Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Back From a Fun Trip to Peru

My wife's photo of Machu Picchu

I like traveling to places my wife and I both enjoy. She loves history and art, while I prefer to see how people in other countries live today. This makes Egypt and China two of our favorite destinations because she can gaze in wonder at the pyramids or walk the Great Wall, and I get to witness a completely different culture.

Peru falls into this category. The 14th Century Inca ruins fulfill her need to touch and feel a culture long gone, and I get to enjoy the lively and complex Peru of today. I kidded her by saying she liked dead Peru, while I liked live Peru. That's an over-simplification, of course, but it's not too far off the mark.

Another Peruvian benefit is plenty of exercise ... at high altitude. When I got back to sea level I felt energized with all that oxygen.

Peru was wonderful. Friendly people who know how to preserve their heritage.

Oh well, vacation's over. Better get back to writing.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Final Episode of Justified

I watched the final episode of Justified last night. A little tardy you might think. Not to my way of thinking. I never watch any TV until the entire season is available on DVD or streaming.  That way I can binge-watch the series without ugly commercials or intervening days of holding my breath for the next episode. I get it all, and I get it the way I want.

Except … the sixth season of Justified has been available for nearly a year, so you might ask what took me so long. Justified is my favorite television program. (Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite authors.) I was heartsick when I heard the series had come to an end. As long as I never watched the last season, it was not really over. It was always there to look forward to.

Here is what I wrote about Justified in a previous post:
Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and a host of other fine actors, is a character-driven modern day western based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. I believe bad guys and gals make heroes heroic, and Justified has a bevy of really bad characters. Our hero has sidekicks of course, but basically, it’s Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens against this cast of misfits, hoodlums, and felonious masterminds. Good actors portraying interesting characters in a tightly written drama presented with masterful storytelling. Who could ask for more?

But good things can’t be put off forever, so I watched the last season of thirteen episodes in four nights. The final episode did not disappoint. It echoed the pilot in a well-crafted conclusion that sets a high standard for future finales. Good writing starts with good plot decisions and Graham Yost and crew did a masterful job. It’s hard to imagine a different ending that would leave viewers as satisfied.

For the impatient, here is the #1 Showdown!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A genuine Westerner?

I believe Mark Twain is the greatest western writer of all time. Not only did Tom and Huck live on the frontier, but Roughing It describes his own adventures in the Wild West, including his stint as a reporter in Virginia City when it was wilder than any cow town on Saturday night. Twain thought the West was a hoot, so he kept traveling in that direction until he reached the Hawaiian Islands. In 1866, he spent four months in paradise as a reporter for the Sacramento Union.

Here are a couple of things Mark Twain said about Hawaii.
This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world--ought to take dead men out of grave.
The missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make them permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wanted: A Western Story Collection

Snake in the Grass
A Steve Dancy Tale

A lone wrangler with a fine herd of horses goes berserk in the middle of nowhere. 
Steve Dancy and Joseph McAllen must decidehelp the crazed boy or ride off.

Wanted: A Western Story Collection ebook edition is available for pre-order at Amazon. The paperback edition will come along in a few weeks. The anthology includes a Steve Dancy short story. Since this was my first short story in the series, I decided to have a little fun and wrote it from Joseph McAllen's point of view.

From the Backcover

Seven bestselling western authors join forces in the time-honored tradition of the old West to deliver a collection of short stories featuring their most popular and beloved characters. Read about the adventures of Steve Dancy, Gideon Johann, Shad Cain, Lee Mattingly, the McCabes, Hunt-U.S. Marshal, and Jess Williams. Enjoy your favorite authors and discover new friends along the trail.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Trains are Trendy

I read that railroad construction is all the rage in Western novels. I suppose Hell on Wheels spiked the popularity of trains, but I find the trend troubling. I'm currently writing Crossing the Animas, my latest Steve Dancy Tale. As the title suggests, it takes place in the San Juan Mountains between Durango and Silverton. In 1882, the Denver & Rio Grande built a narrow gage line between the towns to get ore to market. Needless to say, the construction of the line is an element of my story.

My first impulse was to edit out the railroad construction. I didn't want to appear to be jumping on a fad. It went against my nature, I guess. (At the end of The Shopkeeper, I Wrote, "We rode out of Mason Valley with the sun at our backs." A Western chestnut has the hero rides off into the sunset, so I used the opposite direction tongue-in-cheek.) I decided against “pulling the pin” because the rail line construction wasn’t a huge element in the story and I liked the characters that came with the trains. I hate killing off characters to no purpose. I’ve heard of off-page violence and off-page sex, but off-page character assassination serves no purpose. Besides, trains and rail expansion have been an element of the Steve Dancy Tales from the beginning.

By the way, Hell on Wheels is a hell of a good show. Now if we could just get Justified back.

Hell on Wheels

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cowboys are cool. Cows, not so much

“A mine is a hole in the ground, owned by a liar.” Mark Twain

I recently saw a college friend for the first time in decades. He seemed surprised to learn I wrote novels. I guess I need to work on that world famous part. 

“What do you write?” he asked.


He immediately made a disparaging crack about cowboys and Indians.

I explained there were no cowboys in my novels.

He was incredulous. “Then what do you write about?”

“I write about people … people who happened to live on the American frontier. My characters live in cities, towns and camps, not on the range. They’re miners, businessmen, politicians, schoolmarms, shopkeepers, lumbermen, lawyers, doctors, newspapermen, and they come in all ages and in both sexes.”

“Bad guys?”

“Oh yeah, outlaws aplenty. Otherwise you don’t have a story.”

“And gunfights?”

“Of course. They’re part of the genre. But in five books, I’ve only had one duel where two men stood off against each other. My gunfights are more realistic to the history of the West.”

“But no cowboys?”

“Nary a one. Cows didn’t draw people west. Money laying in the dirt got people to get up and leave home. Mining drew far more people than ranching. The romantic cowboy has been written about since Owen Wister and The Virginian, and cowboys have become the stable of Western literature. When I started writing Westerns I wanted to do something different, so I wrote about mining, instead of ranching.”

I continued, “Cowboys have become such a clichĂ© that most people don’t know that Tombstone was a mining town, not a cow town. Denver started as a mining camp. Mark Twain’s encounters with the Wild West occurred in Virginia City, where $305 million was mined from the Comstock Lode.  (Still, the fictional Cartwright’s Ponderosa gets all the attention.) 240 million troy ounces of silver were extracted from Leadville. Almost all of our ghost towns were once thriving mining camps. Mining was an exciting industry that drew every kind of character to the West.  Wyatt Earp made a career of following the action, and he abandoned cows to chase after silver and gold.”

“So you don’t like cowboys?” He said this with an undue sense of satisfaction.

“I do. Cowboys are self-reliant, live by a code, and are skillful with horses, ropes, guns, and nature. I believe their individualism is a metaphor for an important American value. But others have already written about cowboys, cow towns, and the open range. I wanted to explode another facet of the Wild West, so I write about mining, which allows me to get into bustling cities and the technology revolution of railroads, telegraphs, and electricity. Instead of lamenting the demise of the Wild West, I examine the influences that eventually tamed the frontier.

 “Is there drama in mining?” he asked.

“Are you kidding? Money is power … and the power-crazed chase after wealth with a passion. Mining drew fortune seekers, politicians, shysters, engineers, shopkeepers, and people with every kind of scheme under the sun to separate miners from their money. Most rail lines after the transcontinental contest connected mines to markets. Everybody chased after the money: good men, bad men, and hard cases that enforced the will of the greedy.”

“Okay, okay, you convinced me,” he said. “I’ll try one of your books.”

As Hollywood says, this story has been inspired by true events. That means a conversation did occur somewhat along these lines, but I was much more articulate in real life.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Is there life east of Pacific Coast Highway?

My wife and I are about to return to Omaha, Nebraska after wintering in San Diego. Darn, where did the time go? I’m going to miss friends and family, surfing, walks on the beach, and Mexican food.

When I was a teenager, we rarely ventured away from the beach. In fact, we didn’t believed there was life east of Pacific Coast Highway. We called the inhabitants of that vast wasteland inlanders … or worse. A few of my friends became involved with inland girls, but for the most part, we had plenty on our side of the divide. (I admit my wife came from east of PCH, but she grew up west of Hawthorne Boulevard, the next thoroughfare in our neck of the woods. That’s almost native. Besides, she put up with me for all these years, so I can't hold her paganism against her.)

In my youth, if someone had grabbed me on the beach and told me I would live in Omaha, I would have hushed them in fear that one of my friends might overhear. Omaha is in the exact center of the country. As far you can get from an ocean or large body of water. The surf stinks. And yet … I’m looking forward to going home. We have a nice home and I’m eager to see my daughter’s family and our Midwest friends. And focus more diligently on writing. When I get there I’ll play with the grandkids, eat at our favorite restaurants, bring home great pizza, watch spring blossom all over the place, enjoy watching the kids baseball games, and shoot untold rounds of golf. Oh, wait, I don’t golf. Never mind, that was someone else. But I do look forward to eating at the clubhouse.

In truth, I discovered there’s abundant life in the heartland. I enjoy Omaha, and besides, if I need a fix, I can just jump on a plane and be back in San Diego in three hours.  Thank goodness for Boeing.

Omaha, Nebraska

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Second Short Story

I write novels. Seven and counting. (Plus six nonfiction books, if I include my ghost writing assignments.) I’ve previously written only one short story, for which I received an Honorable Mention as a finalist. Maybe that didn’t count. It was a newspaper contest for a one hundred word novel. In the beginning, I thought anyone could string together one hundred words, but it took me a week to create a draft fit for submittal. Short is hard.

All of this is preface to telling you that I have written my first real short story. “Snake in The Grass” is a Steve Dancy Tale with a twist. I won’t tell you the twist. You have to read it for yourself. Where? First, you’ll need to wait a few months. The book is an anthology written by seven top selling Western authors.

Wanted, A Western Story Collection includes stories by Brad Dennison, Lou Bradshaw, Tell Cotten, Robert J. Thomas, WL Cox, James D. Best, and Duane Boehm.

I’ll let you know when it becomes available. In the meantime, I’ll leave with a few of my favorite quotes about short stories.
A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it. Edgar Allan Poe
A short story is a different thing all together - a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger. Stephen King
The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side. Emma Donoghue
I used to write things for friends. There was this girl I had a crush on, and she had a teacher she didn’t like at school. I had a real crush on her, so almost every day I would write her a little short story where she would kill him in a different way. Stephen Colbert