Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS by Cheryl Pierson



There’s an old saying that “the devil’s in the details” that’s true in many circumstances in life, but I think it’s especially true in all forms of art.

Of course, it’s obvious to us in visual art—paintings, drawings, photography—and tactile art such as a beautiful quilt or piece of pottery, or a woven basket.




Hexagon Quilt--selling for over $6000! But look at the work and the detail that went into this "work of art"!

But what about books? Are you a reader who loves lots of descriptive details? Or do those bog you down and leave you frustrated and impatient?

I have to admit, as I’ve gotten older, there are many kinds of stories that I feel could do with less detail in some areas. A lot of my "changes" come from looking at the way details and descriptions are presented more closely when I read. I’ve evolved into this kind of reader.

As a younger reader, I needed those details to help me create images in my mind. The descriptions were beautiful to me because I knew less of the world, and everything I read was a learning experience! Have you ever thought about it like that?

When I was a YA reader, whether reading sci-fi books (during the flying saucer craze) or historical fiction, I needed those descriptions and details to feed my hunger for learning about—well, everything!

I loved this series by John Christopher--read it when I was about 12 or 13, and it stayed with me all through the years so that when my own kids were young, I went searching and found it for them! The descriptions of the aliens that were determined to take over earth, the bravery of the young people that fought against them, and wondering what in the world was going to happen kept me reading far into the night!


“Back in the day” I think authors engaged readers with a different type of writing style, too. Ours had not yet become a world of technology such as it is now. Life “took longer”—and happened at a much more unhurried pace. It was important for writers to create pictures in the readers’ minds—because there was no way to already have a pre-conceived idea of the things the author was trying to describe.

Here’s what I mean: In today’s world, we are inundated with images of all kinds, from instant pictures on our phones that we take ourselves, to movies, to ads on television, to video on Youtube. And so much more—this is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of my very favorite paintings by the very fabulous Jack Sorenson. This one is called "Horse With Christmas Spirit"--love the "details" in this one!

Can you see how this de-values art? When a beautiful picture can be photoshopped together in minutes and seen by millions, or even mass produced in ways that hadn’t been thought of fifty years ago, the artist who painstakingly delivers every brush stroke “the old-fashioned way” can be under-appreciated in a hurry!

Some writers suffer this same twist of fate in a different way. Because our lives are so rushed, and our society has been geared toward “quick reads” we’ve lost the pleasure of savoring those descriptions of the setting, the characters, even the emotions of the “players” in the books we read. It seems that finishing a book is more important than, as we once did, lingering over certain passages and re-reading them for the sheer joy of the way the words came together, the image they created for our hungry minds—and souls.

I realize, for my part, not needing as much detail and description in my reading of some material is because I’m older. I’ve read more, seen more, and (hopefully) know more—so certain things don’t have to be described to me in as much detail every time.

My confession—and you may all think this is weird—I do not ever skim. Even when I don’t feel the need for the minutiae that may be included, I read every word. What if I miss something? Deep down, I believe the author must have thought it important or he/she wouldn’t have included it!

What’s your pet peeve? Too much description? Not enough? More description needed of the characters? Or do you want some things left to your own imagination?

One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite - that particular peach is but a detail.
--Pablo Picasso

I learned no detail was too small. It was all about the details.
--Brad Grey

Sometimes when you start losing detail, whether it's in music or in life, something as small as failing to be polite, you start to lose substance.
--Benny Goodman


Do you remember a book you’ve read that you thought was too detailed? IS there such a thing? I think many of the authors from the earlier days wrote in that style—it was just how it was done—and there was no mass media to show instant pictures, so there was even so much more to learn through reading.


As one who wrote very descriptive passages, James Fenimore Cooper comes to mind, but Diana Gabaldon’s books are full of wonderful descriptions of the landscape, the characters, and so on, and that skill she displays for description makes her stories and characters come to life!

For modern-day books that show a complete mastery of adding wonderful detail and pulling you into the story, there is no better author than Kathleen Eagle. I've never read a story by her that I didn't love and one of the main reasons is the adept talent she has for adding the smallest details as the story moves along and drawing the reader right into each and every scene, as if you are truly there with her characters, experiencing their pain, loss, worry, and love.
Do you have a favorite author who gives just the right amount of description? More about this next time on CHARACTER descriptions--I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Old West Etiquette, Part 1

The Victorian era (1837-1901) was a time when manners were everything. The lowest cowboy could be a gentleman, and the richest tycoon could be considered churlish. Your character would probably been taught proper etiquette, or at least read some of the “rules” in a magazine or newspaper. Here are some of the basics:



Basic rules for everyone:
Always...
·     stand up when being introduced, or when an elderly person or dignitary enters the room
·     remember that silence is golden
·     speak gently and graciously (no matter your true feelings); assume the best in any situation; practice the art of conversation
·     stand and sit properly; good posture is essential
·     be in good taste
·     make others feel welcome in your presence; be gentle and patient

Never....
·     boast or brag
·     speak or act in anger
·     remove your gloves when making a formal visit
·     be nosy or overly inquisitive; do not meddle or tell tales
·     stare around the room when visiting, or walk about examining the furnishings unless invited to do so
·     pay attention to someone just because of their wealth or status in society
·     turn your back on someone - when you must remove yourself from their presence, ask to be excused



Basic rules for gentlemen:

Always....
·     wear gloves on the street, in church, or in other formal occasions, except when eating or drinking - gray or darker colors for day and white or cream colored for evening
·     remove your hat when entering a building
·     lift your hat fully to a lady in public; a greeting between gentlemen may be an inclination of the head, a gesture of the hand, or a mere touching of the hat
·     stand up when a lady, elderly person, or dignitary enters a room, comes within your presence, or stands
·     offer a lady your seat if no others are available, and assist with her chair when she sits down or stands, especially when at a table or when chairs are small or light
·     offer your arm to a lady with whom you are acquainted when entering or exiting a building or a room, and whenever walking on uneven ground
·     open doors for a lady and offer to help her with hat, cloak, shawl, packages, refreshments, etc
·     turn and walk with a lady if she wishes to speak in public, and leave with a bow and lift of the hat when all has been said


Never....
·     use tobacco in any form when ladies are present
·     curse or discuss impolite subjects when ladies are present
·     call someone by their first name in public
·     acknowledge a lady in public unless she acknowledges you first
·     remove your gloves when making a formal call
·     use too much perfume or smoke before entering a lady's presence
·     scratch your head, pick your teeth, clean your nails, or worse of all, pick your nose in company; all these things are disgusting. Spit as little as possible and never upon the floor

'When walking, one must advance or thrust forward the chest or sternum, by drawing back the tops of the shoulders, taking care to keep them down; and at the same time holding the arms a little forward, so that the hands may be in a line with the foreside of the thighs. The head is to be held back in a becoming manner, but without stiffness; and the chin kept down, but not so as to give the figure an air of constraint. It is a great thing to be able to walk like a gentleman--that is, to get rid of that awkward, lounging, swinging gate of a clown and stop before you reach the affected and flippant step of the dandy. In short, nothing but being a gentleman can give you the air and step of one.'



Basic rules for a lady:

Always....
·     wear gloves on the street, in church, or in other formal occasions, except when eating or drinking
·     graciously accept gentlemanly offers of assistance
·     stand up when an elderly person or dignitary enters a room, comes within your presence, or stands

Never....
·     speak in a loud, coarse voice
·     call someone by their first name in public
·     lift your skirts higher than absolutely necessary to go up stairs
·     sit with your legs crossed except at the ankles if necessary for comfort
·     lift your skirts up onto a seat, stool, or chair - wait for assistance when sitting down at a table on or a chair, especially if it is small or light
·     participate in any games which would result in you being kissed or handled in any way - if a hand approaches a bit of jewelry, step back and unpin it for inspection

A true lady will go quietly and unobtrusively about her business when on the street, never seeking to attract the attention of the opposite sex, at the same time recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with pleasant words of greeting.

Sources: 
The Essential Handbook of VictorianEtiquette (Thomas Hill, 1994)
Manners & Morals of Victorian America(Wayne Erbson, 2009)

J.E.S. Hays
www.facebook.com/JESHaysBooks



Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for October

I've been on a lot of  road trips out west this summer, so I missed my last couple of posts.

The first one was to the WWA convention in Billings, Montana, where I also visited the Little Big Horn battlefield, saw the Indian version reenactment of the battle, and stopped in Deadwood, SD.

The second was to the WF convention in Oklahoma City. Both were fun and informative, although I prefer the more intimate gathering of the WF events.

As usual, I left New Hampshire and went to OKC by way of Texas. Visited my Ranger friends, the Ranger Museum, lots of the Hill Country, and did some research for my forthcoming novel in the town of Llano, where I spent the night in the last surviving railroad  and river hotel in Texas, the Dabbs. It's also haunted, and I did hear the ghost run down the hall and slam the door shut.

What I want to talk about this month; however, is a new trend, the use of too many repetitive posts on social media. This hasn't been too much of a problem with this group, but it is on many others. In fact, it became so bad for WWA they finally placed a post on their Facebook page setting guidelines.

I personally  just delete posts I know are the same subject about the same books put up over and over, ad nauseum.. I also delete posts, without even looking at them,  when I recognize the name of the person who sent them as one who is basically posting spam. In fact, I've had to stop notifications from some of my favorite groups because every day I would spend anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes deleting posts that were the same old message a person had posted for the last week, before I could get to the messages I really wanted to see..Too many posts can have the same results as not posting at all. The potential buyer of a book ignores them, and can indeed become so annoyed with them they decide never to purchase any of your books.

Yes, you should announce the  release of a new book. Yes, you should announce a nomination for an award, a new contract, hitting a best seller list, visiting a site for research or pleasure, in other words, anything that's news and relevant. What you should NOT do is keep posting over and over things like "Another 5 Star Review" for the same doggone book, especially Amazon reviews. Let's be honest, a bunch of those 5 star reviews are usually from friends or relatives. You're also not the only author to receive good reviews. One, okay. Twenty posts starting with "Another 5 Star Review" will turn a reader off as fast as a .45 slug through his or her hat.

As with writing itself, the "less is more" advice applies to social media. Limit your posts to what is new, relevant, and of interest to potential book buyers.

End of this month's rant. Next month's topic might cause even more of a stir.

"Ranger" Jim

Monday, October 8, 2018

A quick history of the Erie Canal by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #ErieCanal #AmericanHistory




With the opening of the Erie Canal on October 26, 1825, the Great Lakes was connected with Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River. This was an engineering marvel, a masterpiece often called the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The Erie Canal represented a transportation door opening for American westward expansion.  Hardy adventurers with hope in their hearts for a new and better life beyond the horizon sold their farms, packed up their belongings, and boarded the barges and boats. Some would make it to the west. Many wouldn't make it, because of illness, lack of funds to continue, or simply from the hardships encountered along the way.

The website, Erie Canal (http://www.eriecanal.org/) offers this basic information:

'Proposed in 1808, ground was broken for the Erie Canal at Rome, New York on July 4th, 1817. The Erie Canal links the waters of Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east.

The idea of the canal was to open the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers while also creating a better (safe and efficient) mode of transportation to deliver produce to markets. Two years into construction brought the first commercial traffic on the part that was completed between the towns of Rome and Utica. Doubters now saw the visions of the developers first hand and excitement increased.'

Erie Canal Map
By Rosemary Wardley (Unpublished. Provided by author for upload) [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick Stats:


Original Erie Canal (construction: 1817 to 1825)
  • 18 aqueducts
  • 83 locks
  • 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide
  • Boats carrying 30 tons of freight could float the canal
  • 10-foot-wide towpath along the bank provided room for horses and mules (and their drivers) to pull the boats and along.
  • Drivers were known as 'hoggees'.

Enlarged Eric Canal (construction: 1836 to 1862)
  • To keep up with increasing demands of traffic, the canal was enlarged to 70 feet wide and 7 feet deep with a 240-ton boat-weight
  • 72 locks

Barge Canal (construction: 1903 to 1918)
  • 1903 brought another enlargement with the development of the Champlain Canal, the Oswego Canal, and the Cayuga and Seneca Canal
  • 12 to 14 feet deep – 120 to 200 feet wide – 338 miles long
  • 36 locks
  • Accommodated a barge weight of up to 3,000 tons.
Little of the original Erie Canal exists as its identity has been lost in the reconstructions.

An aqueduct over the Mohawk River at Rexford, N.Y., in the early years of the Erie Canal. It was one of 32 navigable aqueducts on the Erie Canal. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Clifton Park Collection [https://religionnews.com/2017/06/30/the-erie-canal-and-the-birth-of-american-religion/]
Erie Canal in Pittsford, New York
By kathryn from Boston (Erie Canal in Pittsford) [CC BY 2.0 
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You can read more about the Erie Canal at the Erie Canal Museum website HERE.

I was in elementary school in the 1960s, and I remember singing this folk song about the Erie Canal. The song is "Erie Canal Song: Low Bridge, Everybody Down". It was written by Thomas Allen in 1905.



The Erie Canal plays a part in the beginning of Louis L'Amour's book How the West was Won (c. 1963 Bantam Books).

Part 1 The Rivers: "The shining land lay open—ready for conquest, and the ways into it were the rivers. Slow and mighty, turbulent and frothing, the rivers were the roads the first settlers took, building rafts, and flatboats, floating down water that was green, brown, black, flecked with foam, but that led ever onward into the heart of that dangerous but unawakened land where riches waited for the bold and the strong."

Taken from Chapter Two:

Eve Prescott stood alone, a few feet back from her family, watching the boats that thronged the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. The shore was piled high with bales, barrels, and crates, merchandise and household goods, all awaiting shipment to the West. Nothing on the farm where she had lived until then, or in the tiny village nearby, had prepared her for this...

On the river there was the shrill piping of whistles, the clang of bells, and the sound of steam exhausts... She only knew vaguely where the Ohio River lay, or the lands to which they were going, those uncertain lands, theirs for the taking, which no one had seen... The Ohio country was the wild west, the wilderness. And that was where they were going... the Promised Land.

From the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, a ditch four hundred and twenty-five miles long had been dug. The digging had been done by several thousand wild, bog-trotting Irishmen fresh from the old country, and they had been eight years in the digging... A canal boat had a crew of three to four persons. A boy or man, working for seven to ten dollars a month, drove the team along the towpath to haul the boat. 

The steersman might earn as much as thirty dollars a month, which was good pay for the time. The captain often did his own steering; otherwise, he sat on deck smoking his pipe and shouting insults at the other boats. Sometimes the cook was the captain's wife; more often she was one of the thousands of women who followed the canal, taking up with this boater or that, as jealous of her independence as any man on the ditch. Of all shapes and sizes, and of every color, the boats moved up or down the canal, fighting or racing for cargo...

The westward movement of which they were a part was more than a hundred years old... There were always men who went west...by the Wilderness Road, the by the Natchez Trace...the Overland Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Hastings Cut-off, the Applegate Road... But now there was a difference in their coming, for they brought their women along. They came to stay...

Now they went by the Erie Canal...

* * * * *

If you've not read How the West was Won AND watched the 1962 movie of the same name, you should remedy those most egregious oversights as soon as you can. You can thank me later. *wink*




Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time


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Saturday, October 6, 2018

"THE DAY WILD BILL GRIEVED" by Tom Rizzo

Think about the anguish you might experience if you accidentally shot and killed your best friend. This is what happened to Wild Bill Hickok.

On the morning of October 6, 1871, Marshal James B. Hickok sat in a chair in his boarding house room struggling with his emotions. The night before, he had gunned down his close friend, Mike Williams. 


Hickok stared at the Navy Colt in his hands, trying to make sense of what happened. 

On Thursday night, Oct. 5, the Abilene, Kansas, lawman had just finished dinner when rabble-rousing Texas cowboys crowded onto the streets to celebrate the end of the cattle season.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, a few of the pranksters and party-goers even tried to get Wild Bill to join them. Hickok waved them off and sent them to the Novelty Theater to get a few drinks on his tab. 

A couple of hours later, about 9 p.m. Hickok and Special Deputy Mike Williams stood talking in front of the theater when the sound of gunfire from around the corner interrupted their conversation.


Acting on instinct, Wild Bill charged through the door of the Alamo Saloon, a short-cut to Cedar Street where he heard the gunshots. When Hickok walked outside, he approached the crowd and demanded to know who did the shooting.   

Gambler Phil Coe, who shared ownership of the Bull’s Head Tavern with Ben Thompson, admitted he fired a couple of shots at a stray dog.



PHIL COE

Hickock and Coe had no use for each other. Some said the bad blood flowed because of a dispute over a woman. Whatever the reason, most people expected the animosity would eventually lead to a showdown between the two.

What happened next differs in the retelling, depending on what source you read.

The historical society said Hickok ordered Coe arrested for shooting a gun within the city limits. Coe, however, who once vowed to see Hickok dead "before the frost set in," turned his gun on Wild Bill and fired twice. 



Both bullets missed. Hickok, known for his speed and accuracy, drew his Navy Colt revolvers and fired. The bullets struck Coe, who fell to the street with a wound in his stomach. He would die a few days later.

After Coe crumpled to the ground, Hickok spotted what he thought was an armed man pushing his way through the crowd toward him. The hour was late. The visibility poor. Hickok assumed the man was an accomplice of Coe. 

He fired. Twice. Despite the darkness, both bullets found their mark. But the victim was no accomplice of Coe.

The bullets Hickok hit his friend and city jailer Mike Williams.  

Shocked and devastated by his mistake, a grieving Hickok lifted Williams into his arms.

He carried him into the Alamo Saloon and placed him on a billiard table.

Williams died minutes later.

Some historians said Hickok's eyesight had been deteriorating because of glaucoma. 

Less than two months later after the shootings, Abilene officials decided to end its association with the cattle trade. 

As a result, the town no longer needed a high-priced lawman like Hickok.  

It's believed Williams was the last person Wild Bill Hickok had killed.

_______