Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Birthdays Used to be Fun

Arthur: “Do you want anything?”
Hobson: “I want to be younger.”

Today is my birthday. My present is a trip to Hawaii to surf in calm waves in warm water and visit my brother and his wife. It will be fun. The trip, that is, not necessarily my birthday. When I was a kid, I wanted birthdays to come sooner because with enough of them I could become a freewheeling adult. I discovered adulthood didn't include as many privileges as I expected, but birthdays remained great fun. At least for a few decades. Now ... not so much. Instead of blowing a party horn, I catalogue my aches and pains. In truth, I’m grateful to be relatively fit, with a great family and loving wife. 

My biggest problem is remembering to get up from my writing chair to get some exercise. I become so engrossed with my characters, I sometimes have to cause a distasteful dispute so I can leave them to their own devices. When I return from a long walk or an hour of surfing, my characters’ tempers have abated enough that I can get on with the story. I know you think I’m kidding, but …

I'll leave you with my life’s goal. I want to be the first person over one hundred years old to break the four-minute mile. This may sound tough, but I intend to train for an entire decade to achieve this goal. It will be hard and consuming work. Thank goodness my ninetieth birthday is still far off in the future. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ski Slopes and Ghosts Galore

I just returned from a week of skiing at Heavenly overlooking Lake Tahoe. Judging by the price of lift tickets, there’s gold on them thar hills. Warren Miller used to say your knees had only so many bends, so you might as well spend them skiing. I agree, but we needed a day to rest up after racing down slope after slope to get our money’s worth, so we took a day trip to the ghost town of Bodie, California.

western fiction
Bodie, California

If you really want to feel a ghost town, I suggest you visit one in the dead of winter. We had the fortune of exploring Bodie on a clear day, with no snow on the ground, and temperatures in the mid-sixties. We had the unearthly emptiness all to ourselves. Eerie.

wild west, old west, mining history
Bodie General Store
Western ghost town
Bodie General Store

Waterman S. Body discovered gold at this remote location in 1859, but the real heyday for the  Bodie mining camp occurred in the late 1870s and early 1880s. According to the guidebook, “By 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors.’ One little girl, whose family was taking her to the remote and infamous town, wrote in her diary: ‘Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.’”

Restrooms closed for the winter,
so we had to go native

I like ghost towns, especially when allowed to explore on my own. You can learn a lot about how people lived in bygone days. Bodie has fairly intact homes, churches, a general store, school, barber’s shop, fire house, a hotel with restaurant, and saloons aplenty. The gymnasium equipment includes a punching bag, pull-up bar, weights, and other paraphernalia. One of the biggest and most impressive buildings is a miner’s union hall. All this with nary a ranger in sight ... at least not one away from the comfort of his vehicle in the parking lot.

The next day we returned to Heavenly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have this particular mountain to ourselves. Lots of people, loads of people, all zipping around unaware of the poor ghosts eager for callers just a couple of hours down the road.

My favorite ghost town is Candelaria, Nevada, the opening location for The Shopkeeper. In the book, I called the town Pickhandle Gulch, which was actually a suburb of Caldelaria.

Western fiction, action, adventure
Candelaria, Nevada
(aka Pickhandle Gulch)
bestselling western fiction
Author photo of Candelaria

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Each His Own

Some author’s dread poor reviews from readers. I like to hear what readers think and find I learn more from critical reviews. Besides, what some readers find objectionable, other readers enjoy. I never had a better example than today when I received two Amazon reviews that had exactly opposite takes on a major plot element of The Return.

Click to enlarge

Marilyn says, "Not as good the previous books in the series. Get Steve Dancy back to the West where he seems at home."

While another Amazon Customer wrote, "Enjoyed the Western theme, along with the Edison involvement. New York gangs added flavor that made this a great read."

No author can please every reader and it's career suicide to try. Don't ignore poor reviews because they can help  you become  a better writer, but keep your focus on the total weight of  all of  your reviews.  Every writer will get a few bad reviews, so take them with a grain of salt. 

BTW, Jenny’s Revenge went to editor last Friday. Yea! Now I have time to play, so … I’m off for a week ski vacation at Lake Tahoe. How’s that for timing: I finished Jenny’s Revenge at the same time California finally gets a decent dump of snow. Heavenly, here I come.

western fiction action adventure suspense
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Too much information

western fiction action adventure suspense

Speed bumps take readers out of the story.

The final throes of revising Jenny’s Revenge reminded me that too much information doesn't help a story. Nothing bores a reader more than needless explanations about trivial matters the reader can fill in for themselves. Pointless factoids, excessive description, and extraneous words make an otherwise good novel clunky and laborious. 

