Thursday, February 23, 2017

“And the River Ran Red” debut performance.

Not long ago, singer and songwriter extraordinaire Brenn Hill debuted “And the River Ran Red,” a song I had the good fortune to help write. As I’ve said before, writing a song is a strange undertaking for me, as I couldn’t carry a tune with a packsaddle.
But, thanks to Brenn, I think it’s a damn fine song.
Based on the tragic events of the 1863 Bear River Massacre, where US Army troops slaughtered some 300 Shoshoni men, women, and children, the song adds to a list of my writings on the subject, which include a nonfiction book, Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten and a chapter in The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed, as well as some short stories and poems.
Brenn Hill performed the song for the first time at the American West Heritage Center in Cache Valley, just 36 miles from the massacre site, on 10 and 11 April 2017. See a cell phone video of the performance on YouTube.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Favorite Book, Part 6

John McPhee is a name you will see here again. He is, without doubt, one of my favorite writers. Some of his books are collections of articles he wrote for The New Yorker, others address a single subject.
No matter the subject, if McPhee writes it I will read it.
Witness the fact that I have read his books (and many others) on raising oranges, building birch-bark canoes, Bill Bradley, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the Swiss Army, cargo ships, and the geology of North America—subjects I have no particular interest in but enjoyed immensely reading about.
Among my favorite McPhee books is Rising from the Plains, one of five volumes that make up his Pulitzer Prize-winning compilation, Annals of the Former World.
The book is about the geology of Wyoming, as seen through McPhee’s travels with geologist David Love. You’ll find that reading about rocks can be fascinating.  But Love is also a Wyoming boy who grew up on an isolated ranch when the West was still wild, and those stories are just as engaging as the tales about traces of the Triassic on the landscape.

This is about high-country geology and a Rocky Mountain regional geologist. I raise that semaphore here at the start so no one will feel misled by an opening passage in which a slim young woman who is not in any sense a geologist steps down from a train in Rawlins, Wyoming, in order to go north by stagecoach into country that was still very much the Old West.

So begins Rising from the Plains by John McPhee. How can you not read on?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 36: Plan Your Plot, Organize Your Outline.

Many fiction writers plan out a story in great detail before writing the first word. And many writing instructors teach the hows and whys of plotting and outlining. They swear by the process, claiming it provides discipline and keeps you on track. If you plot and outline well enough, you’re less likely to wander off on tangents or let the story ramble down paths not of your choosing.
But it’s not the only way to write. And, for some, not the best way to write. While every story starts somewhere, and the writer likely has some idea about where it’s going, many writers know little else about it. They like to let the story find itself, rely on the characters to drive the action, and allow causes to create their own effects and conflicts to reach their own resolution.
That’s the way I like to write. In fact, as I write this I am about 50,000 words into a novel, and while the story and characters have decided what happens next (as they have, for the most part, all along the way), what follows after that is pretty hazy, and where it will end is unknown—at least to me.
There’s a quotation by Ray Bradbury that sums up this approach to writing a book: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”
E.L. Doctorow said something similar: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I trust that, at some point, the fog will clear and book I am working on will eventually reach its destination.

P.S. It did.