Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Ragtail and Damn Donkey


They reckoned it was the dirty, tattered snot rag fixated on his belt that got Ragtail his name.
But it could’a been because the seat of his britches had long since amalgamated into something done and done over, scraped clean through from sliding down hillsides when his footing gave way. Patches turned this way, and that way covered his modesty like a crazy quilt. They was all sewn on with a long, looping stitch, so that may have been where his name come from.

Ragtail didn’t seem to mind. He spent his time alone except for Damn Donkey, and that exasperating beast didn’t care for looks or if Ragtail had a few gray hairs creeping around under his hat or on his chin.
In any case, Ragtail accounted he would clean up and even get a proper horse as soon as he found a lode with the right color.

He lived high once when he pushed deeper into an abandoned drift and collected a nice little haul of galena that assayed high in silver. He lodged into a hotel so fancy that they made him take a bath before allowing him to stay.

But he didn’t enjoy it.

For one thing, the bed was too soft. However, the floor was clean, so he bunked down there. City noise relentlessly pierced his skull with high tones blended with clomping feet coming from every direction. So many people on the move drove him to keep his shotgun handy.

He endured his luxury for a week then used the last of his windfall to pay the stable for taking care of Damn Donkey. The only good feeling he left with was he got his fill of steak and bacon.

Broke and on a grub-stake again, Ragtail needed to find new territory. As soon as he showed up at the Assayers Office the vultures that preyed on the hunting skills of hermitic prospectors knew what he had and where he likely got it. They left town before he finished his check-in bath.
The scavengers were on the carcass. No sense in going back that way.

But there was a tugging at him to follow the siren call of a lost mine. The story went that an aged Spaniard stumbled out of the desert years ago. He said that he was a young man when his company marched north and ran afoul of local tribesmen. Only several of the armor-wearing invaders survived the encounter and they were used as slaves by the people with the strange language.

Once a year the women of the tribe journeyed to a valley where they picked the pods from the trees growing there. The slaves went as burden bearers. The old man said that when he was the last of his kind, on the annual trip to the valley he simply walked away.

Somewhere on his escape south, he had passed a gold field where nuggets lay for the picking. He showed the evidence. Two thumb-sized beauties - almost pure.

Men had disappeared trying to locate that gold. Ragtail reckoned it was time for him to try.

Next Wednesday Ragtail prospects new territory. What will he find? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tales Old Roy Told

Hooping in a pinafore.

Finding Old Roy

I was ten years old and wanted to do something different. “Nah, I don’t want to do that,” I answered Warren. “All we ever do is roll hoops. It’s getting too hot anyway.”
The town was dusty but blessed with an itinerant cloud shadow. Nothing was going on but an occasional rider or buggy passing by in the dirt of the main street.

Warren acted like he warn’t too upset ‘cause he never made a move to git up. We were at the end of the boardwalk. The only building in town past us was Jones’, the blacksmith who usually supplied the wheel hoops we played with. Warren kept right on throwing pebbles at a pile of horse apples, trying to knock the top one off. “Well, what then Noah?”

Good-looking Jessie Beauchamp came up with the idea that turned on our imaginations. Jessie, whose mom tried to pass her off as a genteel little lady by using a hot curling iron to put springy curls in Jessie’s hair and tucking her in starched white pinafores to keep her dresses clean. The Jessie that Warren, Elijah, and I all secretly loved.
She said it. “I heard my daddy mention that Old Roy would tell anybody a story for a drink.”

“That’s probably true.” Elijah nodded in agreement because he always agreed with everything.

“How come it's true?” Warren poked a finger at Elijah roping him into the middle of attention.

That was a ritual in our group. Elijah agreed, and Warren tried to make him justify why.

Eli cast about, looking for someone to help him and finally come through on his own. “Have you ever seen Old Roy at the water barrel? I bet he’s plumb thirsty.”

I thought about that and figured Eli had it. You’d see Old Roy here or there, but no one ever saw him move. He just was in his place. Or somewhere else. I ruminated on it while they watched me. Them and Cora, Eli’s little sister.  For some reason, I seemed to be our leader, so I had to think it through.

I made a decision. “Cora, fetch a pint jar. We’ll go see.”

She ran to the blacksmith’s and returned with a stained jar that smelled like turpentine, but it was empty. Warren filled it at the horse trough, and we marched off to find Old Roy because he wasn’t behind the smithy’s, one of his usual abiding spots.

We reconnoitered him reclined on a bench in front of the cooper store on the shady side of the street. Old Roy had his hat pulled over his eyes, his hands tucked under his round belly that reminded me of lump jaw settled onto his stomach, and his fatigued boots crossed at his ankles. That wasn’t no problem because Old Roy didn’t wear spurs. Couldn’t use ‘em if he did. No one saw him walking, much less riding.

