Dennis Doty is a former U.S. Marine NCO as well as a bareback bronc rider from the old RCA circuit in the southwest. Growing up in southern California, he learned to love the cowboy life from his paternal grandfather who got his start as a cowboy on John Chisum’s old Jingle Bob Ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. He has been writing fiction since 2004. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Saddlebag Dispatches, Storyland Literary Review and Cheapjack Pulp. He is Vice-President and Deputy Publishing Director of Oghma Creative Media.
Primarily a writer of westerns, his interests aren’t confined to a single genre. He has written military fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy and romance. Dennis now makes his home in Appalachia with his wife, Kathy, and their beagle, Peanut. Together, they have ten children, all of whom have managed to avoid careers in both crime and politics. He spends his days writing, editing, and yelling at kids to get off his lawn.
What is the first book that made you cry?
This is an easy one. Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing usually energizes me and often makes me emotional. Editing can be more exhausting.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Narrative description. I tend to write lean because my background is short stories, and I often need to go back and add more detail in later drafts.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure, but they’ll probably do better in non-fiction or as a journalist. What the writer is feeling should come through on the page and when I look at a manuscript for possible acquisition, one of the primary things I’m looking for is emotional impact. Make me feel something. That’s very hard to do if the author doesn’t feel it too.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start writing and keep at it. I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my mid-fifties. As a result, I’m seeing my first published novel at age 70 and have far more stories to tell than I will ever get around to.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Probably my first annual membership in Duotrope to help find markets for my writing. That led to a short story sent to Saddlebag Dispatches, where it was noticed by Dusty Richards, and from there it snowballed into a new career.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
The only one I can think of is Herman Wouk. Usually, I either like them from the start or dislike them right away and rarely revise my opinion.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Well, that’s not one I give the usual answer to. I have six or seven of my own written, partially written, or in some stage between basic idea and first draft. Additionally, I have a dozen or more of Dusty Richards’ short stories, novelettes and ideas which need to be expanded into novels sort of like what we did with The Cherokee Strip. There’s never going to be a question of me having something to work on. It’s a matter of prioritizing and getting them done.
What does literary success look like to you?
To me, literary success takes two forms. The first is when a reader laughs out loud or sheds a tear while reading my work. The second is when the reader closes the book after the last chapter and wishes for more. Anytime you can touch a reader, you’ve succeeded as an author.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
A lot of the basic research for my westerns has been gathered over a lifetime. My paternal grandfather was an old cowboy whose first job was wrangling horses on what was once John Chisum’s Jinglebob Ranch in New Mexico. I grew up listening to his stories of cowboys, horses, cattle and Wyoming blizzards. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was very young and gathered more material there. Later, I spent a couple years riding rough stock in the old Southwest RCA Circuit rodeos. Still, research is essential. If I mention an article of clothing or equipment, a firearm, a mineral, an animal or a plant, I’ve researched it to ensure that it was present and probable at the time and in the place that I’m writing about. Most of that research is done on the fly. In a rough draft, I might write something like, “He rode up the hill through the (trees) and (trees). A passing (animal) indicated that there was no one else about.” The next day, or when I’m stuck on a particular passage, I’ll go back to these passages and do the research to fill them in. I also frequently will simply type TK in my manuscript to indicate a place to come back to. That particular letter combination does not appear in the English language, so it’s easy to find with a search feature. ← Editor’s comment: I love this tip!
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Not really, but it is good for my soul. Completing a piece gives me both a sense of accomplishment and a certain peace as well as inspiration to start another.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Avoiding stereotypes. Women are complex creatures who are just as varied and different as men are. Some things I hold to be basically true, but that can be the foundation of a stereotype which I want to avoid. I try to write women as having a more intuitive and somewhat emotional response to a situation or event than I would a man who I try to show as somewhat more logical and outwardly cool. This isn’t because I think men are calmer than women, but because I know that they are trained by society to suppress and conceal emotion. So I might have a male who although torn up inside, tries to put on the brave face and demonstrate control. A female in the same situation might be more demonstrative of the turmoil but also more likely to intuitively take the right steps to resolve it.
How many hours a day do you write?
Not nearly enough. Some days, I don’t write at all. Other days, I’ve been known to crank out 10,000 words in a rough draft. I like to try for 1,000 words per day, but I’ve learned to accept that sometimes life gets in the way and it’s okay to put it aside and try again tomorrow.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I don’t write much about myself, but there is some of me and my experiences in everything I write. It’s true, we are the sum of our experiences. My first published short story was about me as an adult reminiscing about childhood experiences.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Sometimes a name will come to me and seem so right for a character that I will write the story for the name. Usually, I need to find a name for the character. I’m blessed to live in the Appalachian portion of Kentucky where many of the old surnames and a lot of less common given names are plentiful, so I can often find a combination that works for my character by thumbing through the phone book. ← Editor’s comment: Yes! Quite a few of my author friends use the old phone book as a resource for character’s names.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I was retired when I started writing, so I suppose I’d have to find another hobby. I like working with wood and cooking, so either of those could end up occupying my time.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Haven’t seen any yet, but I suppose I’ll read some of them. It will be nice if they are positive, but they won’t affect me too much either way. People are entitled to their opinions and that’s all a review is. I actually like to see a one- or two-star review because it tells would-be readers that all the reviews aren’t from friends and family.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I won’t go out of my way to do that, but if something comes to mind, I’m not opposed to it. I have sometimes slipped the name of someone I know or have known into a story.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I have a difficult time with love scenes because I know that everyone is different and what is sensual or erotic to one might be simply gross to someone else. I generally would rather hint or fade to black for those scenes.
