Award-winning novelist Gordon L. Rottman produced yet another page-turning adventure yarn. RIDE HARDER is the sequel to THE HARDEST RIDE, a USA Today bestseller, for which Rottman won the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel 2014. He was also honored as a Western Writers of America Spur Award Finalist for Best Traditional Western Novel for 2013.
Ride Harder follows cowpuncher Bud Eugen and his resourceful fiancée, Marta, as they confront all of the dangers Texas in the late 1880’s. When the seed money for Bud and Marta’s ranch is stolen from a local bank out of its Yankee-made safe, along with an Army arms shipment.
The adventure takes Bud and Marta back to Mexico “to secure their future and that of Texas itself, come hell, high water, or steam-powered locomotives.”
Rottman’s next book in the series will be Marta’s Daughter, set 25 years later. Bud and Marta’s daughter, Arsenia, is both formally educated and ranch-raised but with an irregular sense of right and wrong and what’s fair.
Gordon, who lives outside of Houston, served in the Army for 26 years in different capacities. He wrote war games for Green Berets for 11 years and is the author of over 130 military history books.
He writing projects focus on adventurous young adult novels—influenced by a bunch of audacious kids— Westerns (owing to his experiences on his wife’s family’s ranch in Mexico), and historical fiction that takes readers on a journey of how people really lived and thought, emphasizing that “history does not need to be boring.”
1. Ride Harder, the sequel to your bestseller, The Hardest Ride, is a fast moving, exciting read with lots of twists and turns. I was struck by the authentic voices of the characters you bring onto your literary stage. What’s the inspiration behind your main characters, Bud Eugen and his persistent fireball fiancé, Marta?
I believe in character-driven stories, so strong and unique characters are important. I had no idea how the characters would turn out when I started The Hardest Ride. I wanted Bud to be a regular guy, put proficient in shooting and tracking. He’s not some “gunfighter.” Being a good shot was necessary to stay alive.
He has his flaws, but he basically wants to do the right thing. He was pretty easy going, slow to anger, and intolerant of wrongdoing. He was somewhat entrepreneurial, for example, collecting guns and saddles of gunfight losers and selling them.
Most real people are complex and too many characters are stereotypical and lack that complexity. I certainly did not want some bigger than life hero, just a regular cowpoke with enough skills to handle most situations.
Marta was a different matter. Mexican women are often depicted as passive and subservient, especially in the Old West era. I find that not to be the case. It was necessary for Marta to possess some handicap that challenged her day-to-day life, but it could not, of course, limit her physically.
Being mute was ideal. She had to work hard to make herself understood and that was a challenge to Bud as well. Her inspiration was simple, I’m married to her, except my wife does occasionally speak…and we listen.
I’ve been asked how I came up with a lackluster name like Bud Eugen. In the early 1980s, we bought one of the kids a Cabbage Patch Kid. They came with a computer-printed tag with their name. This particular denizen of the cabbage field was named Bud Eugene. Only the first nine letters/spaces were printed on the tag, so we called him Bud Eugen. I said if I ever write a novel, I’m using that name. We still have Bud Eugen by the way.
2. This story features a lot of different and colorful locales and cultures along the Texas-Mexico border. What kind of research did it take to get it right?
That was easy; I know the area, especially on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. I have been going to The Five Springs (los Cinco Manantiales) area, about 30 miles across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, for over 35 years. Much of that time was spent on my wife’s family’s cattle ranch where I was put to work.
I’m no cowboy by any stretch, but I worked roundups and any number of ranch jobs. I learned the terrain, vegetation, the drastically changing weather, and the people—and the horses. I experienced different things, such as what is it like to ride across the Rio Grande in winter and what it is like to have three banditos charge straight at you on horses.Three of the ranch’s vaqueros provided me the experience
Admittedly, I had read few Western novels prior to starting The Hardest Ride. I had read a lot of firsthand accounts and memoirs of actual cowpokes. Learning about the lives of cavalry officers, Black Seminole scouts, and Mexican peons required everyday research using the right books.
3. This is an adventure yarn with different bad guys and girls and incredible odds to overcome, including some important technical issues, such as guns and trains. What part of the story ranked as the biggest challenge in writing this story?
I wanted to get the use and effects of Gatling guns right, to show how devastating they really were. That took a lot of research, talking to a couple of experts, and getting the feel of an actual Gatling.
By the way, did you know that the U.S. Army bought its last Gatling in 1911 and they were not declared obsolete until 1915? Oh, and they were never used by civilians as portrayed in a couple of dozen Western movies.
I wanted the description and operation of the train to be accurate as well. The descriptions of the rolling stock and locomotive 103 of Ferrocarril Internacional Mexicano (Mexican International Railroad) are completely authentic.
The real challenge though was “stage management.” I had several different small groups of people in widely scattered locations relying on infrequent and unreliable means of communications and divergent means of transport.
They all had to come together in the right place and right time. That right place was a moving train. (It makes you realize how valuable a cell phone is.) Without relying on coincidence and chance, their rendezvous had to be believable and make sense. It was difficult to work out and at one point I set is aside for a few weeks until it came together in my mind.
It was difficult to work out and at one point I set is aside for a few weeks until it came together in my mind. Fortunately, I had spent 11 years writing war games for Green Berets and SEALs. There’s always a way to make things happen.
4. A good villain is hard to write. And you have a major and a few minor ones. How did you approach writing your villains?
Villains are just like the rest of us, they just have different goals and concepts of how to achieve them. A villain can be an uncaring badass, but they have most of the same desires and fears as us. They often, in reality, have at least some good points, too.
The terrible things they may do may not necessarily be in their nature (although they will not hesitate to do it—that goal-oriented thing again). In other words, the villain executed one of his minions for failure was not to be mean but to keep his other minions in line. A “good” villain I think should show some degree of humanity and even a sense of humor.
5. Of all the characters, I especially enjoyed Mera—a bit of a mystery woman who is selfish and self-absorbed but, at the same time, reveals a willingness to do the right thing. Will she ever return to center stage?
I like Esmerelda von Grimmelshausen—Mera—too (or whatever name the vamp’s using this week), but I would not turn my back on her and I’d keep a tight grip on my wallet and Glock…I mean Colt. As I said, villains can have good points.
As I said, villains can have good points. Mera was well raised, educated, and privileged. She’s not unrealistically evil, just a basically good girl trying to survive, even if taking advantage of other persons.
I mention in the epilogue that Mera and her new husband stay in touch with Bud and Marta. I do hope to have her pop up at the most inopportune time—for everyone else, not her—in a future novel.
6. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not so much a message, but to find a better understanding of how things and people were different back then, but in many ways are no different than people today. I like to provide a glimpse of how folks lived then and what their mores and values were in a PC-free world.
7. Have readers heard the last of Bud and Marta?
By no means. Several books are in the works. The next will be Marta’s Ride. It is basically the story of The Hardest Ride from Marta’s point of view. Now I know some will say, “Why would I want to read the same story twice?” It’s a much different story.
You will learn a great deal about Marta, her family, her life as a migrant worker and beggar, and see that she is a rather complex and conflicted person when dealing with her attachment to Bud.
After the kidnapping, we, of course, know little of what happened to Marta and the other three girls during their ordeal. Their experience is much different than their rescuers. There are twists and betrayals, escapes, and punishment. In writing Marta’s Ride I came to realize just how difficult it is to it is for a mute person to communicate without the benefit of sign language or the ability to read and write.
More about Gordon: