Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kansas City, here we come.

That title—a stolen line from a classic song—isn’t true, but it is more melodious than the factual “Kansas City, there we’ve been.” Last week was the annual Western Writers of America convention, held, as you have probably guessed, in Kansas City. 
Always a high point in the year, the WWA convention gives me the chance to learn a few new things, meet a few new writers, and, best of all, spend some time with writers I’ve met at earlier conventions and who have become friends. I find that hanging around with people who are smarter than I am (they are not hard to find) is always stimulating.
The only downside to the convention is that the family members who travel with me get to spend their days seeing all manner of interesting places and things while I am at meetings. But I do get to tuck in a few such visits now and then and see things I’ve never seen before—like the Arabia Steamboat Museum, home to 200 tons of artifacts recovered from a steamboat that sank in 1856 and was recovered 132 years later from deep under a cornfield. More about that another day.
Next summer, WWA convenes in Billings, Montana. I’ve been there for one reason or another several times over the years, and am already looking forward to returning to Big Sky Country.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 39: Believe in yourself.

People who attempt to write a book (or a short story, magazine article, movie, poem, or song) harbor the belief that they can pull it off. They’ve convinced themselves they can spend the requisite time in a chair, are confident they can string together the necessary number of words, and trust they can slog through the revisions and rewrites required.
Believing in yourself is a good thing. An essential thing. Without that belief, no word would ever get written.
But believing in yourself is only half the story.
If that.
It is equally important, perhaps more important, that you doubt yourself.
I think that bears repeating: If you want to be a writer, you must doubt yourself.
You must question every word. Is it the best word? Would another word say it better?
Would a metaphor, a simile, an allusion, or other indirect way of telling something work better than saying it straight out?
Is that the way this character would say that? Do you really think that character would do this?
And so on.
Writing—at least writing well—is a continuous process of self-doubt. And that’s just as important—if not more so—than believing in yourself.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rawhide Robinson Rides the Interweb.

Rawhide Robinson, the ordinary cowboy who finds himself involved in all manner of extraordinary events, now has his own web site.
Visit and you’ll learn about the Wild West’s wildest cowboy. You can watch (in a matter of seconds) short videos about the books Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range: True Adventures of Bravery and Daring in the Wild West (winner of a Western Writers of America Spur Award) and Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail: The True Tale of a Wild West CATastrophe (winner of a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award and finalist for a Spur Award). And you can read brief excerpts from those books as well as Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero, slated for release in February, 2018.
There’s no other cowboy quite like Rawhide Robinson. Pay him a visit online at And, of course, you can get to know him better by buying the books. They make fine entertainment for readers from junior high to geriatrics.
(If I do say so myself.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Where palette meets palate.

For the past several years I have been fascinated by the fascination with “Certified Angus Beef.” It shows up on all manner of menus, from fine dining establishments to fast food emporiums. In supermarket meat cases, too. It’s supposed to mean something.
I don’t get it.
Growing up, we raised cattle. Herefords. (Red with distinctive patterns of white.) I worked for a rancher who had some Herefords, some Angus (black), Galloways (black), and a bunch of crossbreds (mostly black with white faces and markings—black bally, we called them). My dad punched cows for a big outfit that had cows of many colors and crosses—Charolais (white), shorthorn (mostly red), and the aforementioned breeds. There were a few exotic breeds like Simmentals around, but not so many as nowadays.
We ate beef from cattle of all colors. Some meat was better than other meat, but that had to do with how and what the cow was fed rather than the color of its hide. In fact, once a cow’s hide has been peeled you would be hard pressed to know from the meat inside what color the cow used to be on the outside—if you could know at all.
I once heard the great cowboy singer and songwriter Dave Stamey say on stage that he admired the people behind the “Certified Angus Beef” campaign for convincing us of the cockamamie notion that a color has a flavor.
I think he’s right.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 8.

When Ivan Doig died in 2015, we lost one of our best Western authors. Doig wrote a number of books and I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all. Several of them are listed among my favorites, including English Creek, Bucking the Sun, Mountain Time, The Bartender's Tale, and Last Bus to Wisdom.
But the one I find myself re-reading most often is Dancing at the Rascal Fair. It is the middle book of Doig’s trilogy featuring the McCaskill family but, chronologically speaking, it is the first story. Set at the tail end of the nineteenth century in the Two Medicine country of northern Montana, it introduces Angus McCaskill, who emigrates from Scotland with this friend Rob Barclay. It follows the men over some three decades as they build sheep ranches on the Montana frontier. They fight the elements, illness, and, at times, each other.
You’ll find adventure, violence, and romance in the pages of this remarkable book as it presents a realistic, hard-eyed look at life in the frontier West.
If you haven’t read Ivan Doig, it’s not too late to fill the gap.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Another one bites the dust.

American Cowboy magazine announced recently that they are drawing the shades, pulling the plug, turning out the lights, blowing out the candle, locking the doors, pulling in the latchstring, folding their tent, spooling their bedroll, and selling their saddle.
The June/July 2017 issue will be the last.
Jesse Mullins edited the magazine for its first 18 years, and under his hand it became, I believe, the best of the publications for aficionados of the modern-day American West. The magazine was never the same after being bought up by a big corporation and the ouster of Jesse.
The first of my poems to ever see print was in the pages of American Cowboy back in December 1997 (that’s the cover, above) and many others followed. Jesse assigned me a lot of articles from around about 2002 through 2011. Along the way I interviewed a governor, some entertainers, rodeo champions, writers, artists, and other interesting people. I didn’t write much for subsequent editors of the magazine, outside of an opinion piece in a 2015 issue.
It is safe to say that much of the success I have enjoyed as a writer stems from Jesse’s acceptance of that first poem and his support over the years. So, thank you, Jesse Mullins. And thank you, American Cowboy.
Requiesce in pace.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 38: You, too, can be a best-selling author.

We once addressed the “lie” that nobody reads anymore. The fact is, people are reading. Which brings up the question many (most) writers ask: “Why aren’t they reading my books?” The question persists, despite the many times writers (including me) have been shoveled tons of advice at workshops and conferences and elsewhere about how to become a best-selling author.
It can happen. It does happen. But, like most good fortune in life, the odds are against you. A writer friend of mine who had a novel turned into an Academy Award-winning movie likened that success to “being struck by benevolent lightning.”
The fact is, lightning may not strike you. Or me. Here are several million reasons why. 
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (a company I know nothing about or have any connection with) compiled some telling statistics about books and publishing from several sources. I’ve borrowed from their work here.
Of late, traditional publishers are cranking out about 300,000 books a year. Last year, some 700,000 books were self-published by their authors. That’s a million brand new books. And that’s on top of 13 million existing books still on the market, with more added every year.
So your new book (and mine) is competing for attention with at least 14 million other books. There are things you can do—or try—to get noticed. And you’ll likely sell some books.
Chances are, you might sell enough be invited to speak at a writers conference and tell other writers how they can be a best-selling author like you.
I’ve been invited to speak at many writers conferences—but never, ever, on that topic.
Maybe someday.