Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Joy of Being Stupid.


    Writing a book is a good way to reveal how stupid you are. You have an idea, and you start writing. Soon, you realize you don’t know what you’re writing about.
    Take my latest novel, Pinebox Collins. I thought it would be a good idea to tell a story about a man who moved from place to place in the Old West, using his travels and encounters to tell other stories about actual events and people from history. I decided a footloose undertaker might move around like that. And, for some reason, that he should be missing a leg. I don’t know why.
    I soon realized there had to be a reason for his missing leg, which took some study of Civil War battles that might fit the bill. Then I had to learn about Civil War hospitals, surgery, amputations, prosthetics, and the like.
    Then I had to learn about the history of undertaking, embalming, and building coffins—none of which I knew anything about.
    Pinebox’s travels required buffing up my knowledge of cattle trails and cowtowns, mining strikes and boomtowns, stagecoaches and railroads, and historic incidents and events in those places.
    Then there were people. Charley Utter, Calamity Jane, Jim Levy, Joe McCoy, John Wesley Hardin, Phil Coe, Jack McCall, Porter Rockwell, and others, mostly “Wild Bill” Hickok—many of whom, but not all, I knew something, but not enough, about.
    I enjoy writing. Even the parts that make you realize how stupid you are. With every book, I learn something—many somethings. And I hope the people who read those books might learn something too.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

My Favorite Book, Part 23.

One of the great stories of the Old West is the life of Cynthia Ann Parker. And the best telling of the story is the novel Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson.

 At about age nine, the Texas girl was kidnapped by Comanche raiders during an attack on her extended family. Her introduction to Comanche ways was brutal, but she was accepted by the band and adapted to their ways, eventually becoming the wife of a leader, and giving birth to one of the most famous Comanche leaders, known to history as Quanah Parker.

Robson’s research digs deep into the era, particularly the minute details of day-to-day Comanche life. But that research never gets in the way of her telling a compelling, absorbing, riveting story. The book’s title comes from the author’s knowledge of Cynthia Ann—Naduah, to the Comanche—as one of the horses she rode was called Wind. 

When “rescued” by Texas Rangers after some twenty-four years living as a Comanche, Cynthia Ann Parker never fit into white society and died, some say of a broken heart, following the death of her Comanche daughter, Prairie Flower.

Ride the Wind won the Western Writers of America Spur Award, and numerous other accolades, when published in 1982, and has remained popular ever since, and remains in print. As it should.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Slave to fashion.

    I grew up in a small town. So small, we didn’t have pasta—only macaroni and noodles. No one there had a “lifestyle,” only a life. We had ice cream, but no one I knew had ever heard of gelato.
    And, in that little town, only little boys wore short pants. And nobody wore a cap backwards unless they were playing catcher in a baseball game or milking a cow.
    That fashion sense—or lack of it—has stuck with me. All my pants have legs that go all the way down. And all my caps sit on my head facing forward. The bill, after all, exists to shade your eyes, and it can’t do that if it’s poking out the back.
    None of this makes me in any sense superior, you understand. In fact, it often makes me something of an oddity. But that’s all right. I wear what I wear, fashion be damned. And the world is a better place for not having to look at my knobby knees.