Merle Constiner – biographical article

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.

(Journal photo—Barr)

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

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?
Not necessarily…
“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):


  1. Merle Constiner is a big favorite with me also. First I got hooked on his complex detective cases starring The Dean in DIME DETECTIVE and Luther McGavock in BLACK MASK. Then I discovered his historical adventures in ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, SHORT STORIES. I also managed to find all 5 parts of his serial in COUNTRY GENTLEMAN which I don't believe has ever been reprinted. Then I found out about his dozen or so western paperbacks.

    An exceptionally interesting writer.

  2. I agree, he is exceptionally interesting, and deserves to be kept in print. I'm mostly familiar with his westerns, which I've read all of. They vary a bit in quality but are always worthwhile, and are definitely unlike any other books in the genre. He creates a unique world in these novels, full of odd details and unusual descriptions of landscape that really make the books stand out. My favourite is the first one, Last Stand at Anvil Pass. He also wrote three juveniles which are well worth checking out.

  3. Merle lived down the street from me in Monroe, Ohio, Butler County. His southern belle wife Susannah was my Godmother, so I visited them often in the 40s and 50s. I remember his gentle demeanor and warm hospitality. He always spoke rapidly with inexhaustible enthusiasm, and I remember him being overjoyed and eager to communicate. As a child, I was intimidated by his large stature, his loud booming basso profundo voice and their huge, black Newfoundland dog. (I can’t remember his name.) He hunched over, probably from working all the time. There were more books stacked around the small space than you can imagine, and his typewriter was the focal point of the room. Now, as an adult I can appreciate his brilliance and cherish my memories of Monroe. What an incredible man!

  4. Thank you for sharing your memories of Merle Constiner – definitely a great author. If you remember anything more, leave us a message.

  5. I was born across the street from the Constiners – they were like grandparents to me. I am looking for a photo of Susanna – if anyone has one. Can I leave my email? debra@latter-day

  6. Sorry-I don’t have any photos of Merle or of Susannah. Sorry. I am thrilled to know the dogs name was Lancelot. I think they called him ”Lance,” right?

  7. I am glad to know that Merle Constantinos dog was Lance, which referred to Sir Lancelot du Loc, who, according to legend, was saved from drowning by a Newfoundland. Ergo the name. History is so fascinating!!! Merle had a very good reason to name his amazing Newfie creature “Lancelot du Loc!”

  8. I believe the novel mentioned, "The Man From Baxter Springs" was published by Ace in a western double as "The Fourth Gunman" I read it recently and quite enjoyed it. — beb

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