Saturday, January 15, 2022

YouTube and Old Music: Where Memories and People Meet

Do you ever get lost reading YouTube comments? No, not those. I don’t read those either. I’m talking about the other ones. The good ones. [And yeah, there is a book-related comment at the end.]

There is a fantastic YouTube channel if you enjoy old music. I’m talking stuff from the 1940s-1960s. It is curated by Jake Westbrook (that’s the name of the channel as well) and he collects songs for different moods. Last fall, I discovered him and listened not only to the “Vintage Autumn Music” but thoroughly enjoyed his Halloween playlists. One of the best, interestingly, was his Thanksgiving playlists. He’s got ones for Route 66, summer, and many others.

What I particularly enjoy is reading the comments. If you need a dose of goodness, check these out. More often than not, the commenters praise Jake for the curation, but more importantly, they praise the music. Some are from younger people who never lived when this music was on the radio or TV. They marvel at how good the music remains and lamenting modern music.

A particularly nice sub-set of these comments are from folks who have lost parents or grandparents or other family members. The commenter usually relates a memory this music evokes. One really got to me. It was of a grandchild who played these vintage songs as the grandparent was bedridden. The music calmed the older person, letting them get lost in their memories as they passed from this life into the next.

Cut to more modern music. I’m a huge fan of Frontiers Music. This is a great record label that releases new music by new artist who still like melodic rock as well as older artists who no longer have a home in the big music companies. Think Enuff Z’Nuff or LA Guns. Their hashtag is their motto: #RockAintDead.

Anyway, yesterday, the weekly email featured videos of new releases and one of them was for The Alan Parsons Project’s (with a full symphony) song “Don’t Answer Me.” I LOVED that song as a teenager. It was prompted me to buy the album.

Yet, I hadn’t heard it in a long, long time. Naturally, I clicked on the link and heard a newer rendition with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Oh my was it gorgeous. But that prompted me to return to the original and it’s fantastic pulp-style video.

But it was in the comments associated with the original 1983 version that I again got lost in. Unlike Jake Westbrook’s playlists, I was among the generation who experienced this song when it was new. Now, so many of the comments relate to “I’m 21 and I just found this song and it’s so good” kind of vibe. Or, as you can imagine, ones in which younger people discovered the song in the mom’s stack of CDs or their dad recently passed away and this is the song that helps the commenter remember a recently deceased parent. I went down an Alan Parsons Project rabbit hole, but I also experienced the memories of all the commenters. It was a wonderful trip.

But then I got to thinking about books. While there is certainly not a YouTube for books, where is a site for comments like this? Where is the site where grandchildren can talk about how they read their grandfather’s favorite book as he lay on his deathbed and the grandchild realized how good an old book was?

That is a site I’d love to visit.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Writing Without Paper: Introduction

Can you be a writer without using paper?

I’m a writer and I use a lot of paper. I make notes on yellow legal pads, I make lists of character names on a giant spreadsheet printed out on an 11x17 tabloid-sized piece of paper. In the past, I have used hundreds of note cards to map out a story. Those note cards would then be pinned to the cork board in my office. And don’t get me started on post-it notes that I’ll use to jot down random pieces of things for the story and post them on monitors, laptops, keyboards, or the desk.

Then there are the drafts. Yes, I know there are folks who write and edit within whatever word process they’re using. I can do that, too, but more often than not, I prefer to print it out and read it that way. Sure, I format the manuscript to be single spaced and I print on both sides of the paper, but still, if I have a 300-page manuscript, that’s 150 pieces of paper.

Suffice it to say, when I’m writing a novel, I simply use a lot of paper. This amount goes up and down depending on the length of the writing project. For shorter pieces, I usually don’t have all the background stuff, but I still have the various drafts with all my marks in green ink.

Late last year, I got to thinking if there was another way, a paperless way, to brainstorm, write, edit, format, and publish stories. I came up with a qualified answer: Yes, I think so, but certain equipment and apps would make this job easier.

Equipment and Apps


First off, I needed a new iPad. Mine was a second generation that basically did nothing for me other than allow me to read comics and ebooks. If this was going to work, I needed new tech.

