Monday, January 25, 2016

Classic B-Western Stars Ride Again

Darryle Purcell

Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Crash Corrigan, William S. Hart, Tom Mix and other film-cowboy heroes from the 20s through the 50s have returned to battle Nazis, saboteurs and old-fashioned bad guys in the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives (HCD) series published by Page Turner’s Buckskin Editions in both Kindle and paperback versions.
Darryle Purcell, a long-time Mohave County, Arizona, resident known for his topical newspaper columns and political cartoons, has reset his editorial sights on historical western fiction.
Purcell said, “I grew up enjoying the B-western movies and serials made during the 1930s through the ’50s,” the former Mohave Valley Daily News managing editor said. “Many of those films were contemporary to the years they were produced.
Western heroes such as Col. Tim McCoy would board a train in the metropolitan east of, say, 1936 and arrive in the old west (quite often Arizona) to battle evil doers. We all remember films where the Three Mesquiteers fought the Nazis in the early 1940s.” 
Purcell is writing and illustrating the 1930s-contemporary western series, which embraces the adventurous world of pulp publishing while also saluting the great western movie serials of that era. The first publication, Mystery at Movie Ranch, is comprised of 12 cliffhanger chapters set in the San Fernando Valley area of southern California during the filming of the 1934 Mascot Pictures serial, Mystery Mountain, starring Ken Maynard.
“I do a lot of research on what was being filmed, where, by which studio within a specific time frame,” he said. “I then carve a window in the time period where certain people could have gathered together to deal with an adventure. There is a ton of research material available online and in print concerning old Hollywood, filmmaking, individual actors, directors and even locations. The most fun I have is during the preparation for these books when I am reading up on the wonderful people who worked so hard on the B-western films and serials. The movie cowboys were all real rodeo champs and the stunts were all performed exactly as they are seen on film.
“Film historians point out that close friends Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard, both rodeo champions and long-time real cowboys, were fun-loving wild men. They raced horses, cars and airplanes and loved to play tricks on each other. I try to capture that old-fashioned, cowboy camaraderie in the HCD adventures.”
Sean “Curly” Woods, former Los Angeles Examiner crime beat reporter and current studio flack, is Purcell’s main fictional character who appears in all HCD publications. In Movie Ranch, Woods’ assignment is to write fluff public relations articles about the serial and its stars and keep Maynard out of trouble while looking into the possible sabotage of the Mascot production.
“From a variety of sources, Maynard was also a temperamental alcoholic,” Purcell said. “Nobody’s perfect. He was still a skilled rodeo, circus and film cowboy idolized by youth from the 1920s through the ’50s.”
While helping Maynard battle his personal demons, Woods discovers real enemies are not only targeting the western production, but the American way of life. Joined by western movie star and World Champion Rodeo Cowboy Hoot Gibson, Maynard and Woods engage in a series of deadly encounters with an army of anti-American terrorists ruled by a sinister mastermind known only as the Viper. The Hollywood Cowboy Detectives deal with organized crime, a sniper attack, aerial combat against an experimental German flying machine, interrogation by a sadistic enemy scientist in an underground stronghold, an ungodly creature who is the product of evil experiments, and a variety of battles with those who would eliminate all who believe in freedom and justice.
The Kindle version of the Mystery at Movie Ranch can be purchased on Amazon for $1.99. But for those who still prefer books printed in ink on paper, a paperback version of Mystery at Movie Ranch can be purchased at for $8.99, which includes the bonus HCD short story, Mystery of the Murdered Badman. In that short story, Woods works to save Maynard from being charged with the murder of a western-movie villain and abduction and possible murder of a former silent-screen vamp. All HCD publications have color covers and black and white internal illustrations in the style of pulps and adventure novels of the 1930s.
The illustrated Mystery of the Arizona Dragon is also currently available as a Kindle download from Amazon. In that adventure, Woods is sent to a dude ranch, not far from where California, Nevada and Arizona meet, to investigate problems while the cast and crew of Charlie Chan Goes West prepare for filming. Hoot Gibson, Warner Oland and Keye Luke join the HCD hero as he attempts to track down the source of a variety of deadly incidents. It is also available as a paperback with the bonus HCD short story, Mystery of the Stuntman’s Ghost, in which Hopalong Cassidy-star William Boyd unites with Curly Woods to take on an evil from beyond the grave.
The HCD adventure, Mystery of the Matinee Murders is also available in paperback and on Kindle. In Matinee Murders, Woods, Gibson and Crash Corrigan are joined by Orson Welles and a radio-theater group on a studio-funded road trip to entertain children in hospitals and at Saturday matinee presentations. A mysterious assassin hounds the entertainers, leaving a trail of victims killed with cobra venom. Following a full-scale military assault, the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives are captured and taken to an underground fortress where an enemy power keeps an army of the dead. Cowboy star Ken Maynard joins the action in a final showdown with a Nazi terrorist who is about to unleash death and worse upon a theater full of young Saturday matinee western fans. In the paperback, Matinee Murders is joined by a bonus pulp-style mystery about a radio detective known as The Man of the Mist.
The HCD adventure, Mystery of the Alien Banshee is currently available in Kindle format. William S. Hart joins Hoot Gibson and Curly Woods in this sci-fi western adventure. When it is published in paperback, it will be accompanied by the bonus short story (currently available on Kindle), Mystery of the Kidnapped Cowboy featuring Bob Livingston and Glenn Strange. All short stories are also available individually on Kindle.
In the soon-to-be-published HCD novel Mystery of the Howling Angels, classic western stars Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson join Republic Pictures flack Sean “Curly” Woods in a race from Hollywood to the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma. With bounties on their heads, the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives are one step in front of murderous agents of the Congressional Shadow Caucus, an organization of federally elected officials who support an alliance with Nazi Germany. With the assistance of G-man Donovan Slate, the trio engage in shootouts on Route 66 in California, battles against an attacking force in Phoenix, Arizona, and on a passenger train in Texas, and aerial combat and ambushes in the wilderness of the legendary Hundred and One Ranch on the panhandle of Oklahoma. 
Warned by tribal spirits and dogged by visions from beyond the grave, the HCD heroes fight traitors who have chosen to carry the banner of evil against their own country. Tom, Hoot and Curly fight for their lives through the first week of 1939. Another Great War is coming, and, although they remain secret to most citizens, the first battles are waged in Washington and America’s great Southwest. Old friends and new unite in the struggle against fascist killers, some of whom consider themselves patriotic Americans.
When Howling Angels comes out as a paperback, it will be accompanied by the bonus short story Mystery of the Black Widow.
“My publisher at Page Turner’s Buckskin Edition Westerns is a real fan of old-time western and science fiction pulp publications as well as the B-movies of the same era,” Purcell said. “Buckskin is a perfect fit for my writing and illustration efforts.”
Purcell, a public information director for Mohave County, Arizona, from May 2005 until January 2013, had been managing editor of the Mohave Valley Daily News in Bullhead City, Ariz., for 12 years. The former editorial cartoonist spent a total of 23 years in daily newspapers as well as a few years illustrating and art directing educational comic books and young reader books, drawing gag cartoons for rock and roll and motorcycle enthusiast publications and working in layout and character design on some Saturday morning animated cartoons. During his newspaper years, Purcell garnered a long list of local and statewide awards for his written editorials and columns as well as his editorial cartoons.
“I reached into my work experiences as well as my time in the military, having served in the First Cavalry in Vietnam and the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions stateside, to create the characters and attitudes that appear in the Hollywood Cowboy Detectives series,” Purcell said. “The HCD series embodies the lessons of the classic B-westerns: Life is hard but good will triumph over evil.”
Some may believe that philosophy is out of date. But, according to Purcell, many of the B-western stars of the 1920s and ’30s not only portrayed the just-hero, they lived by the Code of the West. Most were Great War veterans. Some, like Tim McCoy served in both world wars. James Stewart, Clark Gable and many other western stars of later years left their film careers to serve in World War II.
“When I was a child, I thoroughly idolized the champions of B-western films,” Purcell said. “My schoolyard pals and I all knew that John Wayne, Hoot Gibson and Tim McCoy would never lie, cheat or steal. But then adulthood set in. After serving in a war that the politicians surrendered to the enemy, years in the newspaper world trying to keep political-machine fingers off editorial choices and then the grind of flacking for a government agency, I needed something to calm my cynical outlook on life. Those early B-westerns did the trick.
“I stepped away from the all-news networks and began to re-enjoy the refreshing world of matinee westerns where good always triumphed over evil; doing the right thing was its own reward; good people were kind to each other and their animals; and the individual always fought for his or her own family, property and dignity.
“Having enjoyed many years of writing humorous and political columns, I turned my writing efforts to western fiction as a way to share my love of what has been termed the Code of the West,” he said. “With this series, I hope to revive the lessons of the straight shooters while introducing a new generation to some of the great cowboy heroes of the past. Besides having served in the First World War, most of them had been working cowboys on ranches, rodeos and wild-west shows before joining the motion picture studio system. Often, their movie careers began as stuntmen for other, less-talented, film stars. The HCD series honors the hard work, amazing action talents and ethical lessons of the B-western film stars of the past,” Purcell said.

The illustrated book series can be found at by searching Books for Hollywood Cowboy Detectives.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Remembering Benjamin Capps


Benjamin Capps' books earned him three Spurs, two Wranglers, and a Saddleman award. And four of his novels have been required reading in university literature courses, which he considered a writer's most important compensation, allowing him to pass on "ideas and values to help build a culture in a gentle and effective way that not even a military man or politician can match."

Despite his successes, Capps wasn't easily drawn out about his writing habits. Admitting that his schedule was erratic, he said he didn't want to lead some Innocent beginner astray. Nor did he talk easily about the publishing business, but agreed to discuss reasons for writing and its long-range motivations:

"Every writer would like to make some money, at least enough to support the egotistical writing habit and provide adequate facilities; but those who do well financially are the exception, and those who get rich are rare indeed." He added that more than ninety percent of those who call themselves freelance writers could make more money doing something else.

There are compensations such as seeing one's name in print, but more important and lasting is the awareness, if it comes, that other people are sharing the  writers' ideas, feelings, and imaginings, "perhaps far away and in the future. We all like to talk and explain our points of view and have others eagerly listen. If a writer is gifted and skilled, the reader will pay to listen."

Capps believed that a writer should imagine one reader and write for him or her, much as a television newsman speaks to one envisioned viewer. Capps' own reader was like him, "just as realistic and romantic, cynical and sentimental, dumb and intelligent, simple and sophisticated, optimistic and pessimistic," and who shared similar interests.

"Do I manipulate the reader. I sure do, for I've studied the fictional techniques of writers from Sophocles to Chaucer to Melville to Steinbeck for several decades. However, probably no reader of mine ever felt so strongly or dropped a small tear unless I had already done so in the writing."

His ambition was to interest his readers, to entertain them and keep them reading, while giving them something to remember about the human comedy or tragedy or predicament. "The discipline of writing is too hard for me unless I am personally interested. If I get hung up and don't know what to write next, something is wrong!" He  asked  himself while writing the following questions: "Do I really believe this? Would this character, which I pictured in chapter two, act this way? Do I need to change the situation somewhat? Does this scene lead toward the conclusion planned? Is it true? When I've answered theses questions to the satisfaction of my favorite reader--myself--and made necessary changes, then the writing proceeds easily

"Some writers, even great writers, produce an amazing number of words. Some write more  slowly, and each writer needs to find  his own pace." Capps felt that a considerable amount of Western fiction has suffered from undue haste. "Is it not better to think of a dozen details of situation or action, then pick out and use only three or four that are storng and pertinent? No tellers of tales have ever had a richer subject than the scribblers who produce books about the American frontier. That conclusion follows from the fact that such a different and varied life existed such a short time ago. Our history is as interesting as that of Greece or England or anywhere. It may be handled romantically or realistically, poorly or well. If we do not produce great fiction and nonfiction about the west, it's not the fault of the subject matter, but our own."

Next week: Part II--Capp's own life in a now defunct town in Texas.

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers)

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Sandoval Sister's Secret of Old Blood

Sandra Ramos O'Brient

On May 30, 2013, The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood received two awards from the ILBA in NYC: Best Historical Fiction and Best First Book.  Fifteen years ago I wrote the following line in an Introduction to Fiction class at UCLA:  Human dreams had been written in archaic Spanish, and terrible sins described in faded brown ink on whisper-thin paper.” The journey to completed novel was chock-full of twists and new beginnings.       

My maternal ancestors were Sandovals. In my grandparent’s home in Santa Fe hung a giant portrait of a tall aging man with flaming red hair. My blue-eyed great great grandfather stared down at me throughout my childhood. The story goes that the Sandoval sisters, both spinsters and reputedly witches, adopted two Anglo boys who’d been orphaned when their family was crossing into New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. The boys were Anglo, but they became Sandovals.  How would la gente, the people, react to an Anglo Sandoval?             

Surnames have played a role in my life: I was bullied in school for being a gringa, even though my mother is Hispanic.  It’s the O’Briant surname (Ramos is a pen name.)  Initially, I tried to find an answer to why cultural and ethnic antagonisms existed in Santa Fe.  In the process I learned more about New Mexico and America than I'd ever been taught in college. But my goal was not to indict anyone, just to understand.  My book originally told the story of those descendants with flashbacks to their ‘aunts’, the Sandoval Sisters.  My agent said I had the makings of a family saga. I refocused all the flashbacks and brought the past into the present to tell the story of the sisters who were already a blended family: the eldest sister, Oratoria, was a peasant from Mexico, captured by Apaches and bought for a sack of flour by the Sandovals.  She’s the only one who has read all the Sandoval diaries and is compiling a history of her adopted family while parenting her younger sisters, Alma and Pilar.
Witchcraft and superstition floated in the crisp mountain air we breathed in Santa Fe. My mother didn’t hesitate to tell me scary demon stories at my bedtime as if they were sweet fairy tales. The parish priest asked my aunt to stop conducting seance's, and rumor had it that my grandmother became paralyzed because a friend who brought daily tasty treats to her was a witch who desired my grandpa. Where I grew up, religion and superstition walked hand-in-hand.         

 The novel reflects Santa Fe's unique position in history: it was the first foreign capital conquered by the U.S. The war is the backdrop for the sisters' individual love and coming-of-age stories in which they cope with racism, sexism, political intrigue and the power of  superstition in that time and place.  Thousands of Anglo soldiers entered the town, but not a word has been written from a female perspective. Until now.

 Book Summary:

When Alma flees with her young lover to Texas to escape an arranged marriage with a much older man, she sets in motion a drama that will put the sisters and their legacy at risk. Pilar, a 14-year-old tomboy, is offered as a replacement bride, and what follows is a sensuous courtship and marriage clouded by the curses of her husband’s former lover, Consuelo. She will stop at nothing, even the use of black magic, in her effort to destroy the Sandoval family. The Mexican-American war begins and the Americans invade Santa Fe. The sisters are caught in the crosshairs of war from two important fronts--New Mexico and Texas. Their money and ancient knowledge offer some protection, but their lives are changed forever. ________

Sandra Ramos O’Briant's short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in both print and online.  A complete list and excerpts from the novel can be found here:

Read Chapter 1 by clicking on the BookPulse tab on my Facebook Author Page.  Please give my page a Like while you’re there:


Friday, December 25, 2015

While researching Christmas customs around the world, I discovered that the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.

In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.

In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.

Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.

Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with  beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.

Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.

House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.

Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.

During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.

Christmas customs in this country are too numerous to list, and I'd like to wish all our blog visitors a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, no matter where you happen to live, or how you plan to celebrate the holiday.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Visit with Steve Law, Part Two

Steve, other than hiring a publicist, what’s the most important thing a writer of the West can do to promote a book?

The first thing would be to make sure the ring of electronic communication is setup: Web site, Facebook, Twitter, blog if desired, and learn how to use them to their greatest advantage.  A publicist can help with this and well worth the money if the author struggles to understand it.  And on all those platforms, keep the information short, simple, and easy to locate and navigate.  I think one big hang-up I see on several author sites is that they have too much information and in this time of fast-paced life and shorter attention spans, the site visitors will give up.  Secondly, set up book tours.  This can be expensive, but well worth the money if you target the right demographics and booksellers.  Book stores in general are not a good venue.  High traffic areas, like grocery stores, discount stores, book fairs and arts and craft shows, tend to be more successful.  I know quite a few authors that rent vendor spaces at trade shows and do very well (which can be shared with other authors to split the expenses).  Even if they break even they still succeed in getting their name out there in the reading public.  At my very own ReadWest “meet the authors” conference, we are providing vendor tables at a very affordable rate.  They can even rent half a table if that better suits their needs.

      How do you find time to write with all your travel appearances?

It’s pretty much a matter of discipline, focus, and good time management. I fly to most of my engagements or events, and the time on the plane is truly one of my most productive times. At this very moment I’m completing this interview on a flight home, and on the previous flight I wrote 2,000 words of a short story I’m working on. In these times, flying is much cheaper than driving to distant locations, and, of course, if I drive I can’t work. The mornings and nights in the hotel rooms are also valuable times. I make it a point to do my important reading and writing in the morning when my mind is clear and I can focus. And in the evenings, or whenever I happen to have some down time in my room, I review, edit, or write if need be.

      What can we do to increase public awareness of our genre? Do you think there has been a resurgence of interest in the Western genre?

We, as authors and publishers, have to work together. This has been something I have monitored and taken to heart for the past 15 years, and anyone who knows me will agree that it is a passion of mine. Not all ideas are good ones, but we should listen to them, share our brains and make them better. Some will lead down different roads and create positive moments for the genre. The ReadWest Foundation, unlike writing organizations, focuses on growing readership. We join forces with fellow authors and roundup various authors/titles of fiction and nonfiction that are spread out over the publishing world and bring them under one spotlight.  And we focus on the well-knowns, like Stephen Harrigan, Thomas Cobb, Hampton Sides, H. W. Brands, and crowd around them. We want the reading public to know that this is no longer our grandpa’s Western. Our stories are universally attractive and our audience is diverse. 

As for a resurgence, there certainly has not been in the publishing world, but data will show that the audience is there, they were just difficult to reach in the past and present business models of the publishing world.The Western genre has to be published and distributed differently than any other for it to survive or even grow. At Goldminds Publishing, which I am a cofounder, we have started a business plan that will focus entirely on the Western genre. I have joined forces with Pat LoBrutto, who has become our editorial director, and he has thirty years experience in the commercial publishing industry.  He was Westerns editor for Bantam Doubleday and M. Evans, and others, worked with the Louis L’Amour estate, and knows the genre as well as any other. He also shares our belief that the system of distribution has to change, and we have developed a business model to take that on.  Who would have thought, Western fiction a primary focus? Hardcover originals in a time where big publishers are even dropping the mass market paperback? We believe that the bailout in New York will leave behind a viable customer base for a small publisher to capitalize on, and it’s already off to a great start.

      Advice to fledgling writers.
Write and read as much as you can in the subject(s) you are interested in. You can never do too much of either one, but you can do too little.

Network with other aspiring writers, in local writers groups or clubs. Form your own if you have to.  Share your work and get constructive criticism. Listen to what they have to say even if you don’t agree with it, and don’t try to defend yourself. You’re still the master of your work and you only have to use what you think will help you. Useless debates are a waste of time.

Attend writing conferences, especially in your genre, where you can learn the craft from the best in the business. This will also help you make contact with other successful writers who can mentor you, and also meet potential agents and publishers.

Understand the book markets. Know who is successful in your field, and who is publishing your subject matter. Through anomalies happen, they are still anomalies. Write from your heart but don’t expect the unexpected. If you like action Westerns, understand that it is one of the fastest shrinking markets in the business. Consider other genres, like mystery, romance, horror thrillers, and include the ethos of the West there, if that helps.

Learn how to write a good synopsis. A synopsis is a condensed version of your story, which can be from 1 to 20 pages (about 5-10 is best), and written in present tense. This is where you “tell” your story, rather than “show” it. It follows the full plot, from the inciting moment, through the central conflict, to the climax and resolution. In the synopsis you MUST tell how your story ends.

Be able to tell what your story is about in 25 words or less. For example, when I wrote The True Father and was pitching it to editors, I would say, “It’s about a college graduate looking for his identity, and he finds it in rural Oklahoma.” That is exactly what it’s about, and it gives the editor a sense of place. A good way to practice this is by taking some of your favorite books or movies and doing them in the same way. This will help you find the story in your own story, so to speak.

Query agents and editors. Find their submission guidelines and get your work out there. This will also help you experience and learn how to accept rejection. It will only make you stronger. The more you send out, the better your chances of getting your manuscript read. Remember, at first a successful query is not one that gets your manuscript bought, it’s one that gets it read. There are many agents that allow online submissions through an online form. Before submitting, type the info into a word processor, making sure it’s free of errors and that it makes good sense, then copy and paste the info into the form.

Make sure you’re set up with email and familiar with attaching documents. Editors and agents today do not want a printed manuscript. They read them on electronic readers, like the Kindle or Nook, and will want it sent by email attachment. Nearly all my communication today, comes in the form of email with an occasional phone call.

Network with professional writers, agents, editors, or anyone in the business. You can do this online but typically at annual conferences. Get to know them so they know who you are year after year. And don’t worry too much about pitching your work at first. I call this “posturing.” Be a genuine, interesting person, so much to the point that they end up asking you about your work rather than you trying desperately to make them interested.

Never, never, give up!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Visit with Steve Law, Part One


Writer, publicist and publisher of the online Western magazine,, Steve Law has dedicated himself to promoting Western literature, both frontier and contemporary.

Steve, why did you decide to write about the contemporary West instead of the Old West?

I’ve written about both, and I love the frontier West, but I think that the contemporary West has a greater possibility to reach a wider, crossover audience.  In my 15 plus years writing about the West, I’ve learned that universal themes, or plots driven more by the situation and characters, are much more successful than those driven by action.  Our formula category Western is typically more about the latter, and that’s what I try to avoid.  Instead, I focus my writing on unique subjects, or “unplowed ground,” as Richard Wheeler once called it, that could truly be placed in any setting.  Mine just happens to be the West.

 What attracted you to the Western genre?

It goes back to my childhood and upbringing.  I grew up on a cattle farm in southern Iowa, and my maternal grandfather was a cattleman and auctioneer.  We lived the western lifestyle and you could say it’s in my blood.  And of course I loved Western movies growing up.  My maternal grandmother read stories to me, stories of the West among them, and they held my attention better than any other. But I battled with attention deficit (and still do but only to a much lesser degree) and had poor reading comprehension.  When I reached junior high, the school enforced a sustained, silent reading program (SSR) that required us to read.  It didn’t matter what class it was—math, science, history, English—we had to read the first ten minutes of class. We had to have a book in our hands and be reading or we got a detention. 

So I started checking out Louis L’Amour from the library, because if I was going to stare at a cover for ten minutes it was going to be a Western scene.  Before long I started looking at the words and eventually reading the text.  The program itself forced me to be a reader.  By the end of my seventh grade year I had read most of Louis L’Amour’s books that were in print at the time.  The next year I moved on to John Jakes and discovered Elmer Kelton.  The stories fit my lifestyle and inspired my life ambitions to be a cattleman like my grandfather.  Regardless of where my life was headed, I fell in love with the Western genre.

      Why did you decide to start the online magazine,

It came after about a three-year period of personally watching the Western being entirely abandoned by New York publishers.  My agent at the time (1996), Howard Pelham, sent my first novel, OLD BLUE, to Walker & Company, a library book publisher.  The editor loved it and recommended some changes to help move the plot, but after waiting two months to hear back from her, a letter came with the news that Walker would no longer be publishing Westerns.  I was heartbroken, and every step I made to other publishing houses I found similar results.  It was that year that I met Jory Sherman and I showed him my letter from Walker & Company.  Jory, and the late Fred Bean, had both written for Walker and they became instant mentors to me.  They tried to help me get my book in front of other big houses, like Bantam, Simon and Schuster, St. Martins Press, etc, but those publishers, too, started dropping their western lists. 

We all felt something had to be done before the genre vanished into virtually nothing.  A few years later Jory came up with the idea of a marketing campaign that he presented to Western Writers of America, and he called the campaign “Read West.”  WWA failed to respond positively to the idea, so I asked Jory if I could take his idea and do something similar on the Internet.  He gave me his blessing and thus it became the online magazine,  I provided author profiles, author book pages, and even published short fiction, one of which became the first ever electronic publication to win a Spur Award.  Today, has evolved to be a nonprofit organization, the ReadWest Foundation, Inc., and this year will have its inaugural “meet the authors” reader’s conference in Waco, Texas, where we will bring authors and readers together.  Though the format of ReadWest is now different, the mission has always been to increase awareness and the diversity of Western literature. 

      Tell us about your novel, Yuma Gold. What prompted you to write it?

I have a lot of story ideas, but the more I play around with them, one usually rises to the peak of my interest.  Unfortunately my favorite storylines are usually the hardest to sell, because they don’t fall into the traditional Western guidelines of the few publishers that are left.  Here, I got lucky. The theme behind Yuma Gold comes from an old tale of a Spanish galleon buried in the desert of southern California.  My  friend,   W.C. Jameson, had written about it, and the more I researched the source of the myth the more intrigued I became.  For two years I rolled several plots around in my mind until finally one stuck and I started to write the book.  It begins at Yuma Territorial Prison, where Ben Ruby has served eight years after being set up for a crime by his former employer. 

While in prison, Ruby learned the tale of the buried Spanish galleon from an elderly cellmate who was on his deathbed.  To the cellmate it was more than just a tale; he had actual evidence of where to find it.  After being released Ruby sets out to find the buried ship, but he has to outwit his former employer, who is after money that he feels Ruby owes him, but worst of all, a breach in a Colorado dam starts to flood the entire valley.  Though the book is fiction, and the tale a myth, the flood is an actual historic event that took place in 1904-05 and formed the now present Salton Sea. 

I mixed the myth and historical facts, along with a little science, to help form the story.  I had about three chapters of the novel done when my good friend Don Bendell mentioned the story to his editor at Berkley.  The editor asked to see the first chapter and a synopsis, and two weeks later he called me and we discussed a completed manuscript delivery.  He wanted it in two weeks.  With only three chapters complete, but the story well in my head, I stocked up on food and called my family and told them I would be in isolation for a couple weeks.  With the help of my personal editor and friend, L.D. Clark, I finished the manuscript with two days to spare.  This gave me some reading time to make sure it accomplished what I wanted.  Though I never would have believed I could have written a 70,000 word novel in two weeks, I proved it was possible, and six months later I had a contract from Berkley.

      How does a Web publicist operate? How did that job come about?

I literary publicist is all about helping a writer get their book in front of the reading public.  I took it on as a sideline in the late 90s because of the rise of the Internet.  Under the umbrella of, I included the duties of forming book signings and events, as well as building author Web sites.  In a short time the latter became the most lucrative and the most valuable concentration of time, so I call myself a Web publicist.  After becoming a member of Western Writers of America, several well-known authors, such as Elmer Kelton, Stephen Harrigan, Dusty Richards, and others, hired me as their Web publicist. 

At first it was mostly about setting up and designing their sites and building traffic, when now it’s about incorporating blogs and social networking into the total picture, but with the same goal to build traffic and attraction attention to their Web site.  However, Facebook has proven to be more of an asset than an author’s own site, and much of our concentration is on incorporating Facebook, Twitter, the author’s blog, with the Web site, to become one connected forum.  We are now experiencing an electronic communication revolution, and authors at any level should be capitalizing on it in any way they can.

(Continued next week. . . )

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Visit with John Legg

John Legg has published more than 50 Westerns, including a number of series novels, and a book of Western nonfiction. He has also written a number of articles on Western history for national magazines. A newspaper copy editor for more than 30 years, he's also edited novels, articles, short stories, and other works through his editing/critiquing service, JL TextWorks.

John, how did your interest in the western frontier come about?

Despite being from the East, I’ve always had a love for the West and Westerns. Actually, it started with an interest in American history in the East, then expanded westward, kind of like the American experience itself. With a strong dose of Western movies and, later, some particularly good books (both fiction and nonfiction), my interest ully bloomed.

Tell us about your latest novel and why the dry spell between your last and most recent release.
“Blood of the Scalphunter” is about mountain man Lije Paterson who has been in the mountains for more than 10 years. One day he comes across a young man wandering alone. Dougal McKagan had hired on as a camp helper for a small group of free trappers. They were killed while McKaganMcKagan develops a liking to killing Indians, and when he kills a small family staying in Paterson’s camp, Paterson has had enough. He casts McKagan out. Not long after, as Paterson is laid low by illness, McKagan returns, rapes and steals Paterson’s woman—and his own woman. When he recovers, Paterson heads for rendezvous, finding the bodies of Cloud Woman and Tame Elk along the way. With the fur trade dead, Paterson heads to St. Louis. There, down on his luck, an old friend hires him to help lead a wagon train to Oregon. Along the way, he learns that McKagan is in Mexican country, killing Indians to sell their scalps. With help from an unexpected quarter, Paterson goes after him.
As for the long layoff, there are several reason. I parted ways with my agent about the same time the publishers starting cutting back on Westerns. And, without an agent, many publishers were reluctant to look at my work.
Which came first, your newspaper copy editing job or your western novels? And how did you make the transition between the two?
Actually, they came about almost at the same time, though editing was ahead by a little. I was in college (I got something of a late start) when I wrote my first novel, but at the same time, I was editing for a small newspaper. I wrote my first novel between the summer and fall semesters and by the time it came out, I had been a copy editor at a daily newspaper for a year and a half and had moved on to graduate school. When my second novel came out a year later, I was a copy editor in Phoenix.
There wasn’t much of a transition, per se. I was always able to separate the two. When I was at work, I was a copy editor; when I was writing, I was a writer. I didn’t give much thought as to the differences. I just seemed to have the ability to switch tracks mentally.
Are most of your novels set in your home area of Arizona?
Strangely, no. Many of my novels are about mountain men, and there wasn’t too much of that activity in Arizona. As for the more traditional Westerns, I tried to work in Arizona when I could, but the novels went where they took me.
Which writer—western or otherwise—influence your own work?
The biggest influence, I would say, was a woman, long dead now, named Janice Holt Giles. Her writing was gripping, her stories rich with detail, her grasp of history and her ability to get it across was dazzling. One of her novels was the main reason I started writing.
Do you outline your books or sit down with a vague idea of what’s going to happen on the computer screen that day?
I’m pretty much a by-the-seat-of-the-pants writer. I generally have an idea, but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll do a rough synopsis, but it usually changes drastically as I go along.
What’s most the surprising historical event you’ve discovered in your research?
It might be the attempted murder of William Bent by one of his sons, Charles. Charles, a brother, George, and their sister, Julia, all born of Bent’s Cheyenne wives, were living in the Cheyenne village during the Sand Creek massacre. Their other brother, Robert, was forced to lead the perpetrators to the village. Charles was so enraged that he joined the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and at one point tried to kill his father.
What’s the most difficult aspect of writing for you?
Getting started. Usually once I get going, I’m fine, and often get on a good roll. But getting around to plopping myself in the chair is often tough
How do you view the future of western novels?
Sadly I don’t think it’s too bright. With most of the major publishers doing few, if any, Westerns, the future looks rather gloomy. Small publishers and e-books might be the salvation, but even then, I don’t think Westerns will regain anywhere near the prominence they once had.
Advice to fledgling western writers.
Read nonfiction about the west. Learn all you can about the West and its history. And then write.

Thanks, John. You can learn more about John at his website:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Conversation with Doug Hocking

Doug Hocking is an independent scholar and novelist who has completed advanced studies in History, Ethnography and Historical Archaeology and lives and breathes Way Out West. His principal interest is in New Mexico Territory from the Mexican War up through the Civil War. It was an exciting period when the land was new and isolated from the rest of the country and violence ran at its high mark. Following leads from source to end he is learning about the Santa Fe Trail, the Fur Trade, the Mexican and Civil Wars, the Apache, the Penitentes and percussion cap weapons.
Doug, tell us about your latest, book.

Massacre at Point of Rocks is an historical novel set in New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail in 1849. I’ve recreated the New Mexico of that era and closely followed historic events, exploring the change in understanding of our fathers and heroes that come with growing up at the same time looking into what it means to be a hero in the real world. James White, bringing his wife and infant child to Santa Fe, separated with two wagons from their caravan. Encountering Jicarilla Apaches, the men were soon dead and the woman and child captive. There were numerous failed rescue attempts until Kit Carson was enlisted to guide a mixed battalion of dragoons and volunteers. The heroic scout discovered and followed trail by then a month old. A cavalry charge and a blizzard cap the tale.

Do you write about Arizona exclusively?

I write about New Mexico, southern Colorado and Arizona. I feel more limited by time than by place having, I hope, mastered the 1840s and 50s and understanding the surrounding decades I try to bring them to life for my readers. Tools–including weapons–change, trails change, politics and economics change. I strive to get the geography right, so that places a limit. Fortunately, there are hundreds of great stories within these limits. I’m trained as an historian, historical archaeologist and ethnographer. Shining a light into the cracks and crevices of history, I’ve found that the history we thought we knew is almost always wrong when compared to the primary sources. Too many people become violently angry when you try to correct their vision of the past. I live near Tombstone and know the town and its history well, but I avoid writing about it. It’s easier, and safer, to tell the truth in a novel.

Which came first, writing or photography? And which do you enjoy most?

I won my first photography award when I was 7. By the time I was 10, I was shooting slides to illustrate talks for supporting churches for my parents’ mission to the Jicarilla Apache. I’ve shot many great photos, but what I really do is tell and illustrate stories. That carries over into my writing. Editors and friends have commented on how vivid the descriptions are in my writing. It’s been compared to watching a movie. I see the world through my camera lens and it carries over, but I love writing the best. The camera has limits.

Has your digital camera improved your photography?

The new cameras do everything for you and have an unbelievable range for light and distance. This is both a blessing and a curse. You have to find out what the camera is doing and why and then fool it into doing what you want. The new cameras will take brilliant, in focus, perfectly lighted completely bland photos. Imperfections in lighting and selective focus make for great photos. I’m glad I learned on a film camera; the techniques carry over. But film was expensive and it took forever to come back developed. 
When and why did your start writing?

My mother was always pushing me to write. Her ancestors, who were theologians and college professors, had been writing since Colonial times. My great-aunt was a poet whose love affair with the publisher nearly brought down McClure’s Magazine. The staff became suspicious because her poetry was so bad they couldn’t believe he was publishing it. I didn’t care for her poems, either. I had an obstacle to overcome. My writing was heavily criticized throughout high school and I didn’t think myself much of a writer. In college and the Army, I had occasion to discover that my skills were better than any of those around me. After that, it was a matter of finding circumstances where I had time to write. Army retirement helped with that. Now it has become a matter of having something to say and the need and ability to say it. I want to revive American heroes. Our nation needs them and my heroes have always been cowboys.

Which western writer influenced your own work, and why?

I’ve read and enjoyed a great many Louis L’Amour tales and consider myself a storyteller first as he did. I hope I do a better job than he in getting the terrain right. I wish I could write like Tony Hillerman who did splendid work revealing other cultures. I see people I knew in his writing. It is wonderful how Hillerman can tell us what a Dineh is thinking without making him a white man. One of my favorite scenes is at the end of a ceremonial. A white man has violated ritual and the Pueblo cause him to disappear. When you’ve lived with these people, you know the edge of danger that exists. My favorite though is James D. Doss who writes with a wonderful, dry sense of humor that I’d like to emulate. My writing reflects elements of all of them. I’d be remiss not to mention writers like Will Bagley and Marc Simmons. My bookshelves are crammed with works of history, archaeology and ethnography. These are my inspiration for stories.

Do you foresee resurgence in western book sales? And have ebooks contributed to an increase?

I pray for it every day. Without our heroes we are lost as a nation. It is up to us to create new heroes and bring old ones back to life. Two years ago I watched Inglorious Basterds with a group of college kids. They laughed at the most hideous, gruesome and unforgivable murders. I asked one afterwards why he had laughed. “Killing Nazis is funny,” he said. “But they were only German soldiers,” I told him. “All Germans are Nazis!” This ill-favored mish-mash of history coming from a college graduate is frightening. It’s the reason I think giving a Spur Award to Tarantino is bad for all Western Writers. His work destroys much of what is good and leaves behind a slimy film of lies and misrepresentations. Science Fiction is doing a better job of reviving the western with western heroes fighting with ray-guns on the frontier of outer space. Joss Whedon ought to get a Spur Award for Serenity and the Firefly series.

eBooks are the future. My wife, whose dream is to be left totally alone to read for the rest of her life, is on her second Kindle. Smashwords looks like the best deal for writers even if it doesn’t have Amazon’s distribution.  eBooks are too convenient and you can have an entire library with you all the time. They are going to be less expensive. Smashwords says their average price is between $2.99 and $4.99. You can read in bed without a light and without your wrist cramping from the weight.

Advice for fledgling western writers?

If you’re not already famous, strive to become so. Murder, mayhem and bank robberies sell books. Bill O’Reilly’s books aren’t best sellers because he doesn’t flog them every night on national TV. In the end, you are responsible for promoting yourself and your book. Write everything you can for publication, promote yourself on social media and the Internet, take every speaking engagement you’re offered. I started doing the Facebook Page for my corral of the Westerners who have proven a wonderful source of information and contacts. I’ve posted announcements of community events for every town in southeast Arizona and it’s paid off in more contacts and invitations to speak. Start thinking early about who is going to read your book, why they’ll read it and where they’ll find out about it. Marketing to the world at large is a recipe for disaster.

Thanks, Doug. What are your social media outlets?

I’ve got my own web site and blog, Update the blog constantly with interviews and stories. Use photos to attract attention. The Internet notices the activity and raises your position on search engines. is the Facebook Page for the Bisbee Corral of the Westerners. Take a look at the kinds of things I post and repost. If I’ve got an important story, I share it in other groups after a day or so. Each time I share, it comes back to the top of the Newsfeed and Timeline. is my business, or writer’s, Page. I avoid politics and religion on this page because I want the broadest possible audience. I post at least twice a week with photo albums of places I’ve been and things I’m working on. I’m a member of over 100 groups and thus have lots of places to share things if I think they group will be interested. Watch the Timeline and find the best times of day to post. Accept lots of new friends.

I have a YouTube account so I can post videos. Many items on Facebook have been linked from YouTube to my Web Site. That gets people to the rather than just posting them on Facebook.
I don’t Tweet. Too many women of ill-repute were following me. What can I say? I’m a handsome guy.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Visit with Anne Hillerman

Anne is the author of the award-winning Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn as well as seven other books. Her newest book, a collaboration with photographer Don Strel, is Gardens of Santa Fe. She worked for more than twenty years as editorial page editor for the Albuquerque Journal North and the Santa Fe New Mexican, and as an arts editor for both papers. She's been the Santa Fe restaurant reviewer for the Albuquerque Journal since 2001 and works as a writing coach on fiction and nonfiction projects. In addition to working on a new book, she's a director of Wordharvest Writers' Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writers' Conference: Focus on Mystery, both of which she helped to establish in 2001.

Anne, your father must have been pleased that you inherited his writing talent. Has being the daughter of Tony Hillerman helped you in your writing career?
As the eldest of Tony and Marie Hillerman's six children, and the only writer in the mix, I have been lucky to have received some of the residual good will my father built up over his long career as a journalist, teacher, writer and lover of the West.  The name gives me a great ice-breaker at writers' conferences!
What does your book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape entail and what prompted you to write it?
Tony Hillerman's Landscape is a visit to the country my father loved with selected quotes from his mysteries, photos of the places he uses as settings, and my own recollections. The idea came from Dad, with a tip of the cap to New Mexico mystery author Michael McGarrity.  McGarrity was keynote speaker at one of our Tony Hillerman Writers Conferences.  Photographer  Don Strel (my husband!) suggested a slide show of the places McGarrity writes about and offered to take the photos. When Dad saw it he said, "Why don't you do something like that for me?"  That suggestion led to the book.
You’ve written a number of award-winning books. Which was the most difficult to research and write, and which did you enjoy writing most?
Gosh, I've enjoyed them all. Each had its own challenges and its own pleasures. Tony Hillerman's Landscape was fascinating because it involved re-reading each Navajo detective novel, and visiting the Navajo reservation to find  those places where Chee or Leaphorn had to pull over because the scenery is so stunning. I had to examine my own memories of time spent with Dad, and make the book personal as well as informative, something that my journalist self initially resisted. Gardens of Santa Fe, my newest book, involved deciding which of the beautiful gardens to include and then pruning my interviews with the wonderful, outspoken gardeners to stress the uniqueness of each.
Have you considered writing Western novels?
Well, sure. I've got a decent first draft of a historical novel set in Oklahoma, complete with horses and a family farm. My other experiment with fiction is a mystery in progress set in Arizona and New Mexico. It's not a "Western," but certainly flavored by the landscape and people of the Southwest.
Tell us briefly about your Santa Fe-based  Wordhavest Writers Workshops  and the Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference.
Wordharvest began as a way to celebrate New Mexico's writers. Instead of paying to hear out-of- state experts, why not use our own experts and let out-of-staters come to hear them? My business partners and I quickly expanded to draw on regional talent such as Margaret Coel and Sandi Ault (who live in Colorado but have family in New Mexico) and Arizona's J.A. Jance.  Wordharvest 's first weekend program featured Tony Hillerman. When we decided to do a conference,  Dad said we could name it after him (as long as we did the work). He also agreed to sit on a panel and be our first keynote speaker. The conference started with "Focus on Mystery" as its subtitle, but now we focus on good writing in general. The 2011 dates are November 10-12 in Santa Fe.
What prompted you to create the $10,000 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery novel set in the Southwest?
We were looking for another way to promote our conference and to offer encouragement to writers. I went to the well-organized  Pikes Peak (Colo.) Writers Conference to steal some of their ideas. We were thinking of adding a session with agents/editors and I wanted to see how their model worked. They had invited Peter Joseph of St. Martin's Press.  I told him we'd like to work with St. Martin's and he suggested a  writing prize. After more brainstorming, the Hillerman Prize was born.  
You’ve received a number of honors, including “Outstanding Woman Author” by The New Mexico Chapter of Women in the Arts. Which means the most to you and why?
The honor that touched me most was being invited by the New Mexico Library Association to be their keynote speaker and present our slide show on Tony Hillerman's Landscape at their annual conference.   Don Strel and I did a lot of benefits for libraries in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California as part of our book launch. My Dad was a staunch supporter of libraries, as are Don and I.  I was also thrilled and honored when the legendary Barbara Peters hosted us for our first Hillerman's Landscape signing at Poisoned Pen in Scotsdale.
Briefly tell us about your journalism background.
After several years of dillydallying, I earned a degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico.  My dad was the head of department there--and he was tough on me! I worked in a variety of jobs, some  in television and radio, but mostly for newspapers and magazines. I was the first woman to head the editorial page at the Santa Fe New Mexican, one of the oldest newspapers in the West and still an independent, family-owned operation. I also started the opinion page and wrote the editorials for the Albuquerque Journal's Northern New Mexico edition. I currently work as restaurant reviewer for the Journal. That job lead to my book Santa Fe Flavors: Best Restaurants and Recipes, which won the New Mexico Book Award.
What’s your fondest memory of you father?
That question is too hard! I think of my Dad every day and miss him tremendously. I'm grateful for his sense of humor, his curious mind, his gentle kindness, and his absolute passion for skillful writing and well-told stories.  And that he had the good sense to find and marry my mother.
Advice to fledgling writers off the West.
 Read voraciously. Keep writing. Do your best and don't stop because you can't yet live up to your own standards. Only you have your voice and your stories. Be brave.
 Thanks, Ann, for your visit.
You can visit Anne at her website:  
and her blog site:

© 2011 Jean Henry Mead