A Visit WIth Wayne D. Dundee

portrait 2 72 dpi 3.5 wideRP: I know your PI character Joe Hannibal recently celebrated his 30th anniversary. During those years, you experienced changes in your life and I wonder, aside from the move to Nebraska, how much does Hannibal parallel Dundee? How are you alike and how are you different?

WD: I don’t think you can spend 30 years writing about a series character and not inject a certain amount of yourself into him (or her, as the case may be). Ross Macdonald once said about his Lew Archer character: “I am not Archer, but Archer is me.” I never really understood that when I first heard it. I thought it was another of those overly pretentious things guys like him and Chandler sometimes said that was over the head of a lowbrow, bubble gum-chewer like me. Later on, when I could fit it to my relationship with Hannibal, I finally got it.

Hannibal shares many of my tastes, biases, general opinions, etc. Hence, his makeup comes largely from me. I, on the other hand, share none of his background as far as the violent encounters, suspicions, and instincts developed from years of investigative work. We both grew up on dairy farms and are firmly blue collar at the root, but what we experienced in the middle years after that is considerably different.

In the beginning, in the initial short stories that launched him, Hannibal was basically cast from the old sock-and-shoot tough guy mold, just another Mike Hammer wanna-be. When I began doing novel-length work, I fleshed him out more and more and there’s where the “me” part started to creep in; subconsciously at first, but then gradually more intentional. For instance, we’re both of an age to have seen military service in the Vietnam era, but neither of us did. Since I write the Hannibal books and stories in the first person, I never felt comfortable trying to convey that experience when I’d never gone through it (although it would have been natural and almost a traditional requirement for Joe) so I presented it simply as neither of us having had our draft numbers come up.

In later years, there has been more of the intentional stuff. You mentioned, for example, that we both have relocated to Nebraska from our original stomping grounds of Rockford, Illinois. When I first started writing about Joe, I was just into my thirties and I pictured him (without ever exactly saying) as being in his forties; now that I have creaked into my sixties, in my mind I have sort of “frozen” Joe (again without exactly saying) in his late fifties. No spring chicken any longer, but not quite as ancient as his creator. Additionally, I have bum knees and a bad back; Joe has a bum hip (albeit arrived at more dramatically from getting caught too close to an explosion). So neither of us may be as good, physically, as we once were … but don’t make the mistake of backing us into a corner; I’d like to think we could each be as good once as we ever were.

RP: You’ve written alone and in collaboration with others, specifically with Edward Grainger on the Cash Laramie and Drifter Detective stories, and with Mel Odom on an upcoming series. Do you enjoy collaboration? What are the challenges and/or benefits of a writing partnership?

WD: Actually, I’ve found collaboration to be interesting and not at all unpleasant. With Edward Grainger (who everybody knows is really Beat To A Pulp’s David Cranmer), he already had the Cash character so firmly established (then augmented by a very brief “Cash bible” that clarified a handful of additional details) all I had to do was wrap some new adventures around him. Same for Cash’s grandson, Jack, in the Drifter Detective novellas (although in this case it was Garnett Elliott who’d captured the character and set the tone so well in the preceding three books). I don’t recall David ever having a qualm about anything I turned in to him … Now Mel Odom — who had input (along with Paul Bishop) on the novella (COUNTERPUNCH) that I did in the Fight Card series, and with whom I am now planning and writing a Westward Tide series of books about adventures on the pre-Civil War Oregon Trail — is a little tougher, but in a good way. He teaches writing courses at the college level so is trained to look at everything with an editor’s eye and he really focuses. In our set-up, his comments are all “suggestions” that I can use or not (unless it is directly connected to specific characters he has created and will be using in his sections of the series). He makes me think harder and sometimes from a different angle and, invariably, has improved the material we’ve done together … In the weeks and months ahead I will also be collaborating in a new Western series with Steve Mertz and James Reasoner, and possibly another with Peter Brandvold. I enjoy and admire the work of all those men so I’m excited and looking forward to working with them … The biggest benefit I’ve found in collaborating is the quick feedback you get on your work — sort of like a “first reader” who has skin in the game.

wide_spotRP: In the recent Drifter Detective novel, WIDE SPOT IN THE ROAD, Jack Laramie’s run-in with a criminal biker gang at a roadside diner serves up some fine thrills and chills. What’s the closest you have ever come personally to a similar real life experience?

WD: Well, thankfully, I’ve never had a head-on run-in with a biker gang … However, in my 20s and 30s, I spent a fair amount of time (too much, probably) in strip joints and go-go bars where bikers hung out. (This, by the way, was no behind-the-back sneaking around on my wife – as long as I didn’t get too carried away, this was okay with her; I told her it was research for my books, even though she knew I was mostly full of crap in that regard.) At any rate, in those joints I got to superficially know a few of the bikers – a nod, “hi how are ya”, “bitchin’ weather, man” kind of thing. I saw a few nasty fights break out, but the bouncers were pretty quick about running those involved outside. I never had any trouble with any of them … A little later in life, when I was working as lead man on a construction crew pouring pre-stressed concrete for bridges and parking decks, I had a half dozen bikers on my crew. They were basically blue collar working stiffs like the rest of us, maybe a little rougher around the edges. I went drinking with them a couple times. In a bunch, on their own turf, they maybe “put on the act” a little thicker. But, for the most part, I saw them as co-workers, sometimes a little hung over and cranky, but otherwise hard workers I was glad to have on my crew … Except for the real hardcore rowdies at the nucleus of the major national gangs, I think that is probably true of most of the bikers you’re apt to run into.

RP: Does your family read your work, or do they tend to ignore it? What about your late wife, Pam? Was she an avid reader of Joe Hannibal?

WD: Unfortunately, no, Pam was not interested in reading at all. She might have read one or two of my initial Joe Hannibal short stories, but that was about it. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t supportive and encouraging, though. I’ve often told the story of how, when we first got married (eloped) and were literally eating with plastic knives and forks, the first thing we bought on time payments was a new typewriter for me – a Smith-Corona portable manual, olive green in color. I’ve still got it out in the garage somewhere. And while Pam didn’t actually sit down and read my stuff, I often read passages to her or bounced plot/character ideas off her to get her feedback … My daughter and son-in-law read most of my stuff; my sisters and some of my cousins a fair amount … My three grandkids? Nope, ain’t gonna happen. They take after their grandma, I guess.

RP: What are you reading now, and how does it differ from what you were reading 40 years ago? In other words, can you give us a short “bio via books read?”

WD: Interesting question … As far back as I can remember, I was reading. Anything and everything I could get my hands on. Lots of comic books, of course. Books out of the school library, once I started going to school. Whitman tie-ins to popular TV shows (mostly Westerns); Whit man abridged versions of classics like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, etc.; Classics Illustrated comic books; anything about Robin Hood or Davy Crockett … Then, in the early ’60s, I discovered Mickey Spillane’s The Girl Hunters and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and the Lost Empire (with the first of those wonderful Frazetta covers) almost simultaneously. And my life was changed forever. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to write stuff that stirred the excitement in readers the way Spillane and Burroughs did me …

After I’d devoured all of Burroughs’ Tarzan and Earth’s Core and Land That Time Forgot books (I read a few of his Mars tales and other work, but they never got the grip on me like the aforementioned did) I delved deeper and deeper into the Spillane-like tough guy PI/spy stuff. Except for a foray into the Conan surge of the ’70s and the occasional Western “binge” (Gordon D. Shireffs, Robert Macleod, T.V. Olsen, a little L’Amour) that was pretty much my reading diet for forty years. Spillane, John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), and Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm – and also his Westerns) were my Holy Trinity.

Then tons of others followed: everything by Andrew Vachss; Lawrence Block; Robert B. Parker; James Lee Burke; Nelson DeMille; Randy Wayne White and on and on … In the past four or five years, as my own writing has enveloped the Western genre more and more, I read a lot of James Reasoner (although I’d read him before, but more his crime/detective work), Bill Crider, and everything by the wonderfully prolific Peter Brandvold, to name a few. There’s also this guy named Prosch, who doesn’t write as much as I wish he would, but whose work I really like when he does.

WTB Fathers 8RP: You’ve contributed to several anthologies, and an upcoming one looks especially promising with additional works by John Duncklee, John D. Nesbitt and others. What can you tell us about your contribution to FATHERS (from Western Trailblazer)?

