America Needs Westerns by Mike Torreano

My western mystery, The Reckoning, was recently released by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find that his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers; a search that takes him to the high plains of Colorado. My sequel, The Renewal, set in South Park, Colorado, 1872, was released in March 2108, also by The Wild Rose Press.

Let’s talk westerns for a minute. We’ve all heard that the traditional American western is dead—which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write westerns?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns based on great new novels have been released.

Are they’re coming back? It sure seems like it. Why would they be mounting a return? Probably because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values—a place and time where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but in our stories it does. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.

Code of the West

There was a code of the West, even observed among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim. You played the hand you were dealt.

If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, you’re right.

The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.

While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.

In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy Ethics- What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

  1. Live each day with courage.
  2. Take pride in your work.
  3. Always finish what you start.
  4. Do what has to be done.
  5. Be tough, but fair.
  6. Keep your promises.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Some things aren’t for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.

Let’s look at three of these.

How about number seven—Ride for the Brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. Support the people you’re involved with.

Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with life.

Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do.

The good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished from today’s America, but more often than not it seems they have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, even going so far as to talk with each other. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts and lawyers.

Arthur Chapman captured these principles in a poem he penned in 1917.

“Out Where The West Begins”

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,

Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,

And a man makes friends without half trying—

That’s where the West begins.

So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated today with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s world-my main characters-looks pretty appealing. Especially right now.

At the end of the day, westerns remind us of our solid roots and what we were and could become again. That’s why the American western will never die.

To buy a copy of Mike’s latest release The Renewal, click here

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Mike is giving away the winner’s choice of either a print or digital copy of his novel, The Renewal. To be entered in the drawing leave a comment about one of the ten Code of  West principles listed above.

A Place In This World

This is a thoughtful post, brought on by how quickly things have changed in so many parts of our country…

And how there are places where things stay solidly the same.

I live in a small town outside of Rochester, New York. We own a pumpkin farm and we raised our family here, and other than centralized schooling (which I’m not a big fan of, but that’s a post for a different blog!) and some new neighborhoods, we’ve been fairly unchanged for decades and decades.

Our town burned before I moved there. The fire was in the 60’s… and it was rebuilt then, but for the most part the old buildings that used to thrive are still there. Some of them are falling apart but caught in legalities… and some of them (an old vegetable processing facility on the railroad line) is now a fabric and knitting store and storage facility… )

And the old furniture store that became a popular antique cooperative burned years ago… and now a modern dental office stands in its place.

It’s comforting and amazing how while a few things change, most of the town has remained the same, even as storefronts change….

Towns get worn… people leave… then new people come….

Is this good or bad? And when I’m writing a Western, and setting up a town, is that lack of change expected? Or different? And part of the fun of writing cowboys and westerns is that cowboys are a breed apart. Like cops and military and adventurers… and I like to write cowboys that are looking for their place in this world.

Did you ever hear the song “My Place in This World” by Michael W. Smith? Michael is a Christian recording artist, I have a bunch of his tapes…. are you laughing yet??? 🙂 I used to play him all the time in my station wagon and the cassette player and I thought I was SO COOL to have a car with a cassette player. My first car barely had a radio.

And I’m not even sure it had FM, LOL!

Anyway, that song speaks to me figuratively and literally and helps me to create not only the physical setting of time and place, but the emotional settings for the characters.  It’s never easy to either be the odd man out or a woman who’s starting over, is it? Some of us have been there. Some of us haven’t, but we know folks who have. 

Guys of all ages hunt for their place in this world… they don’t have to be big to be lonely…

My old pastor used to offer a homily about the black sheep… the disenchanted child, the one who doesn’t fall into line when all the rest of the family does.

I bet a lot of cowboys fit that mold. Or make their own mold.

A little bit different. A different drummer. Searching for something. Or someone?

When we watch a John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood or Matt Damon movie, we sense that discontent. That past that drags a man down. Or a past that mires a woman in guilt and reckoning.

