Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Anyone here a Bon Jovi fan? I AM! LOL I love his song “I’ll Be There for You”—I’ll try to include a link here before the end of the post. This is one saying that I see a LOT when I’m editing. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, I edit a LOT of historical fiction. I don’t remember ever hearing it “back in the dark ages” of the 1950’s and 1960’s…so I guess maybe the 70’s was when it got to be popular. The 1970’s, not the 1870’s, y’all. I don’t believe a knight would tell his lady he’d “be there” for her…at least not for another 500-800 years, or somewhere around that, anyhow.

Here’s another one that’s jarring to me—the use of “morph” for “change”—it reminds me of those wonderful days when my son Casey was a young boy and so, so crazy about the Power Rangers. Anyone remember them? They were popular in the 1990’s. Five teenagers—two girls and three boys— (later changed to a total of six) who had the power to change from mere teens to THE POWER RANGERS! How did they accomplish this? They gave each other meaningful looks and said, “It’s morphin’ time!” And with some fancy camera work, there they were, in their Power Ranger color-coded uniforms. All…morphed…

How about the response to “Thank you.”? Truly…can you picture a knight responding with “No problem.”? No…me either. Yet, sometimes that’s the response that crops up in historical manuscripts. It doesn’t matter how politely one responds, the response has not been invented or introduced into thought or speech patterns of that time.

Another simple one that turns up a lot in response to “How are you?” is … “I’m good.” When did this phrase come into existence? I don’t ever remember this being said until only in the last couple of decades. When talking about someone else—“He’s good to go.” No…you might hear that on Blue Bloods or Law and Order, but not so much in 1860’s Indian Territory.
"Marshal Tilghman, how are you today?" "I'm good."

Here are a couple of words that tend to creep in a lot—and shouldn’t—flashback and replay. Remember what these words are really saying, what they convey to people of this day and age who are reading the stories we’re writing. A medieval knight or a drifting cowboy will have no idea what “replaying something in his mind” even means—or that he’s having a “flashback” to when he was fighting at the battle of Honey Springs. Or that he’s “flashing back” to something that might have been a sweet memory in his early years. These characters are going to just be remembering, recalling, or thinking back to something… When you use this type of modern wording that refer to contemporary actions/equipment, it’s easy to pull readers out of the story. Because my husband is such a sports fan, I can’t hear or read the word “replay” without thinking of the sports connotation it carries. Flashback—this conjures up images of Hollywood movie scenes.
Let's see the replay on that!

“Well, it’s all about you, isn’t it?” This is one that creeps in every so often, too. It “being all about” one person or another—or NOT “being all about” them is something that should never, ever, ever show up in any kind of historical writing. It’s easy to do—these contemporary sayings are so normal to us we can’t imagine NOT using them in daily conversation—problem is, it’s our job to check and double check what our characters are saying. If we don’t, they go out into the world showing that we have not “brought them up” correctly.

That reminds me—do you know the difference between being “reared” and “raised”? The standard saying used to be that “Children are reared; livestock is raised.” Those lines have blurred in modern times. I still remember my mother talking about children being “reared” and her brother “raising” cattle. She was born in 1922, so I would say that distinction has faded only during my lifetime.

This is “picky” but it’s the sort of thing that readers will seize on—and there are certain word usages and phrases that will definitely pull me right out of a story that’s written in historical times, so I’m sure that’s true of others, as well.
These are a few of the many “uh-ohs” I see when I’m reading/editing. What are some you’ve come across?

If you are a FRIENDS tv show fan, you know that there is another “I’ll Be There for You” – the theme of the show by the Rembrandts. There’s also a Kenny Rogers song that uses that phrase. But I promised you Bon Jovi! Here he is singing “I’ll Be There for You”—a wonderful song to turn up loud and belt out when you’re driving…just remember, in historical fiction writing, we have to find another way to say this. Kinda makes me sad, but we have to wait for it to be invented.
Sorry about the GRAMMARLY ad--it's short--wait for it--I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU is worth it!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Wild Cats of the Old West

Your characters could have encountered members of a variety of wild cats roaming the Old West. There are three main cats that would have been common back in the era: bobcats, Canada lynx, and mountain lions.

