Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 23: Word count counts.















Lots of writers will tell you that you should write every day if you want to be a writer. Some go so far as to assign a daily number—500 words seems to be a popular sum, but certainly not the only one. You hear 1,000 words. Or 750. Or some other figure.
Some writers get downright obsessive about it. They say they’ll sit at the keyboard until they get their 500 words no matter what. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of the night, fine. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of a sentence, they will stop right there and shut it down.
Other writers, if they’re “blocked” (which is a delusion, to my way of thinking) or fresh out of ideas, will tap out 500 completely useless words just so they can say they made their number. It doesn’t much matter what those words are—they can be a detailed description of the desk lamp, some stream-of-consciousness nonsense, a reminiscence of a trip to the grocery store, or a make-believe letter to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
If such writers find this sort of thing helpful, invigorating, inspiring, or whatever that’s fine. It makes no difference to me.
But do you really have to write some magic number of words every day to be a writer?
No.
Some days, I don’t write much. Other days—rare ones—not at all. Some days, I’ll hammer out a few thousand words. I might spend the better part of a day (or several days) sorting out 200-or-so words to make a poem. If there’s a deadline looming, I will write however many words it takes to make the deadline.
The thing is, if you’re a writer you have to figure out what it takes for you to write. The way anyone else does it is irrelevant. Their rules don’t count.
Nor does their daily word count.
At the end of the day—any day—I would much rather have written 173 words that say something, and say it well, than 500 worthless words I wrote just to keep my hand in.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Under my tree.

With Christmas in the offing, I thought I’d give myself a couple of gifts for the season.
My web site, www.writerRodMiller.com, was originally built by my friend and finer author Michael Zimmer. But the technology is now outdated, and updating the site was time consuming and difficult. So, I bit the bullet and brazened myself for some frustration and built a new one.
Same address, www.writerRodMiller.com. It’s not as spiffy looking as the earlier one, but I think it should serve. It has links from all my books to either the publisher or my Amazon Author page, so should you want to buy a book (or subscribe to a magazine) you can “click through” as they say in the trade.
Also new is a little promotional video for my new novel, Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail. You can view it below, on YouTube, or on my Amazon Author Page. It will only occupy 38 seconds of your time and you will, I hope, find it—the book it’s about, rather—intriguing. All thanks to banjo magician extraordinaire Mike Iverson for permission to use “Oh! Susannah.”
Enough self-serving crass commercialism. But it is, after all, the Christmas season. May you all have a merry one.


video


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Luck, Dale Walker.


There are many factors that play into achieving any sort of success as a writer. One of them is luck.
One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me when it comes to writing was meeting Dale Walker. Dale was one of those larger-than-life characters I first encountered at a Western Writers of America convention when the author paint on me wasn’t dry. He was a past president, past Roundup editor, past several other things in the group, and revered, it seemed, among the entire membership. He also edited the novels of many admirable writers and was a respected author of nonfiction himself. Being the socially awkward type I am, I admired him from a distance.
Then, still not long after I became a WWA member, the organization announced the creation of a fiftieth anniversary anthology with Dale as the editor. Not knowing any better, I submitted a story.
I saw Dale at the next WWA convention and screwed up the courage to introduce myself. He hinted that my story would be in the anthology. It would be, outside of some success with poetry, my first publication of any note.
It must have been at the next year’s convention or one soon after that I again screwed up my courage and handed Dale a proposal for a novel. He tracked me down the next day and said it was one of the best proposals he had ever seen—but, unfortunately, the publisher he represented wasn’t inviting any new authors into their Western line.
But he asked if I knew anything about a guy named John Muir. As it happened, I knew a bit more about the man than Dale did and related one of my favorite Muir stories about his riding out a Sierra windstorm perched in the top of a tree just for the fun of it. Dale said he was working on a project and may get back to me. Later that day, or perhaps the next, he took me aside again and asked if I would like to write a book about John Muir for a new nonfiction series—“American Heroes”—he was editing for Forge Books.
Just like that, I became a writer of books. All because I had the good luck to meet a man named Dale Walker.
My admiration for Dale only grew through working with him and getting to know him better and becoming friends over the years. I only wish I had gotten lucky earlier. Not because it may have helped me become something of a writer sooner, but because it would have been my good luck to know Dale longer and better, just because he was Dale.
Dale died December 8, 2015.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 22: Vomit on the Page.



