There are moments in a man’s life when things change. . . . Sometimes we have control over those moments, and sometimes we don’t. I guess if I’m honest with myself, a part of me thought, “Not my town, not my problem.” And, maybe, ten minutes earlier, I could have ridden out of this town and been on my way. But that was before they hit Huck. I like that boy.
— From Coyote Courage
What do Brock Clemons, fictional hero of the Old West, and his creator, marketing executive-turned-western novelist Scott Harris, have in common, besides an affinity for good books and good cigars?
“I get asked that a lot,” grins the Westlake Village-based author of four Brock Clemons Western novels that have sold extraordinarily well (nearly 2 million pages’ worth, says Amazon.com) in barely a year’s time.
“My friends who’ve read the books say there’s a lot of me in Brock,” continues the 60-year-old Southland native. “My feeling, though, is that Brock is what I wish I was, that he’s the young man I wish I could have been when I was his age. He’s not a saint, he’s not perfect — he’s not really a traditional hero. He’s a complicated guy, like most of us are.
“And he’s not happy when he’s faced with killing someone, no matter how justified it is. But he does have a sense of right and wrong, and the courage to stand up for it.”
In Coyote Courage and its sequels — Coyote Creek, Coyote Canyon and Battle on the Plateau, just published in May — plenty of readers and fellow western writers have been drawn to Harris’ easygoing writing style and his main character, a 23-year-old man searching the Old West of 1868 for his father, and finding far more adventure than he expected.
While dispatching assorted outlaws and ne’er-do-wells with well-chosen words, well-placed quick-draws or both, Brock falls in love with a little town called Dry Springs and its people, particularly a beautiful, self-assured young woman and a spirited 12-year-old orphaned boy.
“Well-developed characters, vivid action scenes, visual descriptions and a fast-moving plot, all told in an extremely easy-to-read style, offer everything a western reader could want from this genre,” wrote Steve Myall of Coyote Courage in Western Fiction Review.
Such positive feedback has encouraged Harris into writing more than he ever dreamed of, all centered on a genre linked to a time that many have long romanticized.
That includes the Redondo Beach-born, Simi Valley-raised Harris, who studied finance and marketing at California State University, Northridge, “but with no real goal” until a part-time job selling ads for the Daily Sundial, the campus newspaper, brought Harris into contact with a marketing executive. That led to a career, and in 1986 he opened Mustang Marketing, today one of Ventura County’s leading marketing and PR firms, “in which I’ve been blessed with great clients and a great staff.”
Having recently sold Mustang Marketing, Harris will stay on for one more year, then “retire” to devote his time to family, travel (“Exploring the world is a good habit to have”), reading (“100 books a year if I can”) and writing.
That’s not exactly a new pursuit for Harris, who previously penned a weekly political column for the Ventura County Star and wrote a well-received book on strategic marketing. The western genre, though, always fascinated him.
“My true joy is to settle into my hammock with a Louis L’Amour book and a good cigar,” he smiles. “And one day, I thought, ‘Why not write one myself?’ So I wrote Coyote Courage, just to see if I could do it, and it sold a few copies. At that point it was just a hobby. Then I did the second book, and all of a sudden I’m showing up on Amazon’s best-seller lists.”
At one point in March, in fact, Harris had three of Amazon’s top 10 best-selling westerns and ranked 57th among all fiction writers, one slot ahead of his idol, John Steinbeck.
Having just finished his fourth Clemons book (set in the Grand Canyon), Harris says he’s surprised himself at how much he’s enjoyed the process. “I love developing these characters and getting inside their heads,” he says, “and I love researching the period, the lifestyles, the Native American traditions of the tribes I write about, because I want these stories to be as real as possible.”
Harris recently produced Tales of Dry Springs, short stories about characters in the Clemons series (through Dusty Saddle Publishing, which handles numerous western authors). His first children’s book, Isaac and Iggy, is due out in the spring, and he co-curated with Paul Bishop a western anthology, 52 Books, 52 Western Novels: Old Favorites and New Discoveries. He’s also contributed to several western anthologies and is engaged in a series of collaborative projects with other writers, including The Shot Rang Out, in which 52 writers have 500 words each to develop that phrase into a short story.
“It’s been a huge thrill to develop camaraderie with other western writers,” he says.
Admittedly, he is concerned about the future for all literature.
“I wonder if we’re the last generation who really appreciates the written word,” he muses. “What is the future of books? Will they still read books two generations from now? Attention spans get shorter and shorter; you can’t go past 30 seconds on a TV news story. What’s the place of Huckleberry Finn or War and Peace? You’ll always have niche readers, but will it ever be what it was?”
It is encouraging and flattering, he says, for people to tell him “that mine was the first novel they’ve read in years, or that they couldn’t put it down. So it’s been a blast to see people buy into these characters. And I’m having tremendous fun with this.”
Scott Harris’ work is available at Amazon. For more information, visit scottharriswest.com.