Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 19: Writing is a Business.

Why write?
There are probably as many answers as there are writers.
At one end of the spectrum are those for whom it’s just a job—a way to make a living—a business. For those at the other end, it’s an art—self-expression—a creative outlet.
Those at the “business” end of the spectrum don’t always care what they write so long as it makes money. Those at the other end write whatever they want and don’t much care if they get paid for it. I have known both types and, at the extremes, each type seems equal in its disdain for the other.
As is usually the case in life, I believe there’s a middle ground. Getting paid for what you write is not necessarily “prostituting your art.” Nor is putting art before commerce always unrealistically idealistic.
In fact, I believe most writers, in their heart of hearts, are driven to some extent by idealism—the urge to create something beautiful, original, and self-satisfying. And they work to develop the skills that allow them to do so. If they can sell it, so much the better. So we search for that point somewhere toward the middle, where the scales balance.
Then again, what do I know?
For decades, I have worked at a different kind of writing—advertising copy—penning innumerable words whose sole purpose is persuading people to part with money. And getting paid to write it.
The other stuff I write these days—poems, short stories, novels, history, essays, magazine articles—I write because I want to, and it doesn’t pay nearly as well.
Call me crass, but even though I don’t write that stuff just to make money I wouldn’t mind it one bit if more people were willing to part with their money to read it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A story from an uncivil war.

We often romanticize war in our literature, painting pictures of glory and grandeur. James R. Woolard makes no such attempt in Riding for the Flag—a Pinnacle paperback from Kensington—instead providing a far more realistic portrait of carnage and killing.
But the book also captures a more intimate side of America’s Civil War, telling the stories of three brothers: a Union cavalry officer, a Confederate raider, and a fledgling newspaper reporter. The brothers, sons of a privileged life in Ohio, find themselves immersed in events surrounding the battle of Shiloh in the Western theater in the war’s early days. Woolard relates both the big picture and telling details in his tale, with intense descriptions that bombard the senses with the sights and sounds and smells of the battlefield, even—and perhaps most vividly—in the dark of night.
Beyond the war, Riding for the Flag delves into the personal and romantic lives of the brothers and the love each one finds to sustain him through the war’s darkest hours.
All in all, a big book—just over 400 pages—with big stories to tell. Give it a read.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Goodnight Goes Riding off with an award.

Westerners International recently announced the winners of their annual awards honoring the best writing about the West by the nearly 5,000 members of the organization, from some 64 groups in the USA and 16 or so in other countries.
My collection of poetry from Pen-L Publishing, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, won the Fred Olds Western Poetry Award.
I am, as you might imagine, thrilled with the recognition and look forward to hanging the handsome plaque, featuring the Westerners’ “Old Joe” buffalo skull, on the wall.
You can own your very own copy of this award-winning book (one of its poems was also a Finalist for a Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Poem) by visiting, the usual online booksellers, or you can order it through your local bookstore.
The holiday gift-giving season is rapidly approaching (Christmas stuff is already showing up in stores!) so you might want to keep that in mind. Someone you love would love this book.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Singing songs and slapping leather.

The new issue of Ranch & Reata magazine is out, and in its pages are two stories I had the pleasure to write about two remarkable Westerners.
Mary Kaye is a much-honored singer and songwriter living in Utah’s Sanpete Valley with her guitars and husband and 10 children. (Well, not really—some of the 10 are grown and have moved on, but there’s still a houseful.) Mary has integrated two, and sometimes four, of her daughters into the act and “The Kaye Sisters” as they are known are making a name for themselves.
If you’re a fan of Old West action shooting, you’ve probably seen Tim Start’s handiwork. He designs and builds holsters and accessories for cowboy shooters, and his leather adorns some of the best. Tim’s high-performance pistol holsters, with his High Desert Leather maker’s mark, range from the unadorned to works of art with inlays and tooling and silver other embellishments.
Read about these remarkable people in the new issue of Ranch & Reata. If you don’t receive this classy magazine, subscribe here:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mary-made music.

Soon, you’ll be hearing about a Ranch & Reata article I wrote about Mary Kaye. She’s a singer and songwriter of epic proportions. In my pantheon of contemporary Western songwriters, she’s right up there with Brenn Hill and Dave Stamey and a few others whose worthy words do the West justice.
And the truth is, she’s a lot better looking than those guys.
Beyond her ability to weave words into music, Mary Kaye has a voice that can rattle the rafters and caress the soul with equal facility.
Now, you’re probably thinking I am overstating the situation. If anything, I am unable to find the words that do Mary Kaye’s music justice. I have enjoyed all her albums. But the brand-newest one is the bestest. It’s a master work.
Mary Kaye wrote most of the songs on Ride a Wide Circle. She co-wrote some and lights up a few old cowboy tunes. Her husband, who co-produced the album, said their goal was to put together a collection that made the “skip” button on players obsolete. They did it.
Ride a Wide Circle by Mary Kaye.
Damn, that’s good.