Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Wild Towns of Colorado?

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

We always hear about the 'wild towns' of the Old West; Dodge City, Abilene, and Wichita. Each state has its wild town. Since I live in Colorado it seemed appropriate to take a look at some of the towns where things could and did get out of hand.

Boston, Colorado. A town in Baca County in the Southeast portion of the state. It's close to the border with Oklahoma. It was founded in 1885 and the post office closed in 1893. Its growth was fast and the end even faster. This piece from the newspaper will give you an idea of what was going on.  


The Aspen Weekly Chronicle
April 15, 1889

Tin Cup, Colorado. A mining town located north of Gunnison in Gunnison County began its life as Virginia City. The town was not easy to access and the railroad never arrived there. In an article from 1975, they mention 'Frenchy's Place' as the type of saloon most think of as an Old West saloon. It was noted as having the fanciest women in Colorado. This opening paragraph illustrates some of the issues the town had.

Pitkin Independent
July 15, 1882

Creede, Colorado. Named for former Army scout Nicholas C. Creede, was one of the last silver boomtowns in the state. It was the home for some of the well-known names in the Old West, Randolph 'Soapy' Smith, Bat Masterson, and Bob Ford. The following article speaks of the death of Bob Ford, who shot and killed Jesse James. 

Aspen Weekly Times
June 11, 1892

There are more stories from towns in Colorado whose history is begging to be explored, but that is probably for a future post. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Who Is This Guy, and How Did He Get In Here?

I’m not particularly new to Western Fictioneers, but I might be new to a lot of our members, so I thought my first blog post might serve as a kind of introduction. I’ve been a member for a few years now, originally invited by Troy Smith, to whom I remain indebted for letting me know about this great organization.

The story actually begins decades earlier, though, in the late 1950s, when I watched Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy and all the other TV cowboys. I did my best to emulate them (see photo in full Hoppy gear, with my late big brother Michael). But when I was six years old, my father, a defense department civilian, was transferred to Paris, France—which he’d wanted to get back to since WWII.
And it was there that the story takes off. In Paris, my dad, brother, and I all had our hair cut by a Russian barber who had a shop inside the DOD building my father worked in. It was Paris in the early 1960s, Cold War days, so he was probably a spy, but he was also a barber. And for the kids and the GIs, he kept comics in the shop along with magazines. In his shop, I picked up the first comic book I can remember having my hands on, featuring my favorite cowboy star, Roy Rogers.

That was one of the events that set me on the trail my life followed. I started reading and collecting comics, and I’ve done so ever since.

The trail led me to Virginia, where I discovered the book that truly changed my life: Mystery of the Haunted Mine, a 1962 juvenile novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs (originally titled The Haunted Treasure of the Espectros). I got the Scholastic Book Club paperback edition in 1965 and devoured it. This book had it all—western action and adventure, suspense, seemingly supernatural horror, and puzzling mystery. Even at that age, I knew that Shirreffs’ “Espectros” were a stand-in for the Superstitions, and that the treasure Gary, Tuck, and Sue are hunting for was really the Lost Dutchman Mine.
Historical aside: on January 10, 1932, the headless corpse of Adolph Ruth was found in Arizona. His head had turned up in December of ’32, with what looked suspiciously like a bullet hole in it. Ruth had disappeared while hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine. I never met Shirreffs to ask him about it, but these events made national news, and I’m convinced that they’re what planted in his head the seed for the story that would become Mystery of the Haunted Mine.
A short while later I read my second western, Clay Fisher’s War Bonnet. I was hooked for life.

After Virginia, I lived briefly in Worms, Germany, a city with a huge Roman wall still standing in the middle of it—real history you can reach out and touch. From there I headed to San Jose, CA, where I saw my first comic shops (and worked in one, briefly). At San Jose State University I won third place in a regional short-story contest and made $30—my first money from writing.

A few years after college, I got into the book biz, as a bookseller at local chain Books Inc. Our store was the South Bay hot spot for sf, fantasy, and mystery books and author events, but we had other genres well represented, too—one of these days I’ll tell you about our Louis L’Amour signing and the Louis L’Amour complete works box set we created.

Books Inc. had a few stores in southern California, and after three years at the San Jose store, I was sent down to manage the La Jolla store. La Jolla’s a beautiful and pricey resort town on the coast, and our store was a regular stop for visiting celebrities. On one occasion I sold a huge volume of Western art paintings to Phoebe Cates, as a birthday present for her father, Gil Cates—the man who produced more Academy Awards telecasts than anyone else.

While working there, I made my first fiction sale, to a prestigious science fiction anthology called Full Spectrum. I also met superstar comic artist Jim Lee—his then-wife had become my assistant manager. When Books Inc. closed its southern California stores, Jim hired me at his new publishing company, part of the fledgling Image Comics brand. It was there that I started writing comics and graphic novels, and then actual novels—my first being a collaboration with a friend on a novel about one of our company’s superhero teams.

At one point, after we started an imprint of non-superhero comics, Jim—knowing of my fondness for westerns—asked me to create a western comic series. But he wanted it to have a supernatural angle; to be what’s now called a weird western. I happily obliged and came up with Desperadoes. That’s the work that brought me to Troy’s attention, and it’s still my most popular comics creation more than 20 years later.
I became a pretty prolific novelist, with more than 50 novels published in the last 23 years, and more than 70 books altogether. Many of those novels were tie-ins—licensed fiction based on existing characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Superman, Spider-Man, Conan, or properties like CSI, Star Trek, and Narcos. But I was also writing original novels—all of them in the genres suggested by the Shirreffs book I’d loved so much. But my then-agent told me now to bother with westerns, because they didn’t sell. So I shied away, despite my ongoing love of the genre.

But thanks to Desperadoes, I got the occasional chance to write some western short stories—some weird, others not—and to appear in anthologies with such personal heroes as Elmer Kelton, Loren Estleman, Louis L’Amour, Johnny Boggs, and others. I was also introduced to the weird western role-playing game Deadlands and wrote a story for one of its earliest fiction anthologies.

Much later, I was able to broker a book deal between Deadlands owner Pinnacle Entertainment, Tor Books, and Visionary Comics, which had the Deadland print license at the time, for three novels. I wrote the second one, Thunder Moon Rising, and that became my first published western novel, albeit a weird western.

Despite my lifelong love of western fiction, comics, movies, and TV shows, I kind of thought it would remain my only published western novel. I was able to write weird westerns and had developed somewhat of a reputation in that area, but nobody was clamoring for traditional westerns from me. Then Livia Reasoner issued a call for stories for the Western Fictioneers anthology The Untamed West. I had recently written a somewhat offbeat novella called “Byrd’s Luck”—not a weird western, but not entirely traditional, either. I didn’t know what to do with it, but when I saw that call, I submitted it, and it went into the book. In fact, it was the lead story, and it wound up being a finalist for both the Peacemaker and Spur Awards.

That was the moment when I thought maybe I could make a go of this western thing, after all.

Last fall, Sundown Press published my first actual, straight western novel—the doorstop-sized historical epic Blood and Gold: The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta, which I wrote with Peter Murrieta, a fifth-generation descendant of the Gold Rush-era bandit. It has, to my great relief, been well received and earned attention in such disparate places as True West Magazine, Deadline: Hollywood, People en Espanol, and the Los Angeles Times.

And on January 26th, Wolfpack Publishing is releasing O’Meara’s Gold, the first in a traditional western series featuring Cody Cavanaugh and Freeman Douglas. I had more fun writing these than any other of those 50-some novels.
All these years and moves later, I’m living with my wife and occasional co-author Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell and our family, in a home from which we can see my beloved Superstition Mountains. I’ve finally made my way into the world of writing westerns, and I’d like to stay for a while.

But it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t be here—or part of this esteemed organization—if it hadn’t been for Mystery of the Haunted Mine. If there’s a book that you feel changed your life in a significant way, please let us know in a comment!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

HOW TO WRITE GOOD--by Cheryl Pierson

Since I ran out of time to come up with a wonderful new post for today, I thought I would put up something funny--yet meaningful in some ways. (Tongue in cheek.) It's a re-run from a few years back, but might give you a chuckle.

(Number 6 should say, "Writers" not "Writes")

What do you think? Have any others to add? After years of editing, the one that comes to mind for me is, "Be care of using too many descriptive, detailed, pointed, modifying adjectives and adverbs all together, separated by so many commas that your run on sentence can only be halted in mid-stride by a semi-colon; then, it plunges on down the mountain and around the curve toward the oblivion that it was destined for because no one can even remember or, by this point, care about what you were trying to relate in the first place."

Pet peeves anyone? It's your turn to talk about Writing Good!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

On This Date in the Old West: January 14

On this day in the Old West, January 14, in 1873, prominent African American Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was elected to the US Congress. P.B.S. Pinchback was born near Macon, Georgia in 1837 to a white father, William Pinchback, and African American mother, Eliza Stewart, a freed slave of his father. Upon his father’s death in 1848, his mother moved her ten children to Ohio, fearing that her husband’s family would try to re-enslave them. Pinchback’s early education was at the public schools of Cincinnati. He entered politics in 1867, serving as a delegate to the Louisiana Reconstruction Convention. He also served as a member of the Louisiana State Senate from 1868 to 1871. 

When Lieutenant Governor Oscar Dunn died in 1871, Pinchback, who was serving as president of the senate at the time, assumed the duties of the office. He served in this capacity until the impeachment of Governor Henry C. Warmoth in December 1872. Pinchback assumed the office of governorship and served for thirty-six days. He was the first African American who ever served as a state governor. During his short tenure, several appointments were granted, and ten legislative bills were sanctioned. After leaving the governor’s office in January of 1873, Pinchback was elected to the US Congress, but his Democratic opponent contested the election and Pinchback was denied the seat. A year later, he was elected to the US Senate, but again, was denied the seat due to charges of election irregularities—although some said it was the color of his skin that counted against him. 


At the age of 50, Pinchback decided to study law and entered Straight University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was admitted to the bar in 1886 and moved to Washington, DC, where he remained active in politics until his death in December 1921. 


On the same date that Pinchback was elected to the US Congress, in 1873, inventor John Wesley Hyatt registered a trademark for his new creation: celluloid, the first artificial plastic. He had patented this invention previously, and was currently manufacturing such items as false teeth, billiard balls, and piano keys.


In the late 1860s, while searching for a substitute for ivory in billiard balls, Hyatt combined nitrocellulose, camphor, and alcohol, and heated the mixture under pressure to make it pliable for molding. In addition to creating the new plastic material, Hyatt also invented the machinery needed to work it. One of the first uses of the new plastic was, not billiard balls, but denture plates, although Hyatt’s company, the Albany Dental Plate Company, also manufactured billiard balls and piano keys. Hyatt continued to invent new devices and materials throughout his life, ending with nearly 238 separate patents to his name. He is included in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Hyatt was born in Starkey, New York in 1837. He began working as a printer when he was 16, first in Illinois and later in Albany, New York. There, billiard ball maker Phelan & Collander were offering a $10,000 reward for a suitable substitute for ivory, the growing shortage of which was threatening the company. Hyatt spent several years seeking such a material, eventually coming up with celluloid, but there is no evidence that the reward was actually ever paid out.


The plastic was actually invented in 1856 by another scientists, Alexander Parkes, but he was unable to manufacture and produce the substance, which he called Parkesine. He took Hyatt to court over the patent, and the courts decided that Parkes had indeed been the first to invent the substance, but that Hyatt’s production could continue. 


Initially, construction of Hyatt’s billiard balls involved coating the composition balls in a colored layer of almost pure cellulose nitrate. However, in his experiments, Hyatt discovered the solvent action of camphor on cellulose nitrate under moderate heat and pressure, and this was the basis of his 1870 patent. In addition, he also developed machinery for working his new material—something his unsuccessful predecessor, Parkes, had failed to do. In 1870, the Albany Dental Plate Company changed its name to the Celluloid Manufacturing Company and in 1873, the company moved to larger premises in Newark, New Jersey. Hyatt was awarded the Perkin Gold Medal in 1914.

Your characters may have heard of P.B.S. Pinchback if they followed politics, but they would likely have heard of or encountered celluloid if they were around late enough in the century. Perhaps they noticed a difference in the quality of billiard balls when they changed from ivory to celluloid. Or perhaps Grandpa Joe got a pair of those new plastic dentures!


I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2022.


J.E.S. Hays