I purchased a refurbished 2020 iPad Pro with a second generation Apple pencil. Wow. Is this thing amazing. Granted, when you’re coming from a 2012-era iPad, most anything is an upgrade, but I’m particularly impressed by the fact that I can get an entire ‘piece of paper’ on the screen at the same time.

The pencil is super cool and seamless. There is no visible lag at all. Among the coolest things: a simple double tap on the pencil changes the function to the eraser (while another double tap shifts it back to the pen). Thus, without even changing your hand position, you can write, make a mistake, erase, and start writing again in seconds. Tres cool.

I paired my Bluetooth Apple keyboard with the iPad and use the device as my primary means to write. But I do not plan to take the iPad to the office (yet) so I compose in Google Docs. That way, I can sync my Chromebook and bring it to the office. It’s rugged and a single unit so it’s been my preferred in-the-office personal device for over two years now.

When it comes time to edit the completed file, I use GoodNotes. Not only does it allow me to edit PDFs. It’s really neat to have the iPad in my lap, pencil in hand, and just read and edit the text. It’s pretty much paper-like, but still digital.

This app is good for general note taking. So far this week, I’ve worked on two short stories, completing one and more than halfway through the second. As such, I don’t necessarily need a notebook with character names, etc., but when I start a new novel, this will be the place where I store said notes. It syncs to my phone so when I’m out with my Chromebook, I’ll have my notes. Granted, I can’t use (nor would I have) the pencil with the iPhone, but that’s no big deal.

Here’s a screenshot of page one of the completed short story.


From there, I’ll be able to make those changes in the manuscript and nary a piece of paper will be needed.

Publishing


While I have not yet published anything, I already know how to do that part. I’ll spell it out in a future post.

I have an entire process flow, but I want to test it first, work out any kinks, before I share it.

So, am I the only one who is writing without paper? For you other paperless writers, what are some of your preferred tools and apps?


P.S., Happy Birthday, David Bowie. Still miss you.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Seasons' Readings

I love Christmas anthologies. I have my small collection. They run the gamut from SF (Christmas Stars) to classic (Dickens Christmas tales; Christmas Classics) to mystery (Crime for Christmas) to scary (Christmas Ghosts; can't find a link; it's the Hartwell/Cramer one) and Sherlock Holmes (Holmes for the Holidays). I've even got my comics covered with A DC Universe Christmas and Lee Bermejo's Batman: Noel

This year, I've added some cozy Christmas tales like Louise R. Innes Death at Holly Lodge, Holiday Murder by Leslie Meier, and another helping of the Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfelt.

But when it comes to a book you can read for year, I think there is a top dog: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Released in 2013, this 650-page book has something for everybody.

Agatha Christie opens and closes the book, and in between these bookends, all your favorites are here: Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Ellery Queen, Donald Westlake, Isaac Asimov, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, and more.

The stories are broken out by themes such as A Modern Little Christmas, A Puzzling Little Christmas, A Pulpy Little Christmas, and A Traditional Little Christmas. If the stories don't get you, the wonderful cover painting, evoking something from the golden age, certainly will.

A collection this large cannot possibly be finished in one season. I don’t even try. Instead, I dip in for the last eight years, reading a tale here and there. 

I always enjoy making new discoveries, even if the discovery is something older.

Have y’all read through this book? If so, what are your favorite stories?

And what are some of y'all's favorite Christmas stories?

Saturday, December 4, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Post-Game: What’s Next?

NaNoWriMo 2021 is now in the books. How did you do? Did you get to 50,000 words? Did those 50,000 words correspond to the end of your novel? Did you fall short? Don’t worry. I’ve done all those things and more.

This year, I hit a new threshold: I got to 70,063 words in the thirty days of November. That came out to 40.2 hours. Irritatingly, those 70,000 words are not the end of the story, so I kept going. But I allowed myself a new daily goal for December: 1,000 words per day. It’s not quite the benchmark of 1,667 but it’s manageable. It’s helpful, too. I ran into a story wall on Thursday and I needed to brainstorm. It ate up the new words, but I cleared the pathway for the rest of the book (and might’ve even discovered a penultimate scene).

Like I said last week, whatever you did, please celebrate your accomplishment. I know that the physical part of writing is literally sitting in a chair and moving your fingers over the keyboard, but it can take a lot out of you. So no matter if you got to 50K or didn’t, celebrate.

What’s Next?


Well, as I wrote last week, if you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing. Find a new monthly challenge and get a story written. Write a short story per month in 2022. Just keep writing.

But what if you want to publish this NaNoWriMo 2021 book? Author J. Todd Scott on Twitter mentioned this week that his first book was written as part of NaNoWriMo.

What about the book you just completed? Well, do you want to publish it? If so, you can do what I did and publish it an an indie author. Yes, it means you do everything, but you also control everything. You rise or fall based on what you do. It can be daunting, but also rewarding.

First thing, get it edited. Ideally, you’d hire a professional editor, preferably one that doesn’t know you for a completely unbiased review of your book. When you get those changes back, make the changes. You don’t have to make them all. I mean if the editor is telling you the sub-plot needs a complete overhaul, consider why the editor said that, and then make your informed decision. There’s a reason the editor made the comment, but it doesn’t mean the editor is 100% correct. When you’ve made those change, re-read your book and then spot the things you missed.

Get a cover. Unless you know graphic design, hire someone. I used 99Designs to get some of my covers created.

Write a book description. Create your metadata. Determine the price point. Determine your marketing strategy. Format your file. (For this, the company Draft2Digital is recommended because they’ll basically do all the formatting you need for any of the digital marketplaces.) Upload the file to the world.

Then celebrate your accomplishment by throwing yourself a party.

And then? Well, do it all again.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Week 4 Encouragement: Congratulations, Honest Assessment, and the Future

Well, as of yesterday, NaNoWriMo 2021 has only four more days. As nice as it was to start the month and our novels on a Monday, we actually have until this coming Tuesday to reach the 50,000-word mark.

I reached that milestone last Sunday, about 36 minutes into my 76-minute writing session (yeah, I kept track of the time and the exact word count). As of yesterday, I’m up to 61,667 words and I still have a bit to go. Not sure how much, but I’m going to keep going until I get to The End. I kept track of the total minutes written so far and they add up to 35.5 hours. It’s moments like this when I superimpose a month’s worth of writing in spurts of 60-75 minutes over a typical day job of 40 hours a week and start to wonder what it would really be like to have a day job in which I wrote fiction for 8 hours a day. I know that it would not be a one-to-one comparison, but I still think about it. Maybe one day.

So, how are you doing? Did you get to 50,000 words? Did those 50,000 words correspond to the end of your novel or do you still have to keep writing to get to The End? Did you fall short? Don’t worry. I’ve done all those things and more.

Depending on your answers, you should do two crucial things.

First, if you finished, CELEBRATE! You have just written a 50,000-word novel. Celebrate. Tell people about it. Post about it on Facebook. Tweet your accomplishments. Open a bottle of champagne. Seriously on that last part, do it. Ever since I completed book 2, I have sprung for a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. It is a monumental thing if you have written a novel, especially if it’s your first.

Second, if you did not finish, do not beat yourself up or chastise yourself. Do not do those things. They do you no good and, in all honesty, they hamper your next writing effort. Believe me. I know this one all too well. It wasn’t until January 2013 when I again looked at the past year of not writing and finally turned myself around. I didn’t chastise myself like I had on previous New Year’s Days. Instead, I analyzed what had kept me from writing. Once those things were identified, I was able to skirt around them, avoid them, and I became a much more productive writer.

Now what?

Well, you’ve got to ask yourself a question. Did you participate in NaNoWriMo 2021 just to say you have written a novel, or did you do it because you want to keep writing stories? If it’s the former, good for you. Print it out, bind it if you want, display it proudly, and mark it off your bucket list. Mission Accomplished.

But if you found you enjoyed the process and kept doing it, you must keep writing. Seriously. Maybe NaNoWriMo 2021 took a lot out of you. That’s okay. Take a break for sure. Revel in your success. But make a plan--today--that you’ll start your next book on a certain day. My suggestion: New Year’s Day.

Now that you know you can write a novel, do it again. What better way to start a new year than with a new novel. I’ve done it the past few years. It’s a great way to get past the inevitable doldrums I often get in January. It’s like the hangover for all the holidays we celebrate the last 62 days of a year. Make a plan to start a book, and then write that next book. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you decide to make January 2022 into a NaNoWriMo, but make a plan.

Ideally, you’ll finish your next book by 31 January 2022. Then, do it again. The best way to make it as a writer is to keep writing regularly. The ‘regularly’ is the key part. Writing is a muscle. It needs to be exercised to keep it in shape. And here’s the cool part: the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Even if you don’t do a true NaNoWriMo of 1,667 words a day, shoot for 1,000. That’s the goal of veteran writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. In two months, you can have your next book written. Or a novella in 31 days.

Just keep writing. Make it a habit. If you do, you’ll discover the joy of writing, the ease of writing, and it’ll likely make you happy.

Right now, revel in your celebration: NaNoWriMo 2021 is almost over. Congratulations. Now, don’t wait another eleven months to write your next book

Saturday, November 20, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Week 3 Encouragement: Let the Book Breathe and Drive to the Final Week

The third full week of November also counts as the third full week of NaNoWriMo 2021. Still having fun yet? I know I am. I am well ahead of the daily pace of 1,667 words per day. As of yesterday, a daily 1,667 words gets you to 31,673. As of now, I’m only 3,100 words shy of 50,000, a threshold I should reach Saturday (if I have a good writing day) or Sunday for sure.

So I’m pretty jazzed about my progress, and I attribute it to a mantra I apply to NaNoWriMo and every other story I write: let the book breath and be what it wants.

What do I mean by that?

I’ve mentioned before that I set out to write a murder/mystery will elements of romance. Well, as it turns out, my 2021 NaNoWriMo book is more family drama than murder/mystery. Don’t worry. The murder is here, but I opted to write this story in which the corpse does not show up in chapter one. I wanted to set the stage first, to introduce the characters first, give the reader a sense of them all before something bad happens.

And I think I’ve accomplished that. I’m the first reader even though I’m the writer, and here’s a telling comment about my enthusiasm about this story: I haven’t read anything else all month. The story I want to read is the one I’m writing. Getting up at 5am on weekday to write is not a chore. I almost literally jump out of bed, go through a few calisthenics, fill a coffee cup, and start writing. I can’t wait to get back to the story.

I’m using Google Docs and it tends to wig out around the 10,000-word mark. As such, I create a new file every 10,000 words. I’ve let some folks read the first part and the response has been quite positive. It’s a good thing when you, the writer, enjoy a story you are writing. It’s great when someone else likes what you’ve actively working on.

As we turn the corner to the last full week of November (the month ends on a Tuesday) and some of us have days off where we can possibly spend more time writing, keep this thought in mind: it’s more important for you to finish the book than reach 50,000 in November.

Here’s why. By now, you will likely have already established a pattern, a routine for writing. Whatever it is, keep doing it until the book is finished.

If you can conceivably complete the book by the end of November, do it. But, if you don’t think you can make that deadline...but do think you can complete the book a few days after 30 November, then make the adjustment. Because, when you get right down to it, the reason you started NaNoWriMo in the first place was to complete a book. The 50,000-word mark was only a trick, a hack, to get many writers started. Your book may only be 45,000. If so, then congrats! You’ve written a book. Your book may actually not be done until you get to 95,000 or more. Your book is your book. Do your adjustments as you see fit.

But this last full week of NaNoWriMo 2021 is the final major push. I’ve done it before. I’m doing it now. Millions of others have done it.

And you can, too.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Week 2 Encouragement: Don’t Sweat a Sub-Par Writing Day

As of yesterday, all the writers doing NaNoWriMo 2021 should have reached the 20,000-word mark. This threshold is based on a daily word count of 1,667 words per day. I’m happy to say that I now sit at 31,777 words.

There are two things at play with that number. One, I’m having a blast writing this novel, a traditional murder/mystery, a genre new to me. The words almost always fly from my brain, through the fingers, and onto the screen with joyous abandon.

Additionally, this is more of a character-driven story than I’ve ever written before. For my thrillers or westerns, there’s almost always a bad guy with a gun shooting at my heroes and they have to react. Not so with this book. It’s contemporary, with people talking about real issues and soon to be solving a crime. It’s odd for me, but I’m sincerely digging it. My initial readers are as well. My wife—a very harsh critic, who reads way more books than I do, and typically does not to read some of my more over-the-top stories—surprised me with her verdict on Part I of the story. It buoyed my day yesterday, especially since I’m going down a new path.

Every day until Wednesday, 9 November, I wrote more than 2,000 words in a day. But Wednesday morning, the words didn’t come in a gusher like the other ones have done. I ended up with only 1,880 words that day, above the baseline of a typical NaNoWriMo day, but less than my personal average. I thought about circling back sometime later in the day to bang out and additional 200 words, but opted not to. I wanted to remind myself, when I look at my spreadsheet with the daily tally, that some days will see fewer words than other days. It’s okay and it’s natural. The same thing happened yesterday, when I reached only 1,900 words.

The exception was Thursday. It was Veteran’s Day and I had the day off. What I ended up doing was working on the book all morning. I kept my typical day-job schedule of getting up from my chair every hour and exercising. Basically, I treated the fiction-writing job as the actual day job. It is what I’d love to do. I closed the laptop at noon to go shopping with the wife having booked 5,268 words.

Lessons for the week


It’s okay not to reach a pace you set for yourself. It’s even okay not to reach the 1,667-word mark everyday as long as you have the end goal in mind.

If you have some extra time this month—like I did on Thursday—take advantage of the bonus time and keep writing and add to the book’s total. Not only will you advance your novel, but you’ll be able to reach a point when you can take off a day from writing, like Thanksgiving. Time management is crucial to finishing a book, and be mindful of all the time you have available to write.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - End of Week 1 Encouragement: Get Some Sleep

How’s the book coming along?

Today is Day 6 of NaNoWriMo (although for me, it’s still Day 5). If you’ve kept up the daily 1,667 words pace, Day 5 will have you at 8,335 words total.

I’m happy to report that, as of Day 5, I have reached 11,220 words. That's pretty remarkable considering I'm writing in a combined genre brand new to me. I’m actually 2,885 words ahead of schedule, which is fine by me. Remember we have a holiday here in the US on the last Thursday the month. Ideally, I want to be able not to write, although I probably will squeeze in some minutes and words.

The week went pretty well for me this week, writing-wise. I woke at 5am each workday. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I work from home, so I had a nice 85-minute session each of those days.

Tuesday and Thursday was a different story. I go into the office and arrive at 7am. To do that, I have to stop writing at 5:55am. It’s a shorter session, but I bring my Chromebook and finish out the day during my lunch hour.

But I immediately noticed something on Tuesday: I cannot stay up late on Monday. I did, quite by accident, and I really felt it on Tuesday. Wednesday night was different as I went to bed early and made up the sleep time. By now, Friday afternoon, I can feel the lack of sleep. So looking forward to the end of daylight savings time this week. The extra hour of sleep arrives at the perfect time.

So I have two pieces of encouragement for you writers who are on this NaNoWriMo journey

Don’t get too bogged down in the daily weeds. Maintain the overall goal: 50,000. Some days, you’ll blow past the 1,667 mark. Others you may fall short. You can make it up. Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a completed story. In the end, it won’t matter if you didn’t reach your daily goal for a third of the days and exceeded it on the rest. All that matters is a 50,000-word completed novel.

And keep yourself healthy and maintain your sleep schedule. You can’t write if you’re sick or tired.

Until next week, keep writing!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021: Yes, You Can Write a Novel in a Month

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? I am, and I can’t wait until Monday.

For those of y’all who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a fun event where writers are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. I’ve done it multiple times, sometimes succeeding and other times failing.

What I enjoy about it is the virtual camaraderie. On any given day that I’m writing a book, I know that there are thousands (millions?) of other authors also writing. But it’s a little different when you’re doing NaNoWriMo. We’re all in this same boat together. We have to manage our writing time, our day jobs, our lives, and just when we plan to get our words in on Thanksgiving Day.

Throughout this month, I will be updating my progress and offering helpful tips and encouragement to keep going. Because every time you write “The End” on a novel is special, but it’s just a tad more special when you do it during NaNoWriMo.

