Heads turn when Jonah Durrell rides into Motherlode. Some people see him as a handsome, vain and charming man. Others know of his reputation as a smart, successful manhunters, as good with his fists as with his matched guns.
Jonah just wants to enjoy himself at Miss Jenny's parlour house, but his visit is interrupted by the brutal murder of one of the girls. Someone is trying to get Miss Jenny out of town, but she won't be pushed around. Jonah can never resist helping a damsel in distress. But at what cost ?
When I wrote Navajo Rock, I created the character of Jonah Durrell, based on a friend on mine. Jonah was a handsome, shamelessly vain manhunter, both protective towards women as well as flirtatious. I enjoyed writing about him, and promised to bring him back in a story of his own. He had a brief cameo in an early draft of Darrow's Badge, but the book was too long and had to be trimmed, so the little in-joke of Jonah's appearence was removed.
I developed his background further for the new story, as he was to be the central character. He was clearly intelligent and well-spoken, so I gave him an education, and decided that he'd studied to become a doctor, before heading west to look for adventure. Now Jonah is a very practical manhunter: in Navajo Rock he states clearly that he doesn't like to get shot at unless he's being paid for it. So I had to work out why he was going to get involved with the murder of women at the brothel. I suppose the simplest thing would be to have someone pay him to solve the crime, but that never occured to me. It seemed better if Jonah got involved for good reasons, rather than just for mercenary ones. I started the book with him riding through the snow to apprehend someone who had beaten up a prostitute. Jonah refuses to turn back when his companion does; he wants to make the attacker pay for hurting a woman. Jonah's gallantry towards women was the key to getting him involved with the murder at the brothel. Someone is threatening women, and Jonah can't walk away from it.
So I was talking to my friend, Jenny, about my books. She was particularly interest in the story behind Cullen's Quest, as she knows the people who played the roles in the original game I ran, and who the characters are named after. Jenny said that she'd like to be in one of my books. I asked her what kind of character she'd like to be. Jenny thought for a moment, then with great enthusiasm said:
"I want to be a prostitute. I want to be a tart with a heart."
What else could I do but oblige ?
When I got to thinking more about developing a Jenny-character, it seemed right to make her a madam. From there I got to thinking about the girls who worked for her, and decided to continue the theme. I approached some female friends, and asked permission to use their first names and descriptions for girls working in Miss Jenny's brothel. Erica, Sandy, Megan, Annie, Tania and Helen all said 'yes', without a single condition, like wanting to see the manuscript before publication. Very trusting friends I have, and broad-minded too. Maybe I caught them all at the right moment: I remember that I was in the pub with Erica when I asked her...
In 2004 I went over to the USA to see some of the West for myself. I "casually" mentioned my intention of visiting the USA on the Black Horse Western group, and asked for suggesions for places to visit. Happily, Ron spoke up and invited me to come and stay with him and his wife in New Mexico. I'm not sure who was the braver/most foolish. Me, for agreeing to stay with someone I'd never met, or them for offering to give house-room to a stranger. Would we recognize each other at the airport ? My worry was that I would fly across the Atlantic only to find myself stranded at Albequeque airport with no one there to meet me. Ron's worry was that it was all a hoax, and he'd be waiting at the airport and no one would show up.
Well, Ron's fear nearly came true, as I hadn't allowed enough time for the changeover at Atlanta, and missed the connexion to New Mexico. I caught another flight an hour later, unsure whether Ron and Cathy had got my message about the change of arrival time. I'd been travelling for about fifteen hours by the time I arrived in Albequeue, by taxi, tram, train, airplane and underground shuttle. It was the first time I'd flown anywhere on my own and I'd coped with tickets, passport, security, customs and immigration, including a form with absurd questions along the lines of 'Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a terrorist organization ?" Had to resist the urge to write "Yes, of course ! Which ones would you like to know about ?". In any case, it was a wonderful moment when I staggered off the last plane and was greeted by two lovely people who were as pleased to see me as I was to see them.
Ron and his wife, Cathy, were incredibly warm and generous, giving up their own time to drive me about, showing me the fabulous country where they live, and making me feel like an old and welcomed friend. I actually got to see the country I'd written about in Navajo Rock, and to eat Navajo chicken stew and dumplings. I look at my photos of Monument Valley, and still find it hard to believe I was actually there. By way of contrast, we also took a two-day trip into the snowy mountains of Colorado.
We travelled up on the Durango to Silverton Railroad, which surely has to be one of the most scenic routes in the world. It was a wonderful introduction to the Rocky Mountains. I'd stated in Navajo Rock that Jonah was based in Colorado, so I took the opportunity to do some local research, taking photos and picking up local-interest books. As well as books on local wildlife and the mines, I got some on local madams, and prostitution in the West. All for the sake of my writing, you understand ! I also picked up a detailed map of the Silverton-Ouray area which was invaluable when I finally started to write 'Two-Gun Trouble'.
When thinking of a setting for this story, I was inspired by a photograph of a mining town nestled between the sheer walls of a canyon. The town was Creede, in Colorado. I created my own version, called Motherlode, and started the story there.
Motherlode, as its name suggested, was a prosperous mining town in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. By 1884, it was doing well enough to have plentiful brick buildings, including, two theatres, a courthouse, two schools, a fire-house, a sturdy jail and even the novelty of a roller-skating rink. It also sported a fine selection of saloons, pool halls and brothels, as well as a canvas, shanty-town off-shoot, that a local wag had christened, ‘Daughterlode’.