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a smallish animal – 11 to 30 pounds and 30 to 48 inches long (including tail). A bobcat is still about twice the size of the average housecat, so it’s big enough to be a threat if cornered. Though they can take down prey larger than themselves, bobcats usually eat smaller prey like mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds or other small game. They have been known to hunt chickens and geese, so your character might have had the hen-yard raided some night.
Bobcats have long legs, large paws and tufted ears – similar to their larger cousin the Canada lynx. Their long, strong back legs make their body seem to slope forward like a racecar, giving them a natural advantage for fast sprints and deadly pounces. Most bobcats are brown or brownish-red with a white underbelly and short, black-tipped tail. This tail appears to be “bobbed” or cut short, thus giving the cat its common name.
Bobcats are solitary animals. They are also nocturnal and elusive, so they’re less likely to have been encountered by your characters during their daily life. They were common from Canada to Mexico, so they would have been prowling such diverse habitats as forests, swamps, deserts, and even suburban areas.

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is larger than the bobcat, but quite similar in appearance. They average between 22 to 44 pounds and 36 to 48 inches long (including tail). The lynx has silvery-brown, thick fur, long legs (especially the back legs), large paws, tufted ears and black-tipped tails. They eat mice, squirrels and birds, but much prefer the snowshoe hare as prey.
Lynx were common in the northern forests of North America. Like the bobcat, they are solitary, nocturnal and elusive, preferring to avoid humans if possible, so your characters might not encounter one unless they were within the lynx’s habitat.
The Canada lynx has 28 teeth, similar to other lynx species, with four long canines for puncturing and gripping. These canine teeth are packed with nerves so the lynx can tell exactly where it is gripping its prey and how deeply the teeth are puncturing. Sharp, retractable claws and huge paws (spreading nearly 4 inches in diameter) allow the cat traction in the snow and ice of the mountains where it usually lives.
Lynx are good swimmers and efficient climbers, and can roam 5 to 5.6 miles in search of prey.

The mountain lion (Puma concolor)is the largest wildcat in North America. It is also known as the puma, panther, cougar or catamount. Mountain lions can weigh between 140 and 200 pounds, and are between 4.9 to 9 feet long (including their long tail). It’s the second heaviest cat in the Americas, after the jaguar.
The mountain lion roams nearly every habitat in North America from Canada to the Andes. They are also solitary animals, more active during twilight, though they can be sighted during the day as well.
Mountain lions are ambush hunters that pursue a variety of prey, including deer and livestock, though they will also eat smaller animals such as insects, birds and rodents. They have five retractable claws on their front paws and four on their back, with the front feet and claws larger for clutching prey.
Mountain lions, though large, are not considered “big cats” because they lack the specialized larynx needed to roar. They do scream, however, although their scream is often misinterpreted to be from some other animal or from a human throat.
The mountain lion is typically a tawny color, but the coat can range from silvery-gray to reddish, with lighter patches on the underbelly. Despite anecdotes to the contrary, all black mountain lions have never been documented.
Mountain lions have proportionally the largest hind legs of any member of the feline family, allowing them to leap and sprint and climb well. A mountain lion can run between 40 and 50 miles per hour at a sprint, so it can easily run down a sheep or cow.
Your characters, especially if they raised livestock, could easily have had to deal with one or all of these wild cats. The mountain lion, especially, was a problem to ranchers and livestock owners, as it is big enough to take down cattle.

J.E.S. Hays

Monday, September 10, 2018

Remembering Marty Robbins by Kaye Spencer #westerns #countrymusic #classiccountry #WesternFictioneers

Marty Robbins has a birthday anniversary this month—his 93rd, in fact. But, sadly, Marty died on December 8, 1982. He’d suffered his third serious heart attack a few days prior, but he didn’t survive the surgery to repair the damage.

I was living in Cleveland, Ohio and running thoroughbred race horses at Thistledown Racetrack when I heard it on the radio. The DJ broke down and cried. I cried along with him.

A little about Marty

Martin David Robbins was born in Glendale, Arizona on September 26, 1925. When WWII broke out, Marty joined the Navy. While serving, he taught himself to play the guitar. When the war was over, Marty returned home and embarked upon a singing and performing career around Phoenix in nightclubs, on the radio, and on television.

During his early club-playing and performing days, “…he heard a country singer featured on the local radio station KPHO. [Marty] was convinced that he could do better. He drove right down to the station and earned a place on the show.”

