Born on a mountain top in Tennessee . . . uh, wait, that was Davy Crockett. Ok, then; Daniel Boone was a man . . . no . . . no, that was his great, great, great uncle. How about this: Born and raised in Kansas, John (JD) McCall’s first ever ambition was to be a stand-up comedian, a goal strongly discouraged by the many teachers who were forced to put up with his antics in class. He did manage to finally shelve that aspiration and earned a B. A. in biology and a Master’s degree in industrial hygiene before trying his hand at writing westerns late in life. Having just had his second novel, South of Rising Sun, re-released by Sundown Press, he is currently working on the audio book version of SoRS. He resides in the city of his birth, Ottawa, Kansas, with his wife and three children, along with three Labrador-mix dogs who do everything caninely possible to see that he has no spare time to write.
A Little More if You’re Interested
So what is there about me that’s so unique people should want to read about who I am on this page? Nothing. Not a darn thing. I’ve never understood why some people are interested in the private lives of actors, athletes, artists or writers. It’s my books which I hope are interesting to readers, not my personal life. And let’s face it, most of the people in that group, including me, have never done anything extraordinary enough with their personal lives to warrant such fascination, so putting up information about myself beyond the earlier short bio seems like an egocentric endeavor, such a desperate “hey look at me” cry for attention I am reluctant to do it. But everyone who has ever offered advice on setting up an author website says a bio is essential, so I guess I’ll give it a shot. The problem is, there is really nothing very exciting about me, so if you stop reading at a certain point, I won’t hold it against you, especially if you were led here by the purchase one of my novels.
Consider the town I live in, Ottawa, Kansas, for instance. It’s an average small town in the mid-west, its most interesting feature being that the Crystal Plaza Theater in the downtown area can lay claim to the title of “Oldest Cinema in the United States.” Ottawa’s history, from its inception to the early 1900s, is so unremarkable it won’t lend itself to be a good setting for a western novel, no matter how much I would like it to. And although Kansas gained a reputation for being the wildest state in the Union when it comes to the Old West, Ottawa somehow quietly escaped the notoriety of the eight or so tough and untamed cattle towns which popped up between Dodge City and the state’s eastern border. Ten miles south of us, John Brown’s Potawatomie Massacre took place, and twenty miles to the north, Lawrence was burned to the ground and a hundred and fifty of its men murdered in Quantrill’s raid. Yet Ottawa managed to miss all the excitement of those events by being founded too late. And once Ottawa was on the map, even the 1957 F-5 Ruskin Heights tornado didn’t feel the town worthy of a detour, skipping us by a mile or so, thank goodness.
Don’t misunderstand me; Ottawa is a nice city and good place to raise kids, which is one of my three, current full-time occupations, at least for a few more years. However, as a native son who never strayed much beyond her confines, I can safely say Ottawa doesn’t provide one with many glamorous life experiences. So now that we’ve established where I live is boring and I’m boring, you’re probably asking yourself “how boring is he?” Oh? You’re not? Well, tough luck. You’ve already read this far so it’s too late. I have you now, my pretty! And I’ll get you and your little dog, too!– Come on! You mean you expected me to be from Kansas and not throw in a Wizard of Oz reference? Surely, you can’t be serious. (And, your response should be: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Airplane has to be one of the ten funniest movies ever made, IMHO–I hope that means “in my humble opinion” and not “I mangle history often.” I’m not very fluent in social media shorthand).
Perhaps you guessed then, I love movies. My father started working a second job as a projectionist when I was young, so our entire family got to see them for free, and we went often. It made me quite popular in my neighborhood since I was able to bring along friends free of charge. I worked at the local theater in high school, college, and even after that as a projectionist myself, as did three of my five sisters. Being a projectionist was probably the coolest job you could have as a teenager. Prestige. Free popcorn. Free sodas. All you could eat and drink. And I have the fillings to prove it. Additionally, you can meet some rather interesting people working at a cinema. One of those is now my wife, Polly.
