Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A 30-day novel in 90 days

If you all remember, I started my Nik Morton-induced 30-day novel on July 9, 2013. Today I finished the draft. It's October 8, 2013. Know what? That's about what it took me to write a novel of Black Horse Western length in the pre-30-day era.

What can I say? My work patterns are carved in steel and unbreakable even with the urging of Nik Morton's book? Could be.

I thought Stryker's Bounty was going to be a book of blood and guts. Turns out not to be true. Maybe that's why I've no best sellers. Maybe if I cut down a character every three pages, people would be more interested in my writing, who knows?

Anyway, the 30-day draft is now in the process of going through my trusty beta reader. We'll see what evolves from here.

In the cave where Lester Dent and his two older boys died, Stryker and Molly and Wee Willy are alive. Just alive.

No food. No water. No horses. Nothing but 250 pounds of gold. Stryker couldn’t see a way out no matter which way he looked at their predicament.

Molly and Wee Willy sat in the cavern, their backs against the rock wall. They said nothing, but Stryker knew they expected him to find a way out. He rubbed his left hand against the trickle of tears that always wet his left cheek.

The gold just sat there, mocking him, or so it seemed. Molly was there. He’d found her. That’s what he’d told Dodge Miller he would do. Maybe if he let the gold lie. Maybe if he just walked away with Molly and Wee Willy. Maybe. Stryker’s head got so full of maybes that he found it hard to think straight.

And what would happen when John Walker led those gold-hungry men back into this canyon? And he would; that white Pima would bring them back.


Stryker didn’t answer at first.


Stryker opened his eyes like he was just waking up. “What?” he said.

“We ain’t got no water, mister. I’m all right. I’m not worth nothing. But the missus. She needs water, mister. Real bad.”

“I’ll be all right, Matt.” Molly’s words were more a croak than something a human voice would make.”

So what did Stryker do? He left the gold and took Molly and Wee Willy up the canyon wall the same way he and Carpenter had come down. But first, he had to make a signal fire.

Takishim was an Apache scout like these
Wee Willy gave a vigorous nod. “Ah allus made the fires for my pa,” he said.

“That’s the man. Build one right here.” Stryker sketched an X on the ground with his toes.

“Here? Outside?”

“Yep. Build it with the sticks from inside, then put creosote on. Make it smokey.”

“Oh, mister. They’s Induns around. Smokey fire ain’t good. That’s what my pa say.”

“We need smoke, Willy. We want Apaches to come.”

“Oh no, mister. Apaches do scalpin’ and such. They all’ll cut the liver right outta a man, they will. No, sirree bob. Apaches ain’t no good.”

“Did you ever hurt an Apache, Willy?”

“Oh, no, mister. I don’t hurt nothing. My pa allus said I was so strong I might kill a man without me meaning to, that’s what he said.”

“Well. Now, we need my friend. He’s Apache. His name’s Takishim. He’s a government scout. We send up a smoke, and he’ll see it.”

We know Stryker and Molly and Wee Willy are headed back to Tucson. Molly is so afraid that her husband will not have anything to do with her because of what happened with the Dents. But here's what happened when Dodge Miller saw his wife.

Tucson in an earlier day, but with electricity.
As Stryker hit the street, Dodge Miller hopped past, using crutch and one leg to make quick time.

“Molly darlin’,” Dodge said.

Molly now had both hands to her face and her eyes showed panic and fear. She jerked her arm, trying to free it from Willard Dent’s grip, but he held fast.

“Missus. Missus. Missus,” Willard said, like he was soothing a flighty filly. “Mister Miller don’t mean no harm. He’s your mister, missus. Just yor’n.”

“Molly. Molly darlin’. I thought I’d lost you. I saw that man beat you. I saw his son use you. And I had to play dead.” Tears coursed down Dodge Miller’s face. “I’m so sorry, Molly. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me? Molly darlin’. Please. Please. Please.”

Molly said nothing. She shook her head again and again, but her eyes never left Dodge’s face.

“Molly. Molly. Dear sweet Molly. Forgive me, please.”

