Hi Randy Lee Eickhoff, thank you for talking to me.
My my, you are the most surprising and under‑the‑radar author I have ever discovered. In fact, you are so interesting I don’t even know where to start.
So I’m going to tell the reader the basic facts and use the questions to ask the when, where and how stuff.
You’ve written twenty books, some based on Irish myths, (you’re seemingly an expert), some of them historical novels set in the west (one based on Doc Holliday’s life), one is a novel about a returned Vietnam vet, seemingly based on The Odyssey, one is a new translation of Homer’s Odyssey, two are thrillers set in Ireland, two are thrillers set in Vietnam and one is a non‑fiction work about the history of the Tigua Indians.
Plus, you are a Vietnam War vet and have doctorates in philosophy and theology.
Tell me about your historical novels set in the old west. Why did you write them?
Randy Lee Eickhoff: Westerns have always interested me. I grew up in western South Dakota where, at that time, the West was still fresh—it hadn’t died out with the passing of time. I knew my great-grandparents and they had wonderful stories to tell. My grandmother even told me stories about how her father brought them to South Dakota to homestead. She remembered lying on the floor in a “hotel” and listening to flood water run under the floor.
When they crossed the Bad River in their wagon, along with others, they laid timbers from one section of the ice to another until they managed to reach the other side. Just as the last wagon cleared the river and started up the bank, the ice broke!
I remember sitting with my great-grandfather and listening to his cronies tell stories about their youth. Some of them even knew famous people, such as the outlaw Doc Middleton.
One even told how he was delivering papers in Deadwood
the day Hickok was shot, and once Hickok even gave him a dime, which was a lot of money back then.
I realize now that some of those stories were a bit stretched, but there was truth in them as well.
I personally rode horses to help herd cattle as we couldn’t get into parts of the ranch with any vehicles.
I read all of Zane Grey before I even went into junior high school and many other authors as well. I even met some of them, such as Luke Short, who had a wonderful home in Aspen, Colorado, where he is buried. And he had time for a young boy, too, and told me stories as well.
So, I just naturally gravitated toward westerns.
I wrote them under my name and under a pen name as well.
Q. Which was your favorite, Doc Holliday, or Wild Bill Hickok, both of whom you’ve written books about?
A. Well, it’s hard to choose. Bill was very familiar to me as I lived in Hill City, in the Black Hills, which is only about 20 miles from Deadwood.
At that time, tourist season had yet to boom.
Shoot, I remember when going up to Mount Rushmore was over a dirt road! So, yeah, I liked the story of Wild Bill Hickok.
BUT I also liked the story of Doc Holliday and saw him as a metaphor for the West. His life was short, filled with action, and, consequently, people like him were, and still are, larger than life.
The West is rapidly becoming our central myth.
Funny. You’d think the Revolutionary War would be, but it’s not. It’s the Old West.
Oh, here is a little nugget on Doc Holliday. It seems that back in Georgia he fell in love with his first cousin and she with him. They planned to get married. But then Doc developed tuberculosis, which was regarded in the same breath as syphilis, and other “deviant diseases,” and her family broke off their engagement.
Doc went West. His cousin joined a convent and taught school. AND she was the teacher of Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With The Wind.
I’ve always seen that as a quirk in history.
If I had to pick one between (Holliday or Hickok), I suppose it would be Doc, as his life was tragic as he accepted his illness and rose, indifferently perhaps, above it, embodying both good and bad, the gentleman gambler and gunfighter.
Well, that’s the legend. The truth is that what we consider a gunfighter today was not a gunfighter back then. They were generally called “shootists.”
Doc was deadly, though, and none other than Bat Masterson said he was the most deadly and fastest man with a gun that he had ever seen. No small praise, that, as Masterson wasn’t any slouch with a pistol either.
Some people think that I should say Bill, as my novel, And Not To Yield, won the Wrangler Award as Best Novel of the Year, which is the top award you can get for writing novels of the West. It is given by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum, which is one of the finest museums in the world and I have been to a lot of them!
Getting that award is akin to receiving an Oscar.
At that banquet and awards dinner you meet many, many people. I met Ernest Borgnine there, and Tom Selleck. I knew Loren Estleman for years—who, incidentally, is a far better writer than I.
Others. I’m not trying to name drop here, but am simply trying to show how important and great an honor it is to be included in such company.
Loren has won three Wranglers, I believe, and every one of them well-earned.
Robert Carradine and I still write back and forth and talk occasionally on the telephone. You interviewed Dick Wheeler, who is a very good friend of mine and that’s one of the major reasons why I agreed to this interview.
