Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Perfect Gift

Books are perfect gifts. They're already a great value, but with the speed the world is going to those nifty electronic readers, books will soon be valuable antiques. Heck, in the near future, you may only be able to gaze at books in those brick and mortar museums they call libraries.

My bet is that children's books won't go electronic anytime soon. We always search for autographed storybooks for our grandkids. A great find is when the author and the illustrator both sign the book. We've done this for several years, so now our grandkids' bedrooms have dedicated shelves for signed books. The icing on the cake is that we get to read them a story from one of these books when we visit.

Several of our relatives have hobbies and special interests. Some people can be hard to buy for—unless you pick a book about their hobby. Whether your relatives or friends are interested in the Civil War, railroads, guns, cooking, or collecting old comic books, there's always a book around that will grab their interest.

Books are the best entertainment value around. They provide hour after hour of personal pleasure, and then they can be passed on to another person. I also like that when I give a book as a gift, I can write a personal note that won't get tossed out like last year's Christmas cards.

By the way, if you're thinking about a gift for me, I collect vintage Western books from the first half of the twentieth century. I especially like the ones with great illustrations on the dust cover. But if you give me one of these, do me a favor and write your personal note on a Post-It.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Characters Matter -- Continued

The protagonist in my Westerns is named Steve Dancy, and people ask if he's modeled after me. I tell them no, but I don't think they believe me. (Maybe I should start saying yes, because women seem to like him.) A fictional work has a single writer with a single personality. If you populate your work with slight variations of yourself, you'll create a homogenous universe that will bore people silly.

A writer must suppress his own personality when developing characters so they're all different from each other. It's not enough that they look and talk different—they must think and act differently. The fiction writer's personality will show up in the total work, but it's best if it's not directly reflected in the characters, especially the protagonist or antagonist. Have fun with these two. Make them unique from yourself and every other character in your work.

Here is a brief example from my new book, Tempest at Dawn.

James Madison gave him a friendly nod, then scurried across the lawn like an eager child who had spotted a new toy.
“What did the little titan want?”
Sherman turned to see Dickinson. “Now I remember why I avoid the State House Inn. Everyone bothers a simple man trying to write a letter to a friend.”
“Every part of that sentence is a lie. You’re not a simple man, delegates hurry in other directions when they spot you, and no one besides myself can abide you.”
“I am writing a letter.”
“No, John Adams.” Sherman set the letter aside. “Pull up a chair. I’ll buy you lemonade or an ale.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tempest at Dawn

The completed manuscript for Tempest at Dawn is in the final editing process and the book should be available in November of 2009. The historical novel is a dramatization of the Federal Convention of 1787, what we now call the Consitutional Convention. This is a book that has been over ten years in the making and I'm relieved to see it finally close to publication.

The infant periods of most nations are buried in silence, or veiled in fable, and perhaps the world has lost little it should regret. But the origins of the American Republic contain lessons of which posterity ought not to be deprived.--James Madison

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Old West Weekend at Los Rios Rancho

Los Rios Rancho is hosting an Old West Weekend on August 15 & 16th. The ranch is located in Oak Glen, California in the San Berdino Mountains.

It looks to be a great event. Many Western authors, including myself, will be signing their books. Here's a chance to talk personally with authors and asked them questions about the genre or writing.

Link to Los Rios Rancho

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Just completed a fun interview with the Tainted Archive. If you like this Western blog, you ought to take a look at the Cowboy Corral, as well.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Future of the Western Genre

I've posted an article on Ezine about the future of the Western genre.

"For the last couple of decades, enthusiasts have lamented the demise of Westerns while the rest of the world has gone about its business, ignorant that anyone might care about a genre relegated to a few obscure shelves at the local bookstore. Westerns were hugely popular for over a hundred years. Not only were they popular in the United States, but the whole world devoured them. The Western was a staple of fiction, Hollywood, television, and daydreams. What happened?"

Follow this link, to read the full article.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finding Your Voice

Whohub asked the following question in a interview.

Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?

I answered:

Your voice is not something you find. It 's especially illusive if you search for it. Tell a good story, and then tell it better and better until it compels the reader to keep going. If you achieve this goal, you'll have found your voice.

If your primary or sole goal is to find your voice, then you may become a technically good writer, but few people will read what you write.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Western Writers of America 2009 Conference

I'll be attending the Western Writers of America Conference in Oklahoma City, June 16-20.

Non-members are welcome, so if you love Western film or fiction, mark the dates on your calendar. There will be exhibits, panel discussions, book signings, guided tours of local Western attractions, and your favorite Western writers will be there.

If you would like to learn more, go to the WWA site.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Whohub Interview

author interview

Whohub requested an interview. Well, actually, it's a stock set of questions from which I could pick and choose. This was great, because I never had to say, "Duh, I don't know."

Fun for me. Hopefully interesting for you.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Shut Mouth Society finalist is ABPA contest

The Shut Mouth Society is a finalist in the Arizona Book Publishers Association Glyph Award for best popular fiction. The winner will be announced at an awards dinner on May 9th.
Founded in Phoenix in April of 1992, the Arizona Book Publishing Association’s mission is to advance and promote successful book publishing in Arizona through education, community involvement, cooperative effort, peer recognition, industry advocacy, and the support of 1st Amendment rights.

With more than 150 publisher and associate members, the ABPA continues to grow each year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Huntington News Reviews The Shut Mouth Society

action suspense thriller

"One of the bad guys -- and there are plenty -- in James D. Best's The Shut Mouth Society sneeringly calls Greg Evarts a "city policeman," making it clear that he thinks the Santa Barbara, CA police detective is an easily handled lightweight.

