Wilcox Editing Services

Cowboys Versus Nazis: An Interview with Trent Tano

In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Trent Tano, Wilcox Editing client and author of Paris High Noon, the newly released Western set in World War II France. A transcript and mp3 are posted here. Please enjoy!

Wilcox Editing: I am Erin Wilcox, owner of Wilcox Editing Services, and I’m here with my client Trent Tano. Hello, Trent.

Trent Tano: Hello Erin.

WE: And Trent is the author of Paris High Noon, now available, where is this book available, Trent?

Trent Tano: You can go on Amazon or Smashwords, or, if you want to do it the easy way, just go to parishighnoon.com and you can purchase it off the website.

WE: Cool, and would you like to tell us a little bit about Paris High Noon, the plot, the protagonist … What kind of book is it?

TT: Paris High Noon is about this old cowboy named William “Catfish” Hancock. He used to ride with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch back in the 1890s, and in the late 1930s he retires to Paris. So when the Nazis invade, he straps on the old six-gun for one last showdown. So Paris High Noon is basically cowboys versus Nazis.

WE: Cowboys versus Nazis, and that reminds me of a recent Quentin Tarantino film (Tano laughing) of similar ilk. Inglorious Bastards, right?

TT: It’s funny, because I was probably almost getting done with the third draft of Paris High Noon when the movie came out, and I was freaked out when people were telling me it’s a Western that takes place in World War II, so I was on edge, until I was finally able to see the movie and I can honestly say—no disrespect to Quentin Tarentino—but Paris High Noon, it’s nothing like Inglorious Bastards. If anything, it’s better. Because you have an actual real cowboy getting a gang of French outlaws together and taking the fight to the Nazis, Wild West style. So, he’s gunning them down on the boulevards of Paris, he’s stealing horses, he’s robbing banks, taking the Outlaw Trail to the Spanish border, and you know, holding up trains and rescuing friends. If that’s not a Western, then I don’t know what is.

WE: Yeah, this is an interesting idea to cross these genres and if I do say so myself, very well executed on your part. Could you maybe talk a little bit about what interests you about genre crossing as somebody who has done the Western in a couple different settings over your career?

TT: Well I always I liked the Western. It’s the classic story if you want to tell a morality tale, because it just feels the perfect canvas to paint the human condition. You have this time and place where they are civilizing the wilderness and the struggles of the individual and the community, so you have a lot going on there, but I think the main problem with the Western is you’re very limited on geography and time. So it’s usually, your classic, kind of like Louis L’Amour Western, takes place west of the Mississippi, between 1860 and the turn of the century, with the last hurrah of the Wild West, and Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. So I really wanted to take the Western out of its traditional box and put it in a completely different place, but something where if you look at the numbers, if you look at the dates, this could actually happen. It’s nothing too farfetched, because one of the main problems I had when pitching Paris High Noon, was agents would say, well is it a time-traveling cowboy? And it’s just like no no no, he’s just really old, but not so old he can’t bring down Nazis.

So, you know I’m thinking about how, if you’re going to be a resistance fighter in World War II occupied France, what are the techniques and things you need to know in order to fight the Nazis, fight the occupier, basically fight the law? Well you’ve got to be an outlaw, and so if you’re going to be an outlaw, you might as well have the best outlaw ever produced to help you in that fight, and that’s Catfish. He learned from the best, he came from that time, and now he’s come to the place where he’s going to do his final showdown.

WE: And can you tell us, because there is kind of an ensemble cast, and also some really interesting antagonists, could you give us a rundown on the rest of the cast?

TT: Well, after the French surrendered in June 1940, the Nazis—the Gestapo, the occupier—during the German occupation they really co-opted a lot of the French law-enforcement apparatus and internal security. And it’s not like all these French cops were laid off. They basically were incorporated into the security service of the Gestapo. So, the natural enemy of the Nazis would be other French outlaws, other French criminals, and so that’s who Catfish has to get together, and he has to do it through threats and promises, carrots and sticks, you know. You got killers, rapists, and murderers, and these are the only people who are going to be willing to put up any sort of resistance. Because the general population they, contrary to some resistance mythology , the summer of 1940 was a bad time to be a Frenchman, unfortunately. But, you know, they got their act together and they eventually fought back, but Paris High Noon takes place in the very beginning.

