StoryTeller’s 7: Larry Sweazy, and Scrambling the Genres

LARRY D. SWEAZY’s writing journey began like a lot of other writers—navigating through a literary river of rejection slips.

After fifteen years of persistence, he published a short story called The Promotion. It was so good that it won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Short Story in 2005. The Promotion also captured attention in the mystery genre, appearing in a 2004 mystery short story anthology.

Larry prefers to focus on story, rather than genre. Genre, he believes, is too confining.

His first novel—The Rattlesnake Season—was published in 2009, and went on to write five more, all which feature Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe.

In addition to fiction, Larry writes articles and book reviews, as well as poetry. He and his wife, Rose, along with two dogs and a cat, make their home in Indiana.

 

StoryTeller’s 7

 

1. You’ve written at least six westerns. Which one did you have the most fun writing, and why?

The easy thing to say is the one I’m writing right now (Vengeance at Sundown, the first book in a new Western series from Berkley to come out in late 2014) is the most fun.  But each of the six westerns that I’ve published were special and fun in their own right.

Josiah Wolfe SeriesWriting is like any long-term relationship, there can be good days and bad, but if you’re not enjoying yourself through the process, then really, why do it?  It’s not easy to sit down day after day.

That said, I really enjoyed writing The Coyote Tracker (Josiah Wolfe #5), because I seriously challenged myself with it by keeping Josiah in Austin, or the nearby confines, for the entire book (the rest of the series took Josiah far and wide throughout Texas).  That book is also as much a mystery as it is a Western, and I really enjoyed mixing up the genres.

(Larry’s latest in the Josiah Wolf series is The Gila Wars, released in May)

2. You’ve also written a contemporary thriller, The Devil’s Bones. How difficult was it to change genres? Why a modern-day thriller opposed to another Western? And what other mystery novels do you have planned?

Well, the interesting thing is is that I wrote The Devil’s Bones before I wrote any of my Western novels. It just took a long time for that book to find a good home. This book was a ten year effort to write, and find a publisher for.  (For the record, my first published novel, The Rattlesnake Season, Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger #1, was the seventh novel that I wrote—it took me a long time to break through, and I don’t regret getting all of those rejection slips).

Author Larry Sweazy's The Devil's BonesBut I think this thriller has all of the elements that my Westerns do, starting with the basic premise: A man left to his own devices to survive and insure that justice is served in the end.

Roll back the time a hundred years at any point in The Devil’s Bones, and you have characters and a plot that fit into any Western story.  And story is the key word here.

That’s what I focus on more than genre.  Genre is where publishers and booksellers put writers so readers can find them.  I don’t think a good story should be confined by genre.  It’s that simple.

The current TV series Justified is perfect example of a modern-day Western in a law enforcement environment.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Westerns, or I wouldn’t write them, but sometimes, the story dictates another genre (or time period which automatically gets you shuffled into another genre).  I do have a few other mystery/thriller novels floating around out in the world looking for a home.

One features a nature photographer and is lighter in tone than anything else I’ve published, more of an amateur sleuth series, and another proposal is for a Depression-era PI (private investigator), former Texas Ranger, series set in Texas.

And, of course, I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to explore inside the Western genre, and outside of it, too.

3. In your award-winning Westerns, you spend a lot of time on character development. How do your characters differ from those in traditional Westerns? What overall theme are you trying to get readers to buy into?

It all starts with character for me.  Always has.  I like to read novels where I care about what happens next to the character I’m rooting for, and I hope to write the same kind of novels.  So, I don’t know that character development is something that I intentionally set out to do, but comes more naturally to me because it’s what I enjoy.

I’m not sure my characters differ from characters in a traditional western.  Shane (Shane by Jack Schaffer) was a reasonably complicated character even though we didn’t know any of his backstory, where he came from, or where he was going.

I could say I put Josiah in a modern situation by having a single man left on his own as a widower to raise a young son, but The Rifleman covered that territory forty-five years ago.

So, I really don’t think I’m breaking new ground.  But I don’t shy away from emotion, either.

I don’t think a just man would kill another man, regardless of the situation, and not be affected by that act in some way. Josiah Wolfe carries the consequences of his actions with him wherever he goes.  All of my characters do. I think it makes them easier to relate to, more human.

There’s no overall theme that I’m trying to be successful with—at least that I know of.  My subconscious mind might have another opinion, though…

4. Tell us about Josiah Wolfe. What inspired this character? How is he different than other protagonists? Briefly, what’s his unique back-story?

Interesting question.  I wrote a short story, “The Promotion,” that was published in 2004 in an anthology (Texas Rangers — Berkley)  and edited by Ed Gorman and the late Martin H. Greenberg. That story featured a modern-day Texas Ranger, Samuel “Red” Wolfe, and did pretty well for me.