The “Shepherd’s Crossing” series for Love Inspired books offered me the chance to use diverse characters and mixed relationships and cute blond baby twins and a darling biracial boy named Zeke… and a Native American little girl called “Dovie” and the children of a deceased horse breeding couple… who are trying to find their place in the world now that their lives have been irrevocably changed by tragedy.

 

Book one of this series! Reunion love… an engaging child, wishing for a mom… and a ranch that needs both of them to succeed….

Fred Rogers used to teach children that when things go bad, when scary things happen, when everything seems to be falling apart around you… “Look for the helpers,” he told them. “Look around and find the people who are helping others. There are always helpers, in every situation, so you need to look for them. Go to them. Look for the helpers.”

What great advice.

When we create story lines or series or single title books, we usually have “helpers”, too. Those sage voices, the sensible folks who jump in to help, no questions asked.

Look for the helpers…

Look for what you need and want to find your place in the world and also to take your place in the world.

In the “Shepherd’s Crossing” series,  Corrie Lee Satterly is the helper. The voice of wisdom. A warm-hearted black nanny who raised three rich little white girls and gave them the love they were denied for over thirty years… and followed them north when that’s where they had to go.

Corrie found her place in this world, not by geography… but by love. The sacrificial love of a surrogate mother.

My three Steel Magnolias find life and love in western Idaho, but it’s not just about the beautiful romance waiting for them…

It’s about the character-building emotions they pack along the way and how time, love and faith pave that new road to happy-ever-afters.

But of course there is always a little help from their friends… and the good Lord’s timing! 

I have TWO COPIES of this opening book to give away today… Let me know about your place in the world, or how much you love romance… and I’ll put your name into the cowboy hat for the drawing!

 

 

 

 

Gifts Out of the Blue

People often ask where I get my story ideas. Once I’ve conceived the series concept, individual stories come from the characters, a lot of brainstorming, and research. My series ideas, however, often come out of the blue like my Wishing, Texas Series.

I was driving home and wondered if my oldest son was on his way to Athens, Texas, to meet his friends from the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University. I thought about how close he and his squadron buddies were, and I predicted they’d still be friends in ten years.

My Spidey sense tingled, telling me I had something special. What if I showed A&M squadron friends ten years after graduation? What if they still met at one friend’s east Texas ranch at least once every year? What if they were there for each other through life’s ups and downs?

When I got home, I jotted down notes. One would run the family ranch. Another would be in law enforcement. Because of A&M’s phenomenal vet med program, one would be a veterinarian. For some reason, I settled on a computer related field for my last hero.

The relationships between these men would provide the series backbone—the heart. Even now working on book three, my favorite scenes to write are when the heroes are together.

 

Here’s an excerpt from To Love A Texas Cowboy.

“Is there anything else you need, Ty?” The Horseshoe Grill’s waitress Tiffani, a woman he’d known since middle school, asked as she leaned forward showing off her recently enhanced cleavage.

“We’re good,” he said, staring at the pool table as he sorted out his shot.

“Let me know if you change your mind about anything,” Tiffani said before she sashayed away.

Cooper, Ty’s eight ball partner, elbowed him in the ribs and nodded toward

the departing waitress. “Are you going to take her up on the invitation?”

While easy on the eyes, with long, blonde hair a man would love to run his hands through, tall, curvy in all the right places, and good-natured enough, with her marital track record—oh for three—Ty doubted the good sense of any man who took Tiffani up on her offer.

“Anyone else notice she didn’t care if the rest of us needed anything?” AJ asked.

“Mind if I throw my hook into the water?” Zane asked his gaze locked on the waitress as she flitted around the restaurant. “She looks like she knows how to have a good time.”

“Come on. Give someone else a chance. Like maybe me.” Of all of them, AJ craved the connection and belonging that came with a serious relationship. After a six-year stint in the military and traveling around the world, he was more than ready to put down roots, but most of the women he met were leery of getting involved with an FBI agent. Poor schmuck.

“You’ve got more women on the line that you know what to do with.”

After sending the three ball into the side pocket, Zane turned to AJ. “Weren’t you thinking about going exclusive with Megan? Though why any sane man would do that is beyond me.”

Ty shook his head and smiled, feeling like the ring master of a three-ring circus. Despite that, he wouldn’t trade one of his friends for fifty-yard line tickets to an A&M /Alabama game in Kyle Field. Good friends like these could get a man through just about any rough patch.

“We broke up,” AJ said referring to Megan.

Before anyone could comment, “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown band rang out.

“Next round’s on you, Zane,” Ty said even before his cousin reached for his phone.

They’d instituted the cell phones on vibrate rule and the violations penalty two years ago when Zane’s girlfriend of the month drove them nuts with constant calls and texts. The man always had a woman desperate to claim, keep, or regain his attention. Hell, usually more than one. Zane was a master juggler, but that didn’t mean the rest of them wanted to be part of the act.

To read the first chapter of To Love A Texas Cowboy which includes the excerpt above, click here.

To be entered to win the horseshoe pictured, leave a comment on which hero– Ty, AJ, Cooper or Zane–you like best and why based on the short scene above. BTW, the excerpt occurred in Wishing’s favorite hot spot, The Horseshoe Grill. 🙂

 

 

Edible Wild Plants

 

While working with my grandsons on a Boy Scout survival project, I came across an interesting book by the Department of the Army, ”The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants”.

It got me  thinking about how our frontier travelers used some of vegetables, plants for spices, and medicinal purposes.  This book answered many of my questions.

It’s most important that I preface this blog with a warning directly from the book:

Very important, please read this before you continue with the blog.

Warning:  The critical factor in using plants for food is to avoid accidental poisoning.  Eat only those plants you can positively identify, and you know are safe.

Plants are valuable sources of food because they are widely available, easily procured; and, in the proper combinations, can meet all your nutritional needs.  Absolutely identify plants before using them as food.  Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.

Chicory: I think one of the most popular plants used throughout history is Chicory.  The base leaves resemble those of the dandelion.  The flowers are sky blue and stay open only on sunny days.  Chicory has a milky juice.  It can be found in old fields, along roads and weedy lots.  All parts are edible.  Eat the young leaves as salad or boil to eat as a vegetable. Cook the roots as a vegetable. I wasn’t aware that the plant are edible and had so many usages, but of course, coming from the South, Chicory used as a coffee substitute is well known.  Roast the roots until they are dark brown and then pulverize them.  I just image the frontiersman kept a look out for this plant.

Dandelion:  Believe it or not all parts are edible. I’m not gonna describe this plant, as we all have to deal with it during the spring and summer. The roots are high in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium.  Like Chicory, you can roast and ground the roots for a good coffee substitute.  Another use is the white juice in the flower stems can be used as glue.

Sassafras:  Everybody has heard of Sassafras tea in historical stories.  This shrub bears different leaves on the same plant. The spring flowers are yellow and small, while the fruit is dark blue. The plant parts have a characteristic root beer smell.  The young twigs and leaves are edible fresh or dried.  Small dried young twigs and leaves can be used in soups.  Now for the tea…dig the underground portion, peel off the bark, and let it dry.  Then boil in water for tea.  Of interest, shred the tinder twigs for use as a toothbrush.  Now we know how the frontiersman cleaned their teeth!

 

Here’s a couple of popular, yet dangerous, common flower garden plants.    

Trumpet Vine or Trumpet Creeper:  The last two very dangerous plants I want to tell you about are ones that almost everybody have around them.  The first is the Trumpet Vine, which climb all over fences and are intentionally planted. The trumpet-shaped flowers are orange to scarlet and climb to 15 meters high and spreads like a wild weed It has pea like fruit capsules.  The caution on this plant is that it causes contact dermatitis, so be very careful working around this plant.  If pruning, I’d make sure I had long sleeves and gloves on.  And, I’d suggest you be very careful touching your face and be sure to wash your hands very good.

Lantana Plant The second is a very popular plant.  The Lantana is a shrub like plant that may grow up to 45 centimeters high.  The color varies from white, yellow, orange, pink or red.  It has a dark blue or black, berry like fruit.  A distinctive feature is its strong scent.  The caution on this particular plant, again very popular, is that it is poisonous if eaten and an be fatal.  It also causes dermatitis in some individuals, so if you’re working with this plant, I’d follow my suggests for the trumpet plant.

Again, I’m going to warn our readers that all or part of many wild plants, once used, can be very dangerous.  Always, always be very careful about eating or cooking any wild plant unless you know for certain it’s safe.  Cautious is best!  When in doubt, don’t eat!

Now my question to you, really two of them:  Do you think the frontiersman used the edible part of wild plants?  The second, do you think people died coming west due to consuming or coming into contact with dangerous wild plants?

 

To one lucky winner who leaves a comment, I am giving away an eBook of my newest western contemporary romance “Out of a Texas Night”.    

 

 

An Oft-Depicted Legend

John Henry “Doc” Holliday at at 20, when he graduated from dentistry school.

There are some figures in history who, while they were real people, have achieved legendary status. And sometimes that legendary status has a kernel of truth behind it but has grown well beyond the reality of the person. One such figure from the Old West is Doc Holliday.

John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851 and by age 20 had earned a degree in dentistry, thus the famous “Doc” moniker. Unfortunately for him, he soon thereafter was diagnosed with tuberculosis due to the fact he’d helped care for his mother when she had the disease. Hoping the drier climate of the American Southwest would help alleviate some of his symptoms, he moved there and became a gambler. During a stay in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and a legendary friendship was born–a friendship that would lead to the O.K. Corral and the events that made both men famous.

Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp and Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday.

Despite Holliday’s reputation as an accomplished gunslinger, researchers have since determined that it’s likely he only killed one or two men during his short life of 36 years. But that hasn’t stopped the myth of the man from being repeated and embellished since his lifetime. He’s been immortalized in numerous pieces of fiction, in song and in a seemingly endless array of movies and TV programs. Famous names such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Willie Nelson, Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer have portrayed Holliday, and just this past week news broke that Jeremy Renner will be the latest in that list to play the man, this time in a biopic based on Mary Doria Russell’s books.

Me with the cast of Wynonna Earp at DragonCon 2017.

Holliday has even made appearances in sci-fi/fantasy stories such as a 1966 episode of Doctor Who, a 1968 episode of Star Trek and my personal favorite, the current SyFy show Wynonna Earp, in which actor Tim Rozon plays Holliday to perfection. In this reimagining of the Earp/Holliday story, based on the comic book series of the same name, Wynonna Earp is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt. On her 27th birthday, Wynonna officially becomes the “Earp heir” and inherits the ability to return revenants, or the reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt killed, back to hell using Peacemaker, the revolver with a 16-inch barrel that once belonged to her famous ancestor. In this telling, Holliday has been cursed with immortality, thus his lack of aging between the time he ran with Wyatt Earp and now when he’s helping Wyatt’s great-great-granddaughter with her duties.

Are you a fan of Earp/Holliday tales? If you’re a Doc fan, what has been your favorite incarnation?

Hebby Roman Has a Winner!

 

Many, many thanks for coming to visit, Miss Hebby! We had great fun.

Now, it’s that time again…………………….

Winner of the Forts ebook series: Ruth, Cristabelle, Mallory

Plus a $25 gift card is……………………….

CORI

Yippee and pass the biscuits! We’re happy for you, Cori. Be watching for Miss Hebby’s email.

Everyone have a great Sunday!