WE: So there are outlaws and there is a young character as well (TT: Jean Malheur) who finds himself an outlaw but doesn’t start out as one, correct?

TT: Yeah, that’s the flipside of what happened with the occupation. You had young people, young men and women, who just had no idea what to do because everything they were taught to believe in, the Third Republic was completely, oh excuse me I think it was the Fourth Republic, was null and void. So who are you? What does it mean to be a Frenchman? So here you have this young café garcon, he wants to do the right thing but he doesn’t know how, and he gets thrust into this situation when Catfish rolls up and just guns down six Nazis as the last toll of the noon bell echoes off the facades of Paris. And then we had this issue about who should be the main character, Catfish or Jean? But, I mean, Jean is definitely the second-most-important character because it’s through him where we see how the French resistance kind of evolves from a very young immature institution to eventually something that can take on the Nazis. (WE: Yeah, he’s a dynamic character.) And you know, he has some growing to do. He has to figure out what it means to be a man, and not only to be a man but be a man in a time of war and a time of extreme violence. And luckily, he has this mentor, Catfish, to kind of show him the way. But eventually, it’s Jean’s choices and it’s Jean’s decisions that he has to make and that he eventually has to live with.

WE: And I always backed you on Catfish being the main character if you have to choose, and you always were very adamant about that. And I think it is, as we’ve always said, it’s a Western set in World War II France , and because it’s primarily a Western, I think that’s why Catfish in a certain sense has to be the protagonist, but it does give the book a lot of interesting crossover potential with audience in terms of genre and in terms of even age category, because Jean is so much younger that he could even appeal more to a YA audience. So it’s a very interesting mix that you’ve got going on, and I think it’s fantastic, personally, and of course I’m very invested at this point having worked on it with you over more than a year. Would you like to comment at all about that process? What was it like (TT: That was, that was tough!) to pass your manuscript back and forth, and back and forth again?

TT: Yeah, well that was definitely a task. I remember I took a whole month off of work to finish it up. I’d been working on it off and on for up to two years at that point, and I finally said okay, I know how it begins I know how it ends, and it’s just the middle that’s always frustrating. So 240,000 words later I thought I had it done until you basically mentioned that, Well you know, most publishers and agents don’t take manuscripts from a first-time writer that’s over 100,000 words. So I mean, that just kind of took the wind out of my sails right then and there, but you know you’ve got to recover, you’ve got to figure it out. And at first, I thought about breaking it into three different parts, you know like Star Wars, but it was just too big, and to try to get people invested into purchasing the next two other books was a big gamble and one that I just didn’t really want to take. So it probably took another eighteen months to chop it down to ninety-three, ninety-four thousand words, so you know I definitely learned a lot. That was time and money that was probably a lot more affordable than any MBA degree I could have gotten right there.

WE: (Laughs) Yup yup, well I hope you feel it was a good investment, and I certainly enjoyed working with you throughout that whole process.

TT: You were definitely great, you were definitely the saving grace. And I tell people, like they ask, don’t you get angry at your editor when she makes these changes and she tells you you’ve got to cut stuff and do all this stuff that you don’t really want to do? And it’s just like, Well yeah, I’m angry for fifteen seconds and then I let it go, because at the end of the day it’s like well, if you don’t trust the process and you don’t trust the editor, then why are you there in the first place? And I think that’s the problem with a lot of writers, though it’s clichéd, but you’re seeing trees you’re not seeing the forest. I was just too close to the project to see the faults in it, so for the second pair of eyes, it’s worth the money.

WE: Yeah, I think of you as an ideal client in a couple of ways—the ideal client—and one of those ways is what you just said, that is you are able to trust and just really work as a team, and so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time going through all the whys and the wherefores, and it was a process that could have been ten times harder than it was, but there was a lot of trust between us, and that helps a lot. And we do go back a ways, to the Wikswo Home School, which helps with that, and that also speaks the other way, in that I think you are just a standout storyteller. You are the only person who, in that workshop that we took together, would stand up and perform sketches ad lib, on the spot (Tano laughing). To be able to do that, I think it instills a confidence that I see in you as a storyteller so that you have always been able to be story telling bamboo—in other words, you can bend and bend and never break—so if you need to make a change, even a big change, like we’ve got to cut this book in half, you’re the kind of storyteller who’s able to go okay, holy shit, okay, that’s a lot, that’s a big job, but, you know I have the confidence as a storyteller to do it. And it would always just be brainstorming and coming up with new ideas. So I really commend you for that, and I think that it’s relatively rare to find somebody who has it in spades to the extent that you do, and I think you’re going to have a great career because of it.

TT: Wow thank you! Yeah, I’m hoping to get the first prequel to Paris High Noon, hopefully get it into your hot little hands by February or March, and I’m trying to get it out by June. And hopefully this time … well, the first draft won’t be 240,000 words (laughing), you know, I guess it’s just one of those things, like your first book is the hardest book, and after that the second or third, they’re easy because you have learned from all your mistakes. You kind of know what you have to do, what the format is, what the expectations are of the reader, and in a certain sense of the industry, and once you kind of get the parameters on that, then it’s just a lot easier. And I still might have my work cut out, but it doesn’t stop me, you know.

WE: Yeah, the flipside of that is that you have forever and a day to write your first book, but your next one you’ve got readers waiting for the following books in the series. So could you, maybe we could wrap up by talking a little bit about what’s coming up in the series. What ideas do you have for prequels and sequels?

TT: Well it’s, my good friend Rich Horiuchi quoted it this way, “Before the adventure of a lifetime there was a lifetime of adventure.” So, you know in Paris High Noon we find out, obviously there is a lot of backstory with Catfish, he’s lived such a colorful life. He rode with Butch Cassidy, and he also rode with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, during the Spanish–American War. He was a part of the Wild West shows that crisscrossed the States and Europe, and he also hunted down Pancho Villa and was part of their expeditionary force in World War I. So I have this rich, rich background of this main character, just like in Lonesome Dove when we have Gus McCrae, Captain Gus and Captain Call, with this great rich backstory. So what I want to do with Catfish is tell his story as well, and so the first one takes place in the 1930s during the Prohibition/Depression era along the Texas border. It’s going to have shootouts with federales, banditos, and mobsters from Chicago and Detroit and crooked lawmen, so it’s going to be a good shoot-up, I’d like to think.

WE: So Catfish in his prime?

TT: Yeah, and it’ll have parts of his old gang that were mentioned in Paris High Noon, like Peaty McCourt and the Professor, as well as Lee English, so you get to find out more about them and more about Catfish. Also, I’m doing this in reverse chronological order. I didn’t want start out when he was born and then going all the way up to Paris High Noon. I wanted to go back. I think you find out more and learn more about this character going backwards than you could starting from the beginning.

WE: Uh-huh! Fascinating. And then at any point do you intend to take the narrative forward? Not to give away or spoil any endings of course for Paris High Noon . . .

TT: Well, you know, some things cannot be borne for long and, you know Paris High Noon ends … I mean … I don’t want to have to give it away (WE: No, no, don’t), but there’s definitely some unresolved issues that need to be settled before the war ends. There’s still four more years of war and conflict going forward of Paris High Noon, just as well as there is a lot of story to tell before Paris High Noon.

WE: Well it’s all very exciting, it’s the beginning I think of a bunch of great stories. A truly fun read, Paris High Noon by Trent Tano, and once again you can get that at parishighnoon.com and Smashwords and Amazon. Did I get that right?

TT: That’s correct.

WE: And on Twitter, what’s your handle?

TT: It’s trenttano.

WE: @trenttano

TT: Yeah.

WE: Wonderful.

TT: Yeah, I just kept it easy (laughing).


Erin Wilcox is a truly gifted literary copyeditor. Her reading of the text is both meticulous and informed, and her insights are luminous.”

Ronald Spatz,
executive founding editor,
Alaska Quarterly Review