When I decided to write a Western novel and series, I thought it would be interesting if I wrote a story about a relative of Red Wolfe’s, kind of a family saga idea, and so Josiah Wolfe was born from that notion.  I placed him in history at the very start of the Frontier Battalion so we could follow him, and the Rangers, from an important starting point in his life, and in the life of the organization.

Like Red, I wanted to Josiah to be fully-realized, followed by a tragedy, so he could aspire to overcome his circumstances.   I wrote a follow-up Red Wolfe short story and it was published several years ago, but to date, I still haven’t featured him in a novel. I hope to get around to that, and other Wolfe Saga ideas, one of these days.

One other quick thing about Josiah’s origin: I live in the town Rex Stout was born in.  He wrote the successful Nero Wolfe mystery series set in the 1930s, so the surname Wolfe is a nod to my town, and to Rex Stout.

5. You’ve written a lot of short stories. There seems to be renewed interest in short fiction. Why do you think that is? What different problems do the novel and short story present for you?

The other day I went shopping with my wife, Rose. While she was in the dressing room trying on clothes, I sat outside and waited.  Normally, I would be bored, and spend my time daydreaming or people watching.  Instead, I pulled out my phone, clicked on my reader app, and read two short stories while I sat there. I have several anthologies downloaded on my phone, and it was easy. They’re always with me.

I think short stories fit perfectly with the current technology boom in publishing.  As far as writing short stories.  It’s apples and oranges in comparison to writing novels.  I always say a novel is an evolution, and a short story is a revelation.

The short story writers that get that concept know what a challenge it is to create characters and a plot based on a revelation that hits home, and reaches an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

Most short stories just end, like a chapter in a novel, so to me, that’s not really a short story.

6. If you have the opportunity to meet three others writers for dinner (living or dead), who would they be and what one – and different – question would you ask each of them?

Jack London— “Are there any of your novels that you regret publishing?”

Zane Grey— “Did you ever feel like you had to defend the type of novels that you chose to write and publish?”

Stephen King—“Once you didn’t have to worry about money, was the daily act of writing easier, harder, or the same for you?”

7. How would you finish the statement, “I bet my readers or friends did not these three things about me . . .”

a. I have a bad back, and rarely ride horses, but I’d like to be able to ride every day. I fell off a big horse when I was a little kid, but I’ve never been afraid of them.  I enjoy the company of horses almost as much as I enjoy the company of dogs.

b. I prefer fish over steak.

c. I live in a normal, suburban neighborhood, and live a pretty normal life.

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Learn more about Larry by visiting here:

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8 comments to StoryTeller’s 7: Larry Sweazy, and Scrambling the Genres

  • I agree, Mr. Sweazy. Genres are too confining and character is what interests me most. It’s my starting place and interesting characters are what I look for in books. Nice post!

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Ellis. You do have interesting characters in your books, as well.

  • Larry D. Sweazy

    Thanks, Ellis. Tom asked some great questions…

  • Mary Ann Stafford

    Wow! Even after all of the years I’ve spent writing novels and short stories, I never understood the exact difference in them until this post. That’s why I haven’t concentrated on short stories. I’m going to print his quote and put it where I’ll see it everyday.

  • Another interesting and skilful interview, Tom. I enjoyed that.

    Larry, thank you for the insight into your writing life. Winning a Spur is a fantastic achievement. Did it open doors for your subsequent work? I imagine that it must have guaranteed a readership.

  • Keith–Glad you enjoyed it. Larry, I believe, represents the epitome of persistence. Rejection is tough enough under any circumstance. But to keep battling back from it defines a person’s character. And, it also proves that belief in your own talent pays off.

  • Larry D. Sweazy

    Glad I could help with the definition of a novel and short stories. It me a long time to figure it out, but really, O. Henry is the master of the short story, and when I started out I was only writing short stories–and reading a lot of them.

    Keith, yes, I would say that the Spur opened some doors for me inside the industry–but like all matters of luck, you have to be ready to walk in when opportunity shows itself. That said, it took three years to sell my first novel after I won the first Spur (for a short story). And that novel was sold off a proposal. Everyone will tell you that that’s impossible, will never happen. But it happened to me. Did it help that the same publisher that published the short story and I won a Spur for bought my first novel? Probably. Yes. You just never know what’s going to happen. You have to keep trying. The only way you fail is if you give up. I could never imagine quitting. What else would I do?

    Tom, in my house there’s a thin line between persistence and stubbornness. My wife can tolerate one, and suffers through the other. Most days with a smile.

  • Don’t you get tired of holding that fish over your steak? Isn’t the steak hard to cut with one hand?

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