Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fruit cakes and novels



I subscribe to the Nelson DeMille newsletter. He's been one of my favorite authors since I read Cathedral nearly three decades ago. I especially liked Gold Coast. Anyway, I received his latest newsletter when I was contemplating ways to promote my books as Christmas gifts. Unsurprisingly, DeMille sardonic take on the subject exceeded anything I could do. So ...
As for my own books, it’s totally your choice if you want to buy them as holiday gifts. They’re great books, but I would understand if you’d rather give someone, say, a fruitcake instead of a DeMille novel. Fruitcakes are good, and healthy – if you don’t eat them. And who does? It’s the thought that counts anyway. If you give a fruitcake to someone, they know what you think of them. A DeMille novel might send a message to the recipient that you think they’re intelligent. And you don’t always want to do that. Right? Your choice.
Anyway, if you do give one of my novels as a gift, I hereby give permission for you to autograph my name. You can copy my signature below. Who’s gonna know? Say something nice.

Monday, October 31, 2016

House of Corn, Stone Presidents, and a Sioux Triumph


Mitchell Corn Palace
We recently moved from Arizona to Omaha and are still getting to know the neighborhood. Friends—and sometime relatives—wanted a road trip to check out the northern hinterlands. We blasted through Iowa to get to South Dakota to our first stop in Mitchell. We came to see the world renown Corn Palace.  Each year, the town decorates the outside of the building with artworks made entirely from corn cobs. Pretty cool. Or at least cooler than a big ball of twine.

K Bar S Lodge

After gawking at the ethanol cathedral, we speed down the road to spend the night at the K Bar S Lodge, which is in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. The huge lodge closes at the end of the month and guests were sparse. As we wandered the buildings, we kept an eye out for a tyke on a trike or a pair of scary twins. I never spotted a worrisome apparition, but the next day at Mount Rushmore, I spotted Gary Grant strolling around in a dark suit and pristine white dress shirt. We found Mount Rushmore to be an impressive feat of art and engineering and the park service has done a good job of presentation.

North by Northwest

The Knuckle Saloon in Sturgis

Lunch found us at the Knuckle Saloon in Sturgis, host city to the seventy-eight-year-old motorcycle rallies. We saw only one lonely rider, but the food at the saloon was good and the ambiance iconic.

Sheridan Inn a bit before we arrived

In the afternoon, we drove to Sheridan, Wyoming and stayed at the historic Sheridan Inn. This hotel didn’t seem haunted either, despite one of the long-term employees having her ashes buried inside the wall of her room. The photographs on the walls are reason enough to pay the inn a visit. After breakfast, we drove to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Here we found ghosts and restless spirits aplenty. Little Bighorn is a sobering experience that reminds us that there are two sides to every story.

Art work detail at Little Bighorn Battlefield
We returned by way of Sheridan and stopped for lunch and a shopping spree at King's Saddlery. If you’re ever in this part of the country, King’s is a must stop. It reminds me of the tent in Harry Potter that looks small from the outside, but goes on forever inside. This is not a tourist store but a serious place to buy ropes, tack, and appropriate attire for horseback riding. If you want something western, whether it be leather goods, belt buckles, clothing, jewelry, art, dishes, books, ropes, or whatever, you can find in at King’s.

Kings Saddlery


On the way home, ate breakfast at Wall Drug and took the 240 loop through the South Dakota Badlands. Due to thousands of signposts, Wall Drug is as hard to find as a fly in a cow pasture. It’s worth the trip, however. Good breakfast, cheap coffee, and lots of western art and artifacts. After breakfast, we sauntered through the Badlands. We saw very few cars, but we did make a sharp turn and almost ran into a Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep. I stopped the car, wondering how much damage those curved battering rams could do to my side panels, but luckily he seemed more interested in eating the vegetation alongside the road. The Badlands landscape is impressive and when it’s uncrowded, you can feel connected to some bygone era. If you make this trip, late October is perfect … unless it isn’t. Weather during late autumn can be unpredictable, but we had it near perfect. Good luck to you, as well.



