Monday, December 28, 2020

Bob McKee- Did you know?

 Western Fictioneers is excited to share another author interview with one of our members. Today we are spending some time with Robert D. (Bob) McKee. 

Those of us who write sometimes know from the start that it's our calling, while others need a lightning bolt to hit them. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I would say the seed was first planted when I was fourteen or so. I had always been a reader, but it was about that time that I became an “avid reader.” I gulped down everything I could get my hands on. Then, at about sixteen, I came to realize that some of the people I was reading were better writers than some of the others. There really was a difference. From then on I honed my reading list. At some point, I told myself that “I think maybe I could do this,” but it was another twenty-six years before I seriously gave it a try.

Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

I guess I’m not sure what the answer to this question is. No matter what genre I’m writing, I’m writing mysteries. My published novels are Westerns, or, since mine are not traditional Westerns, the publisher refers to them as Frontier Fiction. They all take place in the West between 1880 and 1900. Even so, they are all, to one degree or another, mystery/suspense/thriller. I’m not sure I can write anything else, so I suppose it has chosen me.

Some say we tell the stories of our lives when we write. Do you think your life experiences influence or hinder your writing. 

In the sense of technique and style, my life experiences very much influence my writing. I spent thirty-seven years as a court reporter. During that time, I listened to and wrote the words of literally thousands of deponents and witnesses. The question-and-answer format of a courtroom is, most of the time, conversational. Because of that, I have listened very closely to millions of words of conversation, which has given my dialogue, I think, a more realistic and natural sound. At least it has given me the “ear” to recognize when my dialogue sounds stilted or forced and lets me know that the scene needs another trip or two through the word processor.

Where did you get the idea for your latest release?

My latest release is a very nice paperback edition—put out by Sundown Press—of my novel, Killing Blood, which first appeared a few years ago in hardback, published by Five Star Press. To the question of where did I get the idea, I don’t get an idea—not a big, novel-sized idea, anyway. I get the idea of a very basic protagonist, and I get the idea of a very basic place and the situation in which to put him. I then watch what he does and write it down. Eventually, after following him around for 70 to 80,000 words, I have a novel.

The eternal question, are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am not a plotter. For years I wanted to be. I thought you couldn’t write a novel unless you first outlined a plot or at least laid out a five-to-ten-page plotline or plotted in whatever way the particular book I was reading at the time on “how to write a novel” told me to do it. The only thing I learned from all that was that I couldn’t do it. And because I couldn’t do it, I was years later than I should have been in getting a book finished. At age forty, I decided it was time to start trying to write or give up on the idea. So, since I knew I couldn’t write a novel, I began with short stories. I didn’t need to outline the plot of a story; I could merely start writing and see what happened. After five years of that, my stories began to get published and even win a few prizes. I eventually had the thought of trying the same process with something longer, and it worked.

A writer does not need to know where his story is going when the story begins. If you do, great, but it’s not required. In fact, I believe allowing your characters to decide what happens next makes the writing more organic.

Do you have a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

For me, there is no muse who, with a lightning bolt, sends me an idea. That doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a “muse,” but my muse chooses to sit in the chair next to me, and she makes suggestions along the way.

If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

This is not something I came up with. I heard it, and I don’t remember where or from whom, or if this is even the exact quote. But here goes:

A man asked the novelist why he writes novels, and he answered, ‘Because I’m not talented enough to write a short story.’

“The man then asked the short story writer why he wrote short stories, and he answered, ‘Because I’m not talented enough to write poetry.’

“The man then asked the poet, why he wrote poetry, and he answered, ‘Because I’m not talented enough to write haiku.’ ”

That doesn’t precisely answer the question, but I like the quote, so I threw it in.

Thank you for a fun interview. For those who would like to know more, you can visit Bob's website:  You can also find his books on Amazon: Killing Blood , Gypsy Rock - Large Print , Dakota Trails

Watch for more Western Fictioneer author interviews in January and the rest of 2021.

Friday, December 25, 2020


Christmas Rush by Jack Sorenson


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Colorado Holiday Traditions Through the Years

 Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

So what do you do to celebrate the holidays? Of course, this year is a bit different, but all traditions morph over the years. 

