Saturday, January 25, 2014
DESERT HEAT, DESERT COLD AND OTHER TALES OF THE WEST by CHARLIE STEEL
Hello everyone! My last blog was about my father; this posting is about one of my books that came out a few years ago—one of my favorites. I wish my father could have been around to read it. It’s a collection of 17 short stories of mine, some new releases and others reprinted from other publications, totaling 166 pages.
Here is a short excerpt from the review of this book that was originally released by Western Writers of America’s Roundup Magazine.
Steel lists his masters as James Oliver Curwood, Zane Grey, Max Brand, L'Amour, and Jack London, but to this reviewer, there's more than a touch of Ambrose Bierce in some of the shorter tales—-and I'm hardly one to complain about that!
There's also just as much of the round-the-campfire flavor to these yarns as there is of the old pulps——and either quality is a high recommendation, from my side of the fire.
Included in this review is the mentioning of the iconic illustrations by Gail Heath. I have to concur. Those black and white sketches, seventeen in total, exactly match the content and essence of each story. Here are two examples:
Also, Gail Heath and her company, Condor Publishing, Inc., a small Michigan house committed to publishing quality westerns and children’s books, produced this anthology. This includes the final edit and book cover, utilizing PageMaker and Illustrator software for the professional and masterful layout of the book.
As far as this anthology goes, it was difficult for me to decide which short story to choose to quote from, but I finally decided to select the last story in the book. It is entitled DEAD MAN’S SONG. Somehow, this story has become a favorite of mine. Here are several excerpts from that piece:
The opening three paragraphs:
DEAD MAN’S SONG
As he lay up in the jumble of rocks against Badito Cone, Bobby Carter knew he was a dead man. The Indians surrounded him. Three hours before, in the early dawn, he had broken camp and followed the Huerfano River south. He was only three miles from the village of Badito when Tierra Blanca and his small band of Ute warriors jumped him and chased him into the canyon.
Arrows flew in a storm and showered down on the white man among the rocks. Bobby hunkered behind and underneath a hanging boulder as big as a house. The arrows hit and shattered without striking him---but they were close, so very close. Bobby Carter hummed a tune under his breath, as he had since childhood. Always there were songs and melodies in his head.
Tierra Blanca fumed. There were so many whites coming into their lands; if they were not stopped, they would take everything. Already the game was scarce. That white village on the Huerfano was growing larger. Those intruders took over the land and defended it with their steel guns. They had no right. This was Ute land and the time was long past to fight and wipe the invaders out.
The story progresses and the conflict between the musician and the Indians comes to this:
From high in the rocks came a peculiar sound---the ringing of a musical chord. It was a guitar, the same as the Spanish played. And, with the strumming came a clear tenor voice raised in song. Many of the Utes had learned the English tongue---some taught by mountain men, others by whites who came among them. The warriors listened to the voice and the guitar. The music was strange, but pleasant. It carried clearly through the dry air.
“It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry. Sun so hot nearly froze to death, Susannah don’t you cry…”
The song continued. Despite himself, Chief Tierra Blanca smiled. This was a brave man. In all the battles he had fought, never had a foe ever lifted a voice in joy or happiness. The only song he ever heard a man sing was his death chant. This was not that kind of melody. It was clearly a song of gaiety.
And despite the bravery of the musician the hatred and conflict between the party of Utes toward the white man continue:
“Hey, you Utes! How about another song?”
The guitar echoed down again. The cords of the six strings sounded clear and melodious. The man sang from his heart and he had a soothing quality in his voice, despite his dry throat.
“The years creep slowly by, Lorena, the snow is on the grass again; the sun’s low down the sky, Lorena, the frost gleams where the flowers have been; but the heart throbs on as lovely now, as when the days were nigh…”
Again the Ute warriors put down their bows and sat among the rocks to listen. The white man finished his song and quickly went into the lilting refrain of The Yellow Rose of Texas. Chief Blanca leaned his back against a stone in what shade he could find. The Ute Chief looked around at his warriors who sat listening to this man sing. Suddenly, he became angry and barked out orders to attack.
Probably not a good idea with most stories to give away the ending but:
Despite himself, the Ute gave a begrudging smile in recognition of this man’s courage. In answer to his quick signal, the warriors backed away from the ambush and went for their mustangs. The Chief motioned to leave the horse of their foe. In a moment the warriors were mounted. In the clear dry air as they rode away, they heard the second refrain of the song.
“Tis the song, the sigh of the weary, hard times, hard times, come again no more, many days you have lingered around my cabin door; oh hard times come again no more…”
Bobby Carter sang with conviction. He knew that before nightfall he would be dead and lying among the rocks. All his life he had loved music, even in times of trouble. He carried his guitar with him everywhere; it was how he made his living. Bobby was greatly surprised when near the end of the song he heard the hoofs of the Indian ponies beat loudly and then fade into the distance. Despite the welcoming sound, Bobby kept playing and singing. Through dry mouth and rasping throat, he gave it his all. For never in his life had he ever quit in the middle of a performance.
This concludes the excerpts of the final story that ends the seventeen short story anthology, DESERT HEAT, DESERT COLD AND OTHER TALES OF THE WEST. It is my hope that the quotes from this story piqued your interest and that some of you will be motivated to give it a read.
Charlie Steel www.charliesteel.net