To The Duke

To The Duke

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Trip to Red River

Recently, my son Josh and I made the drive from St. Louis to Red River, New Mexico. I'd been to New Mexico before but never that far north. The Red River area is amazing. Dusty Richards took us on a tour of Taos County and one remark he made stuck with me all the way home. He said that people were there, with prosperous communities of Mexicans and Native Americans, for centuries before this country's western expansion. When I got back to St. Louis I researched the Red River area and reference after reference said, when explorer, fur trappers and prosepectors discovered the area they put River City, as Red River was first called, on the map. With such a vast and populated community already there, how is a place discovered by visitors?

The mountains surrounding Red River are the Sangre de Cristos, name by the Spanish explorer, Antonio Valverde y Cosio in 1719. The name means "Blood of Christ" because of the impressive reddish hue of the snowy peaks at sunrise called alpenglow. When they found silver and gold and other metals in the mountains, Red River's population soared. There were two general mercantiles, a livery stable, two newspapers, a sawmill, blacksmith shop, barber shop, more than a dozen saloons, several hotels and boarding houses, a dance hall and a hospital. There was also a red light district with plenty of gambling and bar room brawls.

Now Red River is a peaceful resort town with skiers and hikers filling its narrow streets during the snow season, and people just wanting to enjoy the mountains during the rest of the year.  Oh, and the reason for my trip was to join a group of writers to discuss writing and marketing. That was worth the trip right there. Jodi Thomas, the NY Times bestseller, has a condo in Red River and years ago she had the idea of getting together with some friends in a very informal setting and just "talk writing." It was great. I met some neat people from all over the West. They were amazed that I'd driven all the way from St. Louis to be there. So was I. I don't look up miles when I travel. I look at the map and "guestimate." My problem with this trip was that in my head I thought...okay, I go through Missouri, through Oklahoma...and poof, I'm in northeast New Mexico. Three states. No problem. I figured 12 hours. It takes me 16 to get to Savannah, Georgia, a place I visit often. So Red River would seem like a simple jaunt down the road. Wrong! I wasn't figuring that the pan handle of Oklahoma is like driving through three states all by itself. What a drive. But I plan to make it again next year. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dag Nabbitt!

Telegraph KeyStandard Wireless Telegraph Key

I'm still having computer woes. Now, how can I relate this latest mess to the west somehow? I know. It's like the first telegraph lines they tethered to the rough cut poles and tree tops way back when. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't. I actually had a guy at AT&T tell me it was the solar flares that are causing my wi-fi to go in and out. So we're still limping along with keeping this blog updated. Have patience. Once I get my computer fixed I'll be boring you to death with daily posts about cowboys and shoot em ups and stage coach robberies.

And for those who entered our Unknown Cowboy contests, thank you. We had so many great entries we're planning to use a couple of them in the next anthology. Our publication date is set for December 20th, so I'll notify you sometime at the end of October. And for those of you who ordered books or won a contest with a copy of a book as the prize. I mailed out a big batch today. And honestly, after standing in line this morning at the post office, I understand why they're losing money. It was worse than the day after Christmas in the returns line at Walmart.

The electric telegraph is a communication system that transmitted electric signals over wires from location to location. In 1809, a crude telegraph was invented in Bavaria by Samuel Soemmering. He used 35 wires with gold electrodes in water and at the receiving end 2000 feet the message was read by the amount of gas caused by electrolysis. In 1828, the first telegraph in the USA. was invented by Harrison Dyar who sent electrical sparks through chemically treated paper tape to burn dots and dashes. However, it was Samuel Morse (1791-1872) that successfully exploited the electromagnet and bettered the invention.

Old Telegraph Lines beside railway
Many of the lines that we used to see between the highways and the railroad tracks were originally telegraph lines. Phone companies leased the lines later when the telephone took over the communications business, which saved them millions of dollars.

Insulators first were used extensively in the mid-1840s with the invention of the telegraph. They were necessary to prevent the electrical current passing through the wire from grounding out on the pole and making the line unusable.

The first insulators were beeswax-soaked rags wrapped around the wire. They worked well in the dry laboratory but soon broke down when exposed to the weather. The next concept was a glass knob, which looked much like a bureau knob one still might find on antique furniture, mounted on a wood or metal pin.
 CD 100 SURGETypical Glass Insulator

I've monopolized my husbands computer long enough...he's starting to sigh and pace so I guess I'd better stop now. But I think tomorrow I'll hit the flea markets and see if I can buy some insulators, a pole, and an old telegraph key and maybe I can stop worrying about solar flares.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Will I ever catch up?

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of Cactus Country. We are doing so well that High Hill Press hired another new editor last week. I'll have her information on the High Hill website soon. I'm going to ask for just a little more patience while we get our books printed and shipped. We didn't expect the rush of orders, and although we're working as hard as we can, we keep running out of books. Now ain't that somethin' to complain about? I'm not complaining, I'm grateful that our hunch about westerns and what people want to read was correct. And we're thrilled with the new offerings we have coming up shortly. Dusty Richards has a new book coming out in November called Outlaw Queen. Michael Andrews, our artist friend, is working on a cover now. Then in December we'll have the second volume of our Cactus Country Anthology. We have more wonderful writers in this one, Spur winners and future Spur winners alike. And hopefully by the middle of December we'll have a short story collection out by Brett Cogburn titled The Devil's Hoofprints. In a very short time, Cactus Country, the western division of High Hill Press, has become a success. And it's all due to the support of folks who love westerns. Thank you.

