Wednesday, August 8, 2012

All my reviews are posted here and my blogs are posted at

August 7 Interview by Richard Weatherly, at Welcome To My Place.

Hi Julia,
Welcome to My Place. I’m eager to hear what you have to say about your writing in general and Author of Scalp Mountainabout your novel, Scalp Mountain.
Would you like to share a synopsis of your novel?
It’s 1876 and Colum McNeal’s immigrant Irish father has sent gunmen to kill him. Colum finds a refuge in a hidden Texas valley and begins ranching, but struggles to stay there: José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache, seeks revenge for the son Colum unwittingly killed.
At the same time, an old acquaintance, Mason Lohman, obsessively stalks Colum through the border country. Colum has inspired the unthinkable in Lohman. In a time and place where a man’s sexuality must stand unchallenged, Colum has ignited Lohman’s desire.
Other characters include Texas Ranger William Henry, who takes Colum’s part against his father while wrestling with his own demons. Comanches murdered Henry’s family and Henry regrets the revenge he took; and Clementine Weaver, who defies frontier prejudice by adopting an Indian baby. Clementine must also choose between Colum and her husband.
One thing I noticed about Scalp Mountain was the depth of your character development.  Tell us how you chose your main character and describe how you like to present your characters to the readers.
My novels all start the same way; I see images in my mind, but I don’t understand them. I saw Colum standing on a hill in the Davis Mountains, in Texas. When I asked myself what this man was doing, the answers came. Writers see characters through the prism of their own personalities. If my characters have depth, it’s because I want to understand them and I want readers to understand them. Nobody is simple. Personally, I want to understand everybody and spend large amounts of time trying to figure out other people and worrying about them (I know, it’s useless to worry).
When we writers (including you, dear Richard) write books, we are just reproducing our brains. Therefore, readers aren’t really reading printed words on a page, they’re reading other personalities. That’s one of the reasons reading is so thrilling and why it’s so important for writers to accurately reproduce their “voice.”
What is it that best represents your protagonist’s life? (Highlight the characteristics that illustrate your protagonist’s strengths.)
Colum’s mother was murdered and his father rejected him. That kind of trauma usually twists people; it creates drives and motives they don’t necessarily understand. Humans must attempt full consciousness to understand themselves (I know, that’s a tall order). Luckily for Colum, when events unfold, he’s willing to face his actions and try to redeem himself. You can attribute that to inner strength, but I think God is willing to give us grace to deal with life, if we’re willing to accept it.
Scalp Mountain is clearly historical fiction. While this is true, I found much in common with literary fiction. What do you think makes your novel stand out from other historical fiction?
I don’t know, I don’t even know if it does stand out. I just wrote the story in my mind and heart, and wrote my style, whatever that is. I’ve studied literary technique, but that technique is mandatory for all writers, not just historical novelists, or literary novelists.
How does your main character’s profession draw him into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)
It doesn’t. The events in the book all stem from character. Character is destiny. Colum’s father is a vengeful man. Rather than fight it out, Colum runs from his own guilt, motives and feelings. Lohman can’t handle his unrequited desire for Colum and tries to eliminate the problem the only way he knows how; killing him.
Have you considered working on a sequel?
No sequels. I’m working on another historical novel now and that has my attention. Besides, Scalp Mountain doesn’t lend itself to sequels. It’s pretty intense and I could never reproduce the same kind of tension in a sequel.
Tell me something about your writing habits. Is there a special place where you live that you like to go to? Do you like to write at a certain time of day?
This is a problem all writers deal with (unless they have superior self discipline, which I don’t). Between working on publicity, which is an endless job, doing my chores, seeing and talking to friends and family, and making myself stay in the chair, it’s hard. Like all writers, some days I just sit and stare at the computer screen and want to bang my head against the wall. Luckily, the wall is handy, it’s right by my desk.
In an added note, I strongly suspect writers who brag they have unbreakable work habits are exaggerating.
Please provide links to your blog, your book and other places where readers can find your work.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review — Scalp Mountain

By Rich Weatherly, "Welcome to my Place" blog.

