Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 12: Anyone Can Write.

There are those who will tell you that writing is not a talent, but a “skill” that can be learned, and that anyone can learn it. That must be true on some level—we all learn something about words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs in school.
But to be able to write engaging, interesting, involving words that communicate, convince, persuade, and entertain is a rare “skill.” So rare, it seems to me, that those who master it do so only when aided by a heaping helping of talent or some other innate ability. Otherwise, the world would be overrun with writers who tell stories as well as Johnny Boggs, write poetry as masterfully as DW Groethe, craft songs like Brenn Hill, write compelling history like Will Bagley, or measure up to a long list of accomplished writers in any genre you care to mention.
But while such a list of accomplished writers may be long, it is microscopic when compared to the number of literate people in our society. And it’s still a short list compared to those who somehow manage to get their work published or produced, much of which strives for mediocrity.
If you doubt the inability of most folks to write effectively and communicate clearly, read the Letters to the Editor in your local newspaper. Better (or worse) still, read what passes for writing in the “comments” section of online publications and other internet forums. It can make you yearn for a properly spelled word and a well-constructed sentence, not to mention the ability to think clearly and communicate those thoughts.
There is no doubt that with practice and patience and, perhaps, good teaching, we can all learn to better our writing ability. But it is unlikely—no, impossible—that anyone not gifted by the writing gods will ever reach the heights of those so blessed. Or even the middling levels of those with the talent to write well without really trying.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wrangler Winning Amigos.

In mid-April, two of my friends will be in Oklahoma City to receive what may well be the highest honor anyone who writes about the West can earn.
Each year, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum bestows Western Heritage Awards in a variety of categories. This year, my good friends Michael Zimmer and Larry Thomas are among the winners—Michael for "Outstanding Western Novel" for The Poacher’s Daughter and Larry for "Outstanding Poetry Book" for The Goatherd. Each will walk down the red carpet to receive The Wrangler, a handsome bronze trophy that all Western writers would love to get their hands on.

Both these men have written a passel of good stuff that deserves recognition, so this honor is no big surprise to those who have read their work. And, having read The Poacher’s Daughter and The Goatherd, I can vouch for the quality of these books. If you haven’t read them, do so. Both are "Outstanding" examples of the best in Western writing today.
Congratulations, felicitations, compliments, cheers, praises, accolades, and a big tip of the hat to Michael Zimmer and Larry Thomas.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Advance Coverage.

The artwork above is the cover design for The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed. I think it’s quite handsome.
Behind the cover are nearly thirty nonfiction accounts from Western history about events and incidents on the frontier that haven’t received the notice they deserve from serious historians. They’re interesting, important, informative, and entertaining and I hope fans of the Old West learn something new.
The folks at TwoDot/Globe-Pequot, publisher of the book, are really on the ball, for while The Lost Frontier won’t hit the shelves until May, it has been listed with online booksellers for quite some time—so, if you’re a long-term planner, you can log on and pre-order a copy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sheep. And more sheep.

Over the years I’ve cracked more than my share of cowboy jokes about sheep and sheepherders. Truth is, one of my best friends growing up came from a sheepherding family and one of the first pretty girls that ever consented to go out with me raised sheep. So, like it or not, sheep and the people who raise them have a place in my heart of hearts.
The new issue of RANGE magazine features two stories I had a hand in, and both are about sheep people.
On page 64 is story about the family of Lee and Joan Jarvis, who, for decades, have bred, raised, and supplied range rams to sheep herds all across the West from their outfits in Utah and Idaho.  (The photo above is Lee horseback, herding sheep on their Idaho ranch.)

In the “Red Meat Survivors” section of the magazine on page 82 is a profile of Marie Ormachea Sherman I put together with help from her granddaughter-in-law, Nora Hunt-Lee. Marie raised sheep—and cattle—for years on Nevada ranches, and still does. (That’s Marie in the photo with the lamb.)
If you don’t subscribe to RANGE magazine, you can remedy that situation here:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 11: Get an Education.

I am all for learning. You can never learn enough, and you should never stop learning.
Education, however, is something else again. At least some of the time.
In our society, every attempt has been made to make education synonymous with job training. And, to a large extent, it has been successful. Forget about learning how the world works and why, or about people and why they do what they do. Instead, become a number cruncher of one kind or another and earn big bucks.
But that’s another story. Before I wander too far afield, let’s remember that this story is about writing, and education plays a role here, as well. (Unfortunately, the part about jobs and big bucks is not transferable.)
If you want to be a writer, they tell you, get an education. Enroll in a creative writing program at a highfalutin university and keep going until you get all the degrees they offer. Get accepted at a prestigious academy for a few weeks or months of intensive training.
I know people who have done this. And keep doing it. Trouble is, they never seem to get around to writing much of anything, or finishing anything they do write.
It’s as if they examine and evaluate and assess and scrutinize to the extreme, resulting in analysis paralysis.
There are, of course, exceptions. Still, most of the published writers I know seem to get by with degrees in pedestrian pursuits such as journalism, or history, or law, or accounting, or business, or education, or agriculture, or—well, you get the idea.
Some of them have no degrees at all. But they are learned. And they keep learning.
And they keep writing.