|RARE MOMENT—It seldom happens that writer Merle Constiner is seen away from his typewriter, even for a few minutes. Here in one of those rare moments he is pictured in the living room of his 130-year old home in Monroe.
This article about one of my favorite historical mystery and western writers was published in the Middletown, Ohio Journal on April 20, 1958. Constiner created two well-regarded series for Black Mask and Dime Detective, and I enjoy them, but i enjoy his historical fiction in Blue Book and the Country Gentleman more.
Factual Westerns Vary Career of Monroe Writer
by IRENE BARR
The definition of an “adult Western,” Steve Allen says, is that 20 years ago a cowboy was in love with his horse; today, he’s still in love with his horse— but he worries about it.
Merle Constiner, Butler County author who lives in a 130-year-old house in Monroe finds that adding some Western lore to his writing activities brings variety into his profession.
Constiner, who in the past has written historical short stories and novelettes for magazines, has recently finished his second Western novel.
They are not “just” Westerns, or even adult Westerns; the novels could almost be called periods, because Constiner deals with such factual material as the vicious cult of “neckerchief fighters” in his book, “Last Stand at Anvil Pass,” published in February 1957.
In his latest hook, a contract novel completed in March and now in the hands of the publisher, Constiner writes about “The Man from Baxter Springs.”
“The name may change when it’s published, ’ warned Constiner. “Usually they do. But the book deals with the time when the railroad companies only pushed the tracks so far, then stopped at some town. Baxter Springs was the last and the toughest of these ‘cowtrail rail heads’. ”
As a modern writer is Constiner merely following the popular trend of television, motion pictures and fiction?
“I’ve always liked to read Western background, ’ he said. Too, his interest can be traced to his historical fiction training. Most of his dozen full-length magazine serials and his many other short stories are placed in southern Ohio in the period just before and after the Civil War. Background includes riverboats, the turnpike and the vicinity from Cincinnati to Springfield.
His favorite story, which was published in “The Country Gentleman.” told of an impoverished qentleman who walked 45 miles to Nashville. “It was at a time when professionals (doctors, dentists and school teachers) were wandering the highways.” he said, “And I particularly enjoyed the background and the characters in that story.”
During his years as a professional (since his first published story in 1929) Merle Constiner has formed his own pattern as a writer. After studying at Wittenberg College and Vanderbilt University, he discovered the pride of a “first” published story and decided to become a full-time writer. That was in 1939.
Since then, he has spent many years learning his own methods for production. Although he had a daily quota of 2,000 words, Constiner said, “I’m not a workhorse. I write very carefully and selectively.” He has also learned that “a professional writer writes every day whether he feels like it or not.”
Constiner organizes a story before he begins to write and then works eight hours a day at the typewriter. Usually it takes from two to three weeks to complete a short story—even longer if it’s a historical, because of the research. But since each story is different, a set pattern is impossible.
He doesn’t believe in frustrated endings, where a question is left hanging in the air or can he answered in several ways. “It’s more difficult to achieve a happy ending,” he said. “Any story can be cut off at any time, but it takes more planning for all events to tie off. It’s like seeds that must be carefully planted.”
Besides seeing his stories published, Constiner has also had the satisfaction of knowing that one of his Westerns was presented on television. The live show, televised in 1953, starred Fred MacMurray.
“I didn’t get to see the program,” said Constiner. “But a friend told me that MacMurray got confused on some lines of the dialogue. Later, we found out that it was only two days after the death of his wife. He had gone on with the show, anyway.”
Whatever the writing chore— mystery, historical, Western— whatever the form—magazine, hard back, paper back—they all form a “well-rounded program,” which adds variety and zest to Merle Constiner’s creative life.
Books in print (disable adblocker to see the link):