Ropin' the Wild Country with Mike Blakely
He's a best selling western writer. Just put out a great nostalgia-driven cd for
the big hat set. And he keeps himself alive by touring with songs and writing
historical western columns in newspapers. Is he Man or Myth? Now we find out.
[Ben Ohmart] How are you able to pursue so many careers all at once? Don't you ever run
out of time?
[Mike Blakely] Few people realize this, but I am actually twins. Or is it triplets? I forget.
Seriously, keeping several creative enterprises going at once does take some
juggling and scrambling. I write novels, play live music, record CDs, and run
my own record company. That's a lot for one simple country boy to handle. I've
learned to become more efficient because of it. Also, many of these endeavors
work hand-in-hand. For example, when I am playing a live gig somewhere, I am
not only promoting my music, I'm also promoting my books. When I research a new
novel, I often turn up song ideas at the same time. I write a lot of song while
traveling. I've learned to make all my careers dovetail. I also am blessed
with a lot of help from various folks, and I make sure I take time off to relax.
[Ben] If some varment put a gun to your head and forced you to brand the rest of
your life as a novelist OR a singer, which would you have to rope?
[Mike] I'm glad no varmints exist with that motivation. I mean, why would somebody
hold a gun to my head for that reason? But, now I'm thinking like a novelist,
and avoiding your question. I'm glad I don't have to choose. The careers work
so well together. Writing a novel is a lonely undertaking. You sit in a room
alone and stare at a computer screen for hours at a time. Music is the
antithesis -- especially when performing live. You get instant feedback from a
song. You may have to wait months or even years before someone reviews your
novel. So, I think I'll just keep creating both music and novels. I also keep
my manure-shoveling skills current in case I ever have to fall back on that.
[Ben] Are there too many westerns on tv? Is the Old West still a mainstream
marketable force, or has it slipped a rung or 2 in favor of sci-fi, romantic
[Mike] I see very few new westerns on TV, unfortunately. The ones that do make it to
the screen are often simplistic, stereotypical, trite, and lacking in
authenticity. I think this is the reason why the western movie has lost so much
ground to sci-fi, mysteries, and thrillers. If more writers, producers, and
directors would engage in meaningful historical research, and avoid the
hackneyed shoot-outs and other Hollywood clichés, the western would have a
chance at a comeback. Integrity is the key. A western movie should be a
historical film first, a great story with believable characters second, and a
wild west show last.
In print, however, the western continues to hold its own. I know many writers
who earn all or part of their livelihoods writing about the American West. The
market for western novels goes in cycles and has been declared dead many times,
but refuses to go away. The western represents a uniquely American form of
literature, and readers worldwide sense that.
[Ben] Are there still enough plains to go ridin' on? In this overpopulated world of ours, what do you miss the most about the dusty days of yore?
[Mike] The open range is shrinking and the country is crowding up, there's no doubt
about it. But, we are lucky in this country in that state and federal
authorities, and some private groups, have set aside lands for public enjoyment.
There are still places to ride and enjoy the outdoors. A few private land
owners have succeeded in holding on to big spreads, too. Many of them have had
to branch out from ranching into tourism, game hunting, and other
public-oriented businesses to hold onto their lands.
As for me, I feel lucky to have been born into my time and place. I don't waste
energy pining for bygone days. I ride a couple of times a week, work cattle
occasionally, enjoy my small ranch, and sing by the light of a lot of camp
fires. Life is good.
[Ben] Are there any specific historic events that have sparked your songs?
[Mike] A specific historic event is more likely to inspire a novel from me, rather than
a song. However, many of my tunes like "The Whiskey Trader's Song" and "The
Last Comanche Moon" definitely reflect historic themes.
[Ben] Ever thought about putting out a multimedia event to combine music and words,
like Stephen King did with F13, and now Clive Barker?
[Mike] I haven't yet found the multi-media idea that I think I could do with artistic
integrity. If I did something like that, I wouldn't want it to come off as
gimmicky. There would have to be a reason for doing it. It would have to
involve a story that could only be told through more than one medium. In
general, I believe in writing novels and songs that can stand on their own.
[Ben] Your songs seem more nostalgia oriented than pure country. Do you get much
feedback from fans who really don't wear cowboy hats?
[Mike] I have received many encouraging and surprisingly touching responses from folks
all over the country. Some are sure-enough cowboys. Some never saw the tail
end of a cow. My music seems to appeal to people from many walks of life.
