Dark Prairie is my twentieth novel with an Old West setting. I hesitate to call it a traditional western because it was published as a Frontier Mystery with Five Star Publishing, but in many ways it is a traditional western, and like others I have written, it is a crossover western mystery.
Dark Prairie was published in hardcover in July 2013 by Five Star, and with this event, my writing career took a very good turn. I had not had a novel come out in two years, since the publication of Gather My Horses, my last western with Dorchester. I did not quit writing, of course, but it took me a while to get connected with a new publisher. My agent, Cherry Weiner, worked hard in my interests, and when Five Star began its new Frontier Fiction line, I was lucky to have Dark Prairie selected as the first book in the new line. It received good reviews, and it opened the door for more publishing opportunities with Five Star. This was a great development for a fellow who had been on the street for a couple of years.
When I wrote this novel, and when I was trying to find a home for it, I had the feeling that I had written one of my better works. I was working on a plane of idealism, in which a stranger comes to town and brings justice for a bad thing that has happened. The bad thing is the disappearance of a teenage girl, compounded by the lack of interest on the part of the town fathers to do anything about it. To make this story work, I chose a young narrator, Grey Wharton, himself a little older than Annie Mora, the missing girl. Grey tells the story of how a stranger named Dunbar comes to the town of Winsome, probes around for information, and brings the truth to light. So the story is a combination of western, mystery, and coming-of-age story lines.
In writing Dark Prairie, I was able to do a few things I had been wanting to do. I wanted to write a story about justice for a young Hispanic girl whom the mainstream Anglo society did not care to concern itself with. I wanted to write a story with an enigmatic sleuth and agent of justice. And I wanted to write a story with an observer narrator in the style of The Sea of Grass and other works. I also wanted to write a story that was not all sunshine and happiness, a story that would live up to its title.
I was happy not only with the way the story came out but also with the way the book came out. It is a beautiful hardcover book with a thought-provoking cover and some good dark colors. Having reviewers appreciate what I was up to is very gratifying as well. I am very grateful to my agent, Cherry Weiner, and to the wonderful people at Five Star, especially Tiffany Schofield and Hazel Rumney. It has been a great privilege to have my work recognized in this way.