- Patricia Stover
Author Interview Dennis Doty
Your first book, The Cherokee Strip was published in March of 2021 and your next book, The Outlaw Queen is scheduled for release in September 2023. Both of these books were cowritten with the late Dusty Richards. Can you tell us a bit about these two books? Are they interconnected in any way?
The Cherokee Strip is the story of Norm Thompson. Norm leaves Montana after being involved in a gunfight and rides south to Nebraska. Unexpectedly, he meets a young woman there who is also trying to escape a sordid past. They manage to buy a decrepit old cattle ranch, the Rocking Chair, and set out to restore it to its former glory. With Norm’s brawn and Edith’s brains, they are quite a success until their past comes calling.
Mary Ann Cates owned a successful Kansas farm. Her life had been good even with her “cattle buyer” husband away most of the time. Charlie was a good provider, and the separation was simply a price to pay. That all changed when he got himself killed. Turned out he was a member of the James Gang. Now, the entire town shunned the lovely widow they called The Outlaw Queen.
In six short years, Rath Macon had transformed himself from a penniless defeated Confederate into a respected cattle rancher who annually took his beeves up the Chisholm Trail to market. It was a good life, but not good enough for his wife. Rath returned from Kansas to find that she had literally spent him out of house and home. Vonita had run off with another man and the bank was auctioning off everything he’d built. With his last three horses and the clothes on his back, he rode north out of Texas looking to start over.
Can Rath and Mary Ann hold on to each other and pick up the pieces of their broken lives?
Both The Cherokee Strip and The Outlaw Queen are part of Dusty’s Brandiron series which are basically origin stories of big cattle ranches.
How did you meet Dusty Richards and how did you come to collaborate on these books?
Unfortunately, I never got to meet Dusty. We spoke briefly on a conference call with his publisher. I had submitted a short story to Saddlebag Dispatches. Dusty read it and loved it. He then researched my social media and learned that I was an editor, so he told the publisher, “We need to hire this guy.” Together, Dusty and the publisher, Casey Cowan, recruited me and one of my first jobs was to edit Dusty’s novel, Zekial. He was pleased with the job I did and asked that I be assigned as his editor for other works. He also scheduled a call to discuss how I might help him sort through his massive collection of published books that needed rewrites or expansion, and stories that weren’t yet fully developed or written.
Tragically, a couple days before that call, he was involved in a car crash and both he and his wife were killed. Once the shock wore off, Casey and Dusty’s daughters asked that I take on the task of curating Dusty’s work and finishing the projects he had in mind. The Cherokee Strip and Outlaw Queen are two of those pieces. I also worked on A Bride For Gil and Gold in the Sun but these required less rewriting and supplementing than the former two. There are dozens more in the “to do” list.
What is your favorite Dusty Richards book or story?
The Natural is absolutely Dusty’s best work. It’s the story of a young and gifted rodeo cowboy with a troubled past.
Author is one of the many hats you wear, aside from a cowboy hat that is. You are also Chief Acquisitions Officer for Roan & Weatherford Publishing, and the publisher of Saddlebag Dispatches Magazine. When you began your writing journey, did you know that you were going to take a dive into publishing? What sparked the idea of becoming a publisher and, if you could, tell us a little bit about your journey?
I’ve been truly blessed in my journey as an author. My goal was simply to write something good enough for publication. Although I’d had a couple of small things published in a local newspaper and an anthology, my first real publishing credit was the story I sent to Saddlebag Dispatches called “White Buffalo Woman.” It’s the story of a young Cheyenne boy who survives the massacre on the Washita with some supernatural help and later is present at the Little Bighorn. That story resulted in me joining Oghma Creative Media, the forerunner of Roan & Weatherford, as an associate editor. They liked my work, and I soon became Senior Editor, Executive Editor, then Publisher of the magazine. It was never my intention to get into publishing, but it’s been an exciting ride and I’m very proud of the magazine and the awards our authors have won under my leadership.
