Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Coming Attractions.

This Thy Brother, sequel to my earlier novel, Father unto Many Sons, is slated for release by Five Star later in August. The book picks up the story of the Pate and Lewis families as they work to establish themselves in a new land in New Mexico, and follows the wayward Pate brothers who left the fold in the earlier book.

A few months later, in October, Five Star will release With a Kiss I Die. This love story follows an emigrant girl leaving Arkansas and a Mormon boy in Utah Territory as they attempt to find a life together despite opposition from all directions. This Romeo-and-Juliet-like story ends in southern Utah at Mountain Meadows.

Shortly after the first of the year comes a collection of my short fiction from Five Star, Black Joe and Other Selected Stories. Included is the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award-winning title story, two Western Writers of America Spur Award winners, and several other new and used stories.

Also lurking, with publication dates pending but uncertain, are two original novels from Speaking Volumes, Rawhide Robinson Rides a Wormhole—A True Adventure of Bravery and Daring in the Weird West, and a novel set in the mid-twentieth century, Silver Screen Cowboy. 

More to come.

Friday, July 1, 2022

One man's opinion.

My latest novel, All My Sins Remembered, has been reviewed by readers a number of times, with generally positive comments for such a gritty, violent story. One review in particular examines the novel in depth and offers incisive analysis—well beyond what I, as the author, could offer. The reviewer is Charles E. Rankin, and he is widely experienced in reading, evaluating, editing, and publishing books about the American West. Mister Rankin is the retired Associate Director and Editor in Chief of University of Oklahoma Press; former Director of Publications, Montana Historical Society Press; and former Editor of Montana: The Magazine of Western History.

Here's what he has to say about All My Sins Remembered:

It is not by chance that, in his latest novel, Rod Miller has taken his title, All My Sins Remembered, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Comparable to the Bard and to Cormac McCarthy, this book is about madness. It is also about good and evil in contention, and the road this story travels leads to both. The protagonist—an unnamed roadhouse operator—extorts, murders, and robs from those who have things he wants or who anger him or who become innocent victims of his haunted dreams. Yet he also bestows unprovoked kindness, seemingly without recompense, to those most in need. Others, he leaves alone. Like Hamlet, he dreams, his dreams bring further madness, and they lead to his undoing.

The story takes place at a roadhouse, a western-styled Bates Motel. It sits somewhere in the desert along a dusty road that leads to California and its dreams of renewal in one direction and to some far off, nondescript valley settlements in another. A mining camp that vacillates between lingering death and renaissance is located somewhere not too far up the road, and an impoverished Paiute band ekes out existence somewhere in the surrounding hills and canyons.

At the roadhouse is a windmill and a well. Together, they constitute the story’s fulcrum. The windmill furnishes life-giving water aplenty but at a cost. The well, made unproductive by the windmill, is a sepulcher. It smells like death, as well it should. Many bodies lie at its bottom. For the life-giving water from the windmill, the roadhouse operator charges exorbitantly. All travelers protest the unconscionable cost, but almost all pay it. They are often invited in for a meal, cooked by a Paiute woman who lives slave-like at the roadhouse. If travelers come in to eat, they are directed first to a bowl with water and a towel, but no soap. Soap is for sale, but only one traveler—the photographer—buys it. He will trade images for its cost. Otherwise, the travelers’ hands, like their sins, remain unwashed.

The protagonist controls both the windmill and the well. He is an evil, violent man who commits eleven murders on stage and is undoubtedly guilty of others. The Indian woman who lives with him is silent. He likely cut out her tongue, but we never find out for sure. She is not without heart, however. She is kind to those who deserve it, especially women.