Preparation


I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks preparing. This will be my first murder/mystery that might lean cozy. As I’ve never written a murder/mystery, I took time to create characters (not named at first) and situations they will have to deal with. Who will be the victim? Who will be the killer? Who will discover the crucial clues?

It was this past Thursday when I knew I was ready to start. I mapped out the first few scenes because I wanted to hit the ground running come Monday at 5am (my writing time). During that little session, my imagination began veering and including little tidbits. I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter. I have just enough framework to give my imagination room to breathe, but breathing with focus. That my imagination was already chomping at the bit, I got even more excited about 1 November.

Typing Names


For the longest time—up until yesterday, in fact—I had no names for my characters. They were just Mom, Son #1, Son #1’s Wife, Girl, Guy, etc. I knew that wasn’t gonna fly come Monday, so I named my characters in a first-for-me manner: I typed them to see how they’d feel and to see if my typing speed and fingers misspelled them often. It’s all well and good to name a character Chrysanthemum Bannington, but can you imagine typing that over and over again? Sure, there’s autocorrect but I prefer to type the names.

So I took some names for a test drive and started filling in my list. I also paid attention to the first letter of those first names. I only repeat one letter one time: B. Every other character has a name that starts with a unique letter. Easier for me the writer and it’ll be easier for future readers to keep everyone straight.

Track Your Progress


The nuts and bolts of NaNoWriMo breaks down to 1,667 words per day. If you do that, you’ll hit your fifty thousand by 30 November.

Over the years, I’ve developed a spreadsheet I use to see where I am. Here’s a screenshot of the first couple of weeks.



You’ll see that I track the obvious stuff: date, the 1,667/day pace, Idea is the pace of 1,667/day, Actual is what I wrote that day, Total is obvious, Diff is how far under or over I am on the 1,667/day pace. I also like to track time spent doing the writing so all those other columns do that.

The “Diff” column is very helpful. Not only does it give you a daily reminder of where you are, but it also enables you to build in a buffer. Remember what I mentioned about Thanksgiving Day? Well, if you are, say, 1,000 words ahead, you can get by with fewer words on any given day.

But let me give what is perhaps the best piece of advice: do not skip a day. If you do, you will get behind, and there’s nothing more demoralizing that running behind.

There is still an even better piece of advice: Have Fun! If you do, it’ll be nothing to reach “The End” in a month.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

What’s It Like Co-Authoring a Book?

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my cousin and he asked about any upcoming books I’ve written. I mentioned “Ghost Town Gambit,” the short story I had in the Six Gun Justice podcast anthology as well as Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, the novel I co-wrote with David Cranmer that teams up our two western heroes, David’s Cash Laramie and my own Calvin Carter. My cousin was intrigued about the book, but more interested in how David and I wrote a book together.

To be honest, it was quite seamless.

The Beginning

Way back in January 2010, David sent me an email about a Cash Laramie story he was working on that drew some of its inspiration from the real-world west of the 1890s but also some steampunk elements. (I’m keeping the nature of the steampunk thing close the vest. You’ll just have to read the story to find out what it is.)

Knowing I had a fondness for steampunk, he suggested we team up our characters for this adventure. Soon thereafter, he sent about 3,000 words of the story. It included a historical note on when the story took place and the opening setup.

It quickly became apparent that his characters would need to get on the hijacked Sundown Express while Carter would already be on it when the outlaws took over the train. From that point forward, I took David’s text and inserted Carter into it, writing Carter’s scenes from scratch and layering in some text on the Cash side of things.

That’s pretty much how it went for a good stretch of 2010 and into 2011. We’d email back and forth, asking and answering questions, and tweaking the story as we went along. With Beat to a Pulp the publisher of record, David kept the main versions of the story while I maintained my copies as backup.

Recruiting Outside Help

The story just fell off our radar for about a decade or so. Every now and then, we’d bring it up, but little new work was done. In the intervening years, I had written more Calvin Carter stories and three novels. His style of story changed from a darker, more grittier version you see in his first short story to a more light-hearted, Maverick-style fun character in the novels.