At last, Molly spoke. Her voice quavered. Dodge had to lean close to hear what she said. “Dear dear Dodge. Can’t you see? I’m not the Molly you carried over the threshold. I’m not the Molly that worked by your side to built Miller’s Well into a proper stage stop. I’m not, and I never will be again.”

Dodge’s face crumpled. He covered it with both hands, letting the crutch fall. He ignored the passing wagons, the horses and riders, the people walking by. “Dear God. Dear God. Without my Molly, I’m less than half a man. Dear God, please bring my Molly back.” Dodge Miller closed his eyes and bowed his head. “Dear Lord,” he said. “Dear Lord. If thou wilt please bring Molly back. Let her know, Lord, that she means more to me than all the silver and gold in Arizona. No. All the silver and gold in the whole world. Please, Lord, soften my Molly’s heart so she can feel the love I have for her.”

“Missus?” Willard’s voice was low, like a small child telling a secret to its mother. “Missus?” He tugged at Molly’s arm, pulling her toward Dodge. When they got close enough, he reached for Dodge Miller’s arm. He put Molly’s hand in Dodge’s. “Missus. This’n’s your man. He was laying dead at the stage stop. I seen’m. Now he’s alive. He’s wanting you to be with him, missus. I reckon that’s a proper thing to do. Time for me to move along, I reckon,” Willard said. He checked to make sure Dodge was holding Molly’s hand, turned his back on them, and led his shaggy paint horse back up Scott Street, leaving Dodge and Molly together. Before he was out of sight, Dodge had his arms around Molly and she was shedding all the tears she’d held back while with the Dents. Willard turned the corner and was gone.

This is not the end, but you'll have to read the book to find out that part. Piccadilly Publishing will put in out toot suite, as soon as me and the beta reader get it polished up.

So there you have it. A 30-day novel in 90 days. 

Word Count: about 43,000

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Writing a Western Novel in 30 Working Days--continued

Today was Sunday. I don't write much fiction on Sunday, but I do many other things. In fact, I was just making the program for our 15th annual high school English speech contest, of which I am the steering committee chair.

Sorry it's in Japanese, but you can see the subject of the speeches will be Family.
But I have another chapter of Stryker's Bounty that I've said nothing about. You see, Lester Dent (may have to change this name, considering the famous 10 Rules of Writing by Lester Dent--What do you all think?) hid the gold in almost plain sight. Of course, Wee Willy knew where it was, but no one asked a simple man like him.

“Will they find the gold, Matt?”

“I don’t know. John Walker’s a good tracker, but who knows if he can find where Dent cached the gold.”

I think of Boo Radley when I think
of Wee Willy Dent.
“Missus,” called Wee Willy. “Something here.”

“That’s good, Willy. Can you bring it here?”

“Yes, missus.” Wee Willy shambled into the cavern with Stryker’s rifle in his left hand and something else in his right. He handed the rifle to Stryker, then turned to give the other thing to Molly.

“Wha . . .” Molly, for once, was completely wordless.

“What is it?” Stryker asked.

Molly held the gold ingot so Stryker could see. “Gold,” she said, almost reverently.

“Where’d you find the gold, Willy?” Stryker said.

“Right where Pa put it,” Wee Willy replied.

So, naturally, when the Walker-led men realize that Dent didn't hide the gold on the way to the cavern, they'll be back. But Stryker's had a load of rock dumped on him, His arm is broken. His legs are a mass of bruises. His ribs are cracked, at least, but lack of blood in his lungs seems to mean they are not broken. 
An arm needed have a wooden splint
when one of the two bones in the
forearm is broken.

“Cain’t find no sticks, only three little pieces, missus.” Wee Willy’s voice caught, as if he were going to cry.

Stryker chuckled, then grimaced. Tears furrowed tracks through the dust on his cheek. “Makes sense. No water. Nothing for trees to grow with. No decent sticks. Well. I’ll just have to do without.”

Molly stood and went back around the curve in the cavern. She came back with her ragged dress and petticoat. “I’m gonna cut a slice off your saddle blanket,” she said. “Willy, help, please.”

