The Trouble with Trimble

Trimble 180Under a scalding noonday sun with no breeze, Johnny Trimble rode at an easy gallop toward town. Well, toward where the town was supposed to be.

What was it his StarCraft professor always said? A millimeter here is five billion miles out there? Something like that. Of course, you had to go some distance to turn a millimeter into a five-billion mile miss. When Johnny arrived today he would have traveled some eighty miles total. So even if he missed the town, it should at least be within sight. Probably.

Heat waves shimmered all around him. The dust kicked up by his passing lay along the ground, suspended in a still, miles-long cloud. The sprawling, low-rolling countryside was dotted here and there with scrub mesquite and creosote, Russian sagebrush and the occasional cactus.

He should be getting close. He looked around. The town might be anywhere.

The sun continued to bear down, but his yellow straw, wide-brimmed hat should protect him. It was similar to those worn by early 2oth century banditos in the American West. The crown was tall and peaked. Four indentations ran vertically from a few inches above the brim to just beneath the top of the crown, which was a scant two inches in diameter.

The man at the store had said it was “the best protection a man can get for the money, and you can take that to the bank.”

Johnny wasn’t certain about the bank reference, but he had looked up the word. Apparently a “bank” was a place where people in a particular geographical area kept their money.

The whole idea seemed ludicrous. Why not simply keep it in one’s own pockets? Why pool it with the funds of others and then draw bits of it when necessary?

But if he were required to keep his money in a bank, nobody had mentioned that requirement as yet. Still, if it came down to that, probably he would be in style if he wore his hat when he went there. Maybe that’s what the man meant.

He wasn’t entirely certain the man who sold him the hat knew what he was talking about anyway. Protected or not, he was hot. A peculiar sensation—wet, slick and sizzling all at once—seemed to have afflicted the back of his neck. Yet he could still feel the hat, so he knew it was there. It hung from a thin strap across his throat, the way the man showed him. It moved with the rhythm of his mount, bouncing lightly against his poncho.

He’d replicated the poncho from a series of films depicting the same time period. They featured a man with no name who was nonetheless even more dangerous than he looked. And he looked very dangerous.

He hadn’t been able to replicate the man’s sneer, of course. But he had grown a moustache that hung over each corner of his mouth. That helped with the sinister look. It was almost to his jawline on the left, a little shorter on the right. He noticed the last time he trimmed it.

He had resisted the temptation to trim it back and forth, first one side and then the other. That was a “foolsh game,” as his other hero, 007 James Bond would say. Besides, most people would see it only from one side or the other. His left profile was better than his right, at least for his current role. He tried always to strike a pose that would enable him to showcase it.

Beneath the poncho he wore the standard brown dungarees and the round-toed, calf-high brown boots. The right one chafed his leg a bit when he moved just so, but it was a bearable price to pay.

Under the poncho, strapped to his waist on a broad gun belt, a Colt single-action revolver nestled in a holster. He had found exactly the holster he wanted on a movie poster in the archives. He’d copied the part with the holster and belt precisely. Then he fed the copy into the replicator and punched in “cowhide, 0.125 inches thick, long-Colt .45, 7 inch barrel” and “32 inch waist” into the keypad.

But it was a right-handed holster. He was unable to locate a picture of a left-handed one that was even adequate. And for some reason the replicator couldn’t reverse the arrangment even though he had tried five times.

The man behind him in line for the replicator waited patiently through the first two tries. He only shifted from one foot to the other, the toes of his Roman sandals scuffing across the floor. On Johnny’s third try the man audibly sighed, and Johnny looked back.

The man’s torso was covered in some sort of tunic. Below that, a sash held up what appeared to be a very short, pleated dun-leather skirt. In his hand were two photographs. One pictured a helmet, the lower part of which would cover his nose and his jawline on both sides. The other featured some sort of chain mail.

Johnny nodded and offered a slight smile by way of apology. If the chain mail were replicated at more than half-size, it would swallow the man’s narrow shoulders and concave chest.

The man frowned and Johnny turned back to his task. He made a half-hearted fourth attempt, then a fifth. Then he gave up, took the right handed holster, belt and revolver from the replicator, and stepped aside. He didn’t bother to offer the man his regrets or condolences again.

The next morning, the director rewarded his patience and perseverance. As it turned out, it was easier to keep the perfect holster and have his nerve impulses reversed.

Ah, the town was coming into view.

He slowed his mount to a canter, though he had to try three times. Obviously the man with no name was more practiced than he at slowing his mount. He had made it look far easier than it was.

In the first place, Johnny had a rough time finding the right switch. There were three of them under there, after all. And then why didn’t they make it a little larger? Even if it forced the hide up a little, it would hardly be noticeable, located as it was directly beneath the pommel of the saddle.

There was a right, outer switch. It was toward the front of the mount, only a few inches behind the neck. It would automatically lubricate any joints that had begun to grow stiff. The left, inner switch, which was well beneath the pommel, would re-shoe the mount. He definitely didn’t want to hit that one accidentally as he reached for the center one.

And the center one, the one that would serve better by being a bit taller, had four settings. All the way to the right, it would move the mount to a full, look-out-honey-we’re-comin’-home gallop. At the next setting to the left it gentled to a canter. Or a lope. They were the same thing, weren’t they?

Whatever. The next setting would ease the mount to a walk, and the last position would cause the mount to take five more steps and then stop. It was a drawback of this model—the 1842—that it didn’t have reverse. So most afficionados parked it at a shallow angle to any hitching rails. Not that it had to be hitched to anything, except to add another thin layer of verisimilitude to a three-dimensional fiction.

As he moved the switch to the canter (or lope) position, the hide-covered gelatinous back of his Cayuse Inc. mount gentled beneath him, but not so he actually noticed. The countryside just stopped going by quite so quickly. The gait remained the same.

At the Cayuse Inc. factory they’d factored in his height and weight; the length, breadth and thickness of his torso, neck and head; and the distance from his waist to his feet. They’d measured his thighs in three places, his calves in two, and both ankles. One ankle was almost a half-inch less in circumference than the other.

Then they determined his precise center of gravity and how much of his weight was skeleton and how much was musculature. They fed all the information into Cayuse 1842’s mental function banks. As a result, his mount remained constantly apprised of shifts in Johnny’s balance and made adjustments to his musculature and tone as he rode. Sensors embedded in the saddle, which was part of Cayuse 1842 although it looked as if it could be removed, constantly monitored his blood pressure, pulse and respirations.

He hit the switch again and slowed the 1842 to a walk to dodge a tumbleweed as he passed in front of a small barn. Above the wide double door, a faded, hand-painted sign read Livery Stable, Stalie Springs. That was the right place. At least it sounded right.

The interior of the barn was shrouded in shade. It appeared cool, but he couldn’t make out anything inside. There was a forge out front, but it looked cold and fairly new, as if it had seldom been used.

The town itself began a block or so later with a worn, two-story clapboard hotel. From there on through town, both sides of the street were littered with clapboard buildings housing both occupied and abandoned businesses and shops. Neat boardwalks lined the dirt street on both sides.

On both sides, the buildings were punctuated occasionally with small alleyways. There seemed no rhyme or reason for the spacing between those.

Few people were moving on the boardwalks. More were inside the buildings, their faces framed in windows. A few were in between, parked as casually as they dared in doorways. A few others had positioned themselves, equally as casually, in the alleyways.

He paid them no mind. He had to focus on the job.

On the near side of the street, there were two apparently abandoned buildings and then a bank. Perhaps he’d visit there later and try the hat trick the man had mentioned. According to the signs extended above the boardwalk, there was also an assayer’s office, a rooming house, and a bathhouse.

Those few citizens who were on the boardwalks watched surreptitiously as he passed.

As did those in doorways and in the alleys.

The citizens whose faces were framed in the windows watched him openly, their eyes wide. As if the windows offered them some level of anonymity or protection.

Very strange. Well, maybe. If he lived in this town, wouldn’t he be that curious about a stranger?

He continued his search, resisting the urge to nod or otherwise recognize their presence. That would not be in character.

On the other side of the street, Restaurant was painted in a white arc on a broad, square window. The message was repeated on a smaller window inset in a small white door. Next to it was a saloon, judging from the authentic batwing doors, and then yet another hotel.

On the other side of the hotel was a photography studio. In large letters the sign read Tintypes. Beneath that in smaller letters it read Made to Order While You Wait.

Waiting would seem an appropriate pastime in this place.

In the next block on the near side of the street there was a small general store, a gunsmith’s shop and another saloon. Cliché. Boring. He glanced again across the street. There were a few other businesses there, but he couldn’t make out the signs. As if it mattered.

At the far end of town a small square building seemed to have sprouted in the middle of the street. Above an open tower that housed a bell, a pointed steeple reached skyward.

The faces in the windows were beginning to wear on his nerves. Maybe he should report in.

He glanced at a point between the Cayuse’s ears. He cleared his throat. Then he mumbled in the same dramatic fashion the man with no name might use, “They knew I was coming. They’re waiting.”

An implant tingled and a quiet voice sounded just above Johnny’s left ear. “It’s all right. It might just be that you’re a stranger in town. Plus they don’t see many of us there. Did you locate the sheriff’s office yet?”

Johnny shook his head slightly, then remembered to speak. “No, but there’s only the one street.” He chuckled. “I passed a livery stable a little ways back. That’s a little much isn’t it?”

The voice took on a defensive tone. “If you had bothered to look inside you would have seen it’s a state-of-the-art factory service center. They service both Cayuses and—”

Johnny mumbled, “That makes it worse somehow.”


“Nothing. So what’s the sheriff’s name again?”

“Striker.” There was a pause, then, “Checking his file now.” Then came a low whistle. “Wow. He’s been there longer than most sheriffs. Eighteen years. Most of them are replaced after ten. Anyway, he shouldn’t give you any trouble.”

“Okay. So when’s the next carriage come through?”

“Stage coach.”


“It’s called a stage coach. Not a carriage, a stage coach.”


“You have to use the correct terminology just in case. Anyway, it should arrive around— Let’s see. Okay, six p.m. tonight. It will overnight there and pull out in the morning.”

“Sounds almost perfect.”

“Almost. You’ve still got to get him on it.”

Johnny nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

He glanced again to his left front across the broad dirt street at the generic “other businesses” he had ignored a long moment earlier. Sure enough, in front of the third storefront a sign dangled from a beam protruding from the wall: Rinçon County Sheriff.

He shifted on the Cayuse, which quickly provided the quiet sound of creaking leather. Quietly he said, “Guess I’ve arrived. Talk with you later.”

He guided his mount slightly left. A few paces farther he shifted the gait lever, as he had come to think of it, all the way to the left.

Four paces farther he was closer to the hitching rail than he expected. His thighs tensed slightly as he anticipated the collision, or else a sudden lurch as the Cayuse stopped short.

But the mount shortened its final stride, brought its back legs up under it, and generated a quiet neighing sound. Then it stopped.

On the left flank a short bar—an aid to assist shorter persons in dismounting—protruded a few inches behind the stirrup.