You’re quite a prolific author. You’ve authored short stories in many genres, including Western, Historical, Romance, and Speculative Fiction. Are there any genres that you haven’t tried that you’d like to write in the future? Also, are there any genres that you won’t author and, if so, why?
I have a partially written crossover Western/Fantasy that I started a few years back. I’d like to finish it one day. I’d also like to write a seafaring historical book similar to C.S. Forester’s work. I tried horror once to no success even when I had a successful horror writer help with a rewrite. It’s not a genre I read or enjoy, so I’m not good at it. I enjoy some sci-fi, but like westerns and historical fiction, it requires considerable knowledge and research, so I’ll leave that to others. I have no interest in writing children’s, erotica, nor inspirational. They simply don’t interest me.
You’ve edited over fifty novels, including one of which was shortlisted for the 2022 Rakuten-Kobo Prize, and you’ve edited over one-hundred short stories and two short story collections. Quite impressive if I may say. (Also, for anyone who does not know this, Dennis is editing my book, Locust Creek, which I hope to have finished final edits by next fall.) What has been the most challenging part of balancing your Author/Editor/Publisher life so far? It seems that these days being a writer is hard enough as it is, how do you juggle all these roles?
It helps that I’m retired and that all these jobs are done from the same desk in my living room. I keep a spreadsheet on my editing and writing projects that includes deadlines. Deadlines are a great motivator. It’s still challenging, and my process is still evolving. Starting this year, we’ve added a related anthology to coincide with the release of each issue of the magazine, and as a result of that and the two writing contests we run, I’ve blocked out the months of February and August in my schedule to concentrate on overseeing the contests and editing the magazine and anthologies.
Can you tell us a bit about Saddlebag Dispatches Magazine? What author names can we expect to see? Does the magazine publish more than short stories?
Saddlebag Dispatches is a western themed slick magazine similar in appearance to Cowboys and Indians or one of the Time/Life special issues. We usually run around 175 pages and are available in eBook format on our website or in print from your favorite retailer. Each issue includes a half-dozen or so short stories, roughly the same number of columns, some feature stories, a couple poems, three book reviews and a cartoon. Sometimes we publish a serial novel/novella. We ask our feature writers and columnists to write like they are writing for the Saturday Evening Post. Fiction can be anything from traditional western to modern westerns or western romance to cross-genre western/fantasy. We consider ourselves a family magazine so graphic sex or violence won’t make the cut but mild cussing might.
Your short story “When it Rains” was a finalist for the 2021 Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. This must have been very exciting. Can you tell us what this story is about and what the inspiration was behind it?
I wanted to write a story about one of the underrepresented characters of the American west in a location I was familiar with in southeast Arizona. Francisco “Cisco” Gonzalez is a poor Mexican-American dirt farmer and part-time prospector always hoping for the strike that would make life easier for himself, Juana and their children. On what he has promised Juana will be his last trip into Apache country, he is discovered and attacked by Apache. He survives a tense battle, and in the aftermath, finds that a ricocheting bullet has uncovered the vein he sought. He returns home to find the sheriff is looking for him. Seeking out the sheriff he learns that a lawyer has been asking for him. It seems that his grandfather, a wealthy rico in Frontera who had put Cisco’s mother in a nunnery when he learned she was pregnant by a mere caballero, has passed away and left the estancia and some mining interests in Guerrera to his only grandson.
What book or story, that you’ve written, are you most proud of and why?
To this point, probably The Cherokee Strip. Several of Dusty’s fans have told me that they can’t identify what parts are Dusty’s and which are mine. I consider that a very high compliment.
I’m also quite proud of a short story published in Saddlebag Dispatches called ‘The Wedding Dress” because it’s about a couple of old broke down rodeo cowboys much like myself and I fell in love with their characters.
Have you ever authored Western Horror and if not, would you? If the answer is yes, what do you think it would be about?
No. Horror is a genre I don’t enjoy reading and am not at all good at.
Do any of your stories have dark elements?
Yes. I have one in particular titled “Whiskey” which is the story of a miner who kills his partner and a curse put on him by the dying man, but the story is mostly humorous.
