Sunday, December 3, 2023

Stupid words redux.






After my latest rant on abuse of our shared language, a friend suggested I did not like to see language evolve. But it happens. It’s something that can’t be helped. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s an improvement. Sometimes it’s not.

But I can sleep at night knowing that many—at least some—of the stupid words I rant about will end up on the trash heap of speech, discarded as the useless, even noxious, locutions they are.

Using only words extant during my lifetime, I offer some examples of this self-correction.

Time was, people who were “cool” (a word that was silly then and still is, but has demonstrated staying power) were ofttimes referred to as “cats.” If they were really cool, they were “hep” cats. No more. In the same vein, “groovy” has pretty much disappeared. And when was the last time you heard something cool referred to as “far out” or “bitchin’?” “Fab” had its day, which has long since passed. And we no longer say we “dig” things that are cool. An event or incident that was the opposite of cool was often called a “bummer.”

Clothes were once “threads” but now they are not. No longer are women “chicks” or “dames.” I haven’t heard police referred to as “fuzz” lately. And we have moved beyond all the silly CB radio-inspired lingo too expansive to chronicle here. To that I can only say, “10-4 good buddy. See you on the flip side. Keep your ears on.”

 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Good Books.


Read any good books lately? Along with numerous other writers, I was asked by the Shepherd.com web site to list the three best books I read in the past year. Not necessarily books that were new in the past year, but books read during that period. 

For almost 40 years (don’t ask me why) I have kept a list of the books I read. So, finding my three favorites for the year took nothing more than paging back 12 months and going through the list to see which titles jumped out at me. Some surprised me, to be honest. Others almost topped the ones I chose, but not quite. Still, it was not an easy decision. Maybe, on a different day, my choices would be different.

You can see my list here: https://shepherd.com/bboy/2023/f/rod-miller

And don’t hesitate to wander around the Shepherd.com web site for other lists by other writers on other subjects. (Somewhere on there is my list of five Western novels about cowboys who really are cowboys, rather than the usual fare of outlaws, lawmen, gamblers, and the like.)


Thursday, October 12, 2023

Really Stupid Words, Chapter 22.





You hear a lot about “hacks” nowadays.

Not, in this case, “hack” as a means to cut or sever or chop with repeated irregular or unskillful blows, as most dictionaries define the word’s original and primary meaning.

Nor does it conform to another longstanding sense of being unable to deal with a given situation successfully, as in “he can’t hack it,” or “he’s a hack writer,” both of which can be seen to have evolved from the original meaning.

Nor is the current usage related to the meaning of the word that came along with the rise of computer networks and the internet, where people “hack” into computer systems where they have no business being, whether for fun or to do damage—chopping their way in, so to speak.

No. The current buzzwordy use of hack has to do with something altogether different, and I am not sure how or why it applies. You hear a lot these days about this “hack” or that “hack” that seems (apparently) to be a shortcut or something of the sort. Just lately, I have been advised of “hacks” for life, fishing, parenting, productivity, health, housekeeping, heating and cooling, cooking, cleaning, clothing, crafts, decluttering, organization, school, math, travel, and on and on and on…

On a side note, “hack” seems to be popular with the same people who are fond of “side hustle” (which sounds to me like being up to something no good) and “the gig economy.”

I cannot fathom the word “hack” in this most recent—but already clich├ęd—usage. I guess I wish there were a “hack” for understanding stupid words.



Sunday, September 10, 2023

On the air in Ireland.

This story starts a few years ago but got derailed when Covid shut the world off for a time. A radio producer from Ireland contacted me to say he lived and worked in County Kerry, homeland of Patrick Edward Connor. Connor was the army commander behind the Massacre at Bear River (promoted from colonel to brigadier general following the atrocity), the Father of Utah Mining, and was involved in other military and business pursuits here in the West.

The man from Radio Kerry, Jerry O’Sullivan, wanted to create a radio documentary about Connor, was coming to Utah, and wondered if he could interview me. Then came Covid.