Do you Google yourself?
Rarely and only as a security precaution.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Support? It depends on the family member. A lot of them aren’t readers, so they’re mostly indifferent. My mom insisted on having a copy of everything I got published, yet she never actually read any of it. I have a grand-daughter and a sister-in-law who actively encourage me and my wife is understanding of the time involved. My dogs, are more demanding and don’t really care that Dad’s busy writing.
Which is your favorite season to write in, and why?
I think it would be spring. It’s a time of new life and renewal and seems to be a good time to start a new project or two…or three, or…
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
Probably near Valencia, Spain. The area is steeped in history and paella is one of my all-time favorite dishes.
Do you like audiobooks, physical books, or e-books better? Why?
I’m old and slow to change my habits. I prefer physical books, their look, their feel and their smell. I’m not opposed to a good audio book when traveling and I actually feel more comfortable with an e-book when reviewing or judging for competitions as I’ve done for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award the last two years.
What is your most unusual writing quirk?
I don’t know how unusual it is, but I’ve had stories rejected for “too much dialog”. I write dialog well, and as I mentioned previously, have more difficulty with narrative and description.
What is your favorite genre to read, and why?
I really enjoy westerns. They’re the ultimate in escapism. I can get into a good western, imagine myself in the characters and feel right at home. However, I’m an eclectic reader. I enjoy Margaret Atwood, James Michener, Ernest Hemmingway, Marion Zimmer Bradley, J.K. Rowling, Robert Heinlein, Bernard Cornwell, and Michael Shaara just as much as Louis L’Amour, Elmer Kelton and Dusty Richards.
What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?
I once read, wrote and spoke fluent Korean, long, long ago.
Do you feel like you’d be a better writer if you wore sparkly socks during your writing sessions?
No, but sometimes I just need to wear my Charlie One Horse or a Stetson.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
The name must be different enough to prevent confusion, simple enough to pronounce, and odd enough that it hasn’t been used in a hundred other works. It must also suit the character’s personality. Huckleberry Finn is unquestionably the all-time most perfect character name. As previously mentioned, I often go to my local telephone directory to find names I can combine for a character.
Who is the most supportive person in your life when it comes to your writing?
Although she often doesn’t care for what I write, my wife allows me the time for writing, editing and associated activities. For that I am eternally grateful.
How many drafts do your books generally go through before publication?
I’m signed with Oghma Creative Media, so I will write usually 3 to 5 drafts before submission, then it goes through a required Developmental Edit, an Expert Edit for historical accuracy and a Line/Copy Edit before it goes to layout. After layout it gets a final galley edit before it goes to press.
Do you have a writing blog?
I had a blog where I covered various writing topics for a couple of years, but it became too time-consuming, and I haven’t written anything on it for over a year now. It’s still available on my website at http://www.dennisdotywebsite.com/blog.
What was the hardest part of writing your author bio?
I didn’t find anything particularly hard about it, although I’ve had to revise it repeatedly both to update it and to fit length requirements for various publications.
What is your favorite time to write, and why?
I love writing in the early mornings when the house is quiet and even the dogs are still asleep.
What is your favorite word, and why?
Whichever one suits my purpose at the time. All words are useful in the right circumstance.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
In addition to writing, I’m the Content Executive and an Executive Editor for Oghma Creative Media, the Publisher and Managing Editor of Saddlebag Dispatches Magazine and a freelance editor. I also have volunteered as a judge for Western Fictioneers’ Peacemaker awards for the past two years.
What is the title of your book and what is it about?
This is my first published novel and was co-written with the late legendary Western author, Dusty Richards. It’s titled The Cherokee Strip and was originally one of Dusty’s novellas which we wanted to expand to a full novel.
Norman Thompson doesn’t seek out trouble, but it always seems to have a way of finding him, anyway. All he really wants is a job as a ranch foreman. He’d tried in Montana but ended up in a gunfight with a pair of ugly-looking brothers over a horse. Leaving one dead and the other swearing revenge, Norm figures it’d be wise to make himself scarce. He heads south, making his way to Nebraska. Instead of work, though, he finds something he never expected-a partner. Edith is a beautiful young woman seeking to escape the clutches of her own sordid past. Together they buy a decrepit old cattle ranch-the legendary Rocking Chair- and start driving herds up to the lush grass of the newly-opened Cherokee Strip. With Norm’s brawn and Edith’s brains, it’s a winning combination.
Be sure to check out Dennis’ recent publications through the links below.
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
― John Wayne