Just before we scooted home, we made a stop at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. We stopped at the Visitor Center, and then went on a guided tour of Launch Control Facility Delta-01. Both are must-sees, but the Launch Control Facility requires a reservation. These nuclear weapon delivery systems are now thankfully in the back of our consciousness, and hopefully will remain there.


This road trip was my second favorite. My favorite is the Grand Circle. It’s a shame more people don’t hit the road nowadays. The expansive countryside of the West has awe-inspiring landscapes, a fascinating history, and friendly people eager to help a tenderfoot.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park Talk About Storytelling

NYU teaches a class in storytelling the Tisch School of the Arts. On the first day of class, Professor Liotti invited Trey Parker and Matt Stone to discuss their take on storytelling. In this short video, there are a couple of nuggets of great advice, which helps explain the 20 year success of the animated television series. I found it interesting that they basically said writer's block is not an option. If they can't come up with a show idea, seventy people are idled. This reminded me of William Shakespeare, who had forty people depending on him to come up with a new play that would draw a large enough paying audience to feed themselves and their families. Nothing drives creativity like hunger.


Get More:
www.mtvu.com


By the way, kudos to NYU for teaching storytelling. Many universities think creative writing is solely about crafting wonderful sentences. Not true. Storytelling is at the heart of anything still read or viewed that was written over twenty years ago.

Storytelling is the art, good writing is the craft that brings it to life.



Monday, September 26, 2016

The Magnificent Seven—Hollywood Finally Gets It Almost Right



Hollywood doesn’t like Westerns. They keep trying to make them into something else. If a traditional Western is a success, like Unforgiven, critics tag it as an anti-western. The Chicago Tribune said of Unforgiven, “This dark, melancholic film is a reminder -- never more necessary than now -- of what the American cinema is capable of, in the way of expressing a mature, morally complex and challenging view of the world.” As if a Western never plumbed the depths of depravity before.
Last night my wife and I went to see The Magnificent Seven, the remake. It’s a good movie. I thought the climatic gun battle was over the top, but that’s what audiences expect nowadays. Also the storyline was more implausible than the original. A roving band of bandits in the age of Poncho Villa raiding villages for food is far more believable than a mine owner killing random farmers to acquire land that hasn’t proved to be lodes of precious metal. But, hey, this is entertainment. Suspension of belief is de rigor.
An NPR review said of the movie, “it's not a revisionist western. Nor is it an anti-western. It's a western.” The reviewer, Chris Klimek, did not necessarily mean that as a compliment. I say, thank goodness. It’s about time Hollywood got back to good storytelling. Modern Hollywood often gets itself wrapped up messaging. Storytelling is an art that requires a meaningful plot, engaging characters, proper pacing, and craftsmanship. When they made the The Magnificent Seven, they set out to make an entertaining film, not a statement. Great stories can make statements, but they must be subtle enough to not jar the reader/viewer out of the story. Philip Pullman once said, “Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” The Magnificent Seven did include a message about inclusiveness, but never did that theme interrupt the flow of the story.
I liked the movie, and my wife liked it as well. The film did $41.4 million on its opening weekend, which bodes well that box office receipts will be high enough to encourage more of the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In Desperate Need of Ruby Slippers

In a previous post I lamented our poor travel luck of late. The good news is that once we left the USA, all of our travel difficulties disappeared. We flew to Paris without incident, and took taxies, trains, and Metros without mishap. The bad news greeted us on reentry to the USA. The final leg of our flight was cancelled due to weather. Despite claims by Global Warming alarmists, airlines still consider weather an act of God. No free hotel. No paid one either. When weather has a temper tantrum, New York hotels fill up in a New York minute. A long taxi ride into the city found us a place to stay.

