Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Western Comics Focus- Six-Gun Gorilla: Long Days of Vengeance


Troy D. Smith

This installment of "Western Comics Focus" closes out my first year of doing it as a monthly blog. We've focused on some classic characters, and interviewed some of the giants of the genre. I am very pleased, though, that this month -with a new year mere hours away -we are able to shine a spotlight on something new and different. And boy, do I mean different.




When I first heard that there was a new gritty, realistic western comic miniseries starring a gunslinging silverback gorilla... my reaction was probably much the same as you're having now. I saw all the acclaim the title was receiving -including from Joe Lansdale -so I suspended my disbelief and jumped in.

I'm sure glad I did. Believe it or not, this strange scenario works -and works well.

Written by Brian Christgau and illustrated by Adrian Sibar, the book's hero is actually a holdover from a 1930s British pulp magazine, and entered the public domain this year. Christgau and Sibar don't have a publisher for their venture, but that can't last. Meanwhile, you can buy individual issues as pdfs for $1.99 each HERE. I've read the first two issues, and I liked 'em.



Brian Christgau agreed to answer some questions for us today.




1. Tell us about the pulp origins of this character
"Six-Gun Gorilla" was originally published as a fifteen-part serial in a British Pulp called Wizard in 1939. There’s no writer credited, so we’ll probably never know who the original author was… but I’ll always be grateful to him!
The only reason we even know about the character is because a book came out in 1948 called Boys Will Be Boys, which is sort of the Bible on British Pulp literature. Scholars and other interested parties couldn’t help but be captivated by the author’s description of that story. It took on a mythic, Holy Grail status the way lost films like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT do. It was never re-printed and the only two known copies in existence are under lock and key in a British museum. Jess Nevins, who is quite the scholar on this subject, recently got a chance to scan the story and has posted it on-line as a free download, bless his heart.
I came across the character while browsing a website about Pulp and Golden Age heroes and it just clicked in my head in an instant. That afternoon I just couldn’t get that title out of my head and the story basically wrote itself. Everything I needed was in that title, a promise of outrageous adventure. But my thing as a writer is to take an outrageous premise and try to tell a fun adventure story, but also one that’s meaningful in some unexpected way. As a kid I was a big fan of the original KING KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, so that laid fertile soil for the idea of a Silverback in the Old West to take root.

2. Explain why there are two different versions floating out there, and how yours is different.
Who in the world would have expected two freaking Six-Gun Gorilla comics to come out at the same time? What were the odds? I knew this was a public domain character so the possibility was there, but that the possibilities were “slim and none”. Turns out “slim” won the day! Can you believe that shit?
It’s a case of they refer to in Hollywood as “parallel development”. Both of us had our imaginations fired up by that title and concept, largely I’m guessing because the actual story wasn’t available to read, so our imaginations filled in one very large blank. Si’s went in a very trippy, surreal direction and mine went in a more traditional one. We both knew that the character was falling into the public domain in 2013 and so we set to work on our books completely oblivious of each other.
Luckily for Si Spurrier and myself, our stories couldn’t be more different. For starters they’re in two totally different genres. Si’s is a Science-Fiction tale set on another world in the 22nd Century about a futuristic blood sport that borrows elements from movies like DEATH WATCH and THE RUNNING MAN. Mine is just a straight-forward Western with a very bizarre twist.
I know Si is going to hate me for saying this, since he loves Westerns about as much as I do, but his SIX-GUN isn’t a Western. I suppose it is if you’re strictly talking about structure. By that measure so is OUTLAND (HIGH NOON in space) and PITCH BLACK (STAGECOACH in space) and DIRTY HARRY and nearly every samurai movie ever made. And I don’t mean that a dis to Si. I’ve read his book and it’s spectacular, but it’s like a dystopian Sci-Fi movie directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky – it’s very Surreal. My GORILLA is just a straight-forward Western in that it has both the structure *and* the setting
A huge part of the Western mystique is that very specific time and place: the Old West from about 1830 to 1910. You can tell the story of King Arthur or Beowulf in any number of settings, but once you move the setting to the far-flung future you are – and this is just my opinion - compromising the structural integrity of the legend. The Old West is the American legend – just because that legend happens to include characters that are based on real people and events - like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday - doesn’t change the fact that these are larger-than-life, mythic figures in the collective imagination.
What I wanted to do was to take this outrageous, completely improbable character and drop him right smack dab in the real, historical Old West. The plot revolves around a real event – the last days of the Civil War – but I’m telling the “hidden” or “secret” history of that time… which happens to involve a 600 pound gorilla.
I think what Si is doing is very imaginative and adventurous, but anyone looking for giant turtles in my book will be sorely disappointed.



