Saturday, December 23, 2017




Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I posted this several years ago, but it bears repeating in this hustle-and-bustle, disposable-goods world we've grown accustomed to. Let me share it with you again...

Several years ago, I had just sold my first short story to Adams Media's Rocking Chair Reader series. I was on Cloud 9! This story, SILVER MAGIC, was the 2nd story I sold to them and would appear in their first Christmas collection, Classic Christmas: True Stories of Holiday Cheer and Goodwill. I want to share it with you here. This story is true, and is one of the most poignant tales I could ever tell about my grandfather--he died when I was eleven. I never saw this side of him, and I don't think very many people did--that's what makes this Christmas story so special. I look forward to your comments!

SILVER MAGIC by Cheryl Pierson

Did you know that there is a proper way to hang tinsel on the Christmas tree?

Growing up in the small town of Seminole, Oklahoma, I was made aware of this from my earliest memories of Christmas. Being the youngest in our family, there was never a shortage of people always wanting to show me the right way to do—well, practically everything! When it came to hanging the metallic strands on the Christmas tree, my mother made it a holiday art form.

“The cardboard holder should be barely bent,” she said, “forming a kind of hook for the tinsel.” No more than three strands of the silver magic should be pulled from this hook at one time. And, we were cautioned, the strands should be draped over the boughs of the tree gently, so as to avoid damage to the fragile greenery.

Once the icicles had been carefully added to the already-lit-and-decorated tree, we would complete our “pine princess” with a can of spray snow. Never would we have considered hanging the icicles in blobs, as my mother called them, or tossing them haphazardly to land where they would on the upper, unreachable branches. Hanging them on the higher branches was my father’s job, since he was the tallest person I knew—as tall as Superman, for sure. He, too, could do anything—even put the serenely blinking golden star with the blonde angel on the very highest limb—without a ladder!

Once Christmas was over, I learned that there was also a right way to save the icicles before setting the tree out to the roadside for the garbage man. The cardboard holders were never thrown out. We kept them each year, tucked away with the rest of the re-useable Christmas decorations. Their shiny treasure lay untangled and protected within the corrugated Bekins Moving and Storage boxes that my mother had renamed “CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS” in bold letters with a black magic marker.
At the end of the Christmas season, I would help my sisters undress the tree and get it ready for its lonely curbside vigil. We would remove the glass balls, the plastic bells, and the homemade keepsake decorations we’d made in school. These were all gently placed in small boxes. The icicles came next, a chore we all detested.

We removed the silver tinsel and meticulously hung it back around the little cardboard hook. Those icicles were much heavier then, being made of real metal and not synthetic plastic. They were easier to handle and, if you were careful, didn’t snarl or tangle. It was a long, slow process—one that my young, impatient hands and mind dreaded.

For many years, I couldn’t understand why everyone—even my friends’ parents’—insisted on saving the tinsel from year to year. Then one night, in late December, while Mom and I gazed at the Christmas tree, I learned why.

As she began to tell the story of her first Christmas tree, her eyes looked back through time. She was a child in southeastern Oklahoma, during the dustbowl days of the Depression. She and her siblings had gotten the idea that they needed a Christmas tree. The trekked into the nearby woods, cut down an evergreen, and dragged it home. While my grandfather made a wooden stand for it, the rest of the family popped and strung corn for garland. The smaller children made decorations from paper and glue.

“What about a star?” one of the younger boys had asked.

My grandfather thought for a moment, then said, “I’ve got an old battery out there in the shed. I’ll cut one from that.”

The kids were tickled just to have the tree, but a star, too! It was almost too good to be true.

Grandfather went outside. He disappeared around the side of the old tool shed and didn’t return for a long time. Grandma glanced out the window a few times, wondering what was taking so long, but the children were occupied with stringing the popcorn and making paper chains. They were so excited that they hardly noticed when he came back inside.

Grandmother turned to him as he shut the door against the wintry blast of air. “What took you so long?” she asked. “I was beginning to get worried.”

Grandfather smiled apologetically, and held up the star he’d fashioned. “It took me awhile. I wanted it to be just right.” He slowly held up his other hand, and Grandmother clapped her hands over her mouth in wonder. Thin strands of silver magic cascaded in a shimmering waterfall from his loosely clenched fist. “It’s a kind of a gift, you know. For the kids.”

“I found some foil in the battery,” he explained. “It just didn’t seem right, not to have icicles.”

In our modern world of disposable commodities, can any of us imagine being so poor that we would recycle an old battery for the metal and foil, in order to hand-cut a shiny star and tinsel for our children’s Christmas tree?

A metal star and cut-foil tinsel—bits of Christmas joy, silver magic wrapped in a father’s love for his family.

This is a fantastic little anthology you might enjoy any time of year. If you'd like to read the wonderful stories in this collection, here's the link at Amazon. This is a true "bargain", but is only available from 3rd party sellers at this time as it is out of print.


Have a wonderful Christmas and here's hoping 2018 will be a fantastic year for each and every one of us!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Go To The Rodeo

Modern rodeo had its start with the Spanish ranchos in California. It's very difficult to trace the first rodeo in America. Many towns make this claim, including Santa Fe, New Mexico (1847), Deer Trail, Colorado (1869) and Pecos, Texas (1883). Much of what we know today as the sport of rodeo came from the Prescott, Arizona rodeo on July 4, 1888. Their committee established the following that still hold true today: prizes awarded, rules for competition, admission charged, cowboys invited to compete, and a committee to organize.

The events included bronco riding, steer roping and cow pony races. In 1889, the first steer riding competition was held, and by 1917, calf roping was added to the list of events.

Here are some of the events you will see at the rodeo:

Saddle bronc riding: Each rider must begin the ride with his feet over the horse's shoulders to give the animal an advantage. Scoring depends on the cowboy's control throughout the ride, the length of his spur sweeps, the synchronization of those sweeps with the bucking of the horse, and how hard the horse actually bucks. Riders are disqualified if they touch the animal, the equipment or themselves with their free hand; if either foot slips out of the stirrup; if they drop the bronc rein, or if they are bucked off.

Bareback bronc riding: Scoring is similar to saddle bronc riding, but the rider has only a leather and rawhide "rigging" to hold onto with one hand. The horse's performance counts fifty percent of the score in this event.

Bull riding: Bull riders usually don't spur the animals -- it's enough to remain atop an animal weighing several tons who is as quick as he is hefty! The rider usually tries to lean forward "over his head" at all times to avoid being whipped backwards when the animal bucks. Scoring is similar to bronc riding, with the bull's performance counting for fifty percent of the score.

Tie-down roping: Success in this event depends on teamwork between the cowboy and his horse. Once the calf is given a head start, horse and rider give chase and attempt to rope and tie the calf. A ten-second penalty is given if the cowboy "breaks the barrier" and fails to give the calf its full head start. The run is considered invalid if the calf kicks free of the rope within six seconds. Tie-down roping is a timed event, with scoring based on how long it takes to rope and tie the calf.

Steer wrestling (Bull-dogging): The steer wrestler starts on horseback, assisted by a mounted hazer who keeps the steer running in a straight line. The wrestler must leap down beside the steer and wrestle it to the ground by twisting its horns. The clock stops when the steer is on its side with all four legs pointing in the same direction. This is another timed event, with scoring depending on how quickly the cowboy can down his steer.

Team roping: The first cowboy (the header) ropes the steer's horns or neck (or "half head," which is one horn and the neck). He then dallies his rope around the saddle horn and turns the steer in an arc to the left. The second cowboy (the heeler) then attempts to lasso both hind legs. A ten-second penalty is given if only one leg is roped. Time is stopped when both horses are facing one another.

Barrel racing: Horse and race into the arena, with time starting as soon as they enter. They ride a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the arena and race back out, with time stopping at their exit. The riders can touch or move the barrels, but a five-second penalty is given for any barrel knocked over.

Now you and your characters can enjoy a good rip-snorting rodeo in the Old West.

J.E.S. Hays

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Story Behind the Unfinished Story

Writers have their own kind of jargon.

People who write without a formal outline on hand sometimes refer to themselves as “pantsers” as in “writing by the seat of the pants.” Or we say that we “write into the dark.”

This month you might hear your normally lucid and rational writer friend start babbling about “NaNoWriMo” —which stands for National Novel Writing Month, a time when some hunker down during the holidays to finally finish that WIP.

And there’s another one! (WIP is—of course—an acronym for Work in Progress.)

The piece of jargon I’ve been thinking about today is “Trunk Story.” How many of you reading this have a trunk story you could dredge up, probably within a few minutes? How many of you have more than one?

Here’s another question. Should a Trunk Story be complete?

Is it a finished work, but put away in the trunk—nowadays usually an electronic trunk—because it didn’t find a home or was deemed unworthy?

Or, like old scraps stashed away in a quilter’s horde, is a lot of the material in your trunk in pieces?

Three years ago, I started on one such scrap, a story called “If Stars Hate Wire.”

It started off well enough. It ended without an ending. Or and ending that left me thinking...what next?

Tuck O’Brian and Ron Bruce are two cowboys in 1903 Nebraska, working on the Graham-Jessom spread. Like a lot of ranch hands at the time, they’re forced to deal with a changing landscape. The Kinkaiders are coming, and these new settlers (often called “nesters”) seem to be getting all the breaks.

And all the sympathy.

I had two reasons I wanted to explore Tuck and Ron’s story. One was to take a look at the traditional rancher vs. farmer conflict from the POV of a typical cowboy of the times. I also wanted to write about the general development of the Nebraska Sandhills.

I got a few pages in, enjoyed what I had written.

And just stopped.

Sometimes we stop because we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes we’re just not happy with what we’ve done. We don’t like the characters. Or maybe the setting seems wrong.

In this case, I stopped because I realized early on that this was going to be longer than a few thousand words. The scope of the story was more than I was comfortable committing to in the few days I had to write.

Now that it's back out in the open...I'm not so sure.  Please give it a read and tell me what you would do. Would you wrap it up, or continue? Or put it back in the trunk?

Please share some comments, and your own Trunk Story stories below.

You can read the unfinished story “If the Stars Hate Wire,” here.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at

Sunday, November 26, 2017


The Christmas season is upon us, and you all know what that means. Well, besides the end-of-year writing deadlines and book releases! Even we head-in-the-clouds writers are expected to hang a wreath on a fence post and shove a little something in the oven in case relatives or neighbors drop by. I suggest any recipe with apples and cinnamon. With that heavenly scent in the air, no one will notice that your Christmas tree has a list to starboard, or that the gifts underneath are still in Target bags.

When you spend your time writing about the people and events of a century and a half ago, you begin to see everything–even holidays– through the lens of history. For instance, when did we switch from buying things in burlap bags, then wrapping them in pretty boxes to buying things in pretty boxes and wrapping them in burlap? (I'm amazed by the smallest things.)

Many works of historical fiction include family scenes that take place at Christmas, the Fourth of July, and other holidays. It is not safe to assume that people always observed those occasions in the same ways that we do. For instance, it wasn’t until the 1850s that celebrating Christmas really took hold in the United States, and each community was likely to decorate one tree in the center of town rather than display them in their homes. Strangely, tomato soup was a favored dish for St. Valentine’s Day, as were other red, white, or pink foods. And where did I find such a holiday trivia tidbit?

As luck would have it, my cowgirlfriend Sherry Monahan has just released a wonderful book called Tinsel, Tumbleweeds, and Star-Spangled Celebrations: Holidays on the Frontier from New Year’s to Christmas. (Like me, Sherry can often be found whipping up dishes in the kitchen when she’s not writing.) Included are holiday family customs, historic accounts, decorating notes, and tons of authentic recipes right out of the 1800s. It’s a great reference tool, not to mention a fine Christmas gift for your writer friends.

Here’s an excerpt regarding gift ideas:

The list of gift suggestions that were advertised in local papers ran the gamut from fun to practical and included items for adults and children alike. Here’s just a small sampling of nineteenth-century Christmas presents:


            Books, writing desks and portfolios

            Tourists’ cases and diaries, photographic albums

            Chess and backgammon boards

            Fancy stationery, gold pens

            Choice teas, fancy French or American bonbons

            Sewing machines, stoves

            Musical instruments

            Glove boxes, knives, clothing and material, hats

            China, tea sets, cut glass, dinnerware


            Bisque and china dolls and doll furniture

            Mechanical trains, animals, wooden toys

            Hobby horses, blocks, games


Of course, we can assume that many gifts were handmade where there was no access to a general store or mail-order catalog. Apples and oranges were common stocking stuffers in years gone by.

Here is the recipe Sherry included for fruitcake, which she adapted from the San Francisco Bulletin (1879). Yes, fruitcake has been around for a very long time!


1 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup molasses

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon nutmeg, grated

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons brandy

2 pounds raisins

Rum flavoring (optional)

NOTE: You can substitute 2 teaspoons baking powder for the cream of tartar and baking soda.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the molasses and mix until blended. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir.

Combine milk and brandy. Alternately add the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour, stirring after each addition. Beat for an additional 2 minutes. Gently fold in the raisins.

Pour into a greased and floured loaf or ring pan and bake at 350° for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. Liberally apply rum flavoring, if desired.
Tinsels, Tumbleweeds, and Star-Spangled Celebrations is chock full of historical info about all American holidays. HERE is the link to buy the book on Amazon. And, if you see Sherry Monahan, tell her she owes me a cupcake or something.

The merriest of Christmas holidays to you, my friends! Until next month–happy writing, happy decorating, and happy eating.

All the best,


Vonn McKee
“Writing the Range”
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Writers of America Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)