James Carlos Blake

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James Carlos Blake (born May 26, 1947) is an American writer of novels, novellas, short stories, and essays. His work has received extensive critical favor and several notable awards. He has been called “one of the greatest chroniclers of the mythical American outlaw life” [1] as well as “one of the most original writers in America today and … certainly one of the bravest.” [2] He is a recipient of the University of South Florida's Distinguished Humanities Alumnus Award and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.


Blake has written about his boyhood in a memoir essay entitled “The Outsider” and has discussed his life and work in a profile in Texas Monthly and in a wide-ranging interview in Firsts. He was born in Tampico, Mexico, a third-generation Mexican descended from American, English, and Irish ancestors—including a British pirate who was executed in Veracruz, Mexico—and is a naturalized American citizen. His father, Carlos Sebastian Blake Hernandez, was a civil engineer. His mother, Estrella Maria Lozano Cano, was the daughter of a horse rancher and grew up on the family's ranch near Matamoros. Blake received his elementary education at St. Joseph’s Academy in Brownsville, Texas and graduated from high school in Miami, Florida. After service in the U. S. Army Airborne (paratroopers), he earned BA and MA degrees at the University of South Florida Tampa Bay and an MFA degree from Bowling Green State University (Ohio), where he attended on a fellowship. He has worked as a snake-catcher, Volkswagen mechanic, swimming pool maintenance man, and county jail properties officer, but his primary occupation has been as a college instructor. He has taught at the University of South Florida, Bowling Green State University, Florida SouthWestern State College, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (Saudi Arabia), and Miami Dade College. In 1997, he left teaching to write full-time.


Although Blake wrote sporadically from his teens until his thirties, it was not until the early 1980s, while again living in Miami, that he began to write with purpose,[3] and over the next few years he published a number of short stories in a variety of literary journals. In 1995 he published his first novel, The Pistoleer, an account of the life and times of the infamous Texas outlaw, John Wesley Hardin. Structured as a sequence of first-person narratives—each of the dozens of chapters told by a different character—the novel was hailed as “an achievement by any standards, but as a first novel is simply astounding.” [4] It was a finalist for the 1995 Best Novel of the West award from the Western Writers of America. Despite its “western” setting, it was recognized as a significant literary work presenting not only the story of the title character, but also, through its vast array of narrators, a cultural mosaic of the South in the era of Reconstruction. The Pistoleer introduced several motifs that would recur in much of Blake’s subsequent work—violence as art; honor and morality as existential codes; character as fate (a Heraclitean notion that Blake himself has cited as a pervasive theme in his fiction.[5]); and the outlaw as media celebrity.[6]

In the ten years following the publication of The Pistoleer, Blake published eight more novels and a collection of short works, plus more short stories and two memoir essays. In 1997 his third novel, In the Rogue Blood, gained him considerable attention and won the prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Dealing with the misadventures of a pair of American brothers during the time of the U.S. war with Mexico in the late 1840s, In the Rogue Blood is generally regarded as one of the most compelling works in recent American literature to treat violence as a primary engine of U.S. history. It has been widely compared to Cormac McCarthy’s savage masterpiece, Blood Meridian.[7]

While most of Blake’s short stories—and a novella, “Texas Woman Blues” — are set in recent times, his three latest books, The Rules of Wolfe (2013), The House of Wolfe (2015), and The Ways of Wolfe (2017), are his first contemporary novels. All of his previous novels are set between the mid-19th-century and the latter 1930’s, and several of them feature historical figures as protagonists. In addition to Wes Hardin, his novels have centered on Pancho Villa, the Mexican bandit and revolutionary (The Friends of Pancho Villa); John Ashley (bandit) of the notorious Ashley criminal gang in early twentieth-century Florida (Red Grass River); “Bloody Bill” Anderson, the Missouri guerrilla captain of the American Civil War (Wildwood Boys); Harry Pierpont, the 1930s gangster and leader of a band of bank robbers that included John Dillinger (Handsome Harry); and Stanley Ketchel, the ragtime-era boxing champion who was murdered at age twenty-four (The Killings of Stanley Ketchel). Even in those of his novels whose protagonists are created of whole cloth (In the Rogue Blood, A World of Thieves, Under the Skin, Country of the Bad Wolfes), real-life people play significant or cameo roles.

Cultural significance[edit]

Several of Blake's works have been published in foreign editions, and some are under film option, including The Killings of Stanley Ketchel, which has been optioned by Terence Winter, writer and executive producer of The Sopranos and creator of Boardwalk Empire.[8] The Friends of Pancho Villa was going to be turned into a movie by director Emir Kusturica, starring Johnny Depp in the leading role, but Depp pulled out. According to Blake, Kusturica spoke to Benicio del Toro about taking over the role, but the movie ultimately did not happen. In interviews writer/director Martin Koolhoven said Blake's novel In the Rogue Blood had an influence on his controversial Brimstone, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2016. Koolhoven explained he understood he had to write a western from a female perspective after he read a certain passage about the sister of the leading characters. Also the movie features a scold's bridle, an idea he got from reading In the Rogue Blood.