Our airline booked us out of LaGuardia the following evening. Since we were anxious to get home, we left for the city four hours ahead of our scheduled departure.  We wanted to miss the work traffic. What we didn’t know was that since our last uneventful trip to LaGuardia, some nincompoop decided to tear up all access roads simultaneously. It took two hours and a wheel barrow of money to get us to the terminal. But we still had a sense of humor. We laughed at our travails as we grabbed a glass of wine at the Delta Sky Club. We were in heaven. A quiet, little sanctuary hidden from the hubbub just outside the sliding glass doors. Then all hell broke loose. Alarms went off, tense announcements ordered us to evacuate immediately, and people rushed everywhere. First responders burst in from outside. Was it the Sky Club or the entire airport? Once we got outside the lounge, we found calm and order. Who had turned the world upside down? Apparently a short in the dishwasher. The culprit had been an electrical fire in the kitchen.

In our haste, we had brought our wine out with us and it was less than an hour before our flight time. C'est la vie. We’d manage. Heck, we’d already endured much worse than being thrown out of an airport lounge.

How naïve. Our early evening flight got delayed until the dead of night.

When I had a horrible game of golf, my eighteenth hole was always spectacular. I think it was someone’s sly way of enticing me back onto the links. In a similar fashion, once we landed in Omaha, everything went perfect. Technically, it was morning. At that hour, taxicabs were rare, but our luggage came out first and we beat the competition to the cab stand. Omaha traffic is light in comparison to big cities and non-existent in the wee hours. We flew home.

Six weeks of travel makes one homesick. Home, sweet home. There’s no place like home.

We think we’ll stay awhile.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Travel Memoir—Partie Deux



Yesterday my wife and I left Paris for Omaha. That’s not a sentence most people would enjoy writing, but we’ve been gone a month and look forward to our home and dullish routines. Twenty-five years ago I was in Paris nearly every month and my wife often accompanied me. She did the museums, cathedrals and other large buildings. I worked. I enjoyed interacting with the French in a non-tourist setting and kidded my wife that she did dead France while I did live France.
This trip we focused on dead France … and walking. Museums and walking. Cathedrals and walking. Monuments and walking. Walking to find new and interesting places to eat. Sometimes just walking to watch the street life. But if you placed all of our steps end to end, you still wouldn’t reach a Brasserie-free zone. How cool is that!
We noticed a couple of differences from twenty-five years ago. For one thing, tourism isn’t nearly as easy or enjoyable. Terrorists and technologists put a dampener on the fun.


Security is everywhere. And I mean tough, no nonsense soldiers, not our clock-watching TSA gatekeepers. These decked out fully armed men and women strode purposefully in urban warfare formation. They never stopped. They never quit looking around. They never acted friendly.
Every public place included security checkpoints. In most cases, this meant two lines; one to check your bags and another for tickets. Standing line could wear you out before you got the first glance at a historic artifact. Worse, everything was cordoned off. No more grand vistas of the Eiffel Tower. The base is surrounded by barricades and open space under the tower is the province of black and white photographs from the pre-digital age. Notre Dame is still free, but a glacial line to get through security can consume the entire forecourt. If you’re a millennial, you think this is normal. How terribly sad.


