Monday, January 31, 2011

Dig this

Here's a photo of me taken by my journalism student, Kellen Jenkins. Kellen is a senior at Emporia State and is a part-time shooter for the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Emporia Gazette.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Try it, for free

Had a friend ask me the other day if western readers would actually buy a Kindle book. Aren't these the kinds of things that you find in truck stops and in wire carousels near the checkout in super markets? Well, sure. I've got a copy of CANYON DIABLO on my shelf because I found it for sale at Reeble's Country Mart, not half a block from my door (and that really is kind of cool, because I wrote the book here at home, shipped it off to the publisher in New York, and it came back to my neighborhood supermarket as a finished project). But, I also found multiple copies of my latest book, DAMNATION ROAD, at the Barnes and Noble in Topeka -- a very respectable venue, complete with coffee shop. And, I told him, giving my usual disclaimer, that my books aren't really westerns. I think of them as simply novels, but some fans and critics like to call them western noir, a term I won't disagree with. So, I think the a Kindle books are entirely appropriate for my work. You can get HELLFIRE CANYON, which was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book and won the Spur Award for best novel, as a Kindle. You can also buy the Spur Award finalist, I, QUANTRILL, for your Kindle. THE SIXTH RIDER 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION has just been released. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free application from Amazon that will let you read the books on your computer. And to make it even more risk free, you can try before you buy -- you can download sample chapters of any of these novels for free, with no obligation to buy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Small price to pay for beauty.'

More nostalgia. The first edition, Doubleday, 1991. I remember what a thrill it was to go into libraries across the country and find the book in card catalogs. Of course, in those days the card catalog was a nice wooden cabinet with actual index cards, with the bibliographic information and call number neatly (or not so neatly) typed. For a writer, it was the purest form of validation. Now, card catalogs are electronic, and you're staring into a computer screen instead of feeling the edge of the cards riffle beneath your fingertips. Progress, I know. Reminds me of a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  "What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful."

Mass market Ken Laager cover

A bit of nostalgia: The cover of the mass market paperback edition of The Sixth Rider, 1994. The illustration is by Ken Laager, a terrifically talented artists who was known at Bantam for his "western fine art look." It is a particularly good cover, I think. Laager is now a gallery painter, and you can see more of his work at Go to the Illustration section, and take a look at a work called "Quantrill's Raiders," an illustration he did for the cover of my second book.

Sixth Rider Kindle Edition

The 20th Anniversary Edition of The Sixth Rider is now available on Kindle, with a new cover and an afterword by Johnny D. Boggs. The novel was first published in hardcover by Doubleday and here's the inside jacket copy:

It's late in the last century and the Wild West is becoming tamed by telegraph wire, railroads, and the modern methods of federal lawmen. But the Dalton boys, kin to the infamous Younger and James clans, haven't heard the news. Brought up on romantic tales and songs about outlaws, they aim for glory and gold, following in the bloody footsteps of the legendary gangs of the West.

Samuel Cole Dalton is the youngest of fifteen children sired by a drunk and raised by a Bible-reading Kansas woman whose love can't keep her brood on the straight and narrow. At thirteen, Sam still has a chance at an honest life, but his fate is decided when he witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of his brother, Frank, by the moonshiner William Towerly.

Sam takes off after Towerly, bent on revenge. His only resources are his youth, his fury, and the remarkable shooting skills that are the Dalton inheritance. Tracking Towerly to a mountainside hideout, Sam blows away two bandits, but his real quarry escapes. An Indian girl is chained in the cabin, kidnapped by Towerly, and Sam returns her to her home in the Choctaw Nation.

Sidetracked by his love affair with the girl, it is over a year before Sam, now known as the "Choctaw Kid," meets up with his brothers, Bob, Grat and Emmett. The Dalton Gang goes into business: rustling, robbing, and running from the law. But even as they achieve the renown and riches they craved, Sam can't find the fabled glamour of the outlaw life anywhere. Their last heist is a battle famous in Western history, as legendary as the story of the sixth rider--the Choctaw Kid--who manages to escape the violent fate of the notorious Dalton Gang.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Iconic images

The Iconic Kansas photo exhibit opened at the new Emporia Arts Center last night, just in time for the state's sesquicentennial on Jan. 29. Sixteen artists are represented, including the work of my friends Phillip Finch and Kara Wolford. That's Kara at left, discussing photography with juror Jim Richardson. Richardson, a native Kansan, is best known for his National Geographic work -- especially his three decades of chronicling Cuba, population 231, in extreme north central Kansas. The Emporia exhibit began in 2007, when the Center for Great Plains Studies launched the Plains Photo Project. Special thanks to Jim Hoy, the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies; Susan Brinkman, the center's assistant director; and the board and staff of the Emporia Arts Council. Liz Shenk, a former student of mine, hung the exhibit, which runs through March 2. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aermotor detail

The Aermotor Company, founded in 1888, is a familiar trademark in the west. The company, which is still in business, also produced the Norden bombsight during World War II. The Aermotor plant has moved periodically as the company changed hands, although for many years it was located in Conway, Arkansas. It is now located in San Angelo, Texas. This mill looks as if it tangled with a twister -- and lost.

