Sunday, December 3, 2023

Stupid words redux.

After my latest rant on abuse of our shared language, a friend suggested I did not like to see language evolve. But it happens. It’s something that can’t be helped. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s an improvement. Sometimes it’s not.

But I can sleep at night knowing that many—at least some—of the stupid words I rant about will end up on the trash heap of speech, discarded as the useless, even noxious, locutions they are.

Using only words extant during my lifetime, I offer some examples of this self-correction.

Time was, people who were “cool” (a word that was silly then and still is, but has demonstrated staying power) were ofttimes referred to as “cats.” If they were really cool, they were “hep” cats. No more. In the same vein, “groovy” has pretty much disappeared. And when was the last time you heard something cool referred to as “far out” or “bitchin’?” “Fab” had its day, which has long since passed. And we no longer say we “dig” things that are cool. An event or incident that was the opposite of cool was often called a “bummer.”

Clothes were once “threads” but now they are not. No longer are women “chicks” or “dames.” I haven’t heard police referred to as “fuzz” lately. And we have moved beyond all the silly CB radio-inspired lingo too expansive to chronicle here. To that I can only say, “10-4 good buddy. See you on the flip side. Keep your ears on.”


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Good Books.

Read any good books lately? Along with numerous other writers, I was asked by the web site to list the three best books I read in the past year. Not necessarily books that were new in the past year, but books read during that period. 

For almost 40 years (don’t ask me why) I have kept a list of the books I read. So, finding my three favorites for the year took nothing more than paging back 12 months and going through the list to see which titles jumped out at me. Some surprised me, to be honest. Others almost topped the ones I chose, but not quite. Still, it was not an easy decision. Maybe, on a different day, my choices would be different.

You can see my list here:

And don’t hesitate to wander around the web site for other lists by other writers on other subjects. (Somewhere on there is my list of five Western novels about cowboys who really are cowboys, rather than the usual fare of outlaws, lawmen, gamblers, and the like.)

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Really Stupid Words, Chapter 22.

You hear a lot about “hacks” nowadays.

Not, in this case, “hack” as a means to cut or sever or chop with repeated irregular or unskillful blows, as most dictionaries define the word’s original and primary meaning.

Nor does it conform to another longstanding sense of being unable to deal with a given situation successfully, as in “he can’t hack it,” or “he’s a hack writer,” both of which can be seen to have evolved from the original meaning.

Nor is the current usage related to the meaning of the word that came along with the rise of computer networks and the internet, where people “hack” into computer systems where they have no business being, whether for fun or to do damage—chopping their way in, so to speak.

No. The current buzzwordy use of hack has to do with something altogether different, and I am not sure how or why it applies. You hear a lot these days about this “hack” or that “hack” that seems (apparently) to be a shortcut or something of the sort. Just lately, I have been advised of “hacks” for life, fishing, parenting, productivity, health, housekeeping, heating and cooling, cooking, cleaning, clothing, crafts, decluttering, organization, school, math, travel, and on and on and on…

On a side note, “hack” seems to be popular with the same people who are fond of “side hustle” (which sounds to me like being up to something no good) and “the gig economy.”

I cannot fathom the word “hack” in this most recent—but already clich├ęd—usage. I guess I wish there were a “hack” for understanding stupid words.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

On the air in Ireland.

This story starts a few years ago but got derailed when Covid shut the world off for a time. A radio producer from Ireland contacted me to say he lived and worked in County Kerry, homeland of Patrick Edward Connor. Connor was the army commander behind the Massacre at Bear River (promoted from colonel to brigadier general following the atrocity), the Father of Utah Mining, and was involved in other military and business pursuits here in the West.

The man from Radio Kerry, Jerry O’Sullivan, wanted to create a radio documentary about Connor, was coming to Utah, and wondered if he could interview me. Then came Covid.

But all things must pass, and early this summer he contacted me to say he was on his way. We spent some time at the remnants of Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, including a spell at Connor’s gravesite in the cemetery there to record the interview. O’Sullivan interviewed other people here, then went back to Ireland to put the program together. It aired on Radio Kerry in early August, and “Glory Hunter” is now available on Spotify. (Just click on “Glory Hunter” and you’ll go there.)

O’Sullivan also wrote a commentary on Connor, the connections between Ireland and the USA, and the way we remember history. That article appeared recently in the Salt Lake Tribune. (Again, a click should get you there.)

Connor was an interesting man of many accomplishments—not all of them laudable. It will be worth your time to hear—and read—what Jerry O’Sullivan has to say about him.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

See page 26.

The August 2023 issue of Roundup Magazine, official publication of Western Writers of America, focuses on the theme “Writing the Traditional Western Novel” in a series of articles. One story, by Western Writers Hall of Fame author
Loren D. Estleman, offers a departure to talk about Western novels that stray from the herd in search of something more.

Estleman writes in “Westerns: Beyond Tradition”: “The difference between the ‘traditional’ Western and literature that resonates through the decades is the sense that these stories are not confined to the page. The characters seem to have a life outside the story. Men and women live and die, often violently; but they don’t exist merely to thrill. While they live, other lives are affected, and when they die, others are left to mourn, or at least ask why. That simple premise is what separates the enduring classic from empty tradition.”

Offered as examples are The Virginian by Owen Wister (of which, Estleman says, “Nearly all the tropes we associate with the Western were invented by one writer in one book”), Shane by Jack Schafer, True Grit by Charles Portis, the novella “A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy M. Johnson, Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson, and All My Sins Remembered by Rod Miller.

What? If that last bit surprises you, imagine my surprise when I saw it. About the book, Estleman writes, among other things, “Miller tells his story with a minimum of emotion and just the right amount of pathos, masterfully expressed between the lines of his spare prose. A 2022 release, All My Sins Remembered is a late addition to the long string of Western classics and promises that it’s nowhere near its end.”

By happenstance, when the article appeared I had just started proofreading the galleys for the pending paperback and eBook editions of All My Sins Remembered, due out within the next couple of months. The hardcover edition is still out there and will be, I hope, for a long, long time.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Coming Attraction.

How does a young man who fled Missouri fearing a murder charge make a new life in the West? How does a mountain man make a living when the fur trade dries up? How does a Ute boy on the verge of manhood prove his worth? How does a lovesick California vaquero learn to live in exile?

A Thousand Dead Horses asks these questions and more as it tells a story drawn from the history of the Old Spanish Trail. It’s coming soon in paperback and e-book editions from Speaking Volumes.

This novel was a joy to write as I delved deep into history and tried to see it through the eyes of a variety of characters facing myriad challenges, all built into the true story of a series of unprecedented and unequaled raids on California missions and ranchos to steal thousands of horses and mules. It’s a tough tale, both for the characters and the reader. But, as my friend and best-selling author Marc Cameron says, “Fire embers snap, saddle leather groans—and the richly drawn characters pull you along with them on their adventure.”

Watch for the release of the paperback and e-book editions of A Thousand Dead Horses. It’s the novel with the pretty cover shown above.