Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Favorite Western Novel - FLINT

By Matthew Pizzolato

My usual reply when someone asks me to name my favorite Western novel is generally, "Anything by Louis L'Amour." I realize that is a pretty broad answer considering the volume of work he published, but I never met a Louis L'Amour novel or story that I didn't like.

There's a lot of good ones and it's near 'bout impossible to pick just one.  My favorites of his characters are Tell Sackett, Milo Talon and Lance Kilkenny. I really like The Sackett Brand because it embodies the attitude that I have toward family and I love all of the Kilkenny novels.  The idea of a lone gunfighter who saves the day and rides off into the sunset is iconic for anyone one who loves the Western genre.

However, if I'm going to have to pick just one, then I'd say my favorite Western novel is Flint by Louis L'Amour. This is a novel that has everything. 

The man who assumes the name of Jim Flint is an orphan who came from nothing due to the kindness of a stranger and had everything in life, only to abandon it all.  He finds love in an unexpected place and decides he wants to live again. 

As a youngster, this story had a huge impact on me because Flint was the kind of man that I wanted to be.  A man capable of taking care of himself, yet wanting more out of life than living it alone.  He was a somewhat flawed man who overcame his hurdles by helping other people.  It is a story of hope.

Yet with all Louis L'Amour stories, Flint if full of great quotes that illustrate the author's perspective on life. 

"He had come to New Mexico wanting no trouble.  He had wanted no trouble at Horse Springs, wanted none on North Plain, but long ago he had discovered that one has to make a stand.  If a man has to run, there is nothing to do but keep running. And if a man must die, he could at least die proud of his manhood.  It was better to live one day as a lion than a dozen years as a sheep."

That quote is by far one of my favorites in all of literature and one of the best of L'Amour's lines, and he has a lot of great ones.

Flint is a novel that I highly recommend.  I've lost count of the number of times that I've reread it.  As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to crack it open again.  

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He writes Western fiction featuring his antihero character, Wesley Quaid, that can be found in his story collection, The Wanted Man and the novella Outlaw

Matthew is the editor and webmaster of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western and can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter @mattpizzolato

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ranger Jim’s Ramblings for Saturday Matinee

So, I’m supposed to choose my all-time favorite Western movie for today’s posting. That’s like asking me to choose my favorite horse or dog out of all the ones I’ve known, or like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. It’s just about impossible. There are so many classic Westerns to choose from. High Noon, of course. Shane, a film which stayed pretty close to the book, a book which by the way was required reading at my all male Catholic high school. They still have copies in the school library. How the West Was Won, a sprawling epic.

Since I’ve got to narrow this down, I’ll turn to the quintessential Western actor, John Wayne, the Duke. Even that is tough, picking my favorite Wayne Western. There are some easily eliminated: McClintock!, barely a Western, and just plain annoying. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, considered a classic by many, just plain too drawn out and boring for me. And of course True Grit, my opinion of which can be summed up in just two words, by changing the title to True (starts with sh, rhymes with grit). Loathed and despised are too gentle of words to sum up my feeling about that film.

When I boil the list down, I come up once again with El Dorado. Howard Hawks insisted to his dying day that El Dorado was not a remake of his earlier Rio Bravo. However, it clearly is, with John Wayne reprising his role, Robert Mitchum taking the Dean Martin role as the drunken lawman, and James Caan taking the Ricky Nelson role as the kid who rides into town and the middle of trouble.

I really like both films. I like El Dorado better for several reasons. First, James Caan is far superior to Ricky Nelson as an actor, who I’m certain was hired just because he was a teen idol at the time. I also prefer Robert Mitchum to Dean Martin, although Martin certainly did a credible job. I also like the action a lot better in El Dorado. There’s more of it, and it’s a bit grittier. Both films have welcome touches of humor. The one scene in El Dorado that always cracks me up is when Caan’s character Mississippi, in the middle of a gunfight, dives into the street in front of two galloping horses, which promptly jump over him. After the shooting is over, Wayne asks Caan why he jumped in front of the horses. Caan replies that horses will never step on a man. I’m certain the line was meant to be humorous, at least I sure hope so, but I wonder how many people got it. Anyone with the least bit of knowledge about horses knows a panicky horse will run over anything in its way.