This was written before I went to America; I wasn't satisfied with the first idea I had for the story about Jonah and Jenny, so it stalled and was put aside. When I came to try again, I spent a while studying my new map, looking for a town with canyon walls rising close either side. When I found my setting, it was a real Eureka moment; the town I found was actually called Eureka. It’s pretty much a ghost town now (according to one of the books I bought), but it’s the right kind of setting for my fictional Motherlode. The other places referred to in the story are all to be found on the map: Animas Forks, Cement Creek, Slagle Basin. I like to be able to visualize an area where a story is set, and this map is a particular treasure to me. I just wish I could find similar ones for the other areas where I want to set stories.
I first started trying to write about Jonah and Jenny in 2002. In the first version, they were already good friends. The story started with them playfully underessing one another, only to be interrupted by a horrible scream, as one of Jenny's girls is murdered. From there, I had to work out who had murdered the girl, why, and how Jonah was going to catch them. I developed a story about a killer, with a particular grudge against prostitutes, but on reflection, I didn't like this idea. The serial killer story didn't seem to fit with the Western setting, and the killer I'd created was a cliche anyway. After the trip to America, I looked over the books I'd got about the development of the area where I'd set the story. I moved the timeframe from the 1880's to the mid 1870's, early in the San Juan silver rush, and made Motherlode a very new town. I wanted Jonah to be at home in Colorado, and to have something of a repuation in the area, so I settled that he'd been around the mining areas for a couple of years. The story starts with his first visit to this new town:
Less than two years ago, this site had been a flat-bottomed, grassy valley caught between the towering canyon walls either side of the Animas River, as they closed together. Mule deer had roamed here, while beavers dammed sections of the braided river. Now the wild animals had moved on, the pines and aspen had been chopped down and fed into the sawmill, and a thriving town bestraddled the tumbling river.
Jonah pays his first visit to Miss Jenny's parlour-house. I wanted to keep the scene of Jonah and a woman being interrupted by the murder, which leads to Jonah chasing the killer through town, while dressed only in his drawers. However, as Miss Jenny is the madam, she wouldn't be sleeping with one of the customers, so I had to make it one of her girls who is with Jonah when the murder happens. And then I still had to figure out who had committed the murder, and why.
I decided that Jenny had a rival of some kind. The succession of threats against her would be reason for Jonah to stay around, being all gallant. Motherlode, at this stage of development, was too small to have more than one fancy brothel, so the rival wouldn't be another brothel owner. I created Adam Sharpe, a saloon owner, who wants Jenny to either take him in as a partner, or else to sell up to him cheaply. At first, Sharpe's concern is soley with Miss Jenny. Jonah is just a nuisance, younger and more attractive than Sharpe. Sharpe senses that Miss Jenny is more attracted to Jonah than to himself, and is jealous. As Jonah persistently interferes with Sharpe's plans, Sharpe becomes more obsessed with defeating him. His plan to gain control of Jenny's business almost becomes incidental to his desire to prove to himself that he's better than his rival. This change in emphasis wasn't planned, it developed as the story was being written.
So, after a false start and a delay of over three years, I finally got my story about Jonah Durrell written. I still didn't have a title for it, mind you. I considered using Durrell's name in the title, with the thought there would be more 'Durrell' titles to follow. However, I already had three 'Darrow' books published, and didn't really want another 'D'-name series. I studied a very enjoyable article in Black Horse Express, written by Ian Parnham. The article is titled Gun Trail to Hell and is a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the Black Horse Western titles, looking at the most and least popular words used in the titles. Contemplating the frequency of 'gun', 'sundown', 'creek' and the like, I eventually dreamed up 'Two-Gun Trouble', which fits in well with general style. With that last detail taken care of, I could send it to the publisher.
Mr Hale accepted 'Two-Gun Trouble', albeit with a grumble that it was more like a series of action sequences than a proper novel. I was a bit miffed, as I'd made an effort to tie things together, developing the bad guy and building it all up to a good showdown. Oh well, at least it was going to be published. There were few problems with the proof-reading and copy-editing, and fewer arguments about over-zealous hyphenation. As in the last couple of books, my blurb was accepted without change. The real fun was over the dedication.
I dedicated the book to: Miss Jenny, who asked for it, and to the other Misses. Hale said that this wasn't appropriate. I assumed they were referring to the phrase 'who asked for it', and wrote back to say that my friend, Jenny, had indeed asked to be a prostitute. It turned out that Hale had thought I was dedicating the book to the fictional Miss Jenny who appears in it (why this isn't appropriate, I don't know. Surely I can dedicate a book to a fictional character if I wish ? Odd, yes: inappropriate, no). Hale then got in a tizz over the fact that I'd named a character after a real person (not for the first time), and that some of the other misses were real too. Now, the contract I signed makes me soley liable for any libel, so if Jenny had changed her mind and sued, the publishers wouldn't have to pay anything. In spite of this, the publishers wanted me to get releases signed by Jenny and other real misses, saying that they'd read the book and didn't object to anything in it. This meant a spate of emails, and tracking down some friends at a busy New Year's Eve party. A rather shabby bit of paper with some signatures on went to the publisher, and everyone was satisfied.
My copies arrived, as usual, first thing in the morning.The cover painting itself is fine, though very generic and really nothing whatsoever to do with anything from the book. None of the three men on the cover could be either Jonah Durrell or Adam Sharpe, the villian. No one can be seen wearing a two-gun rig, though four guns are visible in total. The only scenery appears to be dry, desert-ish ground and a rock. No mountains or snow. There is a reward notice, but that's as close as the cover gets to anything inside the book. No women on the cover, in spite of the prominent role that Miss Jenny and her girls play. Typical.
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