Tell us about your Speculative Fiction piece.
This is another good story that hasn’t yet found a proper home. It’s the story of a young Marine in his first firefight in Vietnam. Another man joins him in his foxhole and talks him through the battle fighting by his side. The next day, back at the base, he goes looking for Clinton to thank him and learns that Clinton is not a Marine but was former slave and a Medal of Honor winner in the Apache Wars.
Was there ever a time when you were scared? Maybe driving down a dark road at night or at a creepy relative’s house, something like that?
Of course, many times. Probably the most scared I ever was happened in South Korea. We were located on the base for the 1st ROK Marine Division. I returned from liberty in Pohang very close to the midnight curfew. Curfew there is a very serious thing. Somehow, in the pitch black night, I took a wrong turn getting back to my quarters. So, I’m walking down the road and I hear the bolt on an M-14 slam home. I was a Korean linguist, but I remembered phrases I had never learned. Something to the effect of “Please don’t shoot. I’m a stupid American and I’ve lost my way.” The ROK Marine walked down to the road chuckling softly and gave me directions.
Do you have any Western Horror recommendations?
As previously stated, it’s not a genre I enjoy reading, so I’m afraid I can’t help much. Native American stories of Wendigo or Skin-Walkers would probably fit the bill.
You are also the Vice-President of the Western Fictioneers, the second largest organization of Western Writers. How has this experience helped you with your career as a writer, editor, and publisher? Do you find that surrounding yourself with other Writers has had a positive impact on your own writing? Is the group open to join?
I find Western Fictioneers to be a very supportive and effective group at promoting western writing and helping each other with research questions and encouragement. Associating with other writers in the genre encourages me to write more and better stories. Knowing most of the best writers in the genre today is certainly helpful in getting high quality content for the magazine and award-winning judges for our contests.
The membership requirement for joining Western Fictioneers is simple: you must have been paid for writing Western fiction.
What new ideas are rattling around in that brain of yours? Anything we can look forward to in the coming years?
I think I mentioned that I have a cross-genre western/fantasy waiting to be finished. But first, there are a number of Dusty’s works that I’ll be working on. I just finished a rewrite/edit on The Outlaw Queen which will release in September and I’m considering a couple other for similar treatment. I have at least three partially written novels that I need to get back to when time permits and I try to write at least one new piece for Saddlebag every year. Some readers have asked me to expand my short story “Billy” to a full-length novel, and that is tempting.
I’m going to take a guess and say that the Western genre is your favorite, correct me if I’m wrong. Aside from Western, what genre do you enjoy writing the most and why?
I’m mostly an historical fiction guy. I enjoy reading and writing almost anything historical or military. That’s where I’m most comfortable because of my background. I’d like to be a better humorist, but that is a difficult genre to get right.
In the forward of The Cherokee Strip, you talk about your grandfather, Loyd, calling him a wrangler and a storyteller. You even went on to say that he was “the last generation of the original cowboy.” He seems to have been a great inspiration to you becoming a writer, do you have a favorite story that he used to tell? Do you remember where you were and the way you felt when you sat down to listen to the first story told by your grandfather?
I don’t remember the first time, but among my favorites were his recounting how he survived a Wyoming blizzard only to find the next morning that he was 100 yards from the ranch house, or outsmarting the Albany County sheriff when running moonshine.
Can you tell us about the Cowboy Code?
It’s fairly simple really:
Respect women, all women all the time
Always tell the truth
Be willing to help each other
Always give a fair day’s work for a day’s pay
Never tolerate a bully, it only encourages them
What advice do you have for new writers or for seasoned writers who may be struggling?
Write. This profession is like any other. It takes a lot of study and practice to get it right The more you write, the better your writing will be. Don’t be afraid of honest critiques. Thank them and use what you can. Tell your story your way. Someone will read it and like it.
Where can readers find your books?
The Cherokee Strip is my first full novel, and is available wherever books are sold.
You can also follow Dennis on Facebook or sign up for his newsletter here.