Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Thousand Dead Horses, Hobbled.

With most everything having been shut down over the past few months, Five Star, the publisher of my Western novels, has reined up the release of books, putting the whoa on them for six months. Which means they will not take the hobbles off A Thousand Dead Horses, scheduled for release this August, until February 2021.
And, of course, the other books they have from me, And the River Ran Red, All My Sins Remembered, and This Thy Brother will likewise be delayed.
Another of my publishers, Oghma Creative Media, where Saddlebag Dispatches magazine comes to life, and who will be releasing paperback, e-book, and audio editions of my earlier novels as well as an original “Rawhide Robinson” tale, and likely some other books, is also ground-tying their saddle stock while they figure out how to negotiate the trail ahead.
The coronavirus mess has likely reached us all in some way. I learned recently a man from my hometown, who I grew up with, died of it. He’s the first personal acquaintance to do so—that I know of—and I hope he will be the last.
Stay safe. And spend some of this down time in the pages of good book about the American West. It will be time well spent.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Going walkabout.

My home state is big, ranking thirteenth in land area of the 50 states. But when it comes to population, Utah ranks thirtieth. So, you might think we’re spread pretty thin here. However, we rank seventh in the nation in the percentage of our people who live in urban areas. Then again, only four of our 29 counties qualify as “urban.” 
Which means we are pretty tightly packed in a fairly small area.
Eighty percent of our 3.2 million people live in a band some 25 miles wide and just over 100 miles long. The county I live in is home to more than a million people, on a land area that, if square, would measure just over 27 miles on a side. I can stand on my roof and see most of it.
What’s the point?
The point is, that despite it all, it’s easy to get away from it all in Utah. You can drive tens, scores, even hundreds of miles on mostly empty roads. Get off the road, and there are vast areas where you find little, if any, trace of mankind.
A few days ago, we went hiking. My oldest daughter took the photograph above. You would be hard-pressed, I think, to find a more beautiful picture or place anywhere. It’s calm, it’s quiet, it’s restful, it’s serene.
As the crow flies, it’s about three-and-a-half miles from my house.
Three-and-a-half miles.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Where I’m going, Part One.

A few days ago while watching a movie I heard a snippet of “Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night. It was written by the late, great, Hoyt Axton and was a big hit back around 1971.
The song, as they sometimes will, got stuck in my head. And it set me to thinking about all the places I’d like to go but have yet to see.
As the song says, I’ve never been to Spain. And although I would not object to seeing Barcelona play at Camp Nou, a trip there isn’t really on my list. The fact is, most of the places I long to visit are much closer to home.
For example, there’s Death Valley.
I have visited places north, south, east, and west of there, but have never seen Death Valley. I fully intend to go there one day. Judging from photographs and reading, it’s a stark, harsh, barren place. Some people don’t appreciate such beauty, but I have come to. One can never imagine that dirt and rocks come in so many colors until you see the deserts of the American West.
And, to imagine the suffering and hardships—and the joy—experienced by the Indians, the explorers, and the travelers who visited there in days gone by is inspiring. Especially when you realize they looked upon the same scenery you see today, and it is relatively unchanged.
Death Valley, here I come.
One of these days.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Change the subject?

When I speak or present workshops at writers’ conferences, I always explore what other writers—both those attending the conference and other presenters—write about. With few exceptions these days, it’s fairies, or wizards, or vampires, or zombies, or witches, or elves, or dragons, or dwarfs, or demons, or space aliens, or other such make-believe things that do not exist in the real world. Even the “worlds” are mostly made up.
I wonder why.
What is the attraction of these non-existent, unrealistic, fantastical characters and the make-believe worlds they live in? What draws so many to write about them? What attracts so many to read about them? I have read a few such novels over the years, and most escape me in their appeal. Others are well written, enjoyable, escapist reads.
But a little bit goes a long way. I soon find myself craving realistic landscapes, realistic characters, realistic conflicts, realistic lives, realistic rights and wrongs, and the ambiguity of the real world.
Perhaps I would find more success as a writer if I invented pretend worlds and populated them with fantastical characters. But, for my money, fairies and dragons just can’t compare to cowboys and horses and cows and the American West.
So, I guess I’ll stick to the subject.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Celebrating Cowboy Poetry Week.

      April 19 through 25 is Cowboy Poetry Week—a time to celebrate the poems and poets who honor cowboy life through poetry. Cowboy poetry is a long-standing tradition, stretching from the nineteenth century to our day, and destined to last as long as there are, or memories of, cattle and the horseback men and women who tend them.
      The poem below is posted in observance of the seven-day jubilee. 
      In spring and fall in the country where I grew up, v-shaped strings of Canada geese honked their way overhead as they migrated in spring and fall. The regularity of their flights reminded me of the cycle of cowboy work, specifically spring branding, and the gathering and shipping of beef cattle to market in the fall. And, the anticipation that accompanies the rhythms and rounds of nature and life and work.
      The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry has been, since the year 2000, and will continue to be, a driving force in preserving and promoting the poetry of cowboys. Your support will be welcome. Enjoy browsing the archives at CowboyPoetry.com, as well as regular postings on the Cowboy Poetry blog and on Facebook.


I hear them in the evening winging northward—
     Their eager, maybe longing, kind of sound.
It reminds me that we’ll soon be done with calving;
     That branding time ain’t far from coming ’round.

And I think how fall works really ain’t that distant;
     Shipping calves under sundown pewter skies
Wherein arrowpointed flocks are winging southward,
     Trailing echoes of urgent, mournful cries.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

My Favorite Book, Part 22.

Wendell Berry is, and always has been, more committed to doing things right than in doing them quickly, or efficiently. If he is still farming in Kentucky at his advanced age, he will be farming with horses, as he has done throughout his life.
And when he writes, he writes in longhand, with a pencil.
He writes poetry. He writes insightful and challenging essays. And he writes fiction. All of it is worth reading. Not quickly, but attentively, and thoughtfully.
Most of his fiction is about a made-up, but true, place called Port William, Kentucky. It is a farming community; a close-knit agglomeration of people, all with stories worth hearing. As much as his novels and stories are about people, they are about place, and how people and places are connected, and how those connections make our lives, and create the communities and world we live in.
A Place on Earth is but one of many novels about Port William, this one set during World War Two. In its pages, you meet—more than meet, become acquainted with—many of the families and individuals of Port William of that day; families and people whose pasts and futures populate other Port William novels.
There is one passage in A Place on Earth that seems to me to speak of the curious times we are living in today: “The life of the house will change, accommodate itself to the needs of the new life, and then in a few days the new will be learned, what once was unexpected will become a habit—and they will go on as before.”

Monday, April 6, 2020