Then, out of the blue, David emails me in August 2020 asking my opinion about reviving the story and completing it. I jumped at the chance, but let him know about Carter’s style change. I hadn’t thought of Sundown Express in years—although I had Carter reference it in one of the novels—but I remembered him being pretty tough. I would certainly have to re-read the story from scratch.

An invaluable stroke of good fortune was David asking Nik Morton to read the story and offer suggestions. Nik is a fantastic author, and his Write a Western in 30 Days book is a wonderful primer for writing your own western, even if it takes you longer than a month.

Nik had a read and then David sent me the updated file. I had already made a crucial decision: I would not go back and re-read what I had last written in 2011 or so, letting the 2020 draft serve as the new starting point.

I picked up the draft and read the story, with a notepad on the table and Word’s tracked changes turned on. Nik’s edits were good, but what was great for me was a couple of extra scenes featuring Carter I didn’t remember writing. I still have never gone back and re-read the old versions, but I was thrilled that Nik seemed to get Carter’s style. While David’s had multiple authors write about Cash and other characters he created—most recently The Drifter Detective featuring tales of Jack Laramie, Cash’s grandson—this was the first time another author wrote about a character I created.

The Homestretch

I worked on the draft rather slowly last fall, finally turning over my update in early January. From then, David and I went back and forth a time or two. During that time, David created the cover you see. I really like the painted effect he has on it, especially on the back cover of the paperback.

By way of marketing, David suggested we do an in-print “interview” where he and I go back and forth. I also suggested we try to get interviewed together for a podcast. I reached out to Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch of the Six Gun Justice podcast and they agreed. While the interview features just me, I do promote the collaboration, offering more insights than this.

Finally, a short twenty days ago, Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express was published for all the world to read.

I’m not sure if co-authoring a book is this seamless for other writers, but it was for David and I. We’re really proud of the finished story and hope you enjoy it.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Now Available: Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express featuring Calvin Carter

Exciting news! The first Calvin Carter team-up has arrived.

With the publication of Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, Carter steps into a wider western universe, and he does it courtesy of one of my oldest writing friends.

David Cranmer and I emerged on the scene at roughly the same time, around 2008-2009 or so. We would see each other’s comments on the same blogs and we eventually started communicating back and forth. His first major character was Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who starred in a series of short stories. Mine was former actor turned railroad detective, Calvin Carter. In fact, Carter’s first adventure was published on David’s Beat to a Pulp webzine.

We’ve discussed teaming up our two characters and, after a decade in development, the end result is finally available.

And it’s thrilling.

I am immensely proud of this work not only for the story itself but also because it’s the first time I’ve published a story with a co-author.

You can find the print or ebook version at Amazon.

So, without any further words from me, I present the description and the Prologue (things folks on my mailing list (sign up at my author website) received over two weeks ago--hint, hint).

Book Description:


Cash Laramie, The Outlaw Marshal, faces his wildest adventure yet when the Sundown Express, billed as the fastest train in the west, is seized by a ruthless gang.

The desperadoes run the train back and forth on the same stretch of open ground, eliminating any chance for lawmen to board and retake the locomotive. They deliver their demands with a corpse: Give us $100,000 before dusk or we will kill more passengers every hour until the ransom is met.

Cash has faced miscreants before and knows he can beat these guys, but how can he get on the Express hurtling down the tracks at seventy miles per hour?

Aboard the train, things are grim. Famed actress Lillie Langtry and the other captives sit frightened, wondering if they’ll be next. But not disguised railroad detective Calvin Carter. He reckons the train’s speed thwarts any chance for a boarding party to save the day, so the former actor makes sure he’s in the marauders’ spotlight, even if it means his final curtain call.

With a rescue plan that feels like a suicide mission, Cash and fellow marshal Gideon Miles must board the speeding train and take down the gang before any more innocent lives are lost.

 

 

1899

WYOMING

  

PROLOGUE

Special Delivery

 

 

 

Ashdale, Wyoming: Mid-morning

 

The sound arrived first. The distinctive rumble of an iron horse roaring over steel rails, carried on the wind to the ears of the people gathered at the Ashdale Station. Sheriff Roy Tanner frowned. Something was wrong. He knew it, and, based on the faces of the others lingering on the platform, they knew it, too.

A train was coming, but it was coming from the wrong direction.

Like many of the citizens of the town, Sheriff Tanner had turned out to watch the inaugural run of the trailblazing-in-design train dubbed the Sundown Express, capable of a speed topping seventy miles an hour. The crowd had stuck around, braving the sweltering August heat, to prattle on over the sight of the mighty locomotive as it sped through their small community, destined for Sioux Falls. Tanner had even taken pity on Edwin Curtis, a swarthy prisoner whose penchant for robbing trains earned him a trial date as soon as the judge returned to Ashdale. Handcuffed together, wrist to wrist, Tanner could tell Curtis also sensed something.

“I thought the paper said the track was gonna be cleared for the Express,” Curtis said.

“That’s right,” the sheriff replied. The lawman reached into a trouser pocket, removed a bandana, and began wiping the sweat from his forehead and neck.

The sound grew louder. From a distance, through the shimmering heat waves rising from the flat land, a dark shape moved.

A handful of people stepped forward to the edge of the platform, curious. Without warning, Curtis stepped forward, too, craning his neck over the heads of the onlookers and yanking on Tanner’s arm, but the lawman didn’t much care. He wanted to see as well. He recognized the distinctive outline of a train approaching. The plume of smoke rose from the stack and caromed into the wind.

Tanner glanced over his shoulder at the ticket clerk. The scrawny, short man frowned and squinted his eyes behind a pair of spectacles, absently scratching his head as he checked the schedule from his seat inside the tiny ticket booth.

“Neville,” Tanner called to the clerk, “what train is this?”

“I don’t know. There can’t be another train due from the east until the Express crosses into Dakota Territory. That’ll be hours from now.”

Curtis hmphed. “Schedule or not, that train’s almost here. And it ain’t slowing down.” He gestured with his chin. “It’s the Express again.”

Tanner gawked at the outlaw. “How do you know?”

“The speed. I ain’t never heard anything move that fast.”

“There ain’t a turnaround for at least a hundred miles,” the sheriff scoffed. “Only way for it to be the Express was if it was going backwards.”

Neville let out a panicked laugh, masking a deepening alarm. “But why would it be coming back here, going in reverse no less?”

Moments later, the caboose rocketed in, its gold-and-red paint confirming Curtis’s assertion, followed quickly by the passenger cars with “Sundown Express” emblazoned on the sides. Unlike its first pass, the train didn’t slow down this time, and, from the open doors of a boxcar, a bundle was tossed through the air. Tanner didn’t need but a glance to recognize the shape as a bound and gagged man.

Startled bystanders bounded across the platform boards in chaos, rushing out of harm’s way. When the body hit the planks, it rolled several times before smashing into the wooden ticket booth and dislodging the shocked clerk from his seat.

As the train steamed onward to Cheyenne, a stunned silence briefly fell in its wake, only to be broken when a few folks began murmuring about what they had just witnessed. Tanner, hardened by the Great Unpleasantness, stood speechless until the moaning of the victim roused him from his stupor.

The discarded man, lying on his back, raised his bloodied head a fraction then lowered it, fixed gray eyes staring upon oblivion.

Needing no prompt, the paling clerk righted himself and backed away from the corpse in an ungainly scramble.

Sheriff Tanner unlocked the handcuff from his wrist and reattached it to a porter’s cart handle. “Stay put,” he told his prisoner.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Curtis said. He stood rooted in place and gazed west at the rapidly disappearing Sundown Express, something akin to respect showing on his face.

Tanner ran to the wrecked ticket stand and lowered himself to one knee beside the portly man dressed in a brown and tan chalk-stripe suit. There was a wide patch of blood on the victim’s vest, a gut shot, which didn’t bode well. Neither did the taut leather cord tied around his throat. Tanner pressed two fingers to the side of the man’s neck.

“Is he, is he dead?” Neville asked as he steadied himself on what remained of the ticket booth.

The lawman nodded solemnly. He pulled at the leather cord, revealing an envelope tucked inside the man’s vest. It read simply: “For Senator Madison.”

“Is that a message?” Neville said.

“No,” Curtis said, his lips curling over his teeth into a wide grin. “It’s a ransom.”