Deadwood and Forgiving

Deadwood was on several years ago and I didn’t watch, but we discovered Season 1 because we watch a lot of On Demand series and, well, I put the first epi on just to see Tim Olyphant. Yes, I’m that shallow. I became a huge Olyphant fan from watching Justified.

By the way, Justified isn’t family viewing, but Deadwood has it beat by a country mile on the curse per minutes ratio. If you don’t like profanity, stay far, far away. I don’t mind it and even so it is pretty over the top. It isn’t sprinkled with it, it’s SATURATED.

BUT I love it just the same. It has complex characters who aren’t completely good and aren’t completely bad either. It is very wild west, dirty, corrupt, resilient, generous…

Part of the reason why I am so taken with it is because I began watching with a built-in…well, knowledge doesn’t sound quite right but maybe “impression” fits because of a very different fictional accounting of the town – the novel FORGIVING by LaVyrle Spencer.

I can’t imagine LaVyrle would have soaked her prose in f-bombs, but there are things she had in common with the series.

1) Painting a picture of a rough, lawless town where the only women were the whores in the brothels.

2) One man who stands out as the good guy, yum yum! (And yes, I mean Tim as Seth Bullock)

3) A spunky, well-spoken, classy heroine. While Deadwood is populated with several characters and storylines, Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) truly stands out.

4) The addition of the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. I love this part. Jane was such a rough character with such a big heart.

5) The addition of a small pox outbreak and pestilence tents

6) A good, upright man in love with a prostitute.

If you haven’t read Forgiving, see if you can find a copy. It’s a wonderful read. Especially a particular scene at midnight on Christmas Eve. Deadwood’s coarseness might not be for everyone, but Forgiving is a beautiful story that will still manage to give you the flavour of this gold rush town.

 

And if you can’t find Forgiving, my newest release, A Family For The Rugged Rancher, is out in the UK this month. You can find out more on my website: http://www.donnaalward.com .

Kelly Boyce – and A Long Love of the Old West

I have always loved westerns. As a kid, I can remember lying shoulder to shoulder on the TV room floor with my older brother as we watched Clint Eastwood shoot and snarl and glare his way through a host of spaghetti westerns. I thought he was the coolest thing on earth and couldn’t decide if I wanted to marry him, or grow up to be just like him. My mother suggested neither was a viable possibility, given the age gap and the fact that she would ground me forever if I even considered shooting my way through life. But those dire warnings did nothing to curb my love of the Old West.

My weekend viewing consisted reruns of Bonanza and The Big Valley. I then graduated to Little House on the Prairie. When they made a mini-series of Lonesome Dove, I was in heaven. Even the television series that followed staring Eric MacCormack and Scott Bairstow was must see TV for me, although it wasn’t really until they reformatted the program in the second year to “The Outlaw Years” that it really got interesting. I even watched Young Guns. If that doesn’t show my dedication to the genre, I don’t know what does.

Even now, my DVD shelf is riddled with westerns. Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, Deadwood. The latest version of True Grit was probably one of my favourite movies of 2010 and I can’t wait to add that to the shelves.

My brother was no help with my addiction at all. If anything he was my number one enabler. With his Time Life Old West series and love of the great Indian chiefs, he became my go-to source for information and bedtime stories. And my brother, great storyteller that he is, had plenty of tales to tell. Sitting Bull, Custer’s Last Stand, all things Comanche. Even now, his Time-Life Old West series are my first stop for research. Thankfully big brother only lives a few streets over and is willing to lend the books out for an extended period with no late fee being charged.

I can’t say there is any one thing about the western genre that draws me, but rather a plethora of things. The way of life was gritty and harsh, the justice meted out with an immediacy that didn’t always allow for fairness or rebuttal, the landscape was harsh and uncompromising. But there was an honesty about it as well, a sense that they were building something new and important and were willing to risk what they needed to and work themselves to the bone to get it.

With all of that going for it, who wouldn’t want to write a story set in the Old West? When I started writing romance, it was even a question for me. It didn`t matter how many people told me westerns were a hard sell. I knew I loved reading them and surely I couldn`t be alone in that. Turned out I was right and THE OUTLAW BRIDE found a home at Carina Press. It seems only fitting that my dream of becoming a published author would be brought to fruition by a story set in a period that is near and dear to my heart – the Old West.

To say thanks to all of those who love the genre and keeping it alive, I`m giving a copy of my new release, THE OUTLAW BRIDE away. Just leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.

SHANE

Jack Schaefer’s book, Shane, has been classified in many sub-genres, but to me, it will always remain my favorite western romance.

Shane  
Current bantam edition cover

Romance?  Shane?

This story cannot have a truly happy-ever-after ending for all the principal characters, so it normally wouldn’t make it to my “Top Ten” list for that very reason.  But the story itself is so compelling, so riveting, that there is no choice once you’ve read page one—you are going to finish it.  And it’s not just a story about a very odd love triangle, but also about Shane discovering that he is worthy, and a good person, despite what he’s done in his past.

Shane is the perfect hero—a drifter, a loner, and no one knows why.  He plans to keep it that way.  If only his pesky conscience didn’t get in the way, he might have stopped briefly at the Starrett’s homestead, then moved on.

But from the beginning of the book, we know there is something different about Shane.  The story is told through the eyes of Bob Starrett, the young son of Joe and Marion.  Bob is about ten years old, and his account of the people and action that takes place are colored with the wonderment and naivete of a child who will be well on his way to becoming a young man before the story is over.

The book starts with tension, as Bob is watching the stranger, Shane, ride in.  Shane comes to a fork in the road. One way leads down toward Luke Fletcher’s, the cattle baron who is trying to force the homesteaders out of the valley.  The other branch of the fork leads toward the Starretts, the homesteaders who will ultimately force Fletcher’s hand. Shane chooses that path, toward the Starretts, and the die is cast.

He would have looked frail alongside father’s square, solid bulk.  But even I could read the endurance in the lines of that dark figure and the quiet power in his effortless, unthinking adjustment to every movement of the tired horse.

He was clean-shaven and his face was lean and hard and burned from high forehead to firm, tapering chin.  His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat’s brim.  He came closer and I could see that this was because the brows were drawn into a frown of fixed and habitual alertness.  Beneath them the eyes were endlessly searching from side to side and forward, checking off every item in view, missing nothing.  As I noticed this, a sudden chill, and I could not have told why, struck through me there in the warm and open sun.

In a nutshell, Shane drifts into the Wyoming valley, and is befriended by the Starretts.  Once there, he is quickly made aware of the brewing trouble between the homesteaders and the powerful local cattle baron, Luke Fletcher, who is set on running them all out of the valley.  Shane is firmly committed to helping Joe Starrett and the homesteaders who want to stay.  Fletcher’s men get into a fistfight with Shane and Joe in the general store, and Fletcher vows his men will kill the next time Joe or Shane come back into town.

Fletcher hires Stark Wilson, a well-known gunhawk, who kills one of the homesteaders that stands up to him.  Joe Starrett feels it is his duty, since he convinced the others to stay, to go kill Fletcher and Wilson.

Shane knocks Joe out, knowing that, though Joe’s heart is in the right place, he’s no match for a hired gun like Wilson.  There’s only one man who is—Shane himself, and that’s going to set him back on the path he’s so desperately trying to escape.

Shane rides into town and Bob follows him, witnessing the entire battle.  Shane faces Wilson down first, and then Fletcher.  Shane turns to leave and Bob warns him of another man, who Shane also kills.  But Shane doesn’t escape unscathed—Wilson has wounded him in the earlier gunplay.

Shane rides out of town, and though Bob wishes so much that Shane could stay, he understands why he can’t.  No.  Bob does not utter one of the most famous lines in cinema history—“Shane! Come back!” There’s good reason for this.  In the book, Bob’s growth is shown because of what he learns from Shane.  To call him back would negate that growth process.

He describes Shane throughout the book, and in many ways, with a child’s intuition, understands innately that Shane is a good man and will do the right thing, which is proven out time and again. So, he also realizes that there is no place for Shane there in the valley, now that the trouble has been handled.

Bob witnesses the conversation between his mother and Shane, as well, where so much is said—and not said.  It’s one of the major turning points in the book, though Bob, in his telling of it, doesn’t realize it—but the reader is painfully aware of it.  If Shane really is a good man, he will have no recourse but to leave.

This happens as the novel is drawing to a close, when Marian, Bob’s mother, asks Shane if he’s going after Wilson just for her.  He has knocked her husband out to keep him from going after the gunman.

Shane hesitated for a long, long moment. “No, Marian.” His gaze seemed to widen and encompass us all, mother and the still figure of father huddled on a chair by the window and somehow the room and the house and the whole place.  Then he was looking only at mother and she was all he could see.

“No, Marian.  Could I separate you in my mind and afterwards be a man?”

 

Shane was Jack Schaefer’s debut novel, published in 1949.  It was honored in 1985 by the Western Writers of America as the best Western novel ever written—beating out other works such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian, Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, and Louis L’Amour’s Hondo.

In 1963, Schaefer wrote Monte Walsh, a book that chronicles the passing of the Old West and the lifestyle of the American cowboy.

Though Schaefer never deliberately wrote for young adults, many of his works have become increasingly popular among younger readers.  Universal themes such as the transformation and changes of growing up, the life lessons learned, and rites of passage from childhood to becoming a young adult in his writing have been responsible for the upswing in popularity with this age group.

Though I consider Shane a romance novel, it’s a very different and memorable love triangle because of the unshakable honor of the three characters. I love the subtlety that Schaefer is such a master of, and the way he has Bob describing the action, seeing everything, but with the eyes of a child. If you haven’t read Shane, I highly recommend it—at less than 200 pages, it’s a quick, easy read, and unforgettable.

A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything.  A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.  Remember that.  (Shane to Marian)

 

A man is what he is, Bob, and there’s no breaking the mold.  I’ve tried that and I’ve lost.  But I reckon it was in the cards from the moment I saw a freckled kid on a rail up the road there and a real man behind him, the kind that could back him for the chance another kid never had. (Shane to Bob)

The Daybreakers ~ Louis L’Amour

Orrin Sackett had to be pushed into a fight.

But Tyrel Sackett was born to trouble.

The night Tye stepped between his brother and a bullet changed them both forever. Now their trail pointed west, to a lawless frontier town called Sante Fe. Orrin took the job of marshal, while Tye commanded respect without a badge. When a loose end from their past turns up, one brother will be forced to revert to his old ways—if the other’s dreams are to be realized.…

The Daybreakers

When we decided to do classic western novels, I grabbed this one FAST before the other Petticoats & Pistols fillies could snag it.

Out of all the estimated one zillion book Louis L’Amour has written, this is my favorite. It’s got a few elements that make it my top choice…and let me say here that I LOVE Louis L’Amour. I’ve read everything he’s written…yes…even the poetry.

But his dynastic family, The Sacketts, were my favorites. Jubal Sackett is epic. But The Daybreakers is the first Sackett novel set in the true cowboy era.

Tyrel Sackett is a dangerous man. He doesn’t like being pushed and when he is, he doesn’t waste a lot of time giving a man a chance to see the error of his ways and back down. Orrin is a silver tongued devil. He’s got the charm, the winning ways, the story telling and singing gifts. He’s a hard man but he’s got a nice polish.

Tye shoots a man with a lot of friends to save Orrin. The need to get out of town because a lot of people are after then. They light a shuck for the western lands and push a herd of cattle along with them.

Tye and Orrin team up with gentleman scholar Tom Sunday and old time mountain man Cap Roundtree as they make their way west.

It is a Louis L’Amour-ism that the west stripped all the artifice off a man’s character. It revealed who he really was. It was a land that a strong man grew into. If he was weak, there was nowhere to hide, no law to smooth his way.

Tyrel and Orrin are strong men and the freedom of the west reveals that. They face the challenges along the way west and find a home. But the real twist in this book is what the west does to Tom Sunday. As it molds Tyrel, Orrin and Cap into hard, honorable men, it reveals an ugliness inside Tom Sunday. The book tells through Tyrel and Orrin the story of the settling of the west, but it also progresses to that day when Orrin Sackett may be forced to kill a man he once called friend, and Tyrel Sackett may once again have to step in between his brother and a bullet.

Tell Sackett is my favorite of the brothers–and off the top of my head I know he starred in three books and had bit parts in several others–so I’m thinking he was L’Amour’s favorite, too. But Tyrel is the best of them, I’d say. He has the mean streak and the speed to be a gunfighter. But he wants home and family and peace. His is an unusually wise and powerful personality and he creates a home for himself that is the envy of all who knows him, and he is wise enough to hold that home, treasure it and defend it with his lightning fast guns–while only using those guns to fight evil.

Orrin isn’t as fast as Tye, though that may make him the SECOND fastest fun in the west. But Orrin would rather talk his way out of trouble. I felt bad about Orrin. He married poorly and that seemed wrong considering that the Sacketts are supposed to be smarter than that. That beautiful, nasty wife of his causes trouble for the Sackett family for years to come.

L’Amour may have written other books as good as this one. But none better. I pick it up and re-read it every once in a while when I want to revisit the wild west.

The movie The Sacketts is a combination of Daybreakers and The Sackett Brand, which is part of Tell Sackett’s story. And nobody does a cowboy better than Sam Elliot–and he’s Tell, so maybe that’s part of why I like Tell so much. Tom Selleck is Orrin and he’s a fine cowboy, too, right there in Elliot’s league. It’s ironic that the character I consider the real foundation of The Daybreakers is played in the movie by someone I’ve never heard of since.

The Daybreakers…if you haven’t read it, you’re reallly missing out.

Dime Novels: Chills, Thrills and Rootin’ Tootin’ Cowboys

 

 

Save me, save me.

Bang, bang, bang.

Curses, foiled again!

 

Margaret Brownley

 

Your Victorian ancestor probably had one shocking vice up her leg o’mutton sleeve—or tucked in her apron.  If she was the typical nineteenth century woman she was lashed to social mores in dress, manner and speech but, oh, did she enjoy her lurid dime novels! 

 

The first dime novel “Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter” was published in 1860 and quickly sold 65,000.  That book started a craze that would remain popular until 1915. Melodramatic? You bet, but that was part of the fun.  The stories were lurid—the purple prose outrageous—but readers couldn’t seem to get enough.

 

The root of the dime novel can be traced back to James Fenimore Cooper’s popular Leatherstocking Tales, which romanticized the wild frontier, and explains why most dimers were set in the west. Dime novels actually sold anywhere from a nickel to twenty-five cents–far cheaper than the dollar charged for literary books.  Called Penny Dreadfuls and Shilling Shockers in Europe, worldwide readership was estimated to be in the millions.

 

A series of events led to the proliferation of dime novels. Mandatory education resulted in more literacy and the invention of the steam printing press lowered the cost of printing. Railroads made distribution easier and books more accessible. Sales of dime novels surged during the Civil War. Confederates and Union soldiers were on opposing sides politically but both camps shared the same passion for pirates, mountain men, adventurers and detectives.

 

These formulaic stories ranged between thirty-five to fifty-five thousand words. The small four by six hundred page format could be conveniently carried in pocket or purse.  Most dime novels like the popular Deadwood Dick’s Doom; or Calamity Jane’s Last Adventure, had two titles, probably to persuade readers that the story was too big and exciting for only one. 

 

 From Dimes to Crimes

 

Though the lurid cover art and violent stories were severely criticized by moralists as having a bad influence on youth—and corrupting the delicate brains of women—the stories actually reinforced the values of patriotism, courage and self-reliance.  This, however, didn’t stop critics from blaming them for everything from childish pranks to violent crimes and even the Women’s Rights movement.

 

Voracious Readers Made Cranky Writers

Popular writers were expected to produce a book every few days.  Some writers reportedly could turn out a thousand words an hour for twelve hour stretches.

 

 Eugene T. Sawyer, the so-called “King of Dime Novelists” and author of seventy-five Nick Carter novels,  claimed to have written three 50,000-word novels in a month, and to have finished a 60,000-word novel in just two days—while his wife plied him with coffee.  Considering his remarkable output, perhaps we can forgive  his ill-regard for readers whom he claimed were  “…people of narrow, dull, monotonous lives, who never get any thrills out of real life and must compensate in stories that give them a thrill per page.” 

 

A New Kind of Hero

Books based on real people such as Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Jesse James were especially popular, though the stories were purely fiction. The good guys battled evil and no bad deed was left unpunished. Chaste damsels in distress needed rescuing and dashing heroes were only too happy to oblige. By today’s standards the books were racist, but they reflected the times.  They also helped to establish a new social order where males were judged by deeds rather than social status.  For this reason the western hero became the symbol of the ideal man. 

 

One dime novel featuring Kit Carson had an unexpected impact on him. He chased down a group of Apache Indians to rescue a kidnapped white woman only to discover her dead.  In her belongings was a copy of the book Kit Carson, the Happy Warrior.  He later told the story in his autobiography: “We found a book in the camp, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was represented as a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundred. I have often thought that Mrs. White must have read it, and knowing that I lived nearby, must have prayed for my appearance in order that she might be saved. I did come, but I lacked the power to persuade those that were in command over me to follow my plan for her rescue.”

 

The Demise of the Dime Novel

By the late 1800s pulp magazines replaced dime novels in popularity and the world was getting ready to greet a new type of story-telling—the motion picture.

 

Coming in June 

 

A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance)