Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Ain’t No Lady Gaga

Nathan Bransford, a writer and former editor who now works for CNET, writes one of the most-read blogs in the publishing business. He visited the Pikes Peak WritersConference in Colorado Springs a couple years ago. That’s where I met him.

 Earlier this week he wrote about Self Promotion, how hard it is and why we have to do it anyhow. It’s like eating spinach. You hate it but it’s good for you. It’s a great article. You can find it at

 He’s right. Every time I sit at my computer to write my blog I cringe. I know I’m going to have to send emails to all my friends and acquaintances. I’m sure many haven’t bothered to read my ramblings. They might not even open my emails. I know I feel uncomfortable sending them. I hate to bother them by promoting myself. I ain’t no Lady Gaga.

 But Nathan’s article got me to thinking about one of the Characters I knew as a kid.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How To Properly Eat Rocky Mountain Oysters

In a previous blog I talked about how lucky I was to grow up in a community full of Characters. That’s Characters with a capital C. The benefit has been a long list that I can mine when creating characters in my writing.

Take Pat for instance. Pat was foreman on a local ranch. By the time I knew him he was probably in his early fifties. What you could see of his face under a crumpled and sweat-stained grey Stetson looked like he’d borrowed it from a well worn saddle - brown and creased and scuffed. His gnarly hands always protruded from a blue denim, snap-front shirt. Stubby legs bowed down to dusty boots with run down heels. I don’t know how he wore those boots out. He rarely walked. After all, he was a cowboy.

A hand rolled cigarette generally hung from the corner of his mouth. It would bounce as he talked. The string of a Bull Durham pouch hung out of his shirt pocket. He was gruff with that special Irish knack of creative cursing. His blue eyes always carried a twinkle.

Late spring was the roundup. Time to brand and castrate the new calves. From when I was about six until my mid teens I got to attend. First to keep out of the way and fetch anything I was told. Later to work with the friends, neighbors and cowboys who gathered for the event. Twelve years old was the magic number when I graduated to working in the pen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don’t Practice Milking on a Cow Dog

A question most fiction writers hear is: Where do you come up with your ideas for a plot or a scene?

I imagine each writer has his/her own answer. Me? I draw on real life. Stories I’ve heard from friends or acquaintances or events or situations I’ve experienced myself. Take the time I practiced milking on a cow dog. Not a good idea, by the way.

When I was four my mother was called to her parents ranch in Northern Idaho. My grandfather had a stroke, grandmother was ill and they needed help. Since dad was the bread winner and had a full time job I had to tag along with mom.

I was already a wannabe cowboy and was thrilled that I was going to stay at the ranch. I immediately started following the hired hand, Otto, every place he went. Annoyed the hell out of him I was told later.

A chore he had to repeat twice a day was milking the cow. I got as close as I could, but she was a saucy old gal with a quick left hoof. Otto made me stand back out of range, but I was close enough to see the action from the first tinny splank into the empty bucket to the last sploosh in the full one.

I wanted to do it. I pleaded. I cried. I made promises of future good deeds. I even tried bribing, but a four-year-old doesn’t have a helluva lot to bribe with. Otto stood his ground - or in this case his stool.