- “You never know how tough a man is until you’ve tried him.”
- “A man was what he did, how he shaped up at work, or against trouble.”
- “The thing that shows the man is his willingness to accept responsibility for himself and his actions. Only a tin horn blames what he is on his folks or the times or something else besides himself. There have been good men and great men in all periods of history, and they did it themselves.”
- “A man should stop ever’ now and again and ask himself what he was doing, where he was going, and how he planned to get there. And the hardest thing to learn is that there aren’t any shortcuts."• “The fact was staring me right in the face that a man may run all his life and get nowhere.”
- "You never knew who you were meeting around a campfire, in a bunkhouse or a saloon. Men took on the color of the country they were in, assumed its ways of speaking, its dress and manners."
- "Men will often take advantage of anyone they believe is helpless to retaliate."
- "A man is liked because he is likable, and most often I suspect because he likes other people."
- "They had decided to believe what they wanted to believe, and the worst thing a man can do is to try to change an idea like that."
- "There are some times when a man has to go in, guns a-blazing. There are others when it pays to just wait and see what develops."
- "There isn’t any bright, patent-leather world that’s always shining, no matter what you do…you have to make your own world, and your own place in it."
- "A man may plan, but there are movements beyond his plannings, there are events born of powers that lie beyond him."
- "It was the kind of wealth that stayed with a man down the years, the kind you could never spend, but the memory of it waited in your mind to be refreshed when another autumn came."
- "It takes time for a boy to appreciate his father.”
- "It was the way of the world that nothing remains the same."
Louis L'Amour is an enjoyable writer, partly due to his quotable bits of philosophy he puts into his work. (See my review of Tucker in "Reviews" section of this web site.) Here are some of his his thoughts from Tucker.
It’s been a long dry spell – more years than I care to think about - for fans of traditional westerns. But, halleluiah, the rains seem to be coming again.
As I understand it, for years – even decades – westerns were a solid, if less than glamorous, steady and reliable source of income for publishers and writers. Each month they would sell a predictable number of copies to a reliable audience, made the predicted amount of money, and everybody was happy. Somewhere, as I understand it, the conglomerates decided that the predictable, steady money coming in wasn’t enough.
So the westerns lines were cancelled.
At the time, I was just starting to get published in the westerns genre, with an editor from a respectable publisher interested in a series, and then suddenly I had no markets. Not just me, but a lot of writers who were much more established and well known than me.
And perhaps, worse, the fans.
Of course, there was Larry McMurtry. And the Louis L’Amour reprints. During that dry spell, however, I often heard comments from readers wishing that new westerns were still being published. You can only re-read Louis L’Amour so many times.
The drought seems to have been broken from a most ironic source: modern digital technology. As in e-books. New publishers like Wolfpack Publishing, Endeavor/Pioneer Press, and Speaking Volumes are now releasing books that have been out of print for years- even decades. More importantly, they are issuing new work.
A very good example of this is Revenge of the Damned by L. J. Martin. (2017, Wolfpack Publishing). It is by far one of the most enjoyable new westerns released recently. It has the traits common to work from the days when westerns were plentiful.
The protagonist, Linc Dolan, is far from perfect but is a likeable sort. He is a common man caught in an extraordinary situation set up by a truly nasty character: Oscar Wentworth, who had been Dolan’s commanding officer during the war. After the war, Wentworth lied to Dolan’s intended about his death in battle and then married her. He became city marshal and has been robbing the town blind. This story starts when years after the war, Dolan and the woman meet again and consummate their marriage that should have but never happened; Wentworth promptly kills the woman and frames Dolan; and Wentworth’s men are after Dolan:
Damned if there's times when a cup full of blood don't look like a slop bucket full. I hope this is one of those times. 'Cause if it ain't, I'm about bled out. When there's been a half-dozen owl hoots slinging lead your way, one of them's bound to get lucky, and damned if one of them didn't. Maybe two.
Dolan survives by his wits until he is saved by a pretty widow and her son. They are ultimately joined by two other wanted men: Bama, a black mule skinner, and Two Dogs, a Crow tracker. It is an uneasy alliance, though they all earn mutual respect.
The book is filled with narrow escapes and shoot-outs, leading to a satisfactory climax. (Hint: The good guys win.)
One thing that I like is that while the story may not be high art, the reader does not feel he is being patronized. The story moves well, the plot is consistent with the characters, and the writing is clean.
I have two minor complaints. Martin tells the story with a first-person point of view, with Dolan telling the story mixed with third person perspectives, which can be a bit disorienting at first. I was also disappointed that while this was one of a series, the series was about Montana rather than the characters I had spent time with in this book and would like to get to know better.
But, hey, I’m not going to complain about such trifles.
The drought seems to be over.
Admit it: You’ve thought about – even dwelled upon – incidents in your past and damned the time passing. The times when…
* * *
These can be difficult concepts to describe or understand, but some writers can explore them in their stories. Life II by Scott Spotson (2013, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) is a good example.
Max Thorning lived what for most might have been a pretty good life: successful accountant, pretty wife, two kids. Yet, he lived a secret life of regret. He had once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but instead took the faster way: 4 years of college and then jump into his career. Now he hated his job and unhappy in his marriage. He had a Walter Mitty-like, daydreamer streak in him, imagining what lay beyond his own reality. A different reality. He wished he could do it all over.
Max gets his wish – it doesn’t really matter how, though it makes sense in the story. In Life II he marries a different woman. He becomes a doctor. In gaining all this, however, he suffers a multitude of unintended consequences.
To reveal too much of the plot would require spoiler alerts. It is enough to say that Life II is far different from what Max had envisioned.
The reader is left with questions that may have no final answers…
I find the lives of writers fascinating. The stories they tell are often projections of their life experiences, philosophies, thoughts, dreams and fantasies. They are as varied and individual as the rest of us, but no doubt have more resonance with other writers.
Piers Anthony wrote one of my favorite books on writing, But What of Earth: A Novel Rendered into a Bad Example (New York: TOR, 1976, 1989). The NPR radio program, This American Life, recently aired a wonderful story about Anthony, a boy, writing, and dreams. It is not my story, but does illustrate how a writer can be a profound influence on another.
A transcript of that story is below along with a link to the original story on This American Life web site.
From THIS AMERICAN LIFE
Show Me the Way
Originally aired 07.27.2012
Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
© 2012 Ira Glass
Act One. Just South of the Unicorns.
Act One, Just South of the Unicorns. When I was a kid, I wrote to my favorite astronauts. I wrote to my radio hero who was this funny proto-shock jock in Baltimore named Johnny Walker. And I got responses. I got satisfying responses.
It doesn't seem so strange at that age to reach out to people who you idolize, no matter how far away they seem. Logan Hill has the story of somebody doing just that.
In the winter of 1987, my middle school in rural North Carolina was preparing for an event called The Night of the Notables. For one night only, the members of the sixth and seventh grade would dress up as historic figures and mingle. The parents would try to guess who we were.
Each kid picked a notable-- Lincoln, Washington, Harriet Tubman. When it was my turn, the 12-year-old me said, "Piers Anthony." My teacher, Mrs. [? Beal ?], gently suggested I might want to pick someone a bit more, well, notable, because parents might not read as much science fiction and fantasy as I did.
But I would not be swayed. I was so obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy that, at my 12th birthday party, I was pulled off the roller rink for reading the sci-fi book I had just unwrapped while roller skating. I read Ursula Le Guin, and Ray Bradbury, and Harry Harrison, and Harlan Ellison, and Larry Niven, and Robert Heinlein. But at 12, the author I loved above all others was Piers Anthony, who cranked out four books a year filled with heroic adventures, goofy puns, wise-cracking ogres and sexy cyborgs. I loved all of it.
But what made Piers Anthony so different and so remarkable was that at the end of those books about alternate dimensions and apocalypses narrowly avoided, he would often write these rambling confessional author's notes....
There are many kinds of love.
I was 20 when I was told that and in my youthful ignorance I protested, tried to argue. Love was love, and the only right action was to follow it no matter where it led.
Now, I wish I could go back and apologize: "You were right."
Among those different kinds of love, of course, is perhaps the most fateful, blissful, and tortuous love of all.
Isabelle Allende in Daughter of Fortune, her fine book about first love, described it as "strong trouble. The girl left her window open one clear night and it crawled into her body while she was asleep. There's no spell can cure it.”
And there is no escape from the "obstinate temper of first love." Allende continued, "...the sorcery was ...stronger than they had imagined...no locked door or blessed candles were enough to break the spell" of "the delirium and torment of love."
First love is often disparaged, as it were just creations of adolescent (not always) imaginations. But is it really? In Daughter of Fortune, first love is "a brief blessing and an extended torment." At the same time, it is also the force that propels the characters into new, unexpected directions. While different, they could be better than what had been originally envisioned.
In the book, first love moves a girl born into 19th century Chilean high society, in which she was in many ways an unhappy prisoner, to a Mexican peasant "boy" who found love and freedom as assistant to a Chinese doctor; an American fake missionary in Chile who became a famous newspaper man in California during the Gold Rush; and a shy and naive delivery boy becomes a a ruthless bandit.
Whether first love is "right" or "wrong," it is absolutely real, and pure because it is unedited, not adulterated with previous experiences, and powerful enough to shape the rest of a person's life.
There are indeed many kinds of love. In my mind, each love is genuine and enduring. As Allende explains, “She regretted nothing she had shared with her lover, nor was she ashamed of the fires that had changed her life; just the opposite, she felt that they had tempered her, made her strong, given her pride in making decisions and paying the consequences for them.”
First love is nothing to be ashamed of, it is to take pride in, for making us who we are; it is not to be forgotten, but folded into the memories of our own life stories; not to be relegated to nostalgia, but have courage enough to open yourself again.
Is it ever time to give it up and stop writing?
The question is easier to answer when you are younger and have your whole life ahead of you. You still have time to learn from the rejections and try, try again. But what if you are near retirement age and have yet to get to the top (or even half-way up?) of the heap? And you wonder how much time you may have left.
I can think of many reasons to stay in the game. For one thing I have been a writer as long as I can remember. That is the spark that kept me going during a time in my life I almost lost myself. The one thing I had left of myself was the knowledge that I was a writer. Perhaps not a very successful one - perhaps never to be one - but it was who I was and I never let that go.
I got through that bad period and I am still a writer.
Logically speaking, what does a writer do?
He (or she) writes.
What is discouraging, of course, is writing and never quite connecting with an audience. Sales and money, sure. But more than fame or fortune, doesn't a writer crave most to share your life, vision, stories?
If success in whatever form comes late there is the profound disappointment of not making it soon enough to have a lifetime of the writing lifestyle: travel, research, book tours, adoration of fans! (Oh, how misguided we are when young!) On the other hand, who is to say that success may yet come? Wouldn't it still be sweet?
I just finished reading 'Tis by Frank McCarthy. His memoir is excellent with remembered details, the pain and grief of poverty in Ireland, early days as an immigrant in the United States, and finally as a public school teacher. (It is amazing to note that the experiences of a new teacher in the 1950s is not that much different from those of a new teacher in present times, but that is another discussion.) What resonates most for me, however, is that throughout his life he was a writer and, like most of us, ached to be published.
His first book was published when he was 66 years old.
He sold lots of copies. Everybody wanted his opinion. He won the Pulitzer Prize. He made millions of dollars.
I'm sure he had a good time for those 13 years before he died.
What is important is that he never gave up. He was a writer and continued to write. When he finally achieved fame and fortune, he still had time to enjoy it.
So, in fact, I suppose the answer to my original question is a foregone conclusion.
If you're a writer, it's never time to give it up and stop writing.
My relationship with Stephen King (as a reader of his writing, of course) goes way back. I saw his first novel, Carrie, on the book shelves of a supermarket when it first came out. I thought, "What a hack."
Then I read his famous interview in Playboy. I thought, "He writes what scares him, not just for the money. Cool." (I had some problem finding this interview on the web, but here is one link I found: http://bookre.org/reader?file=246769).
