Friday, December 8, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 42: Know (and Follow) the Rules.


Many, many of the “lies” addressed in these parts have to do with the “rules” passed along to aspiring writers at conferences and workshops, in books and articles, by critique groups and manuscript readers.
Most of the “rules” are based, in some part, on reality. But seldom are they universal enough in application to even qualify as “rules.” “Advice” or “considerations” would make more apt descriptions.
The simple fact is, if you want to write, and write well, you have to figure it out for yourself. No one else can guide the pencil or stroke the keyboard or tell you how to tell your story.
That’s not to say you should ignore the “rules” you hear. Neither should you accept them unconsidered or untested. Try that, and you’ll end up hopelessly confused, staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper wondering how to proceed and continually contradicting yourself as one “rule” clashes with another.
I think the best advice concerning following the “rules” is that offered by W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”




Friday, December 1, 2017

Shameless commerce (and a freebie).


It’s that time of year. ’Tis the season when giving and getting are on everyone’s mind. And what better Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Boxing Day) gift could there possibly be than a book. Or two or twelve.
Being a writer of books, I hope, of course, you will consider giving my books as gifts. There are nonfiction books about the history of the West, novels of the serious and silly kind, short stories for short attention spans, and poems for even shorter attention spans. Enjoyable reading for folks from junior high to geriatrics.
You’ll find information about them all at www.writerRodMiller.com and www.RawhideRobinson.com.
If you hurry, you’ll have time to read them yourself before you give them away. But if you don’t finish in time for Christmas, Chinese New Year comes around February 16 in 2018, and it’s another fine opportunity to give a book as a gift.
 Happy holidays.



Enter by December 7 to win a free copy of Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero on Goodreads. Visit Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary Giveaway and find the button marked “Enter Giveaway” and you’re in. But hurry. Rawhide Robinson waits for no man (or woman).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 11.


Since my long-ago college days I have had a more-than-passing interest in the history of American Indians. My shelves contain many books on the subject. But none has affected my research and writing more directly than The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre by Brigham D. Madsen.
The book covers the history of the Northern Shoshoni from early contact with whites around 1840, until the ratification of treaties with the United States government in 1864. Included in the story, of course, are some 40 pages treating the Bear River Massacre, during which US Army troops slaughtered somewhere between 250 and 350 Indians—the worst massacre of Indians by the army in the history of the West. Included in the book is Shoshoni historian Mae Parry’s account of the massacre.
That such a tragedy could be largely lost to history intrigued me. I set out to learn more about it, including the privilege of talking with the author, Brigham Madsen, on several occasions.
Reading The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre led to my writing Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten as well as a chapter on the subject in my book The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed, a short story, a magazine article, several poems, and even the lyrics to a song, “And the River Ran Red.”
But it was not only the subject matter of the book that intrigued me. Besides being one of the West’s foremost historians and experts on American Indians, Madsen was a fine writer. This book, as well as the many others he wrote, is well worth reading.




Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Were people in the Old West better than now?


Many people I know—writers and readers and viewers alike—are of the opinion that people living in the Old West were somehow “better” than those of us walking the earth today.
Back then, people didn’t use profanity. Honesty and square dealing ruled the day. Men placed women on a pedestal. Women were content in the kitchen and keeping house. Children were obedient, save occasional innocent hijinks. And while those were violent times, it was mostly good guys in white hats killing bad guys in black hats who needed killing. Truth, justice, and the American way ruled the day.
Studying history—rather than reading novels and watching movies and TV shows based on celebratory mythology—will soon disabuse you of any notion that human nature was any different then than now. Or at any other time in the history of people, for that matter. Certainly social conventions change, but that only affects times and places of misbehavior rather than behavior itself.
Back then, while men pretended to put “the fairer sex” on a pedestal, wives were little more than chattel, and could be beaten with little or no consequence. Ladies of the evening were routinely mistreated, with abusers considering violence included in the price. Alcoholism was rampant, drug abuse widespread. Child labor routine. Mistreatment of minorities acceptable, even encouraged. And so on.
The only real difference between then and now is that bad behavior often occurred behind closed doors in those days, and was little noted. Unseen, but there all the same. Now, it fills our TV screens and newspapers day and night.
Our blind spot concerning the evil in days gone by reminds me of the poem “Antigonish” by William Hughes Mearns. It begins this way:

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away.




Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cultured cowboy.


Cowboy culture is a thing unto itself. Not to be confused with “high culture” associated with high society and such. In fact, the two worlds are, for all practical purposes, in different orbits altogether and seldom cross paths.
But, every now and then, something happens that makes you realize they’re not really all that far apart after all.
It happened to me recently.
Being big fans of cowboy singer Dave Stamey, my wife and I wandered down into central Utah for a concert not long ago. Which is not unusual, given that we’ve sat in the audience at a lot of his performances.
But what was unusual this time was that the artist—usually a solo performer—had a backup band: the Snow College symphony orchestra.
So, as Dave picked his guitar and crooned his cowboy tunes, he was accompanied by a string section, woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments, all harmonizing in beautiful arrangements of songs written by Dave, along with a few Western standards.
It was a sight to behold (or should I say “be heard”?). The power of Dave’s music intensified with the orchestration, leading to a new appreciation of his songwriting, singing, and strumming skills.
It was a night to remember. And I didn’t even have to wear a tie.






Cowboy songwriter and singer Dave Stamey


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Re-Ride Stories.

When rodeo cowboys hang out, conversations often turn to “re-ride stories.” Sometimes true, often embellished, occasionally fabricated, and usually humorous, re-ride stories recount rodeo adventures. Actual re-rides, wrecks, bad luck, great performances, road adventures…the subjects are many and varied. 
But one thing’s for sure—rodeo folks like a good story, even if they themselves come off looking foolish in the telling. And rodeo folks are not immune to the “The older I get the better I was” phenomenon among humans, so the stories, over time, sometimes take on lives of their own.
As the years pass, many rodeo folks drift away from the arenas of their youth as lives travel different paths. But the memories linger. And so does the longing to, and enjoyment of, recounting that life and telling those stories, especially to an appreciative and understanding audience.
That’s why I’m looking forward to the Re-Ride Reunion. On November 3, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., all rodeo folks from ’60s, ’70s, and ‘80s are invited to gather at the Zermatt Resort Hotel in Midway, Utah. We’ll re-connect with long-lost friends, renew old acquaintances, and, mostly, revisit days gone by.
Afterward, most will probably make the short drive down the road to Heber City for the Friday night performance of the PRCA Wilderness Circuit Finals to witness the birth of another go-round of re-ride stories.
I know there are some in the Intermountain West who read this stuff who would love to hear some re-ride stories, and have some of their own to tell. Learn more on Facebook.  
See you there.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Where have you been?


My travels of late can’t begin to match country singer Hank Snow’s list of stopovers in the classic 1962 hit, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Still, I haven’t been sitting still.
In late September I spent an enjoyable couple of days spouting off about creative nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, and Western writing at the Idaho Writers League annual conference. I have presented at several IWL conferences over the years, and it’s always a pleasure. LaDean Messenger, president of the Pocatello chapter, ramrodded the event and made it a success, just as she has in years past when it’s been Pocatello’s turn.
In early October, I made my way across the Salt Lake Valley (not always easy) to the Salt Lake Community College main campus for the two-day League of Utah Writers annual conference. Not quite as intimate as the Idaho event (with more than 400 attendees), but I still enjoyed speaking to aspiring and accomplished writers on improving prose by employing poetic techniques, writing opening lines that grab readers, and writing poetry.
The following weekend found me 100 or so miles from home at the west campus of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, for the Write Here in Ephraim conference. Another enjoyable event, where I got to hang out with writers and teach a workshop on using humor in fiction as well as one based on the popular “Lies They Tell Writers” posts that appear here from time to time.
I haven’t been everywhere, but that’s some of the places I’ve been lately. Like my old Daddy always used to say sometimes, “Everybody’s got to be someplace, so you might as well be somewhere.”
And here I am.




Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 41: Plan on Rejection.


You hear the stories all the time: How famous author so-and-so’s first novel, which went on to become a best seller and a classic, received forty-eleven-hundred rejection letters from publishers before finally getting published.
Don’t plan on it happening to you.
Your book may go on to be a classic, but it’s unlikely you’ll get many rejection letters along the way.
That’s because what once was true is seldom the case anymore. In days gone by, publishers routinely sent rejection letters to aspiring authors. Some were boilerplate one-size-fits-all form letters, others offered actual criticism of the book, reasons why it was not a good fit for that publisher, even encouragement and advice.
But, except on rare occasions, those days are gone.
Queries and submissions today are met, more often than not, with silence.
Most large publishing houses are staffed by a fraction of the number of people they were in the past, and those still on the job don’t have—or won’t take—the time to respond to—reject—your work. Smaller publishers are often shoestring operations and the owner-publisher-editor-designer-distributor-chief cook and bottle washer has too many pies and not enough fingers to reject every (or any) submission that comes along.
This is true for unsolicited queries and submissions, but also, in many cases, applies when you’ve been invited during an interview at a conference or workshop to submit. You’ll get much the same treatment from literary agents. Unanswered queries are also the norm nowadays at periodicals.
Still, if you don’t submit or query, you’ll never get anywhere so you’ve got to do it. Just don’t bother steeling yourself for the heartbreak of being rejected. More likely, you’ll simply be ignored. Which I find even more disheartening.





Thursday, September 14, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 10.


Mountain Man by Vardis Fisher is the story of Sam Minard, a young man who leaves the settled parts of America to make his way as a free trapper in the West. Borrowing from both fact and legend of the era, Minard is loosely based on John “Liver-Eating” Johnston, and Fisher includes the disturbed widow for whom Crazy Woman Creek was named in the story.
Minard takes a Flathead woman for a wife and fathers a child, but while he is away trapping, Crow Indian warriors kill his family. The mountain man turns Crow hunter, tracking down and killing every man of the tribe he finds, which results in his being hunted by his Crow foes in an ongoing and bloody feud.
All that is well and good, and for the most part the story the book tells is not much different from other mountain man and fur trapper tales. What I like best about Mountain Man is Fisher’s lyrical language and rich imagery. I get cold and hungry every time I read the book; at other times I feel well fed and comfortable. He writes a romantic version of life in the Old West, but he romanticizes it beautifully.
The book was the basis (along with other sources) for a fine movie, Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford.
It’s a good movie. But, as is usually the case, it’s a better book.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rawhide Robinson spills the beans.


There are plenty of people who interview authors. You can learn a lot about writers and their writing from what they have to say. But author and publisher Kathryn Jones takes a different approach. She interviews characters from books. It’s an interesting and revealing approach, and leads to some remarkable revelations.
Not long ago, Kathryn interviewed the extraordinary ordinary cowboy Rawhide Robinson. You can read the results on her site. Kathryn also graciously allowed Rawhide Robinson to post the interview on RawhideRobinson.com.
Read all about it, and see what Rawhide Robinson has to say for himself.  


Monday, August 28, 2017

Once in a lifetime.
















Here we go again—completely ignoring the joys of reading and writing to wander off into the trivia of life.
Sorry, I can’t resist.
On August 21, the good people of the good ol’ USA were treated to a coast-to-coast total eclipse of the sun. It doesn’t happen very often. For some of us, it will probably never happen again. So I thought I’d comment on the spectacle.
Where we live in Utah, 91% of the sun was obscured, leaving only a tiny crescent of the orb visible through our approved eclipse-viewing glasses. My wife and I sat on the driveway looking up from time to time for quite a spell.
But what we found most intriguing wasn’t in the sky—it was on the ground, at our feet.
Shading much of our driveway is a big (and messy) tree. Some kind of elm, we think. Where the sun peeked through the thick foliage, the tree created hundreds of “pinhole projectors” that cast the eclipsing sun on the concrete surface of the driveway. That’s what you’re seeing in the photo above—each of the many crescents is an image of the eclipsed sun.
We thought it was kind of neat, so we took a bunch of pictures of it. Later, on TV, one of the NASA experts mentioned the phenomenon. I doubt I’ll ever see it again.
Next time, it’s back to reading and writing. Unless, that is, some other strange and spectacular thing happens.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Picky eater.

 

Warning: what follows is all about eating and has nothing to do with reading.
Often at mealtime, and at meal-planning time, I am accused of being a picky eater.
I disagree.
If you ask me, I’m just a man of simple tastes. I can’t help it. I was raised that way. The town I grew up in was so small we did not eat pasta there. We had macaroni. And we had noodles. But if someone would have said “pasta” we would not have had any clue what that person was talking about.
Bread was bread. It was usually homemade, sometimes store-bought, but always just plain old bread. Nothing “artisan” and no one ever served up a loaf sprinkled with stuff that looks like it came off the bottom of a bird cage. I see that sort of thing a lot now. But I don’t eat it.
Vegetables mostly came in in the form of potatoes, peas, beans, corn, and carrots. Salads were occasional and as often as not made with potatoes or macaroni rather than green things—and none of that green stuff was ever kale or arugula, to my knowledge. I only remember being served artichokes one time, and that was on a cattle ranch in Nevada. Which surprised me, and still does.
Meat was a staple. Because we raised it, it was always available. Roast beef and steaks and hamburger and soup bones. Pork chops and roasts and ham and bacon and side pork. Lamb (which I never cottoned to; same with goat) and deer meat. Lots of chickens (and eggs), fried. Nowadays I’ve narrowed my meat menu down to beef and pork, with chicken (yardbird, as my brother calls it) very rarely, still fried. As for other poultry, I get turkeyed out for the year about three days after Thanksgiving. Fish and seafood were pretty much unknown at our house, except the occasional “fish stick” or the rare trout we caught.
We seldom ate out when I was a kid. A trip to the hamburger stand when out shopping was about it. In fact, I thought it unusual that people would go out to eat for no particular reason.
At our house nowadays we eat food somebody else cooked quite often, and it’s usually just plain old food. I’m told it’s because I’m a picky eater. But, truth be told, I am simply not interested in strange cookbook foodstuffs that usually end in the letter “i” and hide under some kind of sauce, and where “plating” and “presentation” are more important than taste.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Another Rawhide Robinson cover up.


Five Star, publisher of my Rawhide Robinson novels, recently sent the cover for the next book featuring the adventures of the extraordinary ordinary cowboy. That’s it, up there.
The book is due for release in February and I am looking forward to seeing it in print. It is always exciting (and somewhat intimidating) to see something you’ve seen about a million times on your computer screen show up as a genuine, actual, ink-on-paper book.
Read a bit more about Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero (and the other Rawhide Robinson novels). And consider putting the first two in the collection on your Christmas list for readers from junior high through geriatrics who would enjoy tall tales, Old West adventures, and cowboy humor.
And save room on your book shelves for the next one, come February.





Saturday, July 29, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 40: Characterization is key.














There is no shortage of advice for fiction writers about characterization. You couldn’t throw a loop at a writers’ conference without catching a session about character development.
You’ll hear endless discussions comparing implicit and explicit characterization. You’ll hear about archetypes and character voice. Introduction and emergence. And other fancy ways of talking about the people you make up to populate your made-up stories.
The problem, as most successful writers will admit, is that characters have a way of saying and doing things you never intended. They routinely violate the commandments you laid down in your “character bible.” They’ll often thumb their noses at you and do what they please, whether you like it or not.
Sometimes, characters simply refuse to develop the way you planned.
When that happens, you know you’ve done your job.
That’s because characters that take the bit in their teeth and run off with you are more like real people than carefully crafted, methodically developed, perfectly polished props.
Come to think of it, when it comes to successful character development, being a writer is a lot like being a parent.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Range Writers Extraordinaire.

Last night found us in Richfield, Utah, to enjoy some fine cowboy entertainment. Stepping onto the stage were some of the best wranglers of Western words you’ll find anywhere. 



Andy Nelson of Wyoming pens some of the funniest cowboy poetry going. He’s also adept at more reflective verse, and is author of an enjoyable book, Ridin’ with Jim, built around growing-up experiences with his father. 


At times, Andy teams up with Utah singer/songwriter Brenn Hill, trading poems and songs on stage. Brenn has been mentioned here before, lately as composer of “And the River Ran Red,” using words I wrote. Brenn’s ability as a songwriter covers the West both wide and deep, and his music, recorded on some dozen albums, earns him well-deserved recognition.















California cowboy Dave Stamey has won every award available for a Western singer/songwriter, many of them more than once. Dave’s insightful writing, virtuoso guitar licks, and comfortable presence on stage are always enjoyable.
There are plenty of cowboy singers and poets regaling the world with their works and I appreciate the talents of many of them. But you’d have to cover a lot of range to find the equal of these three—not only for their abilities as entertainers on the stage, but for the riveting qualities of the words they write.
And the fact that I count them all as friends is the result of my admiration, not the cause.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 9.














The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols is a strange book. It can make you laugh so hard you’ll fall off your chair. And it can make you cry.
The characters in the story are quirky, odd, strange, eccentric, and altogether realistic and believable. Nichols captures the dialect and vernacular of the people who have populated the northern New Mexico mountains for centuries in ways that tickle the ear. Equally well-drawn are the gringo interlopers who, in the name of “progress,” attempt to upset the delicate balance between people and the land.
While there are serious issues at work here, treated with the gravity they deserve, the missteps and mistakes of combatants on all sides add humor and hilarity to the telling. Pride and poverty, affluence and hubris, nature and the supernatural, legalities and scofflaws all play a role, and together they weave a wonderful tale of a town trying to survive in spite of itself.


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 www.RawhideRobinson.com 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 www.RawhideRobinson.com. 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.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Porter Rockwell pulls the trigger in True West.



The latest issue of True West magazine (May 2017) is on newsstands. Most fans of the Old West are familiar with this colorful, lively publication that chronicles all kinds of people and events from our history.
In this issue you’ll find “Utah Bloodbath,” an article I wrote about Porter Rockwell’s pursuit and shooting of Lot Huntington, and the suspicious deaths of Huntington’s partners in crime after Rockwell turned them over to the Salt Lake City police. Robbery, horse stealing, and the brutal beating of Utah’s governor all led up to the shootout and are reported in the story. As is usually the case with history, many details are sketchy and accounts differ. But the article attempts to present events as recorded in contemporary sources. 
Porter Rockwell was one of the Western frontier’s most feared and respected gunmen, but his place in history in no way reflects his fame and infamy in his day. Perhaps this article in this influential magazine will help bolster his memory.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“Spring into Books” 2017.


Book lovers who live along the Wasatch Front here in Utah are in for a treat. The Salt Lake County Library System’s “Spring into Books” event is on the horizon.
Dozens of authors (including yours truly) will be on hand, offering reading for all ages and all interests. There will also be workshops, readings, fun and games, and other activities. If you’re in the area, join us Saturday, May 20 from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan.
Otherwise, find my books online at writerRodMiller.com for good reading this spring, summer, or any season.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Was Mark Twain right?


There’s a quotation (that comes in several versions) attributed (without supporting evidence) to the great Western writer Mark Twain: “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.”
It seems that attitude is becoming popular among American writers.
As a sometimes book reviewer and writing contest judge, I read a lot of books. And more and more, I find a lot of editing errors. Punctuation is often sloppy. Sentence construction is sometimes unfathomable. Word choice questionable.
And correct spelling overlooked.
Letters in a word might be inverted. A related—but wrong—word form might be used. A homonym might be used in place of the correct word. Occasionally I come across a word that is correctly spelled but is the altogether wrong word—not a homonym, exactly, but sometimes it’s a word close enough to what the author intended that I can figure out what it should be.
I find such easy-to-correct errors in traditionally published books, but rarely. They appear more often in books from small publishers. But they appear most often in self-published books. Sometimes, in self-published books in which the author acknowledges an editor or proofreader or both. They should ask for a refund.
But, really, they should fix these things themselves. Everybody makes mistakes, and errors have a way of slipping through. There is no excuse, however, for outright sloppiness. Spell checkers help, but can’t flag a correctly spelled word used incorrectly. Use a dictionary if you’re not absolutely sure. It only takes a minute. Simple spelling errors should be as rare as hen’s teeth in a published book.
Truth be told, out of respect for readers they should be just as rare in online postings, emails, letters, and everything we write—but that may be too much to ask. Especially in a time when pointing out online mistakes creates furor and derision.
If you believe the aforementioned quotation attributed to Mark Twain, he would be delighted with the current state of affairs when it comes to spelling.
But I doubt it.