It has probably dawned on you by now that I usually find something to make light of in most situations and I like to laugh. To that end, I have tried to incorporate some elements of humor into the westerns I write. Normally, one wouldn’t associate humor with a novel set in the Old West, but I have to believe even back then people found things to laugh about in their daily lives. In fact, I know that to be true for when doing some research for South of Rising Sun, I ran across an 1860s newspaper that devoted a whole front page column to jokes, right next to the national news of the times. This doesn’t mean I turned my novels into comedies, but even a Western can have a place to insert a chuckle or two in between the serious parts.
So why choose to write Westerns? After all, the genre doesn’t get a lot of love these days, although there are exceptions to that rule. And as the younger generations become more and more entrenched in the latest technology, they become less and less connected to the important part of our history which was the Old West. Of the four other members of my immediate family, only one has read my first novel; Westerns just aren’t their thing, and I get that. Oddly enough though, it’s my youngest son, the one probably most entrenched in this new age of electronics, who actually sat down and read what dear old dad wrote, and I expect he will read the new one, too.
I’m certain part of my affinity for the genre stems from my childhood. As I was growing up, the Western ruled television and the movies both, and Kansas, more than any other state, was squarely in the middle of western mythology with its wild cattle towns and famous western citizens. Because of this, I suppose I developed an affection for that era. So much so, in my senior year of high school one of my friends and I got the idea in our heads that once we graduated, we would each stitch up authentic leather mountain man costumes complete with guns, rent some outfitted horses and wander the wilderness trails in Montana. Thank goodness the idea never came to fruition. What a disaster in the making it would have been. I can imagine the headlines: Idiots Found After Two Weeks Lost in Wilderness. Or worse yet: Grizzly-mauled Bodies Recovered in Flathead National Forest.
I guess then, I simply have a yearning at times for a less complicated age, one in which there were a few less possessions to break down and go haywire, especially automobiles. At least one wouldn’t have to crawl under your horse to fix it or change its oil; a little hay and a few oats and you’re good to go. It might also be pleasant to have a few more moments where there was no compelling reason to keep yourself accessible to people at all times via the cell or internet. I don’t know about you, but even if I don’t answer my phone, I have an odd sensation that someone knows where I am anyway, and that I’m not fooling them as to my whereabouts. A period of time out on your own exploring, with no way for anyone to keep tabs on you, would feel like true freedom upon occasion.
I know if I could live in that era, there are wonderful modern inventions I’d miss, such as air-conditioning, movies, recorded music, and yes, even computers. And I’m also aware there were lots of hardships during that period, like cold drafty houses in in the winter, long hours of work, and no cures for illness and disease. But I’d like to think I could tough out all those hardships if need be. Except for having no toilet paper. It’s probably the one thing that stops me from inventing a time machine and traveling back to era of the steam locomotive and horse and buggy. My tender tokus would never forgive me if I were to subject it to the rigors of the corn cob or pages from the Monkey-Ward catalogue.
So rather than invent time travel, I will just stay here and create my own version of the Old West on paper. That is, whenever Louie, Maisey and Harlan will let me. Those are our three black Labrador mixes which try to interrupt me every five minutes with their demands for interaction. They have proven much worse for my concentration than my family and the video games and TV shows which are usually blaring in the living room where I write in my recliner. I would find someplace more isolated to pen my prose, but the family man in me feels I need to keep myself in the mix rather than cloister myself away from my loved ones in an isolated part of the house. Unfortunately, for someone like me to which writing does not come easily and whose attention span wanders more than the eyes of a first-timer at a nudist camp, it slows my writing output to a crawl. And no, I’ve never been to a nudist camp.
So here’s to hoping you, too, feel an affection for the Wild West and a desire kept this part of our American heritage from being forgotten. And here’s to hoping you like to sit down with a good Western once in a while.