Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Pedagogical distancing.

I am no stranger to teaching. While not formally trained, I have taught one thing or another throughout most of my adult life, from several semesters as adjunct faculty teaching advertising at a college and a university, to teaching Sunday School classes to people of all ages, to teaching many, many workshops at writers conferences.
    But, come November 5, I will set sail on a 50-minute teaching trip the likes of which I have never before undertaken. It can all be summed up in one onomatopoetic word that heretofore described the sound of something moving quickly: zoom.
    Owing to the ongoing coronavirus threat, the Utah Valley University Writers Academy went online this year, and has been in progress since October 9. My presentation, “How to Build a Book Without a Blueprint,” goes zoom Thursday, November 5 at 6:00 pm MST. For the first time ever, I will attempt to convey my message to conference participants via a zoom meeting, where we will all, theoretically, gather around our computer screens to watch and listen and, I hope, participate.
    My presentations tend to involve a lot of back and forth, give and take, question and answer, and interaction with participants. That, in my limited experience on the receiving end, doesn’t always work out too well with zoom.
    Still and all, I am as prepared as I’ll ever be and hoping for the best.


Friday, October 16, 2020

In the News.


Today’s story is ripped from the pages of the Eureka (Utah) Reporter, 18 May 1917. 

Henry Miller, the Elberta farmer who also owns a ranch near Jamison Hill on the old road, had a narrow escape from death yesterday when he was attacked by a cow which was no doubt suffering from rabies. Mr. Miller was at work near his home when the cow made a vicious charge upon him and then continued the attack after the farmer was knocked to the ground. Just at a time when Mr. Miller appeared to be in the greatest danger of receiving fatal injuries from the animal’s hoofs and horns the cow took a fit and this enabled him to crawl to a place of safety.

Propped up in bed at his ranch last evening Mr. Miller related his experience to Lewis Merriman, superintendent of the Yankee Cons mine, stating that the cow probably belongs to one of the Elberta ranchers. Mr. Miller’s injuries are painful but not serious and he will no doubt be out again within a few days.

 Henry is my great-grandfather. And to think my very existence on earth was endangered by a bad, mad cow.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Where I’ve been.

    A while back, most of our family stole away for a week in a cabin in the woods. I took my computer along, and used some of the time to finish up a novel, but that was out of the way in a couple of days and it went back in the bag.
    With no internet service, I did not check my e-mail for more than a week. As near as I can tell, nobody missed me. Cell phone service was spotty, but since I am one of the last men standing without one of the infernal machines, I hardly noticed.
    We visited a few Old West historic sites, and did some sightseeing. And we did a lot of sitting around, which was nice. A bull moose stopped by one day and hung out in the back yard for a couple of hours. The black bear who visited another evening chose not to stay.
    It was good to get away. Most of the plans we’d made for the year got canceled for safety’s sake, so it was nice to find a safe place to spend a different kind of time together—and alone.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Eat, sleep, write, repeat.


    The title for this entry is stolen. It’s the theme from the 2020 Utah Valley University Writers Academy. Since I am among the workshop presenters, I will not be indicted for the theft.
    Owing to the coronavirus, covid-19, the worldwide pandemic, social distancing, and other related considerations, UVU opted to put this year’s conference online. So, what was scheduled to take place October 9 and 10 will, instead, be spread from October 9 through November 6, with a selection of (mostly) Thursday evening online workshops along with other events on other days. You’ll find more information on the UVU Writers Academy web site, and you can register online. And there’s this, #UVUWriters2020, if you know what it’s for. I don’t.
    If you write, want to write, hope to write, or wish to write, you’ll find the UVU Writers Academy helpful. Register, and you can access the online workshops and presentations live, and the sessions will be recorded for viewing or reviewing afterwards.
    My contribution to the event, “How to Build a Book without a Blueprint,” is scheduled for November 5 at 6:00 pm. By then, I hope to have figured out how to pull it off.
    I’ll send a reminder. See you (sort of) there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My favorite short story.


“Genesis” is a long short story—82 pages—tucked into the middle of Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow. The tale’s main character is Lionel “Rusty” Cullen, a 19-year-old Englishman who migrated to cattle country in Saskatchewan, intrigued by the romance of the Old West and in search of adventure. It didn’t take him long to realize his notions of cowboy life were misguided:

    Already, within a day, Rusty felt how circumstances had hardened, how what had been an adventure revealed itself as a job.

 Rusty also realizes he is but a pilgrim, least among the nine cowboys who ride out on a late fall roundup to bring in calves for winter feeding. Still, he is determined, even eager, to give it his best, to prove himself a man among men.
        As with many Westerns, landscape and weather are also characters in the story. The roundup is interrupted repeatedly by early blizzards that scatter the cattle time and again. The storms become so violent and the cold so brutal the men are forced to abandon the herd, even the remuda, to race across the plains at a snail’s pace, trying to outrun death itself.
        Romantic notions, if any still exist at this point, are further disabused by the awareness that these men, and others like them throughout the West’s cattle country, put their lives at peril:

For owners off in Aberdeen or Toronto or Calgary or Butte who would never come out themselves and risk what they demanded of any cowboy for twenty dollars a month and found.

 As much as I like “Genesis” for what it includes—a realistic look at cowboy life and work, albeit in extreme circumstances—I like it for what it does not include. There’s not a single gunfight. No Hollywood walk-down quick-draw contest, no snarling packs of bad guys shooting up the streets and back alleys and saloons of a wooden town. There’s no damsel in distress—unless you count mother cows and heifer calves. No splendid super steeds racing at top speed across page after page with nary a stop for a blow, a sip of water, a mouthful of grass. And there are no six-foot-tall bulletproof heroes with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and a steely gaze.
        That’s not to say there’s no courage, bravery, or heroics in “Genesis.” But it’s realistic valor, not the over-the-top imaginary superhero stuff so common in Western stories. Stegner sums it up best when, near the end of the tale, he says this about Rusty:

 It was probably a step in the making of a cowhand when he learned that what would pass for heroics in a softer world was only chores around here.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Really stupid words, Chapter 13.


Long, long ago, back in the 1970s, there was a popular television show titled The Six Million Dollar Man. The idea was that a test pilot crashed and wrecked his body, but surgeons and scientists fixed him up by adding a lot of wires and circuits and stuff to make him half-man, half-robot with extraordinary mental and physical powers. Every week, during the show’s introduction, as we’d watch a montage of doctors at work and futuristic computer renderings and such, a weighty voice would say, among other things, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.”
    It’s only a guess on my part, but I think today the voice would say, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technologies.”
    I don’t know why. Technology is a collective of sorts, and works perfectly well in the singular form for any purpose. But nowadays, you hear it with an “ies” stuck on the end more often than not.
    One of my dictionaries defines technology as “The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means,” and “a scientific or industrial process, invention, method, or the like.” I added all those italics to emphasize the singular nature of the idea.
   Wikipedia says, “The suffix ology is commonly used in the English language to denote a field of study.” As a field (not fields), technology does not require a plural. Technologies is as useless as biologies, meteorologies, sociologies, geologies, physiologies, and other such unheard-of things.
    Don’t ask me why I cringe when I hear “technologies.” Perhaps a therapist would blame it on my deranged psychologies.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Joy of Being Stupid.


    Writing a book is a good way to reveal how stupid you are. You have an idea, and you start writing. Soon, you realize you don’t know what you’re writing about.
    Take my latest novel, Pinebox Collins. I thought it would be a good idea to tell a story about a man who moved from place to place in the Old West, using his travels and encounters to tell other stories about actual events and people from history. I decided a footloose undertaker might move around like that. And, for some reason, that he should be missing a leg. I don’t know why.
    I soon realized there had to be a reason for his missing leg, which took some study of Civil War battles that might fit the bill. Then I had to learn about Civil War hospitals, surgery, amputations, prosthetics, and the like.
    Then I had to learn about the history of undertaking, embalming, and building coffins—none of which I knew anything about.
    Pinebox’s travels required buffing up my knowledge of cattle trails and cowtowns, mining strikes and boomtowns, stagecoaches and railroads, and historic incidents and events in those places.
    Then there were people. Charley Utter, Calamity Jane, Jim Levy, Joe McCoy, John Wesley Hardin, Phil Coe, Jack McCall, Porter Rockwell, and others, mostly “Wild Bill” Hickok—many of whom, but not all, I knew something, but not enough, about.
    I enjoy writing. Even the parts that make you realize how stupid you are. With every book, I learn something—many somethings. And I hope the people who read those books might learn something too.