3. Are there any westerns, in any media, that have inspired you?
The most obvious are the Sergio Leone movies. Those are the ones that had the greatest impact on me as a kid and roped me into the genre, but this is more like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST than the “Dollars Trilogy” in terms of scope and style. As far as novels go, BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy – a large part of my inspiration for the villains comes from that. Another big influence is NEVADA SMITH, an old Steve McQueen movie about a young man who goes to extraordinary lengths to get revenge for the torture and murder of his parents.
The Western heroes, whether in American classics like SHANE or the Italian ones like THE GREAT SILENCE, are often damaged people. The late Italian Westerns especially, the “Twilight Spaghettis” as I call them, had this melancholy, elegiac air to them. The heroes in movies like KEOMA, DJANGO and A MAN CALLED BLADE were these sad loners who didn’t seem to belong in any world, but drifted along the edges of many. That’s my hero in a nutshell.



4. Do you foresee the character going on beyond this miniseries?
The plan is to eventually do SIX-GUN as an ongoing monthly series. I have at least three to four years-worth of stories in me. I’d love to take the character through the historical West, encountering figures like Tom Jeffords, Cochise, the Buffalo Soldiers, Mysterious David Mather. The dream would be to pair him up with Jonah Hex, Bat Lash or, even better yet, Tarzan. Oh what I wouldn’t give to do SIX-GUN GORILLA MEETS TARZAN. I’m realistic in my expectations of any of those ever happening, of course, but I can dream.

5. Would you consider doing another western?
I would love to. Time has proven it to be a genre that’s completely inexhaustible as long as there are smart, original creators out there with a new take on it. You always hear people saying the Western is dead, but I think it’s just taking a nap.
My next project isn’t a Western but has many of the elements of the genre: it’s a story inspired by the legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo called TEQUILA MOONRISE. This cat was the real thing – a real-life superhero. Not only was he a wrestler, he also played himself in these incredibly strange, often downright Surreal Mexican-Horror-Wrestling  movies where he would beat the crap out of monsters between matches. Only in TEQUILA MOONRISE the hero actually *does* fight monsters when he’s not wrestling or making movies. I’ve also got this 70’s Marvel -style werewolf story called SOUTH-PAW in the works, which isn’t a Western but definitely has some Western elements.

6. How did Adrian Sibar get involved?
Adrian was one of the artists who responded to my ad in Digital Webbing. I got a ton of submissions, but his was one of the three or four that just really stood out. Then it was just a process of figuring out who was *right* for the book. Luckily my friend Wes Huffor, who does all of the incredible cover art for the series, sees all kinds of stuff that I might miss. He pointed out Adrian’s incredible visual storytelling ability. I finally offered him the job and he took it, much to my continuing delight. He’s not just a great artist, but a real pleasure to work with, as is Wes. It’s never about ego with them, just making a great comic.