This old lesson has special application to my writing because I have a need to neatly tie up every little thing. My brain somehow requires an explanation for every action by every character. This is important for the main plot, but can be distracting when it comes to tributaries. In fact, some tributaries can turn the plotline into a muddy mess. I also have a habit of siring orphans. In an initial draft, I'll launch a subplot, never to return to it. Most readers may not remember the distraction, but the dead end will irritate those that do. More often than not, I find a simple solution: send the orphan to the bit bucket. 

My goal during revision is to cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Goals aren’t always achieved, so it helps to have trusted critics that will give you honest feedback. Revision is not an event, but a process that encompasses several iterations.

This is why I believe good novels are not written, they’re rewritten. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wells Fargo Rules for Stage Travelers—Updated

In the Old West, stage travel took patience and stamina. Wells Fargo published a set of rules for passengers meant to make an unpleasant experience at least tolerable. Deadwood Magazine suggests these same rules might make modern travel more civil. We'd have to throw out Wells Fargo's Rule #6, but the other 8 rules would make air travel more agreeable.

So, in the interest of travelers everywhere, here are a few rules of my own:
  • Play nice with the flight attendantsthe rest of us want them in a good mood
  • Use drugs and liquor lightly … or so heavily you pass out and leave others alone
  • Turn off game sounds
  • If you’re going to hog overhead storage, at least don’t wear a put-upon expression
  • Armrests are community propertyremember what you learned in kindergarten
  • If you can’t remember the last time you bathed, it was too long ago
  • Drop the F-word and add please and thank you to your vocabulary
  • Air travel is not a nesting opportunityresist the urge to haul along heaps of stuff
  • Forget Mr. Rogersyou really aren’t special

Now that I’m on the subject, I’ll tell you about my most memorable airplane incident. I was stuck in a middle seat, which always makes me cranky. The man in the aisle seat came aboard and stowed his briefcase in the overhead. Suddenly, the woman in the window seat shoved me and ordered me to let her out. Before I could move, the woman yelled at the man that he had laid his briefcase on top of her fur coat. He appeared startled at her assault but politely said she couldn’t take up the whole bin by laying her coat length ways.  She immediately shoved me again and demanded to get out. I struggled to get into the aisle, but now the man blocked my exit. Yelling went back and forth and all I could think about was that I had to spend five hours crushed between two warring parties.

Just before the flight attendant worked her way to our row, the man yelled, “Lady, I can tell you what you can do with that fur. You can

“Don’t you say it,” she yelled back.

It looked like nothing could defuse the situation, and then a passenger about three rows back yelled, “Hey lady, the last time that fur was on an animal, it was laying in the dirt.”

The whole plane burst out in laughter. The chagrined woman retook her seat and never uttered another peep for the entire flight. I read in blissful silence.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Escape from Death Valley

My wife and I just returned from Death Valley after a week of motor-homing in the hottest place on earth. The valley has amiable place names like Dead Man’s Pass, Funeral Mountain, Coffin Canyon, Hell’s Gate, Devil’s Hole, Suicide Pass, and my favoriteDripping Blood Cliffs. This is rugged terrain. Or, as a local newspaper reported in 1907, "it has all the advantages of Hell without the inconveniences."

It’s even true that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk, but the rangers are tired of cleaning up the mess and suggest tourists instead fry their eggs on the hood of their car.

Good thing for us that it’s January. The daytime temperature only reached the mid-seventies and nighttime required a sweatshirt, a large fire, and a beverage suitable for sipping. We had a great time and I learned quite a bit about the region.

Everyone loves the story of Walter Scott, known far and wide as Death Valley Scotty. Scotty was a flimflam man who despite being discover as a fraud, successfully ingratiated himself to his rich mark, a man named Albert Mussey Johnson. Johnson was so enthralled with the con man that he supported Scotty for the remainder of his long life. Scotty told great stories and entertained the Johnsons and their innumerable guests. Most people conclude that if you’re glib enough the world is your oyster. I took away a different lesson. As a cast member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Scotty knew the lure of Western mythos. Johnson, on the other hand, was a longtime wannabe cowboy. Scotty didn’t just tell stories, he delivered the Old West right into Johnson’s Death Valley parlor.

