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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2015

An Interview with

David James Keaton


An interview with writer David James Keaton about his brand new Western novel, PIG IRON.

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

    David James Keaton: Pig Iron takes place in the town of Aqua Fría after the wells run dry, where townsfolk are forced to drink whiskey instead of water. They have only three days to search for treasure and seek revenge before they die of dehydration, or catch on fire, as their alcohol-soaked clothes and bodies are prone to combustion. The book also includes a glossary of western terminology, real and imagined. The book has been described as kind of Deadwood meets A Clockwork Orange, with a shot of "wry."

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

    DJK: I hope that as I attempt to subvert the western genre, that I also play to its strengths, so that this novel would still entertain fans, as well as skeptics, of the western genre. I think there are still interesting things you can do with a gun fight, with a horse chase, and with all the western tropes. And I believe that western myths can be exploded while simultaneously being indulged.


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

DJK: As the characters in Pig Iron find themselves dying of thirst, they are motivated to find ways to right perceived wrongs, rescue loved ones, and battle murderous hallucinations as they suffer through their dehydration. This isn't an easy feat, and doom hangs over the proceedings. There's also a good deal of revenge-seeking, as well as men battling deceptive histories, tall tales, and disappointed fathers.

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

    DJK: When I hear "western," I confess that I think mostly of film, as I grew up on a steady diet of western cinema, compliments of my dad, another huge western fan. In fact, he and I both worked on Pig Iron, as sort of a tribute to the Marty Robbins song "Big Iron," which acts as an unofficial theme. This is one of my dad's favorite tunes, and our fascination with the plot of that story song, especially the showdown between "Red" and the mysterious "Ranger," is a direct inspiration for this novel. Although things don't play out exactly like Marty Robbins' last verse may have predicted.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

    DJK: I started writing in the crime and horror genres, but I've always wanted to try writing something with westerns, particularly when I'd read a western, or see a western movie, and I'd start thinking, "Now why would that character do that?" In this novel, I get to have some fun with wish fulfillment, and have the characters do the crazier stuff I wanted them to, and maybe not play it so safe, which is something I've heard is a more historically accurate depiction of that time period anyway. This also helps me satisfy my craving for some of those missed opportunities where I thought some other more mainstream westerns were playing it too close to the vest.

TWO: What writers have influenced you the most?

    DJK: In the western genre, I love Cormac McCarthy, of course. Blood Meridian almost did me in. I am also a big fan of Ron Hansen's historical novels The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Desperadoes, as well as Tom Franklin's mean-spirited western masterpiece Smonk.

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

    DJK: My favorite novel would have to be Smonk at the moment, although this changes weekly. My favorite western film is tougher to narrow down. So I'll give you my current top five, which change hourly. McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a movie that the amazing series Deadwood owes so very much to, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and Open Range. I particularly love how McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Open Range subvert expectations in their final gunfights.

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

    DJK: If Doc Holliday is even half as strange as he is depicted in fiction, I think he would be a great afternoon of conversation, as long as I didn't make him mad or let him cough on me.

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

    DJK: I'm not sure if I could visit the town of Agua Fría again, since there's nothing left but smoke and dead men. Don't worry, that didn't spoil the ending. The dead men in this book kind of start out dead, and get worse from there. But dead men can still be very dangerous, when they're not catching on fire.

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

    DJK: Pig Iron will be available on June 19th, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the usual online places. Thanks for taking the time to listen to me ramble. Time to go amble.


David James Keaton's fiction has appeared in over 50 publications, including Grift, The Big Adios, and Noir at the Bar II. His first collection, Fish Bites Cop! Stories to Bash Authorities (Comet Press), was named the 2014 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. His first novel, The Last Projector, was recently published by Broken River Books.


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