7. This whole concept is, on the surface, kind of bizarre... 
Whoa, pardner. Let me stop you there. Kind of bizarre? It’s completely bat-shit crazy! You instantly think of a gorilla in the Old West gunning down bad guys. How did he get there? How did he learn to use those guns? Who is he killing and why? Heck, where is he going to get the forty pounds of fruit and veggies a day he needs to keep from starving! There’s a very good reason why that character has survived in the imagination these many decades.
7b. …but it really is a straight-forward western. How do you manage that?
I believe that this sort of thing is most fun when it’s played as straight as possible. I did my research, for one thing, on both gorillas and the Old West. I always do a ton of research for any project I write because it’s fun and it makes my job easier. I was tempted to go a more absurd route, to go Garth Ennis with lots of crude humor and outrageous gore, but why do Garth Ennis when I can do me?  Why would *any* writer use a voice other than their own? I’m just making the comic I want to read.
This is a Pulp hero story all the way, and even though the Pulps were invented as disposable literature, these characters have survived generations for a *reason*. The Shadow, Zorro, the Lone Ranger, Zatoichi, Sinbad, James Bond… Alan Moore can poo-poo superhero stories as junk food for emotionally and intellectually stunted adults all he likes, but for some deep, Jungian reason we need these heroes and need to hear their stories over and over again. The world is an unfair place, so we need these heroic figures that represent justice to restore some sense of balance, even if it’s just in our imaginations.

8. Beyond the surface -a gorilla shooting bad guys -are there any overarching themes in this story?
It’s a story about identity, figuring out not just who you are but what you are, where you fit into the world. That can be especially tough if you growing up feeling so different from everyone around you. I speak from experience. Now imagine you’re a freaking gorilla in the human world! It’s on the vengeance trail that Kumba discovers himself, this terrible rage at the core of his being and its source.
Ultimately, it’s TARZAN in reverse. TARZAN THE APE MAN is a Pulp story, but it just happens to be one of the best ever written. Burroughs wasn’t a perfect writer and he completely botched the ending, but that first half or so dealing with the origins of the character? Pure magic. You quickly realize that you’re not being told just a story, but a myth. Sure he swiped the idea from Kipling, but Burroughs’ creation is unique and, with a little luck, so is my SIX-GUN GORILLA.

Thanks!

Hey, thank you! This is a little itty bitty indie comic that’s still looking for a publisher, so we appreciate all the attention we can get.

[NOTE: Check out the Six-Gun Gorilla Facebook page!]
 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards Submissions for 2013 Books




Just a reminder: Submissions to the Peacemaker Awards are open until midnight January 31, 2014.

Qualifications: Copyright dates must be between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013. To be submitted in the Best Western Novel category, works must have been published by a reputable publisher that pays advances and/or royalties. Proof of the viability of the publisher is the submitter’s responsibility and must be provided on request. Publishers that cannot be verified to meet the above standards will not be considered for a WF Peacemaker Award in the Best Western Novel category. Books and short stories may be published in any country in the world (submissions must be in English) in print or electronic format. Electronic submissions must be made with Word or PDF files. WF reserves the right to decline any submission for consideration of an Award.

Authors, agents, or publishers may submit a work for consideration of an Award. 

At least three entrants in the Best Western First Novel must be received during the submission period for an Award to be presented.

Novels and short stories must be set in the time period between 1830-1920 to be considered Westerns under WF guidelines.  

Nominees for the WF Peacemaker Award will be announced on 04/15/2014 and the winners will be announced on 06/01/2014.

The WF Peacemaker Award will be awarded in four categories:

Best Western Novel – Any novel published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 30,000 words and higher. There are no format requirements. The novel may be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook, as long it has been published by an appropriate publisher. 

Best Independently Published Western Novel  – Any self-published novel published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 30,000 words and higher. There are no format requirements. The novel may be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook. 

Best Western Short Fiction – Any short story, novelette, or novella published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 500 words to 29,999 words. There are no format requirements.The short story may be published in any publication, print or electronic, and can be self-published. 

Best Western First Novel – Must meet the same requirements as Best Novel or Best Independently Published Novel, and must be the author’s first published Western novel. If the author has published novels in any other genre they will not disqualify the author from the Best Western First Novel Award competition. Submissions for Best Western First Novel may also be submitted in the appropriate Best Novel category in the same year.

Procedures: If in print form, one copy of the work must be sent to each judge (3 per category), accompanied with the appropriate form. One copy of the work should be sent with the appropriate form to the Awards Chair, along with an emailed electronic version of the work in Word or PDF format. If a work was published only as an eBook, an electronic version should be emailed to the Awards Chair. The electronic submissions will be distributed to the judges by the Awards Chair. All entries must be postmarked by January 31, 2014, or received by email by midnight, CST, January 31, 2014. Judges should not be contacted by any entrant concerning their entry during the consideration period. Doing so may result in disqualification of eligibility for the WF Peacemaker Award. Works submitted will not be returned after the awards have been announced. There is no fee to enter. There will be no exceptions made to the submission procedures, for any reason.  

You can find information about how to submit on the Western Fictioneers website.

Friday, December 27, 2013

ON THIS DAY - CARRIE NATION by Meg Mims

On December 27th, 1900, a dour-faced woman stood before the saloon doors in the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas. Intimidating at almost six feet tall and 185 pounds, Carrie Nation marched in with a hatchet and began smashing the place—the tables and chairs, the bottles and the mirror behind the bar, until the law arrived and arrested her.

Born Carrie Amelia Moore in November of 1846, to parents George and Mary Campbell Moore of Kentucky—slaveowners—she had little education due to the family’s financial troubles that brought about several moves until settling in Missouri. During the War of Rebellion, she nursed soldiers to health and then married a physician, Dr. Charles Gloyd, who had served with the Union Army. Her husband was also an alcoholic—not unusual, given the culture of the day when babies were given whiskey to quiet them, or worse. Carrie and Charles decided the marriage wasn’t working before they had a daughter, Charlien, on September 27, 1868. Carrie had no need for a divorce, since her husband died the following year.

Carrie married for the second time in 1874. David Nation was an attorney, newspaperman and a minister and almost twenty years older. Together they moved to a cotton plantation in Texas but failed to proper. David began to practice law, and in 1880 Carrie ran a hotel in Columbia owned by the Park family. She attended the Methodist Church and lived at the hotel with her daughter Charlien, her first mother-in-law and her husband’s daughter. David also owned a saddle shop near the hotel, but the family chose to move to Richmond, Texas, to run another hotel. Due to her husband’s involvement in a political feud, they moved to Kansas. David began preaching and Carrie took on another hotel to run. But Kansas also had enacted a ban on liquor—with plenty of trouble enforcing the law.


Although Carrie started a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the group seemed to have little effect on the problem. So Carrie took a personal interest, first using rocks to smash bottles in saloons to protest the lack of enforcement, or singing hymns to patrons going in and out of places serving liquor. She often greeted saloon keepers as “destroyers of men’s souls,” or as “swill-faced, beak-nosed bed mates of Satan.” By 1899 Carrie felt God had called her to step up the work – taking her husband’s advice to use a hatchet for better effect.


Carrie divorced David in 1901, having never had children with him, and continued her campaign either accompanied by other WCTU members or alone. She was often arrested, and her fame grew through her “hatchetations.” She undertook lecture tours and sold small souvenir hatchets for another ten years until her death on June 9, 1911. The WCTU erected a stone to honor her near the unmarked grave in Missouri, with her name spelled as “Carry A. Nation” and “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could.”


Meg Mims is an award-winning author with two western mysteries under her Eastern belt. She lives in Michigan, where the hills are like driveway slopes and trees block any type of prairie winds. LIKE her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her books on her websiteDouble Crossing won the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel and Double or Nothing is the exciting sequel. Her story, "A Savior Is Born," is included in A Wolf Creek Christmas published by Western Fictioneers.




Thursday, December 26, 2013

THE DOCTOR'S BAG




I THINK IT'S BUSTED, DOC!

By Keith Souter  aka CLAY MORE


It is a dangerous business being a character in a western novel. You can get shot at, tossed off a horse, hurled through a saloon window or be pushed over a ravine. You have seen it on the movies, read it in the novels or written about it yourself. Any of them can have fatal consequences, but more often than not in this fictional world that we love so much the result is a broken bone somewhere. And then the Doc comes along just in time to hear that speculative diagnosis - "I think it's busted, Doc!"


                                           A Dash for the Timber by Frederic Remington

And of course, an examination reveals all, a splint is manufactured, a dose or two of laudanum and "You'll be up and about in no time at all."

But in real life it is often more complex than that.

 
                                             The BroncoBuster by Frederic Remington

The birth of orthopaedics
We know that doctors have been setting bones since the days of the ancient Egyptians. We have surgical papyri outlining treatments and mummies have been found with splints made of bamboo, reeds, wood or bark, padded with linen.

The roman physician Galen (129-199 AD) treated gladiators and recorded his treatments in his medical and surgical encyclopaedias. His treatments were used as the basis for treatments all the way up the the Renaissance.

The name orthopaedics was first used  in 1741 in France, when Nicholas Andry, a professor of medicine at the University of Paris coined it from the Green words 'orthos,' meaning 'bone' and 'paideia' meaning 'rearing of children'. His book Orthop├ędie was about the prevention and correction of musculoskeletal deformities in children. There was a real need for this since there were many diseases that could cause problems like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), abnormalities in the growth of bones (e.g., tuberculosis), various infections (osteomyelitis), vitamin disorders (e.g. vitamin D deficiency causing rickets or bowed legs), and conditions that could cause paralysis, such as poliomyelitis.


                                                     Professor Nicholas Andry (1658-1742)

So, the specialty of orthopaedics was originally all about treating children to prevent problems. The treatment of fractures became added along the way.

The frontispiece for his book showed a sapling supported by a staff. This has been taken as the logo of orthopaedic institutions and organisations across the world ever since.



In   Jean-Andre Venel established the first orthopaedic institute in 1781 for the treatment of children.

Splints and supports
As mentioned above, splints of various forms have been used from the times of antiquity. The purpose of them is simply to support the leg and prevent movement of the broken ends of the broken bone.

In medieval times surgeons knew that fractures bones had to be kept in place. One method of doing this was to soak bandages in horses' urine. As the bandage dried it would stiffen into a splint.

Plaster of Paris casts
This was a fantastic addition to the surgeon's armamentarium of treatments. It was the invention of Antonius Mathysen, a Dutch military surgeon in 1851. Essentially, a continuous bandage is wound round and round the limb then soaked in Plaster of Paris. It is called this because it was first used extensively in Paris in medicine and in building.



Essentially, it is made from gypsum, which is heated to produce anhydrous calcium sulphate. When water is added to this it forms gypsum again and hardens.  Hardening takes place very quickly, but it has to dry out. The larger the cast, the longer it takes. An arm cast will dry out in 3-6 hours and a leg cast may take up to 6 hours.Yet full drying may not be complete for 72 hours.

Diagnosis of fractures
Nowadays we are very dependent on x-rays, but in the old West there was no such thing. William Roentgen discovered them in 1895. Only a year later, Dr John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England started to use the so-called X-rays in medical diagnosis.

In the Old West doctors relied on physical examination to diagnose fractures. Then, and now fractures would be divided into two broad types:
  • Closed or simple fractures - when the skin is intact.
  • Open or compound or - when the broken bone protrudes through the skin.
The type of fracture can vary immensely. We talk about a 'clean break' meaning a simple transverse fracture. But it can also be oblique, as can happen with a torsion injury. Or it can be comminuted, meaning fragmented, It can be complicated by causing blood vessel or nerve damage. And it can be a 'greenstick' (as happens in youngsters, when a bone gets bent and only partially fractures).



The principles of treatment of fractures was relatively simple then. If moving the part of the body distal to (furthest away from the site of the pain) caused extreme pain or if  grating could be felt, then a fracture would be diagnosed. 

The bone had to be set. That is, the limb had to be stretched in order to make sure it was the same length as the other. This would give the best chance to get the two broken ends in position against one another to allow healing to take place.

Without the use of x-rays it is very likely that all manner of injuries would end up being diagnosed as a fracture. The treatment would involve immobilising the part and hopefully, the injured part would just 'knit together' and be whole again after a few weeks. Remember, that nature actually does the healing, not the doctor, surgeon or nurse. All that they do is create the best circumstances for nature to do its job.

And of course if the 'broken bone' healed up all right, it would bring nothing but kudos to the doctor, whether it actually had been a fracture or not.


Bone healing
What actually happens when the bone ends are back in opposition is that a large haematoma, or blood clot forms around the ends. This is rather like jelly. After a few days blood vessels grow into it and cells called phagocytes start digesting any debris and tissue that won't heal. Then other cells called fibroblasts start to lay down collagen, that forms a frameworks around the bone ends. This secures the  one ends and new bone is laid down. As a rule of thumb, most bones will have knitted in about 6 weeks.

Some fractures worth knowing about
There are lots of different fractures, many of which are named after the doctors or surgeons who first described them. Some of the ones which our western doctors would have known about are as follows:

Colles fracture
A fracture of the distal radius one inch (2.5 cm) above the wrist. It was described by Abraham Colles an Irish professor of anatomy in 1814. It is sustained by falling on the outstretched hand as when you try to break your fall. The problem is that the broken bone gets displaced and causes a dinner-form abnormality if it is not replaced in posit and immobilised. It takes 4- 6 weeks to heal.

Bennett's fracture 
This is one that could occur in saloon brawls, or whenever a really hard surface was punched. If you swing at someone and they duck, causing you to punch the wall, you may end up with a Bennett's fracture. It can also occur if someone punches someone else's skull! It is a fracture of the first metacarpal, the big bone at the base of the thumb. It is also common in people who have never learned how to punch correctly - which is most people! It was described by Edward Hallaran Bennett, professor of surgery at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland in 1882. It needs immobilisation of for 4-6 weeks.

Scaphoid fracture
This is not named after anyone, but is the name of one of the bones of the wrist. It also occurs when you try to break your fall. It causes pain in the 'anatomical snuffbox.'  This is an area at the base of the thumb. It is called this because in days of yore when folk took snuff, they placed a pinch in the lilt depression on the ice of the wrist formed when you elevate the thumb perpendicular to the hand. The problem with this fracture is that the scaphoid has a variable blood supply and in many people the blood supply comes distally. That is, blood vessels do a U-turn to supply the bone from its far end. If they do not also have a blood supply going directly into the base of the bone (that is, from the top and bottom) then non-union of the bone can occur and the piece without the blood supply can die.

Monteggia fracture
This is a fracture of the proximal third of the ulna (the larger bow in the forearm) with dislocation of the head of the radius (the smaller bone). It was named after Giovanni Monteggi, (1762-1815) an Italian professor of anatomy and surgery. It occurs with a fall and a twist. It is a difficult one to treat because the breaks and the two bones are hard to get in the right positions.  Nowadays it may necessitate operation.

Clavicle fracture
The collar bone is commonly injured in contact sports and fights. A direct blow to the upper chest can  fracture it, most usually at the junction between the middle and outer thirds. They heal up very well generally. We used to use figure of eight bandages and a sling, but really they generally just heal without any intervention.


Fracture of neck of femur
The femur is the thighbone. The two main parts are the neck of the femur, where it forms the hip joint and the shaft, the main part of the thigh.  This is the sort of fracture that happens in older people who may have osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone. This is nowadays treated by internal reduction and fixation. It is probably not going to occur to your hero or heroine in the western novel, but could to another character. It classically causes a great deal of pain after a fall or twist, and the leg will show external rotation due to the weight of the limb.


Fracture of the shaft of the femur
This can occur with any large trauma, either directly from a blow or from a fall. Depending upon which part of the shaft is affected the muscles will move the two parts ion different directions. The first aid treatment would be to strap the two legs together, so that the good leg acts as a splint.

Skull fracture
The big thing here is the possibility of a hemorrhage inside the skull or into the brain. In terms of the novel, the big question would be whether to trephine or not. That is, whether to make a hole in the skull to release blood.

This just happens to be one of the questions that Doc Logan Munro is forced to consider in Wolf Creek 8: Night of the Assassins. But you will find no spoilers here!

And it is also a question posed to Doc Marcus Quigley in Dead Man's Game.
______________________________________________________________________________
 Clay More's character of Dr Logan Munro, the town doctor is appearing in several of the Wolf Creek novels







And his other new character, Doc Marcus Quigley, dentist, gambler and occasional bounty hunter continues in his quest to bring a murderer to justice, in DEAD MAN'S GAME the last in his  ebook short stories THE ADVENTURES OF DOCTOR MARCUS QUIGLEY published by High Noon Press.



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas During the Civil War

From our outfit to yours, Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Did you know that the modern Christmas we celebrate today began in this country just prior to the Civil War?  Have you ever wondered why Santa Claus is from the North Pole? The answer comes from the division of the North and South during the Late Unpleasantness.

Christmas cards weren't as prevalent then but a few were sent out and caroling was done in public places.  Trees were cut down, taken into homes and decorated. Soldiers even set up trees in their camps, often decorating them with hardtack.  But soldiers couldn't relax around camp celebrating the holiday. They had to hunt for firewood and attend to the other duties of camp life.

Santa Claus appeared publicly for the first time in a department store in Philadelphia in 1849. The modern image of Santa Claus came to life during the War and was popularized by Harper's Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast, a staunch Union supporter, who allied Santa with the Union Army and depicted him in several cartoons interacting with Union troops. Abraham Lincoln later said that the Santa who appeared in Harper's Weekly was "the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had."  And it was Nast, after the War who made Santa's home the 'North' Pole.

Yet the War had a major impact on how the holiday was celebrated. The country was torn apart for four long years, loved ones went off to fight and many were never heard from again.

One soldier wrote, "You have no idea how lonesome I feel this day. It's the first time in my life I'm away from loved ones at home."

The Christmas of 1861 was described by Sallie Brock Putnam of Richmond, VA.

"Never before had so sad a Christmas dawned upon us. Our religious services were not remitted and the Christmas dinner was plenteous of old; but in nothing did it remind us of days gone by. We had neither the heart nor inclination to make the week merry with joyousness when such a sad calamity hovered over us."

The War did not stop for Christmas and many skirmishes were fought on that day. On December 25, 1862, Confederate general John Hunt Morgan launched his Christmas Raid in Kentucky.

The Union blockade in the later years of the War had a dramatic affect on how the holiday was celebrated in the South. Due to the hardships of the war and restrictions caused, many children were told that Santa wouldn't be able to get through the blockade and gifts weren't as prevalent in the South as they were in the North, but children were given anything their parents could spare.


Perhaps the biggest Christmas present of the War was given to Abraham Lincoln when William Tecumseh Sherman pillaged Georgia and presented Lincoln with the city of Savannah via telegram.  "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 100 and 50 guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton."


Thomas Nast illustration of a couple separated by the War

Although the Christmas tradition has stayed pretty much the same, it is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to celebrate the holiday during such turbulent times.


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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL !


Christmas Rush by Jack Sorenson

HERE'S HOPING YOU AND YOURS HAVE A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS AND A FANTASTIC 2014 AROUND THE BEND!
BEST WISHES FROM THE WESTERN FICTIONEERS!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review Roundup: Artists and Killers



West of the Big River: The Artist
By Jackson Lowry
Western Fictioneers, December 2013
$9.99 paperback, ISBN 1490442073
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN 1490442073
$2.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781301936823
222 pages

Before he was a celebrated artist, Charles M. “Charlie” Russell worked as a cowhand. In West of the Big River: The Artist, author Jackson Lowry brings the pre-fame Russell to life as a footloose laggard who grows into his heart and soul during a brutal Montana winter.

Lowry does an exceptional job of imbuing the fictionalized first-person account of a few brief-but-intense weeks with self-effacing humor and depth. Readers will feel Charlie’s fatigue, the bitter cold, and the even more bone-chilling fear. Charlie Russell is no hero; in fact, he just barely qualifies as a cowboy. Relegated to night herd because of his poor skills with horses, guns, and lassos, Charlie’s artistic ability puts him — unwillingly — at the center of a rustling caper. Although he’d much rather fade into the background and draw or paint, suddenly he finds himself deputized and chasing some very bad, gun-wielding outlaws. The result is an uncommon mixture of comedy and drama that lends a spritely pace to the story.

Lowry’s prose overflows with charm and wit, creating characters and situations that virtually leap from the pages. Under the author’s pen, the west comes to life as vividly as it did under Russell’s brushes and chisel. The Artist is a recommended read, not only for entertainment value, but also for the inescapable notion that this glimpse may provide a very close approximation of the real man behind the artist’s legend.


Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins
By Ford Fargo
Western Fictioneers, October 2013
$8.99 paperback, ISBN 1493550497
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B00GFEZA5A
$2.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781301591183
160 pages

On its best days, Wolf Creek, Kansas, isn’t a peaceful sort of place, but when a local drug lord and brothel owner decides the town ain’t big enough for him and any competitors, things go completely to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. Disembodied heads in bloody burlap sacks start showing up on doorsteps … and that’s the least of the town’s worries.

Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins may be the most blood-drenched volume in the Wolf Creek series yet. Except for a brief foray into Old West forensics courtesy of town doc Logan Munro (written by Clay More), violent deaths stack up like tumbleweeds against a fence. Munro’s chapter, which provides an up-close look at an 1871 autopsy, offers the only opportunity readers will have to catch their breath. When a detailed, clinical examination of decapitation victims is the “light” reading in a novel ... well, draw your own conclusions.

Hostler and former Texas Ranger Ben Tolliver (James J. Griffin) is the first to find one of Chinese “businessman” Tsu Chiao’s gory messages. Tolliver responds by storming Tsu’s opium den and provoking a brawl with the kingpin’s bodyguards, some of whom don’t survive. Then hired gun Wesley Quaid (Matthew Pizzolato) and a small group of ranch hands tangle with Tsu’s imported assassins. More violence, blood, and death ensue.

Racial tension grows bowstring-tight as the mysterious, largely invisible assassins strike at will and then disappear. Even Wolf Creek residents who are reasonably well behaved (by local standards) begin forming mobs with the intention of ridding the prairie of all Celestials. A full-scale riot seems inevitable about the time mild-mannered schoolteacher Cora Sloan (Bill Crider) forms a one-woman vigilance committee and commences to shooting folks in order to protect a law-abiding Chinese family. Poor Marshal Sam Gardner (Troy Smith) and his deputies are at their wits’ end trying to keep a lid on the town by backing down one side and then the other — repeatedly. Thank goodness Samuel Jones’s (Chuck Tyrell) San Francisco connections prove to be a literal lifesaver, albeit a violent, bloody one.

Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins is Old West action on steroids. Still, the book manages to add education and a walloping dose of surprise to the non-stop entertainment. Fans of the series definitely won’t be disappointed, but they may find themselves asking “how will Ford Fargo top this?”


A Fire in Brimstone
By Tom Rizzo
Cane Hollow Press, December 2013
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00H8CKGUC
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310009129
32 pages

Can a man buy redemption with the wages of sin? Sheriff Cass Ryan sure hopes so, because his only other option is to consign the entire town of Brimstone to Hell.

As plots go, the reformed outlaw facing down specters from his past is as old as the western genre itself. In A Fire in Brimstone, author Tom Rizzo does nothing new with the basics, but the way he constructs an intricate plot in only thirty-two pages will keep readers inside the story from start to finish. With his second work of fiction, Rizzo establishes himself as the sort of “plotty” writer who could woo mystery and thriller fans to westerns.

The ending may seem a bit too easy and lacking in consequences, but it’s satisfying and fits the story. The real fun in reading A Fire in Brimstone is in watching the jigsaw puzzle come together.



Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received review copies of Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins and West of the Big River: The Artist from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.