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)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Hey everyone! The holiday season is upon us! I know--I'm saying "ALREADY?" right along with everyone else. I'm really excited right now because I have several new releases that all just came about at the same time--and let me say, I am THRILLED!

One of my favorite stories that is current is THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON. This was a story that started out as a short story, but I quickly realized there was more to it than that--and luckily, this summer I had a chance of a lifetime to spend several days a week with my 28-year-old son working on our writing projects together--he on his Masters' thesis in Engineering Physics and me on my ongoing writing projects, of which this was one.

A woman with no home…
Beautiful Southern belle Julia Jackson has just been informed she and her niece must find a new home immediately—or else. With no family to turn to in Georgia, Julia takes a mighty gamble and answers an advertisement for a nursemaid in wild Indian Territory—for the child of a man she knows nothing about. Together, she and five-year-old Lauralee waste no time as they flee to the safety of the new position Julia has accepted. She can only hope this move will be the start of a bright future for them away from Lauralee’s dangerous much older half-brother.

A rancher with no heart…
The death of Devlin Campbell’s young daughter has ripped the light from his life. Though the birth of his son, little Jamie, should have been a source of happiness, the subsequent loss of his wife forces Dev to ignore his emotions and trudge through life’s joyless responsibilities. But all that changes with the arrival of Miss Julia Jackson from Atlanta! Not at all what Dev is expecting in response to his ad, his resentment boils over at her failure to mention her tag-along niece—a painful reminder of the loss of his own little girl just two years earlier. Yet, how can he deny the sunshine Julie brings into his drab existence with her very presence?

Can love find a way?
In the depths of Dev’s boundless sorrow and his accompanying anger, is there room in his life for anyone else as Christmas approaches? Can Julie convince him that love is the cure for a broken heart, and hope is the only recipe for a new beginning between THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON…


For the western reader on your Christmas list--or for YOURSELF--try this fantastic anthology of western short stories by a variety of authors--(yep, there's even a Christmas story in there by Big Jim Williams!)

Grab a cup of coffee and settle down into your easy chair to ride the range with some of the most exciting tales of the Old West you’ll find anywhere! This collection is called BEST OF THE WEST for a very good reason—IT IS!

These fourteen stories will have you standing beside lawmen and outlaws as the bullets fly, saddling up some of the best horseflesh to be found West of the Mississippi, and wagering your livelihood on the turn of a card. Tales that include savvy swindles, gunfights, loves lost (and found!), the making of an outlaw and the secret protection of a president will draw you in and hang on tight.

This anthology is bustin’ with acclaimed Western authors such as James Reasoner, Livia J. Washburn, Jackson Lowry, Kit Prate, Charlie Steel, Richard Prosch, Big Jim Williams, Cheryl Pierson, J.L. Guin, Clay More, and David Amendola.
What are you waitin’ for, pardner? You’re burnin’ daylight! Happy trails!



The holidays are a time for SWEET THINGS! Right? Treats AND stories! Here's a collection that will definitely fit the bill--because not only are the stories sweet, this collection is complete with the recipes that are mentioned so that you can make all these scrumptious things for yourself at home! Take a look at SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS!

Christmas in Texas couldn’t be sweeter than these stories of lost love found and new love discovered at the most joyous time of the year! SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS is a boxed set of Christmas novellas that will warm your heart and keep you reading long into the night to see how these couples find their happily-ever-after ending!

With the holiday season in full swing, these western heroes and their ladies come together in a delightful collection of four deliciously sweet Yuletide stories you’re sure to love and remember. Authors Stacey Coverstone, Cheryl Pierson, Sarah McNeal, and Marie Piper have penned these scrumptious Christmas tales just for your reading pleasure, along with a special surprise in each story!

Each of these holiday tales includes a delectable dessert recipe guaranteed to bring an added measure of Christmas sweetness your way! There’s nothing quite like a SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS!


Does anyone love a good mail-order bride story? How about FOUR of them? Take a look at this wonderful set of stories--and these are all full-length BOOKS, not short stories, about the Remington sisters. This set is available for pre-order right this minute, and will magically appear on your Kindle on NOVEMBER 16! Best of all? The entire set is only .99 right now!

Boxed set of four full length mail order bride novels.

Brought up in the wealth and comfort of Eastern “old money” in staid and proper Philadelphia, the Remington sisters are forced to scatter to the four winds and become mail-order brides. In order to gain a fortune, their sinister step-father, Josiah Bloodworth, has made plans to marry them off in loveless marriages. Time is running out, and no matter what lies ahead in their uncertain futures, it has to be better than the evil they’re running from…

LIZZY: Livia J. Washburn
Elizabeth Remington’s world is turned upside down when she is forced to become a mail-order bride. With her cat, Fulton, Lizzy flees to Alaska—only to discover the man she’s to marry is not who she thought he was! Now, she must protect herself from the biggest danger of all—her own heart. Handsome Flint McKinnon has signed his soul away to her step-father, hasn’t he? He’s chased Lizzy across the continent, but can she believe him when he says he loves her?

BELLE: Jacquie Rogers
Belle Remington must marry someone before the dangerous Neville Fenster catches up with her. She hightails it out of Philadelphia to the wilds of Idaho Territory to become a bootmaker's bride, but when she arrives in Oreana, she discovers her groom has been murdered! Now, handsome, inebriated rancher Cord Callahan insists on fulfilling the marriage contract himself. Belle is beautiful and smart as a whip. But she has a secret. When Fenster shows up, can Cord protect the woman he wants to love forever?

SABRINA: Cheryl Pierson
Impulsive Sabrina Remington, the youngest, weds a man she knows her family would disapprove of. Though Cameron Fraser’s family owns a ranch in lawless Indian Territory, he’s made his way in the world with a gun, living barely on the right side of the law. With everything on the line as Bloodworth and his henchmen close in, will Cam be able to protect Sabrina from the desperate man who means to kidnap her for his own wicked purposes?

LOLA: Celia Yeary
Sensible Lola Remington, the eldest of the four sisters, must be certain the others are on their way to safety before she can think of fleeing Philadelphia herself. With the help of a local bridal agency, Lola finds the perfect husband for herself—in the wild countryside of Texas. Jack Rains owns a ranch and he’s in need of a bride—and children, of course! But just when Lola starts to believe there might be a future for them, she discovers a hidden letter from another woman…Jack’s first wife.


That does it for my new releases until January, when I'll have an old favorite, FIRE EYES, included in a new boxed set grouping. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but mainly because I always carve out a little bit of time to just sit by the fire and relax with a good book!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Peacemaker Awards

Don't forget that the Peacemaker Awards are open for submissions in all four categories: Best Western Novel, Best First Western Novel, Best Children's/Young Adult Western Novel, and Best Western Short Fiction. All the rules and details can be found on the Western Fictioneers website here. If you have a book or short story you're planning to submit and it's already out, don't wait for the last minute! Get those submissions in!

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Credit for this article to: Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs website.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect.

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible."

President Eisenhower signed HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. On that same day, President Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans' Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee.
In 1958, the White House advised VA's General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee's chairman.

The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Rodeo: Essential Wild West Show

Rodeo as we know it didn't exist until the late 1800's, but its roots reach back to the Spanish settlement of California and the vast cattle ranches there. Duties on these early ranches, as in modern ones, included roping, horse-breaking, riding, herding and branding. These chores evolved directly into the rodeo events of tie-down roping, team roping, and bonc-riding.

The early 1800's saw the westward expansion of America's borders. Easterners came into contact with Spanish, Mexican, Californio and Texican cowhands and began to copy and adapt their styles. Especially after the Civil War, the cattle business boomed in the West. This was the era of the cowboy and the long cattle drive. At the end of these long drives, American cowboys would hold informal competitions between different outfits to see who were the best riders, ropers and all-around drovers. It was from these competitions that the rodeo was born.

Toward the end of the century, the expansion of the railroads and invention of barbed wire brought an end to the era of the open range. Many cowboys, no longer needed on the vast ranches, sought work with a new phenomenon: the Wild West Show. These shows were partly theater and partly competition, and much of the pageantry and showmanship of rodeo comes directly from them. In fact, today many rodeo competitors call the rodeo a show and themselves performers.

At the same time as the Wild West shows, other cowboys were still holding their informal competitions, only now in front of paying spectators. Small towns across the frontier would hold annual stock horse shows, known as rodeos (ro-DAY-oh; from the Spanish rodear, to surround) or "gatherings," and cowboys would often travel to these gatherings and put on what was known as cowboy competitions. The term rodeo did not come to mean an entertainment event until the 1920's.

Of these two types of shows, only the cowboy competitions would survive. The Wild West shows eventually began to die out, due to the high cost of mounting a performance. Producers began to back the less expensive cowboy competitions at the local stock horse shows, and the joining of the competition with the showmanship of the Wild West show created what we now know as rodeo.

Many towns began to organize their own rodeos, with cowboys paying to compete for prizes and spectators paying to watch. In 1897, the first Cheyenne Frontier Days celebration was held in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It became the single largest riding, roping and western show in the nation.

The only rodeo event with a single, identifiable originator started in 1904, when black cowboy Bill Pickett gave a demonstration of what he called "bull-dogging." Pickett's "dogging style" included biting the upper lip of the steer he was wrestling. The first female joined the show in 1913, when Tillie Baldwin put on a bull-dogging exhibition. Born Mathilda Winger in Norway, she changed her name when she joined Captain Jack Baldwin's Wild West Show in Texas.

Next up: The Ins and Outs of the Rodeo

J.E.S. Hays