Despite remoteness, many wayfarers arrive at the roadhouse. The cast is as diverse as those in Bret Harte’s Outcasts of Poker Flat. But only two besides the protagonist are particularly important: the Paiute woman and a mail carrier who travels the road every few days on his way from valley towns to mining camp and back again. Both are symbolic. The Paiute woman, like so many Indian people in American history, has no voice. But she perseveres. Often abused and beaten terribly, she is a survivor. The man who carries the mail is a Shane-like character. He functions as fate, conscience, justice, the means to resolution. Like Shane, however, he cannot remain and must ride off into the sunset at the end.

The story is told in the first person from the viewpoint of the roadhouse operator so, like it or not, we come to identify with him. At times, he is a sympathetic character. He does not murder everyone who comes to his roadhouse. In fact, he gives kindly aid to two Mormon missionaries who make him think on religion, to three destitute children who win his father-like sympathy, and to two families so honest, yet so pathetically down on their luck, they gain his help. Other vignettes are equally curious: the three ladies of the night who barter their pleasures for his exorbitant charges; the photographer who does similarly but trades knowledge and photographs of the roadhouse grounds, including the windmill and the well, for what he owes; and the freighter who brings him much desired vegetables and foodstuffs.

The story almost seems Manichean, but it is too complex for that easy interpretation. Rather, as with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, dreams haunt the protagonist’s sleep. Interludes of flashbacks indicate a violent past not of his doing. So, we are not without sympathy, but we are morbidly intrigued. Like a disaster unfolding in real time, we cannot look away.

It is a cliché, but this is the kind of book you cannot put down. It is lean; Rod Miller does not waste words. Yet the story abounds with detail—about food and cooking, about how liquor coats a glass, about how people look—and don’t look—at each other, about how wagons are pieced together and taken apart, about how horses and mules are constituted and act, about telling silences amid edgy conversations. Told with such verve and knowing detail, the story brings characters without names and distinct faces clearly to life. The action is swift, the western scene spare and tense, the whole, as Loren Estleman says, remarkable in its historical accuracy and stunning in its immediacy.

Friday, June 3, 2022

At the Utah Arts Festival.

Every summer (pandemics permitting) some 70,000 people make their way to downtown Salt Lake City for the Utah Arts Festival. On display is art of every kind, from sculpture and painting to music and dance to film and photography and more.

There’s literary art as well, and that’s where I come in. Or go on, if you’d rather.

On Friday, June 24, at 4:00 p.m. I’ll be reading selections from my writings about the 1863 Massacre at Bear River, the bloodiest encounter between the US Army and Indians in the history of the American West. It’s a tragedy largely forgotten and ignored in our collective memory, and that needs to change.

Selections from song lyrics, poetry, short stories, a novel, as well as a nonfiction book and magazine article are on the agenda.

If you’re anywhere near Salt Lake City from June 23 through June 26, be sure to visit the Utah Arts Festival. I’ll be there, and watching for you.

Monday, May 2, 2022

My Favorite Book, Part 28

Here’s a book that I had not heard of until the movie came out, but I did read News of the World by Paulette Jiles before I saw the movie. And, as is usually the case, even though I liked the movie when I finally saw it, the book is better.

The premise itself is an unusual one—a man, Captain Jefferson Kidd, wanders around the isolated settlements of Texas reading from newspapers he collects when possible, informing people—at a price—what is going on in the world beyond the borders of their limited experience. His life gets complicated when he agrees to take on a passenger, a young girl who has been held captive by a Kiowa band and has, for all practical purposes, become Kiowa herself. Kidd is to deliver her to her only surviving relatives, an aunt and uncle.

Along the way, among other adventures, they confront a trio of bad men attempting to steal the girl for nefarious purposes and violence ensues. The delivery to the girl’s relatives doesn’t work out, and the Captain’s and the girl’s lives take an unexpected turn leading to a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

The book is engaging and well written, and is one of the few Western novels nowadays to make its way to the big screen. I liked it. However, even in a novel from a major publisher and as well written and meticulously edited as this one, mistakes sneak through. As an inveterate nitpicker, I scoffed when one of the characters said, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” a phrase completely anachronistic to the time and place. And the author repeatedly refers to a part of a printing press as a paten (which is a little tray used in the Eucharist) when what she means is platen.