Book CoverMy Review
Scalp Mountain is historical fiction and I’m a big fan of this genre. Before writing this story, author Julia Robb did extensive research about the history and geography of the region. It shows.
That said, this book has much in common with literary fiction. Throughout most of the story we see the vast expanse of the southern plains, the Guadalupe and Davis MountainsRio Grande River and surrounding territory. Julia Robb uses vivid, lyrical prose to show us this landscape. While reading, I was transported back to the 1870s. Her writing takes readers on a ride where they experience the story through all their senses; sight, sound, touch, smell and mental imagery through the use of beautiful word pictures.
Unlike romanticized Hollywood westerns of our parents’ time, in this story you’ll find good and bad on all sides. These truly are three dimensional characters; characters based in the realities of life, not cowboys in white hats and villains in black.
Characters define this story and lead us through the plot. In these characters we see complex personalities. Most of the story is presented through the eyes of the protagonist, Colum McNeal. Colum faces life and death situations from multiple characters who would love to kill him. He understands the motivation of two of them; revenge. Another, long time acquaintance, Mason Lohman is a mystery to him.
Julia Robb relies heavily on inner dialog. You’ll spend almost as much time inside these characters heads as you do watching the action taking place around them. There is a powerful psychological feel to the story.
That said, there are well executed fight scenes; those between individuals and between larger groups; from gun battles to knife fights, you’ll be at the center of the action in these fast paced, rapidly changing scenes.
Julia will help  you see touching emotions from many of the characters; not just the protagonist. Much of the story is centered on pioneer settlers and their Native American rivals; other parts between Texas Rangers and theU.S. Cavalry. You’ll get a balanced, realist portrayal of each. Clementine Weaver, the wife of one of Colum’s neighbor, has adopted an Apache orphan. This orphan child is the son of José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache and at one point we see his love for the child. Column is drawn to her as she nurses him through recovery after a brutal attack. His feelings become much more than sentimental.
Mankind has a history of brutality during war. Scalp Mountain doesn’t look the other way when it comes to violence. These scenes of gruesome violence will make you shudder at the harsh realities we humans foist upon one another. Atrocities occurred upon and from each of the opposing groups.
You’ll find things about the white pioneers and the Apaches you admire. I think you’ll come away with a fuller, richer understanding of the real dynamics of the late 1800s in West Texas.
The author has done thorough research and that research has paid dividends in this well written story about difficult times and circumstances.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Robb, Julia
Amazon Digital Services (274 pp.)
$2.99 e-book


      Family dramas propel this spare, anti-romantic western.
      The title may be slightly misleading: While this Western takes place in the mountainous West Texas region, the emphasis is mostly on the “scalp” part. As a Texas Ranger explains to a friend’s Baltimore-born wife, when it comes to
scalping, “Sister, we all do it. The rangers do it, the feuding folks do it to each other, to white folks just like them, the feathered folks all do it, I know for a fact the Comanch onest scalped a white man’s dog.”
      Robb’s debut doesn’t graphically describe the violence promised by this statement, but it doesn’t paper over it with any romantic notions
either. There’s more here of Cormac McCarthy than Zane Gray, especially in the character of Colum McNeal, with his fierce temper and dream of settling down to breeding horses.
      Unfortunately for that dream, McNeal is hunted by an Apache who blames him for the death of his son; and by a man who may have been hired by McNeal’s father after Colum was involved in a family tragedy. The issue of parents and sons is emphasized by Colum’s more-than-friendly interest in his friend’s wife, who is raising an adopted Apache child, the last surviving son of the Apache hunting Colum.
      The kidnapping and effort to rescue of this child dominates the second half of the book, giving the novel a propulsive plot that some of the earlier chapters lack. But the occasionally episodic structure allows Robb to dip in and out of characters’ heads to give their point of view: No one is a villain in their own mind and every character here has a tale to tell—often violent, potentially redemptive, at least sympathetically told.
      Occasional slips may bump the reader out of the story, such as when a character refers to a “hale” of bullets, rather than a “hail”; or when a horse’s “bridle” becomes a “bridal.” Perhaps the addition of a map might also help readers unfamiliar with this territory.
      Deep research and empathy for her rounded characters make this Western stand out.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Scalp Mountain by Julia Robb

