Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Western Fictioneers Announces the Peacemaker Award Winners



(For Westerns Published in 2020)




GREAT LONESOME, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)

THE RETURN OF THE WOLF, Larry D. Sweazy (Five Star Publishing



MUSKRAT HILL, Easy Jackson (Five Star Publishing)

THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES, Michael R. Ritt (Five Star Publishing)

ANSWER CREEK, Ashley E. Sweeney (She Writes Press)






GOLDWATER RIDGE, Hannah Kaye (Jellysquid Books)

CHEROKEE CLAY, Regina McLemore (Oghma Creative Media)

THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES, Michael R. Ritt (Five Star Publishing)

FOLLOW THE ANGELS, FOLLOW THE DOVES, Sidney Thompson (Bison Books)



“The Last Photograph”, John T. Biggs, SADDLEBAG DISPATCHES
“Dakota Clothesline”, Elisabeth Grace Foley, ROPE AND WIRE
“The Miner and the Greenhorn”, Charlie Steel, UNDER WESTERN STARS
“The Gunsmith of Elk Creek”, Big Jim Williams, UNDER WESTERN STARS

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they did and the long hours they devoted to reading the submissions.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: June 11

 So far, we’ve talked about spies and condensed milk, Vaseline and the Civil War. This month, we’ll go further back in the country’s history, fudge the date a bit, and talk about one of our most famous citizens. On June 14, 1742, Benjamin Franklin invented his Franklin stove.

Up until then, houses were heated with fireplaces. This was an inefficient method, as much of the heat simply escaped up the chimney. Franklin’s cast iron “Pennsylvania Fire Place” was a metal-lined fireplace that had rear baffles for improved air flow and provided greatly improved heating with less smoke and less wood used. The stove heated the entire room evenly and the metal walls absorbed and radiated heat even after the fire went out.


Baffles in fireplaces weren’t a new idea, but Franklin’s stove baffles performed two functions at once. The idea behind a baffle is to lengthen the amount of time the air spends in contact with the stove, thus transferring more heat to cooler air and from the smoke. The Franklin stove’s baffle was positioned inside and to the rear of the stove. It was a wide but thin cast iron box which was open to the room’s air at the bottom and at two holes on the sides near its top. Air entered the bottom of the box and was heated by both the fire and the fumes flowing over the front and back of the box. This warmed air then rose inside the box and exited through the holes in the baffle’s sides. This pathway both lengthened the pathway the fire’s fumes followed before it reached the chimney, allowing more heat to be extracted from the fumes, and placed a duct near the fire, which heated the air by convection.


Franklin’s stove also made use of what he called an “aerial siphon” or “siphon revers’d.” This was a U-shaped duct connecting the stove to the chimney which drew the fire’s smoke and fumes first downward through one leg of the U, then upwards through the second leg and the chimney. This functioned to extract even more heat from the fumes before they exited via the chimney. In order for this design to work, the U-shaped duct was installed beneath the home’s floorboards before connecting to the fireplace chimney.


In Franklin’s own words: “In Order of Time I should have mentioned before, that having in 1742 invented an open Stove, for the better warming of Rooms and at the same time saving Fuel, as the fresh Air admitted was warmed in Entring, I made a Present of the Model to Mr. Robert Grace, one of my early Friends, who having an Iron Furnace, found the Casting of th Plats for these Stoves a profitable Thing, as they were growing in Demand. To promote that Demand I wrote and published a Pamphlet Intitled, An Account of the New-Invented Pennsylvania fire places: Wherein their Construction and manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated. &c. This Pamphlet had a good Effect, Govr Thomas was so pleas’d with the Construction of this Stove, as describ’d in it that he offer’d to give me a Patent for the sole Vending of them for a Term of Years; but I declin’d it from a Principle which has ever weigh’d with me on such Occasions, vis. That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this w should do freely and generously.”

Benjamin Franklin was a true genius who invented and created many of the things we still use today. He was only 36 when he invented his fireplace, and was inspired by two other inventors: Franz Kessler, who invented the inverted siphon, and Jean Desaguilliers, who utilized metal in his fireplaces. Benjamin’s design was improved upon by others, including David R. Rittenhouse, who added an L-shaped chimney in the late 1780s. He called his appliance the Rittenhouse Stove—but the public continued to call it a Franklin Stove. Your characters, if they have one in their home, would call it the same.



J.E.S. Hays



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Hired Hand

Somehow The Hired Hand escaped my viewing until just a few months ago, and that's peculiar because I'm a Warren Oates enthusiast (The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and enjoy other films where he teams with the underrated Peter Fonda (Race With The Devil) who also directed this 1971 revisionist western. The running time is brisk at just over ninety minutes and that works to the film's advantage because the plot is straightforward, building on character development and eschewing gratuitous action scenes. Fonda plays Harry Collings and Oates is Arch Harris, two drifters headed for the California coast when Harry, weary of the meandering lifestyle, decides to return to his wife and daughter that he abandoned several years earlier. Arch counts Harry as a good friend and because of his easygoing demeanor tags along.

Hannah Collings (Verna Bloom) gives her wayward husband a justified cold welcome assuming he will once again leave her. She's a progressive thinker and has done quite well without him once she got over the initial hurt. Hannah allows Harry and Arch to stick around to work as hired hands, maintaining her distance; still, the married couple eventually find a route back to each other's hearts. Arch realizes he needs to move on since not only is three a crowd but he finds Hannah attractive as well. Ms. Bloom dominates every frame she's in, building a complicated, nuanced character. But this is still a Western, and there's a violent shootout after Arch is kidnapped by some thugs who he and Harry had run afoul at the beginning of the story. It's about one of the most realistic, choreographed gun plays I've ever watched.

Peter Fonda does an adept job of directing though I could do without the slo-mo and the ocassional out-of-focus angles that were all the rage of the late sixties and early seventies cinema. That trivial note aside, this is a fine film for fans of westerns and Warren Oates aficionados alike, especially those who wish to get away from exhausted tropes that plague the genre. And perhaps because of the unorthodox approach, I wasn't surprised to read The Hired Hand was a commercial failure on its initial release—now it's regarded as one of the defining films of the 1970s.

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, June 5, 2021

Win Blevins - A Career in the World's Oldest Profession.

In this next 'author interview' post, Win Blevins lets us into his life as a writer in " the world's oldest profession - storytelling".  It is hoped you will come away with a feeling of pride, and excitement for not only Win's amazing accomplishments but what is possible for yourselves.

Photo from Amazon author page

What drew you to write westerns? 

The answer to this one surprises even me: I don't think of myself as writing westerns but novels set in the West. My characters are mountain men, Indians (especially them), Mormons, Mexicans, in one case a Buddhist nun kidnapped and brought to the U.S. for prostitution, and others. Some of my books (more than 40 of them) are fantasies: One is about Mark Twain coming back to earth to help out a modern Hannibal writer who's in trouble. There are no cowboys in my books, or not yet. But I love the West. Have lived here since 1966, two decades of that on the edge of the Navajo reservation. Loved climbing mountains, learning to ride, hunting, hiking, exploring ruins, everything. 


Who are your favorite writers of the West? 

Some are Norman Maclean (author of the wondrous A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT), Rudolfo Anaya, Tony Hillerman, Edward Abbey, John Nichols, Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton... I grew up on the Saturday matinees set in the West and loved them, but those stories don't satisfy the adult me.

Pantser or outliner? 

Pantser all the way. I think outlining would close the doors and windows of my imagination and force me onto a predetermined path. I LOVE the adventure of going on to a new page and a new scene every day. I love to listen to my characters and let them surprise me with what they say. I don't put on shackles by deciding in advance.

What would you say is a short Win Blevins reading list? 

STONE SONG, my novel of the life of Crazy Horse, GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS, the DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN WEST, and the RENDEZVOUS series, four novels that follow the life of one mountain man from leaving home to settling in California.

Where do you get your ideas? 

I don't get them--they chase me down, tackle me, and don't let go until I write them. One of those, my novel of the life of Crazy Horse, STONE SONG, took seventeen years of labor to produce, rewriting, and rewriting to get it right. It's probably my best-known, most popular book.


Are all of your books fiction? 

No, I've written non-fiction books. HAWKS is a history of the Mountain Fur Trade, the DICTIONARY is clearly non-fiction, and there are others.

Do you collaborate?

I love to collaborate with my wife Meredith. Among other things, she gives my dialogue more pizazz. 


What drew you to writing as a career?

I loved writing even in childhood. Later, I was following the wrong track, finishing doctoral work in English lit when the Rockefeller Foundation rescued me. They gave me a fellowship to study to be a music critic at the USC Conservatory of Music. That led to writing reviews of music and theater at the two big Los Angeles newspapers, again not the right track. Finally, I wrote GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS. Half a century later HAWKS is still in print and bringing good royalties. 

In conclusion?

 I LOVE to write and still write every day. At 82 I recently published another novel, am in the midst of writing the next one, and won’t stop I like the daily process of sculpting yesterday's sentences into something more graceful. Like the surprises that my characters bring—good lines, good episodes, surprises in the direction of the story. I like to start by putting a character in a dilemma and see where he or she goes with it. Also, I like editing. Was an editor at TOR Books for fifteen years.

Thank you for an inspiring, thoughtful, and fun interview, Win. What a legacy.

For more about Win, and to find his books on Amazon: Amazon Author Page

Tuesday, June 1, 2021



           Folks of a certain age will remember the Death Valley Days TV show of the 1950s. But before Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor, and Dale Robertson hosted the long-running series, Death Valley Days was a popular radio program.

            It debuted in September of 1930 and featured a singer called The Lonesome Cowboy, who sang cowboy songs in between the multiple stories which made up the show. His name was John White, and though he knew everything about western music, he’d started life in the East. 

           He was born in Washington D.C. in 1902 and went to the University of Maryland, where his baritone voice made him a valuable member of the college glee club. After graduation in 1924 he took the train out to Wickenburg, Arizona where his brother Bob was working on a couple of local dude ranches (Bob and another brother named Luke later opened the Monte Vista dude ranch).

 A Musical Dude Rancher

            John played the ukulele and brought his instrument on the trip West. Soon after his arrival Bob introduced him to a neighbor and fellow rancher named Romaine Lowdermilk. He owned the Kay El Bar dude ranch, but he did more than wrangle dudes. He was a talented singer/songwriter who sometimes performed on Phoenix radio stations. He was also a real cowboy who dazzled his dudes with jaw-dropping rope tricks.

John started visiting Lowdermilk regularly and always brought along his ukulele. Here’s how he described these visits: “For a couple of weeks, we sat around trading ballads, and when I went home I had a pack of authentic cowboy songs which I had committed to memory.” During his time in Arizona John also traded in his ukulele for a guitar.

            After a two-month stay in Wickenburg, John went back East, worked for the Washington Star newspaper, and enrolled at the Columbia University School of Journalism. But he never forgot the songs he brought home with him.

 Image 1 - COWBOY SONGS JOHN WHITE Lonesome Cowboy Death Valley Days 6 Songs 1934 Song Book

Breaking into Radio

One day John met an old friend who was a professional radio singer, and asked how he could also get on the radio. His friend said it was as easy as walking in the door and doing a quick audition, so John went to New York radio station WEAF. They hired him to sing cowboy songs with his own guitar for fifteen minutes a week. They didn’t pay him anything, but someone at station WOR heard him and offered him the same gig for $25. Singing didn’t pay the bills, so he took a job at General Drafting in New Jersey and performed weekly on the radio. 

             He soon created a sideline career for himself as the “Lonesome Cowboy,” thanks to indulgent managers at his regular job.  Record producers and music executives gave him contracts, and in the fall of 1930, he joined the cast of a Death Valley Days. He also did this job part-time while working at General Drafting, and stayed with “Death Valley Days” until 1936.

Advertisements for his radio shows always said this about him: “White is neither lonesome nor has he ever been a cowboy. His songs of the cattle trail and the once wild and woolly West are authentic, however, for he has roamed the western country and learned from the old timers the songs they used to sing.”

 A Musical Scholar

            John married and had a daughter, who sometimes performed with him at club and charity events. He wrote and recorded songs, wrote several books about Western music, and historical articles about the West which were published by American Heritage and Arizona Highways. He kept in touch with Romaine Lowdermilk and also corresponded with Gale Gardner, Arizona’s “Poet Lariat.”

He retired from General Drafting in 1965 and passed away in Maplewood, New Jersey in November of 1992, at the age of 90. His family gave his letters, research files, his guitar, and his cowboy hat to the Special Collections division of Utah State University

John White only spent a short time in the West, but those few weeks and a fateful meeting with Romaine Lowdermilk changed his life. When he left, he took with him a passion for Western and cowboy music that never faded. In 1975 he published Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West. It is a deeply researched history of cowboy and western music which includes his “discography,” a detailed list of his recordings compiled by music scholar Harlan Daniel. 

 Cover for WHITE: Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West. Click for larger image

            John’s heartfelt dedication gave credit to the man who moved his love for music into new directions: 

To my wife, Augusta

who felt that this book should be dedicated

to the late Romaine Lowdermilk, from whom I

heard my first cowboy song, in 1924, and to

Harlan Daniel, who forty years later convinced

me that I was a link with the past and for

posterity's sake I should do something about it.

             For more information about Romaine Lowdermilk, visit the website of the Kay El Bar dude ranch.