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.