Friday, June 3, 2022

At the Utah Arts Festival.

Every summer (pandemics permitting) some 70,000 people make their way to downtown Salt Lake City for the Utah Arts Festival. On display is art of every kind, from sculpture and painting to music and dance to film and photography and more.

There’s literary art as well, and that’s where I come in. Or go on, if you’d rather.

On Friday, June 24, at 4:00 p.m. I’ll be reading selections from my writings about the 1863 Massacre at Bear River, the bloodiest encounter between the US Army and Indians in the history of the American West. It’s a tragedy largely forgotten and ignored in our collective memory, and that needs to change.

Selections from song lyrics, poetry, short stories, a novel, as well as a nonfiction book and magazine article are on the agenda.

If you’re anywhere near Salt Lake City from June 23 through June 26, be sure to visit the Utah Arts Festival. I’ll be there, and watching for you.

Monday, May 2, 2022

My Favorite Book, Part 28

Here’s a book that I had not heard of until the movie came out, but I did read News of the World by Paulette Jiles before I saw the movie. And, as is usually the case, even though I liked the movie when I finally saw it, the book is better.

The premise itself is an unusual one—a man, Captain Jefferson Kidd, wanders around the isolated settlements of Texas reading from newspapers he collects when possible, informing people—at a price—what is going on in the world beyond the borders of their limited experience. His life gets complicated when he agrees to take on a passenger, a young girl who has been held captive by a Kiowa band and has, for all practical purposes, become Kiowa herself. Kidd is to deliver her to her only surviving relatives, an aunt and uncle.

Along the way, among other adventures, they confront a trio of bad men attempting to steal the girl for nefarious purposes and violence ensues. The delivery to the girl’s relatives doesn’t work out, and the Captain’s and the girl’s lives take an unexpected turn leading to a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

The book is engaging and well written, and is one of the few Western novels nowadays to make its way to the big screen. I liked it. However, even in a novel from a major publisher and as well written and meticulously edited as this one, mistakes sneak through. As an inveterate nitpicker, I scoffed when one of the characters said, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” a phrase completely anachronistic to the time and place. And the author repeatedly refers to a part of a printing press as a paten (which is a little tray used in the Eucharist) when what she means is platen.

Picky, picky, picky.

But we all make mistakes, and News of the World is still a fine book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Where I’ve been—out with the Pony Express.

Not long ago I wrote here of a desire to visit the Pony Express Station sites in Utah’s west desert. That’s one I can check off the list.

With the able guidance and expertise of Patrick Hearty, former president of the National Pony Express Association as well as the Utah Division, Utah Division Historian, and the author, with photography by Dr. Joseph Hatch, of The Pony Express Stations of Utah and The Pony Express in Utah, we drove the trail and stopped at all the Pony stations out to the Nevada border. The road was laid out by army engineer James H. Simpson, and served the Jackass Mail, the Overland Stage, freighters, the US Army, and emigrants as well as the Pony Express.

The desert out there is still an empty place, with few—most of the way, no—residents outside of wild horses and antelope for a hundred miles. But the isolation is beautiful in its way, with blue sky and mountains and plains that stretch as far as the eye can see and beyond. The view is not much changed from what the Pony riders saw as they raced through there in 1860 and 1861. All the stations are marked, some with interpretive information. Some still show ruins and fainter traces from the stations that once stood. The photograph above shows the station site at Simpson’s Springs, where you’ll find a monument erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a replica of a station building erected years ago by FFA students, as well as interpretive information posted by the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association.

The original Willow Springs Station building still stands—barely—at the Willow Springs Ranch in Callao, and houses a number of artifacts and collections from the history of the Pony Express as well as local history. Besides a tour, the owners of the ranch offered help and assistance of another kind—but that’s a story for another day.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Next, please: Father unto Many Sons and This Thy Brother

Father unto Many Sons, released in hardcover by Five Star Publishing in August 2018, was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel. Any day now, Speaking Volumes will release Father unto Many Sons in paperback and ebook. That’s the cover of the new edition, above. In related news, come August, Five Star Publishing will release the sequel to Father unto Many Sons.

This Thy Brother picks up the story where we left the Pate and Lewis families, newly arrived in New Mexico. Watch as the members of the families attempt to build new lives in a new land in This Thy Brother.

Also in the pages of This Thy Brother, you’ll find connections to yet another of my novels, A Thousand Dead Horses.

If you missed Father unto Many Sons or A Thousand Dead Horses, you still have time to get the stories started that will make reading This Thy Brother much richer and more enjoyable.

On a personal note, I never intended a sequel when I started—or finished—Father unto Many Sons. But my brother, Zeb Miller, said there should be one. I wrote This Thy Brother for him. I only wish he had lived to read it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pairs of Aces.

In a recent post I mentioned the on-screen chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Some readers wrote to say they agreed that it was a fine pairing. That set me to thinking about other pairs that, together, made their characters and the movie better than they would have been otherwise. Here are some that are embedded in my memory as winning pairs—pairs of aces, if you will.

At the top of my list has to be Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall in the television mini-series Lonesome Dove. Both these actors are favorites of mine, and together they made one of the best duos ever.

Going back a few years, there’s the unforgettable combination of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda in The Rounders.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen were outstanding in Appaloosa. An altogether different kind of movie, a hilarious spoof of Westerns, teamed up Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. In the category of remakes that improve on the original as well as demonstrate the importance of casting, don’t miss True Grit with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon (and, of course, Hailee Steinfeld).

Finally, there’s a movie on my list far removed from a Western—but it stars two old cowboys who can’t help but be cowboys. Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth were a pair of aces in the baseball movie The Natural—two actors I liked in any role, and especially enjoyed seeing together. They also co-starred in a short-lived TV series, The Boys of Twilight. It was set, and shot in part, in my home state of Utah. I didn’t see it (me and everybody else, it seems) but I hope to find it somewhere, somehow. Those two old codgers make a good pair to draw to.


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Where I’m Going—Part 7


One of the most famous high-speed roads in Western history passes a few miles from where I live: the Pony Express Trail.

The trail passed through the middle of Salt Lake Valley from roughly north to south, then headed west across the desert until reaching what is now Nevada, leaving a string of swing stations and home stations in its wake. Monuments mark most, if not all, their locations and there are traces of some still standing.

Sad to say, I have yet to venture out into the sagebrush, shadscale, and greasewood to visit them. Not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just that I haven’t made a definite plan to do so and carried out that plan. Thank goodness the pony riders weren’t as remiss in their travels on that road.

Still, I am determined to do it. I will see what there is to see at places like Simpson’s Springs, Fish Springs, Boyd’s Station, Willow Springs, Deep Creek, and places in between and beyond. I will see sights and sites that are much the same as those seen by the brave boys of days gone by.

One of these days. For certain sure. You can count on it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

My first rodeo.

I don’t remember my first rodeo. Or my second rodeo. While I have memories of many, many rodeos over many, many years those memories are somewhat muddled and there are no numbers assigned.

Most likely, my first rodeo was a hometown Pioneer Day affair during which little kids like me were screwed down onto the backs of Hereford or black bally calves, with two hands in a death grip on a loose rope, then turned out into the arena for a few (very few) frantic seconds of jolting and jarring and jerking before landing in the dirt with a better than even chance of getting a mouthful of the stuff.

The first rodeo I have record of was a Little Buckaroo Rodeo in Orem, Utah, on Friday, May 31, 1963. On the printed program, right after “Specialty Act—Trampoline” came Section III of Pony Bareback Riding, and there I am, in black and white, with my age listed as 10. Next to my name, in my dad’s handwriting, is my score: “0.” I learned nothing from the experience. For several more years I kept getting on bareback horses that didn’t want me on them—through high school, amateur, college, and pro rodeos.

 When circumstances require, I can honestly say (for what it’s worth), “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

I am now of an age that my last rodeo, like my first, is so long ago that any memory of it has leaked out of my porous brain. There may be a connection.

P.S. My latest novel, All My Sins Remembered, is now available in hardcover from Amazon and other online booksellers. Your local bookstore can order it, and it should be in libraries soon.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

At the movies.

One of my favorite movies, and certainly one of my favorite Westerns, is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I am fully aware that it bends and twists history until reality is unidentifiable, and faithfulness to actual events is lacking. Still, it does have some basis in fact. And, let’s face it, it’s not as if even the most studied scholars and historians agree about the exploits and adventures, the villainy and vices, the lives and deaths of Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh.

What do I like about the movie? For one thing, it’s funny, and humor is one thing that’s sadly lacking in Old West film and fiction. The picture above portrays the climax of one of the movie’s most hilarious moments, Butch and Sundance’s escape from a persistent posse by leaping from a cliff to a river below following a furiously funny debate. Then there’s the fact that the actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, are masters of the craft and their partnership here, as well as in The Sting, is inspired given the on-screen chemistry between them. And it’s well written and well-directed. Finally, much of the movie was shot in and around my home state of Utah, showcasing the wild beauty of our varied landscape.

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I last loaded up the DVD a few months ago. And it won’t be too many months before I see it again.


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Old poem.

You can’t live without ageing. One day it dawns on you that you are no longer young. Then, someday, it occurs to you that you are old.

We all know it’s coming. Still, we are often surprised and sometimes shocked at the realization. Despite the passing years and the accompanying changes we can’t ignore, there are many, many other things inside us unchanged since our salad days. And that, I believe, is behind the bewilderment of finding yourself old.

The bewilderment of finding yourself old is the inspiration behind “Through a Glass Darkly,” a new poem built around a bunkhouse cowboy’s wonderment at what has become of him.

And what comes next for all of us. Live well.

Through a Glass Darkly

Chipped and cracked, fogged
by seasons and dimmed by years,
the face in the glass confounds;
furrows deepen, wrinkles ridge.

He turns away, hand wavering
unassured, touches tousled
sougan and sits, head in hands,
eyes shut but unsettled.

Stands again to stare into the glass
at creases and canyons and crags
and coulees cut by wind
and sun and snow and smoke.

He reads the lines that tell
of blisters and burning hair
and the bloody blades
of a hundred branding fires.

Wan forehead marked by hard line
over tangled brow bristles shading
whiskers whitened on wizened
chin and cheeks burnt brown.

How the hell has it come to this?
he will wonder, till one day he looks
in the mirror and there’s no one there
to look back.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A different book.

In my previous post I mentioned that All My Sins Remembered, my latest novel from Five Star, is different from any other novel I have written. Different, as well, from any novel I have ever read. You may wonder what makes it different. Well, maybe not. But I wondered, so I gave it some thought. Here are seven things that make it unusual:

1. Almost the entire story takes place in one location.

2. Two of the most important characters are a dry well and a windmill.

3. Only three people continue from beginning to end, and one of them never speaks.

4. The story is narrated by the main character, who is completely repugnant.

5. We never know the name of any character in the book.

6. The story is suspenseful to the point of causing anxiety.

7. Brief scenes of sudden, graphic violence are at the core of the story.

Several months elapsed between completing All My Sins Remembered and proofreading the galleys prior to publication. I was as surprised as you will be with the story—that is to say, much of the language and many of the details surprised me. That, too, is unusual. It was almost as if someone else had written the book and I was reading it for the first time. Go figure. Go read.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Coming soon.

Sometime in February, Five Star will release my latest novel, All My Sins Remembered. It is unlike any other novel I have written, and I am not even sure where it came from. But those who have read it seem to like it—if “like” is the right word for such a dark, suspenseful tale.

Loren D. Estleman is a member of the Western Writers Hall of Fame, winner of numerous Western Writers of America Spur Awards and Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and a best-selling author of both Western and private-eye novels. He says, “All My Sins Remembered is destined to join the ranks of the frontier classic. Here is suspense as taut as freshly strung barbed wire, rock-solid period detail, and an emotional roller-coaster ride set against a West that is both historically accurate and stunningly immediate. Rod Miller does what only a handful of writers have ever done: make you care about (and even perhaps root for) an astonishingly evil man.”

Another winner of the Wrangler Award and a Spur Award winner, Western novelist Michael Zimmer says, “One of the more powerfully haunting novels to come along in years, Miller’s All My Sins Remembered stands shoulder to shoulder with such literary classics as Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. A brutal, beautifully rendered masterpiece, guaranteed to stay with you long after the last page is turned.”

Finally, Marc Cameron, New York Times Bestselling author of several Tom Clancy novels as well as the Jericho Quinn and Arlis Cutter political and law enforcement thrillers, says, “All My Sins Remembered is hypnotic and poetic and vivid.”

Watch for All My Sins Remembered. As I said, it is unlike anything I have written before. And, I suspect, unlike anything you have read before.

Monday, January 3, 2022

A healthy obsession.

For several years now, I have been obsessed with the Massacre at Bear River. I can’t say for sure when this obsession took hold, but I do remember why.

The history of the American West has always been of interest to me, and that interest has always included our growing nation’s history of eliminating any competition for the land and its resources. In other words, the systematic exclusion and eradication of the native tribes that occupied the land.

At some point in my education, after years of study, I learned about the Massacre at Bear River where, on 29 January 1863, the United States Army launched a dawn attack on a Shoshoni village and killed some 250 to 350 men, women, children, and babies. Most of the dead were noncombatants. And the annihilation included rape and torture, as well as the destruction of food, clothing, lodges, and the theft of the horse herds on which the people relied. It was the deadliest massacre of American Indians by the Army in all of Western history.

I was astounded—dumbfounded—that such a pivotal event had largely escaped notice in American history. Little had been written about it, and most of what had been published was incomplete at best, and inaccurate at worst.

Thus began my obsession. The result, to date, is represented above. I have written a lot about the Massacre at Bear River. Most recently, a novel. Before that, in no particular order, a nonfiction book and shorter pieces of nonfiction included in a book and for a magazine. Short fiction for an anthology, and published in my own collection of short stories. Poems in an anthology and a chapbook. And a poem that became a song.

There may well be more to come, as the Massacre at Bear River continues to haunt me.

When January 29 rolls around again, as it will in a few weeks, I hope to be at the site of the Massacre at Bear River to once again join the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation in honoring their departed ancestors, who have yet to claim their proper place in history.