Monday, October 14, 2019

14 reasons (minus 12) I write about the West.


1. It is my homeland. I was born and raised in the West. After leaving my small Western hometown for good after graduating from college, I have lived in half a dozen or so other places. But all of them are Western places, either on one edge or the other of the Great Basin, or on the Snake River Plain. Raised among sagebrush and cedar trees (western juniper, if you’re a botanist), my eyes are accustomed to far horizons and wide skies. And while I enjoy visiting forested places and the confinement of wall-to-wall green-tinted shade, it is direct sunlight and hard-edged shadows that tell me I am at home.

2. The story of the West is the story of America and the American people. For centuries, the stories of the West were told by the many tribes and bands of Indians who were, and are, here. Later, the story took on a Spanish accent with the arrival of Spanish and Mexican colonizers. French inflections arrived with the trappers. And, since Europeans arrived on the east coast of the continent, there has been a yearning to go west, and west they came. The resulting clashes and collaborations that continue yet today created a place unlike any other on earth.

Whether it is writing history, fiction, poetry, or reporting the stories and lives of modern-day Westerners, there are stories to be told about the American West—and those stories will never run out. And, I believe, those stories can and will say more about the world than any other stories can tell.



Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Remembering.


No one becomes a writer alone. Although it is a solitary pursuit, the pursuit of writing requires saddle pals to blaze the trail, to lead the way, to lend a hand.
There have been many writers I consider saddle pals who have ridden off into that sunset of the great beyond. In one way or another, in ways large and small, they have helped me in my attempts to be a writer. And I will never forget that. Or them.
Here are the names of some of those saddle pals. Some you may recognize, some not. But all are heroes in their own way—at least to me, and, I suspect, many others.
·         Dale Walker—historian, writer, and editor extraordinaire
·         Elmer Kelton—gentleman and all-time great Western writer
·         Dusty Richards—made a career of helping other writers find a career  
·         Frank Roderus—ever encouraging, ever helpful, ever informative
·         Don Kennington—kind and considerate, talented beyond measure
·         Pat Richardson—rollicking rhymester steeped in wry humor
Even though they are gone, for me they will never go away.




Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lies they tell writers, Part 51: Think positive.


I heard a lady say the other day that you have to think positive. That if you don’t think you can do something, you will never do it. She wasn’t talking about writing, but I have heard the same thing said about writing. Believe in yourself, don’t be critical of yourself, and that sort of thing.
I disagree. I think writers should always doubt themselves. Always question themselves. Always wonder if the words they’ve just written are as good as they should be. To always worry that what they’ve written doesn’t cut the mustard.
That kind of “negative” attitude, I believe, spurs us to try harder, to apply extra effort, and, ultimately, to write better.
If a writer is willing to go the extra mile, to never rest, to bend over backward, to always challenge what’s on the page, that writer will surpass the “I think I can” attitude of the little engine that could, and become the writer who did.
And, did it better.




Thursday, September 12, 2019

Off to college.















Friday, October 11, from 8:00 in the morning until 4:30, a bunch of writers of all kinds will host workshops, panel discussions, and other events to help aspiring authors find their way into and through the complicated world of writing and publishing books—and other media as well.
I have been invited to sit on two panel discussions with other authors, one on writing poetry and another on writing effective opening lines for books or stories or whatever else you’re writing.
The UVU Book Academy will be held at the UVU Wasatch campus in Heber City. If you’ve not visited the Heber Valley on the backside of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, you’ve missed seeing one of the most beautiful places in our state—and there’s a lot of competition when it comes to beauty in Utah.
If you’re in the vicinity, or can be, come join us at the UVU Book Academy.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

And when I die.


We are all going to die. Our clock will stop and that will be the end of us on the earth. For most of us, our passing will be of little note, even at the time. And then, I heard or read somewhere, when the last person who knew us also dies, we will be altogether forgotten. Other than our posterity, who may know us only as a name on records, there will be no memory of our ever having been here.
But there is this.
For those of us who wiled away part of our lives putting words on paper, our names will live on in some fashion. On the shelves of libraries and archives there will stand books with my name on the spine. Some of the books some of us write will be saved for decades, even centuries. We will have created things that are as close to indelible as anything mankind creates. After all, we still read books written thousands of years ago, and know something of the people who wrote them.
This, of course, does not mean our books or our names will enjoy that same longevity. But, at the very least, I will have left something behind to note my passing. Somehow, that seems to matter, somewhat.




Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Really Stupid Words, Chapter 8


It’s getting more and more difficult to watch the news these days. The latest stupid buzz words propagate more quickly and widely among broadcasters than ever before. Some come and go; others entrench themselves as clich├ęs to the point you’d think certain stupid words have become as much a part of news reporting as who, what, when, where, and why.
You can’t report how something appears without referring to the “optics” of the situation. And you must talk about what some eventuality will “look like” even if it’s something you can’t see. Interviews have become “conversations.” And during those conversations you don’t discuss or explain things, you “unpack” them. And correspondents no longer report from, say, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires, they are always said to be “on the ground” there. When there is more than one TV reporter on a big story, it must be pointed out that it’s “team coverage.”
Perhaps I am too sensitive to such nonsense. But when I am on the ground in front of the TV unpacking the latest optics of the day’s events, I can’t help but wonder what the next really stupid buzzword will look like. Perhaps I would benefit from a conversation with another viewer—sort of like team coverage, I guess.






Friday, August 16, 2019

“Tall Tree” stands tall.


There’s a certain expectation I suspect most Western music aficionados have when sliding a CD into the player (or whatever you call it when playing one of those digital thingies). You expect a rich, vibrant voice accented with a hint of wide-open spaces. You expect lyrics relevant to life in the West, past or present. And you expect to hear guitars and an assemblage of other familiar instruments.
You get all that with Nancy Elliott’s latest release, Tall Tree.
But that’s where Nancy Elliott starts, rather than finishes, with this collection. It stretches the expectations of Western music to the point that she labels her music South-Western Americana.
Backing Nancy’s resonant vocals are the expected instruments, blended with unexpected additions such as pan flutes, eagle bone whistles, native flutes, hammered dulcimer, congas, tumbas, and other assorted drums. The result is music that is undeniably Western, but with added spice that enriches the sound in unexpected and alluring ways.
It’s a good sound. And the songs are darn good, too. Slide Tall Tree from Nancy Elliott into your CD player—you’ll like what comes out.