To The Duke

To The Duke

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.