Johnny quickly tapped the end of it with his left boot heel and it retracted. Then he swung down, his left hand cupped around the pommel and his gaze riveted to the front door of the sheriff’s office. That’s how the man with no name would do it, he was certain.

As his right boot, then his left hit the dirt street, his poncho swayed slightly around him.

But he’d forgotten the cigar. He would look much more formidable with a short, ragged smoke clenched between his teeth near the right corner of his mouth. It would add considerably to the rough look provided by his moustache. And his lips, parted slightly around the cigar, would even indicate the sneer he wasn’t quite able to duplicate. That was important.

He quickly fished a cheroot from somewhere beneath his poncho, then placed it just so between his teeth. He struck a phosphor stick on his stubbled cheek and lit it. He drew once, twice, a third time. It would look better with ash hovering at the end. Then he stepped around the front of his Cayuse.

Fortunately he remembered to reach up and stroke the fake neck and mane with his right hand. For effect, he growled, “You wait here, boy.”

The sole of his left boot made no noticeable sound on the edge of the boardwalk as he stepped up from the street. But the heel of his right caused the boards to resound with a satisfying, if muffled, thud.

He put his left hand on the nearby upright and glanced left, then right. In both directions he flashed a menacing look that was intended to warn away any curious onlookers.

But there were none. Apparently the citizens had lost interest.

He crossed the boardwalk—thud, thud, thud—and grasped the door knob, then turned it and pushed it inward.

Directly ahead and slightly to the right a short, stocky man was sitting at a desk. To his left, his wide-brimmed hat hung from a peg on the wall. He was leaning slightly forward, looking over some sheets of paper. His leather vest hung open on the left side. Beneath it, pinned to his white shirt, was a five-pointed star. He smiled as he looked up. “Hey, pardner. What can I do for you?”

Behind him, mounted on the wall, was a wooden contraption that Johnny recognized as a gun rack. Behind a horizontal wooden dowel were two Winchester repeating carbines and a shotgun. A small padlock dangled, open, on the right side of the dowel.

To Johnny’s right near the front corner was a potbellied stove. Atop it sat a coffee pot and a pair of dark metal cups. Straight ahead and slightly to the left was a door. Probably that led to the cells. There couln’t be more than three as narrow as the office was.

Johnny clamped down on his cheroot. His lips barely moved when he said, “How many you got in the cells?”

The sheriff sat back in his chair and his smile disappeared. He shifted his hands from the desk to his hips. “Now what business might that be of yours?”

Johnny shrugged. “Wouldn’t want ‘em to starve. I mean, what with nobody to bring ‘em food or drink.”

“What’re you talkin’ about? I bring ‘em all that. Two squares a day, mornin’ and afternoon. Three on Sunday. Ladies’ Auxiliary drops by then and brings—” He stopped and frowned. Then his head tweaked slightly to the left as he said, “Wait. I mean hold on a minute. You ain’t threatenin’ me are you?”

His gaze firmly locked on the sheriff, Johnny deliberately and slowly moved his chin left, then right. “Time for you to go, Sheriff. Past time in fact.”

The sheriff put his hands on the edge of the desk and stood up. Stiffly. “What do you mean, time for me to go? I’ve been sheriff here for nigh on to—”

“Eighteen years.” Johnny glanced at his left palm. “Two months and thirteen days.” He paused. “Time for you to go. You know the rules.”

The sheriff frowned. “Rules?” He started around the desk. “What in the world are you talkin’ about, boy? I think maybe you ought’a leave.”

“C’mon, Sheriff. Back at the Center they’re surprised you’ve lasted this long. They couldn’t remember the last time you had a protein wrap. Your skin’s gone brown. And what are those lines there? Around your eyes and across your forehead?”

“What? Age and desert sun.” He moved his hands to his hips again as he glanced at the floor and shook his head. Then he looked up at Johnny again. “You can’t possibly be so stupid that you don’t know what a suntan is. Who are you exactly?”

That was a difficult question and he hadn’t expected it. By “exactly,” did the man mean in actuality or in character? To make matters worse, his director hadn’t given him a name. Then again, the script hadn’t required it. “Remember the man with no name?”

Again the sheriff frowned. “The who now?”

He’s dangerously close to blowing this. Johnny almost forgot to quiet his voice to a growl before he said, “The man with no name. I’m his brother.”

The sheriff turned his head a bit and looked sidelong at Johnny. “Ah, okay. Sure. That explains it. Listen, you were asking about the cells. Why don’t we step through that door over there and have a look?” He stepped aside and gestured. “After you.”

What? That wasn’t in the script at all. Then again, what harm could it do? The cells were supposed to be empty. He’d take a look, then tell the sheriff again it was time for him to go. He hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to lying. The thought of using a falsehood to convince someone of a truth didn’t ring honest. And above all, he wanted to remain honest in his role.

Still, he had a job to do and he would do it. If that meant taking a short detour from the script here and there, so be it. “I’d be happy to inspect the cells.” As he stepped past the sheriff, he said, “They’re empty anyway, aren’t they?”

“Up to a point.”

Johnny allowed a smug smile to curl one corner of his mouth. He maintained the cool growl as he said “Oh really? What point?”

A sharp, blinding light flashed across the space behind Johnny’s eyes. He sensed the floor rapidly approaching. Then he slept.

The sheriff looked down at him. “That point.”

Just then the door opened and a tall, thin man rushed in. “Sheriff Martin, you—” He stopped short and looked at the inert form on the floor. Then he looked up at the sheriff again. “Well, I guess you’re okay.” He gestured. “Who’s this?”

The sheriff looked down at Johnny and grinned. “Hey Mitch. Beats me. Says he’s the brother of the man with no name, whatever that means.” He looked up again. “Say, you wanna help me put him in a cell?”

The top of the man’s shirt peaked on either side as he shrugged bony shoulders. “Sure.”

The sheriff opened the door to the cells, then glanced to be sure a cell door was open. He turned around. “I’ll take his arms. You just get his feet.”

A long moment later, Johnny was lying atop a woolen blanket on a firm wooden cot. He didn’t hear the cell door clang shut.

As the two men exited the cell area, the sheriff closed the door behind him.

The front door was still standing open. The sheriff frowned. “What’s all the commotion about?”

“Come have a look. Then maybe you can tell me.”

“Lemme get my hat.”

Outside a crowd had gathered around the Cayuse, Inc. Model 1842.

MaryAnn Sarton peered up from beneath her bonnet as the sheriff and Mitch came out. “What in the world is this thing, Sheriff? As a tax-paying citizen and a god-fearing Christian, I have a right to know.” She gestured broadly around with her parasol, which she had closed when the crowd gathered too close around. “All of us have a right to know.”

“Looks like a roan horse to me.” He bent his knees a bit and peered underneath. “Gelding from the looks of it.”

Mitch said, “He ain’t no gelding, Sheriff. He ain’t no horse neither.”

The sheriff frowned. “What?” Unsure what Mitch meant, he drew closer to the mount and laughed. “Well, whatever he is he don’t deserve to starve. We need to get him down to the livery stable for a few days.” He reached for the reins, took them and turned toward the other end of town. “I reckon it’ll take that boy at least ‘til tomorrow to come around.”

His left arm jerked taut.

Without looking back, he tugged. “C’mon, now. We’ll get you some oats and—”

But again his left arm went taut.

He turned around and looked more closely at the horse. Then he frowned. He walked closer and slapped the horse on the rump. “Well I’ll be. What is this thing?”

Any sharp external stimulus on the Cayuse, Inc. mount activated the two-way communication device set between its ears.

In the lab on the ship, a light flashed next to a monitor.

Darelo Seven glanced at it. He mumbled, “What now?” He approached his station and was about to speak when Mitch said, “Like I said, Sheriff Martin, I don’t know what it is, but it definitely ain’t no horse.”

Darelo wrinkled his brow like he’d seen the humans do. He curled one of his three fingers toward his supervisor and companion-at-work. “Mastril, listen to this, would you?”

Mastril moved closer and nodded.

Darelo flicked a switch, then rotated a dial. Again someone said, “Like I said, Sheriff Martin, I don’t know what it is, but—”

Darelo flicked the switch again and looked at Mastril. “What do you make of that?”

“Did he say Sheriff Martin?”

Darelo nodded.

“But he was supposed to replace Sheriff Striker, right? In Stable Springs?”

Again Darelo nodded.

Mastril shook his head. “Is there any way to get him out? Without alarming the locals, I mean?”

“I don’t think so.”

“All right. Do we have another Trimble makeover ready to go?”

“Yes sir. He can be on planet tomorrow morning local time.”

“All right. Outfit him with the newer Cayuse, Inc. offering. I don’t want anymore screwups.” He glanced at the monitor. “They’ll lose interest soon. When they do, distintegrate the 1842.” He paused. “And there’s no need to cause Trimble— what’s his designator?”

“Seven forty-six.”

Mastril whistled. “That many already.” He shook his head. “No need to cause him any further distress. Recall his life force before he has a chance to wake up.”

* * *

Shortly after dusk, Sheriff Martin checked on his prisoner. He was still sleeping soundly.

He closed the door to the cells quietly and turned around. “He’s all right. Gonna have one hell of a headache when he wakes up though.”

Mitch grinned and nodded. “Maybe then we can find out what that thing is out front.”

They walked out through the front door. Most of the citizens had gone home. As he turned to lock the door, the sheriff said, “Hey, you doin’ anything Monday week?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“I’m supposed to get together with Sheriff Striker up in Stable Springs. Wanna ride along?”

“Sure. That’s only what, about twenty miles?”

“Twenty-two to be exact.”

* * * * * * *

Getting Ideas (and other stuff)

This content was previously posted on June 26, 2016 in the Daily Journal. I posted it here because of the valuable topic included below. Soon I might begin posting the Daily Journal here every day.

Hey Folks,

Probably today will be another non-writing day for me. Despite the fact that when I take a day away from writing fiction I feel itchy and annoyed.

I gave my word to a couple of folks who quickly took advantage of my offer to copyedit for them, so I’ll do that. But otherwise I think I’m going to shove my copyediting service into the ditch alongside the cover design and eformatting services.

Life Events take up too much of my writing time already. Reckon I’m gonna have to cut the cord on providing services.

Getting Ideas

Turns out this is a long topic. I hope it helps.

Yesterday I talked about story starters. To start a story, come up with a character, give him a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story and often isn’t) and drop him into a setting. Period.

But a character with a problem in a setting sounds suspiciously like an idea. So how do we come up with the idea in the first place?

Often the idea for the story will spring directly from the character/problem/setting combo. In fact, yesterday one writer sent me an email. In part, it read

Last fall or late summer you gave 3 or 4 character names, 3 or 4 settings, and maybe 3 or 4 problems for us to put together for an opening. … [T]hat exercise gave me the opening for the second book in my contemporary series. (Thanks MAC)

But even more often, ideas simply come at random. Then we assign a character/problem/setting and write the opening.

Example — Right now on my desk, my cherry wood humidor is on my left. An orange Bic lighter is lying diagonally on top. (That’s a story idea.)

Okay, let’s assign a character. Who are you (the character)? Why are you there? And what are you doing? And how does the setting look, sound, smell? Are you

the owner?
a detective?
a male friend of the family?
a female friend of the family?
a masked burglar?
a business associate?

