a point of view. Everyone was right, everyone was wrong, everyone got hurt. That's true.


    Julia Robb spent twenty years as a reporter and editor and is now a free-lance editor and novelist who lives in Marshall, Texas. Ms. Robb has lived in every part of Texas, from the Piney Woods on the east, close to the Louisiana line, to the Rio Grande and the Mexican border, to the Davis Mountains in far Western Texas. "Scalp Mountain" is set in the fictional Sierra de la Luz Santa de Dios, the real-life Davis Mountains. Ms. Robb bases her books on Texas history.


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