Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One man’s view of the WWA convention

Chief Hosteen Manygoats
at the WWA Convention

For the past week, I’ve been on my yearly pilgrimage to the WWA Convention. This year, it was held in Sacramento CA. Next year, the gathering place will be Lubbock TX.

We’d lost our past president Robert Conley, Cherokee extraordinaire and matchless writer, a week after Executive Director Candy Moulton traveled to his home to present him with the Owen Wister Award for his lifetime of literary work. His imprint remains indelibly stamped upon Western Writers of America. He will be missed.

Then, in the midst of the conference, we received word that Jory Sherman, author of more than 400 novels and at least that many short stories, plus a lot of poetry, had passed on. Along with Bob Conley, Jory will be sorely missed.

During the week, we attended panels, discussed this and that about the western genre, and wandered around Old Sacramento to our hearts’ content.

Chinese in the West

Professor Liping Zhu
I won’t attempt to give a synopsis of each panel and event, just the ones I felt especially impressed by. The first was the keynote address by Liping Zhu, history professor at Eastern Washington University.

Dr. Zhu was born in Shanghai, China, and earned a doctorate in Western History from the University of New Mexico in 1994. His advisor was Dr. Paul Hutton, former president of WWA. He instructed us to call him Liping.

In his address, Liping told of the Chinese immigrants to the United States, a total of more than 600,000 people, some 95% of them men. At first, they mined the gold fields. Then worked building railroads. Brought fruit such as Bing cherries (Bing coming from the name of the man who introduced them to the USA). Farmed. Opened laundries and eateries. Prospered. Got an exclusion act passed, forbidding any more immigrants (sound familiar?).

Dr. Liping said the San Francisco earthquake was a blessing in disguise. It destroyed all the records and enabled illegal Chinese immigrants to claim that their mother came from San Francisco. By count, each Chinese woman in San Francisco would have had some 800 children to account for all those who said their mothers were there when the quake hit.

My own novels, The Snake Den (Western Trail Blazer), Diablo(Black Horse Western), and Night of the Assassins of the Wolf Creek series (Western Fictioneers), all feature Oriental characters, some of them in important roles. Now that I have heard Dr. Liping, is think I must read his books: A Chinaman’s Chance, Ethnic Oasis, and The Road to Ethnic Exclusion. Maybe there’s a good character hiding in there somewhere.

The Auction

Each year, an evening is dedicated to an auction, the proceeds of which go to the Homestead Foundation. One of the perennial items auctioned is Robert Conley’s hat. I’ll plagiarize Candy Moulton’s explanation as it appeared in the Roundup, WWA’s magazine.

From WWA Roundup
Robert J. Conley wore a black bowler hat to meetings in the early days, with a pin tacked on representing all the towns where WWA had met. At some point, he decided to honor comrades by giving them the hat to wear until the next convention.

Win Blevins recalled, “When he gave it to me, I suggested that we give it a name. Robert came up with a real original—‘Let’s call it Hat.’ We did.”

. . . Hat was brought to the stage during an early Homestead Foundation Auction, and Dusty Richards made his auctioneer voice ring loud as he “sold” Hat year after year to someone who supported WWA and who respected Conley. It is best not to name those who bought Hat for they know who they are. Suffice it to say hundreds of dollars went to WWA and the Homestead Foundation, thanks to Hat, the black bowler that once belonged to Robert Conley.

Whether or not it will achieve the status of Hat is unknown, but another potential icon surfaced at the Homestead Auction. Johnny D. Boggs, the ultimate liar for fun and profit, held up a CD as the auction action began. He claimed to have received it from a young musician and offered it to the highest bidder. It runs in my mind that the CD went for $10. Some time later, the person who bought the CD came up front and said her CD player was broken and would anyone buy the CD. Again, it sold for about $10. And the third buyer also put the CD up again. Another $10 or so. And again. And again. In the end, the CD earned the Homestead Foundation nearly $100, and who knows if it will show up at the auction next year.

The Spur Awards were presented at the Spur Banquet, the crowning event of the WWA Convention. The MC for the presentations was Clu Gulagher, a friend of Robert Conley’s and an excellent actor.

One last comment.

At 10:30 a.m. on Friday, June 27, editors and agents sat on either side of the center lectern where Bill Markley stood, ready to MC this important panel. More than a dozen people sat before us on the riser. A dozen. And someone said Westerns were dead. Don’t you believe it. Only one university press rep was there, but several Spur contenders were published by university presses. New York publishers were there. Literary agents were there. Young publishers were there, young in the fact that they were less than five years old. Larry Martin of Wolfpack Publishing stood and announced that three of the top 10 Kindle westerns for the week were Wolfpack books. The West is not dead.

Monty McCord leads a panel

Very loosely based on the real Monty McCord


  1. Ah, yes. Hat. I was one of the proud owners of Hat early on. Can't remember what I paid for Hat (which at the time was known only as hat) but whatever it was was worth it. Fun and frolic at WWA.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing what had to have been a wonderful and sad time. Maybe some year I can join the 'fun' Doris

  3. Fun and frolic indeed. From the back of the room I saw many white or glistening head, but there were full heads of hair as well, perhaps more that before. Candy tells me this was the best attended WWA convention in years.

  4. This sounds like such a fun time. Who knew there were that many crazy people in the western fiction community? I'm envious of those who attended. :-)

    The convention will be in Lubbock next year? Lubbock? Talk about going from one extreme to the other! I graduated from college there (Texas Tech). At the time, Lubbock wasn't quite the end of the earth, but you could sure see it from there. ;-)

  5. It was a fun week and I left with my tail feathers on fire to write. The folks at WWA are a friendly outfit...very generous to newbies like me who were looking for career advice and networking opps. It was especially a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Tyrell!

  6. Now I wish I could have made it, Charlie, and started Route 66 from that end! I love your hat, btw.


  7. What a great, detailed account of the WWA convention! Sounds like a lot of fun.