Monday, December 28, 2015

Reflections on the Year

I have been retired (from a 42 year teaching/coaching career) for nearly four years, some days I like it and some I do not.  Friends tell me that I am not completely retired as I do spend some days working, so maybe I am but semi-retired. I worked as a substitute teacher about 40 days last year, did a half dozen speaking engagements and made a few hundred dollars from my books. Not sure all that adds up to a real job, but I do keep busy when I want. In a few weeks, I will have another birthday, this one will put me two years from 70 and I am not sure how I feel about that. With every year, my golf game gets a bit worse, and my passion for hiking gets harder to do. But, I continue to enjoy both.
Hikking in the park - Marsh Mountain Trail
I have quite a few days when my writing passion keeps me going. Some days I get carried away with research for my new nonfiction book and some days I write for many hours. I am well into and have plans to put out a new western/mystery book, a nonfiction book, a historical fiction novella and a nonfiction, growing up book this year. I may also revisit a humor-nonfiction book I started nearly a decade ago. Lofty goals, but attainable, I hope.
At our age, my wife and I celebrated our 47th-anniversary last week, we have become much more appreciative of old friends and family. Wonderful to have them around and great to keep in touch.

So what are our other plans for this year? Two trips, other than our usual trips back to our hometown. We are soon, late March, heading to the four corners area to take a look around. Next fall we will, once again, go to Louisiana, Texas area to enjoy some family and warm weather as ours starts to cool.  In between, a trip north this summer, Canada, maybe.
Entry area to Guernsey State Park with the lights of our little town a mile away
I also took about 6,000 photos this year, about the same as last year.
One of my favorite photos of the year - Late fall in Wyoming mountains

Happy New Year and Thanks for Reading!
Fun in the back yard

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On Writing Well and the Big Edit

Every two or three years, I pick up my copy of, On Writing Well, and read parts of it once again. As far as a writing book, this one is about as good as it gets. It is a book about writing nonfiction, the place where I started, but fiction writers could learn much from this book as well.
I have the 25th Anniversary Edition and it is 15 years old. The book has stood the test of time and for a good reason – it works. One of the reasons I like it is what others hate about the book, it is dated. Author William Zinsser often goes off course and writes about his favorite liberal politicians. I think that makes it fun, not everyone shares my view. But the advice to writers is still usable, solid advice.

On the first page, of his chapter on style he says, “Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess . . . . . . . has crept into their style.” That thought will keep a writer working hard on every paragraph.

I think of that quote often and try to cut out, always remembering what Elmore Leonard said in his famous, Ten Golden Rules of Writing, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Why all of this today, because I am editing? It is a chore I don’t always like, but it needs to be done. This particular book has been fun. For once I took the advice of all the writers who keep telling others to put it away for a while. Well, I did, about six years. So long I didn’t remember some parts and that makes it fun. I got so excited in some places that I dashed down the hallway, interrupted my wife in the sewing room, saying, “Listen to this, this is really good.”
Click on the books to go to my Amazon Author's page

Not sure yet if it is all that good, but I do believe these parts will not become the parts that readers will skip.

Note – Still a couple of days left and my Christmas shopping is finished. Might be a record for me. The good times are here. One of our college student grandkids visited over the weekend and now we have three of the younger set here, 11, 8 and 6 and will get to have them around for several days. I write this as grandma gets them in and out of shower or bath. I did supper, pancakes, hash browns and sausage – it was a hit. 
Grandkids in Summer and Back Again for Christmas - Great Times

Friday, December 18, 2015

Family Time

This time, of the year I put most of my writing away. Time for family and fun. I might get a bit of writing in but won’t try to schedule anything specific. Seemed like I have slowed down some lately anyway, might be the winter time blues. (Caused by not enough time on the golf course)  No, I haven’t quit, just smacked into a few obstacles.

I did get a chance this week to talk history with some school kids. This is something I always enjoy after spending 42 years at the front of the class.
Talking to Elementary Kids about the Mountain Men
First I am trying to get a decent copy, in a word, of my Civilian Conservation Corps book on Guernsey State Park. I am going to send it for editing to see if I can get a better digital book. The soft cover is fine, but the digital book moves photos and captions around and adds in white space. It still is in order and reads all right, but does not look very good. The problem?  I messed up my word files so much trying to fix it that I no longer have a good copy to send for editing. So here I am, fixing a copy, three hours so far and half way through – never fear, I will get there. #1 Reason why a professional editor is good.
Talking with High Schoolers about the CCC
I am also trying to finish up a new novel, my sixth book, tentatively titled – Ghost of the Fawn, and subtitled- A Wyoming Mystery. It is a good full day or two of work before it will go off for editing.

Setting for and possible cover photo for my new novel
The final project I am working on is still in the research phase, my book, as yet not titled, on Fort Laramie. If all goes well, I hope to send my CCC book off to the editor this weekend. After that, I am not sure. Hope to have the novel completed by the end of February, but that may be too optimistic. As far as the nonfiction book on Fort Laramie, who knows, my hope? By summer.
Fort Laramie this Summer - back when it was warm
Now it is time to enjoy family and friends over the holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Writing on a Frosty Wyoming Morning

Sometimes it takes a great frosty morning to get enough inspiration to write.
Mountainside frost in Guernsey State Park this morning

I often wonder how the mountain men and early explorers handled winter. I have read the stories but am not sure they can relate how tough it must have been.
North Platte River above Guernsey, Wyoming

Winter can be hard, but it also can be beautiful - as it was today on this frosty Wyoming morning.

Meanwhile, I am into a rewrite on a novel I put away several years ago. I am having fun with it and so far am pretty happy with the story. I am also continuing my research for my Fort Laramie book. Research is slow but fascinating.
I don't look much like a Mt. Man at Fur Trade days at Fort Laramie last summer -one of my favorite places 
Speaking to an elementary Wyoming history class later this week about mountain men. I Will also be talking about the Civilian Conservation Corps to a high school history class this week. Then what? How about some Christmas shopping, and of course, being the head sampler for my wife's Christmas goodies.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

So, Just What is a Western?

What makes a book a western? Okay, that’s a fair question. I recently read a post whose author seemed surprised the book was considered part of the western genre. I have not read the book, but did look at the overview and it appears to start with a man fresh out of prison driving his pickup home – sounds like a western to me.

I believe if it is set in the old west it is a western, and I will not allow anyone to change my mind on that one. Modern westerns can be harder to pigeon hole. If it is set in a state or area where old time westerns were set, it may be a western.  A modern western is set mostly outside, preferably in wide open spaces, and any action in a town is short and usually in a small city or town.  Plots can be very modern and tackle modern day problems. Living in Wyoming this could mean dealing with, the oil and gas industry, coal, power plants, wolves, big government intrusion, big game hunting, guns, clean air, open spaces, livestock, and numerous other topics. I have the first draft finished of a young adult modern day western. What does it deal with? Oil and gas and the Wind River Reservation. I think it’s pretty good and topical, but it still needs a lot of work, I am hoping for, but not predicting a late March release.

In the old days, a western was just that a western. A mystery was a mystery, and literary fiction was, well same as today, mostly unreadable. Today we have multiple sub-genres. I classify both of my westerns as western/mystery. Western/Romance is the most popular western sub-genre today. Westerns could also be classified as, Western/Sci-fi, Wester/Thriller, Western/Horror, and lately Western/Erotica and Steampunk Westers are growing in popularity.

Westerns still seem to be bought and read today, they just may not be in the western section of your local bookstore. Meanwhile – read on.

Oh, by the way, right now I am reading, Stephen Burckhardt’s Christmas short, Into the West-The Orphan Train and Fishing and Other Misadventures by Bradley Stoner. I am also re-reading two books on Fort Laramie and the Indian wars.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Western Christmas

After two weeks in the top 100 my Western Christmas book of short stories has tapered off. Hopefully, it will pick up again as we get closer to Christmas. I have always enjoyed Christmas and writing these stories was a stretch of my imagination. I do like the way it came out. My wife really likes it, has me continually signing copies so she can send them off as Christmas presents. I don’t mind the exposure to new readers, but am not making much money from this deal –  it is getting close to Christmas, so I really don’t mind.

See it or Order here

The book has stories set mostly in the old west, but there are also stories from modern times and some in between, like one from the 1950s. I really stretched myself with a fantasy western, to be read to kids, at the end of the book. All and all this one was fun to write and one that should be timeless as all westerns are.
Here is an excerpt from a story in the middle of the book.

Sleigh Bells Ring

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day,
Then let us all rejoice again!
On Christmas Day in the morning.
(Traditional anonymous)

Harding Fielder felt like better days must be coming because today was miserable. If he made it home every day, the rest of his life should be better than this one. Didn’t seem like such a big task three days ago when he started. He’d told Maude. “Four days, no longer, be back in four, easy,” and he believed it.
When he said four days, he knew he was pushing, but they agreed he needed to be home within four days, because it was the twentieth of December, if he left first thing the next morning he would be home on Christmas Eve. Back carrying Christmas presents, and that was important to him. The kids had no presents last year and he’d bought nothing for his wife in two years. If anyone ever deserved a present at Christmas it was Maude, she was a saint putting up with their struggles and never complaining. 
 Starting the ride home the cold hadn’t mattered, the ground was swept clean by the biting Wyoming wind and if he kept moving he could stay warm, almost. But three hours out of Fort Laramie the snow rode in from the west. A huge gray and black cloud obscured the sky, Harding knew, he had lived out here for years, this was bad. 
Four days ago he couldn’t believe his luck when the rider arrived with the note from Fort Laramie. Never a big rancher; some would say he wasn’t much of rancher at all, but he’d been building up the place. Then, two years ago, the bad winter came, his herd was growing again but the process was slow and money was short. Scouting for the troopers out of the fort paid some every year and now with the Indian troubles lessening, work was scarce. Scouting for the fort might be paying off now in a different way, they needed beef and he was close enough to supply the troops.
Looked to Harding like he wasn’t the only rancher having troubles, someone couldn’t fulfill their government contract and the fort was running low on meat. It was tough to give up on this much beef, he really only had seven steers ready to sell, but the army said they needed a dozen or fifteen head and would pay top dollar.          By mixing in a couple of young bulls and some old cows, he put together a nice mix of beef for the fort. The ranch was going to make a payment to him and the family this year.
Getting the small herd to the fort two days ago now looked like the easy part. He tried to look to his side, eyes avoiding the ice and snow coming out of the west in bucketful’s, wind driven and angry. Harding pulled his coat up higher and his hat down lower wasn’t likely the day would get any better. 
Everything had gone so well at the fort. Top dollar for his beef, even the older cows he sold to make numbers match what they needed. If they’d have included ol’ Moss in the sale, it would have been perfect. But there was a reason he called the cow ol’ Moss, she was old, how old, he had no idea, best guess around fifteen or so. She stood still most of the time and laid down more than most cows. Harding was sure she’d soon have moss growing on her for lack of movement. The old cow hadn’t had a calf since the kids were born, at least six years. He just never parted with her, first because she was a good cow that dropped good caves, made it through the blizzard and then she just got too darned old to sell. He hoped maybe the army was desperate. Took a half day extra with her in the bunch he drove to the fort. One look at the herd and the procurement officer said, “We’ll take um all, all but that old mossy back, top dollar for the rest.”
Harding turned his young gelding from west to north following the big bend in the North Platte. The strong west wind felt better to his side than it had in his face. For the first time today he believed he might make it. The past two hours, with every step, he supposed that he was going to freeze, not to be found until spring. About a half hour back, he daydreamed of giving up. But the bells calmed him, he might make it.
 The snow came harder, the Wyoming sage turning to a blank white canvas. But he could still hear the bells. A snap purchase, something he rarely did, but he’d bought the sleigh bells on an impulse. Went back into the Sutler’s store and paid another dollar for them. Then because it was the Christmas season, and he had nowhere else to put them, he’d tied them around ol’ Mossy’s neck. She looked pretty happy, had a new bounce in her step as she jingled along. The snow blinded him, the bells reassured him, at least he knew the old cow was still with him. 
Near as he could figure he was within three or four miles of home. On a good day, he was only an hour and a half out, even with the rough terrain. The snow made everything difficult, his judgment of how fast he was traveling was uncertain, but his horse plodded through deeper and deeper snow. The wind intensified and the cold was worse than anything he had encountered in his life. Even the great blizzard of two years ago was not this bad. But when that blizzard hit he was home, not on a high Platte River ridge trying to get there. He ached all over, his gelding stumbled, and Harding knew neither he nor the horse had much left. 
The bells were getting further and further away, the cow had wandered off. No need to go after her, she would make it home, starve or freeze out here, didn’t matter, not anymore. Then he remembered the bells, didn’t want to lose them. Against his better judgment, he turned toward the sound of the bells. It didn’t take long to find her, or to at least find the sound, a minute, maybe a minute and a half. The bells sounded close, he felt like he could reach out and touch the old cow. After the quick pursuit, Harding was no longer sure which way was north and he needed to go north. The wind had turned again, or he had ridden a circle. The stinging wind, full of giant snowflakes and tiny ice crystals came from his right, not his left. An east wind instead of west, east winds sometimes brought in storms, but he’d never seen one turn in a matter of one or two minutes, not during a storm.
The wind roared, the cold numbed him and the snow blinded him. Maybe a few more minutes, the horse stumbled again; neither had more than a few moments left. Harding used the only sense he had left and felt the saddle bags. Cans of peaches and two bolts of cloth, a bright blue and a pink with a pattern, the store clerk said that one was, “all the rage this year.”
The other saddlebag held candy, a fancy rag doll and a harmonica, presents for the kids. This was going to be the best Christmas ever, but now…
The ol’ mossy cow was going the wrong way, again. She’d turned, trying to walk away from the storm instead of into it. Wrong, Harding was sure of it, but he didn’t bet his life on it, he followed the bells. The snow seemed to let up, Harding thought he saw a star high in the sky, the same way Mossy was walking. Harding knew nothing of stars. He knew he was dying, freezing, despite the difficulties he smiled. Smiled as he died, smiled because he knew nothing of stars, directions, or senile old cows.