El Dorado, for me, has everything a good, classic, traditional Western movie should have: plenty of action, exciting shoot-outs, good, strong, likeable heroes, tough and lovely ladies, and some nice touches of comedy. And of course three fine actors in the lead roles. If you enjoy classic Westerns, you should love El Dorado.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Five by Jacquie Rogers

Here are the five burning questions we must know about Jacquie Rogers!

1. My favorite food is???
Strawberry shortcake, with real strawberries real shortcake (which I make from scratch) and real whipped cream.  We just had some last Sunday for my daughter-in-law’s birthday.  She’s from Japan so had never tried it before—it was a big hit and she took a picture of the shortcakes.  After we put the strawberries and whipped cream on them, she was too busy to take another picture. :)

2. My favorite car I ever owned was???
I didn't own it and it wasn't a car.  My very favorite vehicle of all time was my dad’s 1954 Jeep pickup.  It was pretty elderly by the time I drove it, but talk about fun.  I drove that thing wherever he said not to—across creeks, over boulders, up hills.  He traded it in for a newer Jeep pickup but it couldn't hold a candle to the old one.  I still miss it.

3. Something you may not know about me is that I...???
Was the Owyhee County Fair Queen in my junior year of high school.  That same year I won All-Around Livestock Showman, and was the Aggregate Small-bore Rifle Champion.  And I still couldn’t get a date.

4. An interesting fact about my genealogy is...???
In 1066, our ancestor, Gamellus, was given the township of Alsop-en-le-Dale in Derbyshire by one of William's nobles.  A descendant of Gamellus, Hugh, was cited for valor in the Third Crusade and knighted by Richard the Lionheart.  Sir Hugh was also awarded land in Derbyshire, a Coat of Arms, and a wife.  He was 50 and she was 18.  They had 24 children.  Yes, 24!  He died when he was 99, she died at 96.  My uncle visited England in the 1970s and the manor house built three(?) centuries later by his descendants was still there, although I assume it's had a whole lot of updating through the years.

It would be fun to go see it.  The house was sold in the 1600s but another branch of the family bought it in the 1800s and I think their descendants still own it.

5. My favorite song is...because...???
(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.  Love most versions—Sons of the Pioneers, Marty Robbins, Frankie Laine, Johnny Cash—nearly everyone covered this song.  One of my favorite versions is from Blues Brothers 2000, but of course the very, very best was sung by Vaughn Monroe.  Why is this song my favorite?  I don’t know.  Maybe because it’s one of the songs my dad sang while we were milking cows.  He had a low baritone voice and could really growl the verse.  Milking cows isn’t much fun so you have to take amusement wherever you can find it.

Jacquie Rogers 
Romancing The West
Hearts of Owyhee series
#1: Much Ado About Marshals
#2: Much Ado About Madams
#3: Much Ado About Mavericks

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Civil War Reenacting: Cooking

By Matthew Pizzolato

During the War, soldiers didn't always have access to the best of foods.  They ate what they could and were happy to get anything edible. 

The main fare of a Union soldier was hardtack.  It was made from flour, salt and water in Northern factories and distributed among the armies.  The issues the soldiers had with hardtack wasn't its longevity. In fact, there is hardtack that was made during the civil war that is still around today.

The problem with hardtack was that soldiers often broke their teeth trying to eat it.  Nicknames for the vile stuff ranged from sheet-iron crackers to teeth-dullers.  It was also called worm castles because weevils and maggots sometimes took up residence in it. 

Since it was just about impossible to eat, soldiers broke it up with their rifle butts or softened it in their coffee or in grease from other foods.

The main sustenance of the Confederate army was cornmeal.  They used it in making Cush, which was beef and cornmeal fried with bacon grease, when they had beef and bacon grease. When they didn't, they made Johnny cakes, a concoction of cornmeal and wheat flour mixed in hot water or sometimes fried in animal fat.

Because of Union blockades, coffee beans weren't available in the South, so soldiers made their coffee from things like burnt corn, chicory, potatoes or even goober peas. Don't know what goober peas are? They even made a song about them, but that's a story for another blog.

In reenacting, we are much more fortunate than the soldiers to which we are paying tribute in that we aren't lacking for food. 

We still do all of our cooking using cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens, but our foods are a bit more extravagant. In the mornings, we fry bacon or sausage and then scramble eggs in a cast iron skillet. 

For other meals, we cook pork chops or chicken breasts on iron grates.  There is something about food cooked over an open flame that just makes it taste better.  Some of us bake cakes or make cobblers in Dutch ovens.  There's all kinds of great foods to eat.  At a reenactment, we don't go hungry.

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He writes Western fiction featuring his antihero character, Wesley Quaid, that can be found in his story collection, The Wanted Man and the novella Outlaw.  
Matthew is the editor and webmaster of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western and can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter @mattpizzolato

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Western Comics Focus: Stan Lee

Presented by TROY D. SMITH

Not long after we started this new feature on the WF blog -kicking it off with interviews of two great authors, JOHN OSTRANDER and JEFF MARIOTTE -it occurred to me that any discussion of western comics writers should include the great Stan Lee.

I was able to interview Stan about his western comics way back in 1996, when I was just getting started. The article appeared in the sadly defunct online magazine AMERICAN WESTERN, and I re-posted it to my own blog a couple of years ago. I decided to dust it off for this feature- because no one has had more impact on the comics world, western and otherwise, than Stan the Man.

Stan Lee was one of my biggest –maybe the biggest –childhood heroes. I loved his bombastic style, and his well-defined characters –the way he made them seem like real people with real problems, just like the readers. I caught on early that –while plot was important –it was how much you cared about the characters that really made a story exciting.

Stanley Lieber (Stan Lee) was born in New York City in 1922, and went to work at Timely Comics (later called Marvel Comics) soon after high school. He started off as a gofer and ink pot-filler; in 1941 he had his first writing assignment, a text-only short story in Captain America #3. He was later top writer, managing editor and eventually editor-in-chief. In the early 1960s, working with various talented artists, he co-created a virtual army of superhero characters who have been lighting up the big screen in recent years. Unlike previous superhero comics, Lee’s co-creations had distinct personalities, angst-ridden private lives, and very human weaknesses.

I got to meet my hero at a convention in Nashville in 1996 –at The Great Escape comic store. My 4 ½ year old daughter was already a fan of his characters, especially Spider-man and the Fantastic Four. When I found out Stan was going to be in Nashville I called a magazine editor who had accepted several of my history articles and pitched the idea of trying to get an interview with Stan Lee –about his western comics. I got the green light.

Stan Lee, Troy D. Smith, and Bethany "Finn" Smith, 1996

I stood in line to get Stan’s autograph –he was charging five or ten bucks, and donating it to the Boy Scouts –and pitched the interview to him. He was one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and spent several minutes posing for pictures with my family. I had him sign my 1962 copy of Two-Gun Kid #60, the first appearance of the re-vamped, Silver Age Two-Gun, by Lee and Jack Kirby. He was delighted to see the book. “I remember when Jack drew this!” he said. “Wow, I haven’t seen one of these in years!”

Stan put me in touch with his publicist to schedule a telephone interview. When we spoke again, I was at my house in Tennessee and Stan was in his Hollywood office. He remembered me, and called me “Two-Gun” several times during the conversation.

Me: I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but your western titles lasted longer than any others –even licensed characters like The Lone Ranger.

Stan: Wow. I had never thought about it, but you’re right.

Me: Did you have a favorite western character to write for?

Stan: Let’s see. We had Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Outlaw Kid, Kid Colt, the Western Kid, Black Rider… I liked them all. I kind of liked the Black Rider, because he was more of a superhero. Also, we did one photograph cover of him, and that was me under the mask. I got a kick out of that.

Me: Tell me about some of the artists you worked with.

Stan: Jack Keller did Kid Colt, Larry Lieber did Rawhide Kid, Syd Shores did Black Rider. And there was Dick Ayers. Jack Kirby would step in whenever I needed an extra one done. He filled in a lot. So far as telling you about these artists, all I can say is that every one of them was a pleasure to work with. They were good artists, had a lot of talent. They always kept to their deadlines. I was very lucky –I always worked with good artists.

Me: How would you compare writing westerns with writing superheroes?

Stan: One was as much fun as the other. The only reason that superheroes became so enormously successful was that there seemed to be more glamor involved with them. But I loved writing the westerns. In fact, in those days we wrote everything –whatever there was a demand for. Comics came and went in those days. One year the westerns would be popular, another year the war stories, or the romance stories, or the monster comics. We just went from one to the other, to the other, whatever was selling at the moment. But no matter what else was popular at the time, there was always room for the westerns, and I enjoyed doing them.

