// you’re reading...


Paul Wheelahan talks about writing more than 800 westerns

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few good reading tips. Most second-hand bookstores in Australia stock Cleveland pulp westerns. They come in paper covers featuring gunslingers toting sixguns, often with a cigarello between clenched teeth. And they're often covered in the ink stamps of the many bookstores they have passed through over the decades. Paul Wheelahan wrote more than 800 westerns for Cleveland Publishing (Sydney) from 1963 to 1997, under pseudonyms like Emerson Dodge.In 1999 he started his own publishing company, Dodge Publishing, bringing out westerns like Savage Texas, and Arizona Psycho, and these sold at newsagents for $2.95.He is working on Never Ride Back: Confessions of a Pulp Fiction Writer, for Buzz Productions.

Paul Wheelahan (born 1930) said he was known more for a comic he wrote and drew in the 1950s and early ‘60s than for his westerns. That’s because his comic, The Panther, was written under his own name; the westerns were written under pseudonyms like Emerson Dodge, Brett McKinley and E. Jefferson Clay. “Also comics aficionados are more fanatical and obsessive and fruit-cakey than the western readers,” he said.
Emerson Dodge titles include Drifter on the Wind, Hardcases, and Arizona Psycho.
In my copy of Emerson Dodge’s book They Came From Palo Duro, someone has written in blue ink on the first page “Red Cross Society Library, Please Do Not Remove Book From Ward.”
Paul Wheelahan said his readers were mainly “old diggers”. His westerns have strong, movie-paced plots, and are full of action, violence, and fine writing. He wrote more than 800 westerns for Cleveland Publishing, from 1963 to 1997.
Cleveland Publishing started in 1953, and rode the wave of popularity of 1950s American western movies.
A second-hand book store owner in Brisbane once told me he needed two sorts of books to stay in business: romance for the women, and westerns for the men. You had to stock all the other genres, too, but romance and westerns were his bread and butter. Cleveland Westerns can be found in most book exchanges throughout Australia.

New copies are distributed to Australian newsagents, too – both reprints and new stories.
But the range is wider in the second-hand bookstores, where the books have sometimes been re-sold for decades. Their sometimes tattered paper covers feature colorful illustrations of cowboys brandishing sixguns and rifles, in shootouts with Comancheros in saloons, riding horses across deserts. Often these westerns have had a few prices written on their glossy paper covers.
When you open the books there are often the names of several previous owners, written with pen, crossed out, and replaced with new names. And there are purple stamps of various second hand book stores, like “Gympie Book Exchange, Condies Arcade”. Some books have travelled hundreds of kilometres between towns.
Emerson Dodge was the biggest seller for Cleveland Publishing, even outselling Paul Wheelahan’s other alter-egos. He started writing for Cleveland Publishing in 1963, when he was 32 or 33.
Most of the other Cleveland writers were 20 years older than him; he was the new, young hope for the company, he said.
Almost all the Cleveland writers were Australian.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Wheelahan talked about his writing career, including his years writing and drawing comics, and writing westerns for Cleveland.
Paul Wheelahan said that although most of his westerns are set in places like New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, he had never been to any of these places. His west was a fantasy, he said, and he thought that if he went to the real west his fantasy might become distorted.

He had seen the “bleached-out sky”, the cacti and the waterholes, in movies and books. “I’ve got it enshrined in my head and that’s how I’d like it to stay,” he said.
About the possibility of writing an Australian western, Mr Wheelahan said he had lived in the country a lot in his younger years, in towns like Aberdeen and Armidale in New South Wales, and he liked the country and bush people, but he found the Australian bush depressing.
He said that when he was 21 he won a lot of money gambling, and went to Cunnamulla in Queensland, which he said was like a western frontier town at the time (early 1950s). He said he stayed three weeks and got to know the people. He remembered the Aboriginal stockmen with their stock whips and patch pockets.
Since then he had written Cunnamulla into 100 to 200 stories, exactly as he remembered it, with its wide streets and bars with swinging doors.
“That’s the only area of Australia that’s had the only real influence on my western writing,” he said.
The Cleveland westerns were just under 100 pages long, in 10 chapters. Paul Wheelahan could turn out these 100 page westerns at a rapid rate.
“During my three books a month period at Cleveland I used to take four or five days,” he said. “Sometimes, you know… I’ve got in my diaries here. If I had another one here…I don’t think there’s one within reach… Sometimes on the Monday I’d get up and I wouldn’t have a synopsis, and I’d write a synopsis, and then start the story and I’d take it in on Friday afternoon in the car, get there about 10 minutes before closing time, and then go to the pub. I don’t know how I did it.”

-continued next page.

-copyright Simon Sandall.