Thursday, August 27, 2015

Swinging Doors and Brass Spittoons

Huff Post Travel listed 5 Old West saloons everyone should visit before they die. This is a fine list of old establishments, but they missed my favorite, The Palace on Whiskey Row in Prescott, Arizona.

Vintage Palace Saloon

Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday patronized The Palace, and the film Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen) used the saloon for location shots. I’m also partial to The Palace because I used the saloon in Murder at Thumb Butte, and I seem to have a fuzzy recollection of having a few drinks there on occasion.

In 1900, the original mid-19th century building burnt down, but the bar is authentic because loyal customers carried the heavy wooden structure across the street. I guess they figured that fire could take the rest, but they needed a place to rest their boot and elbow. The Palace reopened in 1901 and has continued to be a town fixture. It certainly feels more Old West than the Crystal Palace mentioned in the Huff Post article.

Palace Saloon today showing rescued bar

The Palace is almost authentic, unlike The Old Style Saloon #10 in Deadwood, South Dakota. Unfortunately, the displayed death-chair for Wild Bill Hickok is not authentic either. Nevertheless, #10 is still a fun visit. 

The Old Style Saloon #10 in Deadwood

I also have fond memories of the saloon in Mitchell, South Dakota, across from the Corn Palace. It might not have been a genuine article, but the beer was cold and the décor creative. 

Mitchell, South Dakota

A few beers even made the Corn Palace seem interesting.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Steve Dancy Goes Audio! Sample Chapter.

The first two novels in the Steve Dancy Tales were narrated by Rusty Nelson. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to listen to Rusty’s engaging rendition of The Shopkeeper and Leadville. These two books were produced by Books in Motion, which no longer records new material. Jim Tedder is picking up where Rusty left off.

I couldn't be more pleased. Tedder is a consummate professional with over 35 years in the business. Most authors don't have broadcast experience and underestimate the talent required to verbally pull listeners through to the end of a story. Anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I believe storytelling is paramount in fiction writing. (Storytelling is really the world’s oldest profession. Illustrators followed close behind with cave paintings.) Tedder has a natural storyteller’s voice and inflection. You can almost hear the campfire crackling as he talks. You don’t have to take my word for it. Take a listen to this sample chapter. Audio is a whole new way to experience the Steve Dancy Tales.

The Jim Tedder narrated Murder at Thumb Butte will be available before the end of the year.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Gunslingers Forever

Mark Bonner edits great tributes to western films. Previously, I posted his video, Westerns Forever. As an amateur film maker, I know these short videos are an enormous amount of work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Gunslingers Forever by MarkmBonner

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Will Rogers—An American Icon

Will Rogers died at fifty-five in an airplane crash 80 years ago (August 15, 1935). A real Oklahoma cowboy who parlayed dead pan humor into a fortune. We should have had a few more years of his wisdom.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Hateful Eight—I Can't Wait

I like Quentin Tarantino films, especially the Kill Bill duple. I wasn't over-enthusiastic for Django Unchained (I prefer my spaghetti Westerns al naturel), but from all appearances, Tarantino has caught it just right with The Hateful Eight. The movie looks like a solid western with an exceptional cast and all the Tarantino goodies.

Here's the plug for the film:
In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?
Ten Little Indians mystery fiction
Sounds like Hitchcock's Lifeboat in a frozen cabin.  Or perhaps, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with six guns (Originally Ten Little Indians in novel form). Knowing Tarantino, it's all the above and more. Much more.

Whatever the story line, the movie seems to be a true western set on the frontier after the Civil War. Nasty weather, bad guys, mysterious shenanigans, and unbridled violence. Sounds like a Tarantino buffet!

Boy, will I be disappointed if the movie doesn't live up to the trailer. 

You can read an interview with Quentin Tarantino here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Steve Dancy Tales Goes Audio

My son reads magazines and listens to books. He doesn’t have a lot of time for recreational reading, so he listens while he runs, works out, or drives. He keeps telling me that I’m missing a big audience by not having audio versions of the entire Dancy series. (The Shopkeeper and Leadville are already available at Well, today we rectified the situation. Jim Tedder will narrate Murder at Thumb Butte, and hopefully the remainder of the series.