Me: Do you foresee doing any more?

Stan: I would love to –whenever we feel there is a market for it. I remember once a writer came up to me to see if he could work for us. I said, “Hey, I need someone to write a western. How about it?” He said, “I don’t write westerns, I write mysteries.” I said, “A story is a story. In a mystery you say ‘follow that car,’ in a western you say ‘follow that stagecoach.’ It’s the same type of writing.” He laughed, and finally did the story, and it turned out okay.

Me: Was there a consistent element in your stories, in every genre, that identified your work?

Stan: I would like to think that I stressed characterization along the way. No matter what kind of story it was, superhero or whatever, I tried to make the characters as realistic as possible so that you cared about them. You can spin the greatest story in the world, but if the reader doesn’t care about the hero none of it matters. That’s the whole thing about writing –make the reader interested in the main characters, make them care what happens to them.

Me: Who was a big influence on you?

Stan: Oh, everybody. I was a voracious reader as a kid. H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Shakespeare –I probably didn’t understand Shakespeare that much, but I loved the sound of the words. Yeah, I read everything –my mother used to say that if there was nothing else at the dinner table I would read the label on the ketchup bottle.

Me: How would you describe the duties you have now?

Stan: Mainly I work on the movies and television shows we do. I’m really not that involved with the comics anymore.

Me: Why do you think your westerns lasted so long?

Stan: I think it’s because westerns have such a basic storyline. It features the good guys versus the bad guys. Yet there are a lot of options. I think it’s the same reason Westerns have lasted in Hollywood for so long. You can always think of something new and put it in a western setting. You can have romance stories, revenge stories, jealousy, hatred, parental love –you can take any theme in the world and put it in a western formula.

Me: Have you read any of the more recent western titles, like Jonah Hex or Blueberry?

Stan: No, I don’t have time to read comics anymore.

Me: I read somewhere that you once wrote “Stan Lee is God” on a tower.

Stan: Oh, don’t tell that again. I was young. I don’t know why I did that. We had a big building called the tower where we published our high school magazine –I was one of the editors. One day some painters were doing some work on that big steeple-like tower. He left his ladder there and I climbed up and painted “Stan Lee is God.” Then the painter came and took the ladder away –as far as I know it’s still written there. Nobody else could ever go up and erase it. It was just a joke.

Monday, March 25, 2013

California Cocina is a look at the cocinas (kitchens) of the great California ranchos before and after the Gold Rush.  The California gold rush was the greatest migration in the history of the world, up to that time, when 350,000 from all over the world flooded the "gum san" or gold mountain, looking for the streets lined with gold.  The real fortunes were made from mining the miners, selling goods and services to those many Argonauts who rushed in.  California Cocina consists of some of my original writing, taken from my novels, which relates to food and kitchens, and from the books of many observers of the time.  The excerpt below is typical of the content:

Los Angeles is a city of some 3,000 or 4,000 inhabitants, nearly a century old, a regular old Spanish-Mexican town, built by the old padres, Catholic Spanish missionaries, before the American independence.  The houses are but one story, mostly built of adobe or sun-burnt brick, with very thick walls and flat roofs.  They are so low because of earthquakes, and the style is Mexican.  The inhabitants are a mixture of old Spanish, Indian, American, and German Jews; the last two have come in lately.  The language of the natives is Spanish, and I have commenced learning it.  The only thing they appear to excel in is riding, and certainly I have never seen such riders.
     Here is a great plain, or rather a gentle slope, from the Pacific to the mountains.  We are on this plain about twenty miles from the sea and fifteen from the mountains, a most lovely locality; all that is wanted naturally to make it a paradise is water, more water.  Apples, pears, plums, figs, olives, lemons, oranges, and "the finest grapes in the world," so the books say, pears of two and a half pounds each, and such things in porportion.  The weather is soft and balmy--no winter, but a perpetual spring and summer.  Such is Los Angeles, a place where "every prospect pleases and only man is vile."

