James Reasoner has been telling tales and spinning yarns as far back as he can remember. He’s been doing it professionally for more than 40 years, and during that time, under his own name and dozens of pseudonyms. He has also written numerous articles, essays, and book introductions on a variety of topics related to pop culture, including vintage paperbacks and the publishing industry, pulp magazines, comics, movies, and TV.
We got a chance to chat with James Reasoner about his writing career and how he got to where he is now.
Wolfpack Publishing: Of course, I have to start with the obvious question, how did you get started writing? What was your inspiration for your first novel?
James Reasoner: As far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed making up stories. When I was growing up in the late Fifties and early Sixties, when the kids in my neighborhood played with their toy guns, it was never enough for me to just run around and pretend to shoot each other. I had to come up with a story to go with it and reasons we were shooting at each other. The other kids probably thought I was crazy, but they put up with me. I was in fifth grade when I started writing stories for my own enjoyment and kept it up all through junior high, high school, and on into college. I had a whole series of detective stories that starred me, my friends, and my dog, the same sort of mysteries that I read about in the Hardy Boys books and other series like that. Looking back on it, some of those stories were pretty long, probably close to 30,000 words. My first real novel was written after I’d started selling short stories to mystery and men’s magazines. I was a big fan of private eye novels, but they were all set in places like New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco, places I’d never been and didn’t know anything about, really, other than what I’d read. So I decided to write a private eye novel and set it in some place I knew: Fort Worth, which is just down the road from the little town where I grew up. That’s how my novel TEXAS WIND came about.
WP: How many pseudonyms have you written under? Do you have any regrets on not using your own name for some of that work?
JR: The last time I counted, I had written under 41 different names. At one point in my career, I had published almost a hundred novels, but only one—the first one—had my name on it. I always had a glib answer ready when people would ask me if that bothered me: “My name is on the checks.” But sure, it would have been nice to have more recognition. Mostly, though, I wanted to write for a living, and if that’s what I had to do in order to accomplish that, I was alright with it. I don’t know how many books there are with my name on them now, probably somewhere between 75 and 100, and I’m proud of that, but I’m also proud of having been able to make my living telling stories for a long time.
WP: You have published books in more than a handful of genres, what would you say is your favorite genre to write? How about to read?
JR: That’s actually kind of tough. I love Westerns, but I also love hardboiled mysteries. I’d written probably a million words as a mystery writer before I ever sold my first Western. I’ve enjoyed all the other genres in which I’ve worked, too, but I guess Westerns and mysteries would tie for my favorite. I’m the same way with my reading. I read and enjoy just about every genre out there. I’d never want to read (or write) the same thing all the time.
WP: I know you are working with Robert Vaughan on the Faraday series, what has that experience been like?
JR: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Robert Vaughan. He’s been a working novelist for more years than just about anybody in the business, and there’s nothing he hasn’t written and written well. On top of that, he’s just a wonderful guy in real life and I’m proud to be working with him.
WP: What is it like being married to another author? Do you ever bounce ideas off of each other or critique one another’s work?
JR: I doubt very much if I would even be an author today if it weren’t for my wife Livia, aka Livia J. Washburn (when she’s writing cozy mysteries) and L.J. Washburn (when she’s writing hardboiled mysteries and Westerns). Early in our marriage, I had almost given up on writing, but she said, “If it’s something you really want to do, you’re going to have to work at it.” I sold my first story just a few months later. She’s had a hand in almost everything I’ve written, sometimes helping with the plots, sometimes being an uncredited collaborator and doing some of the writing herself. She edits all my manuscripts before they’re ever turned in. I try to help her out the same way with her work.
WP: You have a blog, Rough Edges, what type of content do you post there and how did that get started?
JR: I started writing a blog in 2004 because my friends Bill Crider and Ed Gorman were writing blogs and I thought that looked like fun. At first it was mostly about my day-to-day activities, including writing, but these days I post mostly book and movie reviews and occasionally something about my personal life. I’m a big fan of pulp magazines, the fiction magazines that were published mostly from the 1920s to the 1950s, so every weekend I post covers from a Western pulp (Saturday) and a pulp from some other genre with a cover I like (Sunday). I try to promote other writers on the blog as much as I can, too. I’m friends with most of the Western writers in the business today, as well as a number of authors in other genres, and I know most of the publishers involved in doing pulp and vintage paperback reprints, so there’s no shortage of material for me to write about. When I contemplate retirement, I sometimes think I’d love to spend the rest of my life reading books and watching movies and writing about them . . . but I expect I’ll be writing fiction of my own for a long time yet.
JR: Oh, absolutely! I’ve written about plenty of other places and think I’ve done a good job of it for the most part, but any time I can set a book in Texas, I don’t hesitate to do so. It’s in my blood.
WP: If you could go back change one decision you have made throughout your writing career, what would it be?
JR: Fairly early in my career, I had a chance to contribute to a very successful men’s adventure series. The editor even called me on the phone and talked to me about it. And I just never got around to writing anything for him because I was working on some other things at the time and eventually the opportunity went away. I should have worked harder in those days. But I was too young, and it was too early in my career. I really didn’t know how to be a prolific writer yet.
WP: Can you leave us with some advice you would give to aspiring (or struggling) authors?
JR: I once knew an old pro who had written hundreds of paperbacks and magazine stories. He told me, “All your writing dreams will come true if you work at them hard enough.” He paused and then added, “It’ll just take a lot longer than you think it should.” I think that’s the key. Perseverance. Persistence. Sheer mule-headedness. It can be done. It just takes a while.