Picky, picky, picky.

But we all make mistakes, and News of the World is still a fine book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Where I’ve been—out with the Pony Express.

Not long ago I wrote here of a desire to visit the Pony Express Station sites in Utah’s west desert. That’s one I can check off the list.

With the able guidance and expertise of Patrick Hearty, former president of the National Pony Express Association as well as the Utah Division, Utah Division Historian, and the author, with photography by Dr. Joseph Hatch, of The Pony Express Stations of Utah and The Pony Express in Utah, we drove the trail and stopped at all the Pony stations out to the Nevada border. The road was laid out by army engineer James H. Simpson, and served the Jackass Mail, the Overland Stage, freighters, the US Army, and emigrants as well as the Pony Express.

The desert out there is still an empty place, with few—most of the way, no—residents outside of wild horses and antelope for a hundred miles. But the isolation is beautiful in its way, with blue sky and mountains and plains that stretch as far as the eye can see and beyond. The view is not much changed from what the Pony riders saw as they raced through there in 1860 and 1861. All the stations are marked, some with interpretive information. Some still show ruins and fainter traces from the stations that once stood. The photograph above shows the station site at Simpson’s Springs, where you’ll find a monument erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a replica of a station building erected years ago by FFA students, as well as interpretive information posted by the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association.

The original Willow Springs Station building still stands—barely—at the Willow Springs Ranch in Callao, and houses a number of artifacts and collections from the history of the Pony Express as well as local history. Besides a tour, the owners of the ranch offered help and assistance of another kind—but that’s a story for another day.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Next, please: Father unto Many Sons and This Thy Brother

Father unto Many Sons, released in hardcover by Five Star Publishing in August 2018, was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel. Any day now, Speaking Volumes will release Father unto Many Sons in paperback and ebook. That’s the cover of the new edition, above. In related news, come August, Five Star Publishing will release the sequel to Father unto Many Sons.

This Thy Brother picks up the story where we left the Pate and Lewis families, newly arrived in New Mexico. Watch as the members of the families attempt to build new lives in a new land in This Thy Brother.

Also in the pages of This Thy Brother, you’ll find connections to yet another of my novels, A Thousand Dead Horses.

If you missed Father unto Many Sons or A Thousand Dead Horses, you still have time to get the stories started that will make reading This Thy Brother much richer and more enjoyable.

On a personal note, I never intended a sequel when I started—or finished—Father unto Many Sons. But my brother, Zeb Miller, said there should be one. I wrote This Thy Brother for him. I only wish he had lived to read it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pairs of Aces.

In a recent post I mentioned the on-screen chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Some readers wrote to say they agreed that it was a fine pairing. That set me to thinking about other pairs that, together, made their characters and the movie better than they would have been otherwise. Here are some that are embedded in my memory as winning pairs—pairs of aces, if you will.

At the top of my list has to be Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall in the television mini-series Lonesome Dove. Both these actors are favorites of mine, and together they made one of the best duos ever.

Going back a few years, there’s the unforgettable combination of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda in The Rounders.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen were outstanding in Appaloosa. An altogether different kind of movie, a hilarious spoof of Westerns, teamed up Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. In the category of remakes that improve on the original as well as demonstrate the importance of casting, don’t miss True Grit with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon (and, of course, Hailee Steinfeld).

Finally, there’s a movie on my list far removed from a Western—but it stars two old cowboys who can’t help but be cowboys. Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth were a pair of aces in the baseball movie The Natural—two actors I liked in any role, and especially enjoyed seeing together. They also co-starred in a short-lived TV series, The Boys of Twilight. It was set, and shot in part, in my home state of Utah. I didn’t see it (me and everybody else, it seems) but I hope to find it somewhere, somehow. Those two old codgers make a good pair to draw to.