StoryTeller’s 7: James J. Griffin, Tales of the Texas Rangers

AUTHENTICITY is what James J. Griffin strives for in his novels about the Texas Rangers, an organization he has admired since the mid-Fifties.

In addition to extensive traveling and research to nail down the background and details of his stories, he also relies on contacts within the Texas Ranger community.

Best known for his novels about Texas Rangers, Jim’s stories are traditional and reminiscent of pulp Westerns featuring strong heroes with high moral values.

An avid horseman throughout his life, this New England author bought his first horse, a pinto, when he was a junior in college.  He’s a member of the Connecticut Horse Council Volunteer Horse Patrol. Jim and his horse, Yankee—an American Paint—is an auxiliary park ranger, and helps patrol state parks and forests.

In this interview, he also talks about how real Texas Rangers felt about the television series that featured a contemporary Ranger.

 

StoryTeller’s 7

 

1.  A few months ago, you inked a contract with High Noon Press  for a series of short stories featuring character Texas Ranger Tim Bannon. Can you elaborate on this a bit, and what was the inspiration for Ranger Rowdy.

The Tim Bannon character was originally used in a short story for the Rope and Wire Western Community website. When I was offered the opportunity to do a series of short stories for High Noon Press, it was only natural to use Tim Bannon for the new series.

Rowdy, like all the horses ridden by the main characters in all of my western stories, was created by combining the personalities and appearances of the four horses I have owned.

James J. Griffin, authorSince I’ve been a horseman most of my life, and have always owned Paints, my Texas Ranger characters, except for Sean Kennedy in Death Stalks the Rangers, ride paints. (Yes, I’m not capitalizing paint, since there were no formal horse breeds such as the Paint during the colonial and frontier eras).

Rowdy’s nasty personality is based on my first horse, Sam, who could have a temper when he wanted, except with me, and his buckskin and white markings describe Mr. T, my second horse. Horses are always an integral part of my books. Contrary to what many people think, horses are highly intelligent and very loyal.

2. What other writing projects are you involved in currently?

I am writing the remaining four stories for the A Ranger Named Rowdy Tim Bannon Texas Ranger series. Volume 4, Jack Bosco, was just released this past Thursday.

I’ve also recently finished my chapters for Volumes 6, Hell on the Prairie, and Volume 8, Night of the Assassins for the Western Fictioneers Wolf Creek series, which is a collaborative project where several writers contribute to the books, working together under the house name Ford Fargo. I’m just starting to work on Volume 9, A Wolf Creek Christmas.

In addition, The Ranger, my book for the Western Fictioneers’  West of the Big River series, is due for release at the end of July. I also have three more books in my main Texas Ranger series planned, a Jim Blawcyzk, a Cody Havlicek, and a Sean Kennedy. Those are a bit further down the trail.

3.  Do the novel and the short story present different problems to you, and how would you characterize the differences.

 It’s funny. I recall how, when we were kids in school, a teacher would assign a 500 word essay and we’d all moan. Now it’s like “What do you mean, only 500 words? You can’t say anything in 500 words.”

Truthfully, each is unique. Short stories are fun to write because they don’t take anywhere near as long, but that comes at the expense of character development and landscape description. I can have a hard time cutting back a short story to the required length.

One thing I’ve found in doing the  A Ranger Named Rowdy Tim Bannon stories is it’s a lot more satisfying doing a series of short stories, since that gives you the opportunity to give your character more depth than in a single short story. And of course in a novel you get to introduce more characters, and more plot twists.

Each form has its own challenges, but each is enjoyable.

 4.  I understand you had an extensive collection of Texas Ranger artifacts that became part of the permanent collection in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum in Waco. What triggered your desire to start collecting? Of all the items what were the most difficult to get your hands on and how did you go about it?

I’ve been fascinated by the Texas Rangers since I was a kid, and wouldn’t miss an episode of the old television series Tales of the Texas Rangers. At that time I also had all the Dell comics of the same name (that were) tied in with the series, which were lost over the years.

When Walker, Texas Ranger came on the air, and his horse Amigo disappeared, I wanted to find out what happened to Amigo. (He died too young of colic, which is the same thing that happened to my horse Sizzle). That inquiry led me to start looking for the Dell comics again, which led me to discover the old Texas Ranger Magazine pulp. That triggered a collecting frenzy.

The reason I donated most of my collection to the Museum is I knew if anything happened to me my sisters or brother would have no idea what to do with it, and I didn’t want to see it broken up. And this way lots of people get to enjoy the stuff I collected, rather than just me.

The two items most difficult to get my hands on were the entire series of Texas Ranger magazine, all 214 issues, which stretched from 1936 to 1958. That took several years. The other item is a small pewter statue called “Texas Ranger Trackin’,” by Philip Kraczkowski. He’s the man who came up with the prototype for the G.I. Joe doll.