We arrived at the same time Mrs. Lambert stopped to admonish Old Roy. She tapped him across his knees with her parasol until he moved his hat back, uncovering his bearded face. She drew herself up, arms akimbo, and demanded to know, “Why are you lying there like that?”

Old Roy brought her into focus and in his dark whiskey voice rumbled, “So we can look into each other’s noses. I can see tadpole jerky in yours. What do you see in mine?”

Mrs. Lambert went cherry, with the seed jerked out the way her lips puckered. She placed her hand in front of her face and took off, pumping her laced-up city shoes against the boardwalk like hail on the roof.

I felt kinda bad for her since she always made sure we got some cookies when she baked, but jiminy whillikers, it was funny.

Old Roy took our measure while wiping the rheum out of his eyes with the backs of his thumbs. “What do you kids want?”

Mrs. Lambert once shooed Warren out of the way so he may have been feeling some kinship with Old Roy. He held out the jar. “Here’s a drink. How about telling us a story?”

Old Roy squinted at him. “Got a chaw?”

Warren’s face said he had something of value he didn’t want us to know. He pulled out a half-inch length of black twist and held it to Old Roy. “Got this licorice,” he offered.

Old Roy waved it away. “Ain’t got the teeth to eat that and it don’t soak up like a good chaw,” he said.

Warren popped it into his mouth before any of us could say a thing. Old Roy dug around in his shirt pocket and found a small plug of tobacco that he set to half-chewing, half-gumming. He took the drink, threw out the water, and spit in the jar.

“Well,” he said, “there is the matter of Ragtail and Lark.”

Who or what are Ragtail and Lark? Come back next Wednesday and Old Roy will begin his story.

How do you think it will go? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Loving Your Writing

Never a wrong word.

Are We Rushing To Publish?

Last week we talked about being our own worst critics. When that misconception grabs us, we hold on to our work and never let anyone read it.

At the other end of the pendulum swing is where we imagine our story and it so enthralls us that we can't see that it didn't transfer to the written word very well.

The ability to self-publish has seen the market offer a lot of books that are subpar in punctuation, character development, plot, and ... you get the idea.

Let's not be that guy

How do we know our work is ready for the market? One person I heard of uses her retired English teacher to proofread her work. When the teacher gushes over the story, it's rushed to print. Let the marketing begin.

We need English teachers. We need to learn all we can from them. We also need Creative Writing teachers if we're going to write something to hold someone else's attention.

The difference is between learning how to spell success and how to achieve it.

But more than that

Let's say that we've typed "The End." Now what?

Here is a post from Brian Klems Writer's Digest blog hosting Steven Gillis about rewriting.

Yes, it's necessary and here's how you find out.

Critique groups. Listen with an open mind and be prepared to find out that there is only one Shakespeare.
Critiques work both ways, give one, get one. This is good. It's another part of our learning experience.

Beta readers. They will read the whole manuscript at once and give an overall report, or we can ask for specific feedback such as how well the dialog flows.

Professional editing. The best, most effective, and most expensive solution to polishing a story.
There are different levels of editing that we won't go into here. This is an area for a whole post.
There are many sites regarding the types of editing services available, search for them. But approach with caution.
Anyone can hang out a shingle and say that they're an editor so be sure and check out their credentials.

Then publish your story

And rest assured that you gave your baby the best start in life you could.

What did you do to get ready for publication? Let's talk about it. Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Our Worst Critics

There's that critic. Always watching

The Critic in the Mirror

I know that guy. He's the one telling me that my writing is no good, I'm wasting time and resources, and I have nothing new to say. There's a ring of truth to that.

Especially the part about nothing new to say. How many romances can be written, how many westerns, how many mysteries? You get the idea.

So why are thousands of books published each year?

We each have a voice, we are unique. We do the same things differently and we have a story.
Take bicycle riding for instance. I recently read a moving story where bike riding was a central theme. The tale wasn't about a bike, but couldn't have happened the way it did without one. No bike, no story.

Another bike rider, my son Charlie, got his pants leg caught in the chain, hit a rock, and catapulted into a sticker patch. According to his mother, the story is about mending scrapes, pulling out stickers, and sewing pants. But again, no bike, no story.

So, are these stories worth writing? Absolutely.

What's stopping us?

I think it all comes down to fear. Fear of rejection, of course, fear of being the object of ridicule, and lots of our own particular reasons.
However, fear can be overcome by gaining information and confidence.

Let the reader decide.

We don't know what readers will like or dislike. Believe me, we'll find both kinds for anything we write.

We need to gain information from writing courses, critique groups, and blogs from authors who graciously share their knowledge.
Here's just one to get us started from K.M. Weiland.

Only one person is stopping us.

Yep. As Pogo Possum said, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

Your voice is different even for a similar story. Only you can tell it. Do it.

What's your hangup and how do you overcome it? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.