Title: Scalp Mountain
Author: Julia Robb
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: February 19, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From "It’s 1876 at Scalp Mountain and Colum McNeal is fleeing gunmen sent by his Irish-immigrant father. Colum pioneers a Texas ranch, a home which means everything to him, but struggles to stay there: José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache, seeks revenge for the son Colum unwittingly killed.

At the same time, an old acquaintance, Mason Lohman, obsessively stalks Colum through the border country, planning to take his life. Colum has inspired the unthinkable in Lohman. In a time and place where a man’s sexuality must stand unchallenged, Colum has ignited Lohman’s desire.
Other characters include Texas Ranger William Henry, who takes Colum’s part against his father while wrestling with his own demons. Henry’s family was murdered by Comanches and he regrets the revenge he took; and Clementine Weaver, who defies frontier prejudice by adopting an Indian baby, must choose between Colum and her husband.

Scalp Mountain is based on the Southern Plains’ Indian Wars.

Those wars were morally complex, and the novel attempts to reflect those profound, tragic and murderous complications.

Everyone was right, everyone was wrong, everyone got hurt."

My Two Cents:

I love historical fiction but I can get tired of reading about the same places, people and events over and over again. I love when an author can take me to a new place and time. Julia Robb does just that with Scalp Mountain. The author takes us to late 1800s Texas and the surrounding areas. At that point in time, the middle part of the country was still wild. The white people who ventured out west from the East Coast were often the only people of their race for a long time. To say that there was tension between these white settlers and the Native Americans, who had been forced on to reservations by then, would be a complete understatement.

The book is really about the struggle between the white settlers and the Native Americans. I thought that Robb did a good job of making the reader feel the plight of both the white settlers and the Native Americans although the books mostly focuses on the white settlers and is therefore more sympathetic towards them.

I really liked the descriptions of life out on the frontier. There was so much going on, especially for poor Colum, one of the main characters in the book. His father sent a gunman after him after he thinks that Colum killed his own brother. Colum is also trying to flee the Native Americans. He leads an exciting life to say the least.

I also really liked Clementine's story. She is definitely a woman before her time. She's strong and resourceful and she doesn't worry too, too much about what other people say about her. She adopts a Native American child after he's found. This doesn't make her too popular with the other women around but she becomes completely dedicated to her son, James.

This is a good story about the not so pretty history of our country told in such a way that it will grab you and hold on to you until the very last page.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Scalp Mountain review postponed until Saturday, June 23, at It will be a good one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Look for the next "Scalp Mountain" review on June 21. See you there!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SCALP MOUNTAIN Review and Interview

By Ron Scheer

 This is a fine novel. If you drew a line between Lonesome Dove and All the Pretty Horses, you would find Scalp Mountainsomewhere along the way. Robb immerses you in a West that is saturated in violence and the sorrows that violence brings with it.

It is the 1870s in the border country along the Rio Grande and points west. The killing fields of the Civil War are a fresh memory, and the atrocities of the Indian Wars continue to haunt the days and nights of both whites and Apaches.

Plot. In the midst of all this, a young man, Colum McNeal, is pursued by killers. A fugitive, he has blood on his hands, having done the unspeakable, killing his own brother. He believes his pursuers are gunmen hired by his enraged father. One of them, Lohman, is a man he’s known for many years, who has mysterious reasons of his own for stalking him.

He has also been picked out for revenge by an Apache, Jose Otero, whose family has been killed by whites and his infant son taken. A fierce warrior, he thinks of himself as already dead. He is driven only by his last desire to break the hearts of those who have broken his own and his people’s spirits.

Ocotillo, Big Bend National Park, Texas
A well-meaning ranger, Captain Henry, complicates matters by saving the life of Otero’s infant son and giving him to the care of a childless couple, Michael and Clementine. When Otero abducts Clementine and his son, there follows a long chase into the Big Bend country, an arid and unpopulated desert region along the Mexican border.