But all things must pass, and early this summer he contacted me to say he was on his way. We spent some time at the remnants of Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, including a spell at Connor’s gravesite in the cemetery there to record the interview. O’Sullivan interviewed other people here, then went back to Ireland to put the program together. It aired on Radio Kerry in early August, and “Glory Hunter” is now available on Spotify. (Just click on “Glory Hunter” and you’ll go there.)

O’Sullivan also wrote a commentary on Connor, the connections between Ireland and the USA, and the way we remember history. That article appeared recently in the Salt Lake Tribune. (Again, a click should get you there.)

Connor was an interesting man of many accomplishments—not all of them laudable. It will be worth your time to hear—and read—what Jerry O’Sullivan has to say about him.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

See page 26.














The August 2023 issue of Roundup Magazine, official publication of Western Writers of America, focuses on the theme “Writing the Traditional Western Novel” in a series of articles. One story, by Western Writers Hall of Fame author
Loren D. Estleman, offers a departure to talk about Western novels that stray from the herd in search of something more.

Estleman writes in “Westerns: Beyond Tradition”: “The difference between the ‘traditional’ Western and literature that resonates through the decades is the sense that these stories are not confined to the page. The characters seem to have a life outside the story. Men and women live and die, often violently; but they don’t exist merely to thrill. While they live, other lives are affected, and when they die, others are left to mourn, or at least ask why. That simple premise is what separates the enduring classic from empty tradition.”

Offered as examples are The Virginian by Owen Wister (of which, Estleman says, “Nearly all the tropes we associate with the Western were invented by one writer in one book”), Shane by Jack Schafer, True Grit by Charles Portis, the novella “A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy M. Johnson, Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson, and All My Sins Remembered by Rod Miller.

What? If that last bit surprises you, imagine my surprise when I saw it. About the book, Estleman writes, among other things, “Miller tells his story with a minimum of emotion and just the right amount of pathos, masterfully expressed between the lines of his spare prose. A 2022 release, All My Sins Remembered is a late addition to the long string of Western classics and promises that it’s nowhere near its end.”

By happenstance, when the article appeared I had just started proofreading the galleys for the pending paperback and eBook editions of All My Sins Remembered, due out within the next couple of months. The hardcover edition is still out there and will be, I hope, for a long, long time.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Coming Attraction.

















How does a young man who fled Missouri fearing a murder charge make a new life in the West? How does a mountain man make a living when the fur trade dries up? How does a Ute boy on the verge of manhood prove his worth? How does a lovesick California vaquero learn to live in exile?

A Thousand Dead Horses asks these questions and more as it tells a story drawn from the history of the Old Spanish Trail. It’s coming soon in paperback and e-book editions from Speaking Volumes.

This novel was a joy to write as I delved deep into history and tried to see it through the eyes of a variety of characters facing myriad challenges, all built into the true story of a series of unprecedented and unequaled raids on California missions and ranchos to steal thousands of horses and mules. It’s a tough tale, both for the characters and the reader. But, as my friend and best-selling author Marc Cameron says, “Fire embers snap, saddle leather groans—and the richly drawn characters pull you along with them on their adventure.”

Watch for the release of the paperback and e-book editions of A Thousand Dead Horses. It’s the novel with the pretty cover shown above.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Some cowboy.













Not long ago, we lost a good friend of mine. Jim Fain is gone, but won’t soon be forgotten. Jim was a photographer of many talents, but specialized in rodeo action. I’ve got more than a few photos signed by Fain. Hundreds, thousands, of rodeo cowboys over the past sixty years can say the same thing.

The photo above is not typical of his work but, as he always did, Jim captured the essence of a story.

The year was 1973. It was Labor Day weekend, “Cowboy Days” in Evanston, Wyoming. Back then the arena had no lights so the rodeo was held Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The weather turned bad on Saturday—a deluge so heavy the rodeo committee pulled the plug and re-scheduled for Sunday morning. Then it rained some more. And snowed.

Mud, water, ice, and muck covered the arena come morning, but the show must go on. I was up in the first event, the bareback riding. In the cold, with icy fingers, and on the back of a frosty, dripping wet horse I did a sorry job of setting my bareback rigging. When the horse turned back into a spin, my rigging went over the side and so did I. Then the horse landed on me, stomping me deeper into the mire. I have other Fain photos that show it all.

Jim snapped the shutter on this picture as I waded back to the bucking chutes. I was soaked, muddy, and cold. My face and eyes were gritty. My hat was mashed. So was I. All in all, I was a mess. The few fans in the stands thought it funny. At the time, it didn’t seem funny to me.

A misadventure, recorded for all time through Jim Fain’s camera lens. The sad thing is, this photo is my favorite from the album documenting my rodeo career. Some cowboy, huh?

 


Thursday, June 1, 2023

My Favorite Book, Part 29









We citizens of the United States sometimes forget that we do not own the West. Most everything that counts as cowboy came to us from south of the border, courtesy of Spanish and Mexican vaqueros. And their influence, always adapted for regional use, did not stop at the Canadian border. Cowboys are big in Canada.

I was reminded of that fact with this novel, Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse. The book was recommended by my friend Doris Daley from Alberta. She is as fine a poet, reciter, and writer as you’re likely to find anywhere.

Written by Paul St. Pierre, the details of cowboy life in Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse will be recognized by anybody who loves and lives the West, but with a unique north-of-our-border flavor that captures the quirks and customs of a time and place where the West was wild, the winters cold, and a sense of humor a necessary tool in coping—the sense of humor (or ‘humour’ as they spell it in Canada) perhaps most important of all. As you smile through page after page, and occasionally laugh out loud, you’ll wonder if the Indian cowboy—a horse whisperer of sorts—will ever find time in his not-so-busy schedule to see to the breaking of Smith’s quarter horse.

I thank Doris Daley for the recommendation. You will too.

 


Monday, May 15, 2023

Interesting times.

 

There is a curse, wrongly attributed to the Chinese, that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

We certainly do.

As most of you probably know, that strange assemblage of little squares above is a QR Code (QR is shorthand for Quick Response, I’m told). You see them all over the place in these interesting times. They bear about as much resemblance to the real world as Rorschach ink blots. Word is, if you point your smart phone at one, it will link you to some other place online.

As one living in interesting times, and feeling a slight tug at times to keep up, I got my very own QR Code. It links to my web site, writerRodMiller.com. I had to borrow my wife’s smart phone (because I don’t own one) to test it. It works. I was amazed and surprised at the success of my first-ever experience with a QR Code.

Try it.

P.S. The hero of four of my novels, Rawhide Robinson, was jealous and wanted a QR Code of his own. So, I got him one. Try it, too. Here it is:

 

P.P.S. All My Sins Remembered was just named a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Novel of 2022!


 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Silver Screen Cowboys I have loved.








Movies and television programs are very much a matter of opinion. What some like, others despise. The same holds true for actors. Portrayals of cowboys on the big (and small) screen range from authentic to absurd, and the actors assigned those roles come off as believable or bogus, and sometimes downright laughable.

Like most movie fans, I have my favorites. I lean toward actors who are absorbed into the role, rather than movie stars who are essentially playing themselves in cowboy costumes. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. (Not included are many, many fine players who appear mostly in supporting roles or small parts.) I’m sure some—most—of you will disagree with my choices. Others will wonder about those left out. That’s fine. You can make your own list.

Robert Duvall. Tommy Lee Jones. Ben Johnson. Clint Eastwood. Tom Selleck. Paul Newman. Henry Fonda. Robert Redford. Thomas Hayden Church. Ed Harris. Jeff Bridges. Alan Ladd. Sam Elliott.

And, finally, Latigo Brown.

Latigo Brown?

