Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Were people in the Old West better than now?

Many people I know—writers and readers and viewers alike—are of the opinion that people living in the Old West were somehow “better” than those of us walking the earth today.
Back then, people didn’t use profanity. Honesty and square dealing ruled the day. Men placed women on a pedestal. Women were content in the kitchen and keeping house. Children were obedient, save occasional innocent hijinks. And while those were violent times, it was mostly good guys in white hats killing bad guys in black hats who needed killing. Truth, justice, and the American way ruled the day.
Studying history—rather than reading novels and watching movies and TV shows based on celebratory mythology—will soon disabuse you of any notion that human nature was any different then than now. Or at any other time in the history of people, for that matter. Certainly social conventions change, but that only affects times and places of misbehavior rather than behavior itself.
Back then, while men pretended to put “the fairer sex” on a pedestal, wives were little more than chattel, and could be beaten with little or no consequence. Ladies of the evening were routinely mistreated, with abusers considering violence included in the price. Alcoholism was rampant, drug abuse widespread. Child labor routine. Mistreatment of minorities acceptable, even encouraged. And so on.
The only real difference between then and now is that bad behavior often occurred behind closed doors in those days, and was little noted. Unseen, but there all the same. Now, it fills our TV screens and newspapers day and night.
Our blind spot concerning the evil in days gone by reminds me of the poem “Antigonish” by William Hughes Mearns. It begins this way:

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cultured cowboy.

Cowboy culture is a thing unto itself. Not to be confused with “high culture” associated with high society and such. In fact, the two worlds are, for all practical purposes, in different orbits altogether and seldom cross paths.
But, every now and then, something happens that makes you realize they’re not really all that far apart after all.
It happened to me recently.
Being big fans of cowboy singer Dave Stamey, my wife and I wandered down into central Utah for a concert not long ago. Which is not unusual, given that we’ve sat in the audience at a lot of his performances.
But what was unusual this time was that the artist—usually a solo performer—had a backup band: the Snow College symphony orchestra.
So, as Dave picked his guitar and crooned his cowboy tunes, he was accompanied by a string section, woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments, all harmonizing in beautiful arrangements of songs written by Dave, along with a few Western standards.
It was a sight to behold (or should I say “be heard”?). The power of Dave’s music intensified with the orchestration, leading to a new appreciation of his songwriting, singing, and strumming skills.
It was a night to remember. And I didn’t even have to wear a tie.

Cowboy songwriter and singer Dave Stamey

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Re-Ride Stories.

When rodeo cowboys hang out, conversations often turn to “re-ride stories.” Sometimes true, often embellished, occasionally fabricated, and usually humorous, re-ride stories recount rodeo adventures. Actual re-rides, wrecks, bad luck, great performances, road adventures…the subjects are many and varied. 
But one thing’s for sure—rodeo folks like a good story, even if they themselves come off looking foolish in the telling. And rodeo folks are not immune to the “The older I get the better I was” phenomenon among humans, so the stories, over time, sometimes take on lives of their own.
As the years pass, many rodeo folks drift away from the arenas of their youth as lives travel different paths. But the memories linger. And so does the longing to, and enjoyment of, recounting that life and telling those stories, especially to an appreciative and understanding audience.
That’s why I’m looking forward to the Re-Ride Reunion. On November 3, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., all rodeo folks from ’60s, ’70s, and ‘80s are invited to gather at the Zermatt Resort Hotel in Midway, Utah. We’ll re-connect with long-lost friends, renew old acquaintances, and, mostly, revisit days gone by.
Afterward, most will probably make the short drive down the road to Heber City for the Friday night performance of the PRCA Wilderness Circuit Finals to witness the birth of another go-round of re-ride stories.
I know there are some in the Intermountain West who read this stuff who would love to hear some re-ride stories, and have some of their own to tell. Learn more on Facebook.  
See you there.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Where have you been?

My travels of late can’t begin to match country singer Hank Snow’s list of stopovers in the classic 1962 hit, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Still, I haven’t been sitting still.
In late September I spent an enjoyable couple of days spouting off about creative nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, and Western writing at the Idaho Writers League annual conference. I have presented at several IWL conferences over the years, and it’s always a pleasure. LaDean Messenger, president of the Pocatello chapter, ramrodded the event and made it a success, just as she has in years past when it’s been Pocatello’s turn.
In early October, I made my way across the Salt Lake Valley (not always easy) to the Salt Lake Community College main campus for the two-day League of Utah Writers annual conference. Not quite as intimate as the Idaho event (with more than 400 attendees), but I still enjoyed speaking to aspiring and accomplished writers on improving prose by employing poetic techniques, writing opening lines that grab readers, and writing poetry.
The following weekend found me 100 or so miles from home at the west campus of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, for the Write Here in Ephraim conference. Another enjoyable event, where I got to hang out with writers and teach a workshop on using humor in fiction as well as one based on the popular “Lies They Tell Writers” posts that appear here from time to time.
I haven’t been everywhere, but that’s some of the places I’ve been lately. Like my old Daddy always used to say sometimes, “Everybody’s got to be someplace, so you might as well be somewhere.”
And here I am.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 41: Plan on Rejection.

You hear the stories all the time: How famous author so-and-so’s first novel, which went on to become a best seller and a classic, received forty-eleven-hundred rejection letters from publishers before finally getting published.
Don’t plan on it happening to you.
Your book may go on to be a classic, but it’s unlikely you’ll get many rejection letters along the way.
That’s because what once was true is seldom the case anymore. In days gone by, publishers routinely sent rejection letters to aspiring authors. Some were boilerplate one-size-fits-all form letters, others offered actual criticism of the book, reasons why it was not a good fit for that publisher, even encouragement and advice.
But, except on rare occasions, those days are gone.
Queries and submissions today are met, more often than not, with silence.
Most large publishing houses are staffed by a fraction of the number of people they were in the past, and those still on the job don’t have—or won’t take—the time to respond to—reject—your work. Smaller publishers are often shoestring operations and the owner-publisher-editor-designer-distributor-chief cook and bottle washer has too many pies and not enough fingers to reject every (or any) submission that comes along.
This is true for unsolicited queries and submissions, but also, in many cases, applies when you’ve been invited during an interview at a conference or workshop to submit. You’ll get much the same treatment from literary agents. Unanswered queries are also the norm nowadays at periodicals.
Still, if you don’t submit or query, you’ll never get anywhere so you’ve got to do it. Just don’t bother steeling yourself for the heartbreak of being rejected. More likely, you’ll simply be ignored. Which I find even more disheartening.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 10.

Mountain Man by Vardis Fisher is the story of Sam Minard, a young man who leaves the settled parts of America to make his way as a free trapper in the West. Borrowing from both fact and legend of the era, Minard is loosely based on John “Liver-Eating” Johnston, and Fisher includes the disturbed widow for whom Crazy Woman Creek was named in the story.
Minard takes a Flathead woman for a wife and fathers a child, but while he is away trapping, Crow Indian warriors kill his family. The mountain man turns Crow hunter, tracking down and killing every man of the tribe he finds, which results in his being hunted by his Crow foes in an ongoing and bloody feud.
All that is well and good, and for the most part the story the book tells is not much different from other mountain man and fur trapper tales. What I like best about Mountain Man is Fisher’s lyrical language and rich imagery. I get cold and hungry every time I read the book; at other times I feel well fed and comfortable. He writes a romantic version of life in the Old West, but he romanticizes it beautifully.
The book was the basis (along with other sources) for a fine movie, Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford.
It’s a good movie. But, as is usually the case, it’s a better book.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rawhide Robinson spills the beans.

There are plenty of people who interview authors. You can learn a lot about writers and their writing from what they have to say. But author and publisher Kathryn Jones takes a different approach. She interviews characters from books. It’s an interesting and revealing approach, and leads to some remarkable revelations.
Not long ago, Kathryn interviewed the extraordinary ordinary cowboy Rawhide Robinson. You can read the results on her site. Kathryn also graciously allowed Rawhide Robinson to post the interview on
Read all about it, and see what Rawhide Robinson has to say for himself.