Stephen Bly has authored 100
books and hundreds of articles. His book, The Long Trail Home,
(Broadman & Holman), won the prestigious 2002 CHRISTY AWARD for
excellence in Christian fiction in the category western novel. Three
other books, Picture Rock (Crossway Books), The
Outlaw's Twin Sister
(Crossway Books), and Last Of The Texas Camp
Holman), were Christy Award finalists. He speaks at colleges, churches,
camps and conferences across the U.S. and Canada. He is the pastor of
Winchester Community Church, and served as mayor of Winchester, Idaho
historical, or romantic cowboys: Which is your favorite? Why?
That’s like askin’ which of my
sons I like best. I love ’em all. All cowboys are romantic. Even the
most dastardly villain has a misguided dancehall gal hangin’ on his
arm. The easiest for me to write are the traditional Westerns: cowboy
stories set in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. There is
a rhythm. I call it the tune. Anyone can learn to write the words, the
lyrics, but the tune comes from the heart. It’s God-given, just like an
ear for fine music. But the real love for me is creating wonderful,
strong, slightly wacky characters. I just try to keep the story within
my area of expertise.
more than one hundred books, coauthoring with your wife, writing
nonfiction and fiction, do you have a favorite story from your pen?
What would it be? Why?
I’ve never written a story or
novel I didn’t love. Each one captures my heart and my spirit. If a
reader wants to know Stephen Bly as a boy, then read Cowboy
for a Rainy Afternoon; as a fiction author, then read Paperback
Writer; what it’s like having two working writers in the same
room, read The Hidden West Series (coauthored with Janet); my view on a
woman surviving against all odds, read The Outlaw’s Twin
Sister. If you want to know my view of marriage, read the
Stuart Brannon Series; my point of view as a dad or grandpa, read The
Fortunes of the Black Hills Series; my childhood background, read The
Skinners of Goldfield Series; the most heroic woman I ever created,
read The Last Swan in Sacramento; my take on how
all women should be treated, study Brady Stoner & Linda Austin
in the Austin-Stoner Files. If you’d like a
description of how a couple can age gracefully and still have a dynamic
impact on their world, read The Carson City Chronicles
(cowritten with Janet.) So, you see, it’s an impossible choice for me.
young adult fiction: What are the unique challenges of each? Which do
you prefer to write?
Again, no preference. I hurry to
get the stories out of my head. It’s like cleaning an attic that’s been
crammed for decades. I may forget what’s up there, but there are lots
of treasures stored. The challenge of youth fiction is capturing the
minds of young readers in a tech generation. That’s why I lean to
writing historical fiction for kids. The challenge is to make the story
fun so they won’t stop reading. It’s not a matter of genre or age
demographics, it’s an issue of which stories in my mind need an outlet.
“We have the
need to be searched for and found . . . the need to complete something
we promised ourselves long ago. We have the need to do the right thing,
even if no one knows it. The need to make a stand against all odds. And
the need to be a friend (and have a friend) through all the struggles
in life.” This is a quote from a previous interview for
faithfulreader.com. Can you share with us more about this writing/life
philosophy? How has it been realized in your life?
A good story engages the reader.
You don’t view it from afar . . . you live it. The books we like best,
and the ones readers remember, are the ones that add something to daily
living. For that to happen, the scene must make sense, be believable,
and stir latent heroic qualities.
We are created in the image of
God. Buried in all of us is the urge to make a stand for what’s right.
Whether Western or mystery or detective story, we want good to triumph
over evil. Not just the characters, but we, personally, want to be
victorious. We’d like to think we have what it takes.
We have a need to know that our
lives matter, that in the battle of good and evil, somehow we’ve made a
difference. Fiction allows me the awesome privilege to make a
difference through my characters, to inspire the readers to do the
“. . .If your
story drags . . . shoot someone. Of course, that’s from the perspective
of the Western genre, but the principle works for others too.” This
quote from an interview you did on Novel Journey back in 2006 grabbed
my attention. What is your biggest challenge to keep your stories from
dragging with the fewest casualties? Can you make a practical
application of this advice for writers?
Many assume my advice of
shooting someone when your story drags is just a play at humor, but I
am dead serious. Do something, anything, that makes your reader jump up
and shout, “He can’t do that!” To keep a story alive, you have to
produce compelling action and crisp, fast dialogue. I suggest writing
an entire chapter of dialogue without any narration, without any
identifiers at all. Once you have that transcription, tweak the words
until it excites joy or crushes emotion. Once your dialogue zings, you
can elaborate the other details with confidence that they won’t
distract or diminish.
What is your
favorite writing collaboration you’ve completed with your wife? What is
the biggest challenge of working together?
I love doing anything with my
Janni-Rae. We’ve been known to sit hand in hand and watch everything
from beach sunsets to desert anthills. So when it comes to cowriting,
I’ve enjoyed each and every project, every part of it—the
brainstorming, the research, the discussion about who does what.
The best way to understand the
challenges of two writers working on the same project is to read our
Hidden West Series. The protagonists happen to be a husband and wife
writing team. Their names are Tony and Price Shadowbrook, but those who
know us claim they’re really Stephen and Janet Bly, in essence, if not
For us, the best-worst fact is
that we are very different as writers. I’m the idea guy. I write fast.
I hurry through scenes, can’t wait to see what happens next. I rarely
work with a plot in mind. Janet is the craftsman (okay, craftswoman).
Every little detail and nuance must be exact, perfected. That works
balance, most of the time. As long as she allows my heroes to
drop their gs and doesn’t gum up the scene with things like a red
velvet pillow labeled “Chicago 1881.”
do you envision the future of Western writing to be? Is this genre
seeing growth or decline? Or is there a pretty steady demand for
As long as people read and
hanker for heroes, there will be a place for cowboy stories. As long as
men exist who feel something missing in the modern workaday world and
as long as young girls desire the arms of strong, faithful men, there
will be readers of Westerns. I believe the genre will survive.
countries, outside the U.S., have a love for cowboys and Westerns? Have
you developed a fan base in a country where there is a large demand for
My books have been
into German, French, Spanish, Indonesian, and even Chinese. However,
I’d guess the strongest readership hails from Europe. The cowboy is the
symbolic romantic hero of the planet. From the Arabic countries in the
Mideast to the barren bogs of Siberia, the cowboy is king. In fact, the
president of the Wild West Club of Siberia once showed up at my door.
pastor a small church in your community in addition to all of your
writing. What do your parishioners think of your books? Any fans among
them? Any who aren’t so fond of a fiction-writing pastor?
Some of them are great fans.
Others have never read any of my books. The Lord called me to preach
way before He allowed me to write books, so the preaching is the
foundation of everything. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the
gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16 NIV). That’s my life’s prime focus. That helps in
keeping my characters real. My relationships give me insight into the
human mind, heart, soul, and spirit.
Is writing a
talent/passion you have passed on to your sons? Their children? What
does your family think of the many stories you’ve written? What impact
has it had on their lives?
A good question that I have
contemplated as I’ve grown older. I’m not sure how my stories have
impacted any particular family members, but I do hear from a general
readership through tons of mail telling how my books influenced their
Two of our boys (we have three
sons) show real talent in writing. The third is an artist, taking after
my father. They could develop their writing if they made it a priority.
One of my heartbreaks is that my father died before I ever published
anything. How I wish I could have handed him a novel and said, “What do
you think, Dad?” On the other hand, my mother read dozens of my books
while she was alive and loved them all.
think a book is merely the subtitle of life. We live our lives with
triumph and tragedy . . . and a good book tells the story in print . .
. just in case you missed the storyline somewhere. So a good book, even
historical fiction, is in sync with real life.” This is another quote
from an interview with faithful reader. Is there a book (besides the
Bible) that has “subtitled” your life? A book that has taught you
something significant or caused you to consider something in a
Nothing compares to the Bible or
great nonfiction works like Knowing God by J. I.
Packer, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, or Basic
Christianity by John Stott as far as impact on my life. But
as far as fiction is concerned, William Saroyan’s The Daring
Young Man on the Flying Trapeze or John Steinbeck’s Cannery
Row or Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll,
as well as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
each had strong influence (as did the films High Noon
and Stalag 17).
What is your
most recent life-challenge that has taught you something significant or
meaningful? What is God doing in your life that is particularly
Discovering I have incurable
cancer has given me challenges that I didn’t think I’d have to face for
a long time. After a process of acceptance, I realize this disease is a
kind of gift from God that has allowed me to grow in the likeness of
Christ in ways that alluded me before. It has helped me better focus my
life, my message, my family, and my Lord.
What is He doing that’s
exciting? First, He’s given me even deeper, more incredible love for my
wife of forty-seven years. We are enjoying some of the best times of a
very magical marriage. Second, I’m playing better golf than at any time
in my life. I don’t have a clue what that means, what could possibly be
the purpose at my age, but birdies and eagles give me great joy and
words of encouragement you’d like to share with your readers?
Writing, no matter how enticing
or successful, is merely an “added thing.” In itself, it will never
satisfy or complete the missing parts of the soul. The challenge will
always be to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness
and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33 KJV). Don’t
consternate or obsess with chasing added things.
Ford has been a resident of
Alabama for more than ten years. Originally from Georgia, she holds a
Bachelor’s degree in English from Brenau Women’s College. She has spent
the past 9 years in sales and marketing and has been an avid reader of
Christian Fiction for more than 20 years.
A mother of two teen sons and married to a technical writer and Army
veteran, Kim’s life is full and blessed. She and her husband also
volunteer as teachers for a resident rehab program for women with
life-controlling issues. She uses her fiction to encourage the ladies
she teaches. She blogs at: Window
To My World