Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Godless—A Review

A character and dialogue driven western, Godless presents a traditional plot with some fresh twists, served up with an appropriate balance of action. (Godless is a Netflix original mini-series.) A good script, excellent acting, appealing filmography, and a focus on storytelling makes Godless an excellent addition to the Western film genre.

Here's a good review at Columbus Underground

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Can Tasteful Nudes Save an American Icon?

I write westerns partly because I want to preserve our frontier heritage. (I also write them for fun and profit.) Recently, I encountered someone who is preserving the Old West in a much more concrete way. Laurel McHargue and her cohorts are raising money to preserve the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, Colorado.

Listed on the National Trust for Historical Preservation, the Tabor Opera House is a unique artefact of our frontier culture.
Known as “the most perfect place for amusement between Chicago and San Francisco,” this unique and historic opera house is poised to once again become a vibrant community asset in a transitioning mining town nestled amongst Colorado’s highest peaks.
Built in 1879 in a mere 100 days by mining tycoon Horace Tabor, the opera house stage has been graced by entertainers such as Oscar Wilde, Harry Houdini, and Judy Collins.
The opera house has been minimally and seasonally operated for decades and suffers from deferred maintenance due to lack of resources. A full rehabilitation is estimated to cost up to $10 million, a hefty lift in a small mountain town of 2,600 people. The future of the building is uncertain as the National Trust and partners work to transition its ownership structure.

I have a kinship with this project because Horace Tabor has a walk-on in my book, Leadville. Further, the proof-of-life note for Captain Joseph McAllen's daughter was written on the back of a Tabor Opera House broadside.

Laurel McHargue organized the Leadville Literary League. These brainy women noodled how to raise money to preserve the most important historic building in this once-prospering mining town. In the end, they took their inspiration from the 2003 film Calendar Girls.

You can get sneak peek under the covers in this Calendar Girls Video Trailer

You can help save the Tabor Opera House by pre-ordering your 2018 historic calendar at or by contacting Laurel McHargue ( for an order form!
  They’ll be the most unique gifts you can buy for all your 2018 gift-giving needs!
All net proceeds from sales of this calendar will be donated to the Tabor OperaHouse Preservation Foundation to save and restore this beautiful 1800s Opera House

Here's an even better idea. The calendar cost is $19.95, but if you can pledge $25 to the project on Kickstarter, you'll receive a calendar as part of your pledge. For only five dollars more, you become a patron of the arts.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Excerpt from Leadville:

“Jeff, he ripped a Tabor Opera House flyer off the wall.”
“It went up yesterday and advertises Anna Held. If she writes her note on the backside, it’ll prove she’s alive as much as her pen hand.”
“She’s alive. Otherwise they wouldn’t agree to get a note from her.”
“But once they’ve given us the letter, do they have any reason to keep her alive?”

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

National Read a Book Day

Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever. Philip Pullman

One of these should do nicely.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Did McDonald's invent fast food?

I recently watched The Founder with Michael Keaton. I enjoyed the film. It’s an interesting character study and does a good job of telling the McDonald’s story. (I personally think McDonald’s has lost its way, but no worries, In and Out Burger picked up the business model and did it one better by delivering great burgers.) The story, of course, is about the invention of fast food, the bane of the calorie conscious the world over.

However, the concept of fast food reminded me of something I ran across in my research for The Shopkeeper. I wanted to make my western series different from the norm, so I focused on miners instead of cowboys and other traditional icons of the frontier. Mine workers start early in the morning, and I discovered they frequently ate biscuits standing up in a saloon.  This may be the real start of fast food. (McDonalds just slapped egg, sausage, and cheese inside the biscuit.)

Here’s how I used that tidbit of research in The Shopkeeper.
Other meals I eat for fuel, but I dawdle over breakfast—and Mary cooks a hell of a breakfast. Mary ran the restaurant across the street from my ragtag hotel. It was not a restaurant in a New York sense, but nonetheless it was the best place to eat in Pickhandle Gulch. Her small building, plank floors, and long tables were all made from unfinished lumber, but a few touches like lace curtains had softened the rough appearance. Breakfast for miners usually consisted of biscuits eaten standing up in some stale-smelling saloon. Not fancy, but quick. They needed to get to work. Mary catered to the mine owners, town merchants, and people like myself, who had the time and money to eat a slow, hearty breakfast.
As I entered her tidy café, the aroma pulled the trigger on my appetite. I took my usual seat at a table by the window, and Mary sauntered over with a cup of black coffee that suspended its own little cloud of steam above the rim.
“What’ll ya have today, Mr. Dancy?”
“Everything it is—over easy, crispy, and soaked in grease.”
“You got it,” I said.

