Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Day the Cowboys Quit


I hope you all had a safe and happy Labor Day- and that everyone paused to remember what the holiday is for, the celebration of the American worker. And nobody typifies the American worker more than the working cowboy- the real thing, even if nowadays he is more likely to herd cows with a pickup truck. It occurred to me yesterday that the Elmer Kelton novel I am about to discuss is the ideal Labor Day reading for a western fan- and if you're one of those folks who've never read it, I strongly urge you to do so. And add Kelton's The Time It Never Rained to your queue as well.

The Day the Cowboys Quit is one of those handful of novels that consistently makes it to the top of writers' and critics' all-time best westerns lists, and justifiably so. It has also made the reading lists of many university classes (I'll be taking over the teaching of Western U.S. History at my school after this year, and I plan to assign it.)

The plot revolves around the loosely fictionalized historical event known as the Tascosa Cowboy Strike of 1883. As he often does, Kelton plops us down in the middle of great social change; the rough-and-ready cattlemen of the early days are being fenced in by syndicates from Back East and the growing cities of the Midwest, men who understand business and capitalism and ledgers but know nothing about the cattle business and the men who made it run on the ground- men who had built a sense of community in which, once you were stove up, your old partners would do all they could to still keep you around.

The new managers introduce a litany of restrictive laws: cowboys were not allowed to use company horses for personal use, or build their own herds, or allow those who were not completely physically able anymore to hang around camp, not to mention cutting wages. Here is part of a conversation between corporate rancher Prosper Selkirk and the protagonist, the cowboy Hugh "Hitch" Hitchcock:

[Selkirk]"If I invest my entire fortune in a bad venture and lose it, nobody guarantees to take care of me the rest of my life. When a man gets on one of those bad horses he knows the risks: he implies his willingness to accept that risk when he agrees to the job."

[Hitch] "He accepts the job because he's partial to eatin'.'
"The same reason I take a risk and invest capital."
"There a difference between a man's limbs and his money."



The cowboys decide to go on strike. I found a copy of the real cowboys' demands at this site:

We, the undersigned cowboys of Canadian River, do by these presents agree to bind ourselves into the following obligations, viz:
First: that we will not work for less than $50 per mo. And we furthermore agree no one shall work for less than $50 per mo. after 31st of Mch.
Second: Good cooks shall also receive $50 per month.
Third: Any one running an outfit shall not work for less than $75 per mo.
Any one violating the above obligations shall suffer the consequences. Those not having funds to pay board after March 31 will be provided for for 30 days at Tascosa.

Note that GOOD cooks should get $50 a month.

I'll have to let you read the book yourself to find out how it turns out. many of you no doubt already have- I'd love to hear your comments about it.

I have taken a quote from Elmer Kelton as one of the guiding principles of my writing, and this book in particular exemplifies it: "I don't write about good guys in white hats fighting bad guys in black hats. I write about two guys in gray hats, one trying to bring about change and the other resisting it."

    --Troy D. Smith




Monday, September 1, 2014

Class and Race in the Frontier Army, Chapter II

Chapter 2


I’m going to keep on with the book, Class and Race in the Frontier Army. This session, let’s have a look at Chapter 2: The Mental Worlds of Officers.

The officers impressed me as very self-important, exceedingly courteous and cordial and charming in their broad-gauge views of current events and their unreserved candor in discussing all subjects.
—Robert McKay, civilian contract surgeon, U.S. Army

John Wayne, officer
Kevin Adams, author of the book, says, “Officers in the frontier army were part of a national movement with wide-ranging implications: the implicit recasting of the United States as a permanently class-based society. . . . Far from being ‘isolated’ from American society and culture, frontier officers were firmly in the mainstream.”

We must remember that most of the army officers of the day were graduates of West Point or perhaps one of the military academies such as VMI. College graduation in and of itself tended to propel the graduate into a higher class. And, says Adams, that meant that an officer had to be well read, even when serving on remote areas of the frontier.