Our last effusion, outpouring, gush, upchuck of “Lies” talked about the physical process of writing.
Here we go again.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard writers and writing instructors advise other writers that when writing it is important, imperative even, to write write write write write write write.
Do it quickly. Don’t slow down (hence, the absence of commas above). Don’t stop. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, or anything else. Just get it on the page (or screen) as fast as you can. You can always fix it another time.
A popular way of putting it is, “vomit on the page and come back later to clean it up.”
That doesn’t work for me.
It could be because I have written advertising copy for so many years. When you are confined to a fraction of a page or a half-minute of air time, you don’t have a lot of words to work with. Every one has to work hard on its own and play well with others. So, you carefully consider and contemplate every word, often before you write it.
Writing poetry is much the same, which is where I went next. Then short stories and magazine articles. By the time I got to novels and history books it was too late. I was already trained to examine each word, mull over every phrase, and think about every sentence. If something isn’t right, I am not capable of moving on. (Which is not to say everything I write is right; anyone who’s read my stuff knows better.) I can try, but it nags and niggles at me like a burr under a saddle blanket and I have to make it as right as I can before I can move on.
It’s more like playing with your food than vomiting on the page, I suppose.
The point is, writing is something you do by yourself. You have to do it your way. If that means barfing verbs and nouns and adjectives, fine. But if ruminating over every jot and tittle works for you, that’s fine too. 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

“Death” comes to life.


The Death of Delgado and Other Stories has come to life from Pen-L Publishing and is now available for your reading and browsing pleasure. This collection of short stories includes several published in a variety of anthologies over the years as well as some seeing print for the first time.
The title story won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction in 2012 and “A Border Affair” was a Finalist for that award in 2006. The stories range from traditional-type Westerns to those with a more historical bent to humor to mystery to flash fiction and some that don’t fit any category. All are set in the olden days of the American West save one modern-day story set at a rodeo and another that is a contemporary parody—or maybe satire.
Your best deal on the book will come directly from the publisher ( www.pen-l.com ) and it is available from online booksellers and by order from any bookstore.
Short stories are fun to write and enjoyable to read. In one sitting, you get a heaping helping of action, adventure, humor, or other tasty treat. I think you’ll like The Death of Delgado and Other Stories.
If not, let me know. If you do, tell everybody.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Reflecting on “Reflections.”


range magazine and the Range Conservation Foundation just released a new book titled Reflections of the West: Cowboy painters and poets. (Ain’t that a fine title?)
It’s 160 big, colorful pages of pure delight.
Poetry by some of the finest versifiers, living and dead, to ever practice the art (and me, as the exception that proves the rule) accompany paintings by a variety of accomplished artists who illuminate cowboy life. (That's a Don Weller painting on the cover.) Together, the words and pictures offer heartfelt reflections of ranching and riding, horses and cattle, sheep and shenanigans, landscapes and wildlife.
This book’s predecessor, Brushstrokes and Balladeers: Painters and poets of the American West, (another fine title) won a slew of honors, including the Western Heritage “Wrangler” Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. This book may well outdo it.
Two of my poems are featured: “A Bolt of Broomtails” and “Morning Glory.” The poems accompany beautiful art, the first a painting by the late, great Utah artist Maynard Dixon; the second by contemporary artist Cheri Christensen.
Perfect for Christmas and other gift-giving occasions, the book is available from the publisher online at www.rangemagazine.com and by phone at 1-800-RANGE-4-U.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 21: THIS is how you write.


Consider writing. We do that here all the time. But, this time, let’s consider the physical process of arranging words.
I do it on a computer keyboard, using the default word-processing program that shows up on most such machines. Some people I know use computers armed with fancy programs that perform all kinds of intricate tasks that help with the minutiae of writing books. Those things have never interested me, but to each his own.
Some people I know write splendidly on typewriters, including poet Paul Zarzyski and novelist Loren Estleman. One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, writes with pencil and paper. Patrick Dearen writes on paper as he walks the streets in the night.
Whatever works.
But there are people who think they know best, and believe their way of writing is superior—not only for themselves, but for the rest of us wretches who write otherwise and are too ignorant to know better.
I recently read a quotation by an author (who shall remain nameless, but if you really want to know I’ll fill you in) who writes longhand. He says, “Nothing compares with the fluidity of longhand. You shift things around without shifting them around—in that you merely indicate a possibility while your original thought is still there. The trouble with a computer is that what you come out with has no memory, no provenance, no history—the little cursor, or whatever it’s called, that wobbles around the middle of the screen falsely gives you the impression that you’re thinking. Even when you’re not.”
Fluidity. A fine word. The fluid that flows in longhand may well be sublime. It could just as easily be sewage. If said author wants to write longhand, fine. But to imply—no, out and out say—that writers who don’t, don’t think as well as he does is, to put it politely, what originates in a male bovine and becomes sewage.
THIS is how you write: however YOU want.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Poems, by George.