Risk taker, Rule Breaker, Game Changer

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Get Connected to Bookbub

Bookbub is a free service that notifies you when books go on sale. Free to readers, that is. When authors run a discounted promotion, Bookbub sends you an electronic notification. When you sign up, you specify your reading taste and your notifications will only includes genres you have requested. Bookbub notifications include traditionally and indie published books.

Bookbub is the gorilla of book promotions. It maintains this status through rigorous quality control, reader-friendly communication, and continuous culling of their list. You can sign up here. I have a author page at Bookbub, and when you follow me here, you'll get a note whenever any of my books go on sale.

Thank you for following me on Bookbub.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Center Point Has Published Crossing the Animas in Large Print

Center Point will publish a hard bound, large print version of Crossing the Animas, A Steve Dancy Tale. They’re a great group of people, so I signed the contract immediately. 

I’m thrilled that Center Point will have published all six of the Steve Dancy novels. It also pleases me that the first five books earned past their advances. That probably explains why Center Point bought the large print rights to Crossing the Animas. That’s a compliment I feel really good about.

Look for Crossing the Animas in your local library. Trade paperback and ebook formats are also available.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Monday, August 7, 2017

no rules, no fences, no referees

Recently I tweeted an article I wrote about the Old West. Many people have weighed in on what the American frontier was really about. I think many miss a key point which, at least in a literary sense, ties Westerns, Science Fiction, and Fantasy together.

Here's one paragraph from my article, “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 travail 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.” 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Now what?

I've written ten books and contributed to another five. Millions of words, all typed with two fingers. I would have learned to touch type, but I don't think that fast. When I finished the sixth Steve Dancy Tale, I wanted a break, not from writing, but from Steve. Now, I writing a sequel to The Shut Mouth Society. Actually, it's not a sequel, it just uses the same characters. The title is Deluge, and it's a disaster story. I'll vent all my frustrations in relentless waves of destruction and mayhem so I can return to Steve fresh as a huckleberry.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Western Fiction Review reviews Wanted II

New review of Wanted II by the Western Fiction Review. This is a U.K. based website and it's great to get some overseas exposure.
You don’t need to have read any of the previous tales to enjoy any of the stories found here, but you may well find yourself rushing out to read more about some, or all, of them.
Here you will find stories that range from the traditional approach to western storytelling to one that borders on the mystical. There is plenty of action, some shocks, animal stars, and humour to be found in these fast moving tales, so there should be something to satisfy every western reader.
The Western Writer's Group is back, bringing you brand new,
original stories from characters you love. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Story arcs drive the popularity of TV series. Can it do the same for a book series?

In novels, a story arc usually refers to rhythm of a story from introduction, to big trouble, to resolution. Basically, the rise and fall of tension and emotion in a story. In most novels, this story arc is self-contained in a single book. Not so, for television.

How does a story arc work different for television? defines it as "a continuing storyline in a television series that gradually unfolds over several episodes." I would add "or seasons." Think about the hunt for Red John in the Mentalist, or the quest for the throne in Game of Thrones, or the feud between Deputy Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder in Justified. In television, a good story arc threads it's way through multiple episodes that tell self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end. 

Despite the pervasiveness of the term, everything carried along from one episode to another is not a story arc. "Space: the final frontier" from Star Trek is setting, not story arc. The solution of the crime in Bosch takes an entire season, but this television program is more akin to what we used to call a mini-series. Same for the old television program 24. These are dramatizations of a novel or single story over many episodes. A true story arc involves an embedded, larger mystery in a series of smaller stories. Without closure to this grand mystery, the series is hard to put aside. It's also important that a story arc can be resolved. In fact, it is the promise of resolution that draws in the audience week after week. They want the answer to this puzzle. 

So, can the television style of a story arc help pull along readers of a book series? I'm not an expert, but J. K. Rowling is. Each Harry Potter included a self-contained story, along with the gradual reveal of the Lord Voldemort mystery. Handled deftly, a long running story arc can pull readers through the entire series. The problem is you can't string along readers forever. Readers feel they are owed resolution. The trick is to present this resolution in a manner that is not the death knell of the story.

Crossing the Animas resolves the series-long story arc of the Steve Dancy Tales. It's yet to be seen if I did it in a manner that allows me to reboot the series with a wholly new story arc.