Among this party of soldiers and civilians, lives are lost in firefights with Otero’s men. When Clementine is found, most of the surviviors turn back, leaving Colum and a handful of others to follow Otero. Among them are the generous and fatherly Captain Henry and the mysterious Lohman.

There are still many treacherous miles to cover and several turns of plot before the story reaches its end, steeped in more bloodshed and sorrows. Robb leaves a reader with this feeling you get sometimes from both McMurtry and McCarthy, that the West was won at a terrible cost, whether men or women, Indian or white, living or dead.

Heroism. The novel is compelling for the way it takes the elements of the traditional western and casts them in an unaccustomed light. Elmer Kelton would do something similar in his Texas Ranger trilogy, Lone Star Rising, but his focus is on the heroism found on both sides of the Indian Wars.

Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Robb looks past that, not to deny it, but to shake us to the core with the uncertainties and anxieties of living in those times. Also, to strip away some of the myth that obscures history. She humanizes the heroism, and doing so bonds us to her characters as people with hopes, fears, and mixed motives little different from our own.

Some might call her central character, Colum, an anti-hero. He harks back to Cain, the brother-murdering son of Adam and Eve. Alone in the world, he is haunted by guilt, regrets, and painful memories. A sexual urgency in him draws him powerfully to the wife of his friend Michael. We admire him finally for the courage to face whatever threatens to kill him, including his unforgiving father.

Wrapping up. As I began by saying, this is a fine novel. I rarely say about a novel that it was hard to put down. That’s no reflection on good writing; I’m just easily distracted. But there were times when this one had me and refused to let go. For anyone who likes their westerns well grounded in history, this is one you don’t want to miss.

Julia Robb describes herself as a former journalist and magazine writer, who grew up in small-town Texas. She now lives in Marshall, Texas, where she works as a free-lance editor. You can read about her life growing up in small-town Texas at her blogScalp Mountain is currently available as an ebook for the kindle.

Julia Robb

Julia Robb has generously agreed to talk here today about writing and the writing ofScalp Mountain, so I'm turning the rest of this page over to her.

Fellow Texas writer Larry McMurtry has said, “Backward is just not a natural direction for Americans to look—historical ignorance remains a national characteristic.” Would you share that opinion?
Absolutely. Americans do not know or understand their history, and they have been brainwashed to believe in good guys and bad guys: Somebody has to be right. Liberal thinkers enjoy exposing notables as imperfect and more traditional thinkers believe in the myth of the heroic.

The truth is in between. From the beginning of the world, humans have been imperfect and complicated, thus our history has been imperfect and complicated. Thomas Jefferson was an impressive person and one who, with many others, risked everything to fight the English, but he was also human and probably had a slave mistress. Was he a bad man or a good man? Do we judge him by 21st Century standards, or by the standards of his time?

Much of this ignorance stems from America’s eagerness for the future, which produces a reluctance to look back even one day. It’s easier to put things in categories and go on. Mass media also trains people to want pablum. On the other hand, Americans (and probably most of the world) have always preferred the cheap seats.

Big Bend National Park, Texas
How do you define the term “traditional western,” and isScalp Mountain an example of one?
I tried to write Scalp Mountain as a historical novel, meaning a book which helps explain events during a specific time period, and one which embodies themes. Many novels which appear to be Westerns are not; for instance, Tom Lea’s very fine The Wonderful Country.

I urge anyone interested in the frontier, Texas, Mexico and/or art, to read this book (Lea was a visual artist as well as a writer and he illustratedWonderful Country). Lea never got the recognition he deserved for The Wonderful Country.

I guess I don’t know what a traditional Western is. I just take books for what they are.

To what extent did growing up and living in Texas help or hinder the writing of this novel?
I couldn’t have written Scalp Mountain without growing up in Texas, with the distances, the sky spreading to the end of the world. It shaped my spirit, although I’m not sure what shape it took. And Texans are not like other Americans and that has to do with their history; particularly the long, barbaric Comanche wars. It shaped the culture. (Read Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne, to understand this).