Other Recognitions[edit]

  • 1995 Finalist, Best Novel of the West (Western Writers of America): The Pistoleer
  • 2004 "Best Books of 2004": Entertainment Weekly: Handsome Harry
  • 2013 Finalist, Best Western Long Novel (Western Writers of America): Country of the Bad Wolfes
  • 2013 Southwest Books of the Year (Pima County Public Library): The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2013 "Best Books for Men 2013," Men's Journal: The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2013 "Year's Best Crime Novels," Booklist: The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2013 "Best Novels of the Year," Deadly Pleasures: The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2014 "The 101 Best Crime Novels of the Past Decade," Booklist: The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2015 Shortlisted for CWA Gold Dagger Award (UK): The Rules of Wolfe
  • 2018 "Top Ten Books About Gangsters," The Guardian (UK): The Rules of Wolfe


Short Works[edit]

  • “Aliens in the Garden,” short story, The Sun (magazine) (October, 1987); Chapel Hill, NC
  • “The House of Esperanza,” short story, The Sun (April, 1988); Chapel Hill, NC
  • “A Scotsman Dies in Mexico,” short story, Voices of the Heart (1988); Ginn Press, Needham Heights, MA
  • “Soldadera,” short story, Paragraph (summer, 1990); Holyoke, MA
  • “Perdition Road,” short story, The Long Story (Spring, 1991); North Andover, MA;
  • “Small Times,” short story, Gulf Stream Magazine (Spring, 1991); Florida International University: Miami, FL; later reprinted as “La Vida Loca”
  • “I, Fierro,” novella, Quarterly West (Fall, 1991); University of Utah: Salt Lake City, Utah; includes parts of “Three Tales of the Revolution”
  • “The Sharks Below,” short story, Paragraph, (Winter/Spring, 1992); Holyoke, MA
  • “Three Tales of the Revolution,” short story, The Sun (April, 1993); Chapel Hill, NC
  • “Under the Sierras,” short story, Fine Print (1993); Winter Park, FL
  • “Runaway Horses,” short story, Saguaro (1994); University of Arizona: Tucson, AZ
  • “The Outsider,” memoir essay, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, 24 May 1998
  • “Referee,” short story, Smoke (Summer, 1998)
  • “Texas Woman Blues,” novella, Borderlands (1999); Avon Books, New York, NY; includes “Perdition Road.”
  • “Old Boys,” short story, Glimmer Train Stories (Winter, 2000); Portland, OR
  • “Calendar Girl,” short story, Oxford American (Sept/Oct 2000); Oxford, MS
  • “Shortcut,” memoir essay, Oxford American (Mar/Apr 2001); Oxford, MS
  • “La Vida Loca,” short story, The Barcelona Review (Nov/Dec 2001); Barcelona, Spain
  • “Miranda of Mazatlán,” short story, The Barcelona Review (Winter 2012/13); Barcelona, Spain
  • “My Other Self,” essay, The New York Times, July 28, 2013
  • “With a Pistol in My Hand,” essay, Texas Monthly, (April 2016); Austin, TX


  • The Pistoleer (Berkley: New York, 1995; reissued Grove Press, New York, 2016)
  • The Friends of Pancho Villa (Berkley: New York, 1996; reissued Grove Press, New York, 2017)
  • In the Rogue Blood (Avon: New York, 1997)
  • Red Grass River (Avon: New York, 1998)
  • Wildwood Boys (William Morrow: New York, 2000)
  • A World of Thieves (William Morrow: New York, 2002)
  • Under the Skin (William Morrow: New York, 2003)
  • Handsome Harry (William Morrow: New York, 2004)
  • The Killings of Stanley Ketchel (William Morrow: New York, 2005)
  • Country of the Bad Wolfes (Cinco Puntos Press: El Paso, 2012)
  • The Rules of Wolfe (Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic: New York, 2013)
  • The House of Wolfe (Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic: New York, 2015)
  • The Ways of Wolfe (Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic: New York, 2017)

Collections of Short Works[edit]

  • Borderlands (Avon Books: New York, 1999; reissued Grove Press, New York, 2017)


  1. ^ Jennifer Reese, “Criminal Defense,” Entertainment Weekly, February 6, 2004
  2. ^ Ron Franscell, “Brutal, Beautiful: Violence as Art,” Chicago Sun-Times, January 25, 2003
  3. ^ Maura McMillan, “A Tribe of One,” Firsts: the Book Collector’s Magazine, May, 2001
  4. ^ Doris Meredith, untitled review, Roundup Magazine, December, 1995
  5. ^ Diana Anhalt, “Hard-Boiled, Soft-Boiled in Galveston,” Texas Observer, June 20, 2003
  6. ^ James R. Giles, "James Carlos Blake." In Twenty-First-Century American Novelists: Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB):350, ed. Wanda H. Giles and James R. Giles, 30-38. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2009.
  7. ^ Jan Reid, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Next Cormac McCarthy,” Texas Monthly, May 1999
  8. ^ Stayton Bonner, “History of Violence: James Carlos Blake's The Rules of Wolfe,″ Men's Journal, September 2013

External links[edit]