What a mistake! Evarts is a veteran of a top secret army unit, an expert in decoding ciphers and a good friend of multimillionaire Abraham Douglass, a descendant of black anti-slavery pioneer Frederick Douglass. Abraham Douglass is a collector of Lincoln and Civil War documents and wants Evarts and UCLA Lincoln expert Professor Patricia Baldwin to authenticate an Abraham Lincoln document in his possession.

At stake is nothing less than the balance of power in present-day North America. After the murder, Greg and Patricia travel the country, driving to New York City, Boston, Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska where more violence reveals the impact of The Shut Mouth Society on present-day events. The plot reminds me of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," which has a similar pairing of an academic -- a male in Brown's novel -- and a female French police officer. The secret society in Brown's novel is matched by one that's even more brutal in "The Shut Mouth Society."

The Shut Mouth Society is a fast-moving, well-written novel that is of particular interest in this bicentennial year of Abe Lincoln's birth."

By David M. Kinchen Book Critic

Read full review

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How do you sell books?

"Even Einstein couldn't get far if 300 treatises of higher physics were published each year"
Raymond Chandler, 1945

Selling books is hard. The best sales come from word-of-mouth, but how do you get critical volume so word-of-mouth does any good? Whether you're published by the traditional press or you self-publish you need to hawk your own goods. Promotional budgets for mid-list authors barely buy a local NPR ad to promote your book signing.

Worse, most writers don't like promotional hoopla and would rather retreat to their favorite quiet place to write their next book. My recommendation: allocate a specific amount of time each day to promote previous books and reward yourself with the remainder of the day for writing your next opus. Personally, I try for between one and two hours a day to handle email, update my blog and websites, and promote my books.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Leadville, A Steve Dancy Tale

Leadville is now available. This is the second novel in the Steve Dancy series. It took longer than expected, and I want to thank my readers for their patience. The following link will take you to the Amazon page for Leadville.

I hope you enjoy it, and I'm anxious for your feedback.

From the back cover

When New York City shopkeeper Steve Dancy moved west to experience the frontier, he wound up embroiled in a deadly feud … a feud he was forced to settle with guns. Now all he wants to do is follow up on a few business interests, write about his adventures, and continue his exploration of the West.

But in the autumn of 1879, Joseph McAllen asks Dancy for help. Ute renegades have abducted a young girl near Mesa Verde, Colorado, and the Pinkerton captain wants Dancy to join the rescue party. Surprisingly, the trail doesn't lead into the San Juan Mountains, but to Leadville—a rich mining town teeming with the worst elements of a raw frontier. Before the small team can save the girl, shysters and killers conspire to enrich themselves from the incident. Bitter feuds, vendettas, and greed turn the rescue into a bloody conflict that spans the state.

Dancy has proven that he can handle himself in dangerous situations. But can this shopkeeper survive the perils of an untamed mountain wilderness?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The more things change...

Sixty years ago, in March of 1948, Raymound Chandler has this to say about Oscar Night.

"Show business has always been a little overnoisy, overdressed, overbrash. Actors are threatened people. Before films came along to make them rich they often had need of a desperate gaiety. Some of these qualities prolonged beyond a strict necessity have passed into the Hollywood mores and produced that very exhausting thing, the Hollywood manner, which is a chronic case of spurious excitement over absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, and for once in a lifetime, I have to admit that Academy Awards night is a good show and quite funny in spots, although I'll admire you if you can laugh at all of it.

"If you can go past those awful idiot faces on the bleachers outside the theater without a sense of the collapse of the human intelligence; if you can stand the hailstorm of flash bulbs popping at the poor patient actors who, like kings and queens, have never the right to look bored; if you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, "In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived "; if you can laugh, and you probably will, at the cast-off jokes from the comedians on the stage, stuff that wasn't good enough to use on their radio shows; if you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously; and if you can then go out into the night to see half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats but not from that awful moaning sound they give out, like destiny whistling through a hollow shell; if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong, because this sort of vulgarity is part of its inevitable price."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The secret to great dialogue

Art, literature,
Dialogue by Doc Ross, Christchurch, New Zealand
Dialogue in fiction is not conversation. At least not the kind of conversation we have every day. Fictional dialogue always has a purpose. It must move the plot and be character revealing.

Many writers have difficulty with dialogue. Is there a secret? Yes: know your characters. You should know your characters as well as your best friend. Some writers create elaborate back stories, even if they never intend to use them. Others prefer to outline personality traits. I like to take long walks and have conversations with my characters. To get to know your characters, use whatever method feels right for you. Once you understand them, you'll soon discover that your characters speak with a consistent outlook and come across as real people. When you know your characters, all you do is put them into the right situation, give them something to accomplish, and then transcribe their conversation.

The following example is from my book, Leadville. The plot required me to move my characters to another location. This may not be a great literary example, but it illustrates how to make a mundane transition more interesting by letting the characters speak naturally.

Sharp and I stood outside the livery corral kicking our spurs into the dirt.
“Let’s get a ham steak,” Sharp said.
“Bit early for a noon meal.”
“Hell, McAllen went to see his ex-wife. No tellin’ how long he’ll be, and we might not see a hog for months.”
“You said something similar this morning when we ordered that glutinous breakfast.”
“True this morning, true now. If ya hadn’t hired them boys, you’d be hungry too.”
“What if McAllen shows up?”
Sharp leaned around the corner of the barn and yelled at the liveryman. “If a gruff gent comes lookin’ for us, tell ’im we’re at the cafĂ©.” Sharp turned and gave me a pleased look.
“What if he comes before we finish our meal? You know McAllen.”
“Then we git up and head for the hills.”
“Could be a waste of money.”
“Might be right.” Sharp pushed himself away from the barn wall. “So you pay.”
And off he went.

Western fiction action adventure
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I've been invited to address the Arizona Book Publishing Association at their dinner on January 29th. For more information, follow this link: