Thursday, April 22, 2021

THE HISTORY OF THE PILL AND THE SYRINGE





- pushing back the frontiers of Medicine





Back in 2013 when I wrote this post for The Doctor's Bag blog I did not expect to be wielding a syringe as much as I am today in 2021. But no-one could have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic. The development of the various vaccines has been a phenomenal scientific achievement and the vaccination programmes that are going on in countries around the world gives us hope to escape the shackles of this dreadful pandemic.

Nowadays we take our pills, tablets and injections for granted. But they were all major developments in the history of medicine. The hypodermic syringe was a relatively recent invention, which as a vaccinator I am really grateful for. It is so simple, but its importance has never been so evident as it is today. 

Let's start with Gunsmoke!
If you are a Gunsmoke fan you will doubtless have been amazed at how many medicines Doc Galen Adams crammed into that old black bag of his. He was prepared for any eventuality and would always have something that he could give to relieve the sick or injured. 

Back in Wolf Creek Doc Logan Munro tries his best to stay up to date with modern medicine and surgery. He makes up all of his own medicines, often using herbs or traditional remedies that he has picked up along the way or been alerted to by Charlie Blackfeather.

But the way that the medicines were given is interesting, because in medicine you want to present a drug to the body in the most effective way that you can. 


The invention of the pill
We must go back into the mists of time to look at a great boon to mankind, the development of the pill as a means of delivering medicine. 

The ancient Egyptians seem to have been the first to come up with the idea. There are ten medical and surgical papyri, which detail treatments used in the days of the pharaohs. The Ebers papyrus, written about 1550 BC contains recipes for all manner of enemas, lozenges and pills. These early pills were hard compressed balls of clay or bread. In addition, they sometimes used the faeces of various creatures.

Now I guess you may have turned your nose up in disgust at that last sentence. But consider the times they lived in, with a pantheon of over 400 gods and goddesses. The world was a mystical place organised by the deities, and the priesthoods had rituals that covered just about every activity that could be undertaken. 

The scarab, the dung beetle rolled a ball of dung in order to lay its eggs inside it. This the Egyptians believed was symbolic of the god Khepri, the scarab-headed god, who rolled the sun across the heavens each day. 



The dung beetle rolling the ball was thought to be symbolic of the god Khepri



The scarab was the ancient Egyptian symbol of birth, regeneration and renewal as well as being used as a powerful talisman for health. It has been suggested that priest physicians invoked Khepri when they made their remedies, which they did as these crude pills, like the dung beetle.


Coating the pill
The basic design for the pill lasted almost 2,500 years until the Persian physician Rhazes (865-925 AD) improved upon it by giving it a coating. By using a psyllium-seed mucilage the solved the problem of the nauseating or bitter tasting pill.



                                                                 Rhazes (865-925 AD)

A  century later another Persian polymath, known as Avicenna (980-1037 AD) further improved it by coating his pills in silver or gold leaf. In an age of alchemy, precious metals were thought to enhance the effectiveness of medicines. An interesting boost to the placebo effect.



                                                           Avicenna (980-1037 AD)

The first London Pharmacopoeia
A Pharmacopoeia is a book of drugs with all of their ingredients, actions and side effects. The first London Pharmacopoeia of 1618 contained recipes for 38 pills. Of these, 23 were derived from medical works written in Arabic. Two were from Avicenna and one from Rhazes. 



This photograph shows a sample page detailing a purgative pill devised by Avicenna - Pilule Pestilentiales Ruffi.


The problem of bioavailability
Bioavailability means the readiness with which a drug can be absorbed and allowed to reach its target organs. The pills that had been in use for centuries often had poor bioavailability because the material they were encased in didn't break down in the intestines. In many cases it would be like swallowing and trying to absorb buckshot.

In 1834 the French pharmacist Mothes devised the gelatin capsule, which could be used to contain liquids or powders.These are still used today.

A real breakthrough came in 1884 when Dr William Upjohn (1853-1932) patented a 'friable pill,' which was made by compressing powder into a pill shape. This would then dissolve in the stomach and be absorbed quickly. It had good bioavailability. 