About as many decades ago as the fingers on one hand can count (not counting the thumb) I studied journalism at Utah State University. George Rhoades was one of my professors. After USU, he taught at the University of Texas-Arlington then retired to raise hay in Oklahoma.
After the Chisholm, from Outskirts Press ( www.outskirtspress.com ), is his second book of poetry. The first part of the book features poems about cowboys and rodeo, the second part is reminiscences about hardscrabble farm life, and part three includes poems on a variety of subjects.
There’s a lot to like in this collection of poems by George. But my favorite thing might be this stanza from “Class of ’53,” which says just about everything a poet can say about life:

They went to set the world on fire
With their youth and dreams,
But now the fires are dying down,
They sail in shallow streams.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 20: Don’t Read Your Reviews.


Many a time I’ve heard writers—including some well-known and best-selling authors—say they don’t read reviews of their books. And they discourage fledgling writers to likewise ignore them.
I suppose there’s wisdom in that. After all, book reviews are nothing more than opinions.  And opinions, the old saying goes, are like certain parts of the anatomy—everybody has them, and they all stink.
That’s truer than ever nowadays. Thanks to online sites that allow everyone and anyone to post a review, their value has diminished, if not disappeared.
Many writers—and I know some of them—game the system, enlisting friends to post positive reviews, which are worse than useless and a disservice to prospective readers. There are even companies that will, for a price, post as many positive—but phony—reviews as you can afford.  
Then there are reviewers, cantankerous by nature, who seem to derive some perverse pleasure out of panning books and writers, and offer no basis (or have none) for their dislike.
So, it may well be best for writers to leave reviews unread. I confess, however, to reading them. Here’s a dandy, for my poetry collection Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems:

“Hated it. The poems are filled with all the righteous indignation of a white, Christian male who feels persecuted by society.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have read that. But you must admit it’s entertaining.
Besides, travel can be broadening, and I just can’t pass up the pleasure of taking the occasional quantum leap into the peculiar parallel universe where reviewers like that one must reside.
She’s entitled to her opinion, I suppose. But I’m not sure that particular opinion is about that particular book.
Read the book, and see what you think. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Going places.


For reasons I have never discerned, there are people who want to sit and listen to what I have to say. I’m glad they do, as I enjoy talking about writing, the West, and history.
Not long ago I had the privilege of speaking to the “Think Again” discussion and study group in Salt Lake City. I suspect everyone in the room was smarter than me—but it’s possible that, owing to experience, I know more about cowboy poetry, which was the subject of our get-together. I enjoyed it, and I hope they did.
Sunrise Senior Living in Holladay, Utah, has invited me to visit from time to time. This time, we talked about the making of history and how some important events and people get lost in the shuffle. My latest book, The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed served as the springboard for the discussion.
Upcoming are a few events of a more public nature.
On October 23 and 24 I will make a return appearance at the Kanab Writers Conference to present a couple of workshops. It’s an outstanding conference, and Kanab is always an enjoyable place to be. Information is here: http://kanabwritersconference.com/.
On November 7 the Salt Lake County Library System is hosting “Local Authors & You” at their fancy Veridian Event Center in West Jordan, and I will be among those meeting and greeting readers. More information will be found here: #ReadLocalSLC.
See you somewhere, I hope.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

They’ve got me covered.


Pen-L Publishing has designed what I think is a damn good looking cover for my forthcoming collection of short stories. The title of the book is (as you can plainly see) The Death of Delgado and Other Stories.
“The Death of Delgado” won a Spur Award for Best Western Short Story in 2012. The “Other Stories” in the book include “A Border Affair,” which was a Finalist for the same award back in 2006. Most of the stories in the collection have appeared in various anthologies over the years; some are seeing print for the first time in this collection.
As was the case with my collection of poetry, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, (winner of the Westerners International Award for Best Poetry Book, by the way) the folks at Pen-L Publishing have been a pleasure to work with.
The Death of Delgado and Other Stories will be released in the not-too-distant future. We’ll keep you informed.
Meanwhile, that handsome cover should keep your anticipation simmering—at least it will for me. Don’t forget that Christmas is coming, and that books make the best gifts.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Recommended reading in True West.