The whole episode reminded me of the western frontier's power of renewal. The chance to start a new life is the real reason tens of thousands abandoned their home for the Old West.  Here’s a quote from an Article I wrote a few years ago: Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?
“The West, outer space, the future, or a make-believe land represents a new beginning in a fresh place away from home-the shrugging off of disappointments and a chance to start all over again. The romance and adventure of frontiers draws people desperate to escape the travails of their current existence. We've seen this in real life with the migrations to the New World and the Old West, but today many people satisfy this longing vicariously with fiction. If you're poor, your family makes you miserable, you've committed an act that offends society, or wanderlust has gripped you, then the adventure and limitless opportunity of a frontier beckons like a siren's call. Emigrating to a frontier means you get a do-over in a land with no rules, no fences, no referees.”
To me, this is the real lesson from Walter Scott and Albert Johnson. Johnson had been diagnosed to die young and had lived his life indoors accumulating wealth as a Chicago businessman. He loved the idea of a Wild West and Scotty delivered it for him. In addition, the dryness of Death Valley gave him a longer life and relief from his incessant pain. Of course, Johnson built his homeScotty’s Castlewith all the citified luxuries of the early twentieth century. Scotty's Castle was both a mirage and oasis safely tucked away in a barren wilderness.

As John Wayne said, “The fascination that the Old West has will never die."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What? I've already burned a week of 2015?

We celebrated the New Year with our kids and six grandchildren. It was a blast … and tiring.  Great start of a new year, but this morning, when I had an opportunity to catch my breath, I realized I had already burned a week of 2015. Wasn’t it a little over a month ago that computers threatened Armageddon at the turn of the century? Time flies, especially when you’re having fun. If slowing down time requires staying bored, I guess I’ll opt for a mad dash to the finish line.

Frontier America
Death Valley 20 Mule Teams

pacific ocean and beach
Our home for the next week ... minus the ocean

Speaking of staying busy, we head out Friday for a week of camping in Death Valley, although it seems a stretch to call it camping when we'll be living in a friend’s 40+ foot diesel pusher motorhome. Our transit and sojourn will be considerably more comfortable than the twenty-mule teams that used to haul borax across the valley to a rail spur. Those hardy teamsters thought a fringed whorehouse pillow positioned between their buttocks and the wood bench was the lap of luxury. I have to admit that I enjoy investigating frontier lifestyles with modern conveniences close at hand … especially flush toilets.

It’s been years since I visited Death Valley National Park and I’m looking forward to it. But planning the trip brought a thought to mind. Cattle drives, 20 mule teams, and the Pony Express are iconic imageries of the Wild West, but none actually lasted long. Although ranching and cowboys exist today, the great cattle drives had a relatively short lifespan of about twenty years. 20 Mule teams lasted only six years. The Pony Express operated for only eighteen months. All three of these frontier enterprises related to transportation, and all were obsoleted by the American penchant for speed. Our hell-bent for leather culture demands that we get stuff faster and faster. Nothing lasts unless it figures out how to deliver goods or services quicker tomorrow than it did yesterday.

For the most part, speed serves us well … except for passing through life. In that particular case, I think scrubbing off a bit of speed would be beneficial. Come to think of it, I’ll make one more New Year’s resolution: stop on occasion to smell the roses. 

thrillers, suspense, action, adventure
e-books, delivered at the speed of light ... well, sort of

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas and have a Great 2015

western fiction action adventure

We're off to San Diego to escape winter in Nebraska. If the body is willing, I also hope to get in a little surfing. Actually, we don't have much planned. Just kick back and relax and finish revising Jenny's Revenge. Well, on second thought, we are going to Newport Beach with the families, camping in Death Valley for a week, having lots of company, flying to New York for a visit, and plan at least one ski trip to the Lake Tahoe resorts. Perhaps it won't be as kicked-back as I imagine. Oh well, it'll be fun.

Oh, and one more thing ... remember where to spend those Amazon Gift cards.

action adventure, suspense, mystery

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I’m in Good Company

Thomas Sowell also recommends giving books for Christmas. Here is an excerpt from today's column.
Christmas Books, by Thomas Sowell
Perhaps more than in other years, shopping malls can become shopping mauls. One of the ways to make Christmas shopping less stressful is to give books as presents -- after ordering them on the Internet. There is a good crop of new books to choose from this year, as well as some old favorites that can make good gifts...
For some people, a subscription to a high quality magazine would be a better gift than a book.
If you'd like to review his list of recommended books, follow the link above.

Friday, December 5, 2014

10 Tips for Holiday Book Giving

Books are a perfect gift ... and a great way to avoid the crowds. 

At times, friends and relatives can be hard to buy for. Some seem to have everything. Due to age or illness, others may be less mobile than in years past. Some don’t really want much. Families scatter across this huge country and selecting a gift, packaging, and shipping can be a chore.

