Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A celebration among the saguaros.

Not long ago I had the privilege of attending the Tucson Festival of Books. It’s the only event I’ve seen that attracts hundreds of thousands of people who share a love of books and reading. Display tents line the University of Arizona mall several rows deep, filled with all kinds of vendors and publishers and booksellers and others, most book-related.

A large meeting room filled to hear a panel discussion featuring Bob Boze Bell, author, illustrator and Executive Editor of True West magazine, and author and retired rancher Alan Day. I filled the third seat at the table. Bell, a raucous raconteur, kept the audience laughing as we three exchanged stories of how our experiences growing up in the West contributed to and affected our writing.
Later, I conducted a workshop on opportunities in and approaches to Western writing for a small group of aspiring authors.
All in all, a worthwhile trip with lots of Arizona scenery and sightseeing stops along the way. Besides, the weather down there was a lot warmer than what we left behind and what we came home to.
If you’re able, plan a visit to next year’s Festival. A full slate of lectures, panel discussions, books signings, and other presentations by authors of every type of book imaginable, including writers who are household names. If you love books, you’ll love the Tucson Festival of Books.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Favorite Book, Part 13.

The history of my homeland, the American West, has been of interest to me for as long as I can remember. From Indians to Spanish and Mexican colonizers to explorers to mountain men to pioneer settlers to mining boom towns, I like learning about it all.
But, mostly, I am intrigued by cowboys and the cattle trails and ranges and ranches where they worked. So it will be of no surprise to anyone with similar interests to know that you’ll find a well-thumbed copy of Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries by David Dary on the bookshelf beside my desk.
The book is thoroughly researched, extensive in its reach, and well written. I’ve read it through on more than one occasion. And I refer to it often when verifying facts for something I’m writing, or merely to satisfy my curiosity about some person or place or event. In fact, I just picked it up, and there are no fewer than thirteen bookmarks sticking out of it.
While I cannot claim to know David Dary well, it was a pleasure, on two occasions, to share a table with him at Western Writers of America banquets. (His company was much more enjoyable than the food.)
If you haven’t read Cowboy Culture, you should. You’ll soon see why it won the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and the Westerners International Award.
And you’ll come away knowing about real cowboys, as opposed to the fast-riding, gun-toting “cowboys” of movie, TV, and Western novel fame who seldom, if ever, cross paths with a cow. 

Post Script: I just learned from one of our readers that David Dary passed away just one week ago. That's the loss of a fine historian, writer, and man. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Gads, gut hooks, and grapplin’ irons.

Cowboys call them by all kinds of names—gads, gut hooks, and grapplin’ irons among them. Then there’s can openers, rib wrenches, and buzzsaws. And more.
But the official name—if there is such a thing in Western lingo—is spurs.
Spurs are a common cowboy tool, in everyday use wherever horses are saddled. But Western Writers of America borrowed the name and attached it to something uncommon and not everyday. As the organization puts it, “Western Writers of America annually honors writers for distinguished writing about the American West with the Spur Awards.”
Winners of the 2018 Spur Awards were announced recently, and I am honored to know several recipients and their work. And I am especially honored to once again be counted among them.
“Lost and Found” is a short story published last year in Saddlebag Dispatches that tells of a modern-day cowboy who loses a piece of his thumb in his dallies while gathering strays on a remote range, and finds the body of a dead boy dumped in a dry wash.
The judges somehow found it worthy and named it the Spur Award winner for Best Western Short Fiction.
Also published in Saddlebag Dispatches, my poem “The Knowing” was named a Finalist for the Spur Award for Best Western Poem. My friend and fine poet Marleen Bussma won the Spur for her poem, “She Saddles Her Own Horse.”
All thanks to the late Dusty Richards and to Casey Cowan who elected to publish the story and the poem in their magazine. And appreciation to the Spur Award judges who bestowed these honors.
I am more than happy to pound a couple more nails in the wall.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Rawhide Robinson trades cows for camels.

(Note to readers: We will return to our usual literary nonsense following this brief commercial message.)
Don’t worry. Giving up horses and cows is only a temporary aberration for Rawhide Robinson. Just as our ordinary cowboy hero traded cattle for cats in Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail, in his latest adventures(s), we find him delivering dromedaries.
Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary: The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero is loosely—very loosely—based on the US Army’s experimental use of camels as pack animals in the southwestern deserts. And if you think herding longhorn cattle and Chicago alley cats is fodder for fantastical escapades, wait till you read about our cowboy’s exploits on the high seas and at Levantine ports of call.
As usual, Rawhide Robinson spins tall tales as easily as a loop, and sailors find his stories every bit as entertaining as cowboys do.
Western Writers Hall of Fame member Loren D. Estleman says the book is “rich in color, texture, and relentless forward movement.” Booklist says, “Rawhide’s over-the-top storytelling is complemented by Miller’s slapstick humor and verbal gymnastics.”
Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary is hot off the press. Watch the short video for a taste of what’s inside the covers, and visit to read an excerpt. And, of course, buy the book.
End of crass commercialism. Tune in next time for something altogether different.