Dr Upjohn lived, qualified and practiced in Michigan. He knew that his invention was a winner, the problem being to persuade other doctors to use his friable pills rather than their own hard pellets. He did it by sending thousands of pine boards along with traditionally made pills and his own friable pills to doctors all over the country, inviting them to  try to hammer the traditional pills into the board. They often did so without breaking, showing how hard it was for the body to absorb. In comparison, one of his friable pills could be turned into powder, ready to be absorbed, merely with the pressure of the thumb. It was a brilliant and persuasive image which became the logo of The Upjohn  Pill and Granule Company that he and his brother formed in Kalamazoo in 1886. It was to become one of the pharmaceutical giants of the 20th Century.




It changed the face of medicine.



The hypodermic syringe
We now come to a relatively recent invention, the hypodermic syringe. Being the sort of man that he is, Dr Logan Munro of Wolf Creek would certainly grasp its potential and soon be giving the citizens of Wolf Creek the benefits of the latest science.

Hypodermic comes from the Greek hypo, meaning 'under' and derma, meaning 'skin'. It therefore means syringing under the skin into the body.

This is one of the most important inventions in medicine, for it gave doctors a means of delivering drugs into the patient's system, by-passing the gastro-intestinal tract. That is often a good thing to do, especially if the person has an inflamed stomach or if they are vomiting and unable to keep anything down. But it wasn't invented until the mid-nineteenth century.

Syringes had been used in medicine for centuries, but for introducing fluid into bodily orifices, or to suck out fluids or pus. Some attempts to give drugs by injecting them into the body were made in the early seventeenth century, but they were not successful and fatalities did occur. In those days it would be highly likely that infections would have been directly introduced to the tissues.

The first necessity was to produce a hollow needle. This was done by Dr Francis Rynd (1801-1861) an Irish surgeon in 1843. He successfully develop a technique with a hollow needle for injecting opiates to treat neuralgia.

Dr Thomas Wood (1817-1884) a Scottish physician invented the first hypodermic syringe in 1853. Apparently he tried to copy the action of a bee sting, so he used a hollow needle that could be attached to a metal syringe.  He used it to inject morphine and other opiates in the treatment of neuralgia, which was at that time  an umbrella label for all manner of painful conditions.


             
                                                      Dr Thomas Wood (1817-1884)

During the Civil War most surgeons simply dusted morphine into wounds or gave opium pills. Dr John Billings (1838-1913), a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army was the first doctor to use a hypodermic syringe in the field. Despite his advocacy of it, however, probably less than a dozen were used during the war.


                                                          Dr John Billings (1838-1913)

Dr Billings would go on to become one of the most prominent physicians and librarians in American medicine.



                                                 A mid-19th century hypodermic syringe

Syringes are used to inject subcutaneously (just under the skin), intra-muscularly (into the muscle) and intra-venously (directly into the blood stream through a vein). It is important to expel any air when giving an intra-venous injection, sine an air bubble can travel throughout the circulation as an air embolism. It can have the same effect as  a blood clot and could produce a heart attack, stroke or chest pain. They can be rapidly fatal. It is for this reason that you see doctors invert a syringe, as in the position in the photograph, tap it to get any air to the top of the syringe, below the aperture of the needle, then squirt some fluid out. This is to get rid of air bubbles to prevent an embolism.

VACCINE NOTE: With the Covid vaccines we do not tap the syringe to remove air bubble. In some of the vaccine syringes we are using there is vaccine in the needle and every last drop is vital. But fear not, we remove air into the vial and since this is an intramuscular injection there s no risk of embolism. 

*****





Wednesday, April 21, 2021

LOST SISTER--MY FAVE WESTERN SHORT STORY by Cheryl Pierson



Hi everyone! Sorry for the re-post, but this one bears repeating and you may have missed it the first time around--I ran out of time and thought I'd put up this "oldie but goodie" about this wonderful, wonderful Dorothy M. Johnson story rather than totally miss my blog date! Heaven forbid! Hope you enjoy--even if you may have seen it before. With the recent thread on our WF loop about favorite westerns, I thought this might be one that bears talking about again. It's just a great story. Can't say that enough. What's YOUR favorite short story?

I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story –in any genre—that I’ve ever read.

You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker. The story is called Lost Sister.

I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too. Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.

It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.

There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town a thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.

Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.

The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect. But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.

In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.

