Thursday, January 31, 2013

Left Handed Poems-Billy The Kid

Philip Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian novelist and poet born in Sri Lanka, whose novel, “The English Patient,” was made into an Academy Award winning movie, may not be well known to readers of westerns. May not be known at all to most of us who spend our time in the old west, but he does have one fun and readable and very different western work.

In 1970 he published his collection of prose and poetry,”The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-handed Poems.” After reading a study diet of westerns and modern mysteries this is a refreshing read.

Short enough, at just over 100 pages, to be read in a few short hours, this book is well worth it. At first look it might seem a bit disjointed, and it does jump around some, from poetry, to prose then photos, but what fun. Ondaatje has a wonderful command of the language, and for this ol’ western boy, it is downright pretty.

The book follows the adventures or misadventures of Billy the Kid and the rather shady characters he hangs out with, friends, lawmen, women, cohorts in crime and others. His has the ability to paint some unbelievable pictures with his words, making me reread several pages.

This one is fun-the guy can really write.  



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is Little Big Man the greatest western novel/story ever?

Written by Thomas Berger,”Little Big Man,” is believed by many critics to be the greatest of all western novels. The protagonist and also the narrator, the 111-year old Jack Crabb, tells his life story to Ralph Fielding Snell, who decides that Crabb “was either the most neglected hero in the history of this country or a liar of insane proportions.”

Having been kidnapped by Indians as a boy and spending his entire life moving back and forth between the two cultures, Jack meets nearly every famous character of the Old West, from Wyatt Earp to Wild Bill Hickok (whose murder in Deadwood Jack witnesses) to Sitting Bull and Custer. In the end, Jack becomes the only survivor of the battle of the “Little Big Horn.”

True or not, this is a wonderful western story – a must read.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Westerner, The Virginian and Good vs. Evil

In Robert Warshow famous essay, “The Westerner,” he talks about the classic genre western. Warshow says it is, “always around 1870 and the hero is the last gentleman.” That was so true of the old style one dimensional western, and I liked and read a lot of them. They are still popular enough to remain in print today and provide a living or part of a living for many western writers.

Warshow goes on to say that, “The Westerner comes into the field of serious art only when his moral code, without ceasing to be compelling, is seen also to be imperfect.” This really brings to mind the first of the great moral dilemma westerns, one that in fact came out before the rubber stamped Hollywood versions of the old west. The book and movie was the, “Virginian,” a story where the protagonist must decide what to do when it is all about bringing the bad guy to justice and the bad guy is an old friend.

Take a look at what you are reading—is it an old time good vs. evil, Hollywood story, or is it more compelling, with the hero chasing not only bad guys but maybe a few inner demons as well?

 Warshow also compared the western to the gangster movies of his generation (the 40s and 50s) and one could do that today comparing recent western movies to new gangster genre movies and Television series.

“The gangster's world is less open, and his arts not so easily identifiable as the Westerner's. Perhaps he too can keep his counten...ance, but the mask he wears is really no mask: its purpose is precisely to make evident the fact that he desperately wants to "get ahead" and will stop at nothing. Where the Westerner imposes himself by the appearance of unshakable control, the gangster's pre-eminence lies in the suggestion that he may at any moment lose control; his strength is not in being able to shoot faster or straighter than others, but in being more willing to shoot. "Do it first," say Scarface expounding his mode of operation, "and keep on doing it!" With the Westerner, it is a crucial point of honor not to "do it first"; his gun remains in his holster until the moment of combat.”*

Friday, January 25, 2013

To Write or Not to Write – Is that Today’s Question

With profound apologies to the Bard for the above abuse of his prose, some days it is really difficult to write. I consider myself to one of modest output.  Over the past 12 years I have written about 2,000 pages of finished material.

To a non-writer that may seem to be prolific, but to those of us who try to write every day it is not much.

 Setting here pounding away on my laptop I thought it might be fun to see what I have accomplished –so, let’s see.

·       2 Novels complete - I will continue editing for ever

·       2 Novels incomplete - each in the 20 to 30 thousand range, one a mystery I can’t figure out who did it, so can’t go on

·       Short Stories - Ah, better here-five collections with four to 10 stories in each

·       Nonfiction History - One incomplete manuscript of around 60,000 words (The stuff in one of my other blogs, Wyoming Fact and Fiction, is all taken from this work)

·       Nonfiction Humor - One nearly complete manuscript, working title, “How to Lose It All In Your Very Own Small Business – Lessons from someone who knows”

·       Trash Can – Thousands of pieces of crap I could not stand
And in the end—it’s all worth it.

I write because I enjoy it, and every once in a while I write something I think is good enough to publish, that part I do not care for.

I have published both traditionally (newspapers, travel journals and guides) and online and still find writing enjoyable and attempts to publish deplorable.

Think I will set down and try to write something.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Has the Western Novel Been Gut Shot ?

I read a lot of western fiction and also write a fair amount. (See the post from my new novel-my last post). Western fiction, like all fiction has several reoccurring themes that define most stories. Below is my short list of themes that make good westerns

·        Surviving on an unsettled frontier - man vs. the environment, nature and other settlers

·        Gold, silver and/or the mysterious lost mine – or who owns it, claim jumpers

·        Gunfighter comes to town – who is he after?

·        Settlers trying to create law in a new and lawless area

·        Conflict between native Indians with - settlers, the Calvary, outlaws, gunrunners

·        The chase - catching the bad guys

·        Land grabbers and squatters.

·        Eastern dude swindling the poor townsfolk

·        Bad guys vs. the lawmen - bank, train and stagecoach robbers and  stock rustlers

·        Many western novels focused on regular people being forced to rise up and fight the treacherous outlaws

·        Internal conflict - man vs. himself, concurring real or imagined problems (my favorite)

Book sales tell us that western fiction has been in gradual decline since the early 1980s, after being popular for more than a century. For many years it was one of the most popular genres, but that is no longer the case. Seems to me that a few more good western novels are coming out again and some fine western movies are still making it at the box office.

Not sure the Western Novel will ever die but do believe it was gut shot there for a while. Thanks to the healing work of the old country doctor and the beautiful but naiveté homestead girl (just thought of another theme there-sorry) looks like it will make it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How To Write a Western Novel

So how did I do it, how did I write a book? I have now done it, twice, glad you asked.

-My version of how to write a book-

1.      After you get the idea – start writing (a lot of people say they want to write a book, ask them what page they are on and the usual answer is, “I haven’t started yet.”)

2.      Write the first page (see number one above)

3.      Write the last page

4.      Fill in the blanks between numbers 2 and 3

Old joke but it still applies, something else that applies – write for yourself, don’t believe you will make a bunch of money as a writer. Think back to when you were a little kid, most of us wanted to be baseball or football players, ballerinas or movie stars, probably did not happen. Write if it makes you happy not because you hope to get rich.

If you happen to turn into the next Steven King or J.K. Rowling—GREAT—but don’t count on it.


Page 1 of my Novel follows.  I have yet to do anything with it, other than to use a hard copy to pat myself on the back for finishing.

  Enjoy! This will be your only peak.


A Blade Holmes Novel

"Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter One

The young cowboy had but one wish, he wanted to live, he could think of nothing else.  And then he did. He thought forcing Deputy Sherriff Blade Holmes to draw was likely the worst decision he’d ever made. The cowpoke felt the cold from the barrel of the Colt pressed under his chin by Deputy Holmes, he shivered, but not from the cold.

The young cowboy, blood starting to seep through his shirt at the shoulder, seemed to tilt slightly backward. Afraid to take a much needed big breath, his eyes bulged, his face becoming an artist’s pallet of changing colors, from bright red to a hopeless blue-grey. Still conscious, he slumped against the bar fighting to stay upright. With the help of the bar he was motionless except for the, ever so slight, in and out of his chest. His feeble breaths moved him so little that to the untrained eye he appeared more a poorly constructed cowboy manikin than a man under arrest. Didn’t have many years on him, but enough to know it was best not to move, not even to fall to the floor.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Novel Complete and Will Rogers Too

My novel is complete (83,000+ words). I have finished my rewrites and now must decide if I want it edited professionally and how to find an editor if I go that route. I believe every writer should, but it can be cost prohibitive.

Also time for a query letter-could take awhile to finish it the way I want.

And some Friday fun-

ü Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

ü  Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco.

ü  Always drink upstream from the herd.

ü  There are two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither one works.

ü  If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there

ü  Never miss a good chance to shut up.

-Will Rogers-

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Re-write and Re-check - Again and Again

Well, I made it. Re-write, second time through, is complete. Now I will spend some time finding those pesky words, you know the words that are used too often. I check a rather small list but one I believe is pretty effective. Here is the list

ü That –This may be one of the most over used words in all of noveldom (made up that word but I like it)  Example – He checked to make sure that the ropes were tight – BETTER – He checked to make sure the ropes were tight.

ü Stuff-Used more by young people, I did a find on my 84,000 word novel and used it seven times-that’s OK

ü Things

ü Got

ü Was

ü Went

ü Very-Another word that is often overused to the extreme-Mark Twain said to cross out the word very every time it is used and substitute damn, guess what, it works!

ü Are-

ü Good-

ü When-

ü As-

ü And, of course, I will do a “ly” check; these pesky adverbs are easy to over use.

On this same note many authors do not write in first person because it is so easy to start every paragraph or almost every sentence with I.

 One of my works in progress is a written in first person Mystery, ran an “I” check and decided to put it away for awhile. It’s hard.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Pemmican, Jerky or Dried Beef

What did cowboys call it? Most modern western tails have a cowboy, the army or an Indian chewing on jerky somewhere in the story. But did they really call it jerky?

I have only been looking for a few days but can’t find a western tail written before the 1950s or maybe the 60s that mentioned jerky. If you look at supply lists for the Oregon Trail or cattle drives they list many foods, but no jerky. (Lots of salt pork, bacon, beans and even canned tomatoes and peaches)
 I found many references to the word jerky coming from the Spanish word, Charqui, which was corrupted to jerky, sounds plausible, but I have also found mountain man tails where they referred to all dried meat as pemmican, even though it did not fit the American Indian idea or recipe of pemmican.

I have published several short stories/historical pieces over the years and have a just completed (unpublished) novel. Now believe I may have made an historical error by calling dried meat, jerky.  Just wondering—any thoughts?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fort Laramie the Oregon Trail and The Big Re-write

Re-write on my novel is almost complete-I can see the end from here. I will let you know when I have finished. For those that have been with me for a long time, I finished this novel seven years ago and put it away. I did not want the pressure of trying to publish; now with opportunities for self publishing and e-books, maybe I will try again. Need to- I have another novel complete and a non-fiction (mostly) Wyoming History Book 80% complete and two other novels of 25,000 plus words in the works.

Today I am doing some more reading on Fort Laramie (15 miles away) while thinking about another novel or part of one, set there. I ran across the following and thought it interesting.

Fort Laramie, beloved in western legend and story may not have been quite so popular in its day. Francis Parkman in his wonderful book, The Oregon Trail, described his visit to the famous fort in 1846. This year was specific as 1846 was the year the fort went from a private concern (one of the trading-posts established by the American Fur Company) to a government owned fort with the purpose of protecting travelers along the trail and protecting settlers, if any, in and around the fort.

Parkman described the fort itself, the buildings within and even spent quite a few words talking about building materials, roofs and windows. But what I found most interesting was the following. “Prices are most extortionate: sugar, two dollars a cup; five-cent tobacco at a dollar and a half; bullets at seventy-five cents a pound. The company is exceedingly disliked in this country.”

Travelers along the trail often needed to re-supply by the time they got to the fort—hope they had a lot of money with them as prices were much more than they were expecting.

Anything to make a buck!



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jim Bridger-Rewrites and Other Stuff

Jim Bridger Architect

Over the years I have written numerous short stories about mountain men, one of my favorite subjects, Jim Bridger has always been a favorite of mine. Sometimes he is forgotten for some of real impact he had on Wyoming and the west.

 In 1862, President Lincoln signed a bill that created the Union Pacific Railway Company. General Dodge and other government officials were unsure of which route through Wyoming would be the best, follow the Oregon Trail or take a more southern route. So they called in America’s foremost authority on the Rocky Mountains, Jim Bridger. Word was sent to Bridger in St. Louis that he was needed in Denver on important business.

When Bridger arrived in Denver, the engineers showed him their plans and asked the old mountain man where the best place to cross the mountains might be. Bridger asked for a piece of paper, grabbed a charcoal burned stick out of the fire and preceded to draw a map of the Rockies in Colorado and Wyoming. Never one to miss a chance to take a job at government officials, Bridger told them they should have saved their money, he could have drawn the map in St. Louis, but he was secretly grateful for this one last chance to visit his beloved Rockies.

On that little sheet of paper Bridger drew the exact rout that the transcontinental railroad followed across the state of Wyoming. The railroad still follows that same route today, through the rugged pass between Cheyenne and Laramie. Later Interstate 80 paralleled the transcontinental railroad across Wyoming. Making ol’ Gabe (Jim Bridger) not only a mountain man but a builder of railroads and interstates, Bridger may have never learned to read and write but he was one fine map maker and architect.


In another area I am 2/3 through with my final review/rewrite of my novel, currently titled, Commitment, hope to have it placed with an agent or published by summer. Originally I had hoped to try it as a Black Horse Western but at nearly 85,000 words I will need to look elsewhere.