Remember too, the setting can be anywhere that will hold a cherry wood humidor and a Bic lighter: a small home office, the library in a mansion, an office in a place of business, the front seat of a ’58 Nash, etc. Let your imagination run. We don’t know what’s inside the humidor either, do we?

This idea immediately lends itself to mystery, thriller, psychological suspense, romance, and other genres.

If this notion appeals to you, why not just write an opening? See what happens.

There are several ideas on my desktop, in view as I write this:

an open roll of breath mints with one end opened and folded over
a man pecking away at a laptop computer in the wee hours of the morning
three medicine bottles, set snugly beneath a 22″ monitor
a cell phone lying on the corner of the desk. An indicator light is flashing.
a pedometer lying in front of a medicine bottle
a deck of Rider Back playing cards
and so on

Where you’re sitting as you read this, look about you. What do you see that evokes a particular feeling or memory or notion? It can be anything at all. Make a list. Exercise your idea muscle. Then write an opening about one of them.

So how do we come up with ideas? The more apt question would be how do we NOT come up with ideas.

But many writers believe an “idea” is actually the whole story. How boring would that be? If I knew the story in advance, why bother to write it? That wouldn’t entertain me at all. (grin)

Remember, the story idea is not the whole story.
The story idea is just the catalyst that gets you to the keyboard.

Dean Wesley Smith taught me that. Also, he has covered his own process several times in his blog. He has an extensive collection of pulp magazines from the old days.

One of his favorite ways of coming up with story ideas is to “crash” the first half of one old story title into the second half of another old story title. When it appeals to him, he writes an opening.

In addition to just looking around, I tend to get ideas from photographs or from some minor event or from overhearing a snippet of conversation.

Ideas from Photographs

I collect cover photographs from stock photo agencies. I have around a thousand. I intend to use them all.

Every now and then when I want to write a story, I skim through those photos (my favorite agencies are Bigstock and Canstock). If a photo appeals to me, it gives me a title (usually) and a story idea (character, problem, setting) and I’m off and writing.

Plus I already have the photo that I probably will use for the cover when I’m finished. I say “probably” because the story often takes an unexpected turn or two. If the turn is big enough, I have to find a different photo for the cover.

You can also find story ideas in photos that you can’t use for covers. The photos can be from any source at all. If it spurs a memory or a thought or a character, you’re off an running. But again, don’t use any photo for a cover unless you have the license to do so.

Ideas from Events

While I was walking along a dirt road one day, a woman passed me in a minivan.

As she passed me at about forty miles per hour, her left hand was on top of the steering wheel at about the 11 o’clock position. She had twisted her head around to look over her right shoulder and was reaching back and pointing with her right hand. Her mouth was wide open as if she was yelling.

There were three children in the back seat. None were in restraints of any kind. Then a cloud of dust enveloped me and all I could still see was her brake lights as she braked just in time to make the upcoming sharp curve and avoid plunging herself and her children some three hundred feet down a steep, rocky hillside to the wide arroyo below.

How many ideas can you get from that one event?

Ideas from Conversation

Sometimes a snippet of conversation comes while I’m walking the aisles or standing in line at the checkout counter of a store.

But more often a character will pop into my head, usually with an attitude and a line of dialogue. This is most often the result of something I see or hear on TV or from someone I’m talking with.

The dialogue in my head almost always introduces the problem and the setting I need for the opening of the story. And of course, the character is the one presenting the dialogue in the first place. This happens a lot with my Brooklyn characters. (This happened today, actually, and started a new short story.)

So when you ask some presenter at a writers’ conference, “Where do you get ideas?” and they say “Everywhere,” that’s exactly what they mean.

Now, possibly I didn’t cover everything you would have liked for me to cover on this topic. If you have any questions, please ask.

Of Interest

An interview between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King. Very good, but about an hour long. You can find it here. I discovered it on Dean’s site in the comments from yesterday’s blog.

Great interview. I took voluminous notes on a Notepad document. Great stuff. I strongly recommend you set aside an hour to listen. In line with today’s topic (above), this interview is Chock Full of story ideas. It is an unintentional writing seminar. I strongly recommend you take notes as you listen.

The Day

Rolled out right at 4. Email and coffee to wake up.

5 a.m., moved outside and wrote the topic above. Then I went to check Dean’s site and found the link for the interview (see “Of Interest”. I listened to the interview, taking notes.

7:45, to the edit.

11:45, finished the edit and got it sent off. Turns out my mobile hotspot on my phone works too out in my Adobe Hovel (thanks to my wife for calling Verizon and having them reset my phone). That’s a great relief. Of course I won’t have it on most of the time. But it’s nice to have when my phone flashes to tell me something important needs my attention online.

Going to take a break now. And I’ve decided when I come back I’m going to write for awhile. (grin)

1 p.m. after a much longer break than I expected, to the writing.

Well, I got some writing done, but not a lot. The edit left me more tired than I thought. Still, I got a good start on another short story. Something completely different. (grin)

Back tomorrow.

Today’s Writing

Fiction Words: 1077
Nonfiction Words: 1400 (Journal)

So total words for the day: 2477

Writing of “Being Eddie Potrano” (short story)

Day 1…… 1077 words. Total words to date…… 1077 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX words

Writing of “The Day the World Shuddered and Went Dark” (probably a novel)

Day 1…… 1272 words. Total words to date…… 1272 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month……… 58205
Total fiction words for the year………… 316606

Total nonfiction words for the month… 14930
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 131380

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 447986


Story Starters, Openings and How to Write Fiction

This is a topic of the day from my Daily Journal yesterday. I’m considering moving the Daily Journal over here and posting it to my Pro Writers list every day. If you’re reading this, you’re on that list.

Anyway, here’s a topic of the day for you.

Story Starters, Openings and How to Write Fiction

One person asked me in an email yesterday where I get ideas and how I can move from story to story. Apparently because of my flurry of activity recently.

I’m going to answer that in two topics.

First of all, I’ve started only seven new works since May 4 (finished 6). That isn’t a lot. At all. In May, I wrote only two works: a novel and a short story. The short story also became the first chapter of my next novel (so eight works if I counted that twice).

In June, thus far I’ve written one novel and four short stories. Yesterday I started a fifth short story that might be a novel instead. That’s it.

But to story starters —

When I sit down to write a short story, it’s most often on the spur of the moment. So I have to come up with a story starter.

What is a story starter? It’s a character with a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story) in a setting. Period. That’s it. Seriously.

(But where do I get the characters? The problem? The setting? That will be in “Getting Ideas” in tomorrow’s post.)

From that story starter, I write an opening.

To do that, I sit down at the keyboard and write whatever springs to mind. Then I write the next sentence, write the next sentence and so on.

The length of the opening varies from writer to writer. For DWS the opening is around 300 – 500 words. For me, the opening is usually 500 – 700 words. By then, I know whether the story will work.

If the opening works, I just keep writing the next sentence. I don’t worry about (or think about) sentence structure, spelling, etc. I just write and keep writing.

I never wonder where the story is going or how the character will solve the problem or any of that. I just write the next sentence.

It really is that simple. It works. It’s how Bradbury wrote. It’s how Stephen King writes. It’s how almost every pulp writer who ever lived wrote. And those of you who have been with me for awhile have seen it first hand.

Do I develop the character?

No, other than knowing his or her “type.” Beyond that, like all humans everywhere, the character develops himself (or herself).

I am constantly surprised by the things my characters say and do. And that’s good. If the characters surprise me, they will also surprise the reader.

If I think them out, plan, plot etc. in advance, I’m playing the Almighty Writer on High. I don’t do that because whatever I can “think up” (conscious mind) the reader can think up. Plotting, planning etc. leads to predictable stories, and predictable stories lead to yawning readers.

Do I agonize over the problem?

Again, no. In my stories, the problem in the opening usually is the “big” problem of the story, but not always. In my openings, the character most often makes decisions and moves toward solving the problem.

What about the setting?

In every opening, I try to invoke all five physical senses. That’s what makes the scene come alive in the reader’s mind. I love writing dialogue and I love writing action (especially Sam Peckinpah style slow motion stuff, sparingly) but none of that happens in a vacuum.

If you don’t provide (through the POV character’s senses) a good description of the setting, any action or dialogue is being delivered against a white background. Not good.

Okay, so come up with a character who has a problem. Drop him (or her) into a setting. Sit down at the keyboard and write whatever springs to mind.

And don’t worry about it. You’re just allowing your characters to tell a story. Nothing more earth-shaking than that.

Back soon with “Getting Ideas.” Or you can subscribe to my other blog at  and read it when it comes out tonight. (grin)


One Early Evening in Mexico

One Early Evening in Mexico 180I hadn’t seen the road we were on, not even once, but it was rocky.

I thought I had timed the lurching gait of the bus perfectly. But as I pushed down the window to admit the cool night air, the bus lurched again.

My right hand shot out through the opening and the rising bus banged against the outside of my right wrist with the top edge of the window frame. As the bus dropped on the other side of the rock, my wrist rose, then fell and banged again.

I quickly jerked my right hand back to my chest to cradle it in my left.

The old woman next to me offered her opinion with a sorrowful frown and a shake of her head. Both her hands were gripping the back of the seat in front of us. I tried to smile at her, but she had already turned her head back to the front.

The bus lurched again and for a second I was off the seat.

From the new vantage point I noticed that the window beside the man on the seat ahead of me was lowered. Had he banged his wrist too?

Then I remembered he had lowered his window before we left town, when the day was still warm and the road was still smooth.

I looked around the bus. Everyone else had lowered their windows earlier too. Let in a little heat early I guess to get the cool payoff later without getting beat up.

I glanced at the woman again, then mimicked her, clamping my hands firmly onto the back of the seat in front of us as well.

Without looking at me again she nodded.

* * *

Barely an hour earlier, I was in a village with a long name I couldn’t pronounce. How many villages have a name that’s five words long?

I had rushed to get there from the only hotel in town. I was first in line, the scorching sun bearing down through the dust of the late afternoon. I stood alone for two hours beneath a sign I couldn’t read.

But I recognized one word, the name of the town I was trying to get to. That told me this was the right stop.

But was it the right day? When I asked about transportation south, the man at the hotel flashed a toothy, yellow grin and said, “Oh shoor, shoor. Sí, the bus, she comes at times on this day.”

At times? Does it always come on this day but at different times? Or does it sometimes come on this day and sometimes not?

But I didn’t know how to ask for elaboration. When I stepped carefully through his language one word at a time with, “Pero es el dia y el tiempo?” I thought I was asking what day and time it would arrive.

Apparently he thought I was waxing philosophical.

He shrugged and nodded, as if anyone should know that yes, this was the day and this was the time. Finally he said, “Oh sí, es verdad, señor. Yes, truly this is the day and this is the time.”

The day and time for what? But I nodded and retreated to the safety of “Gracias tambien.” I meant “Thank you again,” but I wasn’t sure I got that right. Then I cut my losses. I nodded again, then carried my backpack and my language inadequacy three blocks down and stopped beneath the sign.