On December 26, 1866, the Colorado Transcript -from Golden City ( Golden CO) had this memory they shared:

By 1876, the year Colorado became a state, the following was found in 'The Colorado Banner', Boulder, CO in the December 28th issue.

I could not pass up this short piece from the 'Crystal River Current' Crystal, CO. of December 4, 1886

And in 1896 'The West Side Citizen', Colfax, Villa Park, CO on December 25, reported a new tradition from an old in New York.

So as you can see by the examples, Holiday traditions are ever-changing. I admit I miss getting up on Christmas morning to see what 'Santa' had left under the tree, but the joy of spending time with family, friends, or at work, is what the season is about for me. Sharing my life and joys with those I care about, even if we are not in the same physical place. They are always in my heart.

Wishing everyone a blessed, joyous season for you and all those you love and care about. See you in 2021 for more stories, history, and just plain fun.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in

Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Monday, December 21, 2020

El Paso, Marty Robbins, and Dec. 21, 1959 by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #martyrobbins #countrymusic


Marty Robbins’ album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, was released in September 1959. El Paso, one of the songs on the album, was released as a single in October.

From there, the song’s popularity grew, and Marty was on his way to making country music history.

Back in the music industry days of c. 1959, recording labels rarely took chances on songs that were over three minutes long. There was a belief that disc jockeys wouldn’t play, and radio listeners wouldn’t tolerate, songs that ran longer.

El Paso was 4:40 long. Oops.

Marty’s recording label, Columbia, released El Paso as a 45 rpm single with more than a minute cut from of the song. This was Side A. Side B had the full, unedited version, but record labels generally regarded Side B as filler or extra value for your dollar and not as a potential hit song. Also, the side a 45 rpm the recording company wanted to get the most air time was marked as the ‘plug side’, and disc jockeys were expected to honor that.

But music-listening tastes are often misjudged by record companies, and there have been numerous Side B songs that became as, or more, popular than the Side A song.

***Diversion for the curious among us—random examples of famous Side B songs. Read more HERE

  • Ricky Nelson – Hello Mary Lou
  • Roy Orbison – Love Hurts
  • Queen – We Will Rock You
  • Beatles – I Saw Her Standing There
  • Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  • Monkees – I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
  • CCR – Have You Ever Seen the Rain
  • Elvis – Hound Dog
  • KISS – Beth
  • Rod Stewart – Maggie May
  • Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
  • Hank Williams, Sr. – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  • Johnny Cash – Get Rhythm
  • Don Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You
  • Chuck Berry – Memphis, Tennessee
  • Beach Boys – 409
  • Four Seasons – Silence is Golden
  • Buck Owens – Cryin’ Time

 Back to El Paso…

It didn’t take long before listeners demanded to hear the full-length version, which helped propel El Paso to the No. 1 position on the U.S. Chart and Country Songs Chart on December 21, 1959. (Go HERE to look up songs and dates)  

I recommend this short essay by Diane Diekman at the Library of Congress LOC about Marty Robbins and how he came to write El Paso.

El Paso entered Billboard’s Country Chart in early November and reached number one on December 21, 1959. The song achieved ‘crossover status’ when it reached No. 1 on the pop chart on Christmas Day. El Paso stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks, giving it the distinction of being the first No. 1 hit of 1960.

El Paso and Marty would receive the honor of being awarded the Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961.

So, today, on the 61st anniversary of El Paso reaching No. 1 on the music charts, we must raise a glass to Marty and his iconic song.


For those of you reading this on your phones, here is the YouTube link for the song El Paso.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Find Kaye in cyberland here:



Friday, December 18, 2020

What's the Score? The Alamo (1960) by Dimitri Tiomkin

As far as John Wayne movies go, The Alamo (1960) ranks pretty far down the list—somewhere near The Cowboys, the other Wayne film where we see our hero meet his maker.

Still, I can’t deny The Alamo is a classic Western film, and it’s not because Wayne directed it. While the cast of Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Richard Boone, Joan O’Brien, and Chill Wills put in some stellar performances —for me it’s Dimitri Tiomkin who steals the show with the score.

I mentioned Tiomkin briefly before for his 1953 Academy Award won with Ned Washington for the original song from High Noon, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” sung by Tex Ritter.

For the Alamo, he again received an Oscar nomination (with Paul Francis Webster) for a song, “The Green Leaves of Summer,” sung by the Brothers Four. While it didn’t win the award, the score as a whole won a Golden Glob Award.

The “Ballad of the Alamo” performed by Marty Robbins is another well known song from the soundtrack, and it’s been voted one fo the Top 100 songs of all time by members of the Western Writers of American.

There’s more to like than just these popular tracks however. Tiomkin does a remarkable job capturing the brooding flavor of the Alamo’s story, introducing Mexican / old west flourishes at various intervals, and rising to rousing heights when the narrative demands it.

I like The Alamo soundtrack as much as any of the scores I’ve written about, and would easily put it in my top five. Give the embedded video and listen and see if you don’t think so too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


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.

AMAZON LINK: Have a wonderful Christmas and here's hoping 2021 will be a fantastic year for each and every one of us!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Happy Christmas Card Day!

 December 9 is Christmas Card Day, in honor of the day we believe Sir Henry Cole of England marketed the first Christmas Card. Cole, a prominent educator and patron of the arts, had the misfortune of knowing too many people. During the holiday season of 1843, his friends were adding to his anxiety. An old custom in England – the Christmas and New Year’s letter – had seen a recent revival with the advent of the “Penny Post” where you could send a letter anywhere in the country for only a penny stamp (half the price of an ordinary letter). Suddenly, everybody was sending letters.


Sir Cole was an enthusiastic supporter of the postal system, but the stack of unanswered letters was starting to worry him. He traveled in elite Victorian circles and enjoyed the 1840s equivalent of A-List status. It would have been a social faux pas to ignore his mail and not respond, but he was having real trouble keeping up. He had to figure out a way to respond to all those letters.


Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He asked artist friend J.C. Horsley to design what Cole had imagined: a trio of images showing a happy family celebrating a holiday feast flanked by two images of people helping the poor. Cole then took Horsley’s illustrations to his printer and had a thousand copies made up. The first Christmas card was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 & 1/8 by 3 & ¼ inches in size. At the top of each card was the salutation “TO _______” which allowed Cole to personalize each card. They also included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”


However, the cards weren’t without controversy. The image of the happy family enjoying their holiday dinner supposedly showed what looked like glasses of wine at the places of several small children. Since there was a big Temperance movement in England at the time, this was touted as supporting underage drinking.


Of course, the criticism wasn’t enough to keep Cole’s friends from recognizing a good time-saver when they saw one. Within a few years, several other prominent Victorians had copied Cole’s idea and were sending out their own cards. Early cards showed Nativity or snow scenes. In the late Victorian era, the British robin became popular. It took several decades for the Christmas card to really catch on with the masses, both in England and in America. But by 1870, the cost of sending a postcard or Christmas card in England dropped to half a penny, and the boom was on.


Louis Prang, a Prussian printer in Boston, is generally credited with creating the first American Christmas card in 1875. English cards had been sold in America since the 1840s but were very expensive and most people couldn’t afford them. Prang’s card was significantly different from the one Cole and Horsley created in that it didn’t even contain a holiday image. Instead, it showed a flower and the message “Merry Christmas.” “This artistic, subtle approach would categorize this first generation of American Christmas cards,” says John Hanc of Smithsonian Magazine. These cards typically showed animals or nature, scenes that could have taken place almost any time of the year. There were few nativity scenes or holiday celebrations.


In the late 1800s, appreciation of the quality and artistry of the cards grew – aided in part by competitions for the best images put on by the greeting card publishers. People soon began collecting the cards like they would stamps or butterflies. “The new crop each season were reviewed in newspapers, like books of films today.” In 1894, prominent magazine The Studio devoted an entire issue to the study of Christmas cards. British arts writer Gleeson White found the designs interesting but wasn’t impressed by the printed sentiments on the cards. “It’s obvious,” he wrote, “that for the sake of their literature no collection would be worth making.”


The very first known “personalized” Christmas card was sent by the famous Annie Oakley in 1891. She was in Glasgow, Scotland for the holiday and sent cards back home to friends and family with a photo of herself wearing a tartan. Annie supposedly designed the cards herself and worked with a local printer to produce them.


Your characters would have associated Christmas cards with these postcards. The modern book type card didn’t come into use until around 1915 with the incorporation of the Hall Brothers postcard printing company (they later changed the name to Hallmark). They soon adapted a new format for the cards: 4 x 6 inches, folded in half and inserted in an envelope. The Hall brothers discovered that people didn’t have enough room on a typical post card to say all they wanted, but they didn’t want to write a long letter either. A folded card was perfect.


And thus, the American Christmas Card was off and running. Holiday greetings have been on our minds since the 1800s, and your characters would have at least sent a letter to friends and family, if they couldn’t afford (or didn’t have access to) a postcard. It’s a nice touch to add to a story, especially if you’re looking for a good way to add family backstory.


J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Mrs. Sundance (1974)

Etta Place holds a fascination in American folklore for good reasons: she was the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) and rode the outlaw trail with him and Butch Cassidy (Robert Parker) all the way to Bolivia where Sundance and Butch were killed in a shootout in 1908—but what of Etta Place? We don’t know, and may never find out, what became of her later life and death. So, the mystery is ripe for speculation with the most famous telling of Etta’s story being Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969) featuring Katharine Ross in the part.

Mrs. Sundance, a 1974 TV movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery, is the first time an actor other than Ross played the part. Since I grew up on Ross as Etta Place and Montgomery as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched (1964-1972), I fully expected to be thrown off by the casting, but within the first few scenes, Ms. Montgomery swiftly erases those other associations, firmly establishing herself as this historical enigma.

Etta is a desperate woman on edge. She’s best described by a nosy member of the community where the outlaw is laying low, saying, 

I've been watching you since the first day you come. Every time a train stops, every time somebody just passes through - the fear in your eyes. Hiding out; never showing till they've gone. Why? Hiding from what? Who wants you?
Well, it turns out just about everybody, including Charles Siringo, played by veteran actor L.Q. Jones. Mr. Jones—known for Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969), and a host of other classics—authenticates every scene like he’s hopped out from the real Old West. Siringo is charged with tracking the elusive Etta Place and bringing her to justice. He uses captured thief Jack Maddox (Robert Foxworth) as bait to lure in Place by gaining her confidence. Siringo is betting that she will lead him to the rest of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang so he can reap the bounties on their heads. He spreads word that Sundance is still alive and before long, she goes in search of her true love.

IMDb currently ranks the film at a middling 6.3 though I would elevate it a bit higher. Sure, the television budget and, at times, meandering script hinder it from becoming anything more than an afternoon joy ride. But sometimes that, and Elizabeth Montgomery, is more than enough.

David Cranmer is the editor of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and whose own body of work has appeared in such diverse publications as The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, LitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Under the pen name Edward A. Grainger he created the Cash Laramie western series. He's a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Author Interview - James Ciccone

Today's interview is with Western Fictioneer Member James Ciccone. James' debut novel "A Good Day to Die" was released on August 26, 2020. Please join me in welcoming James Ciccone. I know I learned a lot and look forward to his next story.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’d like to begin by thanking you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my experiences writing my debut novel, “A GOOD DAY TO DIE.” I am busy writing the third draft of “MORE THAN ENOUGH WOMAN,” a Western, and the first few chapters of the third novel in the Western series, which remains untitled, so the request to reflect on the process is timely. Furthermore, your questions are framed in a thoughtful way. The prompts are really more than decoration. They trigger expansive responses. The simplicity of open-ended, direct questions, at least for me anyway, tends to confront, challenge, and, finally, haunt. I spent many years as a trial lawyer, so I like to believe I am a fairly good judge of effective direct examination. Congratulations. You’ve hit the mark.

Now to address your first question, I have always fantasized about seeing my name in print, and the idea of achieving the permanency or finality of published writing began to wash over me as a teenager. You have to realize that I grew up in the rural areas of the Northeast. There was so much about the world that came to us in published writing. The spot where the publications ended is where the imagination took over. The imagination played a role in forming our group reality. This was exciting. I could go to all of those faraway places we read about in the newspapers, the places that were shining with excitement and possibility, by simply letting the imagination take over. Then, of course, I was influenced by the immediacy of the things I was immersed in growing up, too. I began to realize early on that these things all could become the stuff of published writing, especially among the poets. I tried my hand at poetry, all forms. I began publishing bad poetry as a teenager. Furthermore, I began publishing awkwardly written newspaper articles as a teenager as well.

Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

There is a mysterious inner voice that does the writing for me. I am just the person who is present to strike the keys on the keyboard. The voice tells me where all of the connections or linkages are in the story, reminds me of certain things, like the rules of grammar and stylistic tricks and where the arc of the story is going. It is a weird trance. It is not just a case of the characters speaking to me. We have all heard that one. This voice is the writer’s voice. I absolutely do see the scenes in my mind, and this is entertaining. However, the more I write, the more aggressive the voice becomes in taking over the process. Then, when the voice gets good and ready, it makes me take notes or launch into a sit. The notes are narrative outlines, bits and pieces of dialogue or descriptive prose, and the sits can go on for hours, many hours. If you want to call the mysterious voice a “muse,” so be it. I guess I would have no objection. However, I think calling this a “muse” is a way of politely referring to a mental defect. It is a euphemism similar to the way people use euphemisms to avoid talking about death and dying. Anyway, I don’t profess to understand it at all. I am not even sure it is wise to begin speaking about this topic in detail. I am sure all of your writers understand exactly what I am talking about. The issue, and it is an issue, stands somewhere at the crossroads of fraternizing with a third party and navigating a mental defect, doesn’t it? The next steps in the process involve the rewrites. I found that switching the type of the manuscript helps create an editorial distance. I spot mistakes that way. Then, if you are as fortunate as I was with “A GOOD DAY TO DIE,” your manuscript is discovered by a small group of consummate professionals, wonderfully angelic figures who are expert storytellers and editors, reliable eyes and ears, like the editors in residence at Sundown Press. Those gifted editors, Cheryl Pierson, Livia Reasoner, and Michelle Reed, stood at the final stages of the rewriting process. They suggested changes that ranged from peripheral changes or marginalia to substantive or sweeping changes involving POV, etc., etc., etc. In the case of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE,” the rewrite covered the spectacular period of one year. Finally, historical accuracy is paramount in Western fiction, so research plays a key role at each step of the process. Research, of course, influences the outcome.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

I am a hybrid. I am both a plotter and a “pantser.” This is the first time I’ve considered explaining what is going on. It is definitely not a formulaic, rigid process. The fluidity of the process essentially follows the story’s intrinsic momentum, and I am not entirely convinced the word process is the right word here. The idea of momentum is probably much closer to the truth.

I start out as a “pantser.” The inspiration to tell a particular story in a particular way hits me, and I start writing it from the seat of my pants. However, as the writing is underway, the inspiration begins to move things around. I take notes and record bits and pieces of inspiration as I am writing the story. The narrative in my notes begins to assume a chronology or sequence or arc of the story. These notes ripen into something resembling an outline. However, I do take notes.

I started writing poetry years ago. That is where the habit of notetaking got started. I’d write these little notes. The little notes would begin blossoming into lines, counting syllables, stuff that typically contributes to the process of writing bad poetry, that is, perfecting the art of writing bad poetry. I have been told that character development and dialogue are my strengths. This interests me, since I had to work hard at those things. The descriptions and figurative language should have been much easier, given all of the bad poetry I have written and all of the outstanding poetry of have read, but I guess this is not the case. I am not sure.

Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?

Yes. I wrote dark, psychologically complex, Dostoevsky-esque, epistolary novels filled with plenty of gore and more and more surprising ways to involve a body cavity in a murder scene. I am not sure where all of that imagery came from in the first place. It may have had something to do with all of the startling crime scene photographs and morgue shots I dealt with throughout my career, especially the ones involving children. Who really knows? My sister, Diane, read this epoch, cavernous piece of catharsis and advised: “Jimmy, why don’t you just write books people might like to read?” Did the idea just hit me, you ask? Yes. That idea hit me right between the eyes.

The idea came from my sister. She inherited all of the brains, good looks, and money in our family. I got whatever was left over. I am afraid all that was left over for me after the estate inventory was tallied was the idea that I could write stories people just might like to read. Do you think I was shortchanged in life? Perhaps. That is how I came upon the idea to just write entertaining stories, hopefully stories of value, stories people might like to read. The operative word, of course, is “just.”

I would argue Western novels hold the potential to become stories of value on many levels. The historical accuracy of a well-written Western reminds us that history cannot be “un-lived.” The genre gives us so much space to invent and to deliver messages. For me, it creates the situation for satire. It challenges the reader to observe the many things in society that evolved rapidly while, pointedly, distinguishing those things from the many other things that remain paralyzed, fixed in time.

There is something mystical about capturing the sitz im leben of the Western novel, the audacity of the Old West and the Western expansion, the audacity of Mr. Lincoln, for example, to take his philosophy to the doorstep of the South, and the audacity of the South to resist. In my view, audacity is what made the Old West tick.

Audacity doesn’t need an introduction. Folks recognize it when they see it. Audacity is what the world admires about the Old West, the gunplay, the settlers, the ranchers, the farmers, the cattle drives, the bandits and stagecoach robbers, the relentless will to brave cruel winters, the courage to just keep going West no matter the odds and no matter the obstacles. All of it boils down to audacity.

Audacity describes the spirit of the Old West better than all of the other words put together. Audacity is the quality historians bump into when they are trying to make sense of it all. Audacity built the railroads. Audacity possessed Mr. Lincoln to insist upon change, and audacity possessed the South to resist. Audacity encouraged formerly enslaved people to rise up, run away, and confront their captors. Audacity rushed for gold. The characters of the Western novel, and the Old West, display plenty of audacity. I find the idea to write stories somewhere in this notion of audacity. I think many other Western writers do, too. I think delving into the psychology of audacity is one of the keys to achieving stories people might like to read.

Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

I certainly think growing up in the rural areas of the Northeast, borderline Appalachia, influenced the foundation of these stories.

If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas or full-length novels?

All of the above. I don’t agree with the premise that these forms are mutually exclusive.

You can follow James on his Amazon page here: James Ciccone - Amazon

I find there is so much to learn from other authors. Please keep an eye out for future Western Fictioneer author interviews. Until then, stay safe, warm, and keep those stories coming. The world needs them, even if they don't realize it, yet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines 

Photo (c) by Doris McCraw

I recently came across the phrase 'talking with the dead'. Initially, I thought it sounded rather morbid until I thought about what it was really about. To me, it's connecting with the past in ways we might not think about. This also follows an earlier post about what inspires your stories. For those who would like to take a look at that post, here is the link: What Inspires Your Stories 

The second post on inspiring stories: Talking with the Dead- Photographs

The third of what I include for inspiration is Cemeteries: Talking with the Dead - Cemeteries

Part four: Talking with the Dead - Newspapers

This fifth and last post in this series is about books. Perhaps the first book you think of is Edgar Lee Masters work "Spoon River Anthology".  This book is literally people talking to you from their graves. This work is the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River telling their tales to the reader. I confess I've read it many times. It typifies small-town life and it doesn't hurt that the author lived not far from where I grew up. The stories the residents tell I can relate to. If you are interested you can download a free version of the book here: Spoon River Anthology - free ebook - Gutenberg

However, I am referring to books in a broader sense. The classic Westerns we love are the authors talking to us, telling us how they perceived the area they wrote about. For some, it was based on actual events they observed or took part in. For others, it was retelling the stories they grew up with or read about.

There is also the diaries and snippets contained in various books that have been published over time. Helen (Hunt) Jackson wrote about the life and people she observed as she traveled. Her work, "Bits of Travel at Home" is an enlightening read. Published in 1878, Helen's essays are an on the ground view of train travel, city growth, and people who caught her eye. You can download the book here: Bits of Travel at Home or perhaps "Century of Dishonor", first published in 1881 chronicling the Indian's treaties with the government. You can download the free book here: Century of Dishonor

The "Covered Wagon Women" series of books uses letters and diaries to tell the story of the trek west. Or perhaps Isabella Bird's book about her travels in the Rocky Mountains. "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" published in 1879, is a fascinating read, as Isabella recounts her journies through Colorado. You can download the Gutenberg project ebook here: A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

These and many more books have given me numerous pieces of information on life during the time I write on. They have inspired ideas that become short stories or novels. So when I talk and write about 'Talking with the Dead', I am referring to the wealth of information those who came before have left us. 

Here's to the story inspired by the past. Here's to those who keep the Western alive with tales taken from pieces of history. Here's to the next book or anthology celebrating our shared past.

May you all have the best remainder of November possible. Please stay safe and well. I look forward to your next story.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Author Interview - Jerry Guin

During the end of this year and going forward I hope to interview Western Fictioneer members on their new releases and writing. The plan is to post at least one and sometimes two interviews a month. For those who would like to be considered, you can contact me and I will give you the parameters and questions for inclusion. I am starting off with Jerry Guin who has had two releases this last quarter. 

Enjoy the interview and take note of what makes Jerry's stories and journey so interesting. I know I learn from his continuing journey and hope you will also.  

Jerry, when did you realize you wanted to write?

     Back in 1995 a western magazine I was reading called for submissions.  I had some time on my hands and a computer, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Interestingly enough, my short story “Caught Red Handed” was accepted.  I wrote a couple more imagined stories to see if I could find a home for them. I soon found out that the correct way to submit a short story is to answer a call for submissions. 

In 1997, my first book, a nonfiction guide, and journal,  “Matsutake Mushroom” was published by Naturegraph Publishers.

I've heard non-writers say they wonder where authors get their ideas. What sparked the idea for your book, “Reluctant Partners”?

That was easy.  I had a couple friends that asked about what happened to the characters in Unlikely Partners, the first book in that series, so I picked up the story where I left off and continued.  I might even do a third book.

Authors are many times put into categories of plotter or pantser. What do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser?

I generally am a pantser.  The only beforehand plotting I do is to begin with a basic idea of someone doing a job, perhaps a lawman, perhaps a villain.  A circumstance develops involving that person which allows me to build on a story.

The exception to that is writing a second novel using first novel characters in order to continue the main plot of the first story. 

I know, other than my Thursday writing group I have a hard time with routines. Do you have a writing routine or write when the muse calls?

Since retirement, I have no set schedule and write when the mood strikes.

You also had a duo of novellas released at the end of October. If you had a choice, do you prefer writing a shorter piece of full-length novels?

Well, I feel that novels are more desirable for a broad scale of readers and is more palatable to the eyes of my publisher.

I usually do not write a short story unless a call for submissions to a particular theme is made.

Thank you for sharing your time and process with us. Anything else you think people would find fascinating about you or your writing process?

After High school, I served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Mullany (DD528).  After my service, I worked various lumber labor jobs. After college, I then went into wholesale lumber sales for a good 25 years which included my own sales company for a few years.  Afterward, I finished my working career as plant manager for a local propane company. 

During my working career, I was busy making a living while helping my wife raise our son and daughter. During those years, I did not find the time or desire to write until I was near fifty years old. 

Now days, I write when I get an idea that I figure could be made into a worthwhile novel story. Once I take on that thought process, it could take as much as six months before I feel the story is finished and I could submit to my publisher, the great folks at Sundown Press.  Writing is not the only thing that I currently do.  I am an outdoorsman, have been all of my life, which has aided in my relating to the characters I write about and also, helps me to keep a clear mind and enjoy life.    

If you are interested in Jerry's work check out his author page on Amazon: Jerry Guin 

Friday, November 20, 2020

What's the Score? The Big Country by Jerome Moross

Nominated for an Academy Award for its musical score composed by Jerome Moross, The Big Country (1958) was an all around epic success.

The film was directed by William Wyler and starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives. Based on Ambush at Blanco Canyon, a serialized novel from the Saturday Evening Post by Donald Hamilton, the film was a hit with audiences.

Likewise, the music.

Bruce Eder at says “If it were possible to rate a record here at higher than five stars, this might be the place to do it, as a sort of "best of the best."

Like the themes in the movie itself, the soundtrack releases build on one another over time. In 1958 came the original 12-track vinyl release, then in 1988, a re-recording of the score by the Philharmonica Orchestra conducted by Tony Bremner. Finally, in 1991 a 42-track CD came out from Screen Classics which goes beyond the original record and harkens back to the film —although the original masters of Moross’s 80-piece orchestra had been lost.

Moross says he composed the main title after walking in the flatland around Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1936, and indeed the majesty and open expanse of that geography is echoed in the music.

Moross is best known for The Big Country, but also made music for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960), The Valley of Gwangi (1969). He also composed the Season 3- Season 8 theme song for TV's Wagon Train based on his score for the 1959 film, The Jayhawkers.

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 AmericaRead more at

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


When my husband Gary and I were first married, he would laughingly call me “Pollyanna” –the girl who always saw the good in every situation. Through the years, I have to admit there have been times when that quality has failed me, when things were so bad I didn’t know what we were going to do. I know we’ve all had “those” times. But in general, I’m one of those people who does try to see the good in things.
I think I “learned” to do that from my mom. I thought a lot about this over the last few weeks—fall always makes me remember and miss my parents more than any other time of the year. One night Gary and I were talking about the things our parents had taught us, and I told him one thing my mom taught me was to look on the bright side of things.
I imagine she had to do a lot of that, being the oldest of eleven children in the Dustbowl days of Oklahoma—which was also during The Great Depression. Growing up, I remember how she’d comment on things that meant nothing to me…at the time.
“Oh, Cheryl, I saw the first robin today! That means spring is on the way,” she’d say, with a smile.
And>? my young brain would ask. So spring is on the way.

When spring came along, maybe she’d comment on how green the trees were, or how blue the sky was today—just look at those clouds! Now that I’m older, I realize why these things were important and such a cause of joy to her.
Growing up dirt poor in a small house that had no insulation and very little heat, I’m sure that seeing the first robin was important because it meant those cold days and nights would soon be at an end and warm weather was soon to blow in.
The green of the trees meant there was enough rain to allow things to grow—something I know, as the oldest in such a large family, she was acutely aware of since my grandfather was a hardscrabble farmer and had so many mouths to feed. What a relief, especially here in Oklahoma, that there had been plentiful rain and things were growing well!

The blue of the sky—can you imagine growing up in a time when you could look outside and see huge billowing gales of dust—and nothing else? Animals had to be put up in the barn, families had to be inside, and still, the houses were so poorly constructed there would be layers of dust on the windowsills once the dust storm had passed. So a blue sky was important—no dust, and those beautiful white clouds must have looked heavenly in her eyes.

Mama always found happiness in the small things—small in MY eyes. A good meal she’d cooked for her family, getting the laundry done and put away for the week, finding a good sale on orange juice—yes, those were the days when people would look through the Sunday or Wednesday paper at the grocery store ads, make several stops to find the things at each store that were on sale, and several trips home to put the perishables away—a very different time.
It was not just the fact of the accomplishment itself, but what it meant to her from the things that had happened in her past. A good meal meant there was enough food to go around for everyone, served on a matching set of dishes. No one went to bed hungry. Laundry being done meant that everyone had clothes for a solid week—not one or two good dresses that had to be laundered over and over. Making the rounds of the different grocery stores and finding good “deals” meant she was able to provide some extras with what Dad made in the oilfield. She knew how hard he worked.
So though I didn’t have the past that Mama had—mine was much easier in comparison—I think I learned that attitude through watching her. I’m sure there were times she wanted to just go into the bathroom and have a good cry, but instead, she looked for the good, and found it.
I think of her every time I see that first robin. What a gift that has been to me, in so many ways. Part of writing is thinking about our characters and WHY they act and react like they do. This has been a whole new area of enlightenment for me. I understand so many of my characters even more than I did when I wrote them—their reasoning, and their motivation.
Do you have an aspect to your personality that you inherited or learned from one of your parents or another family member? What are they? Do you think that these behavior patterns can be multi-generational? My mind is whirling! What do you think?