Dick has won so many awards that the shelves in his house must be groaning from the weight. And every one deserved. He and Jory Sherman and, modestly, myself, do not write Western “thrillers” but rather approach our stories as literature.
In my case, these are two modern writers who had a great influence on the way I tell my stories. I try to show the true man with my stories. But now, when and if I go back to read what I have written, I see that legend and romance creeps in occasionally.
In fact, right now, I’m making plans to write another western, but that’s all I’m going to say on that matter.
It is too bad that a literary—what shall we call it, Snobbery?—denounces westerns as sub-standard writing, but there are great books that transcend the pulp western and are well-written and belong in that lofty strata of literature.
Dick Wheeler explained it best in a lecture and essay he wrote which is called, I believe, “I’m a Writer of Trash”.
He isn’t, of course. And as far as revealing history in a most exciting manner, you can’t beat Kathy and Mike Gear’s “People” series. Wonderful reads.
A. I learned to speak Gaelic because I wanted to read the Tain Bo Cuilinge, which translates The Cattle-raid of Cooley, in the original after reading, I think, three different translations.
Then, I decided that I wanted to do the translation myself. I was hooked by the story.
Unlike many other myths, The Raid is written not only in prose but some of it in poetic form as well. Very unusual construction. I discovered with The Raid, though, that this myth was reflected also in the Easter Rebellion which was the beginning of Ireland’s successful rebellion against Britain.
I can tell you…that this was a labor of love as I had to spend many hours in the Ancient Manuscript Room in the Old Library at Trinity in Dublin as I worked from the originals that had been gathered.
There were a lot of problems as the old language has many words that we still do not know the meaning of so we, translators and scholars, have to used educated guesses at what those words mean.
I ended up translating the entire Ulster Saga which involved years in Dublin.
Q. You translated Homer! When did you learn classic Greek, and why?
And, given the many different translations that exist, I was interested in what is considered the original. Although, I must add, we don’t have an original Homer manuscript. The oldest was put together by the Alexandrians.
When Tom Doherty, my publisher, and Bob Gleason, my editor, learned that I knew Ancient Greek, which I might add is much different from Modern Greek, Tom decided that he wanted a new translation of Odyssey and asked if I would do that for him. The die was cast.
But, while I was doing the translation, I realized that much of the story, such as epic similes, could not be readily understood by the modern reader. So, I had to try and figure out a way to clarify some things as well. That’s why I not only translated the epic but also annotated it as well.
That caused another problem as the original is actually a long poem but a poetry translation, given what I wanted to do, wouldn’t work.
So mine is a combination of prose and poetry which, I think, works.
Besides, the poetic structure of the Greek is nearly impossible to duplicate in English.
At that time, it was the first translated and annotated translation, by the same individual, that didn’t force the reader to use other books for explanations.
At least, I hope my method worked. It seems to have as I have received a lot of favorable comments on it.
A. I was among the first to go into Vietnam back in March 1965. I was in the Airborne (paratrooper) and parachuted into various places. Before that, there had been some advisors but not on this scale.
Yes, it was very hard and traumatic. I was wounded in the Iron Triangle (we were told afterward that we were the first friendly forces to go in there in twenty-some years, but I wonder about that), awarded some medals, and that sort of thing, but managed to lock the experience away once I returned by using a memory palace–a mnemonic device introduced in ancient Roman and Greek teachings and writings.
It is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information but also can be used to lock unpleasant things away.
Unfortunately, when I grew older, I started having
nightmares about what I had done and the war itself and the walls of my palace began crumbling and finally I had to seek help for it.
I was at the point where if a car backfired I would find myself flat on the ground.
At that time, I was in my early fifties and when I went to the VA for help, my doctor said he was amazed that I could keep such an experience as I had undergone locked away for so long. But, things became worse and worse and finally I was forced to retire at fifty-four.
I’m still under treatment for PTSD and bi-polar along with many other problems.
I am very fortunate, though, in that I was rated a hundred percent disabled and thus can and do receive free medical care and free prescriptions.
I decided that perhaps if I could write about it that would help. So, I wrote Return to Ithaca, which took much, much longer for me to write than any of my other books. Much longer.
It is a novel but at least I would say half of it is based on my experiences. It did end up a best-seller, however, and led to another Vietnam book, The Quick and the Dead, which also has a bit of my experiences in it.
But, I still have nightmares and flashbacks from something that happened nearly fifty years ago. A long time to carry that around. A lot of people today do not understand why that is so but it happens.
We are seeing the same thing happening today, though, with soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Fortunately, huge advancements have been made in treating that disorder so more soldiers are getting help than before. They deserve it. They need it.