No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her. Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”

I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.
http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1956mar30-00066

Do you have a favorite short story to tell us about? Please share--I'm all about making an ongoing reading list!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Classic country music – April birthdays by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #classiccountry #countrymusic



Because I live for trivia, especially music trivia, April is a great trivia-birthday month for many singers/musicians from the classic country music era.




  •  Apr 2-1942 Leon Russell
  • Apr 6-1937 Merle Haggard (coincidentally died on his birthday in 2016)
  • Apr 7-1932 Cal Smith
  • Apr 7-1935 Bobby Bare
  • Apr 9-1942  Margo Smith
  • Apr 9-1942  Carl Perkins
  • Apr 10-1921 Sheb Wooley
  • Apr 14-1932 Loretta Lynn
  • Apr 15-1937 Bob Lumen
  • Apr 15-1933 Roy Clark
Malguena

If the video doesn't appear, this is the direct link: https://youtu.be/Pz2hXI7Ny9I

  • Apr 22-1936 Glen Campbell
  • Apr 23-1936 Roy Orbison
Crying

Video link: https://youtu.be/qLC9o_unLq4

  • Apr 26-1938 Duane Eddy
Rebel Rouser

 
 
Video link: https://youtu.be/K8uZutr1avs


  • Apr 29-1933 Willie Nelson
  • Apr 30-1925 Johnny Horton


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Stay in contact with Kaye—

 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

"This is it!" - Interview with Robert J. Randisi

 What is it to be lucky? Getting to 'interview' some amazing writers. Robert J. Randisi is one of those. Who knew back when I started reading some of his work that I would one day be sharing his insights into this career of writing. Reading the answers can inspire others to want to follow in his footsteps, as best they can.

Enjoy, I know I did.

Photo provided by RJR

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was fifteen years old when I decided “This is it! I had gone to the movies to see Paul Newman in HARPER. When I came out I was hooked on the private eye genre. I bought the Ross Macdonald book the movie was based on, THE MOVING TARGET, and I said “This is what I’m going to do for a living by the time I turn thirty.” And I did.

2. Did you choose the genre or did the genre choose you?

The Western genre chose me when a publisher came to me and said, “Can you write Westerns?” I had never thought about it because I was writing mysteries, but I said, “Of course I can!” That’s how The Gunsmith was born. I wrote the first one and the editor said, “It’s good, but we have to break you of this hardboiled style. I said, “In westerns, it’s not hardboiled, it’s hardcase!” I’ve been producing a Gunsmith book every month since January of 1982

3. What was the nudge that gave you the faith that you could and wanted to be published?

There was no “nudge,” there was just never a question of doing anything else. I was committed to this and didn’t allow any room for failure. I made sure I had no other profession to fall back on.

Amazon

4. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

When you’re on a schedule like mine—for the most part, sixteen books a year—there’s no “muse” and there’s no “waiting.” There’s no time between books, there’s just always a book-or two. I usually start to write after breakfast and stop to have dinner.  After that, I’ll take a nap to get the day book out of my head. I head back to the office around nine p.m. and start working on the night book, stop at around midnight (when we have a coffee/tea break) then go back and work from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.  I go to bed around 5:30 a.m. and sleep til noon.  It only changes if I’m working on three projects at once.  Then there’s the day project, the 9-to-midnight project, and the 1-5 a.m. project. 

5. If you had a choice what is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels.

My favorite has always been novels. I am just naturally a long-winded sonofagun. Even when I try to write short stories, they usually come out to about ten thousand words. And I ever think in terms of a novella.

Amazon

6. Is there a process where you find your next story, or does it just come to you?

As I said about, the process is that there’s always a book, always stories to tell. I don’t understand a life where you don’t wake up in the morning with an idea and go to bed at night with another one.

7. Do you write in other genres?

I’ve written in just about every genre except Romance—but my career has been Mystery and Western. I started out writing mysteries when my first book, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY, came out in 1980.  It was that same publisher who came to me and asked me to write Westerns.  From that point on, I did both.  While I’ve written about 500 Westerns, I believe I might be better known in the mystery genre,, where I’ve written many private eye books, edited about 30 anthologies. While being one of the founding members of Western Fictioneers I’ve also founded The Private Eye Writers of America, created the Shamus Award, founded the American Crime Writer’s League, and co-created Mystery Scene Magazine (with my late friend and colleague, Ed Gorman)

Amazon

Of late I’ve been concentrating on my Rat Pack mysteries series, of which there are 12 books. I’m working on #13. They are now being reprinted and published by Speaking Volumes. I’ve also recently had two books in my Nashville P.I. series appear from Wolfpack Publishing, and two books in by Headstone P.i. series from Down & Out Books.

