Horse Magic

Lucia St. Clair Robson’s best-selling debut novel, Ride the Wind, won the Spur Award for best historical western of 1982.  Since then she has written  Walk in My Soul, Light a Distant Fire, The Tokaido Road, Mary’s LandFearless, Ghost Warrior: Lozen of the Apaches, and Shadow Patriots, a Novel of the Revolution. Her  most recent novel, Last Train from Cuernavaca, won the 2011 Spur Award for Best Western Long Novel.  Robson lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Chiricahua Apache chief, Victorio, called his sister Lozen his wise counselor and his right hand. He said she had the “strength of a man” and was “a shield to her people.”

General George Crook wrote, “The Apaches are the tigers of the human species,” but even in a society possessing extraordinary courage, endurance and skill, she was unique. The Apaches believed that when she was young, the spirits blessed her with horse magic. They also endowed her with the gift of healing and the power to see enemies at a distance. In the Apaches’ thirty-year struggle to defend their homeland, they came to rely on her strength, wisdom, and supernatural abilities.

Because of her gift of far-sight, she rode with the warriors and fought alongside them. After her brother Victorio’s death, she joined Geronimo’s band of insurgents. With Geronimo and fifteen other warriors, she resisted the combined forces of the United States and Mexican armies, and

the heavily armed civilian populations of New Mexico and Arizona Territories. She and the sixteen warriors, and seventeen women and children held out against a total of about nine thousand men.

Lozen is the heroine of Ghost Warrior, my seventh novel. I’ve been researching people and events from history for thirty-three years now, and a thought occurred to me as I started writing this about Lozen. It’s a thought that gives comfort in troubled times, and let’s face it, all times are troubled thanks to our species’ capacity for mischief and mayhem.

The thought is that even in the worst of situations, individuals with extraordinary strength of character appear and leave a legacy that persists. How fortunate we are that other people made note of them and left a record for the rest of us.

The Apache Wars certainly qualified as the worst of times. Many of the names of the leaders who waged those battles are familiar — Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio. Lozen was as exceptional as any of them. One Apache I spoke to referred to her as their “Joan of Arc.”

Reading about what Lozen and her people endured puts my petty problems into stark perspective. And it strikes me as amazing that the spirit of someone who died 120 years ago can influence what I think and feel now.

Buying Books That Are Finished

Larry D. Sweazy is a commercial indexer and novelist. He writes a series of Westerns for Berkley Books featuring Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger.  The series starts with Rattlesnake Season and continues with the fifth installment, The Coyote Tracker, forthcoming in August of 2012.  Sweazy’s first mystery novel, The Devil’s Bones, was published by Five Star in March of 2012. 

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader.  A voracious reader.   I picked my books because of cool, artistic covers that caught my eye, because of genre, because of a writer’s reputation, and countless other reasons that I’m probably not even aware of.  The biggest reason I bought a book was, and is, a writer’s reputation.  If I’d read one book by a certain writer and loved it, then I wanted more of the same—but different.  Whether it’s an eBook, or a real book, that I’m buying, my criteria for the purchase hasn’t changed now that I’m a professional writer.  But I’m not so sure that’s true of the world of books, at the moment, in 2012.  It seems everything is changing, including books themselves.

I’ve bought countless books off the rack at the drugstore, online, at book stores, independents and chains, and in the end, after I’d read the book, it didn’t matter where I bought it.  I have hundreds of books on my bookshelves.  I can’t tell you by looking at them where they came from—but I can tell you whether they were good or not, whether they satisfied me, whether the stories took me away, whether I got my money’s worth.

Now my choices for eBooks are different.  The locations are fewer, on one hand, but much easier to get to on the other.  And eBooks change.  If an author, or company, doesn’t think the book is selling as much as it should, the price changes, or the cover changes, one day it’s free, the next day, it’s not.  Does the text change, too?   Can I, as a reader, really trust the quality of the eBook?  Everything changes with the press of a button, on a whim, or after a day or two of dissatisfaction of no sales, or the lack of blockbuster numbers. Really, it’s like a book is never finished now, like it’s OK to put a book out into the world as a beta test.

I can see the allure of the never-ending book as an author—we don’t think a book is ever finished.  But as a reader, as a buyer?  No.  I’m sorry, I don’t see the allure of buying a book that’s never finished.  I want to buy something that’s final. Done. Completed.

After a book is printed there are no second chances.  Yes, there are second editions and beyond, but they’re announced on the cover.  The buyer, the reader, wants to know what they are getting.  If I buy an eBook by an author, read it, like it, comment on it, write an Amazon review, then two weeks later discover said author has completely changed the eBook to drive more sales…then I’ll remember that, and most likely, never buy another book by that author again. I’ll feel cheated.

Once an eBook is published it should stay published in its original form.  Some books take time to find.  The Internet and eBooks allow for that more than ever—if a book doesn’t change.  So my advice to writers, traditional or self-published, is to publish your book when it’s finished and not before.  I don’t want to read a first draft or a tenth draft.  I want to read a book that is the writer’s best effort.  I want to buy a book that has been published well.  I want to read a book that’s done, that has a good-looking cover, professional editing, and a great story.  It doesn’t matter where I buy the book (though there will be those that argue that it does—and they may be right, that’s just not the point of this posting).  It does matter whether the book is finished or not.  Final, completed, professionally published, no matter where it was published, or who published it.

I love buying books.  A majority of readers are collectors of one sort or another.  I have some books that I will take with me wherever I go, because I’ve been moved to tears by them, and changed and entertained by them.  I want to keep those books close.  To read again, to hold, if just for a moment, to recapture that moment… of completion.  But if I feel like I’ve been had, just marketed to, sold a bill of goods, and bought an eBook that is ever-changing, well, I’ll leave that book behind.  Or I’ll hit the delete button.  That book will have no place in my collection, or my heart.

Just One Sentence at a Time: Brandvold, Monahan, & Piccirilli on Writing Full-time

Today’s round-up includes three very different writers: Peter Brandvold, Sherry Monahan, and Tom Piccirilli.  Each of them writes full-time, whether fiction or non-fiction.  Each lives life contract to contract, deadline to deadline, sentence to sentence. 

Peter Brandvold writes under his own name and his pen name, Frank Leslie.  His recent books include The Devil’s Winchester (as Peter Brandvold), Bullet for a Halfbreed (as Frank Leslie) and Longarm and the Crossfire Girl (as Tabor Evans).  Under any name or in any series, Brandvold is known for writing violent action particularly well.  His secret seems to be his great care in developing life-like characters.

Sherry Monahan is a freelance writer, editor, and genealogist who specializes in the Victorian Western migration.  She is a contributing editor at True West magazine, as well as the author of the recent Cary, NC and the forthcoming E.M.H.: The Aristocratic Ranch Wife.  In addition to freelance writing and editing, Monahan hires out as a professional researcher who helps people not only trace their ancestry but to also flesh out the details.
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To Never Give Up: Cotton Smith on Writing the West

Cotton Smith is as concerned with the interior landscape of his characters as he is with the exterior landscape of the West.  And horses.  He loves horses, and that affection shows throughout his excellent novels of Western adventure.

Smith is a historian, artist, and writer of both fiction and non-fiction.  His novels include Spirit Rider, Return of the Spirit Rider, Blood of Bass Tillman, Death Mask and last year’s Ride for Rule Cordell

Whether writing about Texas Rangers, farm boys, or outlaws, Smith gives readers a look inside the hearts and minds of the people who face hardships day in and day out.  When Smith writes about a range war, shoot-out, or cattle drive, readers are reminded that character and plot are inextricably linked–that plot grows out of character and character grows through plot.

“I am fascinated by the power of the human spirit,” said Smith, “the ability to take blows and grow beyond them.   To never give up.   Everyone gets knocked down; how one reacts to that is the key to success.  This challenge to life is enhanced, in my opinion, in dealing with the rawness – and greatness — of the American West.”
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