Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel, Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

A fascinating tale of one of the great black heroes of the American West!
Read the First Chapter!
Meet the author, Charles Ray!

In 1875, Indian Territory, in what is now the state of Oklahoma, was a haven for thieves, swindlers, and murderers, all trying to escape the reach of the law. When President U.S. Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker judge of the Western District of Arkansas, which included the territory, Parker was intent upon bringing fugitives to justice. He authorized U.S. Marshal James Fagan to hire 200 deputy marshals to help police the 4,500 square mile lawless territory. Among those deputies was Bass Reeves. Born a slave in 1838, Reeves had spent the Civil War as a runaway in Indian Territory, and spoke five tribal languages. He was an expert tracker and an accomplished marksman, and at 6’2” and 180 pounds in an era when the average male height was 5’6”, was an imposing figure. During his 32 year tenure as a deputy marshal, Reeves brought in over 3,000 fugitives. Unable to either read or write, he had someone read warrants to him and memorized every detail – never making a mistake. In this fictional account of his first two years, ride along with one of the most famous U.S. Deputy Marshals in American history.


If you like wild west stories with strong, but silent, courageous gunslinging heroes, then this historical biography is definitely the book for you. Bass Reeves is a black man, a farmer/rancer toiling hard to provide for his growing family. When he is offered a job as a Deputy U.S. Marshal and asked to hunt down wanted criminals, he is persuaded to give it a try. Not only does he quietly go about his task, but he captures every fugitive on his list without any loss of life. He is such a quick draw with his guns, that no outlaw can outgun him, and they usually surrender like lambs.

Author Charles Ray, with his easy, clear writing style, pens a wonderous tale about this fascinating man who broke through the restraints of race to become one of the most heralded U.S. Marshals of his time. Impeccable research, colorful characters, outrageous outlaws, and a story that makes you cheer as you read along, makes this a novel for everyone to read. Western fans will love the glimpse into the real wild west and the quiet, unassuming Bass Reeves who excels in capturing his bounty! This is an easy, absorbing novel that will keep you turning pages to the end.

Meet the Author behind the fascinating novel!

Charles Ray

1.  Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy US Marshal is a fictionalized account of the first two years on the job of Bass Reeves, one of the first African-American deputy US marshals west of the Mississippi. A freed slave, he could neither read nor write English, but spoke five Native American languages. He was an expert tracker and a marksman with rifle or pistol with either hand. At over 6 feet, and around 160 – 180 pounds, he was larger than the average American man of the era. He would have someone read warrants to him, and would memorize the contents. During a 32-year career as a deputy marshal, he brought in over 3,000 fugitives and was never wounded. He often used trickery and disguise to capture wanted felons.

2.  You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

Reeves was a deputy marshal for western Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. At that time, the Oklahoma Territory was largely ungoverned and home to many fugitives. After the Civil War, it was part of the American frontier, and men like Reeves were assigned to bring justice to it. That inspired the title. The book itself was inspired when I came across information about Reeves when I was doing research for a historical/western series I write about the Buffalo Soldiers (African-American soldiers assigned to the Ninth Cavalry after the Civil War, who spent most of their time on the western frontier).

3. What makes this book special to you?

This book, like my Buffalo Soldier series is special to me because, even though they are fiction, I do lots of research to make them historically accurate. I spent 20 years in the US Army myself, and am proud to know that African-Americans played such an important role in the country’s westward expansion.

4.  What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

Popular media, particularly when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, portrayed the American west inaccurately. Cowboys, outlaws, and soldiers were not, as shown in most of the movies or popular fiction, were not all white. Nearly 10% of the military on the frontier were men of color (9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments). Most ranches and cattle drives included black and Hispanic cowboys, and some of them were well known during the era, but somehow left out of the history books and popular films. The rodeo rider who invented bull dogging, for instance, was African-American. Same for the outlaws of the period, many of whom were former slaves. There were also black settlers, some who established all-black communities in places like Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. I think we all benefit when we know the truth about our history, and just how diverse the country’s history is.

5. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?
I’ve always been something of a story teller. I wrote my first short story when I was 12 or 13 – won a national Sunday school magazine fiction contest with it. I get story ideas from anywhere and everywhere. I hear a random conversation on the subway and it sparks a story idea or a character; I read a newspaper or magazine story, and get an idea for a story. For instance, once while waiting for my wife at the doctor’s office, I read an interview with Stan Lee, in which he was quoted as saying that he didn’t like zombie movies or stories because the zombies were always so ghoulish. His view was that someone given a second chance at living – even as a zombie – would more likely want to do some of the things he or she didn’t get to do the first time around. This inspired me to write I, Zombie, a short story about a zombie who finds himself wandering in a city and his desire is to know why and how he died, and in the meantime, he helps people being victimized by muggers and robbers. This story has been accepted for a short story anthology which will be published by the end of this year. My advice to writers – pay attention to your surroundings, eavesdrop (politely and at a distance of course), and write down your impressions. Story ideas are everywhere.

