March 29, 2010

WHEN A NOVEL READS LIKE A MEMOIR


By Stephen Bly
Copyright©2010
                  The Matador Hotel died on July 5th, 1965, 
but they didn’t bother burying it until last fall. 
   from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon

The plot for Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon developed like homemade stew in a crockpot. A slow simmer. Then, the image of the 1950s kitchen filled with sweet aromas and sights and sounds. Hours later all the parts seemed ready.

The story grew out of fond memories from my childhood. What makes it real personal is that I was 10-years-old in 1954, just like the narrator. And I did hear numerous accounts about the “old days.” At that time, Johnny Appleseed was a legendary hero. I learned about him at the knee of my Indiana grandma. She figured anyone who dedicated himself to planting apple trees must be a good guy.

          I often get asked where I grew up. Readers of my westerns suppose I was born and raised in some rough and tumble part of the west amid gunfights and wild adventures. Well, they’re somewhat right. Home for me was a ranch north of Visalia, California, in the great San Joaquin Valley.

          “That doesn’t sound like the wild west,” they say.
          They’re wrong. From Joaquin Murietta to the Dalton Brothers, Visalia Saddles to the Miller and Lux Ranch. . .that valley’s filled with western history. One of my favorite tales involved the gunfight and capture of Sontag and Evans at Stone Corral, a few miles down the road from our home.
           
Cribbage and cowboys. . .I figured I fit right in.
from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon

It seems quite natural for me to write about a grandpa and the game of cribbage. My grandpa taught me to play when I was 4-years-old. I played him once or twice a week until he died when I turned 15. In the book Pop’s name is Theodore and his wife is Katie, same as my grandparents.

Talk slow and think deep. It’s part of the Code of the West. Some scoff at the notion of an unwritten set of rules that honest men lived by. Politically correct history books deny the Code’s existence. Those authors and professors didn’t grow up in the West. I remember in the mid-1980s standing at the graveside of my uncle. At the time, his place encompassed around 14,000 acres. As I looked down at the coffin of my Uncle Buster, an old-timer slid up beside me. “He was a good man, son. He lived by the Code.”

There’s a quiet buzz from antique ceiling fans, like six thousand crickets,
all out of tune. You don’t even notice, until there’s silence.
                    from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon


          Woolworth’s department stores provided lots of pleasure for kids like me. Like a Dollar Store, they included a soda fountain lunch counter, better merchandise, and a friendly clerk behind every counter. By 2001 the company focused on sporting goods and changed its name to Foot Locker Inc. A classic example of a company that adapted to the market needs.

          In today’s consumer shopping mall world, it’s hard for some to envision the incredible thrill of merchandise-packed Five & Dimes. I couldn’t believe so many products existed. I’m not sure kids today can experience anything near that excitement. A $.49 badge? That’s what Little Brother, the 10-year-old narrator, gets. A little spendy for 1954. I remember getting a 25-cent a week allowance, provided I did all my chores, in a time when $1.00 per hour provided a decent wage.
 
My bedroom teemed with White Owl cigar boxes, my granddad’s favorite cigar. He didn’t smoke them much; mainly he chewed them. And because I lived across the road from him, I got many of his boxes. Lots of childhood treasures can be stored in a cigar box.


Folks today think that 1954 existed in some other galaxy,
on some other planet. Maybe they’re right. 
It’s hard to believe that world and this one are made 
of the same stuff.   
    from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon

          I can’t tell you about television in 1954. We didn’t have one yet. Didn’t matter. Didn’t need one. When I came home from school, I did chores or played outside until dark and Mom made me come indoors. Now, that does sound like a century ago.

           I did not know cowboys named Quirt, Bronc, Thad, Shorty, Coosie or Pop. But I knew men much like them. In fact, most folks called my Grandpa Wilson “Pop.” I once met an old-timer in Magdalena, New Mexico, who had been a sheriff in the 1930s. He still packed a pistol and watched the door, just in case someone he sent to prison got out and scouted him for revenge. I based my character, Quirt Payton, on him.

          All the aged cowboys I ever met wore long-sleeved shirts, usually some faded  shade of white, with the collar buttoned. This kept the dirt out when he rode down the trail or behind a herd of slow moving cows. Also, an old beat-up Stetson and yellowed cigarettes stained their fingers.

I don’t suppose the current generation has ever ridden in the open trunk of a car, nor let the air down in the tires to drive down a railroad track (and they call skateboarding an extreme sport). At one point, the six cowboys in the novel, plus Miss Diane Anderson, and the boy narrator, pile into a ’49 Plymouth, without seatbelts. I could have been the poster child for the need of such safety devices. I fell out of my parents’ car, going about 55 miles per hour, in 1949. I spent 10 days in the hospital nursing a major concussion.

At least one of the stories happened to me. In 1994, in Telluride, I was told by the hotel clerk I couldn’t get a room. He intimated I wasn’t their kind. My gruffy appearance after a week’s research in the wilds didn’t impress them. So, I drove all the way to Cortez for a room, arriving about midnight. To say I was ticked is an understatement.

It’s like I’m right there in the room with these old-timers. Some of these scenes I do recall first-hand. I remember going to see a friend of my grandfather’s at a 4-story hotel in central California in the mid-1950s. His room was carpeted with out-dated newspapers that he hadn’t got around to reading yet. Such images last forever.

My favorite things to do when the weather threatens and I can’t play golf: oil the saddles, clean the Winchesters, or write a novel about the Old West.
In Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon I discover that maybe I wasn’t born 100 years too late.




















Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon 
(hardback, Center Point): 
Coming June 2010. 
Available by pre-order through http://www.amazon.com/ 

Check out Stephen & Janet's new blog:         http://www.BlyBooks.blogspot.com



Clink on 'comments' below and post a note by April 3rd. . .you'll be entered in drawing to win free copy of Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, upon release.
 

23 comments:

Trinity Rose said...

Greetings,
Would love to be entered in this drawing. It would be a great book to add to my collection.
Thanks and blessings,
Trinity Rose

wandaelaine[at]gmail[dot]com

Virginia C said...

Hello, Stephen! Your wonderfully reminiscent post makes me yearn to read "Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon". I was born in 1958, but I have very special memories passed along from each generation of my family. My Paw Paw loved Westerns, and I was a "Paw Paw's girl". My whole family loved watching Western TV shows and movies. The most important thing was that we watched them together. Those are golden days : )

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Joel said...

I can't wait to read this; it promises to be wonderful, as are all of Stephen's books. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks, Joel

afriend said...

Please enter me in the drawing. I love all of Steven's books. I grew up in the cowboy world also and still love all things westerns. When my "Gunk" told me I would do to ride the river with I was never more proud. He was my hero and I still miss him.

Pam

Lizzie said...

This book sounds great! Just like all the other Stephen Bly books. Would love to add this book to my collection!!!!!!!!!!!

mrscollins7905 said...

I love the way your books bring these people to life. I have always been saddened that I didnt get to see more of that growing up. Both my grandpas were cowboys and I wish I had been able to be with them more during that time. thanks for your stories they never fail to make me smile :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,
I will get your book I ordered this week---"The General's Notorious Widow". Thanks for directing me to this blog site. I am painting a watercolor with a cowboy in the desert right now. I love the Old West! Please enter me in your drawing! God Bless, Marilu Mann

Marilu Mann said...

Hi Stephen,
I just ordered "The General's Notorious Widow" and will get it this week. I love the old west and am painting a western with a cowboy on horseback in the desert. Please enter me in your drawing. God Bless and thank you,
Marilu Mann

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read this new one. Love the "real" memories that you shared. It gives such life to the story. Please enter me for the drawing.
Michelle
darmi@sdplains.com

Tina Dee Books said...

What a neat post! I loved it!

I remember Woolworth's, although, I don't remember the fountain lunch counter, my dad tells me it was there and my mom still talks about a sandwich she had there over a quarter century ago.

And I played with my dad's old cigar boxes, always a certain brand, but I don't remember what that was--in fact, I'd forgotten about those cigar boxes until I read about those in your post.

Thanks for the memories. If I'm ever in your neighborhood on a rainy day, I'm stopping in on you & Miss Janet. I'll help oil saddles, better yet, I'll help clean the Winchesters!

Thanks for a fun post! Looks like a WONDERFUL book!

Marilu Mann said...

March 29, 2010 at 11:42pm
Subject: Drawing for "Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon" (from Facebook)
Hi Stephen & Janet,
I wanted to send a msg for the drawing of the book---but I got popup msg about security. I just ordered the book--"The General's Notorious Widow"! Right now, I am doing a watercolor of a cowboy on horseback in the desert---mountains and saguaros, too. Please add me to the drawing if you want. Thanks and GBU, Marilu Mann

Stephen Bly said...

Thanks to you all for your comments. . .greatly appreciated! We'll pick a winner Saturday, so still time for your friends & family to enter the drawing.
On the trail,
Steve

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Stephen,
I didn't write an article this month. Check me out next month. But your article sure brought back memories.
One of my ancestors was a Dalton, and my grandfather always said that we were kin to those outlaws. Hope not. But because of the surname, Granddaddy got to see the Dalton movie at the local "Picture Show" for free.
Love,
Molly
www.mollynoblebull.com

dolatido said...

I remember Woolworths well from my childhood in Albuquerque. I was surprised to learn they had become Foot Locker. What a difference!

Stephen Bly said...

Molly: Very interesting family account. . .thanks for the note!

Brenda said...

Would love to read this book!
dancealert at aol dot com

Wendy said...

I love Stephen's books!

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Stephen,
I forgot to mention that I want a chance to win a free book, too.
Love,
Molly
www.mollynoblebull.com

Danie Mare said...

Great post Stephen, you really drew me in. I'd love to take part in your drawing. I'm a novelist and just got home from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference yesterday. I peaked the interest of a few, so I'm hopeful. My novel is contemporary women's fiction, but I love antiques and stories from the past. Perhaps you'll peak my interest in writing historical fiction... :)

Mark said...

sounds great, I'd like to enter
marcus802001(at)yahoo(dot)com

Jules said...

Looking forward to reading your new book. Even if I don't