Friday, December 26, 2014

Hot off the press.

The second issue of the new online magazine, Saddlebag Dispatches, is now available. Boss editor Dusty Richards and his crew have assembled an impressive array of fiction, history, photography, and essays on the American West, so there will be something for every taste somewhere in the more-than-100 pages.
On page 82 is part two of my serialized long short story, “The Passing of Number 16,” in which the big bad Wolf threatens young bareback rider Tanner Lambert, and Deputy Hugh Morgan shreds another toothpick.
New to this issue is the first installment of a column Dusty asked me to write for the magazine, “Best of the West,” in which I sing the praises of the best writer among all the classic cowboy poets. That’s on page 102. You can get to Saddlebag Dispatches here: And be sure to invite all your friends to take a look as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

We Come Bearing Gifts.

The holiday season is upon us, with celebrations of many kinds, from Christmas to Boxing Day to Kwanzaa to Hanukkah to Saturnalia and so on.
While there is much to celebrate and reflect on this season, there is also a crassly commercial aspect to it all—the hectic race to give and receive gifts. My contribution to all the commercialism is the suggestion that there is no finer gift than a good book.
Books have shelf life. The recipient can enjoy it now, and later, and later yet again. Books don’t spoil, dry up and blow away, wilt or wither, crash, lose power, fade, or otherwise lose their luster. A good book can bring hours of enjoyment—not only to the owner, but to others it is shared with, as well.
There are books for every age and every taste, on every subject and for every interest. A good book is engaging and involving, and, by its very nature, interactive. Reading stretches the imagination and grows gray cells. It can be a solitary or a social activity. Using a book requires nothing but light—no batteries, no assembly, no wires, no tools. A book is portable—you can take it with you and use it almost anywhere and everywhere.
As you go down your gift list, consider a book for every name you find.
And, to sum up with a self-serving, greedy, avaricious suggestion, check out the books at Somebody, somewhere, might like one of them.
If not, there are plenty of alternatives. So, by all means, give good books.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 9: Writing is a Compulsion.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “I write because I have to” I may well find myself living among the privileged two percent.
Being something of an idiot, I don’t know what they mean when they say that. It sounds as if sitting down and making words appear on a monitor is a compulsion. Or an obsession. Or an addiction. Or some other irresistible urge related to a disorder of some sort. And if they didn't write, they would suffer some horrible sort of withdrawal.
For me, writing is enjoyable. I do it because I want to (and when I want to, unless I am on deadline), not because I have to. When I don’t want to, I don’t. And I and don’t feel slighted or guilty or get the shakes or anything else unpleasant as a result. 
And that makes sitting in a chair for extended periods of time and tapping away on a keyboard and staring at a glowing window with the alphabet crawling around on it like so many little ants tolerable.
Otherwise, it could qualify as a torture.
Although I can’t speak from experience—not being the addictive type—it seems to me that writing because you “have to” in order to satisfy some imagined (or, perhaps, real) compulsion is nothing more than going through the motions. And going through the motions is no way to write well.
Or live well, for that matter.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cowboy poetry goes to college.

A while back the people at the University of Utah Division of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning tracked me down and asked me to develop and teach an introductory course on writing cowboy poetry. I agreed before they had a chance to realize the error of their ways.
Wednesday evenings from March 25 through April 29 (2015, of course) from 6:30 to 8:30, I will be watching (and, I hope, helping) the participants who show up wrangle the alphabet into words, words into lines, lines into stanzas, and stanzas into poems.
What could be more fun?
If you’re within driving distance of the University of Utah Continuing Education campus in Sandy—or can afford the airfare from elsewhere—join us for adventures in poetry. I’m looking forward to going back to school and learning a thing or two. And, teaching a few things as well. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 8: Don’t Worry About Grammar and Spelling.

On more than a few occasions, I have heard people say before an audience of aspiring, and even accomplished, writers, “Don’t worry about grammar and spelling. The editors will fix that. Just tell your story. Get it out there.”
It could be that will work with some editors, sometimes. But I am more in keeping with Baxter Black’s view that an editor’s job is to keep you from getting published. And, to further that notion, the first thing editors look for when they pick up a manuscript is a reason to toss it in the trash and get on to the next submission.
It’s not that editors are mean. But they are busy and overworked and haven’t the time to wade through a lot of amateurish writing—whether it be poor spelling, bad grammar, awkward syntax, a lousy plot, awful characters, dumb dialogue, or whatever.
They haven’t the time to waste.
But writers do. And, in our case, that time isn’t wasted. We ought to be concerned enough about our work that we want to get it right. And getting the little things right is often an indication that the big things will fall into place as well. Not always. But often enough to make it worth the effort.
Sew, sea that you’re spelling and stuff is rite wen your righting.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rod Miller on COW radio.

Not long ago I had the privilege of talking with Andy Nelson. Anyone who knows Andy will know what an experience that is. He is, without a doubt, one of the funniest men in all of the Wild West. He’s a writer, a poet, a comedian, a master-of-ceremonies, and all manner of entertainer. And he swings a fine shoeing hammer.
Along with his brother, Jim, (that’s Andy on the left in the photo above, Jim on the right) he also hosts a weekly syndicated radio show, C.O.W. (Clear Out West) Radio that is broadcast on several stations in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon, as well as on the Internet. Cowboy music, poetry, interviews, features, and unfettered fun are always on the air when they roll tape on C.O.W. Radio.
Andy and I talked about my sorry cowboy skills as well as Western writing and my new book, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems. My appearance is on Show #615, to be broadcast at various times and places during the week of November 17-23, and available for download.
Find out more about—and listen to—C.O.W. Radio here:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 7: Cowboy Poetry and Free Verse Don’t Mix.

I like poetry—I like reading it and I like writing it. Most of the poetry I write is about cowboys, and I carry some cowboy credentials. So, I guess I am a cowboy poet—or, at least, a poet cowboy.
For the record, some of the poems I write have rhyme or meter or both and some have neither. That’s obvious in my books Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems and Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems as well as my poems in periodicals and anthologies. Fooling around with words and fiddling around with sounds is fun—and hard work. And so is letting a poem find itself, whether it wants rhyme and meter or wants to run free.
The simple truth is, rhyme and meter are poetic tools, not requirements. And that holds true for any brand of poetry.
There are those—some friends among them—who believe that if it isn’t rhymed and metered (although most of them are a bit sketchy on what meter actually entails) it isn’t cowboy poetry. There’s even an organization I was once part of that claims poetry without rhyme and meter—free verse, to use the term that, for some reason, raises their ire—isn’t poetry at all, but prose.
To make such a claim is either arrogant or ignorant. Maybe both.
And it’s a claim that cannot be supported with any authority, whether you’re talking poetry by or about cowboys, or poetry in general.
You might as well claim that Western music isn’t Western music unless it is written in the key of G, in 3/4 time, with a waltz rhythm, at 82 beats a minute.
That, of course, would be absurd. But no more so than claiming that only poems with rhyme and meter are poems, and that free verse isn’t poetry.

To see if I practice what I preach, get a copy of my new collection of poems about cowboys and the West from Pen-L Publishing (

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hanging Out With Writers.

      During the past couple of months I have had the opportunity to hang out with writers.
      Late September found me in Idaho Falls for the Idaho Writers League annual conference. I was invited to present a couple of workshops there—a half day on researching and writing historical fiction, and an hour-long session on creative nonfiction.
      The conference drew a good group of writers from across and up and down the state. Both my sessions were well attended, and no one pelted me with wilted vegetables or otherwise expressed displeasure.

      The red rock country of southern Utah was home for a few days in late October. I sat with three other authors at Read Cat Bookstore in Kanab for a book signing, then spent an evening and day at the Kanab Writers Conference. It, too, attracted a bunch of writers, all of whom seemed to have a good time.
      Some of them sat through my presentation on how prose writers can improve their writing by using techniques poets use. Others attended my session on writing essays. And, again, a few people expressed appreciation and those who found it a waste of time were polite enough to not say so.
      All in all, some good times and good places to be.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 6: Join a Critique Group—and Be Positive!

You’ve already endured my rant on why I’m not a member of a critique group. Brace yourself for the follow-up: why no critique group would want me.
It has to do with social graces. When moved to speak my mind, I have a hard time resisting saying what’s on my mind. No euphemisms. No ambiguity. Nothing cryptic. While I never intend to be unkind, it sometimes comes out that way. Most writers don’t want to hear it.
Then there’s the fact that I am irresistibly drawn to the negative end of the magnetic field. Whenever I look at a piece of writing, whether my own or someone else’s, the first question I ask is, “What’s wrong with this?” I automatically look for what’s wrong, I find it, and I fix it. It has been part of my advertising job for years, and it spills over into poems, novels, short stories, nonfiction, essays, magazine articles and any other string of words I encounter. Again, that holds true for my own words as well as someone else’s.
Here’s why. What’s written well doesn’t require attention or comment. It’s supposed to be well written. Fawning over it or heaping praise on writers for doing what is expected seems to me akin to congratulating them on remembering to inhale and exhale in the proper sequence. So, in the interest of better writing, I zero in on what’s wrong and why.     
On the other hand, if you can’t say something nice….
Maybe I should just shut up. Or stay away from critique groups. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 5: Join a Critique Group

Early on in my attempt to become a writer of something besides advertising copy, I heard a lot about the importance of joining a critique group. You know, where you sit around with a bunch of other writers and read what you’ve written and talk about it. Theoretically, others will point out problems with your work that you can’t see because you’re too close to it. They might even tell you how to fix it.
But opinions differ. 
The person sitting across from you might have an altogether different idea than the person sitting next to you. Not only different, even contradictory. Someone else may offer yet another conflicting opinion and more contrary advice.
It’s all very confusing to me—too confusing.
What to do? Who do you believe? What advice do you take and what do you ignore? If you have any faith at all in you’ve written, I suspect you would disregard it all and go with your gut. And, at that point, what’s the point?
Besides, who’s to say these people know any more than you do?
I suppose you could trace my dislike for such things to my years in advertising, where you must listen to clients (and others) comment on your work, then try to incorporate their often absurd notions into your ideas and copy. Having lived with that for decades, maybe I just enjoy going my own way, not having to explain or answer to anybody. Except, of course, editors and publishers who are paying for their opinions.
Some people swear by critique groups. One friend, in particular, insists it makes him a much better writer. But as for me, I would rather spend my time writing than talking about writing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Goodnight Goes Riding at is, without doubt, the world’s biggest cowboy poetry gathering. There, you’ll find collected thousands of poems by hundreds of poets from yesteryear right up to today. On top of that, there are feature stories, essays, photos and art, news…you name it; it if has to do with cowboy poetry and the related ways of life, you’ll find it there.
A review of my new poetry book, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, was posted on the site recently and you can read it here:
As you visit, spend some time looking around and enjoy the wealth of information and entertainment you’ll find there. And it wouldn’t hurt to reach into your pocket and support the work of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, which runs the site and does more—much more—for the arts and literature of the West.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Songwriter Jessie Veeder in Ranch & Reata magazine.

The latest issue of Ranch & Reata magazine is out, and among the many fine articles inside its covers is a story I wrote on North Dakota singer and songwriter Jessie Veeder.
My musical and poetic friend from the West River Country Jessie also calls home, DW Groethe, is quoted in the article saying this about composers who write about the West and about Jessie: “There are those who write all around it and then there are the few, steeped in the life, who reach out, grab it, raise it high and say, ‘Here it is. Take it or leave it.’”
Jessie’s songs certainly “raise it high,” and once you hear her words and music, you’re more likely to take it than leave it, if only because her songs stick with you. Read all about it in the new issue of Ranch & Reata (

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New online magazine for Western fans.

My friend Dusty Richards is always up to something. Since completing his term as president of Western Writers of America, I guess he needed something to do (besides turning out one good Western novel after another) so he gathered up a bunch of other folks and started a magazine.
The first issue of Saddlebag Dispatches is now online. It features Western fiction, poetry, and nonfiction about the West, with stories by some fine writers.
And me.
“The Passing of Number Sixteen” will run as a three-part serial in the first three issues. It’s a modern-day mystery with a rodeo setting, all about the strange shooting of a bucking horse.
Saddlebag Dispatches is free. All you have to do is click on this link: It will take you to the magazine, then click on the cover and the whole thing will download.
Then start reading. And enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Odds and ends, bits and pieces.

Not long ago I finished reading Drygulch to Destiny by Kirby Jonas. I’ve known Kirby for several years through Western Writers of America, but only recently learned we once lived in the same small town in Idaho (although he is much younger than I) and he took ag classes from my brother, who taught at the high school there. All that aside, it’s a big, sprawling novel about a town tamer tortured by past accusations and challenged by lawless toughs in a mining boomtown. It’s a darn good story and well worth a read. (

Speaking of Idaho, I recently spent a weekend there working on an article for Ranch & Reata magazine. The subject of the story is a remarkable young lady named Kimberlyn Fitch. She’s an oft-decorated rodeo champion, breeds show cattle, puts in her time at the ranch, and is studying to become a nurse. That’s her on the skyline in the photo above, gathering cows along a ridge above Midnight Creek.
I’ll be back in Idaho soon to conduct a couple of workshops at the Idaho Writers League’s annual conference. A month or so later, I’ll be presenting at the Kanab Writers Conference ( southern Utah, and signing books at the Read Cat Bookstore.

But for now, it's back to work.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Guest Post: Lessons from the Poets.

Lynn Wiese Sneyd of LWS Literary Services—a firm which provides a variety of marketing and publicity services for authors—kindly asked me to contribute a guest post to her site. The post went online today. It’s titled “Three Things We Can Learn from Poets” and talks about a few literary techniques employed by poets and how writers of prose can employ those tools to improve what they write. Read my contribution here,, and be sure to check out the rest of Lynn’s web site to access a whole bunch of interesting and helpful information.

The ideas in my guest post are condensed from an in-depth treatment of the subject I will present in late October at the Kanab Writers Conference. (More about that later.) 

And now a word from our sponsor.

My new collection of poetry, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, is now available from Pen-L Publishing. (!) It’s available exclusively from the publisher until the end of the month, when it will go into wider distribution to all the usual places that sell books.
Until then, Pen-L is offering the book at a 15% discount, saving all you early purchasers some money. Follow this link for this special, limited offer:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 4: Find Your Voice.

Call me an idiot, but I have never understood the admonition to writers to “find your voice.” What does it mean, anyway?
First of all, if there is such a thing as a “voice” how can you not have one? Then, assuming you do have a “voice,” why would you want only one?
Now, if you are a columnist or commentator, I can see how you would want to develop a particular, recognizable writing style. And if you’re writing a memoir or autobiography, it certainly ought to read—sound—like the whole thing comes from the same pen (mouth?).
But if you’re writing a magazine article for, say, Cosmopolitan, it certainly should not sound the same as a story you’re writing for True West. There, it seems the “voice” should be that of the publication and the story. And you wouldn’t want your Old West romance novel to read like your modern-day mystery novel. In fiction, it seems it’s the characters who ought to have “voices,” not the author. Each poem, each song, each short story likewise should speak for itself, in whatever “voice” best tells the story.
Of course I could be wrong, lacking as I am in a literary education. But when it comes to finding my “voice,” I don’t even know where to look.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Swapping horse stories with Alan Day.

A few years ago, H. Alan Day co-authored the ranch memoir, Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, with his sister, Sandra Day O’Connor.
Not long ago, he wrote The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs. It’s the story of how he built Mustang Meadows Ranch, the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary established in the United States. In addition, the book relates a wealth of stories about the author’s lifelong love of horses, with tales of his adventures and misadventures. I was asked to review the book for Roundup Magazine and I wrote, among other things, “Those who don’t know horses will find this book an engaging introduction. Readers who do will find themselves nodding in understanding page after page.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Day at the Western Writers of America convention a few months ago. He’s a cowboy through and through and as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet. He asked me to write a little something about horses for his web site ( At the site, you’ll learn more about Alan and his remarkable book, The Horse Lover. My “guest” post is here:
Stop by and visit Alan Day. He’d love to swap horse stories with you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Going to see Jeff Wolf’s “Rodeo.”