6.  What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

The biggest stumbling block? Probably doubt. When you do that first book, as soon as it goes out, you begin doubting anyone will want to read it. It’s almost inevitable; you wonder if you’re really good enough. How to get over it? Keep writing. Finish one thing and move on to the next. I always keep two projects going at the same time, so that when I get bogged down by doubt with one, I can skip over to the other. That keeps me fresh. I keep a journal of ideas, often nothing more than suggested titles, or character sketches. From time to time I pull one out and begin working on it. The best way to improve your writing, and as a consequence your confidence in yourself as a writer, is to write, write, write. I write every day – no less than 1,000 words. Some people are comfortable writing in only one genre, others (like me) cross genre lines frequently. If I enjoy reading it, I enjoy writing it.

7.  Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book.

My promotions are mostly the usual: free book offerings, discounted prices, buy one get one. Probably the most unusual promotion was when I was invited to speak on government ethics at the army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. This is the location of the Buffalo Soldier monument, so I took a few copies of my Buffalo Soldier novels with me, and before and after my lecture, I gave them to some of the senior staff and asked them to read and tell me what they thought of them. I discovered in the process that the book store at the monument had no fiction about the Buffalo Soldiers, and very little mainstream historical stuff. After reading my books, they did an interview and feature in their association magazine and ordered a few copies for the book store. Over the next two months after the magazine appeared, sales of the series topped 800 per month. They’ve dropped, averaging 20 – 40 per month, but that’s consistent sales since December 2012 – so, I’m not complaining. I also provided copies of my books to an author I know in southern Africa (Zimbabwe and South Africa), and she reads excerpts when she visits schools and institutions, which has generated modest sales in that region. For Frontier Justice, as well as my other books, when I offer free e-Books, I post on my blog and ask readers to consider doing a review. That gets a little notice. Lately, I’ve been posting excerpts and two full novels on Wattpad. That’s getting more readers and will hopefully induce people to look at my other books.

8.  Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

I start with a theme or title. Then I create a list of main characters with fairly full histories. After I have these two nailed down, I decide on a time frame, and create a calendar. The next step is to do a rough chapter outline – what are the main events in each chapter, and which character or characters is/are involved. The last step before I begin writing is to do historical research of the time frame to get some ideas of what was going on. I pick a few significant events and make notes. Some (not all) will find their way into the story to help establish a credible narrative setting. I then start writing, making changes as I go – until I get to a point where the story seems to naturally end. For my mysteries, an additional step is to establish clues and decide where and how to plant them. Alert readers will often be able to solve the crime before the sleuth, provided they don’t get diverted by the red herrings which I also plant.

9. Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

I typically rise at around 6:00 or 7:00 every morning (including Saturday and Sunday). I walk the dog and then shower and dress. After I fix my breakfast I check my emails. Once that’s done, I begin writing on my work in progress. I write until I’ve finished a chapter, or done around 2,000 words. Then, I do the first sentence or paragraph of the next chapter and stop on that work for the morning. I do lunch and then take my camera or sketch book and walk in the forest behind my house taking pictures of deer, squirrels, birds, and plants, or do sketches for my blog. Sometimes I take the morning off and visit my grandchildren, and write in the afternoon. After supper in the evening (usually between 6:00 and 7:00) I return to my office to write for 2 – 3 hours. I also do lecturing and consulting, so sometimes I’m on the road. I travel with my laptop and journals, so in hotel rooms, minus the dog and cooking my own breakfast, I keep pretty much the same schedule.

10. What is your current work in progress?

I’m doing number 20 in my Al Pennyback mystery series. It’s about an heiress who ran away from her family. Her father has died leaving her and her twin brother a huge fortune, and the hero, Al Pennyback, has been hired by the law firm probating the old man’s will to find her. She’s reportedly somewhere on the coast in North Carolina (on Roanoke Island). The detective is based in DC, but I occasionally have him travel to other parts of the country with which I’m familiar. For instance, I spent several years in North Carolina (stationed at Ft. Bragg and working as a newspaper reporter), so I only have to a bit of research to make sure I’ve remembered things correctly. I was recently in the Roanoke Island area doing some consulting, so I have fresh impressions. I’m also working a severe thunderstorm into the story because Al has a phobia about thunderstorms, and it will add to the tension when he finally finds the missing heiress. The working title is A Deadly Wind Blows, which will make sense for anyone who has ever been in a real severe thunderstorm.

11Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?
My Amazon author page is at  

I also have a bookstore link to my books in the right sidebar of my blog:

I can be reached by email at

12.  What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

As I said before, I think of myself as a story teller. I don’t write what would be termed literary fiction (I also write nonfiction – I’ve done four books on leadership and management). I try to write stories that people will enjoy reading; that will enable them to suspend disbelief for a few hours and become absorbed into the story. I guess you could describe me as a pulp fiction writer, because I got my start reading pulp fiction in the early 50s and never outgrew it.

