Saturday, April 17, 2021

"This is it!" - Interview with Robert J. Randisi

 What is it to be lucky? Getting to 'interview' some amazing writers. Robert J. Randisi is one of those. Who knew back when I started reading some of his work that I would one day be sharing his insights into this career of writing. Reading the answers can inspire others to want to follow in his footsteps, as best they can.

Enjoy, I know I did.

Photo provided by RJR

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was fifteen years old when I decided “This is it! I had gone to the movies to see Paul Newman in HARPER. When I came out I was hooked on the private eye genre. I bought the Ross Macdonald book the movie was based on, THE MOVING TARGET, and I said “This is what I’m going to do for a living by the time I turn thirty.” And I did.

2. Did you choose the genre or did the genre choose you?

The Western genre chose me when a publisher came to me and said, “Can you write Westerns?” I had never thought about it because I was writing mysteries, but I said, “Of course I can!” That’s how The Gunsmith was born. I wrote the first one and the editor said, “It’s good, but we have to break you of this hardboiled style. I said, “In westerns, it’s not hardboiled, it’s hardcase!” I’ve been producing a Gunsmith book every month since January of 1982

3. What was the nudge that gave you the faith that you could and wanted to be published?

There was no “nudge,” there was just never a question of doing anything else. I was committed to this and didn’t allow any room for failure. I made sure I had no other profession to fall back on.

Amazon

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

When you’re on a schedule like mine—for the most part, sixteen books a year—there’s no “muse” and there’s no “waiting.” There’s no time between books, there’s just always a book-or two. I usually start to write after breakfast and stop to have dinner.  After that, I’ll take a nap to get the day book out of my head. I head back to the office around nine p.m. and start working on the night book, stop at around midnight (when we have a coffee/tea break) then go back and work from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.  I go to bed around 5:30 a.m. and sleep til noon.  It only changes if I’m working on three projects at once.  Then there’s the day project, the 9-to-midnight project, and the 1-5 a.m. project. 

5. If you had a choice what is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels.

My favorite has always been novels. I am just naturally a long-winded sonofagun. Even when I try to write short stories, they usually come out to about ten thousand words. And I ever think in terms of a novella.

Amazon

6. Is there a process where you find your next story, or does it just come to you?

As I said about, the process is that there’s always a book, always stories to tell. I don’t understand a life where you don’t wake up in the morning with an idea and go to bed at night with another one.

7. Do you write in other genres?

I’ve written in just about every genre except Romance—but my career has been Mystery and Western. I started out writing mysteries when my first book, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY, came out in 1980.  It was that same publisher who came to me and asked me to write Westerns.  From that point on, I did both.  While I’ve written about 500 Westerns, I believe I might be better known in the mystery genre,, where I’ve written many private eye books, edited about 30 anthologies. While being one of the founding members of Western Fictioneers I’ve also founded The Private Eye Writers of America, created the Shamus Award, founded the American Crime Writer’s League, and co-created Mystery Scene Magazine (with my late friend and colleague, Ed Gorman)

Amazon

Of late I’ve been concentrating on my Rat Pack mysteries series, of which there are 12 books. I’m working on #13. They are now being reprinted and published by Speaking Volumes. I’ve also recently had two books in my Nashville P.I. series appear from Wolfpack Publishing, and two books in by Headstone P.i. series from Down & Out Books.

And of late, as well as the Gunsmith, I’ve been writing Ralph Compton books for Berkley, four of which are now available on Amazon and in Walmart.


RALPH COMPTON SERIES

BIG JAKE’S LAST DRIVE (2021)

FRONTIER MEDICINE (2021)

RIDE FOR JUSTICE (2021)

THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LAW


RAT PACK SERIES

Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime (2006)

2. Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die (2007)

3. Hey There (You with the Gun in Your Hand) (2008)

4. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You (2009)

5. I'm a Fool to Kill You (2010)

6. Fly Me to The Morgue (2011)

7. It Was a Very Bad Year (2012)

8. You Make Me Feel So Dead (2013)

9. The Way You Die Tonight (2013)

10. When Somebody Kills You (2015)

11. I Only Have Lies for You (2018)

12. That Old Dead Magic (2020)


HEADSTONE SERIES

1. The Headstone Detective Agency (2019)

   2. Headstone's Folly (2020)


NASHVILLE SERIES

1. The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie (2013)

   2. The Last Sweet Song of Hammer Dylan (2019)


For a complete list, check out the link below.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/r/robert-j-randisi/

Amazon Author Page


Thank you, Robert, for being so generous with your time and knowledge. I know I appreciate your years of experience and all those wonderful stories you've written over the years. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

West of the Big River: The Lawman by James Reasoner


William M. "Bill" Tilghman had one of the most illustrious careers of any Old West lawman, serving as sheriff, town marshal, and deputy United States marshal in some of the toughest places west of the Mississippi. But he faced perhaps his greatest and most dangerous challenge when he rode alone into the wild Oklahoma Territory settlement of Burnt Creek on the trail of a gang of rustlers and outlaws with some unexpected allies . . .

James Reasoner has been a professional writer for forty years.  In that time, he has authored several hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres. Writing under his own name and various pseudonyms, his novels have garnered praise from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as appearing on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.  He lives in a small town in Texas with his wife, award-winning fellow author Livia J. Washburn. His website is http://jamesreasoner.com and he blogs at http://jamesreasoner.blogspot.com.

Center Point recently acquired the large print rights and the first hardback of Western Fictioneers' West of the Big River: The Lawman is now available. The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton, The Artist by Jackson Lowry, and The Ranger by James J. Griffin are already up for pre-order and more will follow. This would be a great series for your local library to pick up.


   

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Pilgrim by Marty Stuart

I’ve always enjoyed concept albums, Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979) being an early influence. As someone who appreciates storytelling  I’m sure many of you do as well  when each song on a record forms a bigger narrative, it’s even more engaging than the standard album. Until a few weeks ago, I had never listened to Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim (1999). Holy hell, what an unforgettable journey!

The conceptual premise is of a man known only as The Pilgrim who unknowingly falls in love with a married woman named Rita. When Rita’s husband Norman kills himself after discovering the affair, this propels a despondent Pilgrim on his wanderings. Apparently the album is based on a true story from Stuart’s hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

That being said, these country/bluegrass songs pop individually on their own, and "Sometimes the Pleasure's Worth the Pain" is a good example of that.



If that’s not enough to rope you in, maybe some of these legends who make cameos will: Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Johnny Cash.

What are some of your favorite concept albums?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The teacher said "Keep Writing" - Interview with Chris Mullen

The Western Fictioneer Member author interviews in this month of April start with Chris Mullen. It is always amazing to see the journey writers take to tell their stories. Sit back, enjoy the read. Be sure to leave a comment or question. It is always rewarding to hear from others.


1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?


I have always enjoyed creating and telling stories, especially with my students, but becoming a writer always seemed so far off, a dream on the horizon. I suppose the beginnings of my dream trackback to a high school creative writing class. I would write poetry, songs, and short stories, though at the time, the poetry was terrible adolescent love-torn thoughts, my songs were a little better and varied from folk style to grungular weirdness, the better ones telling a story within the verses, and my actual short stories were in very raw shape. I had a long road ahead of me but gained some very real, appreciated guidance from my creative writing teacher. “KEEP WRITING.” Over the years, I wrote whenever I could, but my top priority became being the best Dad to my boys, which took the majority of my time. Telling stories and making up adventures with my students over the years kept my creative juices flowing and eventually led me to create my main character, Rowdy, and the adventures that he would have. As the Rowdy adventures gained interest in class over many different years with new students, it became clear that I needed to take the next step with Rowdy and write his adventures down. Over the next 8 years, I wrote when I could, keeping my priorities intact, and completed book 1 – Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen. In the summer of 2020, I took a huge leap of faith and, thanks to a loving, supportive wife and family, made the transition to full-time writer/author.

Photo provided by
Chris Mullen

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


With regards to Rowdy, I would say the genre picked me. I was leading my kindergarten class through a rodeo unit and cowboys and cowgirls were a huge interest for my students. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were just around the corner, so all of our focus was on rodeo and the old west. It was an easy decision for character development. I had no idea how popular Rowdy would become with class but welcomed their interest and told many tales over the duration of the unit, and the years of classes that followed.


3. Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?


Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen is my debut novel and was born from storytelling during the closing hours each day in my kindergarten class. ~ Set in the mid to late 1800’s ~ Thrust to the mercy of the Mississippi river, thirteen-year-old Rowdy floats safely away as he watches the smoke rise from his burning farmhouse. His father, dead. His brother, dead. Both gunned down in front of him by a murderous gang of bandits. Now alone in the world, his perilous journey of survival begins, challenging and shaping him into the young man his father would want him to become. Pulled from the waters, he is given a chance by a lone river Captain and his mate. Working the trade routes between St. Louis and New Orleans, he learns to navigate safe passage but more importantly identify dangers both in and on the water. Rowdy has grown strong working the river but must use his wit as well as his strength to confront a bullying crewman and survive a surprise attack by river pirates. Growing up on the Mississippi River was a start for Rowdy, but a new beginning is just around the next bend. Dodge City, Kansas proves it has its own challenges but gives Rowdy the one thing he has been longing for, companionship. He was warned about Patrick Byrne but was smart enough to procure a sickly horse from Dodge City's most powerful rancher. Rowdy's care for his new horse, Delilah, sees the blossoming of a magnificent animal and loyal friend, yet the rumble of a dark cloud forms over him. Byrne wants the horseback and will go to great lengths to get what he wants. Facing life and death decisions, Rowdy's only option is to run. Survival is what Rowdy has come to know all too well. His escape across the plains towards Lincoln, New Mexico nearly claims his life. Through a stranger's help, Rowdy recovers but is faced with questions about his rescuer's motives. Deciding to quietly move on, Rowdy finally discovers Lincoln, New Mexico, acquiring a new friend along the way. Rowdy must prove that he is who he says he is, not just to the people of Lincoln, but to himself. Rowdy is finally settling in when hired guns sent by Patrick Byrne find and confront him. Blood, bullets, and tears bring Rowdy's world to a showdown. Fighting for what was right is his code, living life for others becomes his way, and staring danger in the face is what he must do if he can truly be Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.


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


I am too scattered in thought and activity to follow any set routine for writing, although I am constantly internalizing storylines, plot, settings, characters, etc. When I have mulled over the most current thoughts enough, I then sit down and let everything escape onto the computer. I will take notes from time to time, but mostly I play through each section of story in my head, like an internal drive-in movie. I see the scenes, the action, and I hear the dialogue. Once the ‘movie’ is finished, I usually re-watch/re-think it over multiple times. We all enjoy our favorite movies multiple times, so its similar in that the more I ‘watch’ the better the story becomes, because unlike actual movies I enjoy, I can’t reach into the screen and change what I don’t like.

Photo provided  by
Chris Mullen


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


I enjoy writing novels most of all. I love diving into a scene, fine-tuning the details so that my readers can project themselves into the action or events that I am describing. I enjoy painting pictures with words that show the reader what I am seeing. Choosing the perfect rhythm in text and words that flow with the speed of the action or the thickness of emotion take time to develop, so it is within novel writing that I find the most enjoyment.


6. Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?


I was a teacher for 23 years, spending the entire time in an early childhood setting. Within my Kindergarten and PreK classes, my favorite time of year was spring because that was when we changed gears from reading stories, to making original stories. We then went a step further and brought those stories to life on screen. Over the years I have produced close to 100 short movies, all original, and all created by 4-5 year-olds. They each created a problem and solution and went through the steps of a simplified story structure that guided them through their idea. We were lucky enough to film both during the school day and after school hours. Thanks to many supportive parents we even traveled off campus and filmed on location. Our most memorable off campus shoot was at NASA. We even got to use and film on the NASA sets! If a student created a story in outer space or under water, we transformed the classroom into a green screen set and filmed there, inserting drawings or pictures that supported their desired sets. We held a movie festival for the parents and made dvds for all to take with them. The many years of movie making and story building helped pave a path for me to be awarded the Connie Wootton Excellence in Teaching Award for work with Pre-Kindergarten, which is given bi-annually by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools.


7. Do you write in other genres?


I have written some non-western, picture book style, children’s stories, but those currently remain in manuscript form. They are not forgotten but put aside while I continue with Rowdy. I’m sure I’ll meet the right illustrator one day and then maybe those stories will come to life as well. I also hope to explore other areas of novel writing, specifically in Science Fiction, Murder/Mystery, and possibly even YA Romance.


8. What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?


My biggest piece of advice, whether it be to my younger self, or another just getting the itch to write is to PERSEVERE and create what makes YOU happy. Ignore the ‘lists’ and wants of others and focus on the stories that come from within. Learn from those writers who have walked the path before you and keep an open mind as you hear how others have found their success. The path you make for yourself may not be the same as the authors you meet, but it is the determination and effort that you put into your work that will drive success. Remember your mistakes, but more importantly, take chances. What have you got to lose?


www.chrismullenwrites.com

https://www.facebook.com/chrismullenwrites

https://www.amazon.com/Rowdy-Wild-Mean-Sharp-Keen/dp/1735292516


Thursday, April 8, 2021

On This Date in the Old West...

 I have completed a year of “Holidays in the Old West,” so I’ve been searching for something else interesting to offer our readers. As I am fascinated by history, I will be digging deep into the history of the dates of my blog posts, seeking little-known but fascinating facts for your edification. 

April 9, of course, marks the date (in 1865) that General Robert E. Lee and 26,765 Confederate soldiers surrendered to U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House, thus ending the U.S. Civil War. However, I feel the topic has been pretty much exhausted (and probably by better researchers than yours truly), so I will let it go with a mention.

 

I would instead like to present another Civil War story: the story of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who, on April 9, 1864, was arrested by Confederate troops as a spy. She had crossed battle lines to assist a Confederate surgeon and was held prisoner until August of that same year. Walker is a fascinating character and one you might well have your characters encounter if you write about this period of history.




 

Mary Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. She was the fifth daughter of abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker, who shaped her unusual character (well, unusual for that time anyway). Her parents encouraged young Mary to wear “bloomer” pants rather than confining dresses, for example, and she continued this practice throughout her life, even wearing trousers beneath her wedding dress. When arrested for such daring attire in 1870, she protested that “I don’t wear men’s clothes. I wear my own clothes.”

 

Education was very important to the Walker family. Mary’s parents started the first free school in Oswego so that their daughters could be educated as thoroughly as their son. Mary and two of her older sisters then attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York. Once Mary had graduated from this school, she taught in Minetto, New York. However, she knew even then that her true vocation lay elsewhere: as a doctor.

 

Mary worked as a teacher until she had saved enough money to attend Syracuse Medical College. She received her medical degree in 1855—the second woman to graduate from the school (the first was Elizabeth Blackwell). Shortly after her graduation, Mary wed another physician, Albert Miller, and started a joint practice with her husband in Rome, New York. She refused to “obey” Albert during the vows and kept her last name, as well as wearing those trousers beneath a knee-length dress. Their practice did not succeed, as her neighbors refused to accept a woman doctor, and the couple later divorced.




 

When the Civil War began, Mary wanted to join the Union Army as a surgeon. She traveled to Washington, D.C., but was not allowed to serve as a medical officer because of her gender. Mary then decided to serve as an unpaid volunteer at the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington. At that time, the army did not accept female surgeons, so Mary was only allowed to function as a nurse.

 

Mary then organized the Women’s Relief Organization, which aided families who came to visit their wounded at the hospital. In 1862, Mary moved to Virginia and started treating wounded soldiers near the front lines of battle. In September of that year, she wrote to the War Department, asking to become a spy. This request was rejected, but in 1863, her license to practice as a surgeon was finally granted. Mary became the first female U.S. Army surgeon in history (as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon [civilian].”

 

During her wartime career, Mary often crossed battle lines, which is how she came to be arrested as a spy in 1864. One month after her release from prison, Mary became the assistant surgeon of the Ohio 52ndInfantry. She is the only woman in U.S. history to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor.




 

In addition to her work with the army, Mary also advocated for women’s rights, particularly in the areas of suffrage and sensible clothing. Her arrest for dressing like a man occurred in New Orleans but did nothing to deter her from the practice. Mary tried to register to vote in 1871 but was denied. She then campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 1881 and ran for Congress (as a Democratic candidate) in 1890. She didn’t win either campaign, but she did testify in front of the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of women’s suffrage.

 

Mary died at her home on February 21, 1919, at the age of 86. She was buried (in a black suit) in Rural Cemetery in Oswego. This fascinating character would be a wonderful addition to your historical fiction tales, especially if you’re writing about the Civil War or women’s suffrage. In her own words, from 1897, “I am the original new woman … why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am.”




Saturday, March 27, 2021

Left-Handed with a Pencil - Interview with Vonn McKee


The final post for March's National Women's History Month is with Vonn McKee. Not only is she a wonderful writer, but she is also an amazing musician and so much more. I've enjoyed learning so much about and from the talented women in this series. Each of us has something we can share and I have appreciated the response from everyone from the authors to those who comment and share their stories and insights. So, without further ado, here is more wisdom to glean from the woman who is, as her tagline says, " Writing the Range". 


When did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller as a writer and musician?


Honestly, I was far down the writer/musician path before I realized what was happening. I was a scrawny asthmatic kid with a big strong singing voice. Go figure. I sang in church by age seven. Beginning at ten years old, I was a circuit funeral singer in Louisiana. I mean, probably hundreds of funerals! In that environment, I saw people at their most emotional and vulnerable, and I learned to observe it without reacting myself. They told me my songs brought them comfort, and that’s something I’ve never forgotten as a singer and a writer … that all of us are given gifts to be used to touch others in some way. At thirteen I joined a contemporary Christian band called the Jesus Christ Power & Light Company and, by fifteen, I was the headliner for Shreveport’s “Louisiana Hayride,” which was like a farm team for the Grand Ole Opry. I was privileged to record for MCA and tour nationally for several years, including two Opry guest appearances. Can you say, “no dating life?” That’s when I started writing my own songs, something I still do.

Entwined with all this was poetry and essay writing. During elementary school I wrote poems, one of which was published in the school newspaper. It was a clever piece, I thought, on dropping a marble during class and getting busted by the teacher. I made up whimsical Ogden Nash sorts of words. Would you believe the editor “corrected” those words, completely destroying the rhyme scheme? Sheesh. That wasn’t my last tangle with an editor, by the way.

My seventh-grade English teacher was the first to suggest I should consider writing as a career. Sometimes it only takes one person to encourage you to do the thing you’re meant for.



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


I grew up in the Deep South, surrounded by stories and porch singings and plenty of Tennessee-Williams-type relatives. (Gee, I hope none of them read this.) My dad, however, was born in North Dakota and he and his Oklahoma-born father broke and sold horses. They were cowboys at heart and I got to spend summers on the family farm in northwestern Minnesota soaking up what I considered to be the Western life. In the kitchen, my grandmother told me stories from her childhood that rivaled those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I had a complete set of Zane Grey novels by the time I was eighteen and was writing a few cowboy songs. Fast forward to about 2012: I started going to writing conferences and eventually met Troy D. Smith, who asked me for some Western material. And off I went.


What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?


Songwriter Don Schlitz accepted his first CMA award for the Kenny Rogers recording of “The Gambler” by saying, “This is the first song of mine that anybody ever recorded, and I find all this very encouraging.” Although I didn’t kick off my literary writing career with a smash hit, my first short story published on Troy Smith’s Trailblazer imprint, “The Songbird of Seville,” was a WWA Spur finalist (2015). The same year, my second story, “The Gunfighter’s Gift” was a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker finalist. And I naively thought, “Hey, there ain’t nothin’ to this!”

I have since learned that no one has a Midas touch. It’s a little bit about talent and a lot about working hard to perfect your craft and also getting out and networking.


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


I’m a high-ADHD multitasker and discipline is a constant challenge. Also, I have many writing irons in the fire. I just finished judging for the Spurs (historical fiction) and am about to judge a short story contest. I’m a contributor and proofreader for Roundup magazine. Requests for short stories pop in, and I’m working on a novel. I belong to a writers critique group and I’m writing songs for a Western recording project. So I just try to spend time every day working on one or more of those. Just keep moving forward.


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


Ideas are never a problem. It’s the getting them written that’s tough. Right now, I have four or five book ideas queued up in my head and, unfortunately, I’m a slow writer. The ideas spring up from research or sometimes from meeting someone. No kidding, people “bring” me stories all the time. My WIP was inspired by reading about artists like Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and A.D.M. Cooper, who beautifully documented the 1800s Western landscape and people on canvas.


My anthology, Comanche Winter, was released on Wolfpack last year. Those stories are all over the place. A schoolboy has to defend his classmates against a Comanche attack. A circus troupe is caught behind enemy lines during the Civil War. An outlaw unwittingly steals a preacher’s identity.

Book Link

Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story?


Most characters show up with at least the essence of who they are and the story they wish me to tell. But I don’t like to start writing until I know them down to their bones. This is especially crucial when writing short stories. My goal is to make the reader feel very intimate with the character(s), as soon into the story as possible.

It’s all about believability and emotion with me. I work hard to stay accurate with historical and other details, but every story or song has to leave the reader or listener with an emotion. I’ve been told I write “with an ache,” and I do tend to write characters who carry both sweetness and pain inside them.


Is there anything you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?


Gosh, I don’t assume anyone is interested. But, let’s see. I’m left-handed with a pencil but ambidextrous with most other things. I play baseball equally bad with either hand.


I have an engineering degree and worked in commercial construction as a precast project manager for several years at a time when there were virtually no women in the industry, so I have building babies across the Southeast. I’ve been a volunteer naturalist at a park and I’m a botany/zoology/astronomy nerd.


Do you consider music poetry and does the rhythm translate into your other writing?


Oh, I like this question. When people comment that I have a background in wildly different fields, I explain that I see countless parallels in music, math, architecture, and stories. Good design incorporates rhythm or pacing (visual or audible), color (even words have this!) and climaxes or highs and lows. And things have to add up at the end!


You’ve planned WF Conventions. What prompted you to take that on?


Well, when WF members first mentioned wanting to have a convention, I threw out a few suggestions. Next thing I knew, I was named convention chairman! (You know who you are, Cheryl Pierson.)


I’ve often said that every single thing you learn will be used later, eventually. I enjoy throwing big gatherings and have cooked for 50 people all by myself a number of times. Laying out a spread and making sure rooms and tables look good may or may not be a Southern thing. Also, my years working as a project manager taught me to break down a project into schedules, logistics and inventory needs.


That said, I nominate Cheryl Pierson to be chairman of the next WF convention.


Book Link

What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?


To aspiring writers … first, read your arse off. See what good, and bad, writing looks like. See which genre lights you up. Romance? (I leave that to the professionals.) Historical fiction? Nonfiction? Juvenile/YA? Mystery? Straight-up Western?


Read a few (but not too many) books on writing. Some of my favorites are How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster and On Writing by Stephen King. I loved Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors because it taught me about storyline pacing and to conjure up mental pictures of every scene as I write it.


Go to where other writers are. You’ll meet someone at every conference who will help you on your path. Might even be your next publisher. At the very least, you’ll spend time among your tribe.


Then, start typing. Yes, the page will be blank. And, no, you won’t have any idea what you’re doing. None of us did when we started. And some of us still don’t but we write anyway.


And to my younger self, I would say, “Have faith. It’s going to work out okay. But PLEASE don’t marry that curly-haired guy from California.”

For more, check out the following links: 

Facebook

Amazon 


Thank you to everyone who has been so gracious to take part in these interviews. I have enjoyed and appreciated every one of you.

See you all in April for more from our Western Fictioneers Members. Be safe, stay well, and keep those fingers moving.



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Millionaire Maker - Verner Z. Reed

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines


Millionaires, especially those in the Old West. There is something about the rags to riches story that seems to touch something inside of us. If they could do it, maybe we can too. Oh, the dreams. However, those dreams did become a reality for many, even those who helped make the multi-millionaires.

Verner Z. Reed and his wife Mary Dean Johnson Reed made quite a difference during their lives.

Reed, born 1862 in Ohio and raised in Iowa, worked on the family farm to help the family, which consisted of thirteen children. Originally, Reed began his career as a journalist in Chicago at the Times. He later moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado when his half-brother came seeking a cure for his TB.

Verner Z Reed
Image from Wikipedia

It was in Colorado that Reed flourished. He saw a need for housing in the new town of Colorado Springs and created a business, Reed Brothers, along with his father and brother to build houses. He also wrote promotional brochures for the city.

In the 1890s as Cripple Creek was booming he took on promotional duties there. He also worked with Winfield Scott Stratton. It was with Stratton that Reed’s life took on new aspects. Reed helped broker the sale of Stratton's 'Independence' mine to an English syndicate. As a result of his efforts, Reed garnered one million dollars for his work. Building on that initial million, Reed soon invested in mines, while continuing to help Stratton invest also. When Stratton helped the founders of the Portland Mine, which is still producing gold, it was Reed who helped in the purchases of nearby mines.

The year of the sale of the Independence, 1893, Reed married Mary Dean Johnson who had moved from Ohio to Colorado Springs. At the time of their marriage Mary was eighteen and Verner had just turned thirty. The couple had three children.


Mary Dean Johnson Reed
Image from Find A Grave


The couple spent much of the early part of the twentieth century in Europe but returned to the states around 1912. The settled in Denver. Reed continued to invest in real estate, oil in Wyoming, and was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to the Special Mediation Commission. The Commission was developed to deal with the industrial labor trouble.

Below is an article from the July 14, 1917, Denver Labor Bulletin




After his death in 1919 he left an estate worth around twenty million. Mary donated money to various philanthropic endeavors. Even with all she'd done, it was said she added another six million to the estate by the time of her death in 1945.

Reed also was an author with such books as: Lo-To-Kah, 1897, Tales Of The Sunland, 1897, and Adobeland Stories, 1898 based on his interest and study of the mythology of the Indian Tribes, primarily the Utes and Pueblo Peoples. You may still be able to find these books online or in libraries. The views of someone who lived at this time in history are fascinating.

Mary and Verner Reed left their mark on their world. This short post only touches on a small part of their lives. So much for further study.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

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

Post (c) Doris McCraw


Saturday, March 20, 2021

One Brick at a Time - Interview with Cheryl Pierson

I'm excited to be showcasing the women writers of Western Fictioneers for National Women's History Month. Let me introduce you to Cheryl Pierson. What a career Cheryl has and the knowledge she is sharing with us. Grab your coffee or tea and have a read.


Amazon ebook


1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Hi Doris, and thanks for interviewing me!  I think I always knew I wanted to from the time I got in trouble for writing my name all through my Little Golden Books. At church, when I was little, my mom would give me a little notepad and pen to write my letters on—before I could really spell words. I would make up my own words and write them, and my mom would pretend she was reading them. LOL But I wrote a LOT of stories from the time I was able to string words together.


2. Did you chose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

In the beginning, I knew I wanted to write what I most liked to read—historical romance. And I did that, but as time went on, I branched out into other genres. I loved doing that because it let me spread my wings a little bit and try writing in new areas that were interesting to me, as well. I started out writing feature articles for newspapers, then progressed to very short stories for Adams Media’s Rocking Chair Reader books and various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Meanwhile, though, I was working on my western historical romance novels and submitting those. I had one agent who asked, “Can you write contemporary?” So I tried my hand at that—and then paranormal. But my first love(s) have always been historical romance and westerns. 

Amazon ebook


3. Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

I do think my life experiences influence my writing to a great extent. I’m very empathetic, a trait I got from my mother. Growing up, she’d always say, “Just think how you’d feel if that happened to you.” Or some variation of that, and of course, I did try to think how I would feel if faced with that particular situation. So, when I write, it’s easy for me to put myself in the other person’s shoes and write their feelings.


4. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m definitely a pantser. I plot when the story gets to a certain point, but even then, it’s not plotting. It’s a timeline I make so I will know I haven’t made a pregnancy last only 6 months, or have them celebrating Christmas a month early. I’ve always made a lot of lists, so this is part of that—a timeline “list” to keep everything straight within the story.


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

I love to write full-length novels because I have a chance to develop the characters more and give the plot several twists and turns. But I love writing short stories because it flexes those mental muscles and makes me have to say more in less time/space. 

Amazon


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

No, I really don’t have a “process”—but I usually come up with my ideas when I have quiet time to think about the different possibilities that “might have been” and go from there. When my kids were younger and in school, I spent a lot of time waiting for them after school and would always carry a notebook with me in the car “in case”—and that sure came in handy. These days, time for daydreaming is a lot scarcer. But I still keep coming up with one idea after another, somehow! 


7. Do you write in other genres?

I do. I write contemporary romantic suspense, western, historical romance, and have written a young adult western novel, RIDE THE WILD RANGE, and some middle grade and YA short stories that were contemporary.

Amazon


8.  What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be so hard on yourself when you don’t sell the very first thing you submit. 


Start small and build your portfolio one brick at a time instead of hoping you’ll hit that “grand slam home run” the first time you submit something. Writing a best-selling first novel doesn’t happen all that often.

 

Don’t sabotage your writing efforts by setting yourself up for failure.


Celebrate the small wins and achievements.


Don’t give up—keep writing. Even if it doesn’t sell, it improves your skills, your mental abilities, and your critical thinking. And it’s entertaining!

 

Write for yourself. Write what makes YOU happy.

 

Don’t quit your day job.

 

Remember to always lift other authors up. Putting out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine brighter.


Thank you, Cheryl. For those who would like to follow or know more about Cheryl and what she does, check out the links below.



Cheryl Pierson

Editor-in-Chief and Co-owner
Prairie Rose Publications

PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS WEBSITE:
http://prairierosepublications.com

E-mail: prairierosepublications@yahoo.com 


Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS--LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #1--by Cheryl Pierson

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, “story songs” were very popular. Even though radio stations had their “3-minute limit” for song length back then, there were some exceptions. And many of these songs were amazingly concise, able to tell the story, and also evoke emotion from the listener. It didn’t hurt to have a catchy melody to keep us all tuned in, or to be certain we’d run out and buy a 45 single record to have for our very own!



Many of these ballads were connected to movies—whether the theme or other music that was used in conjunction with a movie release. Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton were two of the most prolific balladeers of those times, and two of my favorite singers. I’m not sure in this case what came first—the “chicken or the egg”—because I was just a tyke when many of these songs gained popularity, so of course, I loved those singers and the songs, as well.

One of the most popular songs of this type was The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton. If you’ve ever tried to sing along, you will know this is not the easiest song to perform!

The importance of the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815) was not in the outcome of the War of 1812, but in the morale of the American forces as they were able to push back the British and keep them from gaining control of a major American port. This song contains the “high points” and is fun to sing (or TRY to sing!)—and easier to remember than memorizing names and dates from a history book. It was the battle the propelled Major General Andrew Jackson to national fame, and the last major battle of the war of 1812.

The song was written by Jimmy Driftwood, and received the Grammy for Best Song of the Year (1959) and Best C&W Song. Who was Jimmy Driftwood, you ask? According to Wikipedia, here’s the scoop on the melody and the lyrics, and a school principal who wanted to make learning history more interesting:

The melody is based on a well-known American fiddle tune "The 8th of January," which was the date of the Battle of New Orleans. Jimmy Driftwood, a school principal in Arkansas with a passion for history, set an account of the battle to this music in an attempt to get students interested in learning history. It seemed to work, and Driftwood became well known in the region for his historical songs. He was "discovered" in the late 1950s by Don Warden, and eventually was given a recording contract by RCA, for whom he recorded 12 songs in 1958, including "The Battle of New Orleans."

The Battle of New Orleans has been covered by many other artists, including Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, but none achieved the level of success that Johnny Horton’s version did. With a rasp in his voice, a twinkle in his eye, and his enthusiasm for the song, it’s easy to understand why The Battle of New Orleans skyrocketed, where it spent six weeks at number one on the popular charts, and ten weeks at the top spot on the country charts!

"The Battle Of New Orleans"

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seen the British come
And there must have been a hunnerd of 'em beatin on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood beside our cotton bales 'n' didn't say a thing

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
If we didn't fire our muskets till we looked 'em in the eye
We held our fire 'till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up the squirrel guns and really gave em
Well we

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs and powered his behind
And when we touched the powder off the gator lost his mind

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4

This song is included (of course!) in the 1960 album by Johnny Horton called Johnny Horton Makes History, containing all his other story-songs about different actual historical events and those that “might have been”—a wonderful collection.

Here’s a video of Johnny Horton performing his chart-topping song, and having a little fun with it.

https://youtu.be/mjXM6x_0KZk

Monday, March 15, 2021

1955 – a good year for the Ballad of Davy Crockett by Kaye Spencer #classicpop #Disneysongs #classictelevision



March 26, 1955—

Bill Hayes’ version of The Ballad of Davy Crockett reached the No. 1 position in Billboard magazine on March 26th and stayed there through April 23rd. Bill Hayes, b. June 5, 1925, has an impressive musical, Broadway, Hollywood, and daytime soap opera career. Read about Hayes HERE.

The Ballad of Davy Crocket was the theme song for the Disney five-part miniseries Davy Crockett, which aired on December 15, 1954. The first episode was a major Disney success and by February 1955, singers were scrambling to record and release their versions of the song.

Image: Amazon.com

Four other versions of the song made it to Billboard magazine charts in 1955, but none of them reached No. 1. Fess Parker, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Burl Ives, and Mac Wiseman had the other renditions.

The ballad is listed in the Top 100 Western Songs of all Time by Western Writers of America.

I have a 45 rpm of The Ballad of Davy Crockett by the Sons of the Pioneers. The “B” Side is The Grave Yard Filler of the West. Due to a basement flood a few years ago, I lost the covers to all my vinyl records, but I salvaged the records themselves. Since I don’t have a record player anymore, I’m thankful for YouTube when musical nostalgia kicks in.

Fess Parker played Davy Crockett for the live-action Disney television miniseries, and he also sang the song as the show’s theme. Buddy Ebsen was his co-star. The show had five episodes:

Davy Crockett Indian Fighter
(aired December 15, 1954)

Davy Crocket Goes to Congress
(aired January 26, 1955)

Davy Crockett at the Alamo
(February 23, 1955)

Two more episodes aired, despite Crockett dying at the Alamo. In Disney’s alternate version, this episode fades to the ballad music with Crockett, the last survivor, shooting at Santa Ana’s soldiers.

Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race
(November 16, 1955)

Davy Crockett and the River Pirates
(December 14, 1955)

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
Buena Vista Distribution Movie Poster
Fair Use


With the success of the miniseries under their production-belts, Disney forged onward and released the movie Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, which is a compilation of the first three television episodes. It released on May 25, 1955.

George Bruns, a Disney legend, wrote the music. His film scores include Johnny Tremain, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and Robin Hood, to name a few.

Thomas W. Blackburn was an American author, screenwriter, and lyricist, who worked in the Disney story department. Writing the lyrics to The Ballad of Davy Crockett were his first musical lyrics. He wrote several novels and screenplays for movies and television: Raton Pass, Colt .45 The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Cattle Queen of Montana, Johnny Tremain, Davy Crockett (King of the Wild Frontier), Maverick (several episodes), and single episodes for other popular television westerns of the time.

The Ballad of Davy Crockett was covered by a host of artists, and it ultimately sold ten million copies. The television show became wildly popular the world over thanks to Disney’s targeted marketing campaign in the UK to piggyback on the show’s U.S. popularity. It was called the “Crockett craze” in the U.S., particularly the Davy Crockett’s signature coonskin cap.

This image is from the television show Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker. Apparently, if the coonskin cap was good enough for Davy Crockett and Fess Parker, it was good enough for Daniel Boone and Fess Parker. 


'Daniel Boone' 1966 Wikipedia

Here is Bill Hayes singing The Ballad of Davy Crockett. If the video doesn’t show on your device, click HERE



Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time