Excuse the crass commercialism, but Latigo Brown is the hero of my latest novel, Silver Screen Cowboy. Like me, Latigo Brown is often uncomfortable, sometimes downright dismissive, of the unrealistic ways cowboys are portrayed on screen. Despite his surprising path from ranch and rodeo cowboy to movie star back in the golden days of Westerns and the remuneration and renown that come with it, some of the things he is asked to do on screen chafe like a bur under a saddle blanket.

Give Silver Screen Cowboy a read. Could be that Latigo Brown will make it onto your list of favorite silver screen cowboys. Even if you’ve only seen him in your mind.



Saturday, April 8, 2023

School days.


In recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend time on university campuses at opposite ends of my home state of Utah.

At my alma mater, Utah State University in Logan, I met with a classroom full of journalism students. For more than an hour they peppered me with questions about journalism, advertising, magazine writing, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, Western history, how I go about writing, and all manner of things. Fortunately, after stringing words together over several decades for all manner of reasons I was able to offer some sort of response to most of their queries.

Days later, I spent an equally enjoyable hour with creative writing students at Utah Tech University in St. George. Again, the questions were insightful and the discussion engaging. Later, UT hosted a public event during which I read from several of my books—mostly fiction but also some nonfiction and poetry—answered a few questions, and spent time talking with and signing books for some of the readers kind enough to come out for the event.  A fine local bookseller, The Book Bungalow, handled sales and now has several of my titles on the shelves at their store in St. George.

All in all, the faculty and staff members involved in my visits had everything well in hand to make the experiences enjoyable. And, the students at both universities were impressive. They seemed bright, immersed, and involved—much different from my own time as a college student, if my hazy memories are to be trusted.


Friday, March 17, 2023

To read or not to read?




Book reviews can be helpful for readers. Honest book reviews, that is, not the puff pieces authors often ask friends to post online. An honest review that expresses the reviewer’s opinion of the book—good or bad—can help prospective readers weigh that opinion in their decision to read—or not read—a particular book. A review can also inspire readers to read books they had not known about or considered.

Not long ago, I got an email from the New York Journal of Books where readers find reviews on hundreds of books in every category imaginable. They invited me to join their panel of reviewers. It says on their website, “This panel includes bestselling and award-winning authors, journalists, experienced publishing executives, academics, as well as professionals across a number of disciplines and industries.” Given that, I can’t help but wonder how or where they heard about me. Still, I signed on.

Truth is, I am no stranger to book reviews. I wrote a library’s worth of brief reviews for Western Writers of America’s Roundup magazine (and not always to the authors’ satisfaction). True West magazine has asked me to review a few books. I write a lengthier book review each month for the Utah Westerners newsletter. And my reviews have appeared here and there on other occasions.

If you are not familiar with the New York Journal of Books, check it out. It may help you answer the question all readers ask: To read, or not to read?


Saturday, March 4, 2023

Talk, talk, talk.

Not long ago I was asked to do an online interview with a publisher of Western novels—not my own. Dusty Saddle Publishing, DSP for short, in an effort to wave the flag for Western literature, has launched a campaign to feature authors outside their own stable. So I uncapped the camera on my laptop and when the questions started coming I opened my mouth and let the syllables spill out and trickle down my shirtfront. Click on the video link and you can watch it happen.

Here is how DSP introduced the interview to their readers:

“DSP is always working to reach out to our fellow authors and bring them to you, our readers. This interview is one of the first of 2023, and we are very honored to be featuring the very talented Rod Miller. Rod has won every writing award the Western business has to offer, and his novels are generally considered to be some of the finest in the genre. We would consider it an honor if you would hop on over and take a listen to his brand-new interview and then try out a few of his books. These are the kind of Westerns readers sit around waiting for. It’s about time you discovered them.”

 


Thursday, February 23, 2023

At the movies.


Latigo Brown is a cowboy. A real cowboy, not like those TV and movie cowboys who ride everywhere at a high lope firing off six-shooters and hardly ever come into contact with a cow. But he finds himself lured to Hollywood by a rodeo hero, where he unexpectedly becomes a box-office star during the heyday of big-screen Westerns and cowboy heroes. Amidst the glitter and glamour of the movie business, he still harbors resentment for the way he—and other cowboys—are portrayed.

Will Latigo Brown swallow his pride and pocket the money? Will starlets, high society, and riches win out? Or will Latigo write “The End” to the movie business? Follow Latigo Brown’s adventures through rodeo arenas, film sets, and the Hollywood West in the pages of Silver Screen Cowboy. Coming soon in paperback and eBook from publisher Speaking Volumes.

 


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

On the trail of an idea.


Writers—including yours truly—are often asked where they get their ideas. It is not always an easy question to answer. But in the case of my short story “Black Joe” I know the answer.

“Black Joe” was originally published in the periodical Saddlebag Dispatches in 2019. It was named “Best Western Short Fiction” in 2020 and given the Peacemaker Award by Western Fictioneers, an organization of professional writers of—you guessed it—Western fiction. Now it is the title story in my just released hardcover book from Five Star Publishing, Black Joe and Other Selected Stories.

But back to the subject at hand and the source of ideas.

Andy Nelson, a radio host, entertainer, and cowboy poet—and friend—of the highest order learned of the event that inspired the story from his father, Jim. It concerns an ornery wild horse, a black stud called Black Joe, that attacked a father and young daughter while out riding in the backcountry of Idaho. Andy passed the story on to another friend, cowboy composer, singer, and songwriter Brenn Hill, who saw a song in the incident. He penned “Black Joe” and recorded it for his 2018 album Rocky Mountain Drifter.

Being a fan of Brenn Hill’s many talents, I heard the song numerous times as I played and replayed the album and saw in it the idea for a tale that starts with the story in the song and goes from there. The result is the short story “Black Joe.” (Starring, as it happens, two cowboys named Andy Hill and Brenn Nelson.)

So, many thanks to Jim Nelson, Andy Nelson, Brenn Hill, Saddlebag Dispatches, Western Fictioneers, Five Star Publishing, and you for the parts you all played in making “Black Joe” a success.

 


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Really stupid words, Chapter 21.

Sometimes, perfectly good words get overused and abused and stretched to the point that they become stupid. One such word that has been stirring my curmudgeonly coals of late is “journey.”

At its core it is a fine word, describing “travel or passage from one place to another,” the key word being place. While it can be suggestive of other things, place generally indicates a physical location. That notion is forgotten more often than not nowadays when it comes to journeys.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu voiced what must be the most famous saying about “journey” when he said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The implication of moving from one physical location to another is surely implicit, if not explicit. Still, the saying and the source have contributed to the dilution of the meaning of journey. More to blame, perhaps, is a bumper sticker phrase of uncertain origin and many iterations: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Notice how the idea of going from one actual, physical place to another is missing, watering down the meaning of “journey” to the point where it can be applied to anything, everything, and nothing.

The New Age (which elevated Lao Tzu and his sayings) and all its psychobabble latched onto the word back in the 1970s and there has been no turning back. Healing and transformation became a journey, along with your health and wellness journey, your recovery journey, your emotional growth journey, and your soul journey. And, of course, our spiritual and religious journeys.

Now, even unfortunate situations like fighting cancer have become journeys. So have trivial situations, like my hair loss journey. Grief became a journey. Education is a journey. So is weight loss. Business has latched onto the idea with a passion, tracking customer journeys, service journeys, training and development journeys, leadership journeys, workday journeys….

Writers are not immune to the infection. Seldom have I attended a conference where the “hero’s journey” wasn’t held up as the essence of most any and every piece of literature. (I confess ignorance of its finer points.) And, of course, we are each on our personal writing journey.

That’s all for now. While the “journey” journey may be an endless journey, we’ve come far enough on our journey for one day.