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.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Once in a lifetime.

Here we go again—completely ignoring the joys of reading and writing to wander off into the trivia of life.
Sorry, I can’t resist.
On August 21, the good people of the good ol’ USA were treated to a coast-to-coast total eclipse of the sun. It doesn’t happen very often. For some of us, it will probably never happen again. So I thought I’d comment on the spectacle.
Where we live in Utah, 91% of the sun was obscured, leaving only a tiny crescent of the orb visible through our approved eclipse-viewing glasses. My wife and I sat on the driveway looking up from time to time for quite a spell.
But what we found most intriguing wasn’t in the sky—it was on the ground, at our feet.
Shading much of our driveway is a big (and messy) tree. Some kind of elm, we think. Where the sun peeked through the thick foliage, the tree created hundreds of “pinhole projectors” that cast the eclipsing sun on the concrete surface of the driveway. That’s what you’re seeing in the photo above—each of the many crescents is an image of the eclipsed sun.
We thought it was kind of neat, so we took a bunch of pictures of it. Later, on TV, one of the NASA experts mentioned the phenomenon. I doubt I’ll ever see it again.
Next time, it’s back to reading and writing. Unless, that is, some other strange and spectacular thing happens.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Picky eater.


Warning: what follows is all about eating and has nothing to do with reading.
Often at mealtime, and at meal-planning time, I am accused of being a picky eater.
I disagree.
If you ask me, I’m just a man of simple tastes. I can’t help it. I was raised that way. The town I grew up in was so small we did not eat pasta there. We had macaroni. And we had noodles. But if someone would have said “pasta” we would not have had any clue what that person was talking about.
Bread was bread. It was usually homemade, sometimes store-bought, but always just plain old bread. Nothing “artisan” and no one ever served up a loaf sprinkled with stuff that looks like it came off the bottom of a bird cage. I see that sort of thing a lot now. But I don’t eat it.
Vegetables mostly came in in the form of potatoes, peas, beans, corn, and carrots. Salads were occasional and as often as not made with potatoes or macaroni rather than green things—and none of that green stuff was ever kale or arugula, to my knowledge. I only remember being served artichokes one time, and that was on a cattle ranch in Nevada. Which surprised me, and still does.
Meat was a staple. Because we raised it, it was always available. Roast beef and steaks and hamburger and soup bones. Pork chops and roasts and ham and bacon and side pork. Lamb (which I never cottoned to; same with goat) and deer meat. Lots of chickens (and eggs), fried. Nowadays I’ve narrowed my meat menu down to beef and pork, with chicken (yardbird, as my brother calls it) very rarely, still fried. As for other poultry, I get turkeyed out for the year about three days after Thanksgiving. Fish and seafood were pretty much unknown at our house, except the occasional “fish stick” or the rare trout we caught.
We seldom ate out when I was a kid. A trip to the hamburger stand when out shopping was about it. In fact, I thought it unusual that people would go out to eat for no particular reason.
At our house nowadays we eat food somebody else cooked quite often, and it’s usually just plain old food. I’m told it’s because I’m a picky eater. But, truth be told, I am simply not interested in strange cookbook foodstuffs that usually end in the letter “i” and hide under some kind of sauce, and where “plating” and “presentation” are more important than taste.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Another Rawhide Robinson cover up.

Five Star, publisher of my Rawhide Robinson novels, recently sent the cover for the next book featuring the adventures of the extraordinary ordinary cowboy. That’s it, up there.
The book is due for release in February and I am looking forward to seeing it in print. It is always exciting (and somewhat intimidating) to see something you’ve seen about a million times on your computer screen show up as a genuine, actual, ink-on-paper book.
Read a bit more about Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero (and the other Rawhide Robinson novels). And consider putting the first two in the collection on your Christmas list for readers from junior high through geriatrics who would enjoy tall tales, Old West adventures, and cowboy humor.
And save room on your book shelves for the next one, come February.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 40: Characterization is key.

There is no shortage of advice for fiction writers about characterization. You couldn’t throw a loop at a writers’ conference without catching a session about character development.
You’ll hear endless discussions comparing implicit and explicit characterization. You’ll hear about archetypes and character voice. Introduction and emergence. And other fancy ways of talking about the people you make up to populate your made-up stories.
The problem, as most successful writers will admit, is that characters have a way of saying and doing things you never intended. They routinely violate the commandments you laid down in your “character bible.” They’ll often thumb their noses at you and do what they please, whether you like it or not.
Sometimes, characters simply refuse to develop the way you planned.
When that happens, you know you’ve done your job.
That’s because characters that take the bit in their teeth and run off with you are more like real people than carefully crafted, methodically developed, perfectly polished props.
Come to think of it, when it comes to successful character development, being a writer is a lot like being a parent.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Range Writers Extraordinaire.

Last night found us in Richfield, Utah, to enjoy some fine cowboy entertainment. Stepping onto the stage were some of the best wranglers of Western words you’ll find anywhere. 

Andy Nelson of Wyoming pens some of the funniest cowboy poetry going. He’s also adept at more reflective verse, and is author of an enjoyable book, Ridin’ with Jim, built around growing-up experiences with his father. 

At times, Andy teams up with Utah singer/songwriter Brenn Hill, trading poems and songs on stage. Brenn has been mentioned here before, lately as composer of “And the River Ran Red,” using words I wrote. Brenn’s ability as a songwriter covers the West both wide and deep, and his music, recorded on some dozen albums, earns him well-deserved recognition.

California cowboy Dave Stamey has won every award available for a Western singer/songwriter, many of them more than once. Dave’s insightful writing, virtuoso guitar licks, and comfortable presence on stage are always enjoyable.
There are plenty of cowboy singers and poets regaling the world with their works and I appreciate the talents of many of them. But you’d have to cover a lot of range to find the equal of these three—not only for their abilities as entertainers on the stage, but for the riveting qualities of the words they write.
And the fact that I count them all as friends is the result of my admiration, not the cause.