People sometimes ask writers from where their stories have come. Often I couldn't really say because I've had so many inspirations, but this one came out of my own life, my dreams, and the influences that began very early on my character. Like most kids, I read children's books, then teen books, which there weren't nearly as many back then, before I moved into the adult section. The books I loved most then were the westerns and in particular those by the author Zane Grey.
painting of Zane Grey at Kohl's Ranch Lodge on the Mogollan Rim, Arizona
It's surprising how many female authors of romantic westerns were influenced by Grey or maybe it shouldn't be. He wrote about the West he knew, wrote about it beautifully and with a romantic flair. His heroes were strong men and his heroines, if they didn't begin strong, they became it. Always the land is at the center of his stories. I'll write more about him some other time.
My story, From Here to There, is about the land, those who work it, and the mythology of the west as well as its reality. The following is a snippet from the book where my eastern hero, Phillip is beginning to get a feel for what working on a ranch means:
Outside, as he looked at the truck more carefully, he saw that there was a missing door on the passenger side. Maybe this truck wasn’t more likely to keep going than the even older one down by the barn. He wondered how far the near antique was capable of being driven before it became a permanent part of some junk pile, and if he was driving it when that happened, would he get the blame?
Curly climbed out the cab. "Everything you need's in back." He pointed to a reel of barbed wire, clips, tools, and metal posts. From his back pocket, Curly extracted a pair of cutting pliers. "You ever do fence afore?" he asked as he put them with the other tools.
"No, but how much can there be to it?" Phillip asked yawning and reaching for his cigarettes.
"Not a whole hell of a lot," Curly said with another sly grin. "You ever use a posthole driver?" The answer was obvious, but Phillip shook his head anyway as he lit the cigarette. Curly showed him roughly how the piece of modified pipe worked, then added, "Just make sure you tighten 'er up afore you call 'er done. Leave that wire loose, and you might as well of saved yourself the trouble of driving up there." He pointed to an odd metal tool in the bed of the truck. "Ever use one of those?"
Curly snickered. "Bout what I figured. You're a dude, ain't you." It was not a question but a statement.
"What gave me away?" Phillip asked sarcastically.
"Heck, if you ain't a dude, you oughta to sue your face for damages and get a verdict," Curly cracked, chuckling and slapping his bony knee.
"Very good," Phillip retorted dryly. "You think that one up all by yourself?"
Curly snorted. "Wished I had."
"So, if you didn't, where's your source of great Western lore? Maybe I can get in on some of these one-liners." Or at least look up their meanings.
"Tell you the truth, I changed a word or two, made it fit better, but I got most of it from one of the greatest Western writers ever was."
"Louis L'Amour?" Phillip guessed, naming the only Western author whose name he knew.
"No, dangnabit. Ain't him. He was an upstart, come along later. Not that he weren't a great writer, but I'm talking about William MacLeod Raine."
"Never heard of him."
Curly's mouth dropped. "Never heard of him! Dangnabit, that ain't possible." Phillip only smiled. Curly shook his head with disgust. "I got near every book he wrote. He was a ranger hisself. Wrote about the Old West just about the time it was all ending, but that man... he knew his people, knew the men, the country. Maybe he did kind of sissify up the gushy parts, so's to appeal to the ladies, but he wrote dang good stories."
Phillip snorted. Another unrealistic Westerner, dreaming of a past that was dead and gone--and a good thing too. He smoked a moment. "Isn't there anybody out here who doesn't either listen to country-western music or read Western fairy tales?"
"Wal, I don't know why there'd be. Them books was writ about country like this, about men coming in and fighting the Injuns, building ranches, drivin' off rustlers." He shook his head, a look of regret in his eyes. "Ain't never going to see the likes of them days again."
Rather than to say it was a good thing, that the pioneer West had offered a lot of hardships as well as adventurous times, Phillip said, "You know the pulp writers didn't always portray the west the way it really was. A lot of it was made up for Easterners."
Curly sneered. "If even half of it was so, it'd be enough to make a man wish he'd been there. Man could make his fortune in those days." He looked slyly at Phillip. "Shoot men who got uppity with him."
"Or end up on boot hill himself," Phillip said under his breath.
"What'd you say?"
"Not much." He smiled. A wisely unspoken question was how cowboys got any work done if they were constantly reading stories of the old West. Instead he commented, "I wonder if the Indians around here like those Western books so much as you cowboys."
"I've seen plenty of them reading 'em. Like take old John Eagle. He can answer most any question about anything Zane Grey ever wrote. He knows all the books, the characters. You ask it and he's got the answer practically afore you got the question out of your mouth."
Phillip's question didn't pertain so much to why the man might read Zane Grey, whoever he was, but more as to why he'd take the time to learn so much about it.
Curly shook his head. "I'll tell you this. Men were men in those days."
"What are they today?" Phillip asked with a humorless grin. This was one question to which he already knew Curly's answer.
"Soft. Don't know how to hammer in a nail straight, ain't never broke a horse, can't work more'n an hour without getting blisters on their soft hands." He sneered derogatorily toward Phillip's own long fingered hands. "I'll tell you this. My pap, he could've still worked rings around any young whippersnapper twenty or thirty years old." He looked derogatorily up at Phillip as he added, "Even when he was seventy."
"Interesting. How'd he ever get work done, if he was always talking about the West?" Phillip asked sardonically.
Phillip has a lot to learn but the westerners who think they know all about men like him, they find out a thing or two also. Toughness isn't just found on a ranch. I did a trailer for it but then added a second filled with images that inspired the book-- both from my own life and my imagination. Check out the blurb for more info and remember-- From Here to There free November 24, 25, and 26, 2012.