During the last half-hour of those two hours, thirteen others joined me. For something to do, I counted them again each time another person showed up. None seemed in a hurry. And each time, I glanced up at the sign to be certain I had read the one word correctly.

Nobody spoke to me or to each other. There was nothing at all, as if the heat was muting any sound.

Then the silent air came to life. The bus growled around the corner, the front end swinging toward the busted curb. The brakes screeched, then hissed angrily as it shuddered to a stop.

I bent to pick up my backpack from its position below the sign. The door hissed more lightly than the brakes, then folded open.

Relieved, I happily stepped from the curb onto the bottom step. And stopped.

The metal plate on the toll machine was marked with several lines. Each listed a destination and an amount in foreign currency.

I recognized the name of my destination and the numerals beside it, but I wasn’t sure of the abbreviation for the method of payment. I touched my finger to it and frowned.

“Ventecinco pesetas,” the man behind me said. He sounded tired and maybe a little annoyed.

I fished two coins from my pocket, certain everyone else had theirs ready in advance, and inserted them into the slot.

The driver glanced up at me.

The dim light from the small, bare bulb above his head cast odd shadows. The bags beneath his eyes were packed full.

Transcending the language barrier, he nodded, then gestured tiredly with one hand.

The nod wasn’t assurance that I had paid enough so much as forgiveness in case I hadn’t. The gesture was the result of impatience. I should find a seat and clear the steps for the other fares.

I tried to smile and said, “Gracias” as my right hip moved past his shoulder.

I found an empty bench seat six rows back on the right. I slipped in next to the window and set my backpack next to me.

A moment later a little grey-haired lady gestured toward my backpack. She was near the back of the group earlier. She stood quietly with a homemade cage made of one-by-twos and chicken wire. Inside was a live chicken.

Well, I guess there would be no reason to cage a dead one.

Her solid black leather shoes were low-cut and without heels. Her silver hair was pulled up in something resembling a bun and pinned to the back of her head. A black translucent shawl was draped over her head, then crossed beneath her chin. The ends fell to halfway down her back over her shoulders.

A similar shawl, but loosely knitted, was draped over her shoulders and hung to her waist. It contrasted sharply with her bright yellow peasant blouse—I think that’s what those are called—and below that was an ankle-length skirt. It was black too, but imprinted with various kinds of flowers in pretty much every color under the sun. Around her waist was a plain brown leather belt.

I moved my backpack, placing it on the floor in front of me.

She nodded, then sat down. Carefully, she placed the chicken cage in the aisle next to her.

Finally the last two men ascended the steps and dropped their coins into the machine.

The driver worked a handle and the door closed even as he steered the bus to the left and pulled out onto the road south.

The two men moved in jerks and starts as the bus moved. They negotiated the chicken cage and found seats somewhere behind me and my new companion.

Now that we were finally underway, I looked about the bus. The inside was painted with the same pale green as the outside. Only inside there was no rust and the paint was less faded.

There was what looked like a camera in the front corner above the driver. I looked to the right front corner. There was another one there. Wires led from each one through holes roughly drilled in the metal.

Very good. Probably they were required for insurance purposes. Probably it was less expensive to install security cameras in an older bus than to get a newer bus that had them already installed.

Of course, they might be fake cameras too. There was no way to tell as long as the wires were hooked up.

I twisted around, wishing I’d looked more closely as I boarded.

I was surprised to find three more cameras. One was in each back corner. The other was near the top of the sidewall of the bus on my side, a couple of rows ahead of me.

Odd. Definitely fakes.

* * *

Midway through my senior year of high school our advisor frowned at me in his office. “What’s that again?”

“I’m not going on the senior trip.”

The class had decided they would visit Disney World in Orlando. I couldn’t think of anything more lame than that.

“You don’t want to go along with your friends? It might be the last time you get to see some of them. For a trip, I mean.”

“I voted for Cancun.”

He laughed. “We couldn’t do Cancun. That’s in another country, isn’t it? Mexico or something?”

I nodded. “I don’t really care about that either, to be honest. It’s just another tourist trap. Disney World for people with money.”

“I don’t understand.”

No, and he wouldn’t understand what I was about to say next either. “You know what a directed study is, right?”

“You mean in college?”

I nodded. My older brother had a directed study when his school didn’t offer the specific subject he wanted to study. All it required, he said, was to find a professor from among the faculty who was willing to advise him.

“Like that, yeah. I want to do a directed senior trip into Mexico. I’ll get to see part of the country and experience new things. It’s like an immersion. I plan on being gone a week. I think it’ll be a hoot.”

“But there are drug cartels and people traffickers and gun runners. People are fleeing that country to come to—”

“C’mon, Mr. Martin. They have all those things right here in America, but we hardly notice. And most of the people in Mexico are the same, just living their lives. Those are the people I want to be around.

“Everything’s all set up. My folks signed the permission slip for the school and I’ve got my passport from the government. All I really need is an advisor. Mostly that just means the school knows what I’m doing, so I get credit for the senior trip without having to be bored out of my mind.”

He put that “gotcha” look on his face and said, “But how will I determine what you’ve learned?”

I hoped he was kidding, but I had done my homework just in case.

Mr. Martin was an aspiring novelist. Occasionally he taught continuing-ed classes for non-traditional students on Creative Writing at the local junior college.

I said, “I’ll take copious notes. I might even write a story or two about it.” I shrugged. “Maybe even a novel. Who knows?”

He nodded sagely. Then he said, “But I don’t have to go or anything, right?”

“No sir, you don’t have to go. Just like with directed study, you don’t even have to teach a class. You just grade the work.”

He glanced at his watch—lunchtime was fast approaching—then stood and extended his hand. As we shook, he said, “All right, son, you’ve got yourself an advisor.” He paused, awkwardly, his gaze flicking to the clock on the wall above his door. “So anyway, if there’s nothing else then….”

“Thanks, Mr. Martin.” I practically ricocheted off the wall getting out of there.

I hope he had a good lunch. Word was he was seeing Miss Prather from English pretty much every day at lunch. Hey, old guys gotta dance too.

* * *

It was sometime after dark when things got a little scary. According to the route map I’d been visualizing in my mind—well, that and the changes in terrain and elevation—we were somewhere in the mountains southwest of Zacatecas.

As if on an arthritic roller coaster, we had been climbing, turning and descending, climbing, turning and descending for a little over an hour. The bus had established a rhythm as we ascended the range, with the climbing turns considerably longer than the descents.

Then the rhythm was harshly interrupted as we topped over a rise and began a long descent.

I looked across the aisle and forward at the driver. At times he seemed almost standing on the brake, even after he had shifted into a lower gear.

Finally we slowed, then slowed some more, and swept into a broad curve to the right.

Then the driver encountered something he wasn’t expecting.

He slammed on the brakes and everyone was thrown forward in their seats. The bus shuddered to a stop, and from the driver’s side came, “Abre la puerta! Open the door! Ahora!”

The familiar ratcheting sound came as the door folded open.

Three armed men came on the bus.

All three were wearing jeans, heavy boots and stained tan t-shirts. Each one had a red bandana tied around his head. Each bandanna was folded so it was maybe two inches tall in the front, and then tapered back to the knot at the back of the head.

The third bandito who boarded was a stocky man with broad shoulders and mean eyes. Otherwise he had sharp, handsome features. His face was streaked with sweat and his moustache was thick and black. It draped over the corners of his mouth almost to his chin. With a sombrero, he would resemble old-west photos I had seen of Pancho Villa. He remained near the driver.

His rifle looked like an M-16, but with a wooden stock and forestock. He held it near his waist, suspended by a strap over his right shoulder. He pointed it toward the back of the bus and slowly swept the barrel from one side to the other and back.

I got the sense he was waiting for someone to move or say something, anything, he didn’t like.

Nobody moved. Nobody spoke.

The other two, the first two who boarded, started toward the back of the bus, one behind the other and offset.

The front one was thin and short. I think he might have been younger than I am, but he looked very angry. His eyebrows were pinched almost together in a frown. His eyes were very round and wide. His cheeks and neck glistened brown with sweat, but he had no facial hair. It surprised me that he was allowed a gun although he wasn’t old enough yet to shave.

The other man was also shorter than the one near the driver, but heavyset. He looked to be in his mid to late twenties. His cheeks and neck were puffy, and covered with sweat. It trickled through what looked like tw0-day old stubble. He had a moustache, but it was neatly squared off above the corners of his mouth. He also had a soul patch beneath his bottom lip.

Two rows ahead of us and across the aisle, a man had ridden the whole way with his right foot in the aisle. On his lap was a small child, perhaps two years old. Next to him was a young woman, probably his wife. His foot in the aisle helped balance himself and the child when the bus jostled.

The lead bandito saw the man’s foot as an opportunity. With the toe of his boot, he kicked the man’s leg hard on the inside of the calf, though I didn’t hear a snap.

The man gripped the arm of the seat and groaned.

The woman quickly took the child, and the man reached down for his leg.

Without looking, the second bandito swung the butt of his rifle across and down, striking the man on the right side of the head.

He crumpled into the space between his seat and the seat in front of him.

His woman didn’t flinch. She just pulled the baby closer.

I glanced at the old woman, suddenly wishing she had taken the window seat.

She appeared to be unconcerned.

With his left foot, the lead bandito kicked the cage that held her chicken, like a place kicker might kick a field goal.

The chicken squawked as the cage flew up the aisle and slammed hard against the back of the bus.

The old woman showed no sign that she even had noticed.

I looked down, suddenly more concerned with the condition of the floor more than anything else.

As he was about to pass, the second bandito stopped. He took a half-step back.

I felt his gaze on me, so I looked up.

“Usted es un norteamericano?”

His voice sounded like gravel over asphalt. Like he hadn’t had water for awhile and was sorely in need of a drink.

Too petrified to speak, I only nodded.

He looked down at the old woman and laughed. “Y tu, abuelita? And you, little grandmother? Usted es una norteamericana tambien?”

Still looking straight forward, she resolutely shook her head.

“No? Pero por qué no? Está sentado con el gringo. You are sitting with the gringo.”

“Soy una Mexicana. I am a Mexicana,” she said. Then she slowly rotated her head back and up to look at him. “Soy una Mexicana, joven y dulce. I am a Mexican, young and sweet.” Then she laughed.

He continued to look at her for a moment, and his eyes narrowed. Then he turned away and moved on down the aisle.

I quietly exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, then faced front again. My hands lay still on my thighs, palms down.

The woman reached over with her right hand and patted my left.

When I looked up, she smiled slightly and nodded. Oddly, I felt comforted.

For what seemed like an hour but probably was only a few minutes, from behind us came a flurry of harsh, angry questions and brief, timid responses. Of course, the exchange was in Spanish.

Each question and many responses were accompanied with muffled thumps and shrill cries as passengers were poked with rifle barrels or hit with butt stocks or fists.

I got the impression the banditos didn’t want to derive information as much as they wanted to intimidate and harrass these poor people. I continued to face the front of the bus, albeit with my head bowed.

The two thugs worked their way back toward the front of the bus.

I tensed, expecting to feel the butt of a rifle against my right temple.