And now just for fun. Guess who these eight western actors are and we'll give you an extra 20% off on any book you order from High Hill Press.
Rex AllenSmith BallewGene BarryWilliam Boyd

PanchoDuncan RenaldoChill WillsFuzzy Knight

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yahoo! I'm back!

Sholes-Glidden  1874
For the last several weeks I've been cussing and kicking and generally being a female curmudgeon because of internet problems. I finally got things fixed, but not before I spent weeks in agony when I realized everything I do is connected to my computer.  It made me long for the "Good Old Days," which is something I do often anymore. Nearly a decade ago I was nominated for Pushcart Prize for an essay I wrote called Slow the Spinning Earth. The essay deals with the way our world seems to be moving too fast. Technology is taking over. Electric everything is the way of the world. I tried, when I wrote the essay, to slow things down a little--at least in my little corner of the world. I drug out old dishes and served our meals by candle light. Against our sub-division rules, I hung my laundry outside to dry in the sunshine. I even bought a bicycle and thought I'd do short errands with it and at the same time get myself in shape.
     Needless to say, my struggle against technology didn't last long. I was fine on the bicycle as long as all my errands were down hill. Up hill was a bear and I soon put the bicycle on a hook in the garage and there it still rests. I pulled all my appliances out of their storage spots and diced and sliced and blended with electricity again. My typewriter went back on the shelf and my computer regained its position on the desk. I hate it that we're so dependent on our computers and cell phones and Ipads. But it's a sad truth that can't be changed. Cowboys didn't have that problem. They didn't lay awake at night wondering how long it would be before they could download and upload and work on websites and blogs.
     Typewriters won't copy and scan and attach pictures and documents to an electronic letter, but they still do a great job on some things. This past few weeks I've kept notes, made lists, and jotted down ideas on the old Remington I now keep next to my computer to help me keep in touch with the past. I've collected old typewriters for about 40 years. I used to find all kinds of weird looking machines at flea markets and garage sales for just a few bucks. Not so much anymore. And sadly I don't think the lack of machines available is because other people are collecting them too. I think most of them have ended up in landfills because they're too cumbersome and heavy to collect or keep. I've got a couple of them that I would guess weigh nearly 30 pounds.
     I apologize for neglecting this blog for so long, but now you know why. And for those of you who are worrying because I haven't answered an e-mail, I'll catch up this week. While I'm struggling to get everything back in order, here are a few tidbits about typewriters for ya. You should try and find one of these wonderful machines and keep it next to your computer as a reminder of how far we've come. I refuse to say "how lucky we are," because honestly I don't think we're all that lucky to have moved so quickly into an age where we are completely dependent on electronic machines that seem to have a mind of their own. And I really do wish we could somehow, "Slow the Spinning Earth."

Caligraph   1880
 The first concept for a typewriter was way back in 1714. But it was a struggle to find something that people could use easily, and it didn't really get off the ground until the early 1800's when an Italian invented the first workable typewriter. But even then it wasn't a common machine. Mostly because a good majority of the population couldn't read or write anyway, so there was no need for one. When typewriters were refined by the English in 1820 they began to be manufactured in mass. There's even a big debate about whether Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol on a typewriter.

Blickensderfer early 1800s

Peerles   1895

Typewriter Museum

And for those of you who have books coming, they'll be shipped sometime this coming week. Thanks for being so patient. I'd also like to thank my good friend Donna for being so nice about answering e-mails from people wondering just where I'd gone. Donna and I joke all the time that I should be paying her a salary as my personal assistant. She's always fielding questions from people about my where-a-bouts. Thanks Donna!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Are we cheating our audience by not putting in as much description?

First off, sorry folks for not posting lately. My computer is on the fritz. I'm using an old laptop today that seems to be chugging too, so who knows how long it'll hold up. If it dies, I'll go to the next in line. I have a virtual graveyard of machinery that stretches way across my office. The genius who will fix all my problems isn't due here until Wednesday, so until then I guess I'll cross my fingers, say a little Holy Roller prayer, and keep typing.

I got into a conversation yesterday with an old friend. We started discussing western novels and how they've changed over the years.This friend bought Louis L'Amour books when Louis was still writing them. He said he didn't like the new westerns because they didn't spend the time describing the western landscape like the old ones did. I said that authors now don't need to spend endless pages on description because we already know what the west looks like. He said not having all that "beautiful descriptive prose" took the joy out of reading a western. I got to thinking about that, and although I've had this very same discussion with a western author who virtually said the same thing, that those long passages of description aren't necessary anymore...I'm beginning to wonder if my friend isn't right, and by leaving some of it out, we are maybe watering down the western. I've read a lot of western novels in my day, and I guess I honestly haven't paid all that much attention to how the descriptions in the new ones differ from the old ones. I know the language is different, and sometimes the narrative in any book written before the 60's or 70's is a hard knot of words to follow, but the actual description is something I hadn't thought of. Let me know what you think. And I've listed a few books below that Western Writers of America put on their list for best all time western novels.

All the Pretty Horses
by Cormac McCarthy
John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old dispossessed Texan, crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico in 1949, accompanied by his pal Lacey Rawlins. The two precocious horsemen pick up a sidekick--a laughable but deadly marksman named Jimmy Blevins--encounter various adventures on their way south and finally arrive at a paradisiacal hacienda where Cole falls into an ill-fated romance.

Call of the Wild
by Jack London
Kidnapped form his safe California home. Thrown into a life-and-death struggle on the frozen Artic wilderness. Half St. Bernard, half shepard, Buck learns many hard lessons as a sled dog: the lesson of the leash, of the cold, of near-starvation and cruelty. And the greatest lesson he learns from his last owner, John Thornton: the power of love and loyalty.Yet always, even at the side of the human he loves, Buck feels the pull in his bones, an urge to answer his wolf ancestors as they howl to him.

by James A. Michener
A stunning panorama of the West, CENTENNIAL is an enthralling celebration of our country, brimming with the glory and the greatness of the American past that only bestselling author James Michener could bring to stunning life. From the Native Americans, the migrating white men and women, the cowboys, and the foreigners, it is a story of trappers, traders, homesteaders, gold seekers, ranchers, and hunters--all caught up in the dramatic events and violent conflicts that shaped the destiny of our legendary West.

Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop traces the friendship and adventures of Bishop Jean Latour and vicar Father Joseph Vaillant as they organize the new Roman Catholic diocese of New Mexico. Latour is patrician, intellectual, introverted; Vaillant, practical, outgoing, sanguine. Friends since their childhood in France, the clerics triumph over corrupt Spanish priests, natural adversity, and the indifference of the Hopi and Navajo to establish their church and build a cathedral in the wilderness. The novel, essentially a study of character, explores Latour's inner conflicts and his relationship with the land, which through the author's powerful description becomes an imposing character in its own right.

by Louis L'Amour
He was a man etched by the desert's howling winds, a big, broad-shouldered man who knew the ways of the Apache and ways of staying alive. She was a woman raising a young son on her own on a remote Arizona ranch. And between Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe was the warrior Vittoro, whose people were preparing to rise against the white men. Now the pioneer woman, the gunman, and the Apache warrior are caught in a drama of love, war, and honor.

Lonesome Dove
by Larry McMurtry
Set in the late nineteenth century, Lonesome Dove is the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana -- and much more. It is a drive that represents for everybody involved not only a daring, even a foolhardy, adventure, but a part of the American Dream -- the attempt to carve out of the last remaining wilderness a new life.

Monte Walsh
by Jack Schaefer
With humor and pathos author Schaefer chronicles the passing of the Old West. In loosely connected episodes he vividly portrays the life and times of working cowboy Walsh, side-kick Chet Rollins, and other memorable characters of the Slash Y. Here are shootings, cattle drives, winter storms, and spring floods; cattle rustling, romancin’ and horse breaking. Man and beast, pushed to the limits of their endurance, survive or perish.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Join Cactus Country Book Club

Cactus Country Book Club is now up and running. If you are a follower of this blog, you're automatically a member. If you'd like to receive information about upcoming books, contests, newsletters, or offers when we make 'em, write to us at and give us your snail mail address. We've got a neat brochure we're ready to mail and we'd love to send you one.

The book covers above are all Cactus Country Books and for book club members we're offering some great discounts off the cover price. Go to the Cactus Country page at High Hill Press and you can order them directly from us and save on shipping. We've also bundled a couple of the books for extra savings.

I promise I won't use this blog for such unabashed promotion all the time...just this time because we've finally released the books that we've been so excited about for months, Cactus Country Anthology Volume I and The Bounty Man and Doe. So please go check them out.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meet Larry Martin!

L J  Martin is a multi-tasker big time.  Not only has he made a success in real estate and as a contractor, runs a terrific marketing business for his author wife and is a genius at digital publishing, but he's a talented writer himself with 20 novels and numerous short work and articles to his credit.

Larry has a wonderful story in Cactus Country Anthology Volume I.  I've read it twice. Here's a chance to read just a snippet and when you can't stop thinking about it you can order the book by e-mailing me at

To Ride a Tall Horse

            But by that night, the water bag was empty.
            With the morning his mouth tasted as fresh horse dung smelled, and by noon of the third day, like dung-dust. Still he carried the bag, for if he found water he would have to have it. And searching for water lengthened his trip. Each time he would see a patch of green willows or a grove of cottonwood, he would move away from the trail to check and see if a spring or seep was the source of the life color. But so far, it was not. Finally, in a cut in a hillside, he found a seep. But less than that, really. It was a slow drip. Again, he could not wait for the bag to fill. He slept there that night, drinking a few good mouthfuls, but only getting the bag a quarter full before he walked on. The mouthfuls had been enough to wash down the third tortilla. He carefully placed his handful of beans into the goat gut so they would soak, and even though he had nothing to cook them in, he could eat them raw if they were soft.
            By noon, he thought this would be the longest day of his life.
            By the late afternoon, he looked down across what must be the San Joaquin Valley. It stretched out before him as far as he could see in the hazy heat of summer. The trees were behind him now, and in front was only a broad savanna of low grass. And he knew that somewhere beyond that was a sage and greasewood desert until the bottom of the valley, where there was life-giving sloughs and swamps. 
            But where, nearby, would there be water? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Ladies, Fuzzy Q and Lash Larue

Yesterday while I was enjoying breakfast with The Ladies, I showed them a copy of the book we just got back from the printer, The Bounty Man and Doe by Dusty Richards. It's got a beautiful cover, by the way, and one of the ladies said, "Oh, I used to like westerns. I remember Lash Larue. He was so handsome." Then the second lady said, "I used to sit through his movies twice at the Saturday Matinee. I loved the way he cocked his hat over to the side. Made him seem so mysterious." Then the first lady said, "Who are you talking about?" Second lady says, "I don't know." I told them we were talking about westerns and Lash Larue. The first lady says, "Oh, I used to love his westerns. I used to sit through them twice at the Saturday Matinee." And on and on it went.

But that little bit of conversation with The Ladies made me curious about Lash Larue. I vaguely remember the name. So this morning I did some research. Wow, what a cowboy. But his real name was Alfred, and as you can imagine that didn't fit a cowboy very well so they called him Lash. And back then some said he looked more like a gangster than a cowboy hero because he wore an all black outfit and had his Stetson cocked slightly to the side.  He didn't pull a six gun when faced with a bad guy, his main weapon was an 18-foot bullwhip coiled at his holster. But he had the mandatory sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones.

Fuzzy Q and Lash Larue

Below is a short excerpt from a wonderful site devoted to Lash Larue

Fawcett Publications Lash LaRue Western #1Despite the shortcomings of the production values of his films, Lash LaRue himself remains a striking figure among the legends of screen cowboys. Had he been at Republic Pictures under the direction of William Witney, his star would have glistened more brightly. Lash was one of the last of the series Western stars. By the end of 1953, all of the great matinee cowboys had ridden off into the sunset for the last time.
Sadly, Lash Larue passed away until 1996.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meet Johnny Boggs

Booklist has called Johnny D. Boggs "among the best western writers at work today."  He has won the prestigious Spur Award from Western Writers of America twice, in 2006 for his novel Cam Ford, and in 2002 for his short story "A Piano at Dead Man's Crossing." His novels Ten and Me and The Hart Brand were Spur finalists in 2000 and 2007, and he won the Western Heritage Wrangler Award in 2004 for his novel Spark on the Prairie.
I met Johnny Boggs last year at the Ozarks Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was my 17th year at OCW conference, and my first year as a board member. Johnny was also elected to the board so I had the opportunity to talk to him. He's the "real deal" as Dusty likes to say. He lives in New Mexico and has written too many books and articles to mention here. Besides the western genre, Johnny is a travel writer. That's what he spoke about last year in Eureka and it made me want to try my hand at travel writing too. He's a great speaker, and a great writer. Check out his website and learn a little more about him...then go out and buy one of his books.

A peak at the story Johnny has in The Cactus Country Anthology Volume I
 Plantin' Season
Far as we could tell, the two dead men had nothin’ in common, not at first, no how. Strangers they was, to us and themselves, when they sat down inside Jess Leach’s bucket of blood and commenced playin’ poker. If they introduced themselves, Jess never heard ‘em, and he didn’t ask nothin’ hisself because Jess is a polite sort of fellow. So forty minutes and too much forty-rod later, them two strangers pulled out their six-shooters and blasted one another to Kingdom Come.
            Now, truth be told, things like that happened with some frequency on Willow Creek each spring, when folks started comin’ back to the mountains to work their claims. Most miners and townfolk knowed better than to winter in this country, no sir. They’d head south, spend their earnin’s, then come back when the snow began meltin’ to make their piles again. You see, miners, and the parasites that follow ‘em, tend to be like rattlers. When they come out of hibernation, their tempers are short-fused and hard.
            Jess called it Plantin’ Season, and, come every spring, we planted many a man up on the ridge overlookin’ our town of canvas tents and rawhide log affairs like Jess Leach’s saloon.
            The spring I tell about, however, proved to be a mite different only ‘cause, like I done said, Jess Leach is a polite fellow, and a man of his word, unlike most beer-jerkers who work gold towns. Which brings me to the two dead strangers at Jess’s Mayflower Saloon. The shootin’ didn’t last long. Seldom does. The fellow with the handlebar mustache, he expired immediately, but the other gent, the one in the black broadcloth and high-topped boots with pretty crescent moon inlays, he lasted a few moments, chokin’ on his blood and the thick white smoke that clouded the insides of Jess’s place the way it always done durin’ Plantin’ Season.
            “I’m kilt,” the man told Jess. “Don’t bury me in some unknown grave.”
            Problem was, he joined the fellow with that well-groomed mustache before he could tell Jess exactly what his name was, so there they lay amongst the sawdust and blood, with Jess just a-squattin’ there and scratchin’ his beard when I come upon the scene after hearin’ the shots and enterin’ the Mayflower to investigate.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Meet John Nesbitt

I met John Nesbitt a few years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Western Writers of America conference. We talked for a long while about my new venture, a publishing company called High Hill Press. I told John I wanted to do a Western Anthology. Later he sent me a story called Chugwater Charlie. But the anthology was put on hold. Then Dusty Richards and I stampeded forward with Cactus Country this year and we contacted John to make sure it was still okay to publish his story. The one thing I've learned about Western writers is that they are generous and always willing to help out a friend. Visit John's website to learn more about him and his writing, and make sure to order your copy of Cactus Country Anthology Volume I so you can read Chugwater Charlie. I've put a small tidbit on here to entice you.

John's Web Address

John D. Nesbitt lives in the plains country of Wyoming, where he teaches English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College.  His articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.  He has had more than twenty books published, including short story collections, contemporary novels, and traditional westerns, as well as textbooks for his courses.  John has won many awards for his work, including two awards from the Wyoming State Historical Society (for fiction), two awards from Wyoming Writers for encouragement of other writers and service to the organization, two Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowships (one for fiction, one for non- fiction), a Western Writers of America Spur finalist award for mass-market paperback original novel for Raven Springs, and the Spur award itself for his short story “At the End of the Orchard” and for his novels Trouble at the Redstone and Stranger in Thunder Basin.”  His most recent work consists of “Dead for the Last Time,” a novella; Poacher’s Moon, a contemporary novel; and Not a Rustler, a traditional western.

John at a book signing.

Chugwater Charlie
Charlie Claymore sat in the shade of his horse, reins in his lap, and stuffed tobacco into his pipe. It would have been a good moment to enjoy the quiet of the range land, but as often happened, the young boss had things he wanted to talk about.
            “Here’s the deal, Charlie. If I want to take Amy anywhere, she’s got to have her old Aunt Celeste come along as chaperone. If you were the kind of friend a fella needs, you see, you’d go along on this picnic, and you could keep Auntie-Q from hangin’ on every word I might want to say.” George waved his hand. “Wouldn’t cost you a dime. I’d pay for the vittles, the carriage, the whole shebang. And besides, it would be good for you.”
            Charlie watched the tobacco strands lift as he laid the match across the bowl of his pipe and drew the flame downward. “It’s not a matter of money,” he said. “She’s not exactly my dish of prunes to begin with, and more than that, I’d just as soon not get drawn into other people’s affairs.”
            George frowned as if he had been offended. “Affairs? This is just a matter of eatin’ cold chicken and mince pie, and makin’ up nice to the old lady.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Alamo

A friend and I talked about the The Alamo last night and we couldn't remember who played Jim Bowie in the movie. We finally checked online and realized it was Richard Widmark. But this morning I was still thinking about the movie and John Wayne so I watched a couple movie trailers.

When I was a kid I knew every line of dialogue that John Wayne spoke in every movie he ever made. I'd stand up in the theater on Saturdays when they played the Duke's movies all day and proudly speak along with his character. People threw popcorn and candy at me and it stuck in my hair...which was wild and unruly back then. My grandma would comb it, or sometimes cut it out. She often told me she wished there was a balcony I could sit in, 'cause she was pretty sure I'd end up bald before I out grew my fascination with John Wayne.

But back to the Alamo, and "you'd better listen and listen tight. There's right and there's wrong. You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you're dead as a beaver hat."

That John Wayne line right there got a whole box of Sour Lemons thrown at me.

Books and Hollywood used to tell stories about history. That's why westerns were so popular. Now we have animated films about aliens and trolls and chimpanzees taking over the world. We have books about serial killers and terrorist plots. Could we go back? I don't know. But I think it would be worth trying.  Why not enjoy a John Wayne movie today.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Meet the Troy Andrew Smith!

I'm going to start introducing you to the cowboys and cowgirls whose work will be featured in the upcoming Cactus Country anthology. First into the shoot is Troy Andrew Smith. 
This is Troy in full cowboy gear when he was just three years old. So I guess he really, really wanted to be a cowboy. And below is Troy today on the cover of one of his cds.

Troy did a book with High Hill Press this summer, it's a collection of short fiction, articles about the west, poetry and essays. He is also a songwriter and entertainer...and an actor. He was in HBO's Deadwood a few years ago. I remember one conversation Troy and I had when we were working on his book. I asked what scenes he played in in the series because I watched it religiously. He said, "If you saw a pair of dusty boots, someone swinging through a pair of batwing doors, or a cowboy butt walking down the street, that was me."

Troy has a great story in Cactus Country Anthology Volume is a snippet. It's called Ace's Colt. 

Sam was a young man who had the eye and soul of an artist.  He saw the beauty in things when other people never even saw the thing.  But, he had learned long ago that no matter what his mind’s eye saw, his fingers never seemed to be able to put it down in a picture. At least not a picture anyone would recognize as art.
            At the moment though, Sam wasn’t concerned too much with art, or beauty, or even the creek that ox bowed behind him. His main concern at that very moment was to figure out how to get loose from the dad blamed elm tree he was leaning against?  Actually, leaning might not have been the right word to describe his position.  He was really doing as much hanging as he was leaning.  He looked more like a scarecrow with his arms out to his sides and points of barbed wired sticking out of his shirt sleeves.  You see, at some time or another, during the old days, around the time of the territory becoming a state, some settler had tried to homestead the place.  Sam was sure money had been tight back then and they had nailed the wire to the elm and several other trees to save the cost of fence posts.  It was this wire that now held him against the tree.  He wasn’t sure how much he was bleeding or how bad he was cut, but there was no doubt he was.  Way my luck's running in this deal, he thought, I’ll catch lockjaw from this old rusty wire and starve myself to death.
            I guess this accounting of how Ace’s Colt, the dun horse tied to the snubbing post, had caused Sam, a pretty fair bronc wrestler in his own right,  to pretend to be part of an elm tree, would all probably make more sense if I backed up a few days in the telling?  See, it started when he was in town and ran into Jim Dunn the foreman of the ranch that was Sam’s reluctant neighbor.

Visit Troy's website to read more of his work and learn a little more about a true cowboy.
Troy's Website

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cactus Country is almost here!

The more I work on this book the more excited I get about its publication. There are so many great western writers involved in this project that it's bound to be a success. I divide the contributors into two categories. Spur winners and future Spur Winners.  Here is a list of our well-known western authors.

          Dusty Richards
          John Nesbitt
          John Duncklee
          Cotton Smith
          Max McCoy
          Johnny Boggs
          Brett Cogburn
          Mike Kearby
          Jeff Hildebrandt
          Larry Martin
          Rod Miller
          John T. Biggs
          Jory Sherman
          Matthew Mayo
          Troy Andrew Smith
          Michael Andrews

Among these writers you'll find award winning directors, Spur Winners, screenwriters, Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees, New York Times bestsellers, Pulitzer nominees and everything in between. It's like the Hall of Fame of Western Writers. We also have nearly 15 future Spur winners that I'm sure we'll hear more about in the future. 
For those of you who have not heard of the Spur Awards, check out Western Writers of America and learn a little more about it.

Remember, by being a follower of this site, you automatically become a member of the Cactus Country Book Club. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Zane Grey's Cabin

Zane Grey is one of the country's best known western writers. His bestselling book, Riders of the Purple Sage, was published in 1912. As of 2007, more than 90 novels and 110 films using his work have been produced. A few years ago I visited the rebuilt Grey cabin in Payson, Arizona. The original burnt down in 1990. But when Dusty Richards gets back from the road, I'll have him send us a few pictures that he took of the original cabin years ago when he was a struggling writer. He sat at Zane Grey's desk and told the ghost of the writer that he would some day join him on the book store shelves. Dusty kept that promise.
The drive through the mountains was beautiful.

Grey became one of the first millionaire authors and his books helped to shape the myth of the Old West. Many writers, because of the success of Grey, followed in his footsteps and began writing about the West. In the earlier part of the 20th century, nearly one third of all the books published were western adventure or Western History.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Fancy Pants Gal!

Lucille Ball was one of my favorites and this morning when I saw that it would have been her 100th birthday I tried to figure out how I could say happy birthday to her on here, a blog that I vowed to keep western. Then I remembered Fancy Pants. She wasn't Fancy Pants, that was Bob Hope.  It had probably been 30 or 40 years since I'd seen the movie, maybe even longer. But for some reason just the thought of it made me smile so I decided to check it out. I watched in online early this morning. I didn't smile, I laughed until my sides hurt.

The whole premise is that a stage actor is convinced to play the role of a butler for a Western family who are about to host President Theodore Roosevelt. They want to appear more high brown than they are. The deception is eventually uncovered, and the actor and the family's daughter eventually fall in love. Bob Hope is the actor, and Lucille Ball is the daughter. The movie is silly, often verging on the edge of total chaos, but it's funny. Not a true western I guess, but a feel good story with western scenery and plenty of horses. Close enough. And I had to have an excuse to say Happy Birthday, Lucille Ball.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saw the Movie

My son and I went to a late night showing of Cowboys and Aliens on Tuesday. I thought it was great. And it reinforced my belief that all movie reviewers should seriously consider running for Congress. They have no more idea of what "real" people like than our Congressmen and women do. One reviewer for Associated Press actually said the movie was a bust because it barely made more money than Smurfs. Barely? So making more money by just a little puts you in the bust category, yet the movie that made less is considered a great success? See what I reviewers and Congressmen...they actually do think alike.

Harrison Ford played a great role of the crusty old army warrior now running a successful ranch in Arizona. Daniel Craig is the leader of an outlaw gang who found himself abducted by aliens. The aliens are in Arizona mining for gold. And they aren't the cute E.T. aliens, or the little gray men we hear so much about, they're the typical mix of some kind of beast with hands reaching out of his stomach and insect eyes. But they looked pretty good for computer created aliens. I wouldn't want to run into one.

The movie was quick, lots of side stories and relationships going on, a ton of great characters, and an actual plot. The aliens want the earth's gold and they don't like humans. In the end, which I won't spoil completely, outlaws, townfolks, Indians, and an alien from yet a third planet, join forces and fight the boogers that are here causing havoc and chaos in Arizona. All-in-all I'd give it four stars and a thumbs up. And guess what, there was nothing graphic, nothing vulgar, nothing said I didn't understand. I will be able to take my 9 year old grandson to see this one, and his dad will like it too. It did a wonderful job of mixing the western genre with the science fiction. Go see it and let me know if you agree.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hollywood, Here I Come...Again

I'm still fuming over the bad review in Sunday's paper about the movie, Cowboys and Aliens. It beat out every other movie this past week-end in box office receipts. People like it no matter what the talking heads that write the reviews say. (And you know who you are.)

When I was in Hollywood a few years ago pitching a western screenplay, they all talked about high concept movies. Heck, I was so green I didn't even know what they were talking about. But fortunately my screenwriting partner, Pat Smith, had been around the industry for awhile, and she knew exactly what they meant. That's why we had written a different kind of screenplay hoping it would be high concept enough for them. Instead of a straight western, we wrote a time travel western. A young reporter from 2003 ( is that how long it's been?) travels back in time to 1876 where he becomes friends with Wild Bill Hickok right before the famous gunman is killed in The Number 10 saloon. Many of the characters in Deadwood are the same people he knew in New York, although they don't know they are. Think Wizard of Oz. The screenplay is terrific and got a lot of attention, even being requested by a production company headed up by Paul Haggis, Mathew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock. Then because of their read, it was requested by Tom Selleck, who asked that it be turned back into a straight western because he "doesn't do Sci/Fi." Although nothing has happened with either screenplay, yet, there's still hope because apparently they are now producing "high concept westerns." So Pat, get that Academy Award Dress out of mothballs, there might be a phone call any minute.

And just so we're completely ready for that phone call, I guess we'd better decide who we want to play Wild Bill. Here are my two choices. Although they're both probably too up there in age, Hickok led a wild life and probably looked a whole lot older than he was.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Michael Andrews, Cowboy Artist

There are only 33 days left before Cactus Country will launch its first two books. The Bountyman and Doe and the Cactus Country Anthology Volume I will be released on September 3rd. The Bountyman cover is on this blog, but just last night I finished up a rough draft of the anthology cover and wanted to give Michael Andrews a plug today. Mike is a western artist and a good friend of Dusty Richards. He sent us a black and white drawing of the perfect cowboy to use on the anthology. The picture has only one splash of color, the red bandanna around the cowboy's neck. I saw a photograph of the drawing in May and since that day the idea of using this cowboy with that simple splash of red hasn't left my brain.

Mike also did the cover painting for The Bountyman and Doe, and did 20 black and white illustrations for the inside of Dusty's how-to book, Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends. If you haven't seen Writing the West you should pick up a copy. It's not only a great book on writing, but Mike's cowboy artwork makes it something special.

We've included an article about Mike, written by Jeanie Horn, in the anthology. Below is a quote from that article that says it all.

“Art is one important way of keeping the details of history alive,” Michael said.

Since Dusty and I decided to start the Cactus Country imprint and book club, I've been doing a lot of research about the "old west."  It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Below is the cowboy Michael drew, and part of the cover text that will be on the final book. With artists like Michael Andrews and writers like Dusty Richards we'll be able to keep the history of the west alive for a long, long time.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Conspiracy Theory?

In St. Louis, our newspaper has a Sunday section called A & E. Honestly I would have given up taking the paper if not for the small pleasure I get every Sunday morning while drinking my first cup of coffee and reading about the films and books our newspaper deems worthy of valuable column space. I sometimes agree with the book reviews but almost never agree with the ones written about the movies I've seen. I haven't seen Aliens and Cowboys yet, but this mornings review of it might just drive me to discontinue the paper...which I threaten to do almost daily anymore. Here's the review.

"Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star as two cowboys who have to rescue humans from alien spaceships invading Arizona in the 1870's. Jon Favreau directs this genre-mashing story and provides some exciting sequences, but the film falls short ultimately because of its lack of originality."

I am totally perplexed and blurbubbled. How much more original can you get! I've not seen a movie set in Arizona with alien invaders before. Stephen King wrote the Dark Tower series, but it was such a mishmash of genres I don't think it could be considered aliens meet cowboys. It had fantasy, horror, science fiction and western all rolled into one. So it came to me as I stood over the garbage disposal shoving todays edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch down the hole into oblivion, maybe it's a conspiracy to destroy westerns. 

I never see a review of a western book. Come to think of it, I don't think in the 25 years I've taken the Post, they've reviewed one single western novel. When they review the western movies they are never favorable. Yet movies like Jackass 1 and 2 get rave reviews. That's it. It has to be. It has to be a conspiracy against westerns. And probably against cowboys too. We need to stand up and revolt. Take it to the streets and voice our complaints. And as for the guy who wrote today's review that got all this started, he should run for congress. Anytime I see someone who doesn't seem to be thinking very clearly I think they're great congressional material.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chuck Wagon Cookin'

This morning I was thinking about food. Okay, I think about food every morning, that's why I'm not saddle weight anymore, but this morning, as I grabbed the eggs out of my beautiful stainless steel refrigerator and walked to my beautiful stainless steel cook top stove to make an omelet, I again  wondered about the "old days." How did a trail drive years ago feed all those hungry men? The movies always had a crusty old codger cooking for the cowboys out on the trail. His wagon jiggled and squeaked as it followed the herd in a plume of dust and grime. You know why it rode behind them in the dust? I do. It was so that if the herd stampeded, it wouldn't run over the wagon and wipe out all their supplies. See...hangin' around with cowboys makes you smarter. But back to the chuck wagon. Here's a quote from a neat website that details the history of chuck wagons. I've listed the link below so you can check it out, they also have some wonderful old pictures.
"During the long trail drives, the chuck wagon was the headquarters of every cattle outfit on the range. The cowboys didn't just eat their meals there; it was their social center and recreational spot. – a natural gathering place for exchanging "windies," or tall tales, listening to music if their happened to be a musician in the group, or just recounting the experiences of the day."

Now go fix your breakfast and enjoy the day!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Native Americans and Witchcraft

As most of you know, Cactus Country is publishing its first anthology on September 3rd.  I guess I shouldn't be amazed at the overwhelming number of submissions we received--it was the famous western writer, Dusty Richards, who sent out the call. Writers from all over the country sent hundreds of worthy stories, articles, poetry and art work. One submission by well-known western writer John T. Biggs is about Native American Withcraft.

I did some research and ran across a site devoted completely to the Cherokee pracatice of medicine. Here is the first paragraph from that site and a link to reach the site yourself.
Didanawisgi is the Cherokee word for medicine man. A common thread woven through all Native American remedies is the idea of “wellness” a term recently picked up by some in the modern medical professions. A state of “wellness” is described as “harmony between the mind, body and spirit.” The Cherokee word “tohi” - health - is the same as the word for peace. You’re in good health when your body is at peace. The “medicine circle” has no beginning and no end and therefore represents a concept of “harmonious unity.”

As you'll see, Cherokee Medicine, which they've been practicing for centuries, is much like what our doctors are talking about now as being "new." One of my grandfathers was part Cherokee. We didn't know his true history until after he died and my uncle reseached our family. We knew we had Native American blood running through our veins, but not even what tribe until after Grandpa died. He talked about things from his past, and it was plain that he knew the ways of the Native American, but for the most part it was something he didn't share. There were times though, when he got older, that I'd follow him through the woods while he gathered herbs and bark from trees. I wish I'd paid more attention because I realize what my grandpa was doing was practicing Cherokee medicine. And perhaps if I'd known then that they refer to it as Witchcraft, I would have been more interested. What kid doesn't perk up when you say the word witch.

The one thing I vividly remember Grandpa doing was gathering and burning sage for healing.  Sage has a musty smell to it and whenever I step into a shop that sells herbs, that smell takes me back. And I noticed a couple years ago while visiting the Grand Canyon, that most of the Indian shops there sold bundles of sage with directions on how to use it for well-being and peace of mind. Hummm, I think I might take a trip downtown today and see if I can't find me some sage.

And for more contemporaty information about Native Americans go to

Red Cloud and his famous Warbonnet
This site has a neat historical picture gallery of famous Native American headdress and their symbolic uses.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let's All go to a Rodeo!

My Uncle Jack used to rodeo. That was before the high dollar prize money, the private jets, and the endorsements. In the old days Jack traveled to the rodeos in an old beat up Ford truck pulling a trailer held together with bailing wire. It wasn't just Jack that traveled to the rodeos, it was Jack and his old horse Beaver Butt. That's right, his horse's name was Beaver Butt. The story is that when Jack got him his tail had become so matted that it stuck out like a Beaver tail. He looked a lot better after Jack had him for awhile, but the name just stuck.

I don't even have any pictures of Jack's days in the rodeo, but I remember watching him a few times in Fort Madison, Iowa when I was a kid. He was pretty good. Even made it to the Nationals a couple of times. But broken bones and no medical insurance drove him out of rodeoing.

The other day something made me think of those rodeos in Iowa and I did a little research. Rodeos are major events now and I hope that if you haven't already, you make plans to see one someday. There's nothing like it. Enjoy the links and photos below.

Read About Rodeo History

The beginnings of rodeo can be traced back to the ranches of the early 1700’s, when the Spanish ruled the West. The Spanish cattlemen, known as vaqueros, would influence the American cowboy with their clothing, language, traditions and equipment which would in turn influence the modern sport of rodeo. Duties on these early ranches included roping, horse breaking, riding, herding, branding, and much more.