Last week I took a road trip to Idaho to visit the Gooding County Fair and Rodeo. The photograph above is the reason why.
That’s Jeff Wolf, a man I have known since we were boys. For many years now, Jeff has been a Western sculptor of some renown. His work is on display in several galleries, museums, homes, and other places around the West. (Visit
His latest piece of public art is the monumental sculpture at this side. It’s called “Rodeo,” a remarkable sculpture featuring bareback, saddle bronc, and bull riders and their mounts intertwined in a beautiful dance. The action and motion captured in the statue are remarkable—looking at the cold bronze you can almost feel the hot breath and hear the slap of leather and smell the dust.
Jeff and the making of “Rodeo” will be featured in an article I wrote for an upcoming issue of Ranch & Reata magazine ( Watch for the magazine. And next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the Gooding County Fairgrounds and see “Rodeo” first hand.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 3: Writer’s Block.

Sometimes you just can’t do it. You try, but there’s nothing there. You stare and stare at an empty page or blank screen and it just stares back at you. And the more you think about it, the more you worry, the worse it gets.
Writer’s block, they call it.
Some folks in the literary business bemoan the fact that such an affliction can befall would-be writers. Then they devise all sorts of remedies and exercises to rid you of the malady: Go for a walk. Change your routine. Consume caffeine. Do something else, instead. Try free writing. Or visualization. Whine about it to fellow writers. And so on.
Some of the best writers I know don’t believe in writer’s block. And if they do, they ignore it and write anyway. It’s probably no coincidence that many who pay writer’s block no mind come from journalism or advertising or other disciplines where deadlines are an everyday occurrence. When something has to be written, it’s your job to write it. So you do. You collect your thoughts (quickly), fire up the computer, and clack away at the keys until you’ve finished writing, rewriting, and revising the work at hand. Then you turn it in and get on to the next job.
Whether it’s an advertising agency, a newspaper, a public relations firm, a magazine, a marketing department, or any number of other places were your job is to write and getting paid depends on doing the job, there’s just no time for the angst and anxiety and anguish (and absurdity) of writer’s block. And what you learn by writing on demand carries over to writing in what may be less demanding circumstances—a novel, say. Or a short story. A poem. A magazine article. A biography. You write.
Assuming there is such a condition as the dreaded writer’s block, there can only be one cure for it: get to work. Write.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part Two: Develop a Routine.

Set aside a time, a place, a situation for writing. Immerse yourself in the appropriate milieu for motivation. It might be a certain style of background music, or maybe it’s silence. Brightly lit, perhaps, or softly illuminated. Have your favorite thesaurus at hand, and align the proper number of freshly sharpened number two pencils. But whatever you do, however you do it, you must—must—create an environment that turns your attention inward and focuses your concentration on your art; an ambience that filters out distractions and informs your mind and body that it’s time to write.
That’s the kind of thing I've heard over and over again about how to write.
It might work for some. Maybe. But why limit your ability, your opportunities, to write to a certain confined situation? Why not write anywhere, anytime?
I have written while all by myself and when surrounded by family. In private and in public. At desks and at kitchen tables. Indoors and outside. In offices and airports and hotel rooms. On a computer. A notepad. A scrap of paper. With and without music and while sitting in front of the TV or listening to the radio. In bed, on the couch, on the porch, at the library, in restaurants, on the bus.
If I’ve spent any time there, chances are I’ve written something there.
Manufactured surroundings and invented schedules might sound like an effective way to free yourself to write. On the other hand, such machinations may prove so confining, so restrictive, they smother the muse. It might work for some. It may even work for you. But, despite what proponents of predictability preach, it ain’t necessarily so.
Instead, write. Just write. Wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.
The words don’t care.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 1: Write What You Know.

You hear it all the time at writer’s workshops: write what you know.
I don’t believe a word of it. Writing about what you know about seems to me a recipe for repetition and stagnation.
 Instead, write what you want to know. The best writers are inherently curious, always seeking—through reading or travel or whatever—to learn something new. You could call it research. And those new things, whether sought out deliberately or stumbled upon by serendipity, often find their way into a story, a song, a poem, or a book—usually after considerably more research and curiosity.
Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t develop some mastery of the subject—know it, in other words—before you write about it. For one thing, readers who do know can spot a phony from afar. For another, writers owe readers a heaping helping of honesty, truth, and reality along with entertainment. And that’s true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, poetry or plays, essays or songs, movies or magazine articles.
Texas poet Larry D. Thomas would never have imagined The Goatherd had he not been curious about what life might have been like for a man who tended goats in long-ago Texas. Michael Zimmer would not have written the outstanding novel Beneath a Hunter’s Moon had he not wondered about the somewhat obscure M├ętis and their ways. We would not have South Pass had Will Bagley not set out to discover the finer points of exploration and emigrant travel over the Continental Divide’s easiest crossing. And so on.
Don’t let your writing be limited by the limits of your knowledge by believing the lie that you should write what you know. Learn something new. Then, you’ll come to know what you write—and so will your readers.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Did you know?