For those who have followed this blog since the old days at AOL-yes then I will attempt final rewrites on my other novel. The Mystery at Hell’s Half Acre.


Monday, January 7, 2013

The Buntline Special

Ned Buntline the great Dime Novelist led a most unusual life. He fought in the second Seminole war, was hanged (must have been a bad knot as he was cut down before he choked to death). Wild Bill Hickok once gave him 24 hours to get out of town and he had Colt make him his own gun, a modified 1873 Single action revolver. The gun had a long (12 inch) barrel and a detachable walnut stock. The stock could be quickly attached turning the long barreled hand gun into a short barrel rifle. Thus inventing the –Buntline Special, several famous old west lawmen reportedly had one, but if they did history does not mention it (or at least I could not find anything). As much of a self supporter as Buntline was, if anyone famous owned one, it is likely because Ol’ Ned himself sent them one.

None of the supposed five Buntline Specials have ever been found and historians now believe that Stuart N. Lake who wrote the biography of Wyatt Earp (Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, published in 1931) may have invented the gun for his book. The legend of the gun became so famous that Colt in the 1950s and again in the 1970s made some Buntline specials (none of the alleged five originals have ever been found).

Friday, January 4, 2013

And the Dead Guy Takes two

 Doing lots of research and even a little bit of writing and editing with the cold weather now set in for a spell.  Odd how I seem to have so much time to set at my computer now that the garden and the golf greens have froze up for the year.

I have been toying with writing a short story about this incident for years but settled on the following, magazine type story—hope you enjoy.

-And The Dead Guy Takes Two-

In the last half of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth Hartville, Wyoming was a wide open cowboy and miner town. Main Street boosted several bars, gambling houses and even a few upstairs of ill-repute businesses.

In the spring of 1902 a man only know as, the White Swede, came to town intent on a little drinking and gambling. He drank some, partied some, and died. Not a very good story, not until he was dead anyway.

The town of Hartville had no undertakers and no one seemed willing to make the five mile trip over iffy roads to Guernsey to see if an undertaker could be coerced into making a dangerous five mile trip under pitch dark skies. Because the Swede had no known family, and no close friends, the small group in the bar where the heart attack, or some other natural cause took him, decided to wait for morning and then do something about a burial for the poor guy.

The body was moved, out of respect for the dead, to a more suitable room away from the hustle and bustle of Main Street. Two cowboys and a copper miner volunteered to watch the body until morning and helped carry the old Swede to a room a block away from the main action of the town. It didn’t take long for the three helpers to get bored. And what better way to pass the time than to play some cards, poker to be precise. The three started a lively game but it didn’t seem quite right without a fourth. So they propped up the old Swede, put a cigar in his mouth, poured him a shot, sat the bottle near his right hand and dealt him in.

After each deal they put the Swede’s cards in his ever stiffening hand and took turns betting and playing cards for him each time his turn came up. The foursome played through the night with visitors often stopping by to see how this most unusual game was going.

The next day the Swede was buried and the undertaker was paid from the Swedes all night poker winnings. He didn’t clean his playing partners out, but he came close.

*When I first moved to this area, 80 years after the White Swede was laid to rest, the old timers were still telling this most unusual story. To add either more fact or fiction to this story, they mentioned, the White Swede had dark hair, was short and rotund and looked nothing at all like a Swede.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I'll Try Again Next Year

Jan 1, 2013 – Going on official record – “I love the New Year and I love New Year’s Resolutions.”

6:00 a.m. - Eight hours of sleep, healthy, balanced breakfast, went for a walk, did my stretching and lifting workout, spent some hobby time, did some putting away and picking up in my workshop.

8:00 a.m. - New Years are great-reinvigorating, life anew

9:00 a.m. - Feel like I need a nap, have a bit of an upset stomach, my shoulders, hips and feet ache.

10:00 a.m. – Doing much better now, reclining on the couch, watching first of many New Year’s Day Bowl Games, still resting after my workout, and dreaming about the next year.

11:00 a.m. - Very soar, dull pain starting on top of my head and ending on the bottom of my feet, not feeling well at all, will take a handful of pain killers and continue resting on couch.

I really do not like New Year’s—except for the Football

Noon – Drinking soda, eating chips and peanuts, still resting on couch, feeling some better, game has reached halftime, watching shootout on the Western Channel until second half starts.

“Maybe Next Year, never have liked New Years stuff, too much hype, just another day for this ol’ cowboy”

-Happy New Year-