“The Pony Riders” was certainly a departure from my horror novels. It is also my lengthiest novel at 380 pages.
Why, then, did I write a western? Since boyhood I have been an ardent fan of westerns, and tales of the pony express captivated my imagination, especially those featuring the notorious gunman J.A. Slade. Slade, though, was romanticised in some of the stories about him in boys’ papers. In reality he was a drunken gunman and murderer which is perhaps why he was appointed Road Boss on a section of the route ridden by those brave carriers of the U.S. mail.
Mark Twain wrote of him “He was so friendly and gentle spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history. It was hardly possible to realise that this person was the pitiless scourge of the outlaws, the raw-headed-and-bloody-bones the mothers of the mountains terrified their children with. And to this day I can remember nothing remarkable about Slade except that his face was rather broad across and the cheek bones were low and the lips peculiarly thin and straight. But that was enough to leave something of an effect upon me, for since then I seldom see a face like that without fancying that the owner of it is a dangerous man.”
All of the pictures which I have seen of Slade portrayed him dressed in black with a matching brimmed hat.
As a boy, armed with a toy cap-firing pistol, I used to pretend that I was J.A. Slade, gunning down outlaws and Indians.
Moving on many years, Jean and I went to New York to meet my Zebra editors. We were taken to lunch and clearly they were looking to commission my next two horror books. That was when I dropped my bombshell announcing that “I would like to write a western!”
There was a stunned silence, then “well, let us have a synopsis and some sample chapters and we will give it every consideration.”
I did just that on my return home and “The Pony Riders” saw publication in 1997. It was a factual history with a fictional plot interwoven. Of course, one of the leading characters was J.A. Slade.
It was published under the Pinnacle imprint and did tolerably well. In fact I recently noticed that a copy was offered on the internet at £30!
For myself, J.A. Slade lives on.
I have it in mind to write another western sometime. I wonder how it would be received by my current fan base.