Read the first chapter of
Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
    Bass Reeves was a big man.
    At six-feet, two-inches, and weighing one hundred eighty pounds, he would have been an imposing figure even without the bushy black mustache that covered his upper lip and hung down to the edge of his square chin, the long, muscular arms, and hands, each of which was bigger than two hands on most men.
     He had just returned to his farm from a scouting job with the U.S. Marshals over in the Indian Territory, and during his absence, many of the chores which were beyond the abilities of his young sons had remained undone. Dressed in a faded pair of brown canvas pants and a blue wool shirt, he was hoisting a fence pole into the hole he’d just finished digging when he saw the rider approaching along the road from the town of Van Buren.
     His curiosity was aroused. It wasn’t often that people from town came out this way, most especially just before the middle of the day. Removing the battered brown Stetson, he took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his broad, brown brow, and stood watching as the single rider drew nearer.
     When the rider was about a hundred yards off, Bass was able to distinguish features. He saw that it was a white man with a long, dark brown beard that came to a point midway down the front of the black coat he wore. His hair, dark brown, almost black, splayed out from under the white hat he wore pulled down low over his forehead. Bass saw the butt of a Winchester rifle jutting out of the scabbard attached to the right side of the saddle, and assumed that the man also had at least one pistol in a holster. Few men, white or black, went anywhere this close to Indian Territory without a firearm. Bass’s own weapon, a Winchester repeating rifle, was leaned against a small tree about ten feet from where he stood. He’d left his Colt .44 pistols at the house, not figuring he’d need them just to mend a little fence. And besides, they’d just have been in the way.
     Not that he was in any way worried. The stranger didn’t seem to pose any threat. He rode up, pulling his horse to a halt about ten feet away. Up close, Bass noted that he was almost as tall as he was, but considerably lighter, maybe a hundred fifty pounds or so. His expression, while not hostile, wasn’t particularly friendly either. There was something about the face that seemed familiar.
     The man dismounted. He left his rifle in the scabbard and tied his horse to the fence post Bass had just an hour earlier planted in the ground. As he walked closer, his coat flapped open revealing a revolver high on his right hip.
     “Don’t seem particularly friendly,” Bass thought. “But, don’t seem threatenin’ neither.”
     The man stopped just beyond his reach.
     “You Bass Reeves?” he asked.
     “I am,” Bass replied. He wasn’t a man for much small talk, and until he knew who the man was and why he was here, he decided to say as little as possible without unnecessarily riling him.
     “I’m James Fagan,” the man said. “I just been appointed U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas.”
     Then, Bass understood why the man seemed familiar. He’d heard during his last scouting job for the marshals that President Grant was appointing a new marshal for the district. He’d never met the man before, but from the descriptions he knew this was him. Fagan had been a general in the rebel army and had commanded Arkansas volunteers against the Union forces. Bass had heard that he’d finally been paroled and the president had appointed him to be the main federal law enforcement officer for the country’s roughest district.
     The Western District of Arkansas took in the western half of the state, which had problems enough, but also included the Indian Territory to the west in the Oklahoma Territory. Inhabited mostly by Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians who’d been forced there as white settlers took over their lands in the east, they had formed tribal police to take care of their own people, but the territory was also settled by others, white and black, who were often trying to get away from the laws of the United States. Because the Indian police only dealt with Indians, the Indian Territory had become several thousand square miles of mostly lawless territory.
     Bass had spent most of the war hiding out there, living with all the tribes. He’d learned their languages, and this, along with his familiarity with the area was the reason he was often hired as a guide for the marshals when they entered the territory in pursuit of wanted fugitives.
     “Must want to hire me to guide him,” he thought. His dark brown face remained impassive. “Congratulations on your appointment, marshal,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
     “I’m here to talk to you about a job.”
     “Well, sir – I just yestiddy come back from a job over to Injun Territory, and I reckon I needs to do a mite o’ chores here on the farm fore I go back out.”
     “You don’t understand, Reeves,” Fagan said, with a note of annoyance in his voice. “I ain’t here to hire you to scout. You probably ain’t heard, but when President Grant appointed me, he also appointed a new federal judge for the district – fella name of Isaac Parker. Now, Judge Parker’s sort of my boss, and he done ordered me to hire two hundred new deputies to police the Injun Territory. I heard tell you know the territory better than just about anybody else in these parts, and that you’re pretty fair with a gun.”
     “I guess I knows the Injun Territory ‘bout as well as a cook know his kitchen,” Bass said. There was no bragging in his voice, just a matter of fact statement. “As to bein’ good with a gun, I reckon I’m only fair to middlin’.”
     Fagan laughed. “Way I hear it, you so good with that Winchester of yours, they won’t let you compete in the Turkey Shoots ‘round here anymore.”
     Bass smiled and nodded. It was true that the locals had become so tired of him winning every prize at every Turkey Shoot they’d banned him for life from competing. He was also a crack shot with a pistol, with either hand, and there wasn’t a man within two days ride of Van Buren who’d dare go up against him in a gun, knife, or fist fight. Bass, though, wasn’t one to brag about such things. They were just facts of life he’d learned to live with.
     “What’s this here job you want to talk about iffen it ain’t guidin’?”
     “I done told you, I been ordered to hire a buncha new deputies, and I want you to be one of ‘em.”

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