They moved Stryker to one side and Molly cut a foot-wide strip from the saddle blanket. She folded it, then folded it again, and again, until she had a pad six layers deep and a little over six inches wide. She placed the pad under Stryker’s broken forearm and tied it firmly in place with strips torn from her old petticoat. Whenever Stryker flinched, Molly clicked her tongue and said, “Be strong, now, Matthew Stryker. Your arm will feel better when its all trussed up.”

And it did.

Bruises can be painful, too.

Problem is, there is no water in the cavern. Walker and the Alamo men took the horses and supplies. So Stryker, Molly, and Wee Willy are left, not only injured, but also without food or water. So they have 250 pounds of gold. So which is most important?

No food. No water. No horses. Nothing but 250 pounds of gold. Stryker couldn’t see a way out no matter which way he looked at their predicament.

Molly and Wee Willy sat in the cavern, their backs against the rock wall. They said nothing, but Stryker knew they expected him to find a way out. He rubbed his left hand against the trickle of tears that always wet his left cheek.

The gold just sat there, mocking him, or so it seemed. Molly was there. He’d found her. That’s what he’d told Dodge Miller he would do. Maybe if he let the gold lie. Maybe if he just walked away with Molly and Wee Willy. Maybe. Stryker’s head got so full of maybes that he found it hard to think straight.

And what would happen when John Walker led those gold-hungry men back into this canyon? And he would; that white Pima would bring them back.


Stryker didn’t answer at first.


Stryker opened his eyes like he was just waking up. “What?” he said.

“We ain’t got no water, mister. I’m all right. I’m not worth nothing. But the missus. She needs water, mister. Real bad.”

Word Count 34,286

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Western novel in 30 working days -- who knows what day it is?

This is what happens, perhaps.

The life gets hectic. The pinches of time get fewer and farther in between. Where I would have written even a paragraph before, I start making excuses. Not enough time to do a thousand words. I'll do it tomorrow. I mean, it's 30 working days, right. Remember when I started this thing? Six weeks ago? Seven? 30 days? Hmph.

Still, it's not like I've been doing nothing. It's just that I'm not organized enough, not keeping an eye on what I'm doing well enough to follow Nik's 30-day plan to the bitter end. Apologies, Nik.

The suggestions for planning the novel are spot on. The logic for the process is not something I can find fault with. But with this novel, I was not able to keep to a "working day" schedule. Today, for example, I wrote 1200 words. More than I have written for a while. Guess I was getting fired up to get along with this blog, maybe.

I sent a bunch of men from Alamo looking for gold and the Dent column. They met with Stryker and his compadres in the middle of Hell's Trail somewhere. The miners from Alamo blew the face of the cliff above the cavern where the Dents and Stryker were holed up. I thought there would be a big standoff where lots of people would shot, get shot, and fall over dead. Didn't work out that way.

This could have been the cavern the Dents and Stryker were in.

Stryker awoke to pain. At first he could not pinpoint where it came from. His brain seemed jumbled up inside his head. His right hand seemed crushed, held fast between two massive pieces of sandstone. His back hurt. His ribs hurt. He could faintly hear the sound of someone groaning . . . himself.

He heard scratching through the roaring in his ears. Someone tugged at his moccasins.

“Matt. Matt. Matt.”

He heard the voice as if it were chanting his name, breathless from the effort of trying to uncover him, to pull away the remnants of the cliff face that had fallen on him. Fallen? No. Explosion. Someone had blown the cliff face above the cavern.

Hands scrabbled at the sandstone debris that covered him. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. Lying still hurt. He didn’t try to move.

“Willy. Willy Dent. You come help me get the stones off Matt Stryker. Please.”

“Him what was gonna kill my pa?” Wee Willy didn’t sound ready to help Stryker.

“If anyone can get us out of this predicament, it’s Matt Stryker,” Molly said.

Weights began to move, to disappear, and a tiny fraction of Stryker’s pain went with it. Light came.

John Walker, the white Pima, was backtracking the Dents. The Alamo people followed. Nate Cousins and his gunnies followed. Lige Carpenter followed.

Waterless. Waterless. Waterless.
“Goldamit, Walker. Where’s the blighted gold?”

John Walker did not deign to answer. He kept his eyes on the distinctive prints of the Dents’ pack mule. In the heat of the day, those tracks had led the treasure hunters into and out of two blind canyons, and to one old campsite. There had been no sign of anyone hiding anything at the campsite. The hoof prints of the mule were as deep going away as they had been coming. John Walker’s eyes swept the approaches to the canyon, high and low. The Apache Takishim might not be alone. There was a time when John Walker too was a scout, as he was now, but then in the pay of the cavalry. He knew the White Mountain Apaches, the only Apache tribe never to have fought the U.S. Army. Fort Apache was on their land, the White Mountains but they lived in peace with Nantan Lupan, the wolf they called George Crook. Walker had no interest in being on the wrong side of White Mountain Apaches like Takishim. But these whitemen paid him well—would pay him well—to back-track the ones they called Dent, the ones who lay dead deep in Hell’s Trail, to find the gold they had carried. John Walker read the greed in the eyes of the men who followed him, in the eyes of all men but Carpenter and Cousins. Who were these men? These men who could even be brothers of the scarfaced Stryker.

“What now?” asked Todd the bartender and sometimes prospector. “What now?”

Walker remained silent, his eyes on the tracks of Dent’s pack mule. Nowhere did they show where a significant load—250 pounds of gold—had been removed. Still, it would be proper to investigate one more blind canyon. Just one more.

“They went up this canyon,” Walker said. “We will follow their trail to see if it brings us to gold.”

But the gold is not there. Walker backtracks and backtracks, but the gold is not there. We'll see what happens in the next blog. Maybe tomorrow.

Word Count: 33,107

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Western Novel in 30 Working Days -- day 18

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what day it is. It seems I’ve fallen back into my old novel-writing habits of writing snatches whenever I can snatch a little time. Trying to finish up the short story we talked about during the Interim, and trying to get started on The Sheriff, a novel for Western Fictioneers, have kept me from long sessions at my foolscap notebook.

Nevertheless, progress moves ahead, which is comforting. Progress moving arrears would not get things done very quickly.

Takishim slithered up behind Stryker.

“Young man dead. Other young man very sick. Very big young man don’t fight. Old man now tied up. You come.”

Stryker slid backward, away from the boulder that sheltered him. Takshim led the way, showing Stryker how to hide, where to zig, when to zag, until they reached the deep cavern where Lester Dent and his boys, and Molly Miller, spent the night.

Rocks fallen from the cliffs above formed a breastworks of a sort in front of the cave, but sooner or later, Cousins’ fighters would shoot at the roof of the cavern, trying to ricochet bullets around inside and kill or wound those inside.

As if Stryker’s thoughts had triggered them, rifles began pouring hot lead into the cavern. He hit the ground and wriggled to a point in the natural breastworks where he could see the rocks that lay scattered along the towering canyon walls.

Skeleton Cave in yesteryear
“Trying for ricochets, eh? The 5th Cavalry did that against the Apaches at Skeleton Cave,” Carpenter said.

“Yavapai,” Stryker said. “What’s the situation here?”


“Yeah. The Indians at Skeleton Cave were Yavapais. What’s the situation here?” he asked again.

“Middle boy shot dead,” Carpenter said. “Oldest’s got the raging shits from something. Molly figures it’s too much rotgut with too much kerosene in it. Et him up inside, she figures. He’s useless. Wee Willy, that’s the big kid, he’s stuck by Molly’s side. Don’t even have a gun.”

So the outfit that killed the stagecoach driver and shotgun messenger, did away with passengers, tried to kill Dodge Miller, and burned the stage station to the ground has not fared well on Hell’s Trail.

Skeleton Cave ca. 2011
The cavern stretched back under the cliff for at least a dozen yards, then slanted down for several more before ending in a wall with a hole in it that looked like a sphincter. The hole was perfectly round and surrounded with wrinkled limestone that gave it a puckered look. The hole itself was a good three feet across and nothing but black space showed behind it.

Old Man Dent’s body lay against the back of the cavern. The ricochet had taken him from the side and ripped through at least one lung. No exit wound showed. Lee Roy lay next to his pa, throat torn open by flattened and jagged lead. The vast amount of blood on his clothes said he’d bled to death.

Molly Miller, her clothes tattered to the point they hardly obscured anything from view, sat with her back to the stone wall of the cavern. Finn Bent lay crosswise of her, his head in her lap. She wiped his sweating face periodically with a rag. She gave Carpenter and Stryker a nod of recognition.

“How’s Finn?” Carpenter said.

“Can’t believe it’s just rotgut,” she said. “He’s too low and the blood won’t stop.”

Nate Cousins took the scene in at a glance. He didn’t stop to talk, he just strode around the bend in the cavern and surveyed the horses and mule. Nothing among the loads and gear strewn along the cavern wall even hinted of gold.

“Damn,” he said as he returned to the main cave. “Oh, ‘scuse me, ma’am,” he said to Molly.

“I’ve heard worse, Nate Cousins,” she said. “But why would you swear?”

“When you left Miller’s well, missus, that big old mule had a heavy pack a gold. Dunno what it was in, but no one man’s gonna lift that much. Did you see it?”

“Listen, Nate, I was hardly in a position to take stock of everything Lester Bent tied on the mule.” She wiped cold sweat from Finn’s brow. “But there was something heavy. It always took three of them to life stuff up on the pack mule, now that you mention it.”

“When’d you get here?”

“Just after sundown yesterday.”

“Heavy stuff there then?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“You unload the mule?”

“No. Lester and Lee Roy did that.”

“Heavy when they loaded yesterday?”

“Didn’t notice.”

“Mule look light?”

“Didn’t notice.”

“Damn, missus. Don’t you watch what’s going on around you?” Cousins’ voice started getting a hard edge on it.

“Nate Cousins. Don’t you talk to me like that. I’m here with three man-animals, and Wee Willy, and you expect me to keep minute watch on everything that goes on? How do you think I got this broken nose?”

So Nate Cousins has his gunmen outside, the Dents are all but gone, which leaves only the rag-tag bunch from Alamo – and the gold has disappeared. The Alamo group comes, only to have a run-in with the Cousins gunmen.

Takishim slithered up to Stryker’s position so quietly that the other two may not have noticed. “John Walker is here,” he said.



Stryker turned his eyes in the direction Takishim indicated. At first, he didn’t see Walker. Then the white Pima moved his eyes, and Stryker caught the movement. “I see you, John Walker,” he said.

“I reckon you can, Matthew Stryker. I may have chose Pima ways but I speak ‘merikan just fine.”

“Good to meet you, Walker,” Stryker said. “You got anything to do with all the rifle fire that’s going on?”

“I come to tell you to give up,” Walker said. “Ain’t no reason for you to die. No gold’s worth that much.”

Was Old Dominion gold like this?

“Sorry, Walker. I reckon you’re after the Old Dominion gold that the Dents stole from the Ridges & Hale stage, but we ain’t got it.”

“The Hell you say.”

“Ain’t got it.”

Walker raised an arm, then he was gone.

“I follow,” Takishim said, and he, too, disappeared.

“Damn,” Stryker said. He stopped and stood silent for a moment. “No rifle fire,” he said. Then the whole side of the canyon wall above their heads exploded.

Now Stryker and who knows who else is buried under an avalanche of rocks blown off the cliff face by Alamo miners.

Word count: 29444

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Western in 30 Working Days -- Day 15

Actually, I must admit, I’m adding work from two and a half actual days to make one day on the Nik Morton calendar. That said, we’re moving steadily along toward some gritty action, with slightly more than 10,000 words to go.

Stryker and Carpenter made no effort to hide. Still, they rode by night, as the powerful daytime sun sapped the strength of man and beast all too quickly. And while the palomino paint was mustang bred and mountain born, he was still an unknown as far as Stryker was concerned. So he and Carpenter shaded up during the heat of the day and rode carefully toward Hell’s Gate and the trail that was hell to the unwary and those who knew not the desert, but was ki datbaa to Apaches since time immemorial.