From the journal of   
William H. Brewer
Sunday Evening, December 9, 1860
Los Angeles


Clint found an adobe with a small sign, JUANITA'S CANTINA, and tied the horses to the rail in front, loosening the cinch on the gray, which had carried him the last few miles into the village.  He had grazed the horses along the way, while he had been limited to the old man's small portion of frijoles and tortillas.
     As soon as he pulled away the cowhide that covered the doorway, he paused, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply in appreciation.  He knew he had come to the right place.  Just outside the backdoor of the small cafe, he saw a cooking pit with a metal grill.  A variety of pots were located on the grill and the odors that emanated from them, some in roiling steam, promised what was to come.
     He sat at one of the many plank tables and smiled at the approaching woman.  She had obviously partaken of the succulent dishes often, since she waddled over, melon-sized breasts straining to escape from her red-dyed jerga blouse.
     "Buenos dias," she said, grinning at her early customer.
     "Feed me, senora, pro favor," Clint said simply, and the woman beamed and hurried away.
     She returned with a tray full of steaming delights, setting them in front of him.  He recognized the tortillas and frijoles and salsa, but when he looked quizzically at the other bowls, she explained each dish with a point of a stout finger whose joints bulged.
     Cordero cabazo, lamb's head; migas, sour bread sliced thin and fried in garlic oil until crisp; pastel de tomal, a pie of onion, garlic, chicken meat, beef roast, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and olives, richly spiced, and served in a masa cheese crust; mostaza, wild mustard greens in olive oil and garlic; pie cerdo, pig's foot.
     Clint smiled and said, "Con vino, por favor," and the woman hurried away for a mug of wine.
from the novel
The Benicia Belle
by L. J. Martin

Of course there are also lots of recipes, many converted to today's kitchens, but many purely historical, such as:

Corning Beef and Pork

1/2 oz. saltpeter
1 3/4 pounds table salt
3/4 pound brown sugar

     Place beef in barrel with a bung, or crock if you must, and cover with cold water.  Let stand for two days, then drain off water, keeping track of how much it took to cover.  Add that amount to a pot, and to each gallon of water you add back, an equal amount of saltpeter, brown sugar, and salt as shown above.  Bring to a boil for a quarter hour, skim, then pour over beef.  Weight beef down to keep under brine.  Ready in ten days.
     To corn pork, do the same, only add a cup of molasses to saltpeter, salt, and sugar and rub meat with mixture and set in cool place for two days.  Return to bar­rel, but this time rest meat on rack above water level and each day drain off and pour over pork.  After two weeks, take meat out and rub well with salt.  Make a new batch of boiling brine and pour over, covering meat with it.  Leave covered and weighted down, checking regularly for another two weeks.  If you don't like the way it's coming along, rub with salt again.  Pork thus prepared should last up to two years.

If you enjoy history you'll enjoy a peek into the great cocinas of old California.

California Cocina, available in both print and eBook:

Review Roundup: Murder and Magical Mayhem

Double Crossing
By Meg Mims
Astrea Press, August 2011
$9.99 paperback, ISBN 1466223200
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B005GWEMCO
309 pages

The authorities are convinced Lily Granville’s wealthy father committed suicide; she’s equally convinced he was murdered as part of a scheme to obtain control of a California gold mine. Accompanied by a missionary who intends to overcome her misgivings and marry her, the strong-willed socialite embarks on a cross-country quest to find her uncle and the mine’s missing deed. Deceitful relatives, the late tycoon’s attorney, and a rowdy Texan drifter—along with nearly everyone else Lily meets as she wends her way westward on the new transcontinental railroad—could be friend or foe. Dare she trust anyone?

Double Crossing won the 2012 Spur Award for best first novel, and with good reason. The level of historical detail is astonishing, but author Meg Mims establishes such a seamless atmosphere that the tale never bogs down under the weight of what must have been mountains of research. If for no other reason, the story is entrancing for the virtual experience of riding the rails in 1869.

But there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy Double Crossing. With very few stumbles, Mims creates believable suspense by constantly shifting suspicion from one character to another, until everyone in sight looks guilty. In fact, almost everyone is guilty of something, though perhaps not what readers might suspect at first glance. Agatha Christie, eat your heart out: Double Crossing is Murder on the Orient Express with western-genre sensibilities and without Hercule Poirot’s pompous interference.

Read this book. The history lesson is enjoyable, the characters are mesmerizing, and the twists and turns in the plot are more than worth the price of a Pullman ticket. The sequel, Double or Nothing, bowed March 13 promising to plant Lily in the middle of another life-or-death caper.