Technologist have spoiled the party as well. Everybody born after the breakup of the Beatles has a selfie stick and insists on recording every moment of their lives. It’s as if they can’t enjoy life in the moment. They must see a digital representation to believe it’s real. And they can’t just snap their picture and get on with it. They wield their selfie stick like a baton, twirl it, shove it in other people’s faces, or just endlessly hold up traffic as they preen and mug for the perfect shot to share with the world on Instagram. Everybody is a celebrity in their own mind.
In the olden days, read the distant Twentieth Century, single-purpose cameras took photographs on expensive film that took more coin to develop and print. It also cost far too much to make a copy for everyone on the planet. Tourists stood away from the object of interest, took their picture, and moved on. That meant Kodak Moments seldom disrupted your enjoyment of a world wonder. Not today. People crowd forward so they can shoot backwards while claiming an arc of free space by waving a plastic stick with all of the authority of a scepter. Digital is free, everyone has a device, and spreading copies to people you don’t know is de rigueur. Pity the poor soul who just wants to feast on an exhibit with their eyes and ears.
These inconveniences were restricted to tourist attractions. Our small hotel in a pleasant neighborhood had all the charm of the Paris we knew twenty-five years ago. We were nestled on a quiet side street, with tiny grocery stores, casual cafés, fine dining, with trendy shopping, Metro stations, and bustling Parisians just steps away.
We had a wonderful time. Actually, our first visit was thirty-five years ago. At the time, we had never been anyplace more exotic than Tijuana. On our first night, we walked out of our Left Bank hotel and wandered down the street to a restaurant. We had no idea how to order. We knew no French. The waiters knew no English. We were so naïve, we ordered entrées as our main course. We had accidentally chosen La Coupole, the most famous and historic restaurant on all of the Left Bank. The whole experience was fun as hell, and it had a lot to do with our penchant for travel ever since. We were again in Paris for our fiftieth anniversary, so we decided to celebrate our grand night at La Coupole. It was fun. The food was great. The waiters charming. And best of all, the ghosts of all those famous artists and writers joined us in celebration of our first fifty years together.
Viva la France.
P.S: I write this from New York City, not Omaha. Our flight was cancelled. My last post (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) bewailed our travel mishaps getting to New York. Evidently our travel hobgoblin has returned.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles—A Travel Memoir

                   
"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!"

My wife and I are on an extended vacation that traverses five states and a couple of countries. (Can you vacation in retirement?) We started with meeting high school friends in Carson City and then my wife’s brother in Garnerville, Nevada. Since many of the Steve Dancy novels take place in and around Carson Valley, I always enjoy visiting the area to get ideas and check up on how Jenny is doing. From there we flew to San Diego for a week of surfing and beach-style laziness.
After SoCal, we were supposed to return to Omaha for a week, but schedules got messed up, so we stayed home only overnight before flying to New York. Well, not exactly. Seems SouthWest had a computer glitch that turned every airport in the nation into serpentine lines of anxious travelers trying to figure out a new way to get from point A to point B. Due to family commitments, we had to get through this goo of snarling humanity or miss our opportunity to see all six grandkids together. Unfortunately, when we got to the front of the glacial line they told us the only available flight to New York was two days in the future. Bummer. Our son saved the day by booking us a car to drive us to Chicago for an early morning flight the next day. As we tooled along the highway in splendid exasperation, he even got all six of us flight reservationsmy wife and me, my daughter, and her three kids. Since it was seven in the evening, our driver assured us he could get us to Chicago by 3:00 AM.

After a few hours’ sleep at an airport hotel, the six of us boarded a crowded flight to JFK. As a special treat for our 50th wedding anniversary, the kids had rented a house in South Hampton. Unfortunately we arrived too late for the train or jitney, so once again we piled into a mini-van for a sluggish ride out of New York City on a Friday night.

Now things came together beautifully. We arrived in time for a late grilled dinner in the backyard. The grandkids, together again, went bonkers. They laughed and ate and played and swam and generally made us feel old. A drink took the edge off, another put us to bed.

The world looked different after a good night’s sleep. We had four days ahead of us to do nothing but try to keep up with six kids under twelve years old. We even went surfing. Crummy wind-blown waves, but it was fun having three generations in the water. I lost a bet with my grandson that I would catch the better wave, but we had only wagered an ice cream cone, so I had enough money for the rest of the trip. The experience reminded me of Warren Miller’s admonition that “you only ski better than your kids one day in your life.”