The November issue of True West magazine is now on newsstands everywhere. For this issue, Senior Editor Stuart Rosebrook asked me to recommend some “must read” books for the “Building Your Western Library” feature.
So I did.
The books aren’t the normal fare for many readers of Westerns. But every one is a remarkable read and well worth a place on any bookshelf. There’s a novel, a work of “creative nonfiction,” a collection of poetry, a nonfiction book, and a dictionary.
No, I’m not going to tell you what they are.
If you don’t subscribe to True West ( www.truewestmagazine.com ) run down to the nearest newsstand and pick up a copy. There’s lots of good reading in the magazine—as well as in the books I recommend.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 19: Writing is a Business.


Why write?
There are probably as many answers as there are writers.
At one end of the spectrum are those for whom it’s just a job—a way to make a living—a business. For those at the other end, it’s an art—self-expression—a creative outlet.
Those at the “business” end of the spectrum don’t always care what they write so long as it makes money. Those at the other end write whatever they want and don’t much care if they get paid for it. I have known both types and, at the extremes, each type seems equal in its disdain for the other.
As is usually the case in life, I believe there’s a middle ground. Getting paid for what you write is not necessarily “prostituting your art.” Nor is putting art before commerce always unrealistically idealistic.
In fact, I believe most writers, in their heart of hearts, are driven to some extent by idealism—the urge to create something beautiful, original, and self-satisfying. And they work to develop the skills that allow them to do so. If they can sell it, so much the better. So we search for that point somewhere toward the middle, where the scales balance.
Then again, what do I know?
For decades, I have worked at a different kind of writing—advertising copy—penning innumerable words whose sole purpose is persuading people to part with money. And getting paid to write it.
The other stuff I write these days—poems, short stories, novels, history, essays, magazine articles—I write because I want to, and it doesn’t pay nearly as well.
Call me crass, but even though I don’t write that stuff just to make money I wouldn’t mind it one bit if more people were willing to part with their money to read it.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

A story from an uncivil war.


We often romanticize war in our literature, painting pictures of glory and grandeur. James R. Woolard makes no such attempt in Riding for the Flag—a Pinnacle paperback from Kensington—instead providing a far more realistic portrait of carnage and killing.
But the book also captures a more intimate side of America’s Civil War, telling the stories of three brothers: a Union cavalry officer, a Confederate raider, and a fledgling newspaper reporter. The brothers, sons of a privileged life in Ohio, find themselves immersed in events surrounding the battle of Shiloh in the Western theater in the war’s early days. Woolard relates both the big picture and telling details in his tale, with intense descriptions that bombard the senses with the sights and sounds and smells of the battlefield, even—and perhaps most vividly—in the dark of night.
Beyond the war, Riding for the Flag delves into the personal and romantic lives of the brothers and the love each one finds to sustain him through the war’s darkest hours.
All in all, a big book—just over 400 pages—with big stories to tell. Give it a read.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Goodnight Goes Riding off with an award.





















Westerners International recently announced the winners of their annual awards honoring the best writing about the West by the nearly 5,000 members of the organization, from some 64 groups in the USA and 16 or so in other countries.
My collection of poetry from Pen-L Publishing, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, won the Fred Olds Western Poetry Award.
I am, as you might imagine, thrilled with the recognition and look forward to hanging the handsome plaque, featuring the Westerners’ “Old Joe” buffalo skull, on the wall.
You can own your very own copy of this award-winning book (one of its poems was also a Finalist for a Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Poem) by visiting www.pen-l.com, the usual online booksellers, or you can order it through your local bookstore.
The holiday gift-giving season is rapidly approaching (Christmas stuff is already showing up in stores!) so you might want to keep that in mind. Someone you love would love this book.







Saturday, September 12, 2015

Singing songs and slapping leather.


