What’s a story about a small town without those wonderful secondary characters? Especially when they have a vice? I have several well-established town gossips in my different series. Some of which do things that make the entire book!
Most of my gossips are women but I have some men too. In my town of Clear Creek, we have Fanny Fig. A classic gossip in every sense of the word. But then we also have Wilfred Dunnigan, who owns Dunnigan’s Mercantile. A hopeless romantic, he tries using gossip to bring people together.
In my town of Nowhere, in the Washington Territory, we have Nellie Davis, an ex-southern belle who isn’t happy about having to leave the South to come West. Stuck in a small town and with nothing better to do, she stirs up trouble by letting her tongue wag. Unfortunately, her gossiping ways get her into a lot of trouble, especially in my Mail-Order Bride Ink Series. In the first book in the series, Dear Mr. Weaver, she ends up having to perform community service after a judge deems her gossiping ways a crime
In my town of Independence, the worst gossip is the mayor, Horace Vander. With his booming voice, the man spreads news faster than the wind. Everyone in Independence knows that if you want to find out anything, just ask the mayor.
Stories of small towns, be they historical or contemporary, have certain types of characters authors use to add conflict to the story. Writers can give these secondary characters different vices and gossip is just one of the many.
One favorite such character, is Lady Whistledown, from Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series. The books are set in the Regency era and Lady Whistledown publishes a gossip sheet that talks about everyone having attended a ball or party that’s just been held. No one knows who she is, but she’s talking about everyone! Soon to be a show on Netflix, Julie Andrews will play the voice of Lady Whistledown.
Is there a secondary character in a book you’ve read whose habits have caused a ruckus for the hero or heroine? Tell me for a chance to win an ebook of mine of your choice!
Today, we’re playing a game of What if… As a writer, I do this all the time, especially when I get stuck in a story. Now you get to try your hand at what if. Post your answers in the comment section.
One lucky random winner will receive the cactus ring holder above and a digital copy of To Tame A Texas Cowboy.
What if you woke up one morning in the Old West? Where would you be, and what would you be doing?
Here’s my answer.
I had trouble with this, except for knowing I’d be in Texas as I am now. Give me too many choices and my brain shuts down. My first thought was I”d be on a ranch. But doubts crept in. Could I hack working that hard? I turned to other options. Maybe I’d be a teacher, because I had just received my teaching certification when I sold my first two books to Harlequin in 2011. I thought about making lesson plans and not having an adult to talk to all day, and said maybe not. I considered being a Hurdy-Gurdy girl, (shout out to our guest blogger Jo Noelle for that idea) but I’m a lousy dancer and being on my feet that much didn’t sound fantastic. Would I maybe be running a boarding house? I ruled that out. Too much cooking and cleaning. Could I run a restaurant? Standing over a hot stove rated right up there with on my feet all day. I decided I’d be on a ranch. Hopefully with the four strong men in my family–my husband and my three sons. We’d be working the land. I’d have a huge garden similar to the one my Grandma Walter had. I’d be taking care of chickens and out helping care for whatever other stock and crops we raised. Best of all, I’d have horses, something I’ve always craved.
Now it’s your turn. In the comments, tell me where you’d be in the Old West and what you’d be up to.
How many songs do you know that had sequels to them? Remember “back in the day” when recording artists would sometimes “answer” a song with one of their own? Well, if you love Marty Robbins like I do, you’ll know that his song El Paso had not only one sequel, but two, and he was working on a third sequel when he died in 1982! I think that’s a “record” for musical sequels, don’t you? I love ballads, or story-songs, and to find out that there were sequels to my all-time favorite one was pure pleasure!
El Paso was written and originally recorded by Marty Robbins, and was released in September 1959 (I was two years old at the time, but Marty was my man from the minute I heard this song!) Though it was originally released on the album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, within a month it was released as a single and immediately became a hit on both the country and pop music charts, reaching NUMBER 1 IN BOTH at the start of 1960! But that wasn’t the end of it at all—it also won the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961, and with good reason. It still remains Robbins’ best-known song, all these years later.
Wikipedia states: It is widely considered a genre classic for its gripping narrative which ends in the death of its protagonist, its shift from past to present tense, haunting harmonies by vocalists Bobby Sykes and Jim Glaser (of the Glaser Brothers) and the eloquent and varied Spanish guitar accompaniment by Grady Martin that lends the recording a distinctive Tex-Mex feel. The name of the character Feleena was based upon a schoolmate of Robbins in the fifth grade; Fidelina Martinez.
The storyline is this: The song is a first-person narrative told by a cowboy in El Paso, Texas, in the days of the Wild West. The singer recalls how he frequented “Rosa’s Cantina”, where he became smitten with a young Mexican dancer named Feleena. When the singer notices another cowboy sharing a drink with “wicked Feleena”, out of jealousy he challenges the newcomer to a gunfight. The singer kills the newcomer, then flees El Paso for fear of being hanged for murder or killed in revenge by his victim’s friends. In the act of escaping, the singer commits the additional and potentially hanging offense of horse theft (“I caught a good one, it looked like it could run”), further sealing his fate in El Paso. Departing the town, the singer hides out in the “badlands of New Mexico.”
The song then fast-forwards to an undisclosed time later – the lyrics at this point change from past to present tense – when the singer describes the yearning for Feleena that drives him to return, without regard for his own life, to El Paso. He states that his “love is stronger than [his] fear of death.” Upon arriving, the singer races for the cantina, but is chased and fatally wounded by a posse. At the end of the song, the singer recounts how Feleena has come to his side and he dies in her arms after “one little kiss”.
Robbins wrote two songs that are explicit sequels to “El Paso”, one in 1966, one in 1976. Robbins intended to do one more sequel, “The Mystery of Old El Paso”, but he died in late 1982 before he could finish the final song.
Feleena (From El Paso) (FIRST SEQUEL TO EL PASO)
In 1966, Robbins recorded “Feleena (From El Paso)”, telling the life story of Feleena, the “Mexican girl” from “El Paso”, in a third-person narrative. This track was over eight minutes long, but what a story it tells!
Born in a desert shack in New Mexico during a thunderstorm, Feleena runs away from home at 17, living off her charms for a year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, before moving to the brighter lights of El Paso to become a paid dancer. After another year, the narrator of “El Paso” arrives, the first man she did not have contempt for. He spends six weeks romancing her and then, in a retelling of the key moment in the original song, beset by “insane jealousy”, he shoots another man with whom she was flirting.
Her lover’s return to El Paso comes only a day after his flight (the original song suggests a longer time frame before his return) and as she goes to run to him, the cowboy motions to her to stay out of the line of fire and is shot; immediately after his dying kiss, Feleena shoots herself with his gun. Their ghosts are heard to this day in the wind blowing around El Paso: “It’s only the young cowboy showing Feleena the town”.
El Paso City (SECOND SEQUEL TO EL PASO)
In 1976 Robbins released another reworking, “El Paso City”, in which the present-day singer is a passenger on a flight over El Paso, which reminds him of a song he had heard “long ago”, proceeding to summarize the original “El Paso” story. “I don’t recall who sang the song,” he sings, but he feels a supernatural connection to the story: “Could it be that I could be the cowboy in this mystery…,” he asks, suggesting a past life. This song reached No. 1 on the country charts. The arrangement includes riffs and themes from the previous two El Paso songs. Robbins wrote it while flying over El Paso in, he reported, the same amount of time it takes to sing–four minutes and 14 seconds. It was only the second time that ever happened to him; the first time was when he composed the original “El Paso” as fast as he could write it down.
Though there have been many cover versions of the original “El Paso” song, Marty Robbins put out more than one version of it, himself. There have actually been three versions of Robbins’ original recording of “El Paso”: the original full-length version, the edited version, and the abbreviated version, which is an alternate take in stereo that can be found on the Gunfighter Ballads album. The original version, released on a 45 single record, is in mono and is around 4 minutes and 38 seconds in duration, far longer than most contemporary singles at the time, especially in the country genre. Robbins’ longtime record company, Columbia Records, was unsure whether radio stations would play such a long song, so it released two versions of the song on a promo 45—the full-length version on one side, and an edited version on the other which was nearer to the three-minute mark. This version omitted a verse describing the cowboy’s remorse over the “foul evil deed [he] had done” before his flight from El Paso. The record-buying public, as well as most disc jockeys, overwhelmingly preferred the full-length version.
I can’t tell you how many times I played my 45 record of El Paso on my little portable record player as a little girl. As a country and western song, this has to qualify as my all-time favorite, and my husband even managed to record and adapt the ringtone for me on my iPhone, so when my phone rings it plays the opening words to EL PASO. This has been a huge embarrassment for my kids when they were teens and had to be with me in public, but also was a source of amazement for them when other people actually smiled and said, “Hey! Marty Robbins!
Now THAT recognition is the mark of endurance—a song that is still beloved by so many after over sixty years!
I have not written any stories that take place in El Paso, but I’m offering a free copy of The Devil and Miss Julia Jackson or Gabriel’s Law, winner’s choice, to one lucky commenter–so don’t forget to leave a comment and your contact info!
What’s your favorite classic country & western song? Is there a sequel to it?
I’m so glad to be here during the Boot Scootin’ Special Week! Today I’m here to tell you that you can’t scoot those boots if you don’t have music to scoot them to, and I’m going to specifically talk about Western Swing.
What is the difference between Western Swing and good old country music?
All music evolves and changes over time as it is influenced by other musical genres and the people who play the music. Not everyone is satisfied with playing the same song the same way and look for ways to jazz it up a little. That is literally how western swing came to be.
Western swing evolved from the cowboy and country dance music played in dance halls and parties during the early part of the last century. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, classic western music played in the southern and western US states was influenced by the blues, jazz, folk, polka and eventually swing itself. The instruments started changing, too. Classic western music is played on a fiddle and or/guitar, but the western swing movement added piano, drums and, of course, the steel guitar, which gave the genre its distinctive sound.
Unlike big bands and swing bands of the same era, which tended to follow a set score, western swing bands tended to improvise, giving them a fun and unpredictable quality, but it was a quality people liked. Dancers loved western swing, which could be danced with a variety of styles. Thanks to its tempo, it was possible to do round dances, two-steps or even the jitter bug in later days. Before World War II, recording companies had a hard time coming up with a marketing name for western swing. They called it hillbilly music, old time music, and hot string music. Many of the bands that played it called it simply “western music”.
In 1933, Bob Wills organized The Texas Playboys, one of the iconic western swing bands, with two fiddles, two guitars, a banjo, drums, and of course the steel guitar, played by Leon McAuliffe. If you listen carefully to some of his songs, you can hear him call on “Leon” to play. Other western swing bands were The Fort Worth Doughboys, Brown and his Musical Brownies, Light Crust Doughboys, Spade Cooley and His Buckle-Busters and Billy Gray and His Western Okies.
In the mid-1930s Fort Worth was the center of Western Swing, but California would soon catch up. During World War II western swing reached the height of its popularity with promotors creating circuits of dance halls for the bands to travel to. Bob Wills played a dance at Venice Pier in Los Angeles attended by 15,000 people. Riverside Rancho, also in Los Angeles, had a 10,0000 square foot dance floor and hosted huge dance parties.
Western swing began to ebb in the 1950s, however the genre influenced rock and roll and rockabilly during that decade. One of Bill Haley’s early bands was known as Bill Haley and the 4 Aces of Western Swing. In the 1970s, western swing experienced a revival thanks to groups such as Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Lyle Lovett.
In case you aren’t familiar with the western swing sound, some classic western swing songs are Pistol Packin’ Mama, San Antonio Rose, Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer and one of my favorites, which you can listen to below, Big Balls in Cowtown.
Are you a western swing fan? If so what’s a favorite western swing dance song of yours? I’ll choose two commenters to receive a $10 Amazon gift certificate.
When different people and cultures came to America, they didn’t have a lot in common with each other because they were so different. But one thing that brought people together was dancing. Different dances came to this country over the years and by the time we get to those occupied by the cowboy, there were quite a few. But our beloved cowboys didn’t have to be well educated in the latest dances of the day to have a good time. They managed quite well with a few caveats.
After long hours in the saddle, cowboys weren’t exactly the stuff of ballet dancers. They moved stiffly. Add to that the fact most cowboys weren’t very interested in learning new dance steps or giving up the time it took to do so. No, he was happy to jump into a dance without so much as taking his hat off or gun belt. One observer commented in 1873, that “some punchers danced like a bear ’round a beehive that was afraid of getting stung. Others didn’t seem to know how to handle a calico, and got as rough as they do handlin’ cattle in brandin’ pens.” And yeah, in case you’re wondering what a “calico” is, it’s a woman.
Of course, not all cowboys did this. There were those that did take the time to learn dances so they could better court a young lady. There was the minuet, cotillion, pattern dances, and courtly processions. When the Polka came west it was thought to be great fun! And folks gathered just about anywhere to dance — on ranches, in barns, in the wide-open spaces under the stars. Slowly a dance that was specifically “western” began to evolve.
To prevent chaos from dominating the dance floor (not everyone knew the same steps), someone had to call out steps to keep everyone from tripping over each other. This hero was the caller and it was his job to orchestrate the crowd into harmonious movement. And the rest is history on that development!
I’ve written quite a few books that have dances in them. My fictional town of Nowhere in Washington has it’s annual Christmas and Valentine dance. There are barn dances in my town of Clear Creek, and of course, the big Fourth of July Celebration in my town of Independence. In fact, dancing has been such a big part of storytelling, I can’t begin to tell you how many dances I’ve written into my books!
For any ebook of mine of your choice, tell me if you like to dance (or not) and how long its been since you’ve danced. For me, it was last summer in New York at a writer’s conference.