While the Dents crashed into the labyrinth of Hell’s Trail, taking wrong turns and retracing their steps as often as they made progress, Stryker and Carpenter closed in from the west, as did Nate Cousins and his gun hands. The rabble from Alamo, following John Walker, moved quietly for rabble, but the eyes of Norrosso’s Apache Scouts noted their progress.

As Stryker and Carpenter saddled up at dusk, an Apache in knee-high moccasins, breechclout, and cavalry blouse that was already beginning to fade. Stryker rubbed the tears from his cheek with his upper arm. “Dagot'ee,” he said. “Norrosso sent me.”

Stryker nodded. “Coffee?”

The Apache shrugged. “No time,” he said. “We go to the woman.”

General Crook and two Apache scouts
So Norrosso’s colleagues, the White Mountain Apache scouts attached to Camp Thomas on the San Carlos reservation, knew where the Dents were, and other groups of men and gunmen, too. He sent Takishim to guide Stryker and his friend, and they aimed to rescue Molly Miller. They also aimed, though it was not said aloud, to rescue 250 pounds of gold.

Not exactly the same place,
but an idea of the deep canyons
the Dents were trying to get through
The land lay as if broken by some giant’s sledgehammer. Maybe John Henry’s. As the sky began to turn gray in the ease, Takishim stopped. After a few moments, he led them off to the side to where a fractured slice of rock leaned away from its mother cliff. A pathway led into the space between the outward-leaning slice of redrock, though the tracks in the loose sand were mad by soft padded feet of predators, not the hard hoofs of prey.

Takishim slipped into a crevice and turned to beckon Stryker and Carpenter in. The two men dismounted, hooked their stirrups on their saddle horns, and carefully led their mounts into the crevice. A few feet in, the crevice widened so man and horse could walk easily. In a few more yards, the mother cliff became an overhang that offered shade from the boiling sun of Hell’s Trail.

“You rest here,” Takishim said. “Tomorrow we get the woman from Miller’s Well.”

The Dents were in the labyrinth of Hell’s Trail, and were not making good time. Lester was taking the trail for the first time, and his sons were worthless as pathfinders. What’s more, Finn got one glass too much kerosene in the form of rotgut whiskey.

A typical union suit
“Gotta go,” Finn said. He piled off his horse and left the reins hanging. He didn’t make it out of sight. There, no more than a dozen paces off the trail, he fought at the buttons on his trousers, let them drop down around his ankles, then let down the flap of his union suit to bare his backside.

Hardly had he pushed his butt through the flap when his gut erupted, sending a red-brown stream of feces and blood out onto the ground. “Ungh, ungh, ungh.” Even after the gush slowed to a drip, Finn groaned and squeezed and tried to rid his system of whatever the rotgut from Alamo put in it.

Lester Dent sidled his horse over to where he could see the splotch Finn had spread on the sand. Finn still squatted and grunted and little spurts of blood made their way out his anus to drip onto the sandy ground. “Geez, boy. You gotta be bleeding a bunch inside your guts to push stuff out the back like that. What in Hell’s got into you anyway?”

Getting through Hell’s Trail is going to cost the Dents more than perhaps they are willing to pay. We’ll just have to wait a day or two to see. Tomorrow’s Sunday here, a day of rest. See you all next week.

Word count: 24,760

Friday, August 23, 2013


Been some time since the last post. Chaos at home in the form of one visiting daughter and two visiting hellions in the form of grandson and granddaughter. At least the final few days leading up to their departure for Los Angeles were chaos. They are fun and loud and colorful and dynamic (plus any other good words you writers can think up).

Hellion in form of angel
Then, as my deadline for a short story on gambling approached, I  started madly typing, seeking a story to put down before Bob Randisi sent the Gunsmith after me.

Do you remember this line?

Russ Taklin dug in his pocket and came up with a gold eagle. He tossed it to me. “Rent on your horse,” he said.

I tossed it right back. “Keep it. Or, if you want to double it, put it down on me and my filly. We’re set on winning the Fourth of July race in Holbrook this year.”

Russ smiled and raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to win that big race with your little filly?”

“She’s plenty big enough,” I said, “and so am I.” and we tore off down the valley at a dead run.

That's how the story of Big Enough ended. 

Now. The male pro/antagonist in Big Enough is a man named Russell Taklin. And as Kimberly challenged him to gamble on her filly at the big race in Holbrook, he was natural as the protagonist in the upcoming gambling story that will go into the upcoming anthology edited by Robert Randisi.

Just to give you a teaser about what may happen, here's where Russell Tacklin gets set up to take his first big gamble.

Me and big Sam Kilridge liked to sit under the overhang at the edge of the Big Muddy, only it wasn’t so big or muddy way up there in Montana. As we sat, we liked to trade swigs on some good corn whiskey that Sam got from relatives in Kentucky. He put it on the Benjamin Franklin with the cottonwood chunks we fed the furnaces. That corn whiskey sure made for a friendly gathering, even if it was only a gathering of two.

“I heared me a rumor,” Sam said. He lifted the jug up with his elbow and settled in for a good slug. He smacked his lips after a couple of swallows. “Damn fine corn likker,” he said.

“What kind of rumor, Big Sam?”

“I heared from the stoking crew over to the North Alabama that they Cap’n Hoover done threw down the glove at our own Old Jack.”

“Threw down the glove?”

“Thas right. Done challenged Poor Richard here to race down stream, all the way to St. Louie.”

“But that boat’s bigger’n us. How we gonna out run her?”

“Yo’right. She be bigger and she be deeper. She haul lots, but she have to creep around them Big Muddy bends else the snags is gonna rip the bottom right outta her. We kin beat her.”

Big Sam named the fire-stoking crew of the Poor Richard. “They’s you and they’s me and they’s Kin an’ Dave an’ Austin an’ Thumb. We’s the best on the Big Muddy, bar none, as Old Jack say, and I says we can beat the North Alabama. Yes, we can.”

Word got around Fort Benton quick as chained lightning. North Alabama, a steamboat 160 feet long and 32 feet wide, challenged the Benjamin Franklin, which was 154 feet long and 28 feet wide. Close, as riverboats ran, but the North Alabama drew three feet more water than Poor Richard, and her stern wheel was nearly two feet bigger in diameter. Some saw the size of the North Alabama an advantage, but Big Sam Kilridge figured it was a drawback. “You want to make some money, chile, you put ever half dime you got on the Benjamin Franklin to beat the North Alabama to St. Louis by no less than twelve hours. You do that.”

If you want to find out what gambling does to a good boy from Missouri, you'll have to pick up the anthology.

In a moment, back to the 30-day Western.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Writing a Western in 30 Working Days -- thirteen and fourteen

Please pardon the tardiness of this report. First, the problem with Endeavor's outboard was hardly a problem. I thought it was condensation in the fuel tank. But no. If I had been more cool headed and not just sitting there jerking on a starter pull rod, I would have noticed that the stop switch lanyard was lying on the bottom of the cockpit. Of course the outboard would not start. The stop switch was engaged. All I had to do was slip the stop switch gap thingy into place and the trusty outboard started up like it had never caused me all those new wrinkles. When emergency calls, remember to be calm, and remember to tick off all the reasons why such an emergency should or could happen. Lesson for life.

Now. Back to the Western--Stryker's Bounty.

When Matt Stryker goes after a man (professional that he is), he's prepared. Look at this.

