Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 23: Word count counts.

Lots of writers will tell you that you should write every day if you want to be a writer. Some go so far as to assign a daily number—500 words seems to be a popular sum, but certainly not the only one. You hear 1,000 words. Or 750. Or some other figure.
Some writers get downright obsessive about it. They say they’ll sit at the keyboard until they get their 500 words no matter what. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of the night, fine. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of a sentence, they will stop right there and shut it down.
Other writers, if they’re “blocked” (which is a delusion, to my way of thinking) or fresh out of ideas, will tap out 500 completely useless words just so they can say they made their number. It doesn’t much matter what those words are—they can be a detailed description of the desk lamp, some stream-of-consciousness nonsense, a reminiscence of a trip to the grocery store, or a make-believe letter to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
If such writers find this sort of thing helpful, invigorating, inspiring, or whatever that’s fine. It makes no difference to me.
But do you really have to write some magic number of words every day to be a writer?
Some days, I don’t write much. Other days—rare ones—not at all. Some days, I’ll hammer out a few thousand words. I might spend the better part of a day (or several days) sorting out 200-or-so words to make a poem. If there’s a deadline looming, I will write however many words it takes to make the deadline.
The thing is, if you’re a writer you have to figure out what it takes for you to write. The way anyone else does it is irrelevant. Their rules don’t count.
Nor does their daily word count.
At the end of the day—any day—I would much rather have written 173 words that say something, and say it well, than 500 worthless words I wrote just to keep my hand in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Under my tree.

With Christmas in the offing, I thought I’d give myself a couple of gifts for the season.
My web site,, was originally built by my friend and finer author Michael Zimmer. But the technology is now outdated, and updating the site was time consuming and difficult. So, I bit the bullet and brazened myself for some frustration and built a new one.
Same address, It’s not as spiffy looking as the earlier one, but I think it should serve. It has links from all my books to either the publisher or my Amazon Author page, so should you want to buy a book (or subscribe to a magazine) you can “click through” as they say in the trade.
Also new is a little promotional video for my new novel, Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail. You can view it below, on YouTube, or on my Amazon Author Page. It will only occupy 38 seconds of your time and you will, I hope, find it—the book it’s about, rather—intriguing. All thanks to banjo magician extraordinaire Mike Iverson for permission to use “Oh! Susannah.”
Enough self-serving crass commercialism. But it is, after all, the Christmas season. May you all have a merry one.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Luck, Dale Walker.

There are many factors that play into achieving any sort of success as a writer. One of them is luck.
One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me when it comes to writing was meeting Dale Walker. Dale was one of those larger-than-life characters I first encountered at a Western Writers of America convention when the author paint on me wasn’t dry. He was a past president, past Roundup editor, past several other things in the group, and revered, it seemed, among the entire membership. He also edited the novels of many admirable writers and was a respected author of nonfiction himself. Being the socially awkward type I am, I admired him from a distance.
Then, still not long after I became a WWA member, the organization announced the creation of a fiftieth anniversary anthology with Dale as the editor. Not knowing any better, I submitted a story.
I saw Dale at the next WWA convention and screwed up the courage to introduce myself. He hinted that my story would be in the anthology. It would be, outside of some success with poetry, my first publication of any note.
It must have been at the next year’s convention or one soon after that I again screwed up my courage and handed Dale a proposal for a novel. He tracked me down the next day and said it was one of the best proposals he had ever seen—but, unfortunately, the publisher he represented wasn’t inviting any new authors into their Western line.
But he asked if I knew anything about a guy named John Muir. As it happened, I knew a bit more about the man than Dale did and related one of my favorite Muir stories about his riding out a Sierra windstorm perched in the top of a tree just for the fun of it. Dale said he was working on a project and may get back to me. Later that day, or perhaps the next, he took me aside again and asked if I would like to write a book about John Muir for a new nonfiction series—“American Heroes”—he was editing for Forge Books.
Just like that, I became a writer of books. All because I had the good luck to meet a man named Dale Walker.
My admiration for Dale only grew through working with him and getting to know him better and becoming friends over the years. I only wish I had gotten lucky earlier. Not because it may have helped me become something of a writer sooner, but because it would have been my good luck to know Dale longer and better, just because he was Dale.
Dale died December 8, 2015.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 22: Vomit on the Page.

Our last effusion, outpouring, gush, upchuck of “Lies” talked about the physical process of writing.
Here we go again.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard writers and writing instructors advise other writers that when writing it is important, imperative even, to write write write write write write write.
Do it quickly. Don’t slow down (hence, the absence of commas above). Don’t stop. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, or anything else. Just get it on the page (or screen) as fast as you can. You can always fix it another time.
A popular way of putting it is, “vomit on the page and come back later to clean it up.”
That doesn’t work for me.
It could be because I have written advertising copy for so many years. When you are confined to a fraction of a page or a half-minute of air time, you don’t have a lot of words to work with. Every one has to work hard on its own and play well with others. So, you carefully consider and contemplate every word, often before you write it.
Writing poetry is much the same, which is where I went next. Then short stories and magazine articles. By the time I got to novels and history books it was too late. I was already trained to examine each word, mull over every phrase, and think about every sentence. If something isn’t right, I am not capable of moving on. (Which is not to say everything I write is right; anyone who’s read my stuff knows better.) I can try, but it nags and niggles at me like a burr under a saddle blanket and I have to make it as right as I can before I can move on.
It’s more like playing with your food than vomiting on the page, I suppose.
The point is, writing is something you do by yourself. You have to do it your way. If that means barfing verbs and nouns and adjectives, fine. But if ruminating over every jot and tittle works for you, that’s fine too. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

“Death” comes to life.

The Death of Delgado and Other Stories has come to life from Pen-L Publishing and is now available for your reading and browsing pleasure. This collection of short stories includes several published in a variety of anthologies over the years as well as some seeing print for the first time.
The title story won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction in 2012 and “A Border Affair” was a Finalist for that award in 2006. The stories range from traditional-type Westerns to those with a more historical bent to humor to mystery to flash fiction and some that don’t fit any category. All are set in the olden days of the American West save one modern-day story set at a rodeo and another that is a contemporary parody—or maybe satire.
Your best deal on the book will come directly from the publisher ( ) and it is available from online booksellers and by order from any bookstore.
Short stories are fun to write and enjoyable to read. In one sitting, you get a heaping helping of action, adventure, humor, or other tasty treat. I think you’ll like The Death of Delgado and Other Stories.
If not, let me know. If you do, tell everybody.