I bet I did. Just wait. See where the story goes next.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Evolution of a Big Diehl Book Cover

Book covers are a big deal. People really do judge a book by its cover. The Steve Dancy Tales always use black and white photos with only my name in color. For those who follow this blog, you already know my son designs my covers. (I joke that I'm getting his pricy art school tuition back one book cover at a time. In truth, his billing rate to real clients makes me embarrassed to ask him to do yet another cover.)

For Crossing the Animas we picked a great photo by William Diehl. Admittedly, this is a modern photograph, but the subject matter is vintage. Here is the original photo and resulting cover side by side. It may look simple, but there's craft in the cropping and lettering.

railroads photography

We didn't just select this photo on a whim. Here are some of the concepts covers we considered.


The construction of Denver & Rio Grande line between Durango & Silverton plays a key role in the story, and Diehl's iconic photograph fit the plot perfectly.

If you like trains, the Old West, or just great photography, visit the William Diehl website. Here are a couple more samples of his art.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crossing the Animas

The trade paperback edition of Crossing the Animas is now available. You can buy it at Amazon here.

You might be surprised by the plot. Steve gets into trouble once again. McAllen builds a horse ranch, Sharp finds a long-lost love, and Steve and Virginia plan a wedding. Bad guys aplenty want to disrupt all of their plans. Wonder how it will work out.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Crossing the Animas, A Steve Dancy Tale

Crossing the Animas is available for the Kindle. The print format will along shortly. Center Point plans to publish the large print library edition early in 2018. No contract has been established for an audio version, but I'm sure that will come along later this year.

“Ben Law is tough… and mean. He enjoys taking care of problems for his boss. He won’t just verbally assault you. He and his men will hurt you. Bad.”
Steve Dancy is about to find this out. With his new home in Durango, Colorado, the kind with a nice white picket fence, and marriage on the horizon, the last thing Dancy wants is trouble.  Especially with a mining tycoon and his henchmen. But this is the frontier … and sometimes a feud finds you. Sometimes, it even chases you. When the quarrel endangers Dancy’s fiancée and friends, he has no choice but to fight.
And this is a fight Dancy must win.

P.S. Evidently Crossing the Animas is so new that searches may not turn it up. You can go directly to the product page here.

Wanted II, a collection of seven western short stories, is now available for Kindles. The paperback version will be along shortly. Try six western authors for only $2.99. You'll discover I have good company on these pages.

Don't forget about the recent release of the audio version of Jenny's Revenge. Even if you already read it, listening can double the pleasure.

I'm also writing three essays this year for Constituting America. This is a great site about the founding of our country. My first essay on Home Building & Loan v. Blaisdell (1934) has been published here. I'll let you know when the other two become available. Both are due by May 1, which looks pretty close. As the famed author, Douglas Adams said, "I love deadlines. I love the whoosing sound they make as they go by."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A New Steve Dancy Short Story

Wanted II is now available for pre-order at Amazon. Again, the book includes a Steve Dancy short story. This was a fun one for me. Steve is traveling by horseback from San Diego to Los Angeles when he's attacked by highwaymen. Grab a copy. At $2.99, the ebook is a great bargain with short stories by some of the best western writers of our day. Present company included, of course.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jenny's Revenge in Audio

Jenny's Revenge is now available in print, ebook, large print, and audio formats.

Joe Formichella reads Jenny's Revenge. Joe is a seasoned author, editor, and audio performance professional. Check out the audio sample below. He's a Hackney Literary Award Winner and Pushcart Prize nominee.

Honest Westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Jenny Bolton has plans, and they don't bode well for Steve Dancy.

Married at 15 to a Nevada politician, Jenny suffered repeated assaults, witnessed her husband's ghastly murder, buried her mother-in-law, and killed a man. Dancy, who had once served as her paladin, rejected her without as much as a goodbye. Abandoned on a raw frontier, she's single-handedly building an empire that spans the state. Despite her triumphs, she feels she never should have been left alone.

Soon to marry, Steve is eager to begin a new life, unaware that Jenny is mad for revenge.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Returning to the Heartland

Winter in Pacific Beach
Winter in Nebraska

We spend the winters in San Diego. When we called Arizona home, San Diego served as our summer retreat. (There are only two seasons in Arizona, winter and hell.) Now our legal residence is Omaha, Nebraska. To escape snow, we switched to using our condo mostly in the winter, except part of our itinerary is traveling to Nevada in search of snow at Heavenly. Life’s confusing.