Even while stationed at a one-company camp in a remote stretch of northern California in the late 1860s, Lieutenant Thaddues Capron and his wife, Jennie, were able to maintain their subscriptions to “Godley’s . . . the Atlantic . . . Harpers & Leslie’s Weekly’s, N.Y. Herald, London Illustrated News, besides many others.” According to Thaddeus, “By the papers we keep quite well posted in what is going on in the outside world.”

Later, Capron wrote his wife, “You can hardly imagine with what eagerness a newspaper is sought and perused—groups of officers sitting or standing around while one of the number reads aloud the news of the day.”

In some cases, writes Adams, it seemed that officers viewed their time in the field as more of a gentleman’s hunting trip than a professional military expedition.

Leisure time, he writes, an emblem of officers’ status as gentlemen, enabled them to fully engage with Gilded Age intellectual culture.

Capron’s diary from the late 1860s reads: “Inspection assumed this a.m. The most of the day spent in reading.”

Officers from the movie, Fort Apache
Army officers were also writers. Adams says that one-fourth of the men who graduated from West Point in the 1870s went on to publish books and articles on military topics. Others gave speeches or contributed to newspapers. And, “perhaps the most prolific author was Captain Charles  King of the 5th Cavalry, who was one of the most popular novelists of the late nineteenth century. Between the early 1880s and WWI, he wrote some 250 short stories, 38 books about the army in the West (with plots and atmosphere taken directly from his campaign diaries), and 34 books on other subjects; 27 of his novels were printed in multiple editions. . . . According to one historian, King’s work remains significant as ‘the first series of western novels that were regarded as serious literature in their day.’”

In addition to reading, music and theater were favorites among the officier corps. At Fort Hays, Kansas, for example, the 7th Cavalry Band played three hours of “sweet music” every day during the spring of 1868. Furthermore, officers of the 13th Infantry regiment might have attended eleven band concerts between June and November of 1886; concerts formal enough to merit printed programs.

Post-Civil War officers loved the theater, both to attend and to participate in. Says Adams: Captain Samuel J. Ovenshine’s personal papers provide an especially focused snapshot of army theater.

His papers included handbills from 44 plays performed at frontier posts and his letters highlight his commitment to theater. He helped form the “Fort Keogh Dramatic Club” and recruited club officers from the officer corps. The performed such plays as Macbeth, Robinson Crusoe, the Count of Monte Cristo, As You Like It, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Rip Van Winkle. Adams goes on to say, “Ovenshine’s was not an isolated experience. Active engagement in theater was common among officers."

I wonder how many army officers today are involved in theater.

Officers as scientists.

So-called scientists in the late nineteenth century tended to be generalists. In fact, not many “scientific” subjects were taught at universities of the day. Officers, however, often made scientific observations in their diaries and some in articles.

Concerning the Indians, Major Robert Dunlap Clarke wrote, “the principal tribes have a language of signs by which they communicate with one another with wonderful accuracy.”

Clarke’s diary had discourses on geology and speaks of disputes he had with fellow officers on the subject, he wrote of gypsum bluffs one day and cap rock on the top of bluffs another. He even has an entry doubting the intelligence of Colonel Merrill, who “thinks he has found a piece of gold-bearing quartz. Though it is probably nothing but a limestone or dark-hued marble.”

Troop C of the 3rd Cavalry
The strange thing is, all the while Clarke is writing discourses on geology and Indians, he was in the midst of an all-out Indian offensive against the three Bozeman Trail forts.

With civilians, the officers of the late nineteenth century had a belief that moral values colored all facets of life, and held a reverence for high culture, particularly the elements of America’s Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage. Adams writes that “American elites after the Civil War recognized one another as members of the same tribe.”

For the American masses, he wrote, whether native-born or immigrant, genteel culture offered nothing at all. For the middle and upper classes, however, it offered one clear set of standards to govern public behavior.

The cultural standards and values of post-Civil War elites were not in their minds abstract truths, but instead, as one scholar notes, reflected a social hierarchy of stations and classes. . . . Gilded Age intellectual culture was not a world open to all, and the degree of allegiance to its exacting standards allowed members of the middle and upper classes to discern fellow tribesmen, while largely excluding nonwhites and those considered poor or ignorant.

This system of exclusions, which was built into the worldview of officers and others of the genteel, was deployed most powerfully against the American Indians. The officers’ interest in science, and their standpoint that Indians were “vanishing,” may have been the reasons for their seeking out Indian remains to send back to the East for “Scientific study.”

One example:

Officers of the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee
Lieutenants Robert G. Carter and Wentz Miller, along with the unit’s contract surgeon and Carter’s cook Bob, seized Comanche dead after a frontier skirmish, cut off their heads, and, “placing them in some gunny sacks, brought them back to be boiled out for future scientific knowledge.”

Adams concludes the chapter with: Conservative, sophisticated, and certain of their (deserved) place in the world, officers and their families thrived in a milieu of prosperous gentry.

Next month: Soldiers, Servants, or Slaves


Here's the chance of a lifetime. Well, chance of . . . well, maybe the chance you've been waiting for. Chuck Tyrell's Global eBook Award-winning novel, The Snake Den, can be downloaded free for five days only, September 1~5. This post is a little fast, but not much. Hit the link as soon as September first comes around.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE DOCTOR'S BAG - IS THERE A SURGEON IN TOWN?


CUTTING FOR STONES!

by Keith Souter aka Clay More


I've talked a bit about pain control in the 19th century. Laudanum was the great solace of many pains, as was good old whiskey in copious quantities. One of the awful causes of excruciating pain that would have sent many folks scurrying to see the surgeon was that caused by urinary stones. Sometimes you were lucky and small stones would pass with the urine. If you were unlucky there was a danger that they could get stuck and an operation might be needed.

You needed to trust that surgeon!

Famous people who suffered with stones
History is riddled with urinary stone sufferers. Napoleon Bonaparte, King Louis XIV, Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, Benjamin Franklin and Ian Fleming. The latter, the creator of James Bond said that he had his own internal diamond making factory.

Sir Isaac Newton the discoverer of gravity

Benjamin Franklin, scientist, philosopher and statesman

The Emperor Napoleon

A little medical background
A urinary stone is called a calculus, the plural of which is calculi. This is Latin for pebble(s). As mention above, they have afflicted people throughout history. The oldest recorded one was found in an Egyptian mummy from 4,800 BC.

The Latin word calculus, for pebble only describes a smooth type. Yet many people's experience is that their stones are small, sharp and jagged, like little diamonds. There are different types of stone, you see. It depends upon what they are made of.

Around 85 per cent of stones are made of calcium oxalate crystals. About 10 per cent are uric acid crystals, 2 per cent are cystine and the rest are magnesium ammonium phosphate, or struvite.

Calcium oxalate. Struvite. Cystine. Mixed

We describe stones according to their site. Thus renal stones are kidney stones, which can form in different parts of the kidney. Ureteric stones form and may block the ureter, the tube that runs from the kidney to the bladder. Bladder stones occur in the bladder.



Stones develop if the person has a condition that increases calcium levels, which we call hypercalcaemia. This can be an inherited tendency in 50 per cent of male calculi sufferers and in 75 per cent of female calculi sufferers. Some people have a condition called hypocitruria, which means that they have low levels of urinary citrate. This promotes calcium calculi formation because citrate normally binds with calcium and prevents stone formation.  About 40 -50 per cent of stone suffered have this condition.

Another cause is hyperoxaluria, as is gout, which promotes uric acid crystal calculi.

Urinary infections can also promote mixed stone formation. 

There are other things that can do it, but there is enough information for our purposes here. Suffice it to say that staying well hydrated is one of the most important things that you can do.

Kidney stones may cause little pain. Indeed they may be asymptomatic until they produce a blockage. Once stones start to move they cause excruciating pain, referred to as renal or ureteric colic (depending where it is). Nausea and vomiting usually accompany it. 

Cutting for stone
This was how surgical treatment was referred. Hippocrates, the father of Medicine wrote in the original Hippocratic oath that 'I will not cut for stone, even in those in whom disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners.' He believed that this was something that should be left to surgeons who specialised in it.

And indeed, can you imagine such an operation performed without anaesthetic?

The operation was carried out in the lithotomy position. That is, with the patient lying on the back with the knees drawn up to expose the perineum. The word comes from the Greek lithos, meaning 'stone- and tomos, meaning 'cut.' Nowadays we still use this position (and the name for it) for other procedures, but use stirrups for the feet to get in that position.  In centuries gone by, three men would be needed to hold the patient down.


Bladder stones were removed by this perineal approach. The perineum is the area between the genitals and the anus. It was a potentially very dangerous operation, with a high risk of haemorrhage, infection and incontinence afterwards. 

A range of instruments were used for this procedure, including scalpels, dilators, forceps, cystotomes (for cutting into the bladder), urethratomes (for cutting into the urethra) and lithotomes (for cutting the stones.)


Suprapubic lithotomy was also practiced by some surgeons. That is, the operation was down through the lower abdomen. Again, in pre-anaesthetic days it was a dangerous operation.

Transurethral lithotripsy was the greatest advance. The French surgeon Jean Civiale (1792-1867) developed this method by introducing instruments through the urethra, that is directly through the tube leading into the bladder. He invented an instrument called a lithotrite, which bored holes in the stone, then broke the stone up. It would have required great skill, since it was all done without the aid of imaging techniques, but since it did not require cutting into the bladder, it reduced complications.

Dr George Goodfellow
The great Tombstone doctor was known as the surgeon to the gunfighters. He was a surgical innovator. Among his achievements he was the first American surgeon to perform the perineal prostatectomy. Afterwards he travelled the USA demonstrating the operation.


Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at Amazon.com:



And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press


Available at Amazon.com:


And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge is published by Hale on 29th August.




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Civil War Reenacting: Children Soldiers

By Matthew Pizzolato

A civil war reenactment is always a family affair, so there are usually children of various ages present. Some of the youngest have to remain in camp during a battle, or join a group of spectators to watch. There are a few tasks for some youngsters who aren't quite old enough to carry a rifle on the battlefield, such as flag-bearers and drummer boys. Some are used as couriers behind the lines to carry messages from one body of troops to another.

However, during the Civil War, the term Children Soldiers had an entirely different meaning. The official age to join the military was eighteen, but a lot of young men lied about their ages and recruiters weren't very strict when the boys looked old enough. Ironically, it was the abundance of boyish-looking men that made it easier for women to disguise themselves as men and join the ranks.


Johnny Clem
Still, a lot of underage soldiers succeeded in enlisting, on both sides of the conflict. A lot of them were assigned as regimental musicians but still managed to see action. Johnny Clem was twelve years old when he joined the Second Michigan regiment as a drummer boy. During the battle of Chicamauga, he was ordered to surrender by a Confederate officer. Clem shot the man and ran back to the Union lines. He was celebrated as a hero throughout the Union and became famous as the "Drummer Boy of Chicamauga."

It is estimated that as many as 20% of the soldiers who fought during the War were under eighteen. Most of them were assigned as musicians and in theory didn't fight. But once a battle started, many of them picked up weapons to defend themselves and their friends. A lot of the boys who joined were runaways who wanted to fight alongside family members and some were orphans.


Private_Edwin_Francis_Jemison
Private Edwin Francis Jemison
Elisha Stockwell, a soldier from Wisconsin, described his experience during the battle of Shiloh as follows. 
“I want to say, as we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home, and I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away and get into such a mess as I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me.”
Private Edwin Francis Jemison, a private in the Confederate Army, was killed at the age of seventeen when fighting at the Battle of Malvern Hill. 
According to U.S. Military records, there were 127 soldiers who were thirteen, 320 who were fourteen, about 800 who were fifteen, 2,758 who were sixteen, and around 6,500 were seventeen. Of course, that is just the numbers for the Union Army. Total figures for the Confederate Army are unknown, but is believed to have been even higher. 

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 


He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Western Comics Focus: Two-Gun Kid


Troy D. Smith

I've always loved superhero comics, and I've always loved western comics. So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorites has always been the Two-Gun Kid, who has a boot firmly planted in each camp.



The Two-Gun Kid debuted at Marvel Comics in 1948. He was Marvel's second continuing western character- the first had been the Masked Raider way back in 1939's Marvel Comics #1 -and the first to have his own ongoing title, which lasted until 1977.