And of late, as well as the Gunsmith, I’ve been writing Ralph Compton books for Berkley, four of which are now available on Amazon and in Walmart.


RALPH COMPTON SERIES

BIG JAKE’S LAST DRIVE (2021)

FRONTIER MEDICINE (2021)

RIDE FOR JUSTICE (2021)

THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LAW


RAT PACK SERIES

Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime (2006)

2. Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die (2007)

3. Hey There (You with the Gun in Your Hand) (2008)

4. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You (2009)

5. I'm a Fool to Kill You (2010)

6. Fly Me to The Morgue (2011)

7. It Was a Very Bad Year (2012)

8. You Make Me Feel So Dead (2013)

9. The Way You Die Tonight (2013)

10. When Somebody Kills You (2015)

11. I Only Have Lies for You (2018)

12. That Old Dead Magic (2020)


HEADSTONE SERIES

1. The Headstone Detective Agency (2019)

   2. Headstone's Folly (2020)


NASHVILLE SERIES

1. The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie (2013)

   2. The Last Sweet Song of Hammer Dylan (2019)


For a complete list, check out the link below.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/r/robert-j-randisi/

Amazon Author Page


Thank you, Robert, for being so generous with your time and knowledge. I know I appreciate your years of experience and all those wonderful stories you've written over the years. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

West of the Big River: The Lawman by James Reasoner


William M. "Bill" Tilghman had one of the most illustrious careers of any Old West lawman, serving as sheriff, town marshal, and deputy United States marshal in some of the toughest places west of the Mississippi. But he faced perhaps his greatest and most dangerous challenge when he rode alone into the wild Oklahoma Territory settlement of Burnt Creek on the trail of a gang of rustlers and outlaws with some unexpected allies . . .

James Reasoner has been a professional writer for forty years.  In that time, he has authored several hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres. Writing under his own name and various pseudonyms, his novels have garnered praise from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as appearing on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.  He lives in a small town in Texas with his wife, award-winning fellow author Livia J. Washburn. His website is http://jamesreasoner.com and he blogs at http://jamesreasoner.blogspot.com.

Center Point recently acquired the large print rights and the first hardback of Western Fictioneers' West of the Big River: The Lawman is now available. The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton, The Artist by Jackson Lowry, and The Ranger by James J. Griffin are already up for pre-order and more will follow. This would be a great series for your local library to pick up.


   

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Pilgrim by Marty Stuart

I’ve always enjoyed concept albums, Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979) being an early influence. As someone who appreciates storytelling  I’m sure many of you do as well  when each song on a record forms a bigger narrative, it’s even more engaging than the standard album. Until a few weeks ago, I had never listened to Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim (1999). Holy hell, what an unforgettable journey!

The conceptual premise is of a man known only as The Pilgrim who unknowingly falls in love with a married woman named Rita. When Rita’s husband Norman kills himself after discovering the affair, this propels a despondent Pilgrim on his wanderings. Apparently the album is based on a true story from Stuart’s hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

That being said, these country/bluegrass songs pop individually on their own, and "Sometimes the Pleasure's Worth the Pain" is a good example of that.



If that’s not enough to rope you in, maybe some of these legends who make cameos will: Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Johnny Cash.

What are some of your favorite concept albums?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The teacher said "Keep Writing" - Interview with Chris Mullen

The Western Fictioneer Member author interviews in this month of April start with Chris Mullen. It is always amazing to see the journey writers take to tell their stories. Sit back, enjoy the read. Be sure to leave a comment or question. It is always rewarding to hear from others.


1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?