By the end of the 1940s, Marty had his own radio program, “Chuck Wagon Time”, and a television show, “Western Caravan”. By the mid-1950s, he was invited to the Grand Ole Opry radio show and was a regular performer for many years. He signed with Columbia Records in 1951 with his first Number 1 song coming in 1956, which was Singing the Blues.

El Paso released in 1959, and it garnered him his first Grammy Award. With the 1960s came, he pursued racing with such a passion that he progressed to NASCAR racing. It was in 1969 that he suffered his first heart attack. He recovered quickly and wrote, My Woman, My Woman, My Wife, which earned him his second Grammy. Then his second heart attack occurred in 1981.

Marty was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982. His last song was a single that same year—Some Memories Just Won’t Die—a bittersweet irony. Over the span of his career, he recorded over 500 songs and 60 albums.

Discography information is HERE and HERE.

Individual songs information is HERE.

When he was growing up, Marty wanted to be a cowboy singer like Gene Autry, and he credits his grandfather, “Texas Bob Heckle”, a traveling medicine show salesman and story-teller, as the main inspiration for many of the songs he wrote later.

In an interview, Marty said, “…I’ve done what I wanted to do… I’m not a real good musician, but I can write [a song] pretty well. I experiment once in a while to see what I can do. I find out the best I can do is stay with ballads.”

Marty Robbins:
By NBC Television (eBay item photo front photo back)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was growing up and listening to Marty’s music, I wore out at least two 45 rpms of “El Paso” on Side A and “Strawberry Roan/160 Acres” on Side B. Marty’s gunfighter ballads influenced my love of the Old West. If I had to choose one artist’s music as the only music I could listen to, Marty Robbins would be that person. Yes, I love his music that much, and my musical tastes range from Vivaldi to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ and everything in between.

Marty was (still is) so influential to my writing that my historical western romance novel with Prairie Rose Publications, The Comanchero’s Bride, was inspired by his song, Meet Me Tonight in Laredo. This book is my little way of paying tribute to Marty and how much his gunfighter ballads mean to me. I sprinkled hints to many of his gunfighter songs throughout the story.

Below is an excerpt from The Comanchero’s Bride. For those of you familiar with Marty’s gunfighter ballads Running Gun and Big Iron, you’ll likely notice the small references.


At the livery, Mingo remained in the shadows where he could see both ways along the street. Opening the wagon doors just wide enough to allow him to pass through, he eased his way inside. Speaking in a low soothing tone to his horses, he packed and saddled them under the moonlight coming in from two windows. Opening half the double doors, he led the two riding horses out the back, tied them to a corral rail, and returned for the packhorse.

He no more than reached the packhorse when a cold voice in the shadows stopped him in his tracks.

“Don’t turn around, Valderas.”

Mingo froze. A few more steps and he would have been on the off side of the packhorse, but where he was, he had no protection.

“I’ve got a good bead right between your shoulders. I know about your fast draw and the price on your head. I’ve also heard stories about your throwing knives, so keep your hands where I can see them.”

“You know me. But who are you? What do you want?” Mingo didn’t care. He knew the challenge from the shadows was a bounty hunter. He needed the man to talk so he could pinpoint his location.

“I came out of El Paso. A man named Jack added to the price on your head—dead or alive—and some politician is offering a pretty penny on top of that to bring in the woman you have with you. He wants her alive.”

From the sound of the man’s voice, he hadn’t moved and was off to his right. Mingo fought the urge to whirl and fire, but shooting blindly was not his way. He wouldn’t risk wild shot that could injure a horse, and gunfire would bring others into the fray. Shadows were both his enemy and ally, depending upon how he used it.

“The way’s clear behind you, so back towards the open wagon door, and keep your hands away from your body. When I heard the talk of a Mexican man traveling with a white woman, and they were staying at the hotel, I figured I’d hit pay dirt. I was just supposed to worry you into making a wrong move. Never thought I’d be the one to catch you.

“I’m taking the woman to El Paso. You, I’m locking up in the back room of the saloon for safe keeping…unless you give me an excuse to kill you right now, which I’ve a yearning to do. I can’t miss at this range. It wouldn’t do my reputation any damage to be the man who took down Mingo Valderas.”

Now, he knew who he was up against. Earl Johns was vicious and a killer, a back-shooting coward. Mingo inched backward, buying thinking time.

“Where’s the woman, Valderas?”

“There is no wom—”

“She’s too close for your comfort.” Elizabeth’s voice cut through the night. The sound of a shotgun hammer pulling back was an angry, lethal sound that made the hairs on Mingo’s arms prickle.

The Comanchero's Bride is available on Amazon.com.

The Comanchero's Bride is also included in this boxed set of
six full-length historical western novels.

Under a Western Sky

For your listening pleasure, here is Marty singing Meet Me Tonight in Laredo.

Do you have a favorite Marty Robbins song or story? Please share. I'd love to read about it.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

  • Marty Robbins Biography. Biography.com Editors. The Biography.com website. A&E Television Networks. http://www.biography.com/people/marty-robbins-20651271. April, 2, 2014. Accessed September 9, 2018.
  • Marty Robbins website. http://www.martyrobbins.com. Accessed September 9, 2018.
  • Country Music Television, Inc. http://www.cmt.com/artists/marty-robbins/biography/. Accessed September 9, 2018.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

1848 Colt Dragoon Revolver

In my short story, WANTED: THE SHERIFF, the hero, Sheriff Matthew Tate, carries a matched pair of 1848-Model 3 Colt Dragoons.

The Dragoon grew out of the problems with the Colt Walker revolver, a 4.5 pound, 15” long hunk of steel. The Dragoon was only 4 pounds, 2 ounces. And, where the Walker’s barrel was 9” long, the Dragoon’s was only 7.5”.  The Walker was a powerful weapon, but its size meant it was used mostly as a saddle-mounted weapon. It was just too long and too heavy to wear around your waist.

And there was the propensity for the Walker to explode when users put in too much powder. Where the Walker held 60 grains of powder, the Dragoon held only 50 grains—less powder, less danger.

Also, the Walker’s loading lever tended to fall during firing, locking up the revolver and rendering the weapon useless. Not a good thing when you need a working gun. The Dragoon added a lever latch to hold it in place. Problem solved.

“Three major-production Dragoon models were produced between 1848 and 1860. The First Model had oval-shaped cylinder notches, no wheel on the rear of the hammer and no pins between the nipples. Colt produced about 7,000 First Models between 1848 and 1850. The Second Model had rectangular cylinder notches and a "wheel" on the hammer. First and Second models both had square-back trigger guards. The company made about 2,550 Second Models in 1850 and 1851. Approximately 10,000 Third Model Dragoons were made from 1851 through 1860, with many variations. All Third-Model Dragoons had a round trigger guard. Records show 8,390 Dragoons were ordered by the U.S. government.” (from http://www.cabelas.com/category/Civil-War-Colt-Dragoon/110215980.uts)

The Dragoon revolver transformed Samuel Colt's young pistol-making business into one of the most dominating forces in firearm history.


Saturday, September 1, 2018


Imagine you awaken early one morning, open your eyes, and find you've been transported back in time to a community in the American Old West.

You blink in confusion and shake your head. This can't be real you tell yourself. The street looks like the back lot of a movie set. The few characters out-and-about appear to be straight from central casting.

But, there are no cameras. No microphones. No directors or crew members running around in baseball hats.

"What the heck happened?" you ask yourself. "How did I get here?"

A couple of hours later, after exploring the town in surreptitious fashion, reality sets in. You realize that, for the time being, you have to make the best of it.  

This means finding a job—some means of support in order to survive and socialize.

So, what would you do If you lived in the 1880s? What kind of job, or career, would you pursue? What kind of opportunities could you pursue?

Keep in mind, for the most part, you have an advantage. Your knowledge base would be considerably deeper than most of the folks you meet on the streets of Dry Gulch, Cactus Junction, or any other frontier town.

Let's consider a few options, in no particular order:

  • Saloonkeeper, or bartender. The saloon represented the social center in a lot of Old West towns. Usually, there were more saloons than churches. Many stayed open 24-hours a day. So, if you don't mind long hours, loud music, and hair-trigger arguments, you might like owning or working in a saloon.