The manuscript for The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed just went out to the publisher (Two Dot/Globe Pequot). It will be on bookshelves sometime next year, and I will let you know when.
It’s a nonfiction book, each chapter of which addresses an incident or event or person or place that was important in the history and development of the Old West, but is largely forgotten today. And a lot of it flies in the face of what you learned in school. It was a fun book to research and write, and I learned a lot in the process. I hope readers will, too.
For example, did you know that Lewis and Clark were not the first to cross the North American continent?
Or that the United States and England almost went to war over a pig?
Did you know a Texan may have taken to the air long before the Wright brothers?
Or that America was once ruled by an emperor?
All these and many other stories are told in The Lost Frontier. I can’t wait to read it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thinking about success in the rodeo arena.

Not long ago I wrote about a friend from my college rodeo days, Bruce Hunt, who recently retired after a long career as a rodeo coach at West Hills College. One of his success stories as a coach was his daughter Nora, whose accomplishments in high school, college, and professional rodeo are immense.
While she still ropes, Nora Hunt-Lee is married, raising two kids, and working as a clinical psychologist, therapist, and family counselor. Part of her practice is Sports Psychology, with an emphasis on helping rodeo athletes. You can read all about Nora—her accomplishments, her practice, and her philosophy of achievement—in the latest issue of Ranch & Reata magazine (
It’s an interesting article, and it was a pleasure to work with Nora to put it together. And while this is a simplistic summary, it turns out that success in rodeo—like in a lot of life—is all in your head. I wish she had been around when I was crawling down into the chute….

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rawhide Robinson will ride again!

Just the other day I put the signed contract in the mail to Five Star Publishing for publication of my follow-up novel to Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range. This one is titled Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail, and recounts our ordinary hero’s quest to rid the mining boomtown of Tombstone of a pestilence of rats. The novel laughs its way from the streets and alleys of Chicago to the Santa Fe Trail to the Mexican border to the O.K. Corral. Like the first Rawhide Robinson novel, this one will be enjoyable for adults and younger readers as well.
The book will be released in hardcover shortly after the New Year, I suspect, but just when is yet to be determined. So, there is plenty of time to order copies of Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range for you and all your friends so you will be well acquainted with this ordinary cowboy who does extraordinary things before Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail hits the shelves.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

“Pink” retires from rodeo.

In the early 1970s, Canadian cowboy Bruce (we called him “Pink” back then) Hunt was a roommate and Utah State University Rodeo Teammate. In an uncommon pairing of roper and roughstock rider, we traveled a lot of miles together going to college and PRCA rodeos, ranging as far afield as Colorado and California. He was a hell of a lot better roper than I was a bareback rider, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Bruce later married a cowgirl and settled down in Coalinga, California, as coach of the rodeo team at West Hills College, where his teams won a lot of championships over the years. After more than three decades, Bruce is retiring as rodeo coach. It’s a big loss, and a sad day for the school and the sport.
But now that he no longer holds an official position where he is expected to be a shining example to America’s youth, I am free to relate stories about some of the things he got up to when he was young….
On second thought, on the advice of counsel I will, instead, assert my Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

(The photo: USU Rodeo Team. That’s Bruce “Pink” Hunt, standing second from left. That’s me (they called me “Mini” back then) standing to the left of him in the stylish polka-dot shirt. We both won buckles at that rodeo.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

WWA Branding Iron Award.