I love audio books, but they’re only as good as the narrator. For more than 35 years, Jim Tedder has read Voice of America (VOA) news and features. He has hosted a number of VOA morning programs and is responsible for the VOA Pronunciation Guide. Before joining VOA, Jim worked in broadcasting in several major markets in the United States. I sure Steve and the crew are in good hands.

Murder at Thumb Butte has sold well in print, e-book and large print, and I’m sure it will soon do well in the audio format. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

A guy from the East ventures west. Where have I heard that story?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Henry Miller's Commandments

Henry Miller, circa 1930
As someone who admires storytelling skills, I’m not a fan of Henry Miller. He wrote stop-and-read-again sentences, but stringing sentences together with coherency seemed beyond his capabilities. I suspect he injected sex into his writing because deep in his heart, he knew he was boring. Miller reminds me of the comment by Steve Martin’s character in Planes,Trains, and Automobiles, "And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea - have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!"

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Die-hard Miller fans will say he had a point, but it's something along the lines of "all the world is crazy except me." Only the first part of that phrase may be true, and I expressed the point in five words.

My opinion of Miller might be biased because I think he was a jerk. Miller constantly harangued friends and acquaintances to supply his needs, and then heaped scorn on them if they complied. (This was especially true for women.) In his view, a worthy human would never kowtow to his entreaties. Much like Grocho, he didn’t want, “to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

Despite my reservations, I’ll include his writing advice because many believe that Henry Miller was a literary giant. In typical Miller fashion, he called these commandments.
  • Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  • Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  • When you can’t create you can work.
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  • Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  • Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  • Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  • Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  • Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Yale University and Omaha Disagree

westward ho
Pioneer Courage Park, Omaha Nebraska

Amy Athey McDonald has published an article in Yale News titled: On gunfights, U.S. colonialism, and studying the American West on the East Coast. The article includes an interview with John Mack Faragher, the Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American Studies, and director of the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders.

The Lamar Center site has a nifty feature which displays a different student’s dissertation blurb every time you refresh the screen. (You can actually catch gems like this: “I seek to foreground these events as a historical pivot point during which North American and global geopolitics, British-American relations, and both “American” and “Canadian” native peoples’ status and territorial control hinged on seemingly peripheral people, movements, and landscapes.”)

It’s nice to see the American frontier get some attention, but I’m not an enthusiast for the tone of the article or the Howard R. Lamar Center. If you don’t want to take the time to read the article or visit the site, I can summarize the content of both in a few words—pioneers wore black hats.

Professor Faragher said in the interview, “As I insist with my students, for every community founded in the American West, imagine that one was destroyed, and people killed, removed, or pushed aside.”

Pioneer Courage Park, Omaha Nebraska
He lost me right there. When I read that sentence I heard Professor Faragher say he wanted no uplifting messages about the frontier spirit. If his students persisted, then he insisted that they balance their dissertation by showing how pioneers despoiled all that was good and decent in the Americas. I object to using deplorable acts of others to claim higher moral ground for oneself, especially when that person is removed from the transgressor by time and distance.

He says, “The best side of our history is the attempt to form a just society out of our less than promising beginnings.” In other words, we started poorly, but if we learn from our disreputable past we can fix our society so it is just. 

We started better than any other nation in history. How many civilizations had a chance to start fresh and declared with their first free breath that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Granted, the words were aspirational—still are—but what other collection of people defined such a precise and idealistic goal for themselves. Just because we struggle to act in accordance with this lofty goal is no reason to vilify ourselves.

Pioneer Courage Park, Omaha Nebraska

I believe all people are the same. The same virtues, the same flaws. I came to this conclusion early in life from reading the Bible. It occurred to me that human frailties have not changed in thousands of years. Races and countries and clans are not noble. Collections of people cannot be consistently honorable. Individuals, however, can be noble, but more likely they perform noble acts in what might otherwise be an ignoble life.

There is no excuse for appalling acts by politicians, soldiers, and settlers. But to emphasize the negative over the courageous and honorable actions of most pioneers is not the path to a just society. We must look honestly at our past, but also see the brave and stalwart souls who struggled to make this a better world.

Man cannot be made perfect, but he can be inspired to lean toward his better nature.