  • Cowboy. Hopefully, you like riding horses and enjoy wide open spaces. Cattle drives often took months, requiring lots of time in the saddle. You wouldn't get much of a chance to change clothes. Bathing was kind of a hit-and-miss situation. Meals were served at a chuck wagon, and you'd have to love drinking java. Lots of it. Don't forget, there would be those times when, during a horrific storm, you'd have to chase the cattle and round them up before the drive could continue.

  • School Teacher. Frontier schools were usually one-room structures. Inside was a wood or coal-burning stove. Classes varied in size, from three or four and as many as 30 or 40, depending on the size of the community. Teachers usually taught grades one through eight in these one-room schoolhouses.
  • Lawman. If you're the law and order type, you might consider working as a sheriff, or deputy. No formal training programs existed back then. You were, however, expected to have some familiarity with guns. Frontier towns, in reality, didn't experience much crime. Most of it centered around corralling town drunks or quelling rowdiness. The sheriff was responsible for enforcing all the town's ordinances. The job description also called for him to collect taxes. 

  • Lawyer. There were few barriers to becoming a lawyer in the West. Most of those who became lawyers usually worked as an apprentice under the direction of an established attorney. But, if you've watched enough Perry MasonMatlockJAGLaw and Order, or Boston Legal over the years you'd probably have enough of a legal background to get by, at least in the beginning. 

The number of jobs, careers, and opportunities were endless on the American frontier, especially if you embraced any level of entrepreneurial spirit. 

A few members of Western Fictioneers dropped in their two-cents worth.

Jim Meals: "If I suddenly found myself transported back to the old West, I would find Wyatt Earp and have him sign a contract giving me full dime novel rights to his life story."

Jacquie Rogers: "I'm most qualified to operate a dairy farm, which I wouldn't mind doing as long as I didn't have to milk cows.  My quota on that score is filled, believe me. The second choice would be a hunter, the third choice would be a baker."

Dr. Keith Souter: "I like the ‘Outlander’ idea of falling back in time. I suppose I’d be pretty boring and would practice about what I know. I would set up my shingle: Dr. Clay More, Physician, surgeon, phrenologist, and embalmer.

"Doctors back then practiced surgery and medicine and often did their own embalming. I have experience of mortuary work and of preparing and restoring bodies before and after an autopsy, so that would be handy.

"I also have a long-standing interest in the (pseudo-) science of phrenology. Indeed, I would have enjoyed examining the heads of as many of the legends of the Old West, as chanced to come through my consulting room door. There would undoubtedly be a paper or two to write on his and maybe even a book."

J.E.S. Hayes: "I'd be a storyteller. I'd make my living retelling stories from the modern day as science fiction, and selling all the music I know from over the years. I'd make a comfortable living doing this, as I've read and heard and watched so many stories and so much music that I'd never run out of material."

Jerry Guin: "I would most likely work for the railroad. I have extensive experience in loading, routing and transporting heavy freight across America and offshore."

Charlie Steel"I would find the best springs and a small river flowing through the low mountains of Colorado that are still left to be homesteaded.  I would raise crops on the 160-acre homestead, along with a few steers, a milk cow, chickens, etc. 

"I would hunt in the mountains and live off the plentiful elk through the winter. and shelter my animals the best I could through storms and have plenty of hay (grass) for that. I would live simply, try to get ahead, expand, and live a quiet peaceful life. And, I would search long and hard for a super smart hardworking woman to be by my side.

"I would always go armed (sidearm and rifle) both for game or danger---especially the two-legged kind.

"Oh, and during the winter months and times when it is too cold to work, I would sit in my cabin and write by longhand.  My stories would be about men and women of the West. about animals, the country, and nature.  Back then there were so few writers. Perhaps New York publishers would print my manuscripts."

Depending on the Old West town you found yourself in, other opportunities existed, as well.

These include farming, logging, and mining.

Those who lived in small Old West communities had little access to information, except for periodic mail deliveries. Perhaps owning a print shop or newspaper would be options to consider, provided you had the financial resources.

When I asked a couple of friends what they would do in such a situation, I got a variety of answers.

  • "Outlaw," said one. "Or maybe gambler or blackjack dealer."
  • "I'd like to own a brothel," said another.
  • "Railroad Tycoon," someone else mentioned
  • "Rich widow lady," was the among the most inventive answers.
  • Among the best: "The Man With No Name."