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