The Branding Iron Award is a special honor bestowed by Western Writers of America “to the member who has provided exceptional support to the organization and its goals.” Among past recipients are Jim Crutchfield, Candy Moulton, and James Ersfeld.
While I am in no way fit to be in their company when it comes to service to WWA, the Executive Board, in a weak moment, decided to add my name to the list of Branding Iron Award winners. I am honored and surprised—make that amazed. They made the decision upon accepting my resignation as WWA Membership Chair, a position I had held for the past nine years. As the old saying goes, if I’d known they’d honor me like this for quitting, I’d have done it a long time ago.  
At the WWA convention next week in Sacramento, I will get a genuine branding iron. If memory serves, it’s about the right size to heat to a cherry red glow and stamp a WWA logo on the side of a beagle pup.
But I think it’s meant to hang on the wall, so don’t light a fire or call the dogs.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Grand Openings: getting a book off to a good start.

From time to time I am asked to speak at writers’ conferences and workshops. It’s always a good time to congregate with people who like to write (and read) and talk about how to do a better job of stringing letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and so on.
Among the many topics I have addressed in these appearances is “Grand Openings: How to get your book off to a good start.” In the presentation, we talk about techniques for writing effective opening lines for books and stories and such. We look at some outstanding opening lines from a variety of fiction and nonfiction books and examine what makes them work. It’s an interesting discussion, and most who have sat through it claim they learned something.
Here are a few examples of strong opening lines included in the lecture, some you may recognize and some you may not:

·         Call me Ishmael. (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)
·         It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (George Orwell, 1984)
·         We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. (Louise Erdrich, Tracks)
·         He was dying faster than usual that morning, striping the sides of the dry sink with bloody sputum and shreds of shattered lung. (Loren Estleman, Bloody Season)
·         Beware thoughts that come in the night. (William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways)
·         By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. (Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man)
·         This is the most beautiful place on earth. (Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire)

And, all humility aside, I include the opening line from Chapter One of my novel The Assassination of Governor Boggs, which I think makes for a good start:

·         Lilburn Boggs was never the same after getting shot in the head.

There are several techniques employed in good opening lines, but I believe the most important is a carefully measured amount of ambiguity—just enough to engage and involve readers and all but force them to read on to fill the gap.
Effective (and affective) opening lines are important, I tell the audience, because if you grab a reader’s interest with the first sentence there’s a chance they’ll move on to the first paragraph, then the first page, the first chapter, and so on. But, if you don’t get them at the beginning, you’ll never get them to the end.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Favorite authors.

Reading, while among the most enjoyable of activities, is time consuming. I find myself reading a lot of books for reviews and literary competitions that I wouldn’t otherwise read, so when I read for pleasure, I like to make sure the time is well spent as well as enjoyable. And that means reading books that are more than worth the paper they’re printed on. Even when it’s “escapist” fiction, I still want a book to be well written.
Some authors have the ability to deliver every time. Here are a few that I read and re-read regularly:
Wallace Stegner. The “Dean of Western Writers” is equally adept at fiction and nonfiction. Big Rock Candy Mountain and Angle of Repose are excellent novels. Wolf Willow is in a class of its own, blending nonfiction and fiction, including the short story “Genesis,” which may be the best Western short story ever written. All of his books and stories are worth reading.
 John McPhee. A long-time contributor to The New Yorker, McPhee has several collections of magazine pieces as well book-length treatments of a number of subjects. Some are set in the West, others elsewhere around America and the world. But no matter the subject, I grab up everything I can by McPhee as it is sure to be well written and engaging.
Wendell Berry. I read his essays. I read his poetry. I read his short stories. I read his novels. They are all outstanding. It is a wonder how this Kentucky farmer can write so much stuff with a pencil and a yellow pad—let alone write it so well.
James Galvin. His poems are often beyond me, but I like reading them. His novel, Fencing the Sky, is outstanding. The Meadow defies description and may well be the best book I have ever read (and re-read, and re-read…).
Cormac McCarthy. It seems people either love or hate McCarthy’s writing. Put me in the former category. While it’s unusual and takes a bit of effort, his prose paints pictures so vivid they burn themselves into your brain. And his way of sneaking up on a climactic scene is always surprising. Blood Meridian is haunting and unforgettable, his Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain) is outstanding, and I like his other books as well.
John Steinbeck. What can I say? His novels made (and make) me love reading. Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden…. Steinbeck wrote about a different kind of West and changed people’s minds about what’s out here.
            There are, of course, many other authors I enjoy. We’ll save them for another day. Meanwhile, who are some of your favorite authors?