Ironically, although he was quite prolific, it’s almost impossible to find out anything about him. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a listing for him, last time I checked. A lot of his pewter sculptures are fairly common, but obtaining the “Texas Ranger Trackin’” can be tough.

I obtained most of my items through eBay. One of my most valuable items is still in my possession. That’s a copy of my first Jim Blawcyzk novel, Trouble Rides the Texas Pacific, which my good friend Texas Ranger Jim Huggins (now retired) had signed by all of the members of the Texas Ranger at the time the book was released.

I’d still like to get my hands on the Texas Ranger pinball machine. However, to get one of those, I’d have to rob several banks.

5.  You’ve been referred to as sort of an unofficial historian for the Texas Rangers. What are some of the misconceptions that people have about the Rangers that you’d like set the record straight on? What inside info do you have that would surprise readers?

  • One of the biggest misconceptions people have is the Rangers of the frontier era were all strictly white Anglos . . .there were always some Texas Rangers of Mexican and even Native American ancestry, especially in the era before the Civil War. There were also African-Americans who served with the frontier era Rangers, after the War, but unofficially, mostly as cooks.
  • When the fighting started, they fought right alongside the white Rangers. As far as Rangers of Mexican ancestry, outlaws from Mexico would prey on Texans of Mexican ancestry as willingly as they did on whites. This being the case, many Mexican Texans were just as willing to become Texas Rangers and fight Mexican outlaws as Anglo Texans were.
  • The animosity between Mexican ancestry Texans and the Rangers really didn’t come to the forefront until the early 1900s.
  •  Another misconception is the Ranger badge. The Rangers didn’t officially adopt badges until well into the 1900s. Until then, very few Rangers wore badges.
  • For a little-known fun fact, most of today’s Rangers hated Walker Texas Ranger. The series was completely far-fetched and showed an absolutely false picture of the modern Texas Ranger. But what the Rangers hated most about the show was Chuck Norris’ s unkempt look (Rangers aren’t allowed to have beards) and the black hat. While Rangers in the old days wore whatever color and style of hat they chose, today’s Rangers must wear a white Western hat, or light-colored straw cowboy hat in the summer. They also have to wear ties, except when in the field or undercover.

 

That said, I have to admit I enjoyed “Walker,”while recognizing the show for what it was, entertainment and nothing more.

6.  Who are three writers you read with the greatest pleasure and the ones who made the greatest impression on you? If you had the chance to sit around a campfire with them, what would you ask each one?

First I’d ask “Where’s the insect repellent?” Second question would be “Where’s the nearest Best Western?” As much as I love being in the woods riding my horse, at the end of the day I want a soft bed and a hot shower.

My friends always kid me about “What kind of a cowboy are you, not liking to camp?” My answer to that is cowboys are very practical. If there’d been a nice hotel nearby at the end of each day on a cattle drive, do you think those cowboys would have slept on the hard ground? Not a chance. The night guards would have stayed with the herd, and the rest of the crew would have headed for the hotel.

First writer I’d love to have met would be Louis L’Amour. I’d ask him to take me to some of the locales for his western novels.

Second one would be Jack Schaefer, who wrote Shane. I’d ask him whether Shane lived or died. Believe it or not, “Shane” was required reading at the Catholic high school I attended, and they still have copies in the school library.

Third would be James Reasoner. I’d ask him how he manages to keep up his torrid writing pace. I’d also ask him which genre he most enjoys writing.

7.  What’s your best author moment?

That’s easy. When I’m at a book signing and a parent who has been having trouble getting their boy to read buys one of my books, usually Big Bend Death Trap for their son. Most often, their son is with them, and once he starts skimming through the book, with its riding, fistfighting, and shooting, he’s hooked.

The same way, whenever I do a program at a public library and donate one of my books, the librarian is inevitably excited to receive a book which would interest boys in reading.

Finally, I’d like to thank you, Tom, for the opportunity to appear on Storyteller’s 7.

For more about James  J. Griffin:

 

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4 comments to StoryTeller’s 7: James J. Griffin, Tales of the Texas Rangers

  • Hey, I can answer those questions, sort of. As far as writing a lot, what else am I gonna do? Seriously, though, it’s a matter of persistence. Today was a bad day for me. Brain didn’t want to work, had to do quite a bit of research for this section of the current book, just couldn’t ever build up any momentum. But tomorrow will be better. I keep plugging away. I don’t really have a favorite genre. I enjoy writing all of them. But I seem to gravitate most naturally to historical subjects, whether they’re Westerns, war novels, or period mysteries.

  • Great interview, Jim. But it seems that you are becoming pretty prolific yourself. You are knocking novels and short stories out at a rare old pace. And good stuff it is, too.

  • I enjoyed reading your interview, Jim. Your WC character, Ben Tolliver, is top-notch, so now I’m intrigued by Tim Bannon, too.

  • Thanks for the answers, James. And thanks for being the man who kept pushing me to write in the first place. If you hadn’t, I never would have started. I also want to say thanks, Keith, and thanks, Jacquie.

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