I have always enjoyed creating and telling stories, especially with my students, but becoming a writer always seemed so far off, a dream on the horizon. I suppose the beginnings of my dream trackback to a high school creative writing class. I would write poetry, songs, and short stories, though at the time, the poetry was terrible adolescent love-torn thoughts, my songs were a little better and varied from folk style to grungular weirdness, the better ones telling a story within the verses, and my actual short stories were in very raw shape. I had a long road ahead of me but gained some very real, appreciated guidance from my creative writing teacher. “KEEP WRITING.” Over the years, I wrote whenever I could, but my top priority became being the best Dad to my boys, which took the majority of my time. Telling stories and making up adventures with my students over the years kept my creative juices flowing and eventually led me to create my main character, Rowdy, and the adventures that he would have. As the Rowdy adventures gained interest in class over many different years with new students, it became clear that I needed to take the next step with Rowdy and write his adventures down. Over the next 8 years, I wrote when I could, keeping my priorities intact, and completed book 1 – Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen. In the summer of 2020, I took a huge leap of faith and, thanks to a loving, supportive wife and family, made the transition to full-time writer/author.

Photo provided by
Chris Mullen

2. Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?


With regards to Rowdy, I would say the genre picked me. I was leading my kindergarten class through a rodeo unit and cowboys and cowgirls were a huge interest for my students. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were just around the corner, so all of our focus was on rodeo and the old west. It was an easy decision for character development. I had no idea how popular Rowdy would become with class but welcomed their interest and told many tales over the duration of the unit, and the years of classes that followed.


3. Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?


Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen is my debut novel and was born from storytelling during the closing hours each day in my kindergarten class. ~ Set in the mid to late 1800’s ~ Thrust to the mercy of the Mississippi river, thirteen-year-old Rowdy floats safely away as he watches the smoke rise from his burning farmhouse. His father, dead. His brother, dead. Both gunned down in front of him by a murderous gang of bandits. Now alone in the world, his perilous journey of survival begins, challenging and shaping him into the young man his father would want him to become. Pulled from the waters, he is given a chance by a lone river Captain and his mate. Working the trade routes between St. Louis and New Orleans, he learns to navigate safe passage but more importantly identify dangers both in and on the water. Rowdy has grown strong working the river but must use his wit as well as his strength to confront a bullying crewman and survive a surprise attack by river pirates. Growing up on the Mississippi River was a start for Rowdy, but a new beginning is just around the next bend. Dodge City, Kansas proves it has its own challenges but gives Rowdy the one thing he has been longing for, companionship. He was warned about Patrick Byrne but was smart enough to procure a sickly horse from Dodge City's most powerful rancher. Rowdy's care for his new horse, Delilah, sees the blossoming of a magnificent animal and loyal friend, yet the rumble of a dark cloud forms over him. Byrne wants the horseback and will go to great lengths to get what he wants. Facing life and death decisions, Rowdy's only option is to run. Survival is what Rowdy has come to know all too well. His escape across the plains towards Lincoln, New Mexico nearly claims his life. Through a stranger's help, Rowdy recovers but is faced with questions about his rescuer's motives. Deciding to quietly move on, Rowdy finally discovers Lincoln, New Mexico, acquiring a new friend along the way. Rowdy must prove that he is who he says he is, not just to the people of Lincoln, but to himself. Rowdy is finally settling in when hired guns sent by Patrick Byrne find and confront him. Blood, bullets, and tears bring Rowdy's world to a showdown. Fighting for what was right is his code, living life for others becomes his way, and staring danger in the face is what he must do if he can truly be Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.


4. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?


I am too scattered in thought and activity to follow any set routine for writing, although I am constantly internalizing storylines, plot, settings, characters, etc. When I have mulled over the most current thoughts enough, I then sit down and let everything escape onto the computer. I will take notes from time to time, but mostly I play through each section of story in my head, like an internal drive-in movie. I see the scenes, the action, and I hear the dialogue. Once the ‘movie’ is finished, I usually re-watch/re-think it over multiple times. We all enjoy our favorite movies multiple times, so its similar in that the more I ‘watch’ the better the story becomes, because unlike actual movies I enjoy, I can’t reach into the screen and change what I don’t like.

Photo provided  by
Chris Mullen


5. If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas or full-length novels?


I enjoy writing novels most of all. I love diving into a scene, fine-tuning the details so that my readers can project themselves into the action or events that I am describing. I enjoy painting pictures with words that show the reader what I am seeing. Choosing the perfect rhythm in text and words that flow with the speed of the action or the thickness of emotion take time to develop, so it is within novel writing that I find the most enjoyment.


6. Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?