There were two different versions of the Kid. The original, which ran from 1948 to 1962, was a blond cowboy named Clay Harder. Harder was in many ways a generic sort of figure, a wandering gunslinger who righted wrongs- he carried two guns, one of which had belonged to his father and the other to the outlaw who had murdered him.



In 1962, however, in Two-Gun Kid #60, the character was completely rebooted (into the hero Marvel fans are familiar with.) In this new version by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Clay Harder (Two-Gun Kid) was a character who appeared in dime novels, and inspired young Matt Hawk to take on the guise in "real life." He wears the same all-black outfit, with two distinctive additions: an orange-and-black-spotted vest, and a mask. (He also, like Clay Harder, rides a horse named Cyclone.) Hawk is a young lawyer from Boston, who -after his arrival in the West -is trained by a famous gunfighter, Ben Dancer. This version of the Kid is similar to the superheroes that Lee and Kirby were then creating: a masked man with a secret identity, using his alter ego to go after the villains who escaped justice in the courtroom where he works by day, with a regular supporting cast (all this making him different from the Lone Ranger, whose "alter ego" John Reid is believed dead by the world, and more like Zorro.)




The Two-Gun Kid was a staple of Marvel's western line in the 1960s and 70s, along with the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, the Outlaw Kid (a lot of kids, there), and the Ghost Rider / Night Rider / Phantom Rider, all of whom he interacted with regularly.


In the late 1970s he was one of the western heroes who teamed up with the time-traveling Avengers, striking up a close friendship with Hawkeye (see our interview with writer Steve Englehart)... but unlike the other western heroes, the Two-Gun Kid joins the Avengers when they return to the 20th century, where he becomes a man out of time. After a few adventures with the superhero group, he returns to his own time (taking a cashe of modern weapons with him, as revealed in the miniseries Sunset Riders -in which it is revealed he married after his return, but his wife died in childbirth.)



He later shows up in the great miniseries Blaze of Glory (see our interview with John Ostrander)... he has dyed his hair blond and now goes by the name Clay Harder, having abandoned his mask and working exclusively as a lawyer. However, he joins his old partner the Rawhide Kid (along with a slew of other Marvel western heroes) for one last grand adventure.



Sometime later, Matt Hawk is plucked from the timestream and returned to the modern world, where he becomes a frequent ally of She-Hulk (for those unfamiliar with the character, Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk received a blood transfusion after an accident... from her cousin Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk. Superhero-ness ensues, as the young lawyer gains the power to transform into a green Amazonian powerhouse, while retaining her normal intelligence and her law practice.) The Two-Gun Kid -who has traded Cyclone in for a flying motorcycle donated by his pal Hawkeye -at first serves as a private detective for She-Hulk's law firm, and later becomes an independent bounty hunter. Thanks to the time travel angle, then, the character occasionally pops up in stories set in the modern-day Marvel universe as well as flash-back stories set in the Old West.





One of my favorite such stories involved that other masked lawyer, Daredevil, who alter ego attorney Matt Murdock was attempting to solve an old case from the 1870s that had been begun by Matt Hawk.


In 1996 I had a chance to meet Stan Lee, and had him autograph my copy of Two-Gun Kid #60, the first appearance of the Matt Hawk version of Two-Gun Kid. The book triggered a nostalgic response -"I remember when Jack drew this very picture on the cover! I haven't seen one of these in ages!" A few weeks later I interviewed Lee over the telephone (for this article), and after introducing myself said "You probably don't remember me, but-" "Of course I remember you," he said. "You're Two-Gun! How's it goin', Two-Gun?"

Needless to say, that particular autographed item is one of my most treasured possessions.






Monday, August 25, 2014

Famous Last Words: Capt. William Fetterman


By Kathleen Rice Adams

“Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation.”

William J. Fetterman, Capt., U.S. Army
So said Capt. William J. Fetterman in late 1866 as he assumed command of a U.S. Army detail tasked with defending a woodcutting expedition against Indians in the Dakota Territory. A fellow officer had declined the command after mounting, and failing to sustain, a similar effort two days earlier.

