Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trail gone cold: Dusty Richards.

The world lost something big last week. And in that part of the world known as the American West, the loss looms even larger.
Dusty Richards died January 19 from lingering injuries suffered in a traffic accident. Dusty’s death means we’re short one of our finest Western writers, a long-time rodeo announcer, and a lively auctioneer. As if that weren’t enough to fill a lifetime, Dusty also had a successful career in agribusiness, taught school, and broadcast farm reports on television. He served as president of Western Writers of America and was founder and executive editor of Saddlebag Dispatches magazine. And 150 or so Western novels are filled with Dusty’s words. Some of those books have his name on the cover; many he wrote using other names.
Besides all that, and more important than any of it, Dusty was friendly, sociable, kind, and helpful to any- and everybody, anytime. You couldn’t begin to count the number of aspiring writers Dusty helped along the way with encouragement, advice, introductions, referrals, recommendations, and more. I count myself among those he helped, and couldn’t count on all my fingers and toes all the times he went out of his way to show me how to be a writer.
It bears mentioning that Pat, his wife and friend and constant companion, is also lost to us owing to the same accident. We can take comfort in the fact that they are back together after a brief time apart.
And we can rest assured knowing that Dusty is, at this very moment, no doubt bending the ear of Saint Peter—and anyone else within range of his big voice—with an engaging story about the West he loves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Writing in my sleep.

Over the years I have heard and read any number of ways writers go about their business. Most are relatively straightforward, others a little quirky. There is, for instance, a writer from Texas who strolls the streets at night with pencil and paper in hand, writing as he walks. There are people who do not write unless certain conditions apply: a prescribed number of freshly sharpened pencils all lined up; a favored selection of music playing in the background; a cowboy hat perched atop the head.
And so on.
Me, I can and do and have written things anywhere and everywhere. In airports and on airplanes, on the bus, alone in my office, at the kitchen table surrounded by family, in motel rooms, at all times of the day and night, in front of the TV, with a radio or music or nothing playing…. Well, you get the idea.
I also write in my sleep. Don’t ask me how it happens. But many (it would not be pushing it to say most) mornings, I wake up with a string of words stuck in my mind. If I went to bed with an advertising assignment pending, I would often awaken with an idea, a headline, and even a draft of the copy ready and waiting.
It happens with poetry, too. A couplet, a quatrain, a stanza, even the basis for an entire poem may greet me with the sun. Or dialogue—a whole conversation between characters—for a novel in progress. A way to say a passage, an opening or closing line. An idea for a character, a story, a detailed concept for a novel, the framework for an essay or magazine article.
Sometimes I even see it happen. In that not-quite-asleep-but-not-yet-awake time in the morning, ideas and words and phrases ricochet around in what passes for my brain and I just sort of lay there and snooze and watch as they turn into something useful.
That’s all for now. I’m going to bed. Maybe, come the morning, I’ll have more to say.

Monday, January 8, 2018

My Favorite Book, Part 12.

Browse any reader’s list of favorite Western novels and any one of several books by Elmer Kelton is likely to pop up pretty soon. The Day the Cowboys Quit. The Time it Never Rained. The “Lone Star Rising” trilogy. The Far Canyon. And on and on.
I have read many Kelton novels and enjoyed every one. Some so much that you’ll find them on my list of books to re-read and read again. While, at some level, comparisons become silly, The Good Old Boys is probably my favorite among favorite Elmer Kelton books.
For one thing, it’s lighthearted, even humorous at times. And, with a penchant for hyped-up action so common among Westerns, there aren’t nearly enough smiles in the genre. Beyond that, Hewey Calloway and Spring Renfro are people you’d like to know. So much so, in fact, you believe you do. They’re real right down to the core.
I had the pleasure to know Elmer Kelton. A finer, kinder, more considerate gentleman you’ll never know. While talking about writing one time I heard him say that he believed the opening line of The Good old Boys was the best he’d ever written. If it has slipped your mind, here it is:

For the last five or six days Hewey Calloway had realized he needed a bath.

He’s right. You can’t help but read on.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Passionate about avoiding passion.

“Passion” has become one of those words you can hardly avoid. Barely a day goes by that you don’t hear someone asking someone (sometimes you), “What are you passionate about?”
We’re encouraged to “follow our passions” and led to believe that life is not worth living if we’re not “passionate” about something.
The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that the only thing I’m passionate about is not being passionate.
What’s the point of believing you are that intensely enthusiastic about something? About anything? Will you enjoy it more? Will you achieve more? Will it hold your interest any longer?
I doubt it. It seems unlikely you are “passionate” about the same things you were “passionate” about, say, a decade ago. Or even last year.
To my way of thinking, if you can’t get up the gumption to do what you want or like to do without whipping yourself into a passion, why bother? If you want to do something (as a famous maker of footwear for “passionate” runners used to say), just do it.
I like to write. I enjoy the time I spend writing. I try to write well, and work at doing so.
But I can’t say I’m “passionate” about it. I feel no need to work myself into a frenzy before stringing words together, nor do I feel I’m a failure if I decide to trim my toenails one day rather than whip out a sonnet.
 Maybe I’m just lazy. Apathetic. Ambivalent. Or dull. But it could be that I favor that old nugget of wisdom from the Greek poet Hesiod: “Moderation in all things is the best policy.”
So, I ask you: What are you moderate about?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Another dispatch from the saddlebag.

The Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Saddlebag Dispatches is now online, with a print version available as well. As usual, its pages are chockablock with short stories, articles, columns, and other reading matter that “fits under a cowboy hat,” as the editors say.
In its pages you’ll find my regular column, “Best of the West,” this time featuring what I believe to be the best cowboy poem of all time, “Anthem” by the late Buck Ramsey.
Elsewhere in the magazine is, for me, a real treat—a beautifully designed spread presenting a new poem I penned. “The Knowing” is built from the sights and sounds and smells experienced by a range-riding cowboy through days and nights, miles in the saddle, tending cattle, watching wildlife, experiencing sunshine and storms, and the comfort of campfires. There’s even a reference to the poem on the magazine’s cover (above), claiming, in one of the most extreme over-statements of our time, “Cowboy poet Rod Miller invokes the Bard.”
Magazines written for Western readers become rarer by the day, so don’t miss a chance to read—and support—Saddlebag Dispatches.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 42: Know (and Follow) the Rules.

Many, many of the “lies” addressed in these parts have to do with the “rules” passed along to aspiring writers at conferences and workshops, in books and articles, by critique groups and manuscript readers.
Most of the “rules” are based, in some part, on reality. But seldom are they universal enough in application to even qualify as “rules.” “Advice” or “considerations” would make more apt descriptions.
The simple fact is, if you want to write, and write well, you have to figure it out for yourself. No one else can guide the pencil or stroke the keyboard or tell you how to tell your story.
That’s not to say you should ignore the “rules” you hear. Neither should you accept them unconsidered or untested. Try that, and you’ll end up hopelessly confused, staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper wondering how to proceed and continually contradicting yourself as one “rule” clashes with another.
I think the best advice concerning following the “rules” is that offered by W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Friday, December 1, 2017

Shameless commerce (and a freebie).

It’s that time of year. ’Tis the season when giving and getting are on everyone’s mind. And what better Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Boxing Day) gift could there possibly be than a book. Or two or twelve.
Being a writer of books, I hope, of course, you will consider giving my books as gifts. There are nonfiction books about the history of the West, novels of the serious and silly kind, short stories for short attention spans, and poems for even shorter attention spans. Enjoyable reading for folks from junior high to geriatrics.
You’ll find information about them all at www.writerRodMiller.com and www.RawhideRobinson.com.
If you hurry, you’ll have time to read them yourself before you give them away. But if you don’t finish in time for Christmas, Chinese New Year comes around February 16 in 2018, and it’s another fine opportunity to give a book as a gift.
 Happy holidays.

Enter by December 7 to win a free copy of Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero on Goodreads. Visit Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary Giveaway and find the button marked “Enter Giveaway” and you’re in. But hurry. Rawhide Robinson waits for no man (or woman).