Urban dwellers fascinated with the novelty of open ranges seem drawn in by an
escapism experience. Real cowboys, ranchers, and horse trainers have
complimented me on the authenticity of tunes like "The Horses in My String."
So, whether they wear boots or loafers of sandals, my fans seem to enjoy getting
into the imagery of my songs.
As for writing from a nostalgic point of view, that will gradually change as I
record more albums. My first two western CDs, "Ride the River" and "West of
You," seemed like natural extensions of my career as a historical western
novelist. However, I also write other songs that fall into other categories like
country, Americana, Tex-Mex, and blues. My next album will probably be a little
more eclectic. On the first two CDs, I stuck to a western theme. In the future,
my only theme may be my best attempts at quality songwriting, regardless of
[Ben] Subscribing to this religion for a moment, can you describe who you were in a
[Mike] I've been asked this before, but I can never conjure an answer. I don't want
anyone to think that I am not a spiritual person, but at the same time, I don't
want to fake it. I don't necessarily reject the idea of reincarnation, but I
have never experienced an inkling that I existed in a previous lifetime.
However, I do feel instinctive desires to explore, seek adventure, experience
divergent cultures, and enjoy my non-typical lifestyle. Maybe this comes from
some inherited ancestral experience. Who knows? On the other hand, considering
my hard-headedness, maybe I was a rock in a previous life.
[Ben] Any idea why the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles is now unedited when
just 10 years ago it was played in silence on regular television?
[Mike] You may not believe this, but I have never seen Blazing Saddles. I know it's a
comedy classic and all. Sorry, I just seemed to have missed it. I know the
scene to which you refer. I've seen clips of it from time to time. It never
impressed me as very funny, though it was outrageous for its time. Maybe you
have to get into the mood of the whole movie to appreciate it. I'm usually more
impressed by well-written verbal humor than by slapstick or sight gags, or in
this case, gas gags.
[Ben] How long does it ordinarily take you to research and pump out a novel? Where
would you say lies your dominant reader fan base?
[Mike] There's no simple answer. A short book, of course, takes less time to write. I
wrote "Summer of Pearls" in two and half months. By contrast, "Comanche Dawn"
took two and a half years because of its length and the in-depth research. The
optimum situation, from a marketing point of view, is to crank out a manuscript
every 12 months so that readers can look forward to a new book about the same
time every year. This has become increasingly difficult for me as my books get
longer and I spend more time in the music business, but I'm managing to keep my
readers supplied with a pretty steady stream of fiction.
As for my fan base, it is pretty well spread out nationwide, thanks to Forge
Books. You might think that most of my readers would live in the west, but not
necessarily. Westerns sell well in the east, too. There are reasons for this.
Population is still higher in the east, so more potential buyers live there.
Also, though people like to read about their homeland, they also enjoy escaping
into an adventure of another place and time. And, though it's clichÈ, it's true
that a good story with good characters will attract readers no matter what the
genre. I'm also pleased to report that my CD "West of You" is enjoying airplay
[Ben] What are your short term/long term goals? Owning a ranch, being the western
Agatha Christie, etc?
[Mike] As for my goals, I do own a small piece of ranch land and, yes, I would like to
own more. As the famous trail driver and rancher, Shanghai Pierce, once said,
"I don't want all the land. I just want all the land that borders mine." I'm
not quite that greedy, but I do appreciate some space around me. I like to ride
and train horses. I enjoy the outdoors and I do my best to manage my land for
wildlife as well as livestock. I also like to share my ranch with friends and
Thanks for asking the other part of this question in reference to Agatha
Christie rather than Louis L'Amour. I've heard the latter a hundred times.
Let's face it. There's not going to be another Louis L'Amour. I'm not trying
to copy anybody's career, and my instinct tells me it would be the professional
kiss of death to do so. I want to tell original stories in print and song that
leave a lasting impression. I want to create images that change people's lives
for the better, if only for a few moments. I hope my career will continue to
reward me financially, and I work hard at being a good businessman, but my focus
is on artistic integrity and originality.
[Ben] Where is your horse going to hitch these day? (Your calendar of events..)
[Mike] I'm as busy as a stockyard tumblebug. The best way to keep up with my schedule
is to go to my website -- yep, I'm a cyber-cowboy these days. Check out
Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Mike Blakely - West of You - Swing Rider Records (2001-02-15)