All good things must come to an end. On Tuesday evening, we took the jitney back to New York. Our travel hobgoblin had not retreated into the woodwork. After leaving the Jitney, we flagged down a cab to take us to our timeshare. (Hotel costs hampered visits to see our NYC grandkids, so a few years ago we bought into a timeshare-like arrangement.) The cab driver’s mouth dropped open when he saw all the kids and enough luggage for Duchess Kate Middleton. Then he started dancing in place and begged me to allow him to drive over to McDonalds to pee. Having been there myself, I said yes. I didn’t know McDonalds was ten blocks in the wrong direction. It was late, we were tired, and our cabbie took us on a prolonged detour (meter off, of course.) I didn’t complain because we were piled in well beyond the legal limit for a single cab.
Our next travel adventure was beyond inconvenient, it was dangerous. In Times Square we signaled for an Uber, but a pirate pretended to be our car. Dumb us, we didn’t verify the driver’s name before jumping in. Trapped in gridlock, a small gang of teenagers started banging on car hoods and then threw Pepsi on our driver’s car. He immediately jumped out yelling and took after the boys. They jeered and threatened him, so he returned to the car and I saw him pull a cheap steak knife out of the driver’s door. Oh Shit! He brandished the weapon and the boys went on to harass sane drivers. When he finally dropped us off, he delivered the coup de grâce by demanding $30 for a twenty block ride. I had already seen the knife, so I paid him sans tip and we bailed out as fast as we could.
I have a chocoholic granddaughter, but instead of venturing back to Times Square to visit the Hersey store, we decided to take a train to the mother lode of all things chocolate, Hersey, Pennsylvania. By this time you would think we had learned our lesson and stayed put. No way. Except for jostling crowds at Penn Station, comatose Amtrak employees, rude train passengers, WAY-overpriced snacks, and a first-time Uber car that ran around in circles because our driver didn’t have a clue where to find the biggest amusement park in Pennsylvania and felt looking out the window at big signs was a sign of weakness or something. The trip was as pleasant as an emergency trip to the dentist. I exaggerate … a bit. The good news is that once we arrived, everything went like clockwork and we had a great couple of days wolfing down chocolate and getting the bejesus scared out of us on rides engineered by sadists.
When we returned to New York Penn Station, I lost it with a driver who yelled at my daughter on the phone because we couldn’t find him. He kept telling her that he was parked right behind the police. I asked him to look around and tell me where he didn’t see police. He had no answer.  After our sullen journey, I over-tipped because I felt guilty for yelling at him, only to discover that my daughter also tipped him heavily to make up for her rude father.
We celebrated our 50th anniversary with the kids early because for some odd reason, school now starts in mid-August, and what we really wanted as a gift was to see all of our kids and grandkids together. On our actual anniversary, we decided to do our own private celebration in Paris. What seems like a long time ago, I ran an operation in Paris. My wife joined me on many business trips and it’s a city with a lot of memories for us. Because our schedule got shoved forward, we are now waiting in NYC for our flight to the City of Lights. After our travel experiences so far, I wonder about flying over vast amounts of very cold water.
As I write this, I am sitting quietly in my timeshare. My daughter and her family have returned to Omaha. Our other grandchildren are still on Long Island. We see little of our son in the city because he works day and night.
We are alone. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. We don’t travel again for another week.
I’m bored.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Magnificent Seven Ride Again



I was never a fan of signing cowboys. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and lesser lights were too goody two-shoes for me. I categorize heroes as wholesome, flawed, and anti-heroes. In my mind, this is not three distinct categories, but a continuum, with Roy Rogers at one end and Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men on the other.

I’m not an enthusiast for either extreme. As a youngster, I preferred Wanted Dead or Alive and Paladin to the Lone Ranger. (I admit I watched Rin Tin Tin. You can’t get more wholesome than a boy and his dog.) Steve McQueen’s Josh Randall and Richard Boone’s Paladin engaged in gray professions and rejected many societal norms. Both characters were portrayed as generally good, but conflicted people who did the right thing in the end.