Fetterman overestimated his abilities and severely underestimated his opponent.

Born in Connecticut in 1833, William Judd Fetterman was the son of a career army officer. At the age of 28, in May 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army and immediately received a lieutenant’s commission. Twice brevetted for gallant conduct with the First Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, Fetterman finished the Civil War wearing the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel of volunteers.

After the war, Fetterman elected to remain with the regular army as a captain. Initially assigned to Fort Laramie with the Second Battalion of the 18th Infantry, by November 1866 he found himself dispatched to Fort Phil Kearny, near present-day Sheridan, Wyoming. Since the post’s establishment five months earlier, the local population of about 400 soldiers and 300 civilian settlers and prospectors reportedly had suffered 50 raids by small bands of Sioux and Arapaho. In response, the fort’s commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, adopted a defensive posture.

Fetterman immediately joined a group of other junior officers in openly criticizing Carrington’s protocol. Although the 33-year-old captain lacked experience with the Indians, he didn’t hesitate to express contempt for the enemy. His distinguished war record lent credence to his argument: Since the Indian raiding parties consisted of only twenty to 100 mounted warriors, the army should run them to ground and teach them a lesson.

Red Cloud, ca. 1880
(photo by John K. Hillers, courtesy Beinecke
Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
Fetterman’s voice and continuing raids eventually convinced the regimental commander at Fort Laramie to order Carrington to mount an offensive. Several minor scuffles, during which the soldiers proved largely ineffective due to disorganization and inexperience, merely bolstered the Indians’ confidence. Carrington himself had to be rescued after a force of about 100 Sioux surrounded him on a routine patrol. Even Fetterman admitted dealing with the “hostiles” demanded “the utmost caution.”

Jim Bridger, at the time a guide for Fort Phil Kearny, was less circumspect. He said the soldiers “don’t know anything about fighting Indians.”

On December 19, an army detail escorted a woodcutting party to a ridge only two miles from the fort before being turned back by an Indian attack. The next day, Fetterman and another captain proposed a full-fledged raid on a Lakota village about fifty miles distant. Carrington denied the request.

On the morning of December 21, with orders not to pursue “hostiles” beyond the two-mile point at which the previous patrol had met trouble, Fetterman, a force of 78 infantry and cavalry, and two civilian scouts escorted another expedition to cut lumber for firewood and building material. Within an hour of the group’s departure from the fort, the company encountered a small band of Oglala led by Crazy Horse. The Indians taunted the army patrol, which gave chase … beyond where they had been ordered not to go.

The great Sioux war leader Red Cloud and a force of about 2,300 Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne waited about one-half mile beyond the ridge. In less than 20 minutes, Fetterman and all 80 men under his command died. Most were scalped, beheaded, dismembered, disemboweled and/or emasculated.
The Indians suffered 63 casualties.

Among the Sioux and Cheyenne, the event is known as the Battle of the Hundred Slain or the Battle of 100 in the Hands. Whites know it better as the Fetterman Massacre, the U.S. Army’s worst defeat on the Great Plains until Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer made a similar mistake ten years later at Little Big Horn in Montana.

Fetterman and his men died here. The site
now is known as Massacre Hill. (public domain photo)
Whether Fetterman deliberately disobeyed Carrington’s orders or the commander massaged the truth in his report remains the subject of debate. Although officially absolved of blame in the disaster, Carrington spent the rest of his life a disgraced soldier. Fetterman, on the other hand, was honored as a hero: A fort constructed nearly 200 miles to the south was given his name seven months after his death. A monument dedicated in 1901 marks the spot where the officers and men fell.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

‘A Horse for Henry’ — Kaye Spencer’s memories of a treasured childhood book



When I was eight or nine years old, my parents gave me a hardback book called A Horse for Henry. At that age, I identified with the main character, Henry, because he wanted his own horse more than anything in the whole wide world, and so did I. What my parents wanted me to take away from this story was the theme of responsibility and that certain privileges had to be earned by demonstrating responsible behaviors.

