Monday, February 23, 2015

Ski Slopes and Ghosts Galore

I just returned from a week of skiing at Heavenly overlooking Lake Tahoe. Judging by the price of lift tickets, there’s gold on them thar hills. Warren Miller used to say your knees had only so many bends, so you might as well spend them skiing. I agree, but we needed a day to rest up after racing down slope after slope to get our money’s worth, so we took a day trip to the ghost town of Bodie, California.

western fiction
Bodie, California

If you really want to feel a ghost town, I suggest you visit one in the dead of winter. We had the fortune of exploring Bodie on a clear day, with no snow on the ground, and temperatures in the mid-sixties. We had the unearthly emptiness all to ourselves. Eerie.

wild west, old west, mining history
Bodie General Store
Western ghost town
Bodie General Store

Waterman S. Body discovered gold at this remote location in 1859, but the real heyday for the  Bodie mining camp occurred in the late 1870s and early 1880s. According to the guidebook, “By 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors.’ One little girl, whose family was taking her to the remote and infamous town, wrote in her diary: ‘Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.’”

Restrooms closed for the winter,
so we had to go native

I like ghost towns, especially when allowed to explore on my own. You can learn a lot about how people lived in bygone days. Bodie has fairly intact homes, churches, a general store, school, barber’s shop, fire house, a hotel with restaurant, and saloons aplenty. The gymnasium equipment includes a punching bag, pull-up bar, weights, and other paraphernalia. One of the biggest and most impressive buildings is a miner’s union hall. All this with nary a ranger in sight ... at least not one away from the comfort of his vehicle in the parking lot.

The next day we returned to Heavenly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have this particular mountain to ourselves. Lots of people, loads of people, all zipping around unaware of the poor ghosts eager for callers just a couple of hours down the road.

My favorite ghost town is Candelaria, Nevada, the opening location for The Shopkeeper. In the book, I called the town Pickhandle Gulch, which was actually a suburb of Caldelaria.

Western fiction, action, adventure
Candelaria, Nevada
(aka Pickhandle Gulch)
bestselling western fiction
Author photo of Candelaria

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Each His Own

Some author’s dread poor reviews from readers. I like to hear what readers think and find I learn more from critical reviews. Besides, what some readers find objectionable, other readers enjoy. I never had a better example than today when I received two Amazon reviews that had exactly opposite takes on a major plot element of The Return.

Click to enlarge

Marilyn says, "Not as good the previous books in the series. Get Steve Dancy back to the West where he seems at home."

While another Amazon Customer wrote, "Enjoyed the Western theme, along with the Edison involvement. New York gangs added flavor that made this a great read."

No author can please every reader and it's career suicide to try. Don't ignore poor reviews because they can help  you become  a better writer, but keep your focus on the total weight of  all of  your reviews.  Every writer will get a few bad reviews, so take them with a grain of salt. 

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Too much information

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Speed bumps take readers out of the story.

The final throes of revising Jenny’s Revenge reminded me that too much information doesn't help a story. Nothing bores a reader more than needless explanations about trivial matters the reader can fill in for themselves. Pointless factoids, excessive description, and extraneous words make an otherwise good novel clunky and laborious. 

This old lesson has special application to my writing because I have a need to neatly tie up every little thing. My brain somehow requires an explanation for every action by every character. This is important for the main plot, but can be distracting when it comes to tributaries. In fact, some tributaries can turn the plotline into a muddy mess. I also have a habit of siring orphans. In an initial draft, I'll launch a subplot, never to return to it. Most readers may not remember the distraction, but the dead end will irritate those that do. More often than not, I find a simple solution: send the orphan to the bit bucket. 

My goal during revision is to cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Goals aren’t always achieved, so it helps to have trusted critics that will give you honest feedback. Revision is not an event, but a process that encompasses several iterations.

This is why I believe good novels are not written, they’re rewritten.