Author Michael Zimmer is more likely to hop on a motorcycle than a horse these days, but that hasn't prevented him from returning time and again to the spirit of the Old West.
A motorcycle enthusiast, Zimmer grew up on a small ranch in Colorado, where his parents raised and trained horses. Later, when the family moved to Indiana, Zimmer earned spending money in high school breaking and training horses. Zimmer, 55, moved to Utah in 1985 and lives in Roy with his wife Vanessa, features editor of the Standard-Examiner.
His knowledge of horses, combined with his love of history and dedication to research, has proved useful over the course of his writing career, which now includes a deal with his publisher, Five Star, to write two Westerns per year. Zimmer's work has earned praise from other Western writers such as Jory Sherman, author of "Grass Kingdom, who wrote: "He (Zimmer) takes you back in time to an exciting era in U.S. history so vividly that the reader will feel as if he has been over the old trails, trapped in the shining streams, and gazed in wonder at the awesome grandeur of the Rocky Mountains."
Zimmer strives for historical accuracy, evident by his library filled with more than 2,000 books about settlement of the West. He has participated in 19th-century horseback treks using period gear and tack, and travels to the locations where his novels are set so he can accurately describe the terrain.
"I don't have to have every rock and tree in place, but I don't want to put a mountain range where there isn't a mountain range," Zimmer said. "I read a book once that put Bear Lake in the middle of a pristine mountain forest. It's not. I want to avoid those mistakes as much as possible."
Zimmer's sixth Western-themed novel, "Johnny Montana" (Five Star Publishing, $25.99), came out this past spring and his next book, "Wild Side of the River," is due out in February.
"Johnny Montana" revisits the era when the promise of gold captivated men's dreams, inspired their imaginations and fueled their best -- and worst -- intentions. Zimmer sets his story in the Redhawk mining district of Montana, where Johnny Montana has been seeking his fortune. Now that he has his gold, Johnny would like nothing more than to get out of the rugged area to the relative safety of Salt Lake City.
"It's kind of a journey for Johnny Montana, both in how much he can be pushed or can't be pushed and what he is capable of," Zimmer said. "It's a story about what a person can do when they are faced with enormous challenges."
He and his partners would like to keep the cache of gold they worked so hard all summer to find. The problem? A highly organized gang of thieves, thugs and murderers would like nothing more than to take away the gold.
Zimmer throws some romance Johnny Montana's way in the form of a tough-as-nails woman by the name of Allie. Zimmer said the romance is there, but "takes a while to percolate."
"She has been jilted by her husband and is very distrustful of men in general," Zimmer explained. "She is kind of forced into going south with Johnny Montana, so there's a lot of distrust on her part."
But a friendship and trust begin to form between Johnny and Allie as the party makes its way southwest from the fictionalized Ruby City, Mont. (based loosely on Virginia City), through the Snake River Plain and into the mountains surrounding Malad, where the novel reaches its fiery -- in more ways than one -- showdown.
Zimmer is a fan of the Old West because of the independence and freedom of the period. "Back then, the sky was the limit," he said. "I don't think the sky is the limit now and I think it's getting less so as time goes by."
Zimmer said he tries not to let his writing fall into the classic good guy/bad guy, cattle drive or town-taming marshal motifs common to many Westerns. Instead, he is more interested in coloring his characters in different shades. He also likes to find offbeat little nuggets of Western history to include in his work and has a lot of fun writing about his villains. At least one critic likes what he is doing.
"In this tale, the villains are as well-drawn as the heroes," wrote C.K. Crigger in "Roundup," the magazine of Western Writers of America. "You won't stop rooting for the good guy, though. Johnny Montana is an exciting, tension-filled story sure to satisfy the reader."
While Westerns are nowhere near as popular as they were at their peak in the 1960s, Zimmer doesn't worry that the genre is going away any time soon.
"It's just too uniquely America," he said. "People long for a time when you weren't tied down with bureaucracy and red tape ... a time when you could stand on your own two feet and when you could tell somebody to 'go to hell' and not be taken to court for it."
For more information, visit www.michael-zimmer.com.