The new issue of Ranch & Reata magazine is out, and in its pages are two stories I had the pleasure to write about two remarkable Westerners.
Mary Kaye is a much-honored singer and songwriter living in Utah’s Sanpete Valley with her guitars and husband and 10 children. (Well, not really—some of the 10 are grown and have moved on, but there’s still a houseful.) Mary has integrated two, and sometimes four, of her daughters into the act and “The Kaye Sisters” as they are known are making a name for themselves.
If you’re a fan of Old West action shooting, you’ve probably seen Tim Start’s handiwork. He designs and builds holsters and accessories for cowboy shooters, and his leather adorns some of the best. Tim’s high-performance pistol holsters, with his High Desert Leather maker’s mark, range from the unadorned to works of art with inlays and tooling and silver other embellishments.
Read about these remarkable people in the new issue of Ranch & Reata. If you don’t receive this classy magazine, subscribe here: www.ranchandreata.com.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mary-made music.


Soon, you’ll be hearing about a Ranch & Reata article I wrote about Mary Kaye. She’s a singer and songwriter of epic proportions. In my pantheon of contemporary Western songwriters, she’s right up there with Brenn Hill and Dave Stamey and a few others whose worthy words do the West justice.
And the truth is, she’s a lot better looking than those guys.
Beyond her ability to weave words into music, Mary Kaye has a voice that can rattle the rafters and caress the soul with equal facility.
Now, you’re probably thinking I am overstating the situation. If anything, I am unable to find the words that do Mary Kaye’s music justice. I have enjoyed all her albums. But the brand-newest one is the bestest. It’s a master work.
Mary Kaye wrote most of the songs on Ride a Wide Circle. She co-wrote some and lights up a few old cowboy tunes. Her husband, who co-produced the album, said their goal was to put together a collection that made the “skip” button on players obsolete. They did it.
Ride a Wide Circle by Mary Kaye.
Damn, that’s good.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 18—Get an Agent.


The writing world has changed. And I am of the opinion that most of those changes have diminished the importance of the literary agent.
Not so many years ago, a writer had to be represented by a literary agent to have any chance of getting published by a reputable firm. To some extent, that’s still the case—certain imprints of the international publishing conglomerates turn their noses up at direct submissions. Queries from authors are lucky to earn a rejection. Most often, they are simply ignored.
But there are many, many small, medium-sized, and even large publishing houses more than happy to deal directly with writers. And, of course, there are innovations like digital publishing and e-books that essentially bypass the traditional publishing process—including agents.
So, does an aspiring author need an agent? I would never say it’s a bad idea, assuming you can hook up with one who’s reputable and recognized. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessary. I have managed to publish books with ten or so publishers, from fairly large ones to teeny-tiny ones, all with nary an agent in sight. And at least a few of those publishers had stated policies of not accepting un-agented submissions.
Of course my ability to evaluate contracts is lacking compared to the expertise of an agent. And, if I were overwhelmed with keeping track of royalties and subsidiary rights and such, I’m sure an agent would come in handy.
So far, however, my misdirected, misguided, and mismanaged literary career doesn’t require a whole lot of the skill or savvy an agent might provide.
Come to think of it, that might be the problem….


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Writing about Phil and Bill.


The summer 2015 issue of range magazine has arrived in mailboxes and on newsstands around the West. Inside its pages are two articles I wrote about interesting Westerners.
Phil Kennington is a well-known cowboy poet who has entertained readers and audiences alike for decades. But Phil’s life is much bigger than poetry. He was raised on a ranch where he learned early on to handle livestock—an education that served him well later in life. He spent decades lifting horses’ legs and tacking on shoes. You can read about Phil in the “Red Meat Survivors” section in the magazine.
Also featured is a ranch that lies between Utah’s Wasatch Plateau and San Rafael Swell. The Quitchumpah Ranch is owned and operated by Bill Stansfield, who runs cattle on Fish Lake National Forest permits, a BLM lease on the San Rafael Desert, and his own pastures. Stansfield—with help from family and friends—was branding calves the day I visited. Some photos from that day were posted here earlier; others accompany the article.
Read these stories and more in range. If you don’t subscribe, you can remedy that here: www.rangemagazine.com.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Can you judge a book by its cover?