It didn’t come, and as the men passed, I found myself hoping they would leave the bus.

The bandito at the front turned slightly to let the other two pass.

The bus shifted a bit as the thin man and the heavy one stepped down.

The last bandito turned again to look over the passengers, then turned to the driver. He said something quietly, then paused. Then more loudly he said, “Entiendes? Understand?”

The driver nodded almost frantically.

And the last bandito, after glaring at the passengers a final time, stepped down from the bus.

The driver quickly closed the door and ground the gearshift lever into first gear. The bus lurched again, then rolled smoothly forward.

After a long moment during which nobody said anything, “What the hell was that?” came from across the aisle a few rows behind me.

I frowned, then raised up in my seat, turned and looked. It was another American. I hadn’t realized there was another one on the bus. And she was cute.

About my age, she had long black hair. Her skin was the color of light coral. She was wearing a peasant blouse, with sleeves that only covered her shoulders. I couldn’t see below that, but in my mind she was wearing either a colorful Mexican skirt with a turquois concho belt or jeans. Also with a turquoise concho belt. And leather thong sandals. Tan. And painted toenails.

She was beautiful.

Someone interrupted my reverie with “Guerillas.”

I looked at Grandmother and frowned. “What? Those men were hunting gorillas?”

Everyone in the bus burst out laughing.

Even Grandmother. She laughed, then shook her head. “No, no, mijo. Those men were guerillas.”

My eyes grew wide so quickly that even I felt them. “You speak English?”

She nodded, laughter still in her eyes. “We do in Chicago, though some people don’t think so.” Then she tilted her head back. “Roscoe, are we still rolling?”

From the back of the bus came, “Nah, we got what we needed.” He laughed. “That’s a wrap, everyone. Enjoy your evening in Zacatecas and we’ll see you at the pavilion tomorrow.”

* * * * * * *


Incident at El Charro Café

El Charro 180Well, we’re back. My buddy and I got back from a trip to the Gila River around noon or so yesterday. It was beautiful down there, but it was also scorching hot during most of the day. Annoying, to say the least.

On the other hand, the nights were cool, but not cold. Made for great satellite watching and late-night talk, which we refer to as The Slathering of Philosophy.

I did no writing.

But the schedule was easy, which is to say, there was no schedule.

When we first arrived, we raced around our camp area like chipmunks on crack, and the sun be damned. So on Friday, I wore myself out early (in the heat) with a trek down to and across the river. It was only knee deep at the deepest, with a good flow.

Across the river, I located the fallen tree that had beckoned me. I cleared a few threatening twigs from the bark on top of it and sat.

I tipped back my ball cap, lit a cigar, and looked at the river.

It was just the right flow, with just the right rapids in just the right places. I commented to my buddy—let’s call him Dan—that it reminded me of fly fishing a back-country river in Montana.

“You know,” I said. “The kind where you park a few miles away because that’s as close as you can get. Then you backpack in. When you reach the first bend in the river (in all the better stories, everything takes place at a bend in the river) you continue, exploring a few likely spots along the way. Spots where you’re certain the trout will be hungry and will leap for pretty much anything skimming the surface.

“Then, when you find The Spot, you lay down your rods and make camp.

“Like every two-man team in history, you split the chores. You pitch a tent, stake out your sleeping places, gather firewood, and set the campfire. But no, you don’t light it, of course. Then you pick your bait from among the thousands of grasshoppers you woke up when you stomped into their living room.

“That isn’t a chore you split, of course, or share. Each selects his own bait, puts them in his own container. Otherwise you couldn’t be certain of getting better hoppers than the other guy got.

“Then as if obeying an unspoken cue, you pick up your rods and head down to the river.” I nodded and took a puff off my cigar as I cast my wizened gaze downriver. “Ahh,” I said. “Now that’s the life.”

Thinking he knew all there was to know about me, Dan frowned and asked, “Which one?”

The question was a hook that caught the shoulder of my fishing vest and tugged me backwards from my reverie. “Which one what?”

“Which river?”

I glanced at him, finally understanding. It was the end of the fantasy game. I took another puff off the cigar and shrugged, a little annoyed. “I don’t know. I’ve never been.”

By now I’m old enough to know better than to add, “But one of these days.”

I turned my attention back to the river and took another puff off my cigar.

No need to waste the words.

* * *

The next morning (so Saturday) we made a necessary trip into the nearby town. A true southerner from say Alabama or Mississippi would call it Lawdsbu’g. That was to snag our ritual breakfast. It consisted of the best juevos rancheros in all of New Mexico.

The place is a tiny dive (too small even to be called a café, really) called El Charro. Not to be confused with the foo-foo large chain restaurant by the same name. I recommend it, but I won’t tell you how to get there.

The place also is strictly local, except for the few hardy explorers who discover it. Out-of-town visitors are so rare that Dan and I have become recognized regulars. And we’ve visited only several times over the past six or eight months.

But I was talking about how small the place was.

The owners (presumably) even hung a banner on the only large inside wall. It proclaimed their pride in and congratulations to the local high school team for winning something or other. The place was so small they saved space on the banner by spelling El Charro with only one R.

Or maybe they inadvertently misspelled it.

But I count the place and the people there among my friends. So I’m going with the saving-space thing.

El Charro Lawdsbu’g has all the markings of the typical small-town best-place-to-eat, including actual regular regulars. Many were family members of the owners of the place.

At least one was a city father, to the extent that “city” applies. He was in the neighborhood of fifty years old. His air said that was a neighborhood he was neither pleased to have wandered into nor readily admit. He seemed to have been installed at that table and was prepared to receive visitors. He stood about six-two and weighed in the vicinity of three hundred pounds.

His hair was cut very conservatively, zero at the middle of his protruding ears and graduated evenly upward to a short horseshoe tuft that wrapped snugly around a bald spot. I was reminded of the remnant of a long-ago fire on a mountain top in the Sacramentos.

He was dressed in light-brown, textured western boots (faux ostrich?), jeans and a worn brown leather belt that made a sweeping dip. The belt held up his jeans and supported the underside of his considerable belly.

Above that was a long sleeve western shirt, reddish and blue plaid with occasional yellow-golden threads. The shirt sleeve cuffs were rolled up to his mid-forearms. The top three pearlite snaps below his throat were open.

We (I speak for my friend here too, who might deny any involvement) glanced occasionally in his direction and eavesdropped on all three venues of his palaver. He spoke, always seemingly on the edge of a chortle, to the waitress and anyone else who happened by, or to himself, or to his cell phone. His tone and the content of his conversations were enough to tell us that many, many far-reaching decisions regarding the administration of Lawdsbu’g were made right there at that table in El Charro.

I used to tell writers if they want to learn to write dialogue they need only sit in an obscure corner in Denny’s in the wee hours of the morning and eavesdrop. There they will overhear the conversations of cops, bums, politicians, laborers, homeless, bar hoppers, et al. The trick is to write down (surreptitiously, of course) what they hear.

El Charro makes an excellent, if somewhat stunted, substitute learning environment. I love it there.

We arrived on that Saturday morning at around 8:45. At the lunch counter were a man and two little girls, aged about 5 and 7. The man and they apparently were related by marriage and birth, respectively, to the waitress.

In a booth to the right front, his back to the kitchen, was an older man. A farmer, judging by the overalls, long-sleeve white shirt and thick-toed work boots. He mentioned to everyone who passed by his table that Old Bob was still in the hospital but doing well, pinching nurses and so on.

The farmer was about my age, which made me wonder about Old Bob, his age, and whether his mating ritual was what sent him to the hospital in the first place. At a certain age and level of health, it’s better to stop showing your plumage. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

A couple more working men occupied a booth farther along the wall toward the cash register and the front of the dive. Apparently they didn’t know Old Bob personally, though the one facing the kitchen was polite enough to smile and nod when he caught the farmer’s gaze.

Whereupon the farmer informed him of Old Bob’s status.

Completely caught up, the man allowed his smile to fade as he redirected his attention to the menu on the table. A moment later, he glanced around the room attentively if briefly, then returned his attention to his menu again. It was almost as if focusing on the menu was what the other creatures in the room expected of him.

And for a quick moment, he was an alien life form masquerading as a human being.

Somehow, I was able to listen in via mental telepathy as he filed his report back to the mother ship.

“No life forms of any significance here. One occupant seems preoccupied, albeit lazily and with a dash of what passes for sardonic humor, with life and death and an impending transition. All the others are focused on a printed menu, the contents of which are generally uninteresting enough to render something called ‘joo-way-vose ran-chair-ose’ the most attractive choice.”

I gotta give it to him. He was right about that last part. Although I thought any alien worth his antennae should have studied up on the mixed language.

Did I say we arrived at 8:45?

By 8:46 there were two glasses of ice water and two cups of coffee on the table. A moment later, those were joined by a fresh basket of warm corn tortilla chips and two small dishes of salsa. And a squeeze bottle from which we could refill the dishes.

“Need a menu?” she asked, vaguely remembering we were somewhat regulars.

I smiled. “Juevos rancheros, scrambled, green.”

Dan said, “Same, but over medium, red.”

So not the same at all.

But the waitress smiled, went to the counter and placed the order.

Then she made her rounds, tending to her children and husband first with fresh short stacks of pancakes and bacon. After that she grabbed the coffee pot and refreshed the coffee of the farmer. She listened patiently as he told her, again, of Old Bob’s status. She smiled and nodded and moved off to refresh the aliens’ coffee and take their order.

They asked for juevos rancheros, proof that they were of an advanced life form.

She left them and circumvented our table (we eschew the booths, preferring to subject ourselves to theater in the round) to refill the coffee cup of the city father and clear his dishes.

As she turned away, his gaze flicked to her bottom.

Now she was cute, but young enough to be his granddaughter.

Of course, she wasn’t his granddaughter.

A moment later she magically appeared at our table with the standard “the plates are hot” disclaimer. She set them in front of us anyway, then seemingly vaporized. But she was back in a flash with two small plates of fresh, hot, folded flour tortillas and the coffee pot.

As if seated at the Synchronized Eating table, we both unfurled our setups, picked up the fork, and dug in.

That’s when the three strangers came in.

* * *

Glancing past my right shoulder, Dan saw them a split-second before he rolled his eyes.

Well, that’s better than a double-dog dare, so I twisted around in my chair.

They looked like bikers. Well, the first two looked like bikers.

The guy in front, we’ll call him Number One, looked like someone had put a slice of watermelon on to fry, then forgot about it. The dude was ugly cubed, with seeds popping.

He was wearing a red-checkered bandanna around his head, and the bandanna was wearing his sun shades. (He just looked like the kind of guy who would say shades instead of glasses.) Above that, his only redeeming feature was his long, thick, luxurious black hair. It began somewhere behind the bandanna and swept back to hang to his thick shoulders.

Below his fried-watermelon face, a black leatherette vest was stretched over an obviously almost new blue-jean shirt.

I shifted my gaze to the open buttons at the top and didn’t see a t-shirt. And in that instant I grinned, hoping his nipples were rubbed raw. Hey, you wear a new denim shirt without a t-shirt under it and see what happens.

Below that was the standard-issue double-hole black leather belt with plenty of chrome studs and a chrome buckle, greasy Levis and jack boots. Yeah, a real live rebel without a clue.

The guy was six-six or thereabouts. Still, apparently to impress the room, he ducked under the door as he came in. Then he stopped and eyeballed the room as if looking for threats.

I swear, he actually ratcheted his eyelids down until he got the precise slit he thought would seem genuine Hell’s Angels-ish.

As I said, he stopped cold when he came in. But he didn’t stay there long.

Number Two entered in much the same way, looking about as if scanning the room for threats. Uncannily, he was dressed in like fashion to Number One from the jack boots to the angled shades. The only significant difference was his blue bandanna. It was peppered with little stars, I think to intimate Old Glory. But if that were true, the US had apparently gained roughly another 250 states.

He stood about five-eleven and was shaped like a football. Sloped, narrow shoulders, tiny ankles and feet, and a gourd for a belly. The only impressive thing about him was the moustache that framed his otherwise featureless face. I mean, his face probably had features, but who would notice past a moustache like that?

The thing was trimmed perfectly so it covered from the base of his nose to the top of his lip. It draped perfectly a good four inches down past the corners of his mouth.

Anyway, Number One had stopped cold to impress the audience. As you will recall, that consisted of a farmer and two aliens (I’m pretty sure) on the right; a waitress, a short-order cook (if he was looking), the waitress’ husband and two little girls to the front; and a city father and two old guys on a camping weekend to the left-front.

The girls, both of them, put their hands to their mouths and giggled.

And just as Number One began to raise his right arm and point in an attempt to intimidate his chief, if minuscule, antagonists, Number Two slammed into him from behind.

Number One took one small hop forward with both feet and yelped as if he’d been hit in the hello with a cattle prod.

Number Two flapped his arms out to the side, cocked his head and yelled, “Hey, what the hell, man?”

Enter Number Three. Calmly and with a certain joie de vivre, he said, “Oh boys.”

Number Three had crept in quietly behind Number Two as our attention was diverted by Number One’s hop. But I’ll bet he created quite a stir among the local populace outside as he was crossing the parking lot.

Numbers One and Two parted to turn and look at him. In so doing, they inadvertently gave the entire floor a glimpse.

He was dressed like a Number 2 pencil, all decked out in canary yellow. That was his jumpsuit. Around his neck was a silver scarf. Hand to God, it actually glittered. And the whole thing was topped off with a pinkish-red stocking cap.

You see it, right?

Yeah, that’s exactly what it looked like. A number-2 pencil.

His right hand was on his hip, which was extended slightly out of line with his body, the fingers pointing backward. With the other, he flipped the loose end of his shawl up over his right shoulder. “Boys, you simply must settle down.” He glanced nonchalantly about the room. “Certainly none of these chretins will hurt me.”

Of the farmer, the two aliens, the father of the two little girls, me, and the city father behind me, his gaze settled Dan.

Oh oh.

Number Three looked pointedly at Dan, then raised that same left hand and flipped his index finger out. “You. Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cry?”

I watched, almost amazed, as Dan transformed. He put his palms on the table, sighed and shook his head. He pushed back his chair with his legs and stood.

“Nah, I don’t wanna hurt you, little fella. But these walkin’ chunks of puke have to go.”

Number Two was livid. He glanced over his shoulder at Number Three. “Joo hear that? Joo hear that? I’m gonna—”

Number Three flicked his index finger. “Go.”

And Number Two rushed Dan.

But Dan was gone and Cullen Michael Baker had appeared in his place. Very proper, as always, he muttered, “I’ll say!”

And quick as that he raised one hand, palm out.

Number Two hit Mr. Baker’s palm and stopped cold, arms stiff before him, still reaching.

Mr. Baker craned his neck just a bit to see around his own forearm. “Three, two, and—”

The biker crumpled.

His eyes closed, his arms dropped, and the air rushed out of him. And he dropped to the floor like a sack of manure.

Mr. Baker took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped Number Two’s sweat from his palm. He wedged the toe of his boot beneath Number Two’s left shoulder and rolled him over.

Between Number Two’s eyes was a brand new third eye. A one-inch steel ball bearing was firmly planted in his forehead.

Mr. Baker nodded at the inert form, then shifted his attention to Number Three. His usually proper Brit voice took on the slow verve of deep-south Georgia. “I believe, suh, the stress of the transplant was more than your friend could rightly bear. Have no fear. He’ll wake up later, no worse for the wear.”

He looked down at Number Two again and cocked his head. “How fitting that his new facial feature matches the studs on his belt.” He glanced up at Number Three again as a sardonic grin tugged at one corner of his mouth. “Attractive, wouldn’t you say?”

Seething, Number Three glowered at Mr. Baker. Spit dribbled from the corner of his mouth as he quietly addressed Number One. “Johnny?”

No response.

Number Three hazarded a glance in Number One’s—Johnny’s—direction.

Johnny was still scowling at the little girls, who were now taking turns sticking their tongues out at him and wagging their hands near their ears. He leaned forward as if wanting to attack, but being restrained.

Next to the girls, their father had swiveled around on his stool and was laughing.

From behind the breakfast counter, his waitress-wife was doing the same.

Number Three turned his head slightly, redirecting his full attention to Number One. A frown formed rapidly beneath his eraser. Flustered, he yelled, “Johnny!”

Finally Number One looked around. “Huh?”

Number Three produced a swagger stick, which he pointed in the direction of Mr. Baker, who was rapidly fading. As a sneer crossed his face, he calmly said, “Kill him.”

But Mr. Baker was no more. He had gone. Vanished.

Several feet off the working end of the swagger stick, regular old Dan smiled at Number One.

Johnny glanced back at the little girls, who were still taunting him, then glared at Dan. Dan didn’t look like all that. Besides, he was hazy at best.

Number One—Johnny—turned slightly, preparing to charge.

The haze shifted, began to take on other-human features, especially if you broaden the definition of human.

Then Dan was gone.

In his place, Bull McKenzie stretched, rolling his broad shoulders beneath his buckskin coat. A broad tan belt held the coat in place at his waist.

Bull looked about the room as he reached down and dusted his buckskin pants. The dust fell to coat his buckskin moccasins, his focus finally coming to rest on Number One. “You? Is that all?” He laughed. “Hardly worth the trip.” He gestured toward the biker with his right hand, his fingers curled. “C’mon, boy. Let’s get you home to yo’ mama.”

Number One growled long and low, a locomotive building steam as the brakeman held it in place. He glared hard at this new apparition.

Bull grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.

And Johnny charged. His shades slipped down to his nose where they canted at an odd angle over his eyes.

At the last second, Bull sidestepped and twisted to the right. A skinning knife appeared in Bull’s right hand. With his left, Bull snatched a fistful of long, black, luxurious hair and removed it from his scalp. It was tucked safely behind his belt before Johnny hit the floor face-down and slid into the chrome base of a counter stool.

The shock almost dislodged the stool.

I looked at Bull, who was fading rapidly. Dan was coming back to us.

I shook my head. “Dayum, Dan.”

He shrugged and grinned. “Hey, y’get what y’pay for. It’s complicated.” Then he shifted his attention to the pencil and pointed. “You. Drag this crap outta here. Me and my friend have breakfast to finish.

And do you know, Mr. Pencil himself faded into a big pink ball of frustration. He tried to yell as he pointed at Dan, but all any of us heard was, “I’ll be baaaaa….”

But I’ll bet he never was.

* * * * * * *


Workshop Report

Hi Folks,

Because many of you still haven’t made the switch to my Daily Journal, I decided to post this over here as well. This is for you, not me.

Workshop Report

I finally watched and listened to the Week 1 videos from Dean Wesley Smith’s Teams in Fiction workshop at about 6:30 last night. I expected them to be bland and boring in the first week. Nature of the beast.

In the first week, because a lot of beginning writers take these workshops too, DWS often talks down or very carefully explains things I already know. That’s fine. I understand, and for that reason, my expectations generally are low for the first week of videos.

The fun thing is, I took a TON of notes on Video 2 of Week 1. Much of it was realization rather than learning, and that’s fine. By “realization” I mean I realized (with a sense of relief) some things that I was already doing and learned why I was doing them. So that was good. I also learned a few things I had never thought about. So total win on Week 1.

These workshops really are invaluable if you want to improve your craft. As a disclaimer, I get nothing from referring writers to the workshops. I pass along this stuff only because Dean’s workshops really are islands of real value in an ocean of misinformation and scams.

I taken many of his workshops, classic workshops and lectures. If you have questions about any of them, please feel free to ask me (link at the bottom). I’ll answer honestly.

Of Interest

Dean’s topic today is Follow the Yellow Brick Road, a metaphor for indie publishing. Check it out.

Also of interest, he noted today that his Ideas to Story workshop has NOBODY in it (at the link above, scroll down just a bit to Online Workshops Starting). If you want one-on-one attention, this is the workshop to take. It’s also a GREAT workshop. I’m a seasoned writer, yet I took it a short while back. And it contained SO much more than I expected. Highly recommended.

If you want to take this workshop, email and ask. Today is supposed to be the last day. Feel free to tell him I sent you. Not that I have any influence, but it might help convince him to let you sign up a little late.

That’s it for this time. As I wrote in a previous post, I’ll toss in something over here from time to time, but the really informative stuff is over at my Daily Journal. Just click the Subscribe link at the top of the page over there. Or email me at and I’ll be happy to sign you up myself.



Despidiéndose (Saying Goodbye)

Saying Goodbye 150aWestern Z Crowley gripped the sides of the podium so hard his knuckles turned white. In his left hand, between his fingers and that side of the podium, he clenched the brim of his hat. The scent of dozens of freshly cut flowers wafted up to him.

The sanctuary was warm. Always before, it had seemed cool to him, an effect of the three-foot thick adobe walls. Especially when he first came in from the blazing heat outside.

Probably now the heat was  from the assembled audience. It couldn’t be from the candle sconces on the walls. Though there also were hundreds of small lighted candles that seemed to hover below the front of the podium on the dais. Maybe that was it.

With his right hand he took a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his dress jacket and dabbed at his forehead as he looked out over the assembly. There must be a two, three hundred people out there. And more in the street beyond. Quite the tribute.

He stuffed the handkerchief back into his breast pocket as he gathered his thoughts. Of everything he had done in his life, this was the one thing he absolutely wanted to get right.

He returned his attention to the assembly.

In the back pew of the sanctuary on the right side, there was Abregón Reyes, the son of the alcalde and the seasoned marshal of Agua Perlado. Seated next to him was his young wife, Sylvia. Next to her were two of the marshal’s deputies, Juan Carillo and Ignacio Herrerra. Next to them were the marshals and their wives, respectively, of Caleta Escondida and Rio Ondulado to the southeast, and Bahia Pacifica to the northwest.

Wes met Abregón’s gaze and nodded almost imperceptibly.

Another of Reyes’ deputies had remained at the office to deal with whatever came up. Another was posted outside, as requested by the marshal himself.

Jorge-Luís Garcia, the alcalde of Agua Perlado, was in that pew as well, then his wife. Next to her was the governor’s wife, then Gobernador Rodolfo “Rudy” Saenz and his wife. The governor had first met Wes when he joined the Texas Rangers as a young man some thirty years earlier.

The wife and daughter of the president of Mexico sat to the other side of the governor’s wife. The president himself had sent his condolences and regrets along with them. “If this had been at any other time,” his wife had said yesterday, “he would have been here.”

Wes had nodded and forced a smile.

If it had been at any other time, it might not have been at all. He might have been around to stop it. As it was, when the attack came he was at the headquarters of Los Guerreros del Estado de Guerrero­­—The Guerrero Rangers—on land donated by Roberto Carillo of the Tres Cruces ranch. But he said, “Entiendo, y gracias. I understand, and thank you.”

Across the aisle was Taylor “Tug” O’Reilly, the captain of Los Guerreros. He was accompanied by his wife and two sons. Beside Tug’s younger son sat Sergeant Iván Gutierrez of Los Guerreros. The rest of that pew, the pew in front of it, and the one back across the aisle to the right held the corporals from the four districts, their wives and some children, and several other Guerreros.

Wes himself had trained many of those men, including the governor. And most of them, at one time or another, had known the hospitality of Wes’ home and of his beautiful wife and friend, Coralín.

He scanned forward from there, then back across the sanctuary, nodding occasionally. There were the owner of the livery stable, José Salinas, and his wife. José was one of the first people Wes had met when he came to Agua Perlado all those years ago. Next to his wife were their three sons and two daughters, then Rodolfo Flores, the owner of the local general store, and his family.

Of course, Juan-Carlos Sepulveda, the proprietor of the Agua Perlado Cantina and keeper of the tales, was in attendance with his wife, Josefina.

Everyone was here, it seemed. Probably all the houses in the town were empty.

There were sailors from the three fishing fleets.

Vaqueros from the two major nearby ranches.

The bartender and proprietor of the Vaqueros Cantina southeast of town and the Fisherman’s Wharf Cantina on the bay, along with their wives and families.

It was almost overwhelming.

He intentionally avoided looking at the first two rows of pews. His extended family was gathered there. In the center of the front row were his children. Next to Marisol was Wes’ brother-in-law, Miguel, his two boys and his daughter, then his wife, Carmen. Next to her was Wes’ sister-in-law, Maria Elena, and her special friend.

He looked again at his children. Miguel would be twenty-one on his next birthday. Marisol Elena had recently turned nineteen.

And Wes had failed them.

He could never make it right, but last night he had determined to begin at least making amends.

He glanced down at the podium and remembered.

Last night, after the rest of the family was situated and settled in the various rooms of the main house, Wes had asked his children to join him on the back porch.

They had, and he had hugged them as if he never wanted to let them go.

It was only natural, having just lost his wife, to want to be closer to his children.

But when they were all seated, he said, “I called you out here to say goodbye.” He held up one hand. “With a promise to return if I can.”

Marisol Elena said, “But why, Papá? Where will you go?”

Miguel kept his silence. His elbows on the arms of his chair, he moved his index finger back and forth across his lips as he looked at his father.

“Well, I have a job to do, Marisol.”

She frowned. “But what job? What job could be more important than being here with us?”

“It’s something I have to do for your mother.” He paused and looked down for a moment, then looked at her again. He nodded. “And for myself. I have to ride after those who did this.”


“Now Marisol, this is something I have to do. It’s who I am. Or used to be. Or maybe it’s what I am. I guess the jury’s still out on all that, but it’s what I have to do.”

“But the law will—”

“I’m sorry, honey. I really am. But the law won’t do anything. Now I know those men, most of ‘em. They know how to avoid trouble, blend in. The law they have nowadays— They’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of those men. And if they do they won’t know it.”

“But Los Guerreros—”

“I don’t want to involve my friends in what I have to do. There’s no way those men are gonna be brought to justice, so I aim to bring justice to them.”

Miguel stood. Quietly, he said, “I will ride with you, Papá.” His jaw was set, his lips a thin line.

Wes looked at him. “Miguel, I appreciate that, but you have school.” He looked back at Marisol. “You both do. Things here settle down, you go on back to the university and continue your studies. Your mama wanted that for you.”

Miguel said, “But I can drop it for now and pick it up again when we return. It makes no difference whether I finish in six months or in twelve. I promise, Papá, I will—”

Wes shook his head. “No. I’m sorry, but no.” He hesitated as he looked at them. “You are my babies, and I love you both more than air. The only thing I loved more was your mother.” He paused. “But I need you to understand, right here, right now, all that’s left to us is to honor her memory. And you can best do that by finishing what you started.”

Marisol said, “But she is not gone forever, Papá. We will see her in Heaven again someday.”

Wes nodded. “Well, now that’s possible. It is. But for now, we have to honor her memory here on Earth, each in our own way. At least the best we can. Do you remember what she used to say all the time?” A smile curled one corner of his mouth as the memory of her words warmed his heart. “She said it’s always better to be who you are than to try to be someone else. Remember?”

They both nodded.

“Now your mama wanted big things for you, and you deserve them. But that’s something you both have to do for yourselves.”

He looked at his daughter. She was so much like her mother, with the same light-coral skin, the same fine features and the same fiery spirit. “Marisol, you must continue your schooling. You’ll make a fine doctor someday. Besides, I’ve heard rumors of a young man.”

He grinned and nodded. “I hope that works out for you. I know you’ll make your choices wisely. And I plan to be back to see for myself. And don’t let bein’ a doctor get in the way of makin’ me a passel of grandbabies.”

She flushed a beautiful pink hue.

He turned to Miguel. “And Miguel, the one thing your mother didn’t want was for you to follow in my boots.” He laughed lightly, then shook his head. Quietly he said, “And honestly, I can’t say I blame her. My life was pretty rough and rugged. I was kind’a scattered in pieces until I met your beautiful mother.

“No, both of you go on and finish school. We all have our jobs to do, and right now that’s your job. Make your mother and me proud. Understand?”

They both nodded.

Miguel said, “We will, Papá.”

Marisol said, “Sí, Papá.”

“All right. Now I’m lettin’ you in on my plan. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t slip it past you anyway.

“Tomorrow morning, in the church, I’ll tell your mother goodbye. But then I’m gonna head out.”

Marisol’s eyes grew wide. “You won’t come back to the house first? But all the people! They will—”

Wes could almost hear Coralín saying, “Husband, what are you thinking?” He couldn’t help but smile. Then he shook his head. “No. No, I’m gonna leave straight from there. To be honest, I don’t think I could take all the well wishers and all that.

“Now I’ve told only one other person about all this.”

Miguel said, “Juan-Carlos Sepulveda.”

Wes looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “Reckon you’re a little more like me than your mama would have liked.” Then he grinned. “But I need you to do something for me, if you really want to help.”

Marisol said, “Anything, Papá.” Tears seeped from her eyes.

Wes leaned forward and wiped them from her cheeks with his thumbs. “None’a that, now. Save that for tomorrow. Next few days, I figure you’re gonna need those plus a whole lot more.”

He leaned back again. “Thing is, when I finish my speech and say goodbye to your mama, I’m gonna head up the aisle. An’ when he sees that I’m leavin’, your Uncle Miguel might try to come after me. So if he flinches, whichever one of you’s the closest, put your hand on his forearm and shake your head. He’ll understand. Okay?”

Marisol nodded. “Yes, Papá.”

Miguel said, “Yes, Papá.

Wes nodded, then stood. “All right. Now both of you, get to bed and try to get some sleep. Your mama would’a wanted that too. I’ve got some things to do, but I’m not goin’ anywhere yet an’ I’ll see you in the morning. I give you my word.”

And he had seen them the following morning. They had managed a quiet breakfast by themselves. Then Miguel and Marisol had ridden with their Uncle Miguel and his family in a buggy as Wes rode alongside on his horse, Vuelo.

Now they were all here in the sanctuary and he was at the podium.

All that remained was to get through his speech. It was the most difficult thing he had ever been called upon to do.

Still looking down at the podium, he cleared his throat, then again, hard. When he looked up, he quickly scanned the assembled friends again. Good people. They deserved better than to have murdering scum come and disrupt their town.

Was it all right to have these kind of thoughts in a church?

Coralín would know. But she was beyond being able to tell him.

Years ago, her older sister Marisol had visited him from beyond the grave on more than one occasion.

But Wes dared not hope for such good fortune now with Coralín. Wishing for something was a sure way to guarantee it would never happen.

Well, probably it would be better to get it over with. Let these good people go about their business and he could go about his.

As he glanced over the crowd again he nodded at a few faces he recognized. Then he looked over their heads and focused on the heavy double doors set in the whitewashed adobe wall.

Someone, maybe the priest, had told him that was a sure way to avoid an excessive display of emotion.

But the doors were of a dark, rich wood. Mahogany maybe? He’d never looked at them closely. Not that he would know mahogany from oak unless he happened to overhear someone talking about them.

He shook his head.

All silly thoughts. And they didn’t matter anyway except to delay the inevitable. Besides, he didn’t want to look at the doors. They reminded him too much of the beautiful, dark cherry coffin in front of the dais. Just as the gentle scent of the flowers reminded him too much of the gentle soul inside the coffin.

Coralín had seen a similar coffin at someone else’s funeral. She said that’s what she wanted. Dark cherry. It was beautiful, she said.

He wished more than anything she could be in the audience looking at this one. She hadn’t ever ought’a seen the inside this soon. Not by half.

He quickly averted his gaze to the right of the doors, focusing instead on the interior of the adobe walls. The candle sconce on that side was flickering. Was that a sign of something? Coralín would know.

He sighed and shook his head. He renewed his steel grip on the podium and felt the brim of his hat in his left hand. Coralín wouldn’t like that at all, that he was carrying his hat inside the sanctuary. And all the way to the podium. Of course, she could never imagine him standing here anyway.

Neither could he.

Well, it was what it was, that’s all. And he had to do the best he could. Quietly he said, “I don’t know you well, but Coralín did. I don’t like askin’ favors, now. Ain’t who I am. But— well, for her sake. For her sake, out of everything I’ve done— God, please let me get this one thing right.” He set his jaw, then bowed his head and nodded. Then he looked up.

Nobody seemed to have noticed his aside.

He focused again on the flickering candle sconce on the back wall, then took a breath. “Amigos y compañeros, gracias por venir. Friends and companions, thank you for coming. Estoy abrumado por su generosidad. I am overwhelmed by your generosity.”

He swept his right arm over the crowd. “Usted— Usted abrumarme. You overwhelm me. Mi Coralín—” His voice caught in his throat for a moment.

He looked down and cleared his throat again, then looked up and said, “Mi Coralín siempre decía que mi español no era bueno. My Coralín always said my Spanish was no good.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

Light laughter rippled through the assembly.

“Así que voy a tratar de no descuartizar demasiado. So I’ll try not to butcher it too much.”

Again, laughter tittered through the sanctuary.

Wes looked down again for a moment to gather himself.

Then he looked up again. “Voy a ser breve, porque tengo un trabajo que hacer. I will be brief, for I have a job to do.” Again he cleared his throat.

“Mi Coralín era el amor de mi vida. Mi corazón. My Coralín is the love of my life. My heart.

“Ella me enseñó a soñar. She taught me to dream. Y siempre mirar el horizonte. And to always watch the horizon. Para ver cosas nuevas y hermosas. To watch for new and wonderful things.

“Ella me enseñó que la magia es real. She taught me that magic is real. Y que lo que parece real es a menudo no tiene importancia en absoluto. And that what seems real is often of no importance at all.

“Pero más que nada, ella me enseñó— But more than anything else, she taught me— Que siempre es mejor ser lo que eres, que tratar de ser otra persona. It’s always better to be who you are, than to try to be someone else.”

He shifted his gaze to the front pew, to his son and daughter. Quietly, he said, “Recuerde que siempre,  a mis hijos. No olvides nunca. Always remember that, my children. Never forget.”

Then he looked out over the audience again. “Así que mañana por la mañana, dejo de hacer mi trabajo. So tomorrow morning, I leave to do my job. Para ser quien soy. To be who I am.

“Espero volver algún día cuando haya terminado mi trabajo. I hope to come back someday when my job is finished.

“Pero si no lo hago, por favor sepa. But if I don’t, please know. Usted y el pueblo de Agua Perlado será siempre mi casa. You and the village of Agua Perlado will always be my home.

“Usted siempre tendrá un lugar solitario en mi corazón. You always will hold a solitary place in my heart.”

He paused and nodded, then glanced back and to his right at the priest. He said, “Well,” then nodded again. Then he released the podium, turned to his left and crossed the dais, then descended the stairs.

He walked to the center of the front pew as everyone expected.

But instead of taking a seat, he stopped. He crouched and caressed Marisol on the cheek, then did the same to Miguel. Then he nodded slightly, straightened and turned away.

He approached the coffin. His hands folded before him at his waist, he looked for a moment at his beloved wife. Then as if he remembered, he whipped his left hand, still holding his hat, behind his back.

He bent to kiss her gently on the forehead, then stroked her hair gently with his right hand. He whispered, “No puedo hacer esto bien, mi Coralín. I can’t make this right, my Coralín. Pero como Dios es mi testigo, me vengaré. But as god is my witness, I will avenge you.”

Then he straightened, turned and strode quickly up the aisle to the double doors. He opened the right door.

The deputy was seated in a chair to the left, a Winchester carbine across his lap.

A crowd of at least two hundred men, women and children were gathered in the dusty street just off the porch. The men quickly removed their hats and gripped the hands of their women as they looked on sadly.

As the door swung open, the deputy quickly looked up. He frowned as he stood. “Capitan?”

But Wes didn’t look at him.

As the door closed behind him, he crossed the porch toward Vuelo. He had received the horse as a gift several years earlier from El Juez in Tres Caballos.

He freed the reins from the hitching rail, then mounted and carefully turned the horse around. As the crowd parted, he turned Vuelo northwest and headed out of town as if going home. But when he reached the road that turned off toward the sea and his hacienda, he didn’t vary his course.

His quarry was farther north.

He knew them all.

And he knew where to find them.

* * * * * * *

Note: This will also be one chapter from the forthcoming tenth novel in the Wes Crowley series. Get your free copy of the first novel in the series, The Rise of a Warrior.

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Hi Folks,

For several years, I’ve posted writing advice here either once a week or once every ten days. In all that time, I’ve seldom missed a day. I’ll continue to post here occasionally, but the time has come that I am going to cut it way back.

More and more often, I’m finding myself repeating in this blog something I recently posted to my Daily Journal. And actually, most of my nonfiction efforts go into that blog.

But it’s a well-kept secret thus far, with only around 30 subscribers. By comparison, this blog has around 500 subscribers. And most of them are missing the meaty, real-world writing advice I pass out over there almost every day.

If you enjoy the tips you find here, I recommend you Sign Up for my Daily Journal. It’s a double opt-in process, so after you click the link, you’ll receive an automated email. You have to click the link in it to sign up for the Journal.

As an alternative, I can add you to the list for the journal myself. Of course I won’t add you unless you ask me to. So if you’d rather do that, just email me and let me know. You can reach me directly at

To help you decide, here are a couple of recent articles from the Daily Journal.


Again it’s been brought to my attention that some people find word count somehow a less than honorable way to think about writing. So I’ll clarify briefly.

FOR ME (emphasis intentional) keeping track of the number of new words I put on the page is both a catalyst and a measurement of productivity. To explain, I’ll use a simple example.

Say two writers both meet their goal to write one new short story per week. So at the end of a year, both have written 52 short stories.

The problem is, “short story” isn’t a measure of quantity, though certainly “52 short stories” is.

But say one writer writes stories that consist of 2000 words or less. The other writes stories that fall between 3000 and 6000 words each.

Both can claim to have written 52 short stories in a year (an accomplishment) and both can claim a streak that’s lasted at least 52 weeks in a row (another accomplishment, and a huge one).

But the first writer has written 104,000 new words of fiction or less, whereas the other has written between 156,000 words at the minimim and 312,000 words at the most. So who is the more prolific writer?

Depends on whether you want to call “story” a measure of quantity. Either way, both have achieved something incredible. On the other hand, the second writer has gotten a LOT more practice.

And if you want to improve in your storytelling ability, you must practice.

Not to mention, if you’re a writer, you must write. Right? If you’re a mechanic, you fix stuff. If you’re a carpenter, you build stuff. If you’re a writer, you write.

I should also point out here that “story” and “writing” are different concepts.

Story is what you have in your mind, or what the characters bring to you. It’s what you run through with your characters if you’re fortunate enough to have learned to trust your subconscious.

Writing is the mechanical act of putting little black marks on a page in such a way that sometime later another person (the reader) will decipher them. When he does so, the same “story” that you enjoyed will be in his mind as well.

So whatever you choose to do, however you choose to touch benchmarks on your writing, I will continue to use cold, hard numbers. If for no other reason than because it’s more practical (FOR ME) to count mechanical words as a benchmark of how far I’ve come.

It’s also practical (again, FOR ME) to use numbers to set future benchmarks (goals) for where I want to be with putting little black marks on a page a month from now, two months from now, and a year from now.

And while I’m on that topic, here’s a related one.

Short Fiction and Streaks

Some of you will remember that at one time I had a streak going of writing at least one short story per week. I finally intentionally broke the streak (yes, intentionally… I’m just that stupid) at 70 weeks. I’ve been taking half-hearted shots at starting and maintaining a new streak ever since.

Partly as a result of that streak, at one time I had short stories lined up for the Short Story of the Week out as far as three months in advance.

I just realized this morning, it’s been awhile since I wrote one. But the ones I had queued up kept right on posting every week. And in fact, the last short story I wrote posted last Monday (May 23).

Yet my readers expect a free short story every week. So I’m thinkin’, maybe I’d better get hot.

So I’m starting a new personal challenge to write at least one short story every week. And of course, that’s in addition to this blog, novels, etc.

Just to challenge myself a little more, I waited until after the last story posted to write a new one. Just to make it a true week. But from here on, for at least awhile, I’ll HAVE to write at least one new short story every week just so I’ll have something to post.

Plus a lot of Donors have gone awhile, patiently, without anything new from me. Thank you all. I’ll be getting some new stuff to you soon.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


Writers’ Resources

Hi Folks,

Every now and then I offer a post about writers’ resources. Most of the ones I use are in the left sidebar on my website. I add to them often, and I change one every now and then. So it’s a good idea to check them out from time to time to see what’s new.

Awhile back I added a Readers’ Resources section too. The Writers’ Resources are below that.

Also, Dean Wesley Smith, on his website, is now offering his Originality workshop free of charge. (It used to cost $300.) To access it, simply visit his site, click on the You Tube Videos tab near the top of the page, and then click on the Originality workshop dropdown list.

Each week contains five or six videos, and each video is around five to ten minutes long.

He also is starting a new online workshop titled Teams in Fiction. I signed up for this one as soon as he listed it. If you’re serious about your writing career, I strongly recommend this investment.

You can find information on this and other online workshops at the same website under the Online Workshops tab. I also recommend many of his Classic workshops (downgraded to $150) and his lectures (most are $50).

Finally, I recommend signing up for my own Daily Journal. I offer a great deal more writing advice there than I ever will on this website, plus links to items of interest to writers.

To visit the Journal, click To sign up for a free subscription, click The Daily Journal in the right side of the header on that website or on this one.

That’s it for today. Until next time, happy writing.


Update to Brave New World of Publishing

Hi Folks,

This morning as I emailed a friend, I had occasion to revisit an old blog post, one I wrote here back in October, 2015. The information in it bears repeating, especially in light of recent posts over at Dean Wesley Smith’s website. I recommend you read my older blog post before continuing with this one, even if you think you remember everything about it. To do so, click Brave New World of Publishing.

After that, to read one of the more important posts to come along in awhile in the way of advice for writers from a guy who’s been doing it successfully for decades, read Dean’s Blaming the Reader (for no sales).

His post includes a list of reasons your books don’t sell even a few copies. It was so good I copied/pasted it into a Word document, mostly so I could re-read it in the future and also to share it with others.

But back to this post. This is an update on the information I shared in the October 17, 2015 post.

First, I no longer use Pronoun. They don’t allow the author to select the venues to which they distribute the author’s work. For me, that’s a deal killer.

As for XinXii I have sold one copy of one short story collection through them (as far as I can tell) for a grand total royalty of $1.10. That’s in well over a year. So I’m not pushing them anymore either. Then again, $1.10 is a minuscule price to pay for a lesson.

I also had some problems interfacing with OmniLit’s website (they’re also All Romance Ebooks). I found the website clunky at best and unresponsive at times. Soon I decided the few sales I might get through them wasn’t worth the hassle. But that might have just been me. I recommend you check them for yourself, especially if you write romance or erotica.

So today, my titles are distributed through Amazon, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and through direct sales at StoneThread Publishing.

Yes, Amazon remains the biggest seller.

Draft2Digital remains by far the easiest distribution venue to use, and they pay fair royalties.

I still despise Smashwords’ extremely clunky interface. If you have only a few titles to manage, it isn’t a big deal and it isn’t bad. But if you But with 200 titles in my account, using the channel manager or anything else is a nightmare. Still, the number of big-deal sales venues they offer makes the aggravation acceptable.

Back in the Iron Age (2011) I didn’t mind the clunkiness at Smashwords so much. It was pretty much state of the art. But today, all you have to do is compare the submission process at Smashwords with D2D to see what I mean. If D2D had the venues Smashwords has, I’d drop the latter in a heartbeat.

I haven’t mentioned CreateSpace. They are by far the best choice for do-it-yourself print production and distribution. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you’ll need to look around and select a print-layout and cover design service. Because loyalty and honesty are important to me, I cannot in good conscience recommend any service in particular.

If anyone out there knows of any that you recommend or if you do your own layout and spine and back cover AND ENJOY IT, please let me know.

Of course, if you aren’t writing and producing new work, none of the above matters in the slightest. Ahem.

That’s it for this time. ‘Til next time, keep writing.