Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Wild Towns of Colorado?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

We always hear about the 'wild towns' of the Old West; Dodge City, Abilene, and Wichita. Each state has its wild town. Since I live in Colorado it seemed appropriate to take a look at some of the towns where things could and did get out of hand.

Boston, Colorado. A town in Baca County in the Southeast portion of the state. It's close to the border with Oklahoma. It was founded in 1885 and the post office closed in 1893. Its growth was fast and the end even faster. This piece from the newspaper will give you an idea of what was going on.  


The Aspen Weekly Chronicle
April 15, 1889

Tin Cup, Colorado. A mining town located north of Gunnison in Gunnison County began its life as Virginia City. The town was not easy to access and the railroad never arrived there. In an article from 1975, they mention 'Frenchy's Place' as the type of saloon most think of as an Old West saloon. It was noted as having the fanciest women in Colorado. This opening paragraph illustrates some of the issues the town had.

Pitkin Independent
July 15, 1882

Creede, Colorado. Named for former Army scout Nicholas C. Creede, was one of the last silver boomtowns in the state. It was the home for some of the well-known names in the Old West, Randolph 'Soapy' Smith, Bat Masterson, and Bob Ford. The following article speaks of the death of Bob Ford, who shot and killed Jesse James. 

Aspen Weekly Times
June 11, 1892

There are more stories from towns in Colorado whose history is begging to be explored, but that is probably for a future post. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Who Is This Guy, and How Did He Get In Here?

I’m not particularly new to Western Fictioneers, but I might be new to a lot of our members, so I thought my first blog post might serve as a kind of introduction. I’ve been a member for a few years now, originally invited by Troy Smith, to whom I remain indebted for letting me know about this great organization.

The story actually begins decades earlier, though, in the late 1950s, when I watched Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy and all the other TV cowboys. I did my best to emulate them (see photo in full Hoppy gear, with my late big brother Michael). But when I was six years old, my father, a defense department civilian, was transferred to Paris, France—which he’d wanted to get back to since WWII.
And it was there that the story takes off. In Paris, my dad, brother, and I all had our hair cut by a Russian barber who had a shop inside the DOD building my father worked in. It was Paris in the early 1960s, Cold War days, so he was probably a spy, but he was also a barber. And for the kids and the GIs, he kept comics in the shop along with magazines. In his shop, I picked up the first comic book I can remember having my hands on, featuring my favorite cowboy star, Roy Rogers.

That was one of the events that set me on the trail my life followed. I started reading and collecting comics, and I’ve done so ever since.

The trail led me to Virginia, where I discovered the book that truly changed my life: Mystery of the Haunted Mine, a 1962 juvenile novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs (originally titled The Haunted Treasure of the Espectros). I got the Scholastic Book Club paperback edition in 1965 and devoured it. This book had it all—western action and adventure, suspense, seemingly supernatural horror, and puzzling mystery. Even at that age, I knew that Shirreffs’ “Espectros” were a stand-in for the Superstitions, and that the treasure Gary, Tuck, and Sue are hunting for was really the Lost Dutchman Mine.
Historical aside: on January 10, 1932, the headless corpse of Adolph Ruth was found in Arizona. His head had turned up in December of ’32, with what looked suspiciously like a bullet hole in it. Ruth had disappeared while hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine. I never met Shirreffs to ask him about it, but these events made national news, and I’m convinced that they’re what planted in his head the seed for the story that would become Mystery of the Haunted Mine.
A short while later I read my second western, Clay Fisher’s War Bonnet. I was hooked for life.

After Virginia, I lived briefly in Worms, Germany, a city with a huge Roman wall still standing in the middle of it—real history you can reach out and touch. From there I headed to San Jose, CA, where I saw my first comic shops (and worked in one, briefly). At San Jose State University I won third place in a regional short-story contest and made $30—my first money from writing.

A few years after college, I got into the book biz, as a bookseller at local chain Books Inc. Our store was the South Bay hot spot for sf, fantasy, and mystery books and author events, but we had other genres well represented, too—one of these days I’ll tell you about our Louis L’Amour signing and the Louis L’Amour complete works box set we created.

Books Inc. had a few stores in southern California, and after three years at the San Jose store, I was sent down to manage the La Jolla store. La Jolla’s a beautiful and pricey resort town on the coast, and our store was a regular stop for visiting celebrities. On one occasion I sold a huge volume of Western art paintings to Phoebe Cates, as a birthday present for her father, Gil Cates—the man who produced more Academy Awards telecasts than anyone else.

While working there, I made my first fiction sale, to a prestigious science fiction anthology called Full Spectrum. I also met superstar comic artist Jim Lee—his then-wife had become my assistant manager. When Books Inc. closed its southern California stores, Jim hired me at his new publishing company, part of the fledgling Image Comics brand. It was there that I started writing comics and graphic novels, and then actual novels—my first being a collaboration with a friend on a novel about one of our company’s superhero teams.

At one point, after we started an imprint of non-superhero comics, Jim—knowing of my fondness for westerns—asked me to create a western comic series. But he wanted it to have a supernatural angle; to be what’s now called a weird western. I happily obliged and came up with Desperadoes. That’s the work that brought me to Troy’s attention, and it’s still my most popular comics creation more than 20 years later.
I became a pretty prolific novelist, with more than 50 novels published in the last 23 years, and more than 70 books altogether. Many of those novels were tie-ins—licensed fiction based on existing characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Superman, Spider-Man, Conan, or properties like CSI, Star Trek, and Narcos. But I was also writing original novels—all of them in the genres suggested by the Shirreffs book I’d loved so much. But my then-agent told me now to bother with westerns, because they didn’t sell. So I shied away, despite my ongoing love of the genre.

But thanks to Desperadoes, I got the occasional chance to write some western short stories—some weird, others not—and to appear in anthologies with such personal heroes as Elmer Kelton, Loren Estleman, Louis L’Amour, Johnny Boggs, and others. I was also introduced to the weird western role-playing game Deadlands and wrote a story for one of its earliest fiction anthologies.

Much later, I was able to broker a book deal between Deadlands owner Pinnacle Entertainment, Tor Books, and Visionary Comics, which had the Deadland print license at the time, for three novels. I wrote the second one, Thunder Moon Rising, and that became my first published western novel, albeit a weird western.

Despite my lifelong love of western fiction, comics, movies, and TV shows, I kind of thought it would remain my only published western novel. I was able to write weird westerns and had developed somewhat of a reputation in that area, but nobody was clamoring for traditional westerns from me. Then Livia Reasoner issued a call for stories for the Western Fictioneers anthology The Untamed West. I had recently written a somewhat offbeat novella called “Byrd’s Luck”—not a weird western, but not entirely traditional, either. I didn’t know what to do with it, but when I saw that call, I submitted it, and it went into the book. In fact, it was the lead story, and it wound up being a finalist for both the Peacemaker and Spur Awards.

That was the moment when I thought maybe I could make a go of this western thing, after all.

Last fall, Sundown Press published my first actual, straight western novel—the doorstop-sized historical epic Blood and Gold: The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta, which I wrote with Peter Murrieta, a fifth-generation descendant of the Gold Rush-era bandit. It has, to my great relief, been well received and earned attention in such disparate places as True West Magazine, Deadline: Hollywood, People en Espanol, and the Los Angeles Times.

And on January 26th, Wolfpack Publishing is releasing O’Meara’s Gold, the first in a traditional western series featuring Cody Cavanaugh and Freeman Douglas. I had more fun writing these than any other of those 50-some novels.
All these years and moves later, I’m living with my wife and occasional co-author Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell and our family, in a home from which we can see my beloved Superstition Mountains. I’ve finally made my way into the world of writing westerns, and I’d like to stay for a while.

But it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t be here—or part of this esteemed organization—if it hadn’t been for Mystery of the Haunted Mine. If there’s a book that you feel changed your life in a significant way, please let us know in a comment!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

HOW TO WRITE GOOD--by Cheryl Pierson

Since I ran out of time to come up with a wonderful new post for today, I thought I would put up something funny--yet meaningful in some ways. (Tongue in cheek.) It's a re-run from a few years back, but might give you a chuckle.

(Number 6 should say, "Writers" not "Writes")

What do you think? Have any others to add? After years of editing, the one that comes to mind for me is, "Be care of using too many descriptive, detailed, pointed, modifying adjectives and adverbs all together, separated by so many commas that your run on sentence can only be halted in mid-stride by a semi-colon; then, it plunges on down the mountain and around the curve toward the oblivion that it was destined for because no one can even remember or, by this point, care about what you were trying to relate in the first place."

Pet peeves anyone? It's your turn to talk about Writing Good!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

On This Date in the Old West: January 14

On this day in the Old West, January 14, in 1873, prominent African American Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was elected to the US Congress. P.B.S. Pinchback was born near Macon, Georgia in 1837 to a white father, William Pinchback, and African American mother, Eliza Stewart, a freed slave of his father. Upon his father’s death in 1848, his mother moved her ten children to Ohio, fearing that her husband’s family would try to re-enslave them. Pinchback’s early education was at the public schools of Cincinnati. He entered politics in 1867, serving as a delegate to the Louisiana Reconstruction Convention. He also served as a member of the Louisiana State Senate from 1868 to 1871. 

When Lieutenant Governor Oscar Dunn died in 1871, Pinchback, who was serving as president of the senate at the time, assumed the duties of the office. He served in this capacity until the impeachment of Governor Henry C. Warmoth in December 1872. Pinchback assumed the office of governorship and served for thirty-six days. He was the first African American who ever served as a state governor. During his short tenure, several appointments were granted, and ten legislative bills were sanctioned. After leaving the governor’s office in January of 1873, Pinchback was elected to the US Congress, but his Democratic opponent contested the election and Pinchback was denied the seat. A year later, he was elected to the US Senate, but again, was denied the seat due to charges of election irregularities—although some said it was the color of his skin that counted against him. 


At the age of 50, Pinchback decided to study law and entered Straight University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was admitted to the bar in 1886 and moved to Washington, DC, where he remained active in politics until his death in December 1921. 


On the same date that Pinchback was elected to the US Congress, in 1873, inventor John Wesley Hyatt registered a trademark for his new creation: celluloid, the first artificial plastic. He had patented this invention previously, and was currently manufacturing such items as false teeth, billiard balls, and piano keys.


In the late 1860s, while searching for a substitute for ivory in billiard balls, Hyatt combined nitrocellulose, camphor, and alcohol, and heated the mixture under pressure to make it pliable for molding. In addition to creating the new plastic material, Hyatt also invented the machinery needed to work it. One of the first uses of the new plastic was, not billiard balls, but denture plates, although Hyatt’s company, the Albany Dental Plate Company, also manufactured billiard balls and piano keys. Hyatt continued to invent new devices and materials throughout his life, ending with nearly 238 separate patents to his name. He is included in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Hyatt was born in Starkey, New York in 1837. He began working as a printer when he was 16, first in Illinois and later in Albany, New York. There, billiard ball maker Phelan & Collander were offering a $10,000 reward for a suitable substitute for ivory, the growing shortage of which was threatening the company. Hyatt spent several years seeking such a material, eventually coming up with celluloid, but there is no evidence that the reward was actually ever paid out.


The plastic was actually invented in 1856 by another scientists, Alexander Parkes, but he was unable to manufacture and produce the substance, which he called Parkesine. He took Hyatt to court over the patent, and the courts decided that Parkes had indeed been the first to invent the substance, but that Hyatt’s production could continue. 


Initially, construction of Hyatt’s billiard balls involved coating the composition balls in a colored layer of almost pure cellulose nitrate. However, in his experiments, Hyatt discovered the solvent action of camphor on cellulose nitrate under moderate heat and pressure, and this was the basis of his 1870 patent. In addition, he also developed machinery for working his new material—something his unsuccessful predecessor, Parkes, had failed to do. In 1870, the Albany Dental Plate Company changed its name to the Celluloid Manufacturing Company and in 1873, the company moved to larger premises in Newark, New Jersey. Hyatt was awarded the Perkin Gold Medal in 1914.

Your characters may have heard of P.B.S. Pinchback if they followed politics, but they would likely have heard of or encountered celluloid if they were around late enough in the century. Perhaps they noticed a difference in the quality of billiard balls when they changed from ivory to celluloid. Or perhaps Grandpa Joe got a pair of those new plastic dentures!


I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2022.


J.E.S. Hays



Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What A Year

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

As of December 28, 2021, this year has three more full days. How has it been for you? I confess I've been so busy that I'm not sure how to answer that question. Instead, I thought I'd look at one of the years from the 1800s. 

As of December 28, 1859, the Rocky Mountain News was still carrying the specifics of the Territory of Jefferson. 

The area was growing. This advertisement from the same issue reads as follows:

Rocky Mountain News (Weekly) December 28, 1859

Yet the Western Mountaineer, Golden's Newspaper talked about Jefferson Territory. They also talked about the New Years Ball, to be held on January 2, 1860.

The Western Mountaineer, December 28, 1859

Yet, life went on. There were many enterprising residents back then. Here is an advert for animal boarding through the winter.

The Western Mountaineer, December 28, 1859

I've always found that a look back puts current life in perspective. Life goes on, plans are made, and people continue to dream. Here's to the dreams you have for 2022.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


Growing up, traditions in my house included putting up a live Christmas tree every year—very few people had an artificial tree “back then”—and of course, setting up our little nativity set. Mom always made fudge and she’d make divinity for my dad and wait with fingers crossed to see if it would “turn out” like it should.

One thing we always had on our tree were the silver tinsel icicles—and back then, they were made of real aluminum—not this cheap plastic stuff you buy now! So, we saved those icicles from year to year and carefully placed them back on the cardboard holder as we “de-decorated” the tree. I thought we must be the only people who did that, but it turns out, that is a not-so-fond memory that many people my age have.

Our tree was usually not the best—when I wanted a nice, full Scotch pine tree, Mom would shake her head and frown. “Cheryl, those things cost SEVEN DOLLARS!” she’d say. We always got a “regular tree” that cost between $4-$5. I remember one year we paid $5.50, and that was the most I ever can remember paying for a Christmas tree.

My “smaller” tree–I downsized. I have a ladder with an elf and Santa climbing up on the side that has been a tradition since my kids were tots.

But our tree, though not “top of the line”, was decorated with love—and our traditional ornaments that had meaning. I inherited many of those ornaments, and I still use them, some that I made in kindergarten. Through the years, we’ve added ornaments made by our children, Jessica and Casey, and ornaments that we bought for them for their own collections.

Jessica, age 3, ornament made in Mother’s Day Out, and Casey age 1.

I’ve never had a “theme” tree. My theme is the same every year. Just memories that are so precious, through the preservation of the ornaments I remember as a child, and those that have been added since, each one with a special story of its own. Handmade items from school years, “our first Christmas” from the year hubby and I were married, a set of little cheap plastic bells and lanterns that my dad bought when I was little and loved the tree a bit too much. Those are special because he wanted me to be able to enjoy Christmas, too, and those were indestructible!

Plastic pink bell and plastic silver lantern–Dad bought these for me when I was learning to walk and loving the tree! Talk about antiques!

Yes, I still use icicle tinsel. My kids roll their eyes, but to me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

This is a small tree I bought a few years back when I was really sick with the flu before Christmas–it was all I could manage that year–the only year I didn’t have a regular tree with tinsel–and now I use it as a decoration on my old 78 record player top along with the ceramic train my mom made many years ago.

Another tradition that always is a must at our house is making fudge. Although we have to be careful about how much of it we eat, that’s the only time of year I make it. That always brings back great memories of home and growing up, for me, and I hope it will for my kids, too. There is no replacement for certain tastes and smells, is there?

Our first Christmas together–that was 42 years ago!

My third just “couldn’t, wouldn’t ever miss doing” tradition at Christmas is setting up our old nativity set. It’s the same one my parents bought before I was ever born. Oh, has it been through some rough times! But it’s so precious to me. I still remember how enthralled I was as a child with that cardboard stable and the figurines. The manger is cardboard too, with bits of straw glued to it. It’s not beautiful by any means. But it is to me, because of the memories.

This angel always goes near the top of my tree. My mom gave each of us girls one of these one Christmas–back in the ’70’s–and I always think of her when I put it on the tree. Another tradition I just couldn’t miss!
Sammy, directing the decorating and enjoying the Christmas ambience!

Do you have a tradition at your house that you just wouldn’t be able to do without at Christmas? Let’s hear about them!

Everyone have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: December 10

 The Territory of Mississippi existed from April 7, 1798 to December 10, 1817, when the western half of the territory was admitted as a state. The eastern half was redesignated as Alabama Territory until its admission to the Union on December 14, 1819. Before becoming a US Territory, the area was divided between France, Great Britain, and Spain. Spain, the last European power to control the region, signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795, recognizing the 31st parallel as the boundary between the United States and Spanish Florida—although they immediately regretted this decision and made numerous excuses for not evacuating the area for the next two years. They finally relinquished their control in March of 1798.


The original Mississippi Territory was a strip of land about 100 miles north to south and from the Mississippi River to the Chattahoochee. The boundary between Mississippi Territory and Georgia was defined to follow the Chattahoochee River north from the border with Spanish Florida—however, the river’s upper course veered northeast and cut deep into Georgia, so the boundary was redefined to follow the river until it turned, and from that point, to follow an angled line north to the 35th parallel. This angled boundary stopped at the Tennessee River. 


The attraction of vast amounts of high quality, inexpensive cotton land enticed settlers to the territory, mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas, and from tobacco areas of Virginia and North Carolina (at a time when tobacco farming barely made a profit) From 1798 to 1820, the population soared from less than 9,000 to more than 22,000. Migration came in two fairly distinct waves—a steady movement until the outbreak of the War of 1812, and a flood afterward from 1815 to 1819. The postwar flood was caused by several factors, including high cotton prices, the elimination of Native titles to much of the land, new and improved roads, and the acquisition of new direct outlets to the Gulf of Mexico. 




After seizing the city of Atlanta during the Civil War, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman embarked on a scorched-earth campaign intended to cripple the South’s war-making capacity and wound the Confederate psyche. Sherman’s army marched 285 miles east from Atlanta to the coastal city of Savannah, arriving on December 10, 1864.


In the spring of 1864, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant conferred with his generals to devise a strategy to bring the Confederate war-machine to its knees. Sherman was charged with three armies totaling some 100,000 men: the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio. His primary objective was to capture the city of Atlanta, a major railroad center, supply depot, and manufacturing hub for both Georgia and the Confederacy. The ensuing campaign and siege occupied most of the summer, with Sherman finally forcing a surrender on September 2. Sherman remained in Atlanta for a little over a month, during which time he ordered the evacuation of some 3,000 civilians, seizing their homes for his soldiers’ living quarters.


On October 9, Sherman sent the following telegram to Grant:


I propose we break up the railroad from Chattanooga and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads we will lose a thousand men monthly and will gain no result. I can make the march and make Georgia howl. We have over 8,000 cattle and 3,000,000 pounds of bread but no corn, but we can forage in the interior of the state.”


Although he had reservations, Grant gave his official approval to Sherman’s plan on November 7. Through this “March to the Sea,” Sherman hoped to deny Georgia’s resources to the Confederacy. In a November 6 telegram to Grant, he had argued that to every onlooker, the destruction of Georgia’s economic and industrial potential would be “proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest, leaving only open the question of its willingness to use that power.” Far more than a mere display of brute force, Sherman’s wager would prove to be equal parts political and psychological.

On November 10, following Sherman’s orders, Union troops began torching military and industrial buildings in Atlanta. By the following day, soldiers were setting unauthorized fires and the flames spread to business and residential districts. Within a week, some 40 percent of the city was in ashes. On the morning of November 16, Sherman set out for the coast at the head of roughly 62,000 men. Although clearly headed eastward, he was determined to conceal his movements from Confederate eyes. Because of this, he divided his expeditionary force into two infantry groups. The Army of the Tennessee, headed by Major General Oliver O. Howard, comprised the right wing, while on the left, Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded the Army of Georgia. Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick led the force’s single cavalry division.


With Kilpatrick as a mobile screen, Howard took the right wing southeast of Atlanta in the direction of Macon, while Slocum’s left wing marched east toward Augusta. Sherman gave explicit instructions to his troops regarding their conduct while on this march. He encouraged foraging and the confiscation of livestock but forbade home invasions. However, if antagonized by Confederate soldiers, Union officers could destroy private and industrial property. The field order also permitted able-bodied Black laborers to join the march, but commanding officers were instructed to remain cognizant of supplies intended for their army group. Most men complied with Sherman’s orders. However, some, called “bummers,” roamed the countryside to intentionally terrorize and loot Confederate civilians.


Although bummers engaged in prohibited activity, the overall psychological impact on the local population was precisely the purpose of the march. This effect was likely compounded by the army’s continued railroad destruction. Railroads doubled as a conduit for industrial growth and transportation for the military. By ripping up and melting down tracks, Union soldiers slowly crippled the state’s industrial and military potential in full view of its civilians.

Confederate leadership was never able to discern the final destination of the two-pronged Union force and in early December, troops arrived at Savannah, which surrendered without the siege its sister city had required. Georgia was effectively pacified.


Your characters may well have experienced either of these occurrences, or at least read of them in the newspaper (or heard stories from soldiers). These December 10 events had a major impact on life in the Old West, as your characters would have known it.


J.E.S. Hays




Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I Am Humbled by ...

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

As I am finishing my month of posts on National Native Heritage Month, I want to speak about those who served this country in so many capacities. As I've stated in earlier posts this month, I am so appreciative of the history, contributions, and so much more that I have and can learn from the Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Hemisphere. I hope you also can appreciate what can be learned. I personally am humbled by their lives.

First, those known and unknown who worked to find a way to co-inhabit this country we live in, despite a history of so many broken promises. Here are two examples

a. Sacagawea

b. The Five Nations - The Letter Sent to the Congress

Second, those who served in our country armed forces across so many conflicts both here and abroad. From the early scouts to the code talkers and regular combat

a. The Choctaw Code Talkers - WWI - BBC News 5/19/2014

b. The World War II Code Talkers - National WWII Museum

Photo Property of the Author

Third, those who represented our country across the world in so many capacities from the Olympics to today's National Park Service. 

a. Jim Thorpe and so many more - 8 athletes- Indian Country Today

b. Charles 'Chuck' Sams III - Head of the National Park Service

Fourth, the writers who've told the story of their lives so that we may read and try to understand. Three early writers.

a. William Apes - born 1797 

b. Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins - born 1844

c. Gertrude Bonnin - Born 1876

For more on the history of Native Heritage Month: https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/

A look at previous posts in this series.





Until next time, I wish everyone the best Thanksgiving possible. Keep writing, reading, and sharing your gifts with the world.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Saturday, November 20, 2021


For this interview, I get the chance to share Michael R. Ritt's story. Although some may consider him a late starter, his stories have made a big impression. Since interviewing Michael, he has gone on to win the 2021 Will Rogers Medallion First Place Award in Western Fiction for his novel "The Son's of Philo Gaines".  

It's hard to believe it has been a year since these interviews began. 

Michael R. Ritt
photo provided by Mr. Ritt

 When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

As best as I can remember, I started writing when I was a freshman in high school. I wasn’t a “popular” person in school. I wasn’t involved in sports at all. I was more academic, and, being socially awkward, I did a lot of reading. Reading was a way for me to escape to faraway places and have adventures that my own life would never provide me with. Writing was a natural extension of reading. I think anyone who spends all of their time with their nose in a book is either a writer or secretly desires to be a writer. While in school I wrote some short stories, but I mostly wrote poetry and essays.


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

This is about as easy to answer as the debate between free will and determinism. I think that my experiences and my environment both collaborated to make me who I am. They helped me to develop a set of values and ideas that are important to me and which inform the writing that I do. Values and ideas such as second chances, family, hard work, independence, personal responsibility, and justice. So, in one sense, I guess that I choose to write Westerns because these are all popular themes in the Western genre. But in another sense, who I am and what’s important to me is a big determining factor in what I write.

I think that it’s interesting that I have a brother who is also an author. He writes under the name of Dean M. King. Although we had the same basic childhood experiences and environment, and we’ve developed almost the same identical set of values, he writes in the horror genre. Maybe that indicates that personal choice is a bigger part of the equation.

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

I was very fortunate to have made some good friends in the Western writing community who were all very encouraging and very helpful to me when I was trying to get my first short story published. Not the least of these was Brett Cogburn, who is one of my top three favorite contemporary Western authors. Back in 2013, I shared a link with Brett to a story that I had posted online. He read it and saw some potential in me. At the time, he was working on editing a collection of stories for High Hill Press and he worked with me to get a story in shape to be included in the anthology. So, my first story was titled The Conversion of Boze Carter and was included in the anthology Rough Country.


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

My latest release is my first novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines. It was a finalist for two Peacemaker awards in 2020 – Best First Western Novel, and Best Western Novel. It has also been nominated for a Will Rogers Medallion Award.

It’s the story of three brothers who are the sons of a legendary figure named Philo Gaines. Each brother is as different from the other as can be, but each of them is trying to escape their father’s shadow and become their own man. The eldest is a soft-spoken, socially awkward school teacher. The middle brother is a carefree, easy-going gambler, and the youngest one is a gunman with a highly developed sense of justice but a deep distrust of lawmen. The book is rather uniquely formatted as three interconnected novellas with each brother having his own story. Then, at the end of the book, the three brothers all come together to confront the book's main antagonist.

I got the idea for the book one night as I started to think about what my own three sons would be like if they had lived in the old west. So, each of the brothers in the book is actually based on the qualities and characteristics of my own sons.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am very much a pantser. Whether I am writing a book or a short story, I usually only have a vague idea of where the plot will go. I like the idea of discovering what my characters are up to as they move the story forward. However, I find this is a very slow process for me and I am trying to be at least a little more organized when I start a new project.


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

Writing a novel is very demanding, and there is a lot of work that goes into it. Before you even start writing, there is research to do. Even if you are writing fiction, you want to be historically accurate with details of clothing, mannerisms, language, and weapons that are mentioned in your book. If you describe places, cities, towns, mountains, rivers; all of these have to be described accurately. If I mention a flower on a cactus in my book, you can be assured that it existed in the location I am writing about, and it was blooming at the time I’m writing about. I even checked astrological calendars to make sure that the moon phase was correct for the day and year that I wrote about.

After the research is the writing and the endless edits. And then, when the book is finally finished and published and, on the shelf, you still have to spend a lot of time in marketing and promoting it.

All of this is to say that I do not have the time to write short stories like I used to, but I will always be a short story writer at heart. I enjoy the challenge of telling a complete story in five thousand to fifteen thousand words, and of creating characters that the reader will connect with when you don’t have the time or space to fully develop them.

Do you write in other genres?

I’m primarily a Western writer, but I will occasionally write in other genres, such as frontier fiction and faith-based fiction (both contemporary and historical). I also write for two blogs that are Western and general historical non-fiction and one faith-based blog.

Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?

As far as writing Westerns goes, like many in my generation, I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Larry McMurtry and Robert B. Parker were also big influences on me.

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/143287103X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i8

Personal website link: https://michaelrritt.com/home/

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


Something interesting popped up in my inbox the other day—something I’d never heard of before. And believe me, I thought I’d heard of just about every kind of Christmas candy known to man!

This was a recipe for Christmas Cracker Candy—also known as Christmas Crack (and I am sure with that kind of name it must be addictive!) It’s also known as saltine toffee.

But when I read the recipe, it boggled my mind to think you could possibly make wonderful toffee candy out of saltine crackers! What fresh magic could this be?

I feel certain my mother didn’t know this recipe existed, because toffee candy (Heath Bars, especially) was her favorite kind of candy.

This looks fairly simple, and has lot of variations, come to find out—some with chocolate covering, some with vanilla…oh, the possibilities! I’ve not made it yet, but it is definitely going to be a project at my house during the holidays—I thought you all might enjoy it too, and I want to hear if anyone has ever tried this before or even KNEW about it.

I have a feeling this is going to be a tasty treat included in my next novel, as well, because it certainly is unusual. Take a look!

This recipe is said to be quick and easy, ready in less than one hour! My kind of treat!
(Picture and recipe credit to SHUGARY SWEETS: SAVOR THE SWEET LIFE)

Ingredients 40 saltine crackers 1 cup unsalted butter ¾ cup granulated sugar 10 oz Ghirardelli white chocolate wafers sprinkles, optional

STEP 1: Place a piece of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) on a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking sheet. Line with 40 saltine crackers in a single layer. This is about 1 sleeve of crackers. Set aside.

STEP 2: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

STEP 3: Melt your unsalted butter in a small pan, over medium heat, then add your granulated sugar. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil. Remove from heat once boiling.

STEP 4: Pour the melted butter and sugar mixture over the saltine crackers, slowly, making sure that all the crackers have been covered in butter. All that buttery goodness is going to create the melt in your mouth saltine toffee!

STEP 5: Bake toffee for about 13 to 15 minutes. You want to make sure that the crackers look lightly browned and caramelized.

STEP 6: Remove from oven. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate (I use Ghirardelli white chocolate wafers for best results). Using an offset spatula spread over warm toffee and immediately add sprinkles.

STEP 7: Allow the toffee to set up and harden (about 30 minutes) then use a sharp knife to break into pieces.

Store Christmas Crack in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days (if it lasts that long). ENJOY!

Have you ever heard of this candy? What's YOUR favorite type of Christmas candy? (Mine is fudge, but I'm willing to try new things...always.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: November 12

 As usual, many things happened “on this date” in history, but we will concentrate on two that your characters might have experienced. For our first date, we must go back to the first week in November for a little history.