In the fifties, western films mostly pitted a good guy (and frequently a sidekick) against bad guys. In 1960, The Magnificent Seven broke this mold to start a trend toward far more complex protagonists.  There were not only seven “good guys,” they were flawed to the point of tipping into the anti-hero class. The Magnificent Seven was not the first western with anti-hero protagonists, but its enormous success triggered the Hollywood trait to copy what worked in the past. One of my favorites was the 1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The complex, dark Tom Doniphon was one of John Wayne’s best roles, and James Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard certainly had reason for remorse. The Wild Bunch (1969), Silverado (1985), Young Guns (1988), and others employed crews of anti-heroes who seek redemption by righting wrongs.


The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturges led the pack. In its original theatrical release, the box office exceeded more than double the cost of the film and it has been considered a genre classic ever since. Anchored by movie star Yul Brynner, the cast included television stars and solid character actors.  Many emerged from the film as bankable Hollywood properties. The taut script moved the story capably forward with character-driven dialogue and memorable scenes. A great director, a seminal cast, and an exceptional script. That’s all you need to make a Hollywood classic.

The seven are again coming to a theater near you. Antoine Fuqua is directing a remake, due for release this fall. Will it be a hit or a miss? Remaking a box office success seems safe, but taking another turn at a classic carries its own set of risks. Most remakes fall short because the audience already has a preset image of the story and deviations can be jarring. Why would a studio invest 9 figures on a risky venture? Who cares about a new Magnificent Seven? Evidently a lot of people. As of this writing, the teaser below has nearly 7.5 million views. That number will fill a lot of multiplexes.

Will the movie be a success? Some have expressed concerns about this version’s adherence to the politically correct. That’s not my concern. From the teaser, I’m worried about too much reliance on pyrotechnics. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) that overwhelms story is the current Hollywood disease. We’ll see.

By the way, my favorite piece of trivia from the original film has to do with a little tension on the set between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. McQueen kept upstaging Brynner, so Brynner supposedly told McQueen that if he did it one more time, he would remove his hat. It must have worked because Brynner is never seen without his black hat firmly snugged down on his bald head.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Hateful Eight— Tarantino mailed it in



I like westerns and I like Quentin Tarantino films, so I had high expectation when I rented The Hateful Eight. Bummer. It's not only a crummy movie … punishment is compounded by its interminable length. Long is usually good for Tarantino, but it’s a bad sign if you ever consciously wonder when this thing will be over. The movie desperately needed editing by someone unintimidated by the grand master.

The Hateful Eight came across as a parody of a Tarantino movie instead of the genuine article. His good films are characterized by stylish cinematography, clever and incongruous banter, startling and extreme violence, and artful revelation of plot through time displacement. The Hateful Eight included all of these elements, but without charisma. It felt flat and uninspired. Tarantino dispassionately applied his formula without the artistic essentials that make it work.  Too bad. He’s tried twice to hit one out of the park with a western. Django Unchained was a ground-rule double, and he may have barely beat out an infield grounder with The Hateful Eight.

I have watched Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill films many time. I’ve also re-watched other Tarantino movies. I can’t imagine spinning up The Hateful Eight again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

1,000 Book Reviews and Counting


I read every book review. Can't help myself. I'm perverse. I even like to read bad reviews. I also keep count by book. Dumb, I know, but it's a five minute exercise I enjoy with morning coffee. Anyway, on May 31, I hit a milestone of sorts: 1,000 Amazon reviews for an average of 4.41. Pretty cool. (Actually I  have 2,304 Goodreads ratings, but those only require a simple mouse click or screen touch.)

I appreciate every reader. For the most part, I don't know them. A review or an email note gives me a feel for my audience and helps me connect with readers. Less than 1% of readers leave a text review and I'm grateful for every one. Each review helps me with my next book. Thank you.

If you like short illustrated reviews, I get a kick out of 3-Panel Book Reviews by Lisa Brown.