Somewhere in the process of growing up, I not only forgot about the book but, as Kris Kristofferson wrote, I lost it somewhere, somehow along the way. So, a couple of years ago, I decided to search for it. Patience and time paid off, because I located three paperback copies, which I have tucked away, hopefully to share someday with an interested grandchild.



You’ll notice the author’s name is not on the cover (or anywhere else in the book), which makes me sad. The inside cover has a little bit of information about the book. The publisher was Whitman Publishing Company in Racine, Wisconsin, and the Roman numerals translate to a 1952 copyright date. The illustrations certainly pigeonhole the book as classic 1950s and early 1960s style, but they also bring up fond reading memories since I am of the generation who learned to read with Dick, Jane, and Sally and “See Spot run”, which share the same type of illustrations.

A Horse for Henry goes like this…
 

What Henry wants most is a black colt named Shine, but he hasn’t shown that he’s dependable enough to take care of a horse. He leaves a saddle out in the rain. He forgets to load the salt in the chuck wagon. He leaves the corral gate open, and the horses get out. His dad tells him, “Son, when you can do a man’s work and do it right, you can have a horse.”


Just when it looks like Henry will always have to ride the family’s pet mule and never get a horse of his own, through some quick thinking on his part, he saves his little brother (and himself) from a cougar.



The next morning, Henry wakes to find Shine tied outside his window, and his dad says, “You’re a man now, Henry, and a man can’t get along very well without a horse of his own.”


From my adult’s perspective, I look back on the popularity of the traditional western novels, western television shows and movies, and perhaps even some of the country music during the era when A Horse for Henry was published, and I see this story as a post-WWII children’s slant on the Old West theme of “what makes a man a man”.

This story, and its message, has stayed with me all these years and, every time I reread it, I remember why.

 * * * *

Just for fun, here I am with my first horse, a Welsh pony named Corky. In the left-hand picture, I was riding in the Howdy Days Parade in Fort Morgan, Colorado in August 1964. The right-hand picture was at the Morgan County Fair in Brush, Colorado in August 1965 (4-H).



Until next time,

Kaye
Fall in love…faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances
www.kayespencer.com
Twitter - @kayespencer

Friday, August 22, 2014

SOCIAL MEDIA -- Why Bother? by Meg Mims


Many moons ago, writers wrote (longhand or via typewriter - that's Louis L'Amour, by the way - before the desk computer or laptop). They wrote from start to finish, printed off the pages, boxed it up, and sent off their book (to an agent, editor, or the proverbial slush pile.) Once they signed a contract, writers started the next book. Did they worry about promotion? Nope. Did the publisher routinely take care of the book's cover? The print run? Distribution?

Yup, yup, yup.

Things are a bit different now. Some western writers are hanging on to the "old ways" by their fingernails. A blog, what's that? Why do I need a website? Tweeting is just plain silly, like teats on a bull.

Some writers believe they'd rather not put a "face" to their name, especially on Facebook. What's so social about Social Media? Writers might believe it robs them of precious writing time.

While that might be true (and some people waste hours on Facebook), you can say the same about answering the telephone, watching television, playing video games, reading others' books, exercising their horse, even sleeping. "Call me old-fashioned, just don't call me late to dinner."

It's all about networking. Surely you've heard that term. And while life happens, so does change. And friends -- the times, they are a-changing.

The most successful business man is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good and grabs the new just as soon as it is better.    Robert Vanderpoel

Every writer -- no matter the genre, no matter how young or old -- has to consider they are IN BUSINESS. A hobby doesn't fly with the IRS. So every serious writer needs the basics besides a solid plot, characters and a finished manuscript. YES, a finished manuscript, because writers rarely sell on proposal (unless you're already published with a good sales track.) You want to sell, and make money doing it. Right?

First off -- will you use your real name? Think about what "public" really means. If you prefer privacy, come up with a pseudonym. And consider the idea of "branding" -- just like the old days of cattle ranching. Say Double-Bar L aloud -- it rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? -- versus a surname difficult to pronounce or spell. Think about the bookshelf, too. Top, middle or bottom? Where do you want your readers to find you? Remember, many readers purchase on-line now so that's not as important as it once was.

