What Others Say
"Dick Wheeler, first as an editor and then as an author, has shown how fine writing can lift the Western into the realm of true literature."
"Richard Wheeler is the master of the 'transparent style'--prose so lucid and readable that you don't notice the craftsmanship that went into it. He is a joy to read. Also, he has helped new writers immensely over the years. His is an almost paternal kindness. I will always be grateful to him for helping me get my first novel published."
"Richard Wheeler is the finest writer of historical Westerns since Conrad Richter. His prose is lyrical and spare, his knowledge of historical Americana is exhaustive, and his characters are as sharply drawn as any to be found in Hugo or Tolstoy."
--Loren D. Estleman
RICHARD S. WHEELER by Dale L. Walker
He may not realize it but Richard Wheeler is regarded by his peers as a "philosopher," one of the scarce number of Western novelists who also writes intellectually and meaningfully on the craft of writing and on the Western story and its place in literature.
His introspective nature is perhaps traceable to the fact that Wheeler had time to think about writing novels before he took the plunge, in his forties, and wrote his first book. His work to date (over forty novels in twenty years), his thoughts about his own work and the work of Western writing in general are the products of his early careers as newspaperman and book editor.
Richard S. (Shaw) Wheeler was born in Milwaukee in 1935 and grew up in nearby Wauwatosa. After a three-year period in Hollywood in the mid-50s, where he worked in a record store and took acting lessons while struggling as a would-be screenwriter, he returned home, attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, married, divorced, and began the first of his life's pursuits. He spent over a decade as a newspaperman, working as editorial writer for the Phoenix Gazette, editorial page editor for the Oakland, California, Tribune, reporter on the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, and reporter and assistant city editor for the Billings, Montana, Gazette.
In 1972, he turned to book editing, working in all for four publishers through 1987. As editor for Walker & Company he edited twelve Western novels a year and acquired works by such notable Western writers as Lauran Paine and Jack Cummings and first novels by Sam Brown and Gary Svee. Sandwiched between editing stints, in the mid-70s he worked at the Rancho de la Osa (Ranch of the She-Bear) dude ranch in Sasabe, Arizona, on the Mexican border. There, in the off season, he experimented with his own fiction and wrote his first novel, Bushwack, published by Doubleday in 1978.
Bushwack was a notable first effort in that it signaled several striking and unusual traits in all of Wheeler's books-to-come: a strong, often poignant, opening ("She heard one last ragged rasp of breath, and then a silence that stretched taut as the seconds ticked by. The faint movement of his chest stopped and some strange new quality lowered upon his features"); a strong female protagonist (in Bushwack, as in several other of his novels, one allied with a weaker male character); and what Western writer and critic Vicki Piekarski calls "a Wheeler trademark--his characters generally triumphing, but at substantial cost."
Five more Western novels followed Bushwack before Wheeler was able to turn to writing full time: Beneath the Blue Mountain (1979), Winter Grass (1983), Sam Hook (1986), Richard Lamb (1987) and Dodging Red Cloud (1987). All these early novels, indeed all of his novels, contain memorable characters and situations. Stop (1988), for example, concerns a banker in a Montana mining town; Fool's Coach (1989),which won Wheeler a Spur Award from Western Writers of America,involves a Wisconsin farmer, a sporting house Madame and a gambler who are stranded in a broken-down stagecoach in dangerous Montana territory; and Sierra (1996), another Spur Award winner, has a young farmer from the Midwest joining the 1849 goldrush to California, leaving behind his pregnant wife.
Among Wheeler's most popular books are the ten novels (Sun River, Bannack, The Far Tribes, Yellowstone, Bitterroot, Sundance, Wind River, Santa Fe, Rendezvous, Dark Passage) published by Tor Books since 1989 and involving Barnaby Skye, a deserter from the Royal Navy, who rules his Rocky Mountain domain with a belaying pin and a Sharps rifle. Skye, as unforgettable a creation in Western series fiction as Max Brand's Destry or Loren Estleman's Marshal Page Murdock, has two Indian wives and a ugly, battle-scarred, cantankerous horse named Jawbone, and earns an occasional living guiding various tenderfeet--sportsmen, missionaries, industrialists--through the wilderness.
Wheeler is author of several other series of Western novels: the four books (Incident at Fort Keogh, The Final Tally, Deuces and Ladies Wild, The Fate), published by Fawcett between 1990 and 1994 and involving the Montana doctor-sheriff Santiago Toole; and the three novels published by Pinnacle, The Rocky Mountain Company (1991), Fort Dance (1991) and Cheyenne Winter (1992), featuring three families in the buffalo robe trade in the 1840s, and a three-book series about a frontier newspaper editor named Sam Flint, launched by Forge Books in late 1995 (Flint's Truth, Flint's Gift, and Flint's Honor).
Other Wheeler books include Where the River Runs (1990), Montana Hitch (1990), Badlands (1992)--a critically acclaimed novel with a typically untypical Wheeler plot, an archeological expedition in Nebraska Territory in 1859; The Two Medicine (1993) in Bantam's "Rivers West" series, and big hardcover novels involving gold and silver mining towns and strikes in the Old West: Cashbox (1994), Goldfield (1995), Sierra (1996), which won the Spur Award, Second Lives (1997), set in Gilded Age Denver, and Sun Mountain (1999) set in Virginia City, Nevada.
He also also produced Aftershocks (1999), which deals with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and one contemporary novel, The Buffalo Commons (1998) about the struggle between ranchers and environmentalists for the modern west.
In person, Dick Wheeler is a study in contrasts. He is shy and self-effacing but imposing figure--six-foot-three, 185-pounds--with penetrating deep-blue, deep-set eyes and snow- white-hair. He is a Westerner by nature, habit, residence and profession but most often eschews the jeans, Western shirt, big hat, boots and bolo tie of the typical Westerner and dresses in slacks, white shirt, laced shoes and a Navy-blue sportcoat.
He is thoughtful, helpful, generous, good-humored and very good company, and he answered questions from his home in Livingston, Montana, north of Yellowstone Park.
Reprinted with permission ...