Monday, January 11, 2021

Dodge City by Tom Clavin

This review originally appeared at Macmillan's Criminal Element.

The Wyatt Earp myth is spent, taking its place alongside Bingham’s Washington crossing the Delaware and Paul Revere shouting “The British are coming!” Sure, there’s an element of truth to the timeworn renditions, but we’ve finally passed over a transom where the reality is now far more entertaining and gripping than the malarkey, in short, we’ve grown up. In the author’s note, Tom Clavin writes, “… most research sources revealed that legend and fact often overlapped and that the facts about the lives of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson before, during, and after Dodge City were usually at least as satisfying as the fictions.”

Earp’s myth, via Hollywood mainly, has seen a lot of mileage out of the honorable-above-reproach-lawman song, who even at his worse (see, for example, Wyatt’s vendetta ride) appears merited in all that he did—that the ends justified the means. Even as I write this, you can bet your Buntline Special that a screenwriter is putting the finishing touches on yet another stagnant showdown at the O.K. Let’s hope the producers rip up that script and read Tom Clavin’s clear-headed novel. And the beauty is that in a gifted historian writer’s hands (ala David McCullough and Joseph Ellis), the fact sheet can still have a cinematic thrust. Observe this meeting between Old West titans: 

When Bat stepped off the train, he had an ivory-handled six-gun on each hip and a double-barreled shotgun in his hands. Wyatt waited for him, along with Bassett, Frank McLain, Neil Brown, and several other men wearing pistols. Bat was curious as to the whereabouts of Doc Holliday, who he knew had joined Wyatt in Kansas City, but with the men already here—and this was just the reception committee; likely there were more in town—there was plenty of firepower.

Wyatt and Bat greeted each other. Though different men physically—Wyatt tall and slender, Bat of average height and stocky—their grins were the same, indicating pleasure to see each other, even though the reunion was to settle a matter that might risk their lives. Then they set off, natural leaders, the rest of the men flanking them, starting down the dusty streets of Dodge City, ready for one last showdown to preserve the peace.

Damn, but didn’t that put me right there in the lawless, tumbleweed-strewn town. Another perk to perusing these pages was gaining a fuller picture of Bat Masterson, as Mr. Clavin writes “[he] was no one’s Walter Brennan, Andy Devine, or Slim Pickens.” He was opinionated, willing to back up beliefs with force if pushed, and widely known as a man who could put away drink after drink, remaining happy-go-lucky.

Bat and Wyatt shared a bond in that they both came from clans of tight-knit brothers, and both lawmen lost a sibling in the line of duty. Bat witnessed his brother Ed, who was trying to disarm a drunken cowboy, get shot down. The assassination happened at such close range that Ed’s vest lit on fire as he stumbled across the street before collapsing.

Ed lived in a room above the saloon, and Bat and a couple of men brought him there, blood leaving a trail up the boot-worn steps. Soon after a doctor arrived, he informed Bat that there was nothing to be done for Ed. In an anguished whisper, Bat said, “This will just about kill Mother,” recalling all the times he had been told to watch out for his mild-mannered brother. “She’ll never forgive me for letting him get killed in this town.” Bat was already certain he would never forgive himself.
Bat sat beside his brother, holding Ed’s hand. During the next thirty minutes, what was left of the young marshal’s life ebbed away. Then, without regaining consciousness and thus unaware of his brother’s tears, Ed Masterson died.

Author Loren D. Estleman says, “Tom Clavin’s Dodge City is a lesson in historical reporting, exhaustively researched and enthusiastically written with all the page-turning drive of a modern thriller. He’s swept aside a century of cheesy myth to excavate the far more fascinating reality that lay beneath.”

Agreed. This reader enjoyed walking the streets of Dodge once again, and yet it felt like the first time.

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.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

500 Hundred Manuscripts - Interview with Charlie Steel

This time around Western Fictioneers is interviewing Charlie Steel. What an interesting perspective Charlie has given on writing, research, and how he became a writer. Read on. I'm sure you'll find something you can relate to as you take your writer's journey.

Charlie, when did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

At age 8, when I started reading, I thought, "I can write too." I had broken into my father's library and quickly devoured Zane Grey, Max Brand, William MacLeod Raine, Jack London, Gene Stratton Porter, and James Oliver Curwood. Thank goodness for Webster's Dictionary ( I still mispronounce the words I learned on my own at that early age). Secondary to that, and ever since I can remember, I have always had stories in my head.

Did you choose the genre of Westerns or did it choose you?

I knew so much about the WEST, and it felt comfortable to write in that genre. (I hate the word genre, as a good story is a good story no matter time or place.)

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

In the early '60s, my first vignette was published in a college paper at age 17. It was well-received. Then I did two plays that earned both Pitt & Balcony Theatre and Michigan State University tens of thousands of dollars.

I didn't write a good query letter, didn't edit very well, and after a hundred or so rejections, I gave up submitting for some 40 years. But I kept on stockpiling hundreds of short stories, some plays, and enough material for over 80 books. In 2002, I met an editor who read some of my work and began to help me. I was published in 2003 and haven't stopped. I don't self publish, and I like smaller publishers; they are much kinder to a writer.

All of my 500 plus manuscripts from over 50 years of writing have to be edited and some rewritten. That takes 3 months to 2 years. Editing is horrible and my worst enemy. I will never submit a story to a publisher until it is as good as I and other professional editors can make it.

Do you think your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

Yes, my experiences have definitely influenced my writing in many, many ways. To begin with, I was precocious as a kid, living in a very small town. I burned down a barn (accidentally) at age four and was the first four-year-old to be arrested for arson. The police eventually took me out of lockup and turned me over to Dad. My father levitated me and performed extreme discipline, yelling, "Four years old and already arrested and in jail." (Lucky I lived through that.) At age 19, I joined the Army, was lifted out by the government because of my test scores and personality traits. Then I trained and served behind the Iron Curtain monitoring Russian activity. After discharge, I went back to Berlin as a civilian with higher pay and performed the same functions for several more years. I then worked my way through eight universities, earning five degrees, including a Ph.D. Later I was hired as a Child Protection Worker in a high-risk city. In that capacity, facing drug-dealers and guns while trying to remove children, with or without police assistance, was in many ways more dangerous than being behind the Iron Curtain. It forced me to see the "belly of the beast" and nearly destroyed my health. I don't understand my proclivity for dangerous jobs, but I did them to the best of my ability.

Writers write based on what they know and have experienced. Going back to my childhood, I worked beginning at age six doing chores around the house. My parents were stern taskmasters, and I was responsible for helping keep the much-needed garden weeded and watered. Later, I worked for others. I was hired as a grocery store worker at age 10 to help purchase my own clothes. Among many other jobs were oil field worker, construction, foundry work, and salvage diver. (Nothing really out of the ordinary as all of us born in the '40s worked from childhood on. We had to; most of us were poor.)

I understand you have an upcoming release. Where did the idea spring from?

STRONG WOMEN OF THE WEST Anthology is my latest and will be released by Condor Publishing, Inc., in January 2021. I wrote this book as a tribute to my mother and all strong women wherever they may live. My mother was tough and did everything she could to keep me on the "straight and narrow," and sometimes not so gently. She would have won World War II if they had put her in charge. She declared war on dirt and on bad behavior in our houseshe won. I admire strong, intelligent women. To me, intelligence is a beautiful thing and lasts a lot longer than good looks, which, of course, is superficial and overrated. The idea of writing about strong women came naturally, and some of the stories in this work were written decades ago. Women make up half the population or more and should have been running this world ages ago. (Look what a mess men have made of it.)

I have to ask are you a plotter or a pantser?

All my life stories came into my headbeginning, middle, and end. The majority I never wrote down, and they are lost forever. But some 500 or more, long or short, were written as they came to me, nearly fully composed. (Of course, they all needed rewrites and further research.) My best books or short-stories are those I wrote non-stop within a few days as fast as I could type. But as stated before, the editing takes forever…

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

I used to write every day. I am old, and now I take my time. Besides, I have those many manuscripts that are finished and need editing.

I also have many other stories that are not complete. It is a terrible thing not to finish a manuscript. I am currently attempting to work on some of them. In my conversations with other writers, I am not alone in this.

Which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

SHORT STORIES capture a world and define it, mesmerize, and end with a concise conclusion. The short story is my favorite because it makes the reader think, wonder, and fill in the unwritten details.

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

It smacks me in the face…and pleads to be written down.

We all have something that makes us unique. Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?

Reading saved my life when I was a child. I started school too early (four-years-old) and was in a fist-fight nearly every day throughout grade school. Books were my world, along with avid fishing and hunting. What fish and game I brought home, the family ate. There is no better meat than venison.

Do you write in other genres?

(Science Fiction, don't tell anyone. A book of short stories will come out someday.)

What are your favorite areas of research, and why are they important to you?

Any credible book, article, or interview helps a writer. Most research material available to a writer is endless. Details sometimes on a rarified subject are hard to find.

The Indian experience (my Indian friends do not like the term Native American) and their decimation, for example, has never really been told as to how gruesome it was. The deliberate elimination of Indians, tribe by tribe, from the East Coast to the West Coast is our shame and our holocaust. Historians didn't tell the truth (and often still don't) and did not document exact details, and they participated and exulted in the Indian's demise. We are fortunate that any tribe exists today. In this very present time, treaties and promises have not been kept. Indians still live isolated and in abject poverty; treaties are still broken, and land is still stolen. Wish I could write about it in more detail, but it is such a horrible history, beyond human understanding.

Research is essential; we try to get it right. All writers make mistakes, but hopefully, we do the best we can.

Thank you Charlie for the interview. Wishing you the best on the upcoming release.  For those who would like to know more about Charlie and his books, check out the following links.

Amazon Author Page - Charlie Steel

Charlie Steel - Website

Thursday, January 7, 2021

New Year's in the Old West

 People have been celebrating the beginning of the New Year for at least four thousand years (probably since we discovered what a “year” actually was). Most civilizations have similar customs: eating special foods, celebrating with a party, making resolutions, and setting off fireworks.


Your Old West characters wouldn’t have celebrated much differently than you do yourself. They’d have started celebrating on December 31 and probably kept going for some time after midnight. They may or may not have had fireworks – depending on where they lived and whether or not they had the cash for such frivolities. They’d probably have sung “Auld Lang Syne” though and may have followed the traditions of their ancestors.


If your parents were Spanish or Mexican, they’d have eaten one grape for every peal of the church bell at midnight. This was said to bring 12 sweet months ahead. If you came from Austria or Hungary, pork would be on the menu because pigs represented progress and prosperity. Beans, which resemble coins, were also representative of prosperity. Italians ate lentils and Americans living in the South enjoyed black-eyed peas. In the Netherlands and Greece, ring-shaped cakes and pastries symbolized that the year had come full circle, and in Sweden and Norway rice cakes were baked with an almond inside one cake. Whoever found the almond was said to be certain of good fortune all year.


If your family was English, you might leave your “dirty” money outside on the night of December 31 and take in the “clean” cash after midnight. In Scotland, they believed the first guest of the New Year was very important. They called this practice “first-footing” and felt that the perfect first visitor was a tall, dark male bearing a lump of coal, some shortbread, salt, a black bun, and a “wee dram” of whiskey. Swiss ancestors might teach that dropping a dollop of rich whipped cream on the doorstep will usher in riches for the New Year.


The practice of making a New Year’s resolution is believed to have started in ancient Babylon, where citizens paid off debts and returned borrowed tools as well. They believed that their resolutions impressed the gods and caused them to look favorably upon that person. After a wild New Year’s Eve party, most people would resolve to drink less and go to bed at a decent hour!


January 1 wasn’t even thought of as New Year’s Day until Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC. Before then, every culture celebrated on different days depending on which calendar they used. The Chinese set the date at the second new moon after the winter solstice. Egyptians, on the other hand, celebrated at the annual flooding of the Nile river, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. Julius Caesar decreed that the first day of the year would be January 1, honoring Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings. In medieval Europe, Christians changed the date to celebrate New Year’s on various other holy days, from December 25 to March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation). In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day.  


Your character could celebrate New Year’s any way you choose, picking from one or several cultural traditions. The important thing is to celebrate the beginning of a new cycle in their life. May your modern New Year be a healthy and prosperous one, with good fortune for you and your family.


J.E.S. Hays

Friday, January 1, 2021


I found this list on Pinterest. Though I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore, I thought this list was pretty inspiring and had some good things that we all might be able to use. I'm going to pick at least ONE to make life better in 2021. Not sure what, though. It has to be something that I can actually do (not like going to the gym three times a week or anything like that). I see one that calls to me--CLEAN OUT ATTIC. Now, it might take me all year to do it, but by golly, that's gonna be my "tough one" for this coming year. And maybe I'll pick something else, too, like LEARN SOMETHING NEW. It's been so long since I played the piano or the guitar, that might count as learning something new...all over again. LOL! What about you? See anything on this list that might be an inspiration?