Does a name/brand matter? Yes. Readers need to find you, unless you're Louis L'Amour, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. It's a fact. Your name is ON your book, and "brands" that PRODUCT as yours. And readers want to do more than crack open the spine. They want to know more than the story. They want to know YOU, the writer. And that means taking to "social media."

So. You're an author, with a book -- or several. A WEBSITE can be cheap, and sometimes easy. But they often LOOK cheap and easy too, so consider that if you're working your way up the ladder of success. A website can be your first investment. It's relatively cheap to buy your "domain name" for a year -- and cheaper for three years. Avoid the URL of "authorname" followed by blogspot.com or wordpress.com because people will remember "authorname.com" a lot easier. You also need an ISP like GoDaddy or Hostgator or some other host for your website, paying a set amount per month. You could also hire your grandkid, a friend or someone who knows what they're doing to "set up" your website. Shop wisely, because you ought to know how to maintain and update your website once in a while.

Next, consider a choice between Twitter and Facebook. Unless you're willing to tweet (and that means NOT constantly promoting your book - keep that to once or twice a month) about anything and everything, avoiding politics, religion and sex, AND re-tweet other followers' 140-character tweets, forget it. It's useful to get your name out there, but not necessary. FACEBOOK will do a lot more for an author. Caution: if your timeline is filled with gross photos, jokes or rants between family members, change the setting to private. Keep that stuff far away from your author name/brand. I've often seen authors rant on and on about the school parking lot idiots, or their a**backward relatives, or spout F-bombs and worse, and thought, "Whoa. That's not professional." Remember -- keep your author name *sacred* and stay on "topic."

How? Create an AUTHOR PAGE and profile. Post updates of your books, reviews, print or ebook giveaways, writing tips, etc. Think visual, too! Share other writers' inspiring photos, quotes or interesting ideas about books, reading, writing or whatever might relate to your book. For example, when my western mystery Double Crossing debuted, I shared all kinds of information about trains -- with photos from the CPRR.org website, details about the Pullman Palace cars, maps of the cross-country transcontinental railroad route, menus of the station houses along the way, etc. Quick visuals often "tell a story" faster than a long stretch of words. Even this blog post has visuals to give the eye a rest and add color and interest.

Which leads to the last option I'll share about Social Media possibilities -- and in my opinion, is the most fun. PINTEREST -- what is it? Think "virtual corkboard" or "scrapbook" only on the web. See the "sharp point" on the bottom of the P? Yup. PINS.

It's easy to become a member, too. It's similar to Facebook in networking potential. And it's also a way to spend hours exploring ideas for characters, costumes, places, food, celebrities, films, books, whatever your little heart desires. The minute Pinterest appeared, I signed up. Hey, I'm an artist and love visuals!

How can you use Pinterest to your advantage? I typed Pinterest.com into my browser, and then typed "western books" into the search bar -- VOILA! Click here to see. From book covers to film posters to baby shower ideas, it's all there as  a visual feast. It's also pretty
self-explanatory to create your profile and "boards" before adding "pins" -- for example, either uploading your book covers from your computer or inputting the URL of the purchase links from Amazon, B&N or Smashwords. I recommend the latter, in fact, because it's another way to nudge readers to buy. To the left, the graphic shows a sample profile with boards.
I can hear the grumpy (cat) men whining aloud. "Why, why, why would I bother to use Pinterest? It's mostly for women! Men go to the bookstore, they buy my books, I'm fine." Uh, huh. Sure. But don't men want *more readers* to buy their books? Why limit your readership? So get over it. Say YES. You'll thank me for it. Check out my book board by clicking here if you want to see. Then check out the rest of my boards while you're there.

The same goes for women -- I'm here in Western Fictioneers to network with a lot more male writers and readers than my books would normally reach. It's not easy learning to juggle all this "social media" with a writing career. How can you do it?

Time management, of course. And knowing your limits, because you can't cover the Ponderosa in a day on horseback. The same goes for networking. Unless you're as famous as the late Louis L'Amour, who has a website and videos about his career, and a staff to keep his name/brand alive.

Hey, great idea. Maybe one day... 


Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning Double series is now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.