The old saying says no—you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Book publishers say yes—readers ought to be able to glean a good deal about what’s inside a book by the nature of its cover. And, for the most part, they live by that belief. The covers of romance novels share a certain similarity. As do mysteries. And science fiction. And thrillers. And fantasy. And other categories of books.
Including, of course, Westerns.
Which brings up the subject of my forthcoming Western novel (look for it in December), Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail. While it is certainly a Western novel, you’d have to cast a pretty wide loop to catch it with the usual herd.
For one thing, it’s humorous—something I think is sadly lacking in Westerns. And most other fiction, for that matter. For another thing, while there are a few confrontations where people get shot at, but I don’t think anybody gets shot.
And again, like its Spur Award-winning predecessor, Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range, it’s filled with lies—or, to use more polite language, tall tales.
Or, as Rawhide Robinson would have you believe, the absolute truth.
Those differences are probably why the cover doesn’t look much like a typical Western novel. Still, the cover does tell you something about what’s inside—a book that’s not much like a typical Western novel.
Finally, if the quality of the artwork on the cover is any indication, what’s inside is likely to be pretty darn good.
If I do say so myself.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 17: Follow the Formula


“Genre” publishing is what they often call it. The business side of the business has created all these boxes to fit books into, whether responding to reader expectations or creating them.
There’s my favorite box—Westerns. And there are mysteries, science fiction, fantasies, romances, thrillers, “chick lit,” and on and on. And each classification often includes sub-genres, such as Action Westerns, Historical Westerns, Western Romances, Western Mysteries, and Adult Westerns, for instance.
All this categorization is fine. Many readers want to know what they’re in for. The problem is, giving readers what they expect often gets carried to extremes, resulting in formulaic sameness and stagnation. Sometimes it gets downright mechanical and methodical—someone has to get kissed by page such and such, there must be a gunfight every thus-and-so many pages, there must be at least two-point-five incidents of some-such every so often, and that sort of thing. I have even heard of authors and editors creating graphs to chart expected events and adjusting the story to fit.
All well and good.
Except one would be hard pressed to find a widely recognized and highly acclaimed novel that adheres to any formula.
Lonesome Dove doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. Blood Meridian breaks all the rules when it comes to Western novels. Elmer Kelton traveled his own trail more often than not. I once heard him say that rather than being “six-foot-two and bullet proof” as expected in a heroic Western character, his were more likely to be “five-foot-seven and nervous.”
There are, of course, many other examples of successful novels in every genre that do not follow the formula.
So, when you have a story to tell, don’t turn it into ingredients for someone else’s recipe—tell it the way it wants to be told. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Back in the Saddle.


In the June-July issue of Ranch & Reata magazine ( www.RanchandReata.com ), you’ll find a feature article I wrote about Amberley Snyder. But all my words on all those pages do not capture her spirit and attitude, I think, as well as the closing lines of Charles Badger Clark’s poem “The Westerner”:

For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
And the world began when I was born
      And the world is mine to win.

Amberley has been horseback from an early age, and winning buckles and saddles and trophies in the rodeo arena for nearly as long. A truck wreck—and the resulting paralysis—that would have sidelined most of us barely slowed Amberley down. She, and her horses, learned to ride again and she is back to her winning ways.
There’s just no holding this young woman back, and her enthusiasm for making the most of every new day is an inspiration.

( The photo of Amberley and her barrel horse Power is by Lauren Anderson: www.facebook.com/Landersonphoto )


Friday, July 10, 2015

Me and my big mouth.


There’s no mistaking the fact that the American West faces a conundrum of quandaries, complications, obstacles, problems, predicaments, pickles, trials, troubles, hurdles, hitches, challenges, difficulties, and other such stuff.
Times might be tougher than ever before in history.
On the other hand, it could be that we hear more bad news more often because of the omnipresent communications technology we’re saddled with these days.
Whatever the case, the West—and the world—would be a better place if we would stop shouting at one another and sit down and simply talk.
That, more or less, is the premise of an opinion piece I wrote for the current issue of American Cowboy magazine. Lines from the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats inspired the essay. “The centre cannot hold,” he wrote. And I argue it is because of these later lines from the poem: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
The August-September American Cowboy is on newsstands now and, of course, available by subscription. ( www.americancowboy.com ) If my opinion doesn’t suit you, you’ll likely find plenty else in the magazine’s pages that will.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 16: Just Say It.

Some time ago, I said in one of these screeds that in good writing “what” you say is important, but “how” you say it is every bit as—if not more—important.
That prompted a comment from a friend, fellow writer, and former teacher that, to his way of thinking, the two are inseparable. I guess we are of different minds. Here’s an explanation. In some of the workshops I teach I use this example to demonstrate:

“In 1776, our founding fathers, desiring freedom and equality for all, created the American nation.”

