Friday, December 16, 2016


I wrote my first book back in 1995. It is a nonfiction book titled Matsutake Mushroom, which was published in 1997. It is simply a true story about the harvest and sale of wild forest mushrooms, from the Pacific Northwest, for profit.

My education began when I started selling the book.
I visited the publisher to pick up a few copies to get started. When the publisher learned of my intended five-day, three-state tour, she insisted that I take on 400 copies. Despite my reluctance to attempt to sell so many, I took the books. What the heck, if they did not sell, I could always bring them back.

I was received warmly by many small book stores and convenience stores. The average sale was three to five copies. I visited the area where the actual story of the book took place and found that I had many critics. Men would thumb the pages and ask, “Where's the pictures?” Women would ask, “What kind of recipes are in here?” That book contained neither. Where did I go wrong? The story is based on actual facts, which no one can dispute. It seemed that some folks expected something other than what I was offering but, thankfully, by the end of my tour I had sold over 300 copies.

I learned quickly that if you are going to write nonfiction, number one, you better know what you are talking about and number two, don't get too far off the beaten path of what is expected. The book, hard copy only, still sells modestly.

Around 1995 I turned to writing what was and is my predominant interest, which is western fiction.
I never expected to write award winning stories such as those by greats Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey or Max Brand but I felt that I could spin a yarn, which could be construed as actually happening.
I began writing short stories and presented them for consideration with mild success.
In 2011 I was accepted as a member of Western Fictioneers. Happy to correspond with well known authors Robert Randisi, James Reasoner, Frank Roderus, Jory Sherman and others. I was greatly inspired by having a story included in the Fictioneers first anthology, The Traditional West. It got the creative juices flowing.

Troy, Livia, Cheryl and others offered and encouraged me to write compelling stories that aren't necessarily true but could have happened, if given enough historical facts to support the tale. The more facts you can produce, the better.
The actual history involved in a story could leave a writer scratching his head to find a way around it. I will not attempt to change history in any of my stories. The story has to revolve around the facts.

The Wolf Creek series is purely fiction and locked into 1871, now 1872.

In Wolf Creek 16, Luck of The Draw, part two, one of my characters is Luke Short, yes the famous gambler and gunman. Young Luke Short, eighteen at the time, according to history, did participate in driving a herd of cattle to Abilene, Kansas. He wanted to be a gambler so bad that he gave up trailing cattle and set out to make his own way as a professional gambler.
For the purpose of putting a well known name into 'Bet The Boots' I used Luke Short. One, he was a gambler. Two he was in Abilene in 1871 and turned to gambling as a way of life. So I had him stop into Wolf Creek for the poker tournament. In actuality, as far as anyone knows, after Luke left Abilene he was known to be selling rotgut whiskey in a buffalo camp on the plains near what would later become Dodge City.

If Wolf Creek existed at the time, lured by the gambling, why wouldn't Luke pay a visit? In my mind his appearance in the story is believable without disturbing historical facts.

Stretching the truth a little, such as a potion salesman's claims of the miracle cures by the consumption of his product is as far as I will go in pushing the envelope.

Creating heroes, hardships, finding a lost love or having a character cheat, steal, or kill others are enough to keep any writer busy crafting a believable story around historical facts.
Nobody can change history and a good story will reflect the facts as they are.

Jerry Guin is a member of Western Fictioneers and Western Writers of America.

He has authored more than 40 western fiction short stories and 7 western novels.

His latest novel– Once a Drover – was first introduced in 2014 by Western Trailblazer.
It was re-introduced by Sundown Press in 2016.


  1. Excellent post, Jerry! It doesn't matter what time period/genre you write your stories in, you will always have readers who will be checking your facts and be knowledgeable enough to call you on it if you get something wrong. I wrote a medieval story where I had the characters eating stew that included potatoes (this was in Ireland). Thankfully, another author who is an expert and has written medieval stories for many years told me I couldn't do that, as potatoes had not been introduced to Ireland in the years that my story took place. LOL Now that would have been a real mistake that MANY people would have caught. She really saved me. It was one of those things that I just didn't even think about--people not having potatoes--since they're such a staple for us. Then I had to figure out what DID those people put in their soups and stews!????

    Thanks for this post--it's a great reminder!

  2. The details, though seemingly of little consequence, during the writing can come back to haunt.
    You are fortunate to have someone catch it before it went further.
    I am sure that others, including myself, do the best they can to insure that their story is factual but things can get muddled when writing fiction.

  3. Being a military historian first and one who goes into the details on things like weapons, individual equipment, fighting positions, and small unit tactics, I tend to go for historically accurate details in fiction (and really long sentences as here ;-). I have to be careful not to go into too much detail and one of my editing steps is a review for just that. However, I feel an occasional detail of some item or practice can be of interest so long as it pertinent to the story and is brief.

  4. Accurate details gives a feel of realism to a story. I feel that most readers appreciate the fact that the writer either has the knowledge of whatever he is talking about or has spent the time to painstakingly research it.
    Knowing when to keep it simple is an art that you obviously have mastered.
    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Jerry, you just keep right on not expecting to be L'Amour, Grey, and Brand, 'cause I think you're just about the best Jerry Guin I've ever met...and you're stories are dang good, too. ;-)

    I appreciate your position on the facts. IMO, the best historical authors are the ones who play with the facts just enough to make the story interesting without tangling the timeline. (That said, I do enjoy a good alternate history now and again.)

    Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday. :-)

    1. Thank you Kathleen. That's about the best compliment a feller could get. If you were here, I'd grab a hug.
      I agree with you about authors limiting actual facts. Too much might lead to the reader begin to yawn. Actual history stories telling of how people react under stressful situations can be very fascinating.
      And holiday cheers to you.

  6. Good article, Jerry. I think this is where the old writer's adage that you should write about what you know comes in. When I first heard it I thought it meant that a doctor should write about doctors and medicine, a gambler should write about casinos and poker and a plumber should write about pipes and water. I am a doctor, but I didn't want to write a medical novel. I wanted to write about the Old West. Yet I had not then been to the west (I have now) and I did not know a lot about horses, ranching or gunlore. That was when I used my knowledge of medicine and medical history to drop anecdotes and vignettes into my stories. The facts seemed to give my tales more credibility.

    Keep writing. I enjoy your books, which certainly take me to the Old West.


    1. I always figured to pick a subject that was of great interest, research anything available that was pertinent then do the best job I could to write about it. Most of my stories involve people reacting to a past violence and the Old West is a perfect setting for that. I inject actual facts when I can, at times not enough, but I am still learning.
      Your knowledge in the medical field gives authenticity to the western stories you have written. The reader just knows what he is reading is correct and it makes an enjoyable read.
      Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

  7. I think the spirit of the Old West is the most important and the most misunderstood. That said, it's a show-stopper when the basic facts are ignored. What you said about expectations is king. Ignore reader expectations, and you're dead in the water. This is one reason why marketing genre blends is so difficult--the reader doesn't know what to expect.

    Thanks for an excellent post, Jerry!

  8. Well put Jacquie. Folks will not hit the buy button without having an idea of what they are getting. It takes time to develop a readership, something I believe that you have done with your writing.
    Merry Christmas

  9. There's the saying: 'truth is stranger than fiction' but I think you can re-work it as: 'truth is BETTER than fiction.' Early in my career writing westerns, I had to write my first scene set in that staple of westerns - the saloon. Now i could have been lazy and just re-created a cliche saloon, familiar to any viewer of western movies or TV series, with batwing doors etc. Instead I did some research, looking at the Time Life Old West series amongst others and found a frontier saloon that had this written on the wall: REMEMBER TO WRITE TO MOTHER. SHE IS THINKING OF YOU. WE PROVIDE WRITING PAPER AND ENVELOPES FREE, AND HAVE THE BEST WHISKEY IN ARIZONA. I think details like that rescue westerns from the familiar and give them extra flavour and authenticity, so that had to go in my novel! Andrew McBride

  10. You went beyond the expected norm and found something that is cool Andrew. Just goes to show what serious research turns up. I like it.

    1. Feel free to use it, Jerry. After all, I didn't make it up, it's real!

  11. Hey Jerry!

    Great article. So glad to see this post. Keep it up!

  12. Thanks Charlie. You are a gentleman. The best to you this holiday season.

  13. Jerry, what an absolutely great update and summary of where you were, where you are, and how you've gotten there. As a friend and neighbor I have so enjoyed vicariously following your successes. You are the "real thing" and it shows in everything you do. Can't wait to forward this link to so many others with whom I've shared your accomplishments.

    1. Well gee Betty, what a great compliment. I value your input highly. You have always given me encouragement and have been a very good friend to Ginny and I. I have learned from your very actions to face a new challenge by at least giving it a try.
      Thanks again for the kind words.