James Young Simpson, professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University, along with his assistants Matthew Duncan and George Keith, had gotten into the habit of experimenting with various chemicals in his dining room. He was trying to find a suitable anesthetic. What could possibly go wrong? On November 4, they tried a chemical they had previously dismissed as unpromising. This time, however, they had quite a different response. At first, a feeling of elation came over the three men, then they quickly lost consciousness. When he came to the next morning, Simpson knew he had discovered a chemical he could use as a general anesthetic. Within a week, other doctors had adopted this new anesthetic for their own operating tables.


Chloroform was first invented in 1831 by a chemist, Dr. Samuel Guthrie, who was in search of a cheap pesticide. He combined whiskey with chlorinated lime; nowadays it’s made by chlorinating methane gas. It’s a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that is non-flammable. Simpson’s solution to the anesthetic problem was to drip the liquid onto a cloth or sponge held so that the patient inhaled the vapors. I haven’t found any information on how good a pesticide chloroform was, but as an anesthetic, it did work quickly and produce narcotic effects on the central nervous system.


The problem with chloroform, as compared to the ether that doctors had previously been using, is that chloroform has greater risks and thus requires greater skill on behalf of the physician. There is a pretty fine line between the dose needed for anesthesia and the one that paralyzes the lungs. Simpson and his assistants were quite lucky. If they’d used a larger dose of the liquid, they’d have stopped their own breathing; a lower dose would have had no anesthetic effects. Chloroform was responsible for several deaths early on, starting in 1848 with the death of a 15-year-old girl. These fatalities were widely published, and many patients chose to endure the pain of surgery rather than risk chloroform. However, chloroform use spread quickly and in 1853, the anesthetic was famously administered to England’s Queen Victoria during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold. 


Chloroform was a popular choice of surgeons during the Civil War, due to its faster-acting (compared to ether) nature and many positive results from the Crimean War in the 1850s. Usage of chloroform and ether both declined sharply with the discovery of safer, more effective inhalation anesthetics, and neither are currently being used in surgery. Nowadays, chloroform is used mainly in the preparation of fluorocarbons, it can be found in certain cough and cold remedies, dental products like toothpaste or mouthwash, and topical liniments.

Also on November 12, this time in 1833, the Great Leonid Meteor Shower occurred. During the night of the 12th and until sunrise on the 13th, Americans across the country were in awe of somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 meteors an hour. Professor Dennison Olmsted of Yale wished to study the phenomenon but didn’t have much data save his own observations. As the meteors began to be overshadowed by the rising sun on November 13, Olmsted drafted a letter which he sent to the New Haven Daily Herald. In the first crowdsourced science project, he asked observers across the United States to write to him of their own experiences with the meteor storm. As newspapers at the time usually subscribed to one another, upon receiving their copy of the Daily Herald, newspapers all across the country began carrying the letter.


“As the cause of ‘Falling Stars’ is not understood by meteorologists,” read the appeal, reprinted in the Richmond Enquirer on November 26, “it is desirable to collect all the facts attending this phenomenon, stated with as much precision as possible. The subscriber, therefore, requests to be informed of any particulars which were observed by others, respecting the time when it was first discovered, the position of the radiant point above mentioned, whether progressive or stationary, and of any other facts relative to the meteors.”


Olmsted’s letter worked. He received replies from all over the United States and the first crowdsourcing project was a rousing success. Olmsted read through all of these accounts and used the information to reach new conclusions about meteors. He published his findings in an 1834 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts. The sheer scope of the responses Olmsted received would not have been possible without the assistance of the country’s newspapers. 

Crowdsourcing information for research projects is much more common today. Large projects which would take years for a research team to complete can be partially completed by members of the public. This allows the research to be completed more quickly—and it allows the ordinary, average citizen to participate. One popular example of crowdsourcing is the University of California Berkeley project Seti@Home. This project allowed users to contribute computing power to analyze radio telescope data in order to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. There’s also a crowdsourcing project at the Library of Congress. “By The People” allows volunteers to transcribe, proof, and tag historical texts, from letters to diaries to legal documents that cannot be transcribed by a computer. Not only does this make these documents more discoverable to the public, it also makes these documents assessable to those who cannot read the original images or who are not fully sighted. 


I’ll bet you never imagined that crowdsourcing was that old! But your character may well have seen that letter in the local newspaper, or experienced the meteor shower that prompted it. They could have been given chloroform for surgery, too. I’m always surprised to find that many things are far older than I had originally imagined.


J.E.S. Hays