I was a teacher for 23 years, spending the entire time in an early childhood setting. Within my Kindergarten and PreK classes, my favorite time of year was spring because that was when we changed gears from reading stories, to making original stories. We then went a step further and brought those stories to life on screen. Over the years I have produced close to 100 short movies, all original, and all created by 4-5 year-olds. They each created a problem and solution and went through the steps of a simplified story structure that guided them through their idea. We were lucky enough to film both during the school day and after school hours. Thanks to many supportive parents we even traveled off campus and filmed on location. Our most memorable off campus shoot was at NASA. We even got to use and film on the NASA sets! If a student created a story in outer space or under water, we transformed the classroom into a green screen set and filmed there, inserting drawings or pictures that supported their desired sets. We held a movie festival for the parents and made dvds for all to take with them. The many years of movie making and story building helped pave a path for me to be awarded the Connie Wootton Excellence in Teaching Award for work with Pre-Kindergarten, which is given bi-annually by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools.


7. Do you write in other genres?


I have written some non-western, picture book style, children’s stories, but those currently remain in manuscript form. They are not forgotten but put aside while I continue with Rowdy. I’m sure I’ll meet the right illustrator one day and then maybe those stories will come to life as well. I also hope to explore other areas of novel writing, specifically in Science Fiction, Murder/Mystery, and possibly even YA Romance.


8. What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?


My biggest piece of advice, whether it be to my younger self, or another just getting the itch to write is to PERSEVERE and create what makes YOU happy. Ignore the ‘lists’ and wants of others and focus on the stories that come from within. Learn from those writers who have walked the path before you and keep an open mind as you hear how others have found their success. The path you make for yourself may not be the same as the authors you meet, but it is the determination and effort that you put into your work that will drive success. Remember your mistakes, but more importantly, take chances. What have you got to lose?


www.chrismullenwrites.com

https://www.facebook.com/chrismullenwrites

https://www.amazon.com/Rowdy-Wild-Mean-Sharp-Keen/dp/1735292516


Thursday, April 8, 2021

On This Date in the Old West...

 I have completed a year of “Holidays in the Old West,” so I’ve been searching for something else interesting to offer our readers. As I am fascinated by history, I will be digging deep into the history of the dates of my blog posts, seeking little-known but fascinating facts for your edification. 

April 9, of course, marks the date (in 1865) that General Robert E. Lee and 26,765 Confederate soldiers surrendered to U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House, thus ending the U.S. Civil War. However, I feel the topic has been pretty much exhausted (and probably by better researchers than yours truly), so I will let it go with a mention.

 

I would instead like to present another Civil War story: the story of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who, on April 9, 1864, was arrested by Confederate troops as a spy. She had crossed battle lines to assist a Confederate surgeon and was held prisoner until August of that same year. Walker is a fascinating character and one you might well have your characters encounter if you write about this period of history.




 

Mary Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. She was the fifth daughter of abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker, who shaped her unusual character (well, unusual for that time anyway). Her parents encouraged young Mary to wear “bloomer” pants rather than confining dresses, for example, and she continued this practice throughout her life, even wearing trousers beneath her wedding dress. When arrested for such daring attire in 1870, she protested that “I don’t wear men’s clothes. I wear my own clothes.”

 

Education was very important to the Walker family. Mary’s parents started the first free school in Oswego so that their daughters could be educated as thoroughly as their son. Mary and two of her older sisters then attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York. Once Mary had graduated from this school, she taught in Minetto, New York. However, she knew even then that her true vocation lay elsewhere: as a doctor.

 

Mary worked as a teacher until she had saved enough money to attend Syracuse Medical College. She received her medical degree in 1855—the second woman to graduate from the school (the first was Elizabeth Blackwell). Shortly after her graduation, Mary wed another physician, Albert Miller, and started a joint practice with her husband in Rome, New York. She refused to “obey” Albert during the vows and kept her last name, as well as wearing those trousers beneath a knee-length dress. Their practice did not succeed, as her neighbors refused to accept a woman doctor, and the couple later divorced.




 

When the Civil War began, Mary wanted to join the Union Army as a surgeon. She traveled to Washington, D.C., but was not allowed to serve as a medical officer because of her gender. Mary then decided to serve as an unpaid volunteer at the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington. At that time, the army did not accept female surgeons, so Mary was only allowed to function as a nurse.