Willow, Wish for Me
By Jacquie Rogers
CampRogers Press, April 2012
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B007VA4FTO
48 pages

To escape the Boston society rigmarole she despises, debutante Willow runs away to the middle of nowhere on the western frontier and settles into a solitary life as an herb farmer. With her faithful guard-chicken (yes, you read that right: guard-chicken) as company, she’s mostly content, until her wish for a fairy-tale romance is granted by King Arthur’s Merlin, reincarnated as a professional gambler’s mule.

The premise for this short, quick read is so wacky, readers will have to leave any preconceived notions about genres at the door. Actually, that’s not hard to do. As one might imagine, Merlin’s magic—not quite as accurate as it once was—complicates almost everything it touches. Author Jacquie Rogers imbues Willow, Wish for Me with both subtle and slapstick humor, develops the characters well, and sets the scene beautifully. The result is a delightful romp that twists both standard western tropes and Arthurian legend into one heckuva train wreck—in a good way.

As with most shorts, readers shouldn't expect intricate plot twists or a slow build to a happily-ever-after ending. What they should expect is plenty of typically western action (including a climactic gunfight); a determined princess; a slightly befuddled, tarnished knight, and a black-hearted pretender to the throne complete with oily henchmen and a no-holds-barred plan for securing the heroine’s castle.

The humans in the story are fun to watch, but the animals steal the show. Merlin the mule narrates the first and last chapters with aplomb, but the chicken emerges as the star.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She purchased both books reviewed in this post. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


“When the time came for them to die, Pete Gossard cursed and Knife Hilton cried, but Wolfer Joe Kennedy yawned in the face of the hangman.”
Thus begins one of my all-time favorite short stories –it’s probably a three-way tie, with two others I’ll highlight here in future blogs (if no one beats me to it.) The story is called “The Last Boast,” and it was written by Dorothy Johnson –one of the greatest Western authors, and in my opinion the master of the Western short story (others have argued in this space for Elmore Leonard having that honor –in my book he’s a close second.)

Although she wrote until her death in 1984, Johnson produced her two masterpieces in t he 1950s: the short story collections Indian Country (1953) and The Hanging Tree (1957). “The Last Boast” appears in the second of those volumes, as does the classic “Lost Sister”, which won the Spur Award that year. “Lost Sister” would probably rank much higher on any list of the greatest Western short stories of all time, but “The Last Boast” remains my favorite Dorothy Johnson story for this reason: in only 1700 words, Johnson spun a tale with such enormous emotional power that it still impacts me decades after I first read it.
Gossard, Hilton, and Wolfer Joe Kennedy are about to be hanged for dry-gulching and murdering two miners. The deputy marshal asks Kennedy, at the scaffold, “I was wondering –did you ever do one good thing in your life?”
Wolfer Joe looked into his eyes and answered with his lips pulled back from his teeth, "Yeah. Once. I betrayed a woman.”

The deputy is puzzled –that is a strange thing for a man to boast about with his last breath. Most of the following pages are a flashback in which Kennedy remembers the woman he loved when he was young, and who loved him.

Annie would do anything for him –even give up a stable life to follow him into the unknown. Kennedy himself knew that, even though that was loyal on her part, it was not a good investment for her.

He had few illusions about himself. Once he had said, grinning, "Reckon I was born bad." More accurately, he might have said, "I was born outside the law, and mostly I've stayed outside it."
And beyond even concern for Annie’s future, the depth of her love frightened him…
He saw love by the fire, and he could not endure looking for fear he might see it end, during that night or some year to come.

And so Wolfer Joe Kennedy had made a fateful decision, at the age of 29… a decision he could look back on as death stared him in the face, and say “yes, I did do one good, decent thing, one thing I can be proud of.”
I won’t give it all completely away, though you can probably guess how and why he betrayed his love and was proud of it. You should read it for yourself, either by buying the book or by doing a quick google search –as it turns out, this story gets assigned in high school and college English classes often, and is easy to find.

You should check out both of those books, though. In addition to “The Last Boast” and “Lost Sister,” between the two of them they contain several of the greatest western short stories ever published. In fact, if you were to assemble an informed list of the top ten western short stories, odds are that Dorothy Johnson alone would make up half of said list. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them:

“A Man Called Horse”
“The Hanging Tree”
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
“I Woke Up Wicked”

Both the above versions are out of print, but used copies are not difficult to find online.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Once about a woman

Up in the high country back of Mt. Ord and Old Baldy, there’s a great trout creek called Paradise Creek. It’s high, over 7,000 feet, but the grass grows thick and deep, and a family can make a good ranching life up there among the meadows.

Jack and Laurel Baker homesteaded on Paradise Creek. They built a home and barn, a spring house for milk and cheese, and a root cellar for potatoes and carrots and someday apples and onions.

Hell Fire in Paradise is the only novel I’ve written from a woman’s point of view. Here’re six lines to get your started.

Jimmy Baker complained. “But Ma, it’s hardly dark. I’m five now. I don’t need to go to bed so early.”

“I know, son. But tomorrow will come before you know it, and I want you in bed right now. Jason’s in the loft and asleep already, and you should be, too.”

“Ah, Ma. How come I have to go to bed so early all the time?”

Laurel Baker chuckled at her sturdy son’s resistance. ‘Unless you get enough sleep, you won’t grow big and strong like Pa. And if you don’t grow big and strong, how are you going to help on the ranch?”

Well, a baker’s six, maybe.

This photo gives you an idea about what it would be like on the Rafter P on Paradise Creek.

Laurel and Jack Baker’s Rafter P ranch was less than a day’s ride from Ponderosa, a sawmill town. I modeled Ponderosa after McNary, Arizona, even though that town didn’t come into existence until the 1920s.

But in the first chapter of Hell Fire in Paradise, Laurel loses her to sons to fire and her husband to a wagon accident on the way back home from Ponderosa. Paradise turns into Hell for Laurel Baker. But she has good neighbors and her friendship with Indians comes to her aid, too. All is not total gloom.

Six more lines.

An orange-red flicker caught her attention. Had she left a lamp on? Fire? A new fear blossomed in her heart. Fire! Jimmy and Jason were in the loft. No one to wake them. No one to carry them from danger. Laurel shoved the Winchester into its scabbard and raked her spurs across Angel's ribs. The startled horse hit a dead run in three strides. Laurel leaned over his neck, urging him on, her eyes on the orange-red glare that gradually got brighter as the gelding plunged onward.

Jack Baker went to Ponderosa for supplies, and he'd not gotten back by sundown. Laurel worried. Jack wasn't a drinker or carouser. He should be home. But even as the house burned, he didn't come home. 

Six more lines.

Laurel sank to her knees. The black pit threatened to consume her. First Jimmy and Jason. Now Jack. Cut, her mind said. Bleed. Get out of this place where you can't think or even feel. She fumbled in her trouser pocket for the clasp knife she always carried when riding. Opening the blade, she slashed first her left arm, then her right. Pain. Blood. Then she cut her face from hairline by her ear down to the point of her jaw. I'm alive, she thought. Maybe the pain will take away the emptiness. Bleeding profusely, she hacked away her long brown hair, sawing off each handful with the knife.

Jack Baker's wagon may have gone off the edge 
of Paradise Gorge right here.

Today's not a wicked Wednesday, but I thought you might like to get a look at some good Arizona ponderosa pine country as you read about one woman's pain. Oh. And here's what McNary sawmill looked like back in the day.

Friday, March 22, 2013


When I think of the "Old West," I imagine dirt. Yep. Lots and lots of dirt, dust and cactus and flies. No trees. Flat dry land. Yep, even though that's not the case at all - given the Rockies, the trees along the creeks, the hills and gorgeous prairie flowers, the variety of grasses and habitats... remember RANGO? The dust and dirt in the movie reminded me of "the Old West" image hammered into my brain. I must have watched too many Hollywood movie and TV westerns as a kid!

Mind you, I'm an eastern greenhorn. We have lots and lots of trees. We have dirt, too, but you don't see it much. You gotta dig for it. But the point of my rambling is not the actual dirt, but the "down and dirty." In language. The cuss words that a lot of western characters use in westerns - books, movies, etc. And also HOT stuff - sexy romance, even erotica - in western books and movies. Now don't get me wrong, I've read and seen plenty of family-friendly westerns, both books and films. But it's a wide open range out there. Let's face it. Sex sells. I'm not into 50 Shades of anything, except on a paint canvas.

Someone sent me a note recently that surprised me. "It's rare to find a western these days that isn't filled with cuss words and adult situations." I was glad, and grateful, that a reader enjoyed Double Crossing. If they buy the sequel, they'll find the same thing in Double or Nothing. When I first considered a publishing contract, I made a commitment to writing clean fiction. And I'm not judging others' books or films. Write and publish whatever you're proud to put your name on. Read what pleases you. I choose clean fiction for both.

It's a personal choice.

Do you realize how hard it is to *not* put in a cuss word when you have a cowboy hero? However, I wrote both books in the Double series in First Person Point of View -- and Lily Granville is a lady. Back in the Old West, men would never have cussed in front of a lady. In fact, when Ace first meets Lily, he's recovering from being knocked cold by a muleskinner, and has to be prodded into remembering "there's a lady present." Since my publisher for Double Crossing, Astraea Press, is all about clean fiction so I took out the cuss words (hell and damn, pretty minor.) I applaud their commitment, too. I also feel free from having to worry about what my family, my daughter, my friends and neighbors, my church family thinking about any sex or cuss words in my books.

Now, for Double or Nothing, I have a scene between newlyweds. How "sexy" could I get without really getting into detailed "pink parts" or more? It was quite a challenge! But I have to admit, it worked -- it can be done. I could have included an excerpt, but it might make you blush. (wink wink nudge nudge - just kidding, of course!) It's a bit too far into the book, and has a spoiler or two. Sorry!

As for cuss words, I've learned to suggest them. My cowboy hero has to be realistic, after all. Here's an excerpt from Double Crossing, when Lily is talking with Aunt Sylvia and her husband Lord Vaughn, right before Ace Diamond enters the picture.

“Lily, you have no idea of the dangers. My husband traveled to Nevada earlier this year,” Aunt Sylvia said. “Neither you or Mr. Mason have considered the impropriety of this.”

     “He’s a gentleman for escorting me.”

      “I can see for myself what you both are—”
     A blood-curdling yell, similar to what I’d read about an Indian war cry, stopped her cold. The moment I glanced up, the window exploded. Shards of glass rained on us and a man rolled over the table. Scattering plates, flatware, cups and teapot, before he crashed onto the floor—unconscious, and half-draped in the tablecloth among the broken china and glass.
     Mere inches from my feet....
Horrified, I stared at the young man on the floor. Bright scarlet blood streamed from a deep cut above his left eye. I grabbed a clean napkin from a nearby table and knelt to staunch the heavy flow. Tossing the soaked linen aside, I grabbed two others.
     “Good heavens, Lily, you’ll ruin your suit,” Aunt Sylvia chided. “Get up this instant.”
     Ignoring her, I untwisted the young man’s arm behind him but he failed to wake. “It’s obvious he needs help. It’s my Christian duty. And yours, Charles.”
     “He may be a criminal for all we know,” he said, but handed me more napkins.
     Sir Vaughn huffed. “Quite right, Mr. Mason. He’s bleeding all over your skirt, Miss Granville, so leave him be. The proprietor will carry him out to the street.”
     “He’s waking up.”
     I surveyed the young man’s calloused palms and fingers, his blood-stained knuckles, the sawdust in his tangled dark hair which needed a barber’s clippers. The crack of one boot sole proclaimed a man down on his luck. He smelled of sweat, leather and tobacco. Stubble on his cheeks and square jaw added to his gone-to-seed appearance. He opened one blue eye.
     “Oof.” Wincing, he raised a hand to his head in slow-motion, and then let it fall back against his shoulder. Fresh blood stained his shirt. “What the—”
     “Shh. You’re hurt.”
     He rolled to one side as if he hadn’t heard me, groaned and then sat up. “That stinkin’ muleskinner packed a punch. I’ll be da—”
     “Watch your language,” Sir Vaughn said and prodded him with his cane. “There are ladies present. Now take your leave or we shall send for the local sheriff...”     

Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. Her first book, Double Crossing, won the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America and was named a Finalist in the Best Books of 2012 from USA Book News for Fiction: Western.  Double or Nothing is the sequel.

Meg also wrote two contemporary romance novellas, The Key to Love, and Santa Paws – which reached #6 on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list for Dogs.