Then he made a million dollar deal - for his books. I knew by that time he had worked his way up to that status from humble beginnings, and I thought, "If he can do it, then maybe I can, too." So I read more of his books, and found myself becoming a big fan.
As I read more and learned more, I realized that this was the genuine article - a "real" writer who had been marginalized as a hack writer because his work was commercially successful. He took up the gauntlet against the "literary" writers - who considered themselves the "real" writers - for the rest of us writers.
These days, I think King has transcended labels, genres,or markets and simply writes what he wants to write. But he is so darned good, each book gains him even more success.
Take Joyland (2013: Hard Case Crime) for example. I found it extremely entertaining, written in the style of the old-fashioned "pulp" writers in that it is an old-fashioned, flat-out story without pretension. (See my review of a pulp western on my blog at http://www.frankwatsonwriter.com/reviews/guns-to-sonora) Yet, it is more (as were many pulp stories). I sense a homage to Ray Bradbury, a coming of age story, exploration of love, and, of course, murder. There may be more that I missed,
I doubt that King wrote this book with dollar signs in his eyes. I doubt that, with a book of this type, he was looking for literary acclaim. I think, instead, that Joyland is simply a book he wanted to write just for the fun of it.
Hmm...another level, a metaphor, Writing should be fun. It should be a joy. Writing should be a land of joy,
NOTE: The following quote is from an interview with King about writing when Joyland was released:
"Well I think it’s one thing that I’ve had, it’s an escape hatch for me. It’s an escape from-- when you say 44 books, for me that’s 44 alternate realities. It’s a-- and people say where did you get the idea for this or why did you write that. And to me, it’s hard to remember. It’s like living in a dream. It’s great. You know, I would do this for free. Don’t-- don’t tell anybody I said that...I like to be paid for what I do, but it’s a great job. And it’s a playground job and I get paid to play."
That interview can be found at http://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/flatview?cuecard=64839.
One time I was helping a friend move, which required putting much in storage, when we came to her many shelves of books.
“But they’re my friends!” she said.
At the time, this seemed a bit hyperbolic. (I am a book lover, as well, but hadn’t yet used that expression). Now, however, I see it as true, especially these days when actual, honest-to-goodness, books printed on paper and bound between covers, are giving way to electrons.
I’m sure that you have heard all the arguments pro and con of electronic readers compared to physical books, especially from “old timers” such as myself. I was an early adapter of computers, but a late adapter for e-readers. It wasn’t until about a year or so ago that I was presented a Nook HD.
I have a confession to make:
I love it.
It is handy to have numerous books available at any given time and the option of downloading more books at a moment’s notice. I have become so fond of it that I would be difficult time to give up.
It does, however, at times make me feel vaguely guilty.
On the other hand, my wife and I currently have two rooms in our house serving as libraries and we have book shelves throughout most rooms of the house.
So it’s not like I’ve truly given up on all my old friends.
Those of you who have known me for any length of time know that in a previous life I was a journalist. One of my favorite duties was to write a personal column. I called it “A Writer’s Journal” because though I worked for a small-town newspaper, I primarily considered myself a writer, and I thought I would share thoughts and reflections I had as a writer rather than a reporter/editor/photographer.
Would anybody read it? Would anybody care? Would anybody even notice? I didn’t know, but I pushed forward and hoped for the best.
I wrote about family, acquaintances, and friends. I shared thoughts and feelings about my experiences and unfolding life journey from a writer’s perspective. I asked questions and thought about possible answers.
To my surprise, people started to respond. They talked with me about my columns. Some shared their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. At least one person displayed one of the columns on her refrigerator.
It would be nice if any of this led to fame and fortune. What did happen was that I transitioned from a small town newspaper to a national business publication; then into business writing; training; and, now, teaching.
When I started thinking about the audience and approach I would take in this web site and blog, I remembered those column inches on the Dexter, Missouri newspaper and the positive responses I got by writing from the heart.
That is now my goal for all my writing – and specifically this blog. Now, as then, I hope to write about my experiences and unfolding life journey from a writer’s perspective.
Will anybody read it? Will anybody care? Will anybody even notice? I don't know, but I will push forward and hope for the best.