Friday, September 18, 2020

What's the Score? The Searchers by Max Steiner

A post on the web asks the all-too typical question: Is the Searchers the greatest film score Max Steiner ever composed?

Like any employment of the logical fallacy of false choices, the query is too broad…and too limited. Max Steiner wrote a great many GREAT scores, including Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and A Summer Place. He wrote fantastic music for other westerns too: Dodge City, The Oklahoma Kid, They Died With the Boots On, and the list goes on. All told, the Austrian born composer put together more than 300 scores fro RKO and Warner Brothers and was nominated for 24 Oscars.

The question ought to be rephrased.

Is the Searchers one of the GREATEST of film cores? And to that, the answer is an emphatic yes. For me, it’s right at the pinnacle of the mountain, duking it out with the Magnificent Seven.

The Searchers is a 1956 film directed by John fore, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May and starring John Wayne. Wayne plays a grizzled old Civil War vet named Ethan Edwards looking for his niece (Natalie Wood) who’s been abducted by Native Americans.

Like the music that frames, uplifts, and weaves the action together, The Searchers tops nearly all its peers.



James Leonard at Allmusic.com says “The monumental themes, evocative harmonies, rousing rhythms, gripping developments, screaming climaxes, and the unforgettable main title are wonderful accompaniments for what's on the screen.”

I agree. Few other films manage to tie the emotional impact of individual scenes together with just the right progression of chords. Few manage to add so substantially to the narrative that without the music, the story might be entirely different. But Steiner accomplishes much in collaboration with Ford’s vision.

Nowhere is this seen as succinctly as the famous “doorway scene” at the end of the movie where Edwards, having accomplished his mission, stands outside looking in, the perennial loner, as the Sons of the Pioneers offer the mournful, lonely “End Title”



“A man will search his heart and soul
Go searching’ way out there
His peace of mind he knows he’ll find
But where, oh Lord, Lord where?
Ride away, ride away, ride away”

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

WORST WRITING ADVICE EVER--WHAT WAS YOURS? by Cheryl Pierson

What was the worst writing advice you ever received? Is there any such animal as “bad writing advice”? Not according to novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig. "There's only advice that works for you and advice that doesn't."

Is that true? Sometimes it seems, as writers, we can get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget the story and how to tell it. We become frustrated, and it can be downright maddening to try to remember every piece of advice from every writing source we’ve ever come across and tried to use properly.

No. It's not an Amish Romance...

Translating our ideas into language is one way of looking at our writing process, but how do we start? I have to admit, I am truly a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’—which is really out of character for me in every other aspect of my life. But somehow, orchestrating everything to an outline and strictly adhering to that brings out the rebel in me. I just can’t do it—and I’ve tried. Here’s an example of the differences from Richard Nordquist’s “About.com” publication on writing:

In his essay "Getting Started," John Irving writes, "Here is a useful rule for beginning: Know the story--as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story--before you commit yourself to the first paragraph." Irving has written far more novels than I. Clearly he knows what works for himself in a way that I don't always for myself, but this seems to me terrible advice. I'm more inclined to E.L. Doctorow's wisdom. He once wrote that writing . . . is like driving at night: You don't need to see the whole road, just the bit of illuminated blacktop before you.
(Debra Spark, "The Trigger: What Gives Rise to the Story?" Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Writer's Digest Books, 1999)

Yes. That’s what I do. I don’t always see the entire big picture, and I don’t need to from the very beginning. But I do see more than “just the bit of illuminated blacktop”—in other words, the immediate “coming up next” section of the story. So I guess I’m in category #3—Swiss cheese author—I know the basics of what’s going to happen, but even so, there are a LOT of little (and big!) surprise along the way.

Nope. Neither is this one...

Aside from being on one side of the “plotter/pantser” fence and being told you’re wrong by the other side, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever had? You don’t have to say who gave it to you—but I’m curious…what was it? And do you agree with the idea that there is no bad writing advice, just “advice that works for you and advice that doesn’t”? Bring on the comments and opinions! The worst writing advice I ever received? “Try to write an Amish romance. That’s what’s 'hot' now…” (from an agent). What’s yours?

www.prairierosepublications.com

Friday, September 11, 2020

California's Ghost Towns

 California became the 31st state in September, 1850. The state had played an important part in the development of the West, and still had a role to play before the century was out. There’s just too much for such a small post, so I thought I’d focus on an often-overlooked area of California history: the ghost town.



Most ghost towns are the result of mining booms and busts, and California has seen her share of those. Silver and gold, as the song goes – both played their part in the development of the state.

California has an entire Wikipedia page of ghost towns, from 18 Mile House and Agua Fria to You Bet and Zurich. I’m going to concentrate on several that you can actually tour today, so you can travel back in time and see how the Old West looked when your characters were alive. Visit California (visitcalifornia.com) has assembled a nice little jaunt that will take you three to six days to complete.

Old Shasta is our first stop. In the 1850s, this town was the jewel in the state’s northern mining district crown. They had the longest row of brick buildings north of San Francisco, with hotels, saloons, and stores along their main street. Unfortunately, the railroad was routed, not through Old Shasta, but through Poverty Flats (now Redding). That spelled doom for the small town, and residents soon packed their belongings and headed for more promising regions. 

Today, you can tour the city’s (crumbling) remains in Shasta State Historic Park, on Highway 299 west of Redding. A must-see is the beautifully restored 1861 County Courthouse, with its jail cells and gallows. The building is now a museum holding an Old West gun collection and a selection of mining memorabilia. 




After your visit, you can head over to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, a 3,000-acre park,  26 miles from Nevada City, that’s home to the town of North Bloomfield and the historic Diggins site. In the 1870s, hydraulic mining was touted as the new mining revolution – powerful jets of water stripped whole mountains bare in the search for valuable minerals. That ended in 1884 when the first environmental lawsuit in the U.S. banned hydraulic mining. The mines were closed, but you can still see a 600-foot canyon, eroded cliffs, and massive tailings piles at the state park, then stroll through a restored saloon, barbershop, blacksmith shop, general store, and former dance hall (now the park museum). 

Just east of Bridgeport, you’ll find the Bodie State Historic Park, home to that abandoned town, the official gold rush ghost town. In the late 1800s, Bodie was a booming mining community with a red-light district, a Chinatown, and a saloon on every corner. Bodie once had a population of nearly 10,000. However, as the gold dwindled away, so did its citizens, until the town was almost empty. Today, you can walk the streets and peer into 100 or so perfectly preserved buildings: stores, hotels, an old church, and the simple homes of Bodie’s inhabitants. There’s even an old truck that was left behind at the turn-of-the-century gas station. The only inhabitants nowadays are park rangers, who’ll gladly take you on a tour of the town – but ask that you not take home “souvenirs.”




North of Trona, you’ll find the town of Ballarat. In 1898, the town’s population rose to around 500, and Ballarat boasted three hotels, seven saloons, a post office, and a Wells Fargo stop. After a couple of decades, the miners’ luck ran out and so did the miners. Today, you can find weathered ruins backed by the rugged Panamint Range. 

The living ghost town of Randsburg saw its heyday in the 1890s, when gold, silver, and tungsten were discovered. In 1899, the population ran around 3,500 but today it’s more like 70. You can sample an ice cream float from the general store’s 1904 soda fountain and have a beer at the White House Saloon. The Rand Desert Museum offers a sampling of mining machinery, and a handful of antique shops may or may not be open on any given day. Randsburg is located south of Ridgecrest.




End your tour in the town of Calico, home of the state’s largest silver strike and 500 mines. After a pretty rowdy battle, Calico was declared the state’s official silver rush ghost town. It’s now a ghost town theme park, with attractions like the Calico Odessa Railroad and the Calico Mystery Shack (“amazing feats and confusing sights”). When you’re through riding the rails, you can pan for gold, browse the shops, and down a few sarsaparillas in Lil’s Saloon. On Saturday nights, you can take a ghost tour of the 1880s Maggie Mine. This is all due to Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farms fame), who bought the town in the 1950s and restored the crumbling buildings. Many of the wood and adobe buildings are authentic, while the rest have been carefully added to replace those that were beyond repair.

California certainly isn’t the only state to house ghost towns, but it does have some interesting ones. Whether you prefer the pristine emptiness of Bodie or the enthusiastic show that is Calico, you can find something interesting in our 31st state.

J.E.S. Hays
www.facebook.com/JESHaysBooks

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Forgotten Western Classics: The Spikes Gang (1974)


Lee Marvin had star power in droves. I sat through The Spikes Gang, an episodic western, and was never bored when he was on screen. That’s not to say the other actors were slacking because everyone turns in heartfelt performances—including cameos by Arthur Hunnicutt and Noah Beery, Jr. It's just that Marvin is one of those heavy hitters, like Robert Mitchum or Katharine Hepburn, that chews up every frame he graces. I promptly forgot the screenplay's limitations that plays more like a television movie of the week than a vehicle worthy of a legend who starred in some of the best westerns of his time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), Monte Walsh (1970) and my personal favorite, The Professionals (1966).

The plot concerns impressionable Will, Tod, and Les (Gary Grimes, Charles Martin Smith, and Ron Howard), restless teens, who come to romanticize Harry Spikes (Marvin) after finding him near death and nursing him back to health. Eventually they throw in with the charismatic outlaw but instead of high adventure, that Spikes promises, they wallow in hardships, blood, and bank robbing that goes more often awry than turning any kind of sustainable profit. Along the way, they come to realize, too late, that Spikes is no one to admire. The Spikes Gang is based on The Bank Robber, a novel by Giles Tippette, that I'll probably track down at some point. I suspect based on the discursive story that made it to the screen that I'd enjoy the book even more.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Why Blog?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Why Blog?
For most of us, we are more than half-way through the year. I like to take the time and take stock of where I am in my plans and goals. This Holiday weekend, with all the events, family, and COVID make it even more important. Things change, and yet remain the same.
Perhaps you’ve asked yourselves these same questions. Am I on target in our writing? How about that ‘blessed’ thing called marketing? How does blogging, and the time it takes, fit into all that? Why blog if no one reads or comments on what I’ve taken the time to think, research and write about? I rethink this every year, asking myself the same thing, why blog? After all I have so many other things that are important. Well, perhaps that is true, but as I explain below, I find it important.
For me the answer is a bit complex. I’ll break it down into three sections. 1. Marketing 2. Research and 3. Name recognition, (the one that’s a bit tricky for me.)
1. Marketing:
If we write stories, be they short, flash or full length, we want people to read them. Even with non-fiction we want the information to get to those who might enjoy what we’ve researched and written.
For someone like me, who writes slow, there can be a long time between the various stories. Added to that, I write in two historical genres: Western and Medieval. I love both equally. You add to that the poetry I occasionally write, along with non-fiction work, and it gets busy. Facebook can only do so much, as well as emails. Plus, how do you expand your readership. To me, blogging is one of those ways.
I realize not everyone will like what I write, despite my desire that they do. At the same time, finding those readers who will like my work, is a challenge. It helps to use all the options at my disposal, and blogging is one of those for me.
Photo property of the author
2. Research:
This is probably the primary reason I blog. I want to share the research I have done with others. History and the people who made it are a compulsion with me. To tell the stories of the people and places from history is something I want to do. I don’t want those pieces from the past to be lost. The nice thing about blogs, especially with the tags, your posts are available via searches almost forever.
For over ten years I’ve researched the story of a Colorado criminal. I told his story at the Pikes Peak Library History Symposium presentation on June 9 of 2018. It is my hope to complete the story of the whole family. A very telling piece of history and the time in which they lived.
The other research that’s important for me to share is the story of the early women doctors in Colorado. While ‘Doc Susie’ is a part of that story, it has been slanted her way for far to long. There were so many others who did as much if not more than she. Between blog posts and articles I've begun to balance that scale. For those who may be interested, the article in Saddlebag Dispatches can be read here: Dr. Quinn, Doc Susie and the Reality of Colorado Women Doctors
The stories of the doctors and so many others need to be preserved for future generations. When you feel like you can’t do something, just take a look at what those who preceded you did. It sometimes helps when put into that perspective.
 3. Name Recognition:
Since I write fiction under a pen name: Angela Raines, it is important I share that information on my posts. When you add my online name, Renawomyn, it gets a bit tricky.
At the same time, my non-fiction work is important. I simply do not want readers of romance to pick up a book with my real name expecting a sweet story and they are reading about juvenile delinquents, early criminals or lynchings. By using pen names I hope to avoid that problem. Of course the reverse could also be true. Can you imagine buying one of my books about the trials and tribulations of early women doctors, and find your reading a story about a medieval woman and the man she loves?
In the end, whether anyone reads or comments on my blog posts, I have things I want to say. Yes, it hurts when no one seems to care, but in the long run, it’s the future I write for. So, here’s to the future and to the readers who want to know what I have to share.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Western Writers of America,
Colorado Author League,
Women Writing the West

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