Lisa Brown's 3-panel Book Review  of The Metamorphosis





Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day



My father never met me. He died in WWII in the cockpit of his P-51. I wouldn't be here, except for a brief leave between flight school and his assignment to Iwo Jima. He provided escort service to the B-29s that bombed Japan daily. The flight was so long and tiresome, two pilots were assigned to each P-51 and they flew on alternate days. On the fateful day, he was actually two missions beyond the thirty required for an extended leave at home.

I don't have many pictures of him, but this one was posted to a website honoring the 506th Fighter Group. My father is the furthest out on the wing.

I'd like to wish him and all of his compatriots that helped keep us safe and free, Happy Memorial Day ... and thank you.


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.

“Westerns.”

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 cliché 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


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Celebrating a Birthday in Gardnerville, Nevada

Historic U.S. Route 395

For my birthday we ran up from San Diego to Gardnerville, Nevada. We stopped overnight in Santa Clarita to pick up friends, so it feels like a party. It’s a beautiful drive up U.S. Route 395. High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart was filmed in Lone Pine, Charles Manson was jailed in Independence, Bishop lays claim to the oldest rodeo in the country, Mammoth remains my favorite ski resort, Lee Vining is named after a saloon patron who shot himself in the most private of parts, and Bodie makes other ghost towns appear stunted. Schat’s Bakery alone makes the long drive worthwhile. This doesn’t even mention the stunning scenery. All that open beautiful land makes you wonder why everyone huddles on top of each other in Los Angeles.



Gardnerville is in Carson Valley, south of Carson City. The whole region feels peaceful. Homes are spread out, friendly people abound, traffic moves swiftly on the single thoroughfare, and majestic mountains loom in every direction. It’s a great place to live or visit.

Except … I can’t believe the amount of mayhem I’ve invented in these precincts.

Several Steve Dancy Tales take place in Carson City and Virginia City. Whenever I visit, I’m reminded that I wrote about another time. The Carson Valley of today seems quiet and subdued, but when Mark Twain wandered these environs, the region could truly be called the Wild West.


If you want to experience the history of this region, Roughing It by Mark Twain and An Editor on the Comstock Lode by Wells Drury provide first-hand accounts of Virginia City in its heyday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Childhood Trauma Stays With You for Life

Me striking a Steve Dancy pose.


Recently I changed my Facebook profile picture to me as a youngster dressed up in my new chaps. The picture reminded me of a traumatic experience inflicted on me by my mother. This same summer, a man knocked on the door offering to take my picture on his pony. Directly behind him stood a real horse. A real horse. I couldn’t believe it. Despite my begging, my mother would have nothing to do with it. I have no recollection of how much he charged, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple dollars. I was crestfallen.

I ran to my room to pout, but then I saw my six-shooter in a holster with enough genuine silver studs to make Roy Rogers jealous. I had an idea. In a jiffy, I was dressed in chaps with my shiny guns hanging from my skinny waist. Running down the block I caught up with the man and his pony. My first sight was crushing. My best friend sat astride the horse looking as proud as Rin Tin Tin at the end of an episode.

Rusty had a horse and a dog!


I learned I was the lone outcast. All of my friends’ moms had popped for a picture. Despite hanging around for five more houses, the man never offered to let me sit on the pony. I was savvy enough to know he wouldn’t waste film on me because of my stingy mother, but I had hoped that if I looked the part he would at least let me sit on the horse for a bit. No such luck. I slunk home completely dejected.

I never forgot the disappointment and humiliation. One night over drinks, I told this horrifying tale to my best friend. At the end, he got up and left the room. I was puzzled about his indifference until he returned with an old photograph. It was a picture my him sitting on a pony with a gun in his hand. Darn. I had expected commiseration ... or possibly a taller tale of childhood trauma. Instead, he rubbed salt in the wound. After all these years, I was devastated once again. 

Look at that pistol. Yet he still got his picture taken.