WD: This is a concept by Jeremy L.C. Jones. The theme is “fathers in the American West – past or present”. However, instead of having a dozen or fifteen stories by different authors, Jeremy wanted a smaller handful of writers to each do three stories. The stories could be connected or not … I was the only contributor who chose to connect his stories. In essence, I wrote a trilogy centered on one Silas Smith, a small town marshal in western Nebraska who has been estranged from his two sons since the close of the Civil War. When he rode off to fight for the Union, his wife and her family – devout Southern sympathizers – turned the very young boys against him and, when he returned after the fighting, they wanted nothing to do with him. It is 12 years later and Silas is contacted by his former mother-in-law, the only surviving member of his ex wife’s family save for his sons. Silas learns that the boys (now young men) are on the brink of going down the outlaw trail and their grandmother pleads with him to try and re-connect with them and see if he can’t turn them away from that fate. He agrees to try and a hint as to the extent he is able to succeed is given in the titles of the three stories: “Law Dog”; “Stray Pups”; and “Mongrel Pack”. I think the overall tale turned out pretty well, I’m kinda proud of it. The individual stories are rather long (which often happens with my “short” stories), totaling about 45,000 words when combined. So at some point after the anthology comes out, the plan is to take them, string ‘em together, and publish them as a short novel. I’m looking forward to seeing both formats … As far as FATHERS anthology, the other writers featured are John Duncklee, John D. Nesbitt, Troy D. Smith, and Jeremy L.C. Jones. I’ve had the privilege of reading the collection in manuscript form and it is very strong. I’m honored to be part of it.

RP: Another character you’ve written is MAD DOG. Please give us the low down on that series and what we can expect in the future.

WD: MAD DOG is a new series coming soon from Western Trail Blazer. This concept is also from Jeremy L.C. Jones. The protagonist, as you might surmise, is a man named Cole Madog – dubbed “Mad Dog” by many for his fierce fighting style and daring exploits during the Civil War. But his background is even more complex: Cole Madog was born to poor Welsh coal miners who worked the dark dungeons of Ohio. As an infant, he was kidnapped by hirelings of wealthy coal baron James Keeling Worthington, Sr., to satisfy the needs of Worthington’s barren wife. He was re-christened James K. Worthington, Jr. and raised as their son in the lap of luxury. He was schooled by the best tutors and sent off to the finest colleges, never knowing the truth of his birthright until the long-hidden secret was revealed just before the young man went off to war. He renounced the Worthington name and joined the army as Cole Madog once again, seething with an inner rage that led to him also earning the name “Mad Dog”. After the war, he tries to find his true parents or any other family members but discovers they have all passed away. In the meantime, Worthington is so furious at being rejected by the “ingrate” he once called a son that he puts a bounty of ten thousand dollars on Cole’s head. So Mad Dog must flee, traveling the West, finding new adventures while always on guard against the killers and bounty hunters sent by his former “father” — and also bent on one day returning to get retribution against the ruthless coal baron … My first novel for the series, titled MAD DOG’S SALVATION, is turned in and hopefully will be out by or before this Fall. Several other writers will also be contributing novels and short stories in the series.

Wayne Dundee lives in the once-notorious old cowtown of Ogallala, on the hinge of Nebraska’s panhandle. He relocated there after spending the first fifty years of his life in the state line area of northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin.

A widower, retired from a managerial position in the magnetics industry, Dundee now devotes full time to his writing.

To date, Dundee has had ten novels, five novellas, and over two dozen short stories published. Much of his work has featured his PI protagonist, Joe Hannibal. He also dabbles in fantasy and straight crime, and has recently been gaining notice in the Western genre. His 2010 Western short story, “This Old Star”, won a Peacemaker Award from the Western Fictioneers writers’ organization; and his first novel-length Westerns, Dismal River and Hard Trail To Socorro, appeared in 2011. Manhunter’s Mountain, the first novel-length adventure in the popular Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles series came out in January of 2012.

Titles in the Hannibal series have been translated into several languages and nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and six Shamus Awards. Dundee is also the founder and original editor of Hardboiled Magazine.


  1. Mort Castle says:

    Great to see this thoughtful interview with a fine writer, one who has created a truly memorable character in Joe H.

  2. Great interview. Look forward to all the new stuff.

  3. I’m going to have to be tougher on Wayne’s next book. Yup. Follow Mel’s lead.

  4. Enjoyed the read. Looking forward to the new tales. Just wondering, though–did Joe ever wrestle that bear you once tangled with?

  5. wayne d. dundee says:

    Thank you, Richard, for the forum to ramble on (a bit too long-winded, probably) in response to your thoughtful set of questions. Thanks, also, to those who took time to leave comments, both here and elsewhere.
    Mort Castle – My goodness, how long has it been? Great to hear from you, old friend.
    Randy – Glad to hear you’ll be on the lookout for the new stuff. Some of it should start showing up soon, hope you aren’t disappointed.
    Edward – Now, now. No need to adopt a tougher focus on my next manuscript … Talk to David, maybe he ought to handle it.
    John – Joe has tangled with some mighty tough situations, but he’s always remained too sensible to ever purposely plant himself in front of a 7 ft. bear.

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