Q. How have you had time to be so prolific? It takes time to learn Gaelic and ancient Greek.
A. I’ve never really thought that I was prolific. I used to write on one novel in the morning and another in the afternoon. I felt that schedule always kept me fresh. Now, however, that is difficult mainly due to health. But I still try. One must always try. The alternative is not acceptable for me.
Yes, it did take time to learn Gaelic and Ancient Greek but if you truly want to learn, then no obstacle is insurmountable. And one should always approach such wants, which really are the need to know, with determination to succeed.
Both writing and learning require a lot of time but more than that, dedication. For me, especially. I hate being bored.
Q. Before running into one of your books and becoming interested in you as a writer, I had never heard of you. Yet you’ve written all these worthy books (all of which, by the way, were published by publishing houses). You seem indifferent to marketing. Are you?
A. Yeah, I am indifferent, I guess. I do appreciate marketing but really think that is the purpose of the publisher. I do have a problem making appearances, though.
Part of that is that I am a very private person. Some have said that I carry this to extremes and liken me to Salinger in that respect. That is, my want for privacy, not talent! That is why I live where I do. Alone, in a house that really is too big for a single person (except for my golden cocker spaniel Mr. Lucky) and the house is on a small acreage.
I very seldom grant interviews as well. If I remember correctly, yours is only the second or third one that I have agreed to do. I am a very difficult person to live with although I have tried with a few live-ins, with all resulting in bad results.
Some people have said that I might as well join a monastery! I don’t know about that. I have a problem with authority as well. I guess my desire for privacy is the reason that few people have heard of me. But, for me, well, that works as I do not write my books so people will know me. I think the book should stand on its own merit.
Yes, I do know that the more people know about the author the more likely they are to buy his or her books. I don’t like to think I’m anti-social, but I never have been very good with parties or sitting in a bookstore waiting to autograph books. I sort of consider that begging, please buy my books, that sort of thing.
And I really hate it when someone comes up and says, I have just written a book. Will you read it and tell me what to do? I’m sure all authors have had that happen and I think most of them get annoyed by that as well. So, yes, I suppose I am indifferent to marketing.
Q. Eickhoff is a German name but you seem fascinated with Ireland. Why?
A. (Laughs) Well, given my name that is a good question. I think it is because I see that the Irish have an enormous love of life and all that life entails. Especially literature.
Are you aware that before Ireland went to the Euro that the illustrations on their money were more related to the arts? Even their myths. Ireland is also one of the countries with a high literacy rate and per capita more books are sold than any other country. Their stories also reflect the influence of the past on the present.
And then there is their sense of humor.
Finally I turned to them and said, in their language, that they came from a family of goats and at least I knew my mother. They became quiet then one of them suddenly stood up, pointed at me, and said loudly so others could hear, “We have a Yank here and he has the old tongue!”
I never had to buy another drink and I had so many pints that I couldn’t drink them all and finally left with quite a few standing in front of me!
The Irish have a word for that, “craich,” which is a form of humor that some may take as insulting but is really joking, in a good way, about another.
Q. You grew up in Nebraska but now live in Texas. Why?
A. Actually, I was recruited by a Texas school to come down to Texas and teach. Since my daughter had just received a full scholarship offer from St. Edward’s University in Austin and elected to take it I thought that living in Texas would keep us somewhat closer.
Unfortunately, El Paso is a long, long way from Austin. I knew Texas was large very large, but I really did not know just how large it is. That, plus I was very tired of shoveling snow.
But then, I have also had a wandering foot and have a tendency to move around quite a bit. But I came to love Texas and the many different places in it.
Additionally, I have stayed in Texas because Texas treats its veterans better than most states that I know. The state holds its veterans in high regard and many privileges are granted to them. For example, veterans like me do not have to pay property tax.
A. They came because I am interested in so many, many things and love to learn about them. And, as a writer, I can’t stand to be tied to one subject, which means a lot of research.
An incident happened which pretty much explains that. Once a writer friend threw a party to which my wife and I were invited. During that party, the hostess came over, sat on the floor and said, “Randy, I’ve read your books and you avoid sex in them. Why is that?”
I tried to explain that going into details about sex slows the plot down and, really, what is there new about it? That’s why, when it comes time for a couple to have sex I send them into the bedroom, close the door, turn off the lights, and pull the curtains and move on with the story.
My wife then chimed in, “Besides, my husband only writes about what he knows.”
We’re divorced, now.
Q. What are you working on now
A. I really don’t like to talk about work in progress. But, I am working on a new mystery that starts as a murder on an Indian reservation and another that is a mainstream novel.
I was translating Dante’s Inferno but only managed six cantos before I became interested in something else. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll eventually return to that.