We discovered we prefer San Diego in the winter. No summer crowds at the beach, breakfast seating at cafés is less than forty-five minutes, and you can go to a movie without standing in line. In truth, the weather’s better as well. In the winter, you don’t need air conditioning, which is convenient because we don’t have air conditioning. We just open a slider and let the sea breeze in.

Since Christmas, I surfed regularly, got a little snow skiing in, saw a lot of my family, and took many looong walks around my neighborhood. I had to take these walks because Pacific Beach has too many great places to eat, and I don’t want to look like the Michelin Man.

It’s time to go home. We miss the grandkids and we want to enjoy spring in Nebraska. We had some fun, but this has not been one of our better sojourns to San Diego due to some tough personal issues. Despite difficulties and distractions, I still got some writing done.

A lot of stuff is coming. Soon. I promise.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

WSJ Editorializes on Hollywood Malaise

Rod Pennington writes that "Sunday's Oscars ceremony takes place during one of the gloomiest times for the film industry in recent memory." With ticket sales trending down, Pennington has some specific advice.
The solution to today's film malaise is simple: better storytelling. Studio executives seem to have forgotten the basic rules preached by the late mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, and his model of "Reluctant Hero." Over four decades this formula has dominated blockbusters: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, among many others, are ordinary people reluctantly thrust into extraordinary situations. Elaborate car chases and stunning special effects are fine, but audiences still want someone they can root for.
Since this advice echoes my previous posts, I have no choice but to declare Pennington a genius.

With home theaters a norm, Hollywood believes that to get people off their couches and into movie theater seats, they must blow things up, speed around corners, kill multitudes in gruesome detail, overly edit action scenes, and lay down an ear-splitting sound track. Nowadays, the story is so secondary that the sound track routinely overpowers characters speaking to each other. Screenwriters who understand dialogue write for cable, where they're allowed to strut their stuff. Today's movies are empty calories loaded to the gills with noise and eye candy. Can Hollywood once again learn to walk and chew gum at the same time? I believe so, but only when the story becomes paramount and all the rest is viewed as the delivery system.

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!" Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Crossing the Animas back from Editor

A few days ago, my editor sent me the edited version of Crossing the Animas and related files. I'm anxious to reviewed her revisions, but I have some personal issues which require me to be in northern California.

Here is the remaining process to publication. Next, I go through every revision, one at a time. I do this to approve the change and improve my writing skill. After I have a clean edited manuscript, the book goes to my ebook formatter. He makes sure the book looks good on various ereaders. My proofreader gets at crack at the book next.

In the past, I published the print and ebook versions simultaneously. The world has changed. Now, more than 90% of my sales are electronic versions of the book. (Excluding library large print sales) So the ebook versions will be published without waiting for the longer print book process.

All of this means that the ebook version of Crossing the Animas should be available before the end of March. The print version will follow about sixty days later.

I hope you enjoy it.

Rough Cover Option

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy New Year!

The first eight days of 2017 have already slipped away. I've been distracted by family and fun. It seems the only way to slow down time is to stayed bored. That's not going to happen.

After Christmas, we have made our winter trek to San Diego to avoid the worst of an Omaha winter. Ran right into Southern California cold, rain, and tiny surf. (Yesterday was perfect weather, but it lasted exactly 24-hours.) The small waves didn't bother me because as I grow older, waist-high surf has become my friend.

Today, Crossing The Animas achieved another milestone. My editor broke free of her backlog and starts work this week on my already perfect manuscript. (I always believe that until my book comes back bleeding red ink from every pore.) Prior to sending a manuscript to my editor, I have the book read by a few trusted readers. Thank you all for your sound advise and for saving me untold embarrassment.

Last year I agreed to participate in a short story anthology. I had never written a Steve Dancy short story and I didn't know how I would like the abbreviated format. I loved it. I deviated from my standard form and wrote "Snake in the Grass" from Joseph McAllen's point of view. It put my characters in a different light and gave me a fresh perspective on their motivations. Fun project. Wanted: A Western Story Selection has also been successful, so we have agreed to put together another set of short stories with the creative title of Wanted II. Look for it later this year.

I have again agreed to write essays for Constituting America's annual 90-Day Studies. This year's project will be about important Supreme Court cases. Nothing controversial there, I'm sure. I'll let you know when each of mine is published, but don't wait for me. Cathy Gillespie and Janine Turner do an exceptional job of pulling together bright minds to illuminate the Constitution, especially for the young people in our country.

Anyway, going to be a busy year. Guess I'll have to wait to slow down time.