Sunday, August 15, 2010
One of my mother’s biggest arguments with her dad was when I was in eighth grade. Grandpa wanted to buy me a pair of $100 cowboy boots for my birthday when I needed so many other things plus she wanted me to put the cowboy stuff aside. My heart still aches for those boots, and my body now aches for the good legs to wear them!
It was hard not to adore boots and hats and the squeak of a good leather saddle when the favorite TV shows then were The Virginian, Bonanza, and Wagon Train. Why, even one of the most popular after-shaves, called English Leather, smelled rugged and earthy like a pair of well used leather work gloves. Every night I went to bed dreaming of straddling a broad-backed horse and racing across the plains. In my dreams, the horse never hit a prairie dog hole, came upon a rattler, or even threw me on my behind.
Richards’s tone is casual and easy, but he knows his stuff. He has published 65 or so books in 20 years and won the Golden Spur award, an award for western fiction that ranks up there with the Oscars for actors. While his writing tips are aimed at western writing, any writer will benefit from the lessons Richards teaches in this book. He tackles dialogue, writing scenes, plot, internalization, sense of place and other nuts and bolts of writing. Richards gives very specific examples that are easy to follow; he shows samples of poor writing and then turns around to show exactly how it can be improved. Strewn among the facts and lessons are tiny tidbits like when the tumbleweed came to Kansas, ethic background of the cowboys of the West, the demise of the redheaded green parrot, and why trees of the plains lean a certain direction.
Richards doesn’t leave the reader with only his own words for reference either. The second part of the book calls in experts like Jory Sherman, Jodi Thomas and others to toss out pointers for writing the romantic western, young adult western, and stories about the mountain men who broke open the West. By the time I had finished reading Writing the West, I began to think maybe I had better return to my yesteryears, gather up some tack, shoulder a saddle, don a pair of Wranglers or Levis and head out to the plains…figuratively speaking, of course! Is that Tumbling Tumbleweed I hear on my Sons of the Pioneers CD right now?
Readers can find this great book at amazon.com or order it from the publisher High Hill Press at www.highhillpress.com. I guarantee that neither readers nor writers will be disappointed in this impressive book by a skillful storyteller.
A few years ago we visited the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson. DH thought it sounded hokey. While I never ask to do much in Branson, I really wanted to see this! It was worth every dime. Seeing those pictures and memorabilia, the jeep Nelly Belle, Dale’s favorite skirts all spiced up with ric rac, and things like Roy Rogers lunch boxes from my childhood was a trip down memory lane for sure. Then after seeing the museum, we went into a small theater to hear Dusty, Roy and Dale’s son, sing old favorite western songs. I cried when I heard Cool Water and Back in the Saddle Again.
I just recently learned this museum is no longer open, although I don’t know why. However Dusty Rogers and his son Dustin Roy Rogers have a new show in another theater in Branson. I hope they still sing Happy Trails—and I bet they do!