“Iron Star” – Prolific novelist Estleman releases 94th book 

Award-winning, prolific author Loren D. Estleman can remember writing all 94 of his books. 

I just don’t remember writing 94!” said Estleman, an alumnus of Dexter High School and Eastern Michigan University (which awarded him an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2002), who lives in Whitmore Lake with his wife/fellow author Deborah Morgan. He is best known for the hardboiled Amos Walker series of PI novels set in Detroit.  

Estleman’s 94th book, Iron Star (Forge $29.99) – released June 18 – is also his 31st Western. In it, aging lawman Irons St. John has become a larger-than-life figure. As a result, the man has disappeared behind the myth. Buck Jones, a pioneering film star, needs a story that will launch his career in the movies, so he approaches retired Pinkerton detective Emmet Rawlings about St. John. Rawlings accompanied St. John on his final manhunt 20 years ago and wants to write a tell-all book about his exploits in the Old West, one that talks more about the man than the myth, one that exposes the truth about St. John – the good, the bad and the ugly. 

“About 40 years ago, I wrote a novel called Mister St. John. It was published by Doubleday in the short print run it did then with westerns, selling mostly to libraries. I was proud of the book and always thought it had legs enough for a more personal, in-depth treatment with a larger audience,” explained Estleman. “The first took more seasoning on my part, and the amount of life experience that Rawlings, the co-protagonist, acquires in the 20 years since the principal events, giving him the weary wisdom it takes to put the story in perspective; the second is up to (publisher) Forge.”

Photo courtesy of Deborah Morgan.

Estleman spoke about the inspiration behind creating St. John.

“I discovered early that Western writers had spent 100 years building a romantic mythology on top of a far more fascinating reality and set out to give this unique and monumental period in history its turn onstage, warts, honor, betrayals, extraordinary courage and all,” said Estleman. “Most of the legendary lawmen started out as bandits; some reverted to life from time to time when times were tight, or they just needed the diversion. Irons St. John is an amalgam of all the actual gunmen who trod both sides of the law. The difference between him and them is now he’s telling the unvarnished truth about what it took to keep the peace in a society that hardly knew the definition of the term.”

He continued: “However, to keep things in perspective, we should note that none of the exploits of the Hickoks, the Earps, (John Wesley) Hardin, the James brothers, Billy the Kid and the rest of their kind played any significant part in the history of the American West beyond our own guilty entertainment. History would have developed along the same lines as it did if they were lifted clean out of the record.”

Every Western Estleman’s penned has used only about 10 percent of the research that went into. Not the case with Iron Star.

“The base of the iceberg must be many times the size of the tip in order to tell a story with confidence,” he said. “I found myself with so much applied knowledge of my subject that throughout Iron Star, I never had to crack a book except to check dates.”

One of the challenges of Iron Star was attempting to craft a narrative that takes place in three different time periods – more or less simultaneously – was both stimulating and exasperating at the same time for Estleman.  

“It was one of the goals I set for myself with each project to prevent sliding into a comfortable rut,” he said. “It’s the reason my work remains as fresh as it was at the beginning. It’s as inebriating as it is terrifying and, really, the reason I got into this business in the first place.”

It took Estleman eight months to pen Iron Heart. He began writing it on the road, using a portable typewriter. Estleman has a large collection of antique typewriters in his home, which is how he’s written the majority of his 94 novels. However, he has had to reluctantly, grudgingly switch to a computer that he named “Frankenstein.” Cobbled out of spare parts, Frankenstein is more of a glorified word processor without internet access – something Estleman insisted on as he has no desire to access the internet. 

“When my publishers laid off all their typesetters, forcing me to adopt a computer… a lot of the fun went out of the mechanical part of writing,” he said. “I miss the authoritative clack-clack of the keys and the chomp of the strikers biting into a fresh sheet of 20-pound bond and the self-sufficiency of not having to depend on others that I enjoyed. I still begin all my work on a manual typewriter and take a portable on the road, but final draft work on Iron Star was done on Frankenstein like all the others in recent years.”

His next Walker novel is slated for a release in 2025. He is currently on his eighth novel in his Valentino series. 

“I’m past the halfway point on a Valentino novel, working without a net, as it were, since I’m between contracts,” said Estleman. “I need to keep working; otherwise, I find myself with so much time on my hands I have to face the fact that without writing I’m just a bum.”

Despite writing 94 books, none of them have ever made it to the big or small screen. 

“Tell Hollywood my stuff’s available and my rates are reasonable,” quipped Estleman. “Just don’t ask me to write the screenplay or drop by the set.”

Although Estleman’s work has been optioned, things have always seemed to fall through for whatever reason. 

“I’ve come very close sometimes,” he said. “For a long time, I used to grouse about that – ‘How can someone write as many books as I have and gotten good reviews over the years and no movie deals?’ Then they filmed Beowulf. (The Beowulf poet) waited 1,000 years. I guess I can be patient a little longer.”


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