Friday, October 24, 2014

Mobridge, South Dakota … Sitting Bull, Fry Bread Tacos, and Pheasants

Mobridge, South Dakota

Mobridge, South Dakota takes it name from the first railroad bridge to cross the Missouri. The town draws tourists in October like Times Square draws merrymakers on New Year’s Eve. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but there were a lot of people in Mobridge this past week dressed in see-me-now-orange. I was one of those revelers. I drove up from Nebraska to visit friends, hunt pheasants, and eat fry bread tacos.

Hunting pheasants in South Dakota is a team sport. A couple of blockers sit at one end of a field as an orange-clad army chases the birds toward them. When one or more of the birds take flight, everybody becomes sex obsessed. A license allows you to hunt roosters, so the first order of business is to determine the sex of a bird flying as fast as its wings will carry it. This is why everybody upon seeing a bird shouts out the gender. The more nebulous cry of “Bird up,” puts the onus on the shooter. If this isn’t difficult enough, sometimes a rooster takes flight with his entire harem. You could call him cowardly for hiding behind hens, but it’s not exactly a bird-brained tactic.

Fry Bread Taco

The scent of fry bread tacos makes your mouth water as soon as you enter Mobridge. These gigacalorie indulgences possess every unhealthy food group known to man. Woof them down with a sugary soda and you taste heaven … except I’m told that in heaven, fry bread tacos are not sinful.

Our hunting party took up six cabins along the bank of the Missouri. All good friends and relatives. Each cabin included a tiny cooking space generously called a kitchen in the glossy brochure. The stove top tilted, the refrigerator squealed all night long, and microwave had enough power to boil a cup of water in under ten minutes. We crammed twenty people into an already overheated cabin to eat homemade meals on mismatched dishes. I’ve never had so much fun.

I also found time to visit Sitting Bull’s gravesite … or perhaps not. In 1953, a bunch of drunks crept up to Fort Yates, North Dakota, and mistakenly liberated the wrong bones, or they brought the right remains to Mobridge to rest near Sitting Bull’s birthplace. I guess it doesn’t matter. Today, a stately bust honoring Sitting Bull gazes out over the Missouri River. Since I’ve written about Sitting Bull’s tragic death, I found the memorial interesting. So did others. We ran into a father and son from Munich visiting the supposed grave site. You could say the stealthy grave robbers achieved their purpose by creating a tourist attraction, except over the course of a week, we never saw anyone else at the memorial.

Now, I'm back in Omaha, unpacked, and ready to write. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Damn Research Anyway

I write historical novels. Most of my books are Westerns, and I strive to properly reflect the lifestyle, technology, and politics of the era. Tempest at Dawn, my big historic novel, is a dramatization of the Constitutional Convention. Even The Shut Mouth Society, my contemporary chase-thriller has strong historical content centered on Abraham Lincoln.

Joseph Finder

When I’m busy and I discover an interesting web article, I bookmark it to read later. This morning, I read Joseph Finder’s article Research: A Writers Best Friend and a Writer’s Worst Enemy.

I think Finder has it just about right. He alludes to my worst habit: using research to procrastinate, but couches it far too narrowly. When I’m on a roll, I never let research get in the way of getting the story down in black and white. On the other hand, when I don’t really want to write, I bounce around the web and tell myself I’m making progress through research. Somehow, I convince myself of this even when I’m watching the GoPro video of the week.

A few years ago, I wrote an article on the hazards of web-based research. I even put together a Powerpoint presentation for a writer’s group. Today, I use the web more frequently for research. One reason is the proliferation of primary source documents. The second reason is that reputable institutions have digitized their content. The web has grown up. Except for odds and ends, I rarely use Wikipedia. There are many more authoritative sources if you know how to find them.

Research can also be in the real  world. For instance, I need to walk the ground of my novels. I’m not a visual person, so I take gigabytes of pictures to look at as a write descriptive prose. Walking the ground has another purpose. Every locale has a distinct feel to it. When I deplane in Phoenix or Honolulu, I know where I’m at as soon as I feel and smell the air. Some writers are geniuses when it comes to descriptive prose, but to describe ambiance, I need to experience it. Besides, this is the fun part of research. Wandering around Virginia City or Old Denver sure beats trying to verify the exact time Virgil Earp lived in Prescott, Arizona.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sojourn in New York City

My wife and I just returned home from seeing our son’s family in New York City. He and his wife have three young kids and because they grow so fast we try to visit at least once every three months. This was a great trip. We like Manhattan and we love my son and his family. What could be better than that? Here are some random thoughts on our trip.

  • It’s difficult to write in airports, especially LaGuardia. Before retirement, I wrote all the time in airports, but nowadays it seems much more crowded. It’s even difficult to find an unoccupied seat at LaGuardia. Maybe it’s me. I’m getting older and perhaps I’m finding it more difficult to focus. Naw … it’s everybody else’s fault. 

Ellen DeGeneres

  • It’s impossible to write on airplanes. I used to whip out my laptop all the time, but now I find it difficult to find room for myself, no less a supposed portable device that must have been designed to watch movies from twelve feet away. When I fly, I read my trusty Kindle. 
  • Why do electronic components keep getting tinier and tinier, but electronic devices keep getting bigger and bigger? I took my grandson to the Apple store to shop for his birthday present. This was my first encounter with the big screen iPhones. The big model will hardly fit in a teenage girl’s hip pocket. My new laptop has a 16’ inch screen with Dolby sound and myriad other bells and whistles. I wanted one like my old 14’ model, but my preferred manufacturer no longer made this petite version. I’m a writer. I don’t need all this fancy stuff. Give me light weight, reasonable size, and MS Word. They can even make it black and white and I’ll be happy. I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I lament the demise of the Motorola Razr. Now that was a mobile phone. It was so light and thin you never knew you carried it until it buzzed with an incoming call. Okay, I am a curmudgeon.

action adventure fiction
Hurricane Sandy about to get unruly

  • Although I had floated around it many times, I had never been to Statue of Liberty Island. We took our granddaughter and her friend. We discovered Disney World lines managed with government efficiency. Next time, if there is one, I’ll pick inclement weather. At least, that’s what I thought until I found this picture of the island with Hurricane Sandy looming on the horizon. Still lots of people. Maybe next time I’ll just float around it again. 
  • I was walking the dog with my son when he pointed out a townhouse with narrow, one-car garage. He thought it would be wonderful to have a private garage in the city. I told him I owned three of them in Omaha. He asked if they were in front or behind the chicken coop. 
  • All bookstore have small Western sections, but NYC stores have relegated Westerns to a single shelf in the most obscure corner of the stacks. Since New York is my third largest sales region, I think they are missing a bet.