Quixotic icon

Adjacent to Longhorn Park is this windmill, a plains icon since the late 19th Century. They were used to pump water and, later, generate electricity before rural electrification. I find windmills like this to be more aesthetically pleasing than the turbine giants now invading the windblown plains.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Longhorn Park

Here's the mayor of Longhorn Park, population six (there may be more, but that's all I counted). Longhorn Park's display herd is located at the entrance to the Dodge City airport, a mile east of town on U.S. 50. Despite their fierce appearance, longhorns are reputed to be gentle in disposition and can even be ridden like a horse. Longhorns were common in the west until the 1880s, when they began to be replaced with other breeds, particularly Herefords.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Twenty Years After

Here's a preview of the 20th Anniversary Edition of THE SIXTH RIDER, which will be released soon. This new edition will contain every word of the original Doubleday hardcover, plus new material written especially for the anniversary. This book, which is set against the 1892 raid on Coffeyville's banks by the Dalton Gang, was named Best First Novel by the Western Writers of America. Don't want to give away too much yet... but I'll post more details as they become available.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Gambler's Ghost" featured on Coast to Coast

The"Gambler's Ghost" photo has been featured on the Coast to Coast AM website -- and I've been swamped with emails from interested people across the country. Most of them just want to know more about the photo, but a few are sharing their own ghost photos. A dedicated paranormal investigator of Civil War battlefields has said that he believes there has been a rise in capturing ghosts in windows and other glass using digital cameras, owing to the phsyics involved. Maybe. I've been a confirmed ghost photo skeptic up to this point -- I suspected that most of them were faked or, like orbs, were easily explained by dust particles reflecting the on-camera flash back into the lense. But, I took this one, know it wasn't tampered with, and have no explanation. I've even shared it with a scientist friend of mine, who shared it with some of his firends and colleagues, and they were stumped as well. I've enjoyed chatting with my email friends about this. And hey, some of them might even become fans of my books.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Saratoga Saloon

The Saratoga Saloon (the location of the Gambler's Ghost photo, previous post) was owned in part by Dodge City Sheriff Chalk Beeson and offered billiards, keno, faro, and poker. It is Location 13 on the Boot Hill Museum self-guided brochure. Beeson, a legendary lawman, also owned a part interest in the more famous Long Branch Saloon. 

Gambler's Ghost

I've debated about whether to post this photo or not, but it is so damned weird that I've finally given it. I made this photo on the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 29, through a pane of glass in the Saratoga Saloon exhibit at Dodge City's Front Street. I was focusing on the gambling apparatus (faro, keno and chuck-a-luck) on the table in the foreground. This isn't a great photo, and wasn't meant to be anything other than a research pix, the visual equivalent of scribbling some notes. But, it is unusual in that you can see me holding the camera in the mirror in the upper left, and see that nothing is behind me to cast the ghostly reflection. Also, I was in Dodge City -- and toured the Boot Hill and Front Street exhibits -- to gather research for a proposal for paranormal series set in the old west (a Victorian medium and a bounty hunter teamed up... "Wylde's West," maybe). And just before I took the photo, I thought there was someone in the room with me, and actually turned and looked over my shoulder. What is especially ironic is that every fall semester, I challenge my photojournalism students to come up with a (faked) ghost photo for me to debunk. I tell them there's never been a convincing photo of a ghost, and that if they actually capture one (in a photo I can't explain away), they get an A. I'm sure this photo is just a trick of light, shadow, and reflection,  but still... it is strange. The photo has not been altered or enhanced in any way. The technical info: Canon EOS 10D, 19mm lens, 1/30th second, f 3.5, ISO 800. Life -- and death -- are strange!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Somewhat larger than Wyatt

A detail of the Wyatt Earp statue by Oklahoma artist Mary Spurgeon, who began sculpting at the age of 72. Spurgeon grew up near Dodge City and spent most of her life painting. Now in her nineties, Spurgeon lives on a ranch near Gate, Oklahoma, a hundred miles due south of Dodge. The statue, placed in 2004, is near Central and Wyatt Earp Boulevard and wields the long-barreled (and perhaps apochryhal) "Buntline Special" Colt. At eight feet, the statue is somewhat larger than the real Wyatt Earp.

More Boot Hill

There were other Boot Hills in the west -- most notably in Tombstone and Deadwood -- but Dodge City's has a building on site with interpretive displays about the plains tribes, the cowboys, the pioneers, the soldiers, the lawmen, and even Hollywood's influence on Dodge City. Absent, however, is any portrayal of Mexican culture. This is odd, considering the current population is about 40 percent Hispanic, and that when the Santa Fe Trail was blazed in 1822, it quickly became the primary trade route with Mexico. The only mention of Hispanic culture in a self-guided tour brochure available at the visitor's bureau is this entry, for the area that housed migrant railway workers: "The Mexican Village was a small shanty town on the southeast corner of Dodge City in the early 1900s... now buried underneath streets, warehouses and scrap metal."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Boot Hill

There's nobody left in Boot Hill at Dodge City, but it remains the most famous cemetery in the American west. Located on a hill overlooking Front Street, and never intended as an official cemetery, this patch of ground was the final abode for drifters, prostitutes, anonymous buffalo hunters found frozen on the plains, and a few who met bloody ends in Dodge City's saloons. About sixty individuals were buried here before the gravyard was moved in 1879 to a new cemetery northeast of town. "No one famous was ever buried here," notes the Boot Hill Museum Guide. For the admission price of ten bucks (10 percent discount in the off season), you can see Boot Hill and the recreated Front Street.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Front Street

Here's Front Street in Dodge City, looking down from Boot Hill. There were actually two Front Streets, one north of the tracks and another south. The tracks were the "deadline," and no guns were allowed north of the line. South of the line, however, anything went -- and often did. Popular interest in Dodge City's past can primarily be attributed to Hollywood, for the 1939 film starring Errol Flynn and the long-running "Gunsmoke" series on television. This (North) Front Street was recreated in 1958, using property records and old photographs. it might have been interesting, however, had they recreated South Front Street instead. Known as the "wickedest little town in America," Dodge City was fueled by the cattle and buffalo trade and roared from 1872 to 1880. The river of legal alcohol stopped when Kansas went dry in 1881; a few years later, the cattle also had stopped coming, the railhead having moved on. The buffalo were close to extinction by that time as well.