Monday, March 28, 2011

DAMNATION ROAD wins Spur Award

Max McCoy has won a 2011 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for his novel, Damnation Road. Set in Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the last century, the book continues the story of irascible outlaw Jacob Gamble, who is now nearing fifty and confronted by a new west of telephones, smokeless powder and moving pictures. Damnation Road, which was named the best mass market original novel by the WWA, was published in September by Kensington, New York. It is the final novel in McCoy’s western noir trilogy. The first book, Hellfire Canyon, which introduced Jacob Gamble at age 13 during the Civil War, also won a Spur and was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the state library.

This year’s awards were announced Monday by the Western Writers of America. Other winners include True Grit, a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, for best drama, and The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers, for best historical nonfiction. The awards will be presented at WWA’s annual convention June 21-25 at Bismarck, N.D.

The Spur Awards, given annually for distinguished writing about the American West, are among the oldest and most prestigious in American literature. In 1953, when the awards were established by WWA, western fiction was a staple of American publishing. At the time awards were given to the best western novel, best historical novel, best juvenile, and best short story. Since then the awards have been broadened to include other types of writing about the West. Today, Spurs are offered for the best western novel (short novel), best novel of the west (long novel), best original paperback novel, best short story, best short nonfiction. Also, best contemporary nonfiction, best biography, best history, best juvenile fiction and nonfiction, best TV or motion picture drama, best TV or motion picture documentary, and best first novel (called The Medicine Pipe Bearer's Award). Winners of the Spur Awards in previous years include Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove, Michael Blake for Dances With Wolves, Glendon Swarthout for The Shootist, and Tony Hillerman for Skinwalker.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Last week was Sunshine Week. It is especially fitting that on Friday Judge Maryann Sumi issued a stay of Wisconsin's controversial bill that would limit the collective bargaining rights of most state workers, on the grounds that the lawmakers violated the state's Open Meetings Law.
In her ruling, Sumi said that Wisconsin residents own their government.

"And we own it in three ways," she ruled. "We own it by the vote. We own it by the duty to provide open and public access to records, so that the activities of government can be monitored. And we own it in that we are entitled by law to free and open access to governmental meetings, and especially governmental meetings that lead to the resolution of very highly conflicted and controversial matters.

 "That’s our right. And a violation of that right is tantamount to a violation of what is already provided in the Constitution, open doors, open access, and that nothing in this government happens in secret."

Sumi went on to quote the late William A. Bablitch, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice: "An open meetings law is not necessary to ensure openness in easy and noncontroversial matters where no one really cares whether the meeting is open or not. Like the First Amendment, which exists to protect unfavored speech, the Open Meetings Law exists to ensure open government in controversial matters. The Open Meetings Law functions to ensure that these difficult matters are decided without bias or regard for issues such as race, gender, or economic status, and with highest regard for the interests of the community. This requires, with very few exceptions, that governmental meetings be held in full view of the community.”

A district attorney had brought the Open Meetings complaint, alleging that Republicans did not observe the 24-hour public notice requirement before convening a conference committee. Democratic legislators had fled the state in an attempt to halt passage of the bill. Sumi ruled that the public did not have ample time to attend the meeting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Walter Zacharius: A man among sharks

This bit of sad news from our friend Gary Goldstein, senior editor at Kensington Books:

Walter Zacharius, founder and former CEO of Kensington Books, passed away this morning at the age of 89.
Kensington was founded in 1974 by Mr. Zacharius, who previously had been one of the founders of Lancer Books. Walter started Kensington with a little capital and a big dream. In the 36 years that followed—a little fish in a big pond (and one filled with sharks)--Walter defied all the odds and  built Kensington into a major publisher with a number of current and past NY Times and USA TODAY bestselling authors, among them Fern Michaels, Lisa Jackson, William W. Johnstone, and many others. He also discovered a good number of authors who would go on to have careers at many of the major publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster and Random House.  Kensington currently has close to 100 full time employees and publishes and distributes more than 400 titles a year in mass market, trade paperback, and hardcover.

But it was the western that was, and continues to be, a big part of Kensington’s success. From Zane Grey to Ernest Haycox to Johnny D. Boggs and  Max McCoy, Kensington did ‘em all.  And when conventional wisdom said that the western was all but dead as a category, Walter reacted as he always did—he charged head-first into the category and filled the void left by the other publishers. With great success.  Till the end, Walter was a huge supporter of the western and of the  WWA. When Richard Wheeler won the Spur Award for Vengeance Valley in 2005—Kensington’s first such honor in more than three decades of publishing Walter was so proud  that he displayed the publisher’s plaque on his office wall right next to a picture of his grandchildren.

The plaque is still there.

Walter Zacharius was the last of a breed—a maverick  independent in an industry now run by corporate wonks.