A book, however, is always a great gift … especially if you take the time to match their taste in fiction or nonfiction special interest. Suddenly, your thoughtfulness becomes part of the gift. Whether your relatives or friends are interested in the Civil War, literature, romance novels, Westerns, paranormal fiction, railroads, guns, cooking, collecting old comic books, antique automobiles, or anything else, there's always a book that will bring a smile to their face. 
  1. Shop or search online for a book specific to the interests of your relative or friend—Goodreads is a good source for ideas
  2. Write a personal message on the flyleaf that won't get tossed out like last year's Christmas card
  3. Give a bookseller gift card for e-book and audio book enthusiasts
  4. Search out an author signing for your recipient’s favorite author or give a collector’s version of the recipient’s favorite book
  5. If you need professional help or want something unique, shop at an independent book store, or specialty bookstore (like the Poison Pen in Scottsdale that specializes in mysteries)
  6. Remember, if you subscribe to Amazon Prime then shipping is free, or mail books early to take advantage of media class at the Post Office.
  7. Give a book as a piece of art, like a fine print book, unique coffee table book, favorite book as a child, or collectable cover art (I collect early 20th century Western pulp fiction books for the cover illustrations)
  8. Make a highly personal photo book with ShutterFly or Apple iPhoto or Apple Aperture
  9. If you’re giving a gift to a student—or me, for that matter—tuck a crisp $100 bill into the book as a bookmark
  10. Finally, if your  friend or relative already owns piles of books, give a unique set of book ends to hold them in their proper place

One final tip that comes close to re-giftingfind an Amazon hardcopy and that includes a “Match Book” deal with the simultaneous purchase of the e-book format. Gift the printed version and get an e-book for yourself.

Books are the best entertainment value. They provide hour after hour of personal pleasure, and then they can be passed on to another person.

Children's books are also great gifts. We search for autographed storybooks for our grandkids. Bookstores always have children book signings around the holidays, and this is one area where we join the crowd. The icing on the cake is that we get to read them a story from one of these books when we visit.

Here are Amazon links to bestselling books in a few categories. There are many more categories a click away. Topic searches also work with Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.

If you choose to gift one of my books, thank you.  I appreciate it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays. And have a great 2015.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fox & Sons Books—Revenge at Last

Hollywood, movies, film, blockbuster
Fictional Bookstore From You've Got Mail

We just returned from New York City. My son’s family lives on the Upper West side with his wife and three of my grandchildren. Our daughter, her husband, and our other three grandchildren joined us to make this a family get-together and special Thanksgiving celebration. We did it all … or at least some of us did it all. Others, like myself, sometimes hung back watching televised football.
I did join everyone on a jaunt to Times Square on Monday, but declined to return on Black Friday. 

times square
Toys R Us Times Square
On Monday, the weather was perfect, which meant that Toy R Us and other stores were sweltering without air conditioning. It didn't help that the shops were packed tighter than a sardine can. Jack Frost made a visit on Black Friday, so stale air and heat were less of an issue. The crush of the crowds, however, overwhelmed all other sensations. There are over eight million people in New York City. Half went to Macy’s and the other half traipsed down to Times Square … and they brought all of their relatives visiting for the holiday. All this is hearsay, of course. I stayed at my son’s apartment to watch Nebraska barely beat Iowa.

Ice Skating in Central Park

I also declined an ice skating excursion in Central Park. These days I’m not about to get on the ice, and stomping my feet on the sidelines to keep warm didn’t sound like much fun. My son texted live video of my grandkids skating, which gave me a rare appreciation for modern gadgetry.

I did do many other things, however. I watched my grandson score several touchdowns in the Yorksvilles Turkey Bowl on Randall’s Island, attended Mass at my granddaughter’s school, enjoyed my granddaughter’s performance in the Nutcracker Suite, celebrated my twin grandsons’ birthday, viewed balloons staged for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, watched the parade from a precarious perch on a Central Park wall, consumed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by family, and even found time to write.

independent bookstores
bookculture Bookstore in NYC
movies, film, hollywood
Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail
One of my favorite experiences was a new bookstore on Columbus and 82nd. The opening, rather than a closing, of an independent bookstore warranted a piece in the New York Times. The newness lured me in, but after my initial visit, I’m sure bookculture will be one of my regular haunts when I visit the city.

Borders is gone and Barnes & Noble closed several of their NYC stores. The Shop Around The Corner in the movie You’ve Got Mail was located close to the bookculture location. Perhaps the Fox & Sons Books model is growing thin. It’s ironic to see the behemoth boxes run out of business by Amazon, only to make room once again for intimate bookstores with a bookish atmosphere. In the end, I bet knowledgeable and friendly staff who understand local tastes will elbow themselves enough room to prosper.I hope so. 

When I visited bookculture, it was packed with people, many of them buying armloads of books. Granted, it was Black Friday, but sale pricing seemed limited. It was hard to tell if shoppers were buying for themselves or for Christmas. Whichever, I hope the store remains busy … and I hope books become the favorite gift for the coming holidays. 

bestselling fiction action adventure mystery
Gift Suggestions for Your Favorite People 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014