 

Mary then organized the Women’s Relief Organization, which aided families who came to visit their wounded at the hospital. In 1862, Mary moved to Virginia and started treating wounded soldiers near the front lines of battle. In September of that year, she wrote to the War Department, asking to become a spy. This request was rejected, but in 1863, her license to practice as a surgeon was finally granted. Mary became the first female U.S. Army surgeon in history (as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon [civilian].”

 

During her wartime career, Mary often crossed battle lines, which is how she came to be arrested as a spy in 1864. One month after her release from prison, Mary became the assistant surgeon of the Ohio 52ndInfantry. She is the only woman in U.S. history to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor.




 

In addition to her work with the army, Mary also advocated for women’s rights, particularly in the areas of suffrage and sensible clothing. Her arrest for dressing like a man occurred in New Orleans but did nothing to deter her from the practice. Mary tried to register to vote in 1871 but was denied. She then campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 1881 and ran for Congress (as a Democratic candidate) in 1890. She didn’t win either campaign, but she did testify in front of the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of women’s suffrage.

 

Mary died at her home on February 21, 1919, at the age of 86. She was buried (in a black suit) in Rural Cemetery in Oswego. This fascinating character would be a wonderful addition to your historical fiction tales, especially if you’re writing about the Civil War or women’s suffrage. In her own words, from 1897, “I am the original new woman … why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am.”




Saturday, March 27, 2021

Left-Handed with a Pencil - Interview with Vonn McKee


The final post for March's National Women's History Month is with Vonn McKee. Not only is she a wonderful writer, but she is also an amazing musician and so much more. I've enjoyed learning so much about and from the talented women in this series. Each of us has something we can share and I have appreciated the response from everyone from the authors to those who comment and share their stories and insights. So, without further ado, here is more wisdom to glean from the woman who is, as her tagline says, " Writing the Range". 


When did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller as a writer and musician?


Honestly, I was far down the writer/musician path before I realized what was happening. I was a scrawny asthmatic kid with a big strong singing voice. Go figure. I sang in church by age seven. Beginning at ten years old, I was a circuit funeral singer in Louisiana. I mean, probably hundreds of funerals! In that environment, I saw people at their most emotional and vulnerable, and I learned to observe it without reacting myself. They told me my songs brought them comfort, and that’s something I’ve never forgotten as a singer and a writer … that all of us are given gifts to be used to touch others in some way. At thirteen I joined a contemporary Christian band called the Jesus Christ Power & Light Company and, by fifteen, I was the headliner for Shreveport’s “Louisiana Hayride,” which was like a farm team for the Grand Ole Opry. I was privileged to record for MCA and tour nationally for several years, including two Opry guest appearances. Can you say, “no dating life?” That’s when I started writing my own songs, something I still do.

Entwined with all this was poetry and essay writing. During elementary school I wrote poems, one of which was published in the school newspaper. It was a clever piece, I thought, on dropping a marble during class and getting busted by the teacher. I made up whimsical Ogden Nash sorts of words. Would you believe the editor “corrected” those words, completely destroying the rhyme scheme? Sheesh. That wasn’t my last tangle with an editor, by the way.

My seventh-grade English teacher was the first to suggest I should consider writing as a career. Sometimes it only takes one person to encourage you to do the thing you’re meant for.



Did you chose the genre you write in or did it choose you?


I grew up in the Deep South, surrounded by stories and porch singings and plenty of Tennessee-Williams-type relatives. (Gee, I hope none of them read this.) My dad, however, was born in North Dakota and he and his Oklahoma-born father broke and sold horses. They were cowboys at heart and I got to spend summers on the family farm in northwestern Minnesota soaking up what I considered to be the Western life. In the kitchen, my grandmother told me stories from her childhood that rivaled those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I had a complete set of Zane Grey novels by the time I was eighteen and was writing a few cowboy songs. Fast forward to about 2012: I started going to writing conferences and eventually met Troy D. Smith, who asked me for some Western material. And off I went.


What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?


Songwriter Don Schlitz accepted his first CMA award for the Kenny Rogers recording of “The Gambler” by saying, “This is the first song of mine that anybody ever recorded, and I find all this very encouraging.” Although I didn’t kick off my literary writing career with a smash hit, my first short story published on Troy Smith’s Trailblazer imprint, “The Songbird of Seville,” was a WWA Spur finalist (2015). The same year, my second story, “The Gunfighter’s Gift” was a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker finalist. And I naively thought, “Hey, there ain’t nothin’ to this!”

