I recently had the pleasure of meeting Eric Bishop, a novelist and author of the modern Western The Samaritan’s Pistol. It’s the story of a Desert Storm veteran whose life is turned upside down when he kills three Mafia henchman in self-defense. Eric was kind enough to answer a few interview questions. You’ll enjoy his story and wonder why you’re not writing a modern Western yourself.
1. When did you first become aware of your desire to be a writer?
In third grade, I hoarded paper from school to take home. I crafted stories built around my favorite television shows. There was always some alternate storyline I wanted to explore or a character I wanted to add. Sometimes things weren’t believable, or I craved more heroism and action. I think that’s true for most authors—we write the story we want to find in a bookstore.
2. When did you start writing The Samaritan’s Pistol and why?
I started about six years ago. The why is a bit tougher. Daily ideas for novels float through my head. A few mornings ago, I noticed a crew of a construction guys at a convenience store parking lot getting into a rusted out Lincoln Continental. The car was as big as a boat. It had long hood and trunk with huge swinging doors. Rust speckled the body and there was an assortment of dents. For these burly guys, it was perfect transportation. The two largest workers got in the back where they stretched out to suck on their fountain drinks. The scene made me wonder about where that car had been. I could write novels about that car and the people who had driven her. The Samaritan’s Pistol was an idea similar that just wouldn’t leave me. It percolated until I sat down to write. I think it was inevitable. I don’t want to get all mystic, or act like I had some lofty calling to write something, but in many ways it was the right story for me to author at the perfect time in my life.
3. What are some elements that set apart the modern Western from the traditional Western?
There is far more that the two time periods share—horses, guns, a love for mountains and scenery, and resilient characters. I love traditional Westerns, but I think there’s a disconnect between the genre and today’s readers. Weaving technology into the narrative is huge. Teenagers still wear cowboy hats and boots. They attend rodeos. They train horses and work the land. Having characters doing all of that, but who take a cell phone call in the barn makes the entire setting more appealing to a younger audience. One of my favorite scenes in The Samaritan’s Pistol is when a teenager has a texting conversation with an elderly ranch hand. At the time I wrote it, the two characters were simply communicating, but now I see it as a bridge between eras of the same genre. Hopefully it’s a link of accessibility, a way to make the story relatable and draw a younger audience.
4. Tell us how you landed your first book deal.
From the moment I sat down with Christopher Loke of Jolly Fish Press, I knew he understood everything I tried to do in writing The Samaritan’s Pistol, from the cross-genre appeal to writing characters from the six major demographic groups. I’d worked hard to make the writing good. I knew that if he read the book, I had a chance.
5. What are your writing habits? What keeps you going?
Depending on the noise level in the house, I bounce between my home office and a woodstove heated man cave where I read, write, or critique something daily. Each of these things is essential to the process. If my prose starts to slip, I’ll read or critique another writer to examine how they crafted their story. Critiquing helps me find my mistakes in others’ work. I’m better at finding their mistakes than my own, but when I wield the red pen to mark up another writer’s words, the hypocrisy genie screams in my ear, “Eric, you made the same mistake on a specific page of their manuscript!”
6. What advice would you give a new writer just getting started in the trade?
Be like Winston Churchill or your own noble protagonist and never give up. Don’t try to make something square roll smoothly when the wheel of writing has been studied since the dawn of civilization. Find writers who are better than you. Help them craft their stories. What you give comes back to you in the writer’s game. Imagination is infinite. Help others and you’ll find your own story.
7. What is on the horizon for you book-wise?
I am currently working on a novel titled Twelve Steps from Winslow. I hope to have it to my publisher before year’s end. They’ve agreed to publish it, and then I’ve agreed to do a sequel to The Samaritan’s Pistol.