That sentence is a fairly good, if simplistic, explanation of the birth of our country. It says what it needs to say and does so in a straightforward manner without a lot of foofaraw.
But, the same thought, the same idea, the same “what,” in the hands of a better writer comes out this way:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

That writer was, of course, Abraham Lincoln, opening the lid on his immortal Gettysburg Address. And while my line captured the “what” of it equally well, it will never be immortal.
All because Mr. Lincoln didn’t just say it—he paid more attention to the “how” of saying it.
(If you look hard enough, you’ll see Honest Abe circled in the 1863 photo, below, from the Gettysburg dedication ceremony.)



Monday, June 29, 2015

Happiness is Lubbock, Texas…


To paraphrase an old Mac Davis song, happiness is Lubbock, Texas, in my rearview mirror.
We’re just back from a visit there for the annual Western Writers of America convention. Leaving Lubbock was a happy occasion because when we left town I took with me a WWA Spur Award for my novel Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range and a Spur Finalist Award for my poem “Song of the Stampede” from my book Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems. 
Beyond that, it was enjoyable just being there.
There’s a lot of music in the air in Lubbock—besides Mac Davis, rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly called the place home. Multi-talented Andy Wilkinson is from Lubbock, and he writes some of the best-ever songs and poems and plays about the American West and its people. He entertained WWA members with the able assistance of his Lubbock neighbor and saddle pal, singer-songwriter Andy Hedges.
Finally, it’s always enjoyable to attend the WWA convention to renew old friendships and make new ones. There is little in life as agreeable as hanging around with folks who love the West and words and writing and appreciate the difficulty of getting an idea down just right—say, for instance, capturing a young man’s quest for adventure with a line like, “I thought happiness was Lubbock, Texas, in my rearview mirror.”




Saturday, June 20, 2015

Riding the Range with Rawhide Robinson.


Soon we’ll be setting out for the Llano Estacado and an adventure with Rawhide Robinson. As announced earlier, the novel in which he stars, Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range, is the winner of this year’s Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile Novel from Western Writers of America.
We’ll leave the Wasatch Front, cross paths with the trail Dominguez and Escalante blazed as well as the Old Spanish Trail, head east through the Colorado Rockies past Doc Holliday’s grave, travel south beyond Pikes Peak to connect with the Santa Fe Trail over Raton Pass, then southeast to the XIT Ranch and Dalhart, Texas, on to Amarillo and the Frying Pan Ranch, south past Charlie Goodnight’s Palo Duro Canyon, then on to Lubbock and the annual WWA convention.
It’s a Wild West journey Rawhide Robinson himself would be proud of. But I doubt we’ll experience the kind of extraordinary adventures he did. You are invited—encouraged, even—to ride along with Rawhide Robinson as you read about his escapades in the award-winning novel, suitable for grown-ups and young adults alike. You can get it through online booksellers and it’s available through your local bookstore.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Point and shoot.

I am not a photographer. But, in the course of magazine writing I am often expected to provide pictures to illustrate stories. So, most of what I shoot is journalistic or documentary-type stuff.
But when something interesting in an artistic sense presents itself, I point and shoot and try to capture it. I look for odd angles and unusual arrangements, strange combinations and patterns of colors—things that look almost abstract or graphic in nature. None of the photos here are posed; all were taken on the fly. Only a couple of the images are cropped; the rest are full-frame just as the camera caught them.
Take a look if you’ve got the time. But remember—I am not a photographer.

At the rodeo.
The behind-the-scenes rodeo photos were taken at a high school and a college rodeo. Then there are a couple of shots representing success. Finally, a pair of detail pictures of Jeff Wolf’s monumental sculpture “Rodeo” that I think capture the art’s dynamic action.













At the ranch.
A skyline shot of gathering cattle off Midnight Creek starts this selection, followed by several pictures from a branding. The set ends where it started, with an Idaho ranch horse with a mecate and hackamore hanging from the saddle horn.














At work.
Working with leather is a job, a craft, a skill, and an art. While doing stories on a couple of those artists I captured a few behind-the-scenes photos of some of the tools and materials the artists employ, ending with saddles for sale and an extreme close-up of a maker’s mark stamped into leather.





 





















At play.
Guitars can look as good as they sound. This lone photo comes from the practice pen of Mary Kaye and the Kaye Sisters as they blended bended strings and harmonized sweet voices.