I have since learned that no one has a Midas touch. It’s a little bit about talent and a lot about working hard to perfect your craft and also getting out and networking.


Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?


I’m a high-ADHD multitasker and discipline is a constant challenge. Also, I have many writing irons in the fire. I just finished judging for the Spurs (historical fiction) and am about to judge a short story contest. I’m a contributor and proofreader for Roundup magazine. Requests for short stories pop in, and I’m working on a novel. I belong to a writers critique group and I’m writing songs for a Western recording project. So I just try to spend time every day working on one or more of those. Just keep moving forward.


Is there a process where you find your next idea or does it just hit you?


Ideas are never a problem. It’s the getting them written that’s tough. Right now, I have four or five book ideas queued up in my head and, unfortunately, I’m a slow writer. The ideas spring up from research or sometimes from meeting someone. No kidding, people “bring” me stories all the time. My WIP was inspired by reading about artists like Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and A.D.M. Cooper, who beautifully documented the 1800s Western landscape and people on canvas.


My anthology, Comanche Winter, was released on Wolfpack last year. Those stories are all over the place. A schoolboy has to defend his classmates against a Comanche attack. A circus troupe is caught behind enemy lines during the Civil War. An outlaw unwittingly steals a preacher’s identity.

Book Link

Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story?


Most characters show up with at least the essence of who they are and the story they wish me to tell. But I don’t like to start writing until I know them down to their bones. This is especially crucial when writing short stories. My goal is to make the reader feel very intimate with the character(s), as soon into the story as possible.

It’s all about believability and emotion with me. I work hard to stay accurate with historical and other details, but every story or song has to leave the reader or listener with an emotion. I’ve been told I write “with an ache,” and I do tend to write characters who carry both sweetness and pain inside them.


Is there anything you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?


Gosh, I don’t assume anyone is interested. But, let’s see. I’m left-handed with a pencil but ambidextrous with most other things. I play baseball equally bad with either hand.


I have an engineering degree and worked in commercial construction as a precast project manager for several years at a time when there were virtually no women in the industry, so I have building babies across the Southeast. I’ve been a volunteer naturalist at a park and I’m a botany/zoology/astronomy nerd.


Do you consider music poetry and does the rhythm translate into your other writing?


Oh, I like this question. When people comment that I have a background in wildly different fields, I explain that I see countless parallels in music, math, architecture, and stories. Good design incorporates rhythm or pacing (visual or audible), color (even words have this!) and climaxes or highs and lows. And things have to add up at the end!


You’ve planned WF Conventions. What prompted you to take that on?


Well, when WF members first mentioned wanting to have a convention, I threw out a few suggestions. Next thing I knew, I was named convention chairman! (You know who you are, Cheryl Pierson.)


I’ve often said that every single thing you learn will be used later, eventually. I enjoy throwing big gatherings and have cooked for 50 people all by myself a number of times. Laying out a spread and making sure rooms and tables look good may or may not be a Southern thing. Also, my years working as a project manager taught me to break down a project into schedules, logistics and inventory needs.


That said, I nominate Cheryl Pierson to be chairman of the next WF convention.


Book Link

What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?


To aspiring writers … first, read your arse off. See what good, and bad, writing looks like. See which genre lights you up. Romance? (I leave that to the professionals.) Historical fiction? Nonfiction? Juvenile/YA? Mystery? Straight-up Western?


Read a few (but not too many) books on writing. Some of my favorites are How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster and On Writing by Stephen King. I loved Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors because it taught me about storyline pacing and to conjure up mental pictures of every scene as I write it.


Go to where other writers are. You’ll meet someone at every conference who will help you on your path. Might even be your next publisher. At the very least, you’ll spend time among your tribe.


Then, start typing. Yes, the page will be blank. And, no, you won’t have any idea what you’re doing. None of us did when we started. And some of us still don’t but we write anyway.


And to my younger self, I would say, “Have faith. It’s going to work out okay. But PLEASE don’t marry that curly-haired guy from California.”

For more, check out the following links: 

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Amazon 


Thank you to everyone who has been so gracious to take part in these interviews. I have enjoyed and appreciated every one of you.

See you all in April for more from our Western Fictioneers Members. Be safe, stay well, and keep those fingers moving.