I was exiled in Maryland for fifteen years, working, and I can tell you Maryland is wonderful, but its people were shaped by a whole different ethos.

In reading western fiction, can you tell those who write of Texas from a lifetime of first-hand experience and those who don’t?
I’m not sure, I haven’t read that many historical novels or westerns about Texas. There’s really not a whole lot of them. I can sure tell the late Tom Lea grew up in Texas. His tone, meaning the feel of the place, is perfect.

I’ve found women and men write different kinds of books about Texas, and/or the American West. Women writers tend to be sloppily sentimental about Indians and their culture (by the way, I’ve asked many Indians what they want to be called, Native American, etc. and they always told me they are comfortable with “Indian”).

Men tend to be more rigorous, although not always. One Texas writer wrote a novel from the Comanches’ point of view and he didn’t even mention Comanche raped their women captives to death, or kept them in sexual slavery. This kind of stuff is important because it’s truth.

Santa Elena Canyon, Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park
Did any of the characters surprise you as they took shape in the writing?
Henry surprised me. He turned out to be such a character; a man willing to do what he had to do, but loving in his attitudes, poetic (although a terrible poet) and whimsical. I missed him so much after, well, you know...

How closely does the finished story compare to the way you originally conceived it?
It’s pretty much the way I thought it out. The characters grew a little. And the research produced complete surprises. It was a revelation to find that everybody on the frontier scalped everybody else; white men scalped other white men, whites scalped Indians, Indians scalped Indians, Indians scalped whites. In one instance, some Indian even scalped a white man’s dog. That’s true.

Talk about how you decided on the novel’s title.
This story is about the Indian Wars. I wanted to tell a balanced story and that meant demonstrating that both sides were right, both were wrong and everybody got hurt. The wholesale scalping was the perfect symbol for this. Do you remember the scene where Henry and Colum were riding past “Scalp Mountain,” and Colum told Henry why it was given that name?

Pima caught two Apache and crucified them on the mountain. They used real crosses and tied the Apache to the crosses with green rawhide, then left them to die in the sun. That really happened. I went a step further, to illustrate the book’s theme, by having the Pima decorate the crosses with scalps; white, Indian, Mexican.

To what extent was writing this novel influenced by western movies and TV?
I think all American writers have been influenced by film. We’ve had movies now more than one hundred years and it has trained everyone to see cinemagraphically. I know that’s the way I see, when I’m writing.

Big Bend National Park, Texas
Talk a bit about the creative decisions that went into the cover of the novel.
I looked online for Texas landscape painters and found the wonderful David Forks. When I looked through his online gallery, I found the book cover. It seemed like a perfect illustration for the book, a somber mountain in West Texas.

I’m grateful to David for letting me use his painting and for designing the book cover for me. I urge everyone to go to his online gallery and look at his work. His website is at, or write him at

Do women writers bring something to the writing of western fiction that male writers generally don’t?

How would you hope to influence other western writers?
I don’t know how to answer that. We just all do what we do. I guess I do hope writers would delve deeper into events and produce books which are more complex and nuanced about cultures and people. Some idiot, writing on Facebook, recently declared that Custer was a psychopath. Total ignorance. Custer was not a psychopath.

What can readers expect from you next?
I’m not sure. I’ve written sixty pages of a novel I’m not happy with and it’s in a drawer. I have another finished novel, about Texas in the 1960s, about the power struggle between Anglos and Hispanics, but nobody will publish it. Agents say it’s not a genre novel, it isn’t mystery, it isn’t thriller, it isn’t fantasy, it isn’t a Western, etc., so we can’t sell it. I’m almost finished with a movie script based on Scalp Mountain. No telling what will happen to it.

Anything you’d like to talk about that we didn’t cover?
Yes, I believe life is tragic, but tragedy can produce redemption. Art, at its best, produces transcendence. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with this book.

Thanks, Julia. Every success.