Matt Stryker rode after a man much like drovers on the Goodnight-Loving rode after beeves. No ground cloth other than his saddle blanket, no cover other than his black oilskin slicker. An octagonal barreled long ’76 Winchester in the saddle boot, chambered for .45-70 center-fire cartridges. At his side, a Remington Army ’76 in .45 caliber. His onside saddlebag held hardtack and jerked beef as trail rations, a pound bag of Arbuckle’s coffee, a little four-cup coffee pot, and a pair of handmade moccasins. In the offside saddlebag, ammunition—five boxes of twenty heavy ones for the Winchester, three boxes of smaller ones for the Remington, and fifty 12-guage shotgun shells, loaded with buckshot. Where a Texas drover would have a rawhide lariat coiled and tied to the saddle horn, Stryker carried a double-barreled Parker 12-gauge with its barrel shortened by six inches, hanging by a strap in the same place. He’d changed his wear, too. Instead of the usual gray Stetson, he wore a sand-colored kepi with a neck protector flap that hung to his shoulders. His shirt fit loosely with bloused long sleeves. It, too, was the color of desert sand. Instead of Saif, his big black Arabian stud, Stryker rode a palomino paint pony no more than fifteen hands high. Its white and tan coat gave the pony a near-perfect desert camouflage. Stryker wore round-toed rough-out Wellington boots with no spurs. Once his canvas trousers had been brown, but now showed faded spots and irregular patterns that would be nearly invisible among desert brush and cacti.

And he's not afraid to call for help.

Two hours outside Tucson, Stryker stopped on a hogback and built a fire. When it was going well, he added greasewood to make smoke. The fire was small and the smoke rose almost vertically in the hot still air. Stryker used his big bandana, stretching it out with both hands, to create a series of five breaks in the column of smoke. He let the little fire burn for another five minutes or so, then snuffed it out, scattering the greasewood and stomping the embers until no spark showed. Just to make sure, he covered everything with a layer of dry sandy soil.

“Who you bringing in?” Carpenter asked.

“We’ll see.”

“Heard about that sashay down into Mexico.”


Carpenter said no more. Stryker remounted the palomino paint and rode east. Carpenter followed.

Norrosso showed up just before sundown. One minute Stryker and Carpenter rode across the flanks of the Rincons toward Sierra Colorado, the next minute an Apache with a thick dirty white headband and a faded blue cavalry shirt with sergeant’s stripes stood in their path. There was no sign of a horse.

“His name’s Norrosso,” Stryker said. “No better scout around, unless it’s Wolf Wilder, and he’s retired to that ranch in Lone Pine Canyon.”

“What?” Norrosso said when Stryker and Carpenter reined their horses to a halt some dozen feet away.

However, things are not all right with the Dents. Remember that Finn went to Alamo and he had a good full glass of rotgut, which often contains significant amounts of kerosene. That can kill a man over time.

During prohibition, rotgut and
other kinds of whiskey got
poured down the drain.
Finn’s guts cramped and he made for a bush to get behind. He hardly had time to lower his pants and squat before the contents of his large intestine splattered on the ground. Even after he’d voided everything, Finn’s body kept trying to get something out of his system.

At last he was able to close his sphincter, and bumbling around with one hand, found a rock that would do to wipe with. When he stood to pull his pants up, he staggered a step and nearly put a foot in what he left behind. He didn’t look at his stool, but if he had’ve examined it, the amount of blood, fresh blood, would have shocked him.

Old man Dent, though, had his own problems. See if you can feel his frustration. 

Lester Dent watched. The boys’d never been to war. They didn’t really understand the need to watch. Oh, they stayed awake during their shifts, believe the Good Lord, they stayed awake. But they didn’t watch. Lester Dent watched.

These could be the Dent boys.
Probably not, but could be.
He heard Finn get up and go off behind that tree. He heard the boy voiding his guts on the dry ground. He heard the little groans Finn made as he tried and tried but nothing came. He heard the night sounds of crickets and katydids resume after Finn lay back down.

The woman never moved. It was hard for Lester to tell if she was sleeping or awake, but it didn’t matter. She never moved. She did the cooking and she cleaned up. She never said a thing, and when one of the boys wanted to hump, she bent over like a bitch in heat. Lester didn’t watch the boys hump but it ded seem that they got the urge a little too often. Finn got the supplies. Tomorrow they’d pony up and move out through Hell’s Gate and east on Hell’s Trail. Wouldn’t no one follow them on Hell’s Trail. Not many, anyway. A line of gray showed atop the Chiricauas to the east, and cactus wrens began to twitter. Lester Dent kept watching.

Word Count 22,888