Monday, September 17, 2018

I’ll be Write Here.

Writers conferences are fun. You get to meet people who love words and stories. You get to share thoughts, exchange ideas, and discuss experiences.
Most of all, you get to learn.
When I go to a writers conference, it’s usually to teach. But even then, I always learn something—perhaps more than I teach.
Come September 21 and 22, I will be at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, for Write Here in Ephraim. I’ll be hosting a “bootcamp” session and giving presentations on improving prose and writing effective opening lines.
And, lo and behold, I will be giving the keynote address.
I have taught at conferences large and small, and I think Write Here in Ephraim is about the right size—enough participants to provide a broad spectrum of experience and approaches, but not so many that participants get lost in the shuffle.
If you’re a writer—or want to be a writer—you would do well to join us at Write Here in Ephraim.
I’m looking forward to being Write Here (or right there).

Sunday, September 9, 2018

My Favorite Book, Part 16

It would be difficult, I believe, for any list of outstanding Western novels to exclude Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I have read several McMurtry novels, and the truth is I run hot and cold on his writing—some of the books I like, some do nothing for me, some I would not recommend.
But when it comes to Lonesome Dove, I am hard pressed to do anything but stand in awe.
The main tale, a trail drive from Texas to Montana, is simple enough. But the many intertwining subplots give the book depth and richness, with stories both intricate and complex.
But it is the characters that set the book apart from all others. Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae are an unlikely pair, with well-developed personalities that are at the same time contradictory and complementary. And the supporting characters, the whole long list of them, are likewise realistic and representative of the depth and breadth of humanity.
To win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction—which Lonesome Dove did in 1986—is an accomplishment unrivaled for a novel. For a Western novel, it is almost unprecedented and, for a “cowboy” novel, I believe it is unique.
The film adaptation is well done, but it’s about time for me to dive back into the book for, I think, the third time.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ranching and rodeo with the Wrights.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of writing about the Wright family of Milford, Utah. You know the ones—the family with more saddle bronc riding success in rodeo than any other tribe has equaled, or even approached—or ever will.
There’s a new book about the Wrights, written by New York Times journalist John Branch. It’s titled The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West. Over the course of a few years, Branch spent a good deal of time with members of the Wright family at home, at the family ranch on Smith Mesa, at grazing permits above Beaver, Utah, and goin’ down the road with the best batch of bronc riders in rodeo.
It’s a well-written book that lays bare all the triumphs and tragedies in the family, and there are plenty of both. In a family of thirteen kids raised by a pair of hard-working parents, there is never a shortage of domestic dynamics.
For one unfamiliar with ranch and rodeo life, the author does a pretty good job of capturing the ins and outs of the West; only a few odd expressions and descriptions betray his inexperience.
Evelyn Wright, matriarch of the clan, a friend, and one of the finest women I know, tells me it is strange to read about your life and your family, and that she and her husband, Bill, found a few errors but nothing significant. After reading the book, you’ll be impressed with their bravery in allowing the reporter into their lives, knowing what would be revealed.
The Last Cowboys is a fine book about a fine family surviving broken dreams, broken hearts, and broken bones.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 46: This would make a great movie!

If you’ve published a novel, chances are someone (perhaps yourself) has said it would make a great movie. Maybe it would. Yours, and probably hundreds of others.
The thing is, there are a lot more books published than there are movies produced. A lot. Especially since digital publishing made it possible for anyone and everyone to get a book in print. The same is not true for movies. But while digital technology has changed movie making as much as it has publishing, it is still an expensive proposition, involving lots of talented people on both sides of the camera. And still, it is the people who have the money to make a movie who decide which movies get made, and it seldom has anything to do with the quality of the script.
Even if someone decides to make a movie of your book, you may not recognize it when it’s finished. I once heard it equated to selling a house with a view. Someone with money likes it and buys it. Then they tear down your house and build their own house. It turns out it was the view—the idea, maybe, a character, or the plot—they liked, not your writing.
But, it can happen. Your book just might become a major motion picture. It happened to my friend Thomas Cobb. Many years ago, he wrote a novel called Crazy Heart. Movie makers liked it. In fact, it was optioned about a dozen times, but nothing ever happened.
Finally, another production company picked it up and Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his starring role.
Thomas has written several novels since, some of them are likely better than Crazy Heart. He’s not expecting to see any of them on the big screen. He describes his experience with Crazy Heart as “being struck by benevolent lightning.”
And you know the old saying: lightning seldom strikes the same place twice.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The birth of Father unto Many Sons.

Those who read this stuff regularly know that Father unto Many Sons is a novel. It was conceived on my computer. Gestated in the inner workings of Five Star Publishing. And now its birth is imminent.
The delivery takes place Friday, August 24, at 7:00 p.m. at The Printed Garden, 9445 South Union Square, Suite A, in Sandy, Utah. It’s a fine bookshop, just a mile or two from where the book originated. If you’re within driving distance you are invited—nay, entreated, encouraged, urged—to attend the blessed event.
It will be a multiple birth, and while it is difficult to say how many copies of Father unto Many Sons the stork will drop off, there will surely be enough for you to adopt and take one home for your own. Many of the new novel’s siblings will also be there looking for good homes.
Put it on your calendar. Saddle up the horse. Hitch up the buggy. Gas up the car. Bring your friends and neighbors. See you at The Printed Garden, Friday, August 24, to welcome Father unto Many Sons into the world.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Really Stupid Words, Chapter Three

American English is a rich language. It’s always changing and evolving. New words and usages come and go. Many that come along are helpful. They clarify, they improve, they enhance and enrich.
But some are just plain stupid.
They obfuscate, they complicate, they confuse. They reveal a lack of understanding.
One of my favorites is “readjust.”
Now there’s a word (if it is a word) with absolutely no reason for being. If something needs to be adjusted, you adjust it. If it needs doing again, you simply adjust it. You can adjust it again. Then you can adjust it some more, as often as need be.
Adjust is somewhat related to “change.” You can change things repeatedly, but no one ever calls it “rechange.” Same with move. You can move things over and over. But if you “remove” them, that’s something else altogether.
I am firmly against the use of “readjust.” And I will remain that way, unless or until I readjust my thinking.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Happy Holiday!

Today, as I post this, is July 24. Here in Utah it’s a big day. Pioneer Day. A state holiday. Lots of folks who work for a living get the day off. There’s a big parade in downtown Salt Lake City and fireworks will light up the sky tonight at many places around the state.
For some reason, Utah’s Pioneer Day holiday is confusing to a lot of people. Immigrants enjoy the day off, but can’t wrap their heads around the reason for it—well, lots of them know the why of it, but still don’t grasp why that why matters.
It all started back in 1847 when Mormon leader Brigham Young’s wagon pulled into the Salt Lake Valley and he raised up from his sickbed and said this was the place the Mormons (having been chased out of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois) would settle. His declaration was no big surprise—some advance members of the expedition were already here plowing when Brother Brigham showed up—but he made it official. He hadn’t asked permission to settle here, either from the bands of Ute and Shoshoni and other Indians who frequented the area, or from Mexico, which held title, such as it was, to the place.
But here the Mormons settled anyway, intending to form their own little nation with a theocratic-type government. But, much to their surprise, they soon ended up back in the United States in 1848 when the land was seized following the Mexican-American War.
Commemorating the arrival of those Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley is the reason for all the hoopla. I don’t know why that’s so confusing. When I lived in Nevada, most of that state shut down for a day in late October to celebrate Nevada Day, commemorating statehood. (Nevada, by the way, was originally part of Utah before the federal government started slicing off chunks to make and add to the new state. The same thing happened with parts of Colorado and Wyoming, too. The Mormons originally claimed big chunks of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon as well, but the government never recognized that claim. It’s all covered in a chapter of my book, The Lost Frontier.)
But never mind all that. Just have a happy holiday. We could all use an excuse to celebrate.