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Paul Wheelahan talks about writing more than 800 western novellas.

Paul Wheelahan talks about his writing methods and lists some of his favorite books…

Paul Wheelahan said that when he wrote a western he would start with a theme, like political opportunism, greed or lust. The theme sometimes would be inspired or touched on by a movie or book. Sometimes when he was walking, which he did a lot of, a story idea would float into his head – he would think to himself that he hadn’t done a homicidal maniac story in a while, or a story about slaves breaking away at the end of the Civil War.
He would always write an outline first, and he would always know how a story would end before he started writing it. Bit players would occur to him as he was writing the story.
He would also try to relate a name to the character: Dave Carson might be a name for a solid, young man; Jack Hart might be an older character, on his last legs.
He said he wrote 110 to 125 quarto pages when he wrote a western.
There were 10 chapters, and there would be ingredients in each chapter: romance, action, or mystery, so the reader would not get bored.
He said he was rigorous when writing an outline to see if there were enough “meat and potatoes” in it – so it was easily digestible.
He said he always got a kick out of using ideas he hadn’t used before; for example, if he’d written a dozen train robbery stories he would do something a bit differently, with a main character having some peculiarity.
He liked it when he had some fresh plot idea because this would be challenging to write.

He said his fellow writers at Cleveland Publishing had a standing joke: someone would ask someone else what their next story idea was about.
He would say he thought he’d write a good rancher- bad rancher story; and then he’d go away and write it.
Mr Wheelahan said the western genre had a formulaic aspect to it: there had to be a hero, a villain, a heroine, a lawman, and other western color, like a traveling salesman. Mr Wheelahan said there were restrictions imposed by the genre; readers of westerns wanted some things and not others in the books – for example they didn’t want too much philosophical speculation by characters. He said western writers were in the same situation as romance writers, who work hard and write for a known audience; there were 50-100 aspects readers cared for in romances.
Westerns could not be too cerebral; and there wasn’t too much time spent on the women characters; the women were often sublime.
He enjoyed including crazy people, and maniacal killers.
He said some of his books were rated highly violent. “People meet me and they’re surprised I’m not a violent person,” he said. When he came out for lunch after a morning of writing, his wife sometimes asked him, “How many people did you kill this morning?”
He said he used to get into punch-ups in pubs, but by the time he had met his wife, in his early 20s, he could see that violence had no future for him.
He said he had also been sent off the football field for being violent, so he had that “experiential background” for his books.
Paul Wheelahan’s favorite books were all fiction. He liked The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald; Catch 22 by Joseph Heller; Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegutt; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; and Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway.
He also liked a number of science fiction authors (his friend Stan Pitt was a leading science fiction illustrator).
He particularly liked Ray Bradbury.
“I consider him one of the most brilliant writers. I’d put him up there on the top level.
“Looking over here now I can see about seven of his on my bookshelf.
“There’s another science fiction writer called Greg Bear.
“I’ve read quite a few of his. But Bradbury. I’d put Bradbury on the top level with any of the other writers I’ve given you.
“He’s written a lot of science fiction but I just consider him a writer of unparalleled imagination, poetic expression and inventiveness.”
Mr Wheelahan particularly liked the Bradbury short story Heavy-Set, about a weight lifter, partly because Mr Wheelahan used to lift weights, but also because of what Bradbury did in the prose portrait.
“Another one (author) I admire is the American science fiction and fantasy writer Robert Silverberg.”
He said that Tim Winton was another favorite.
“I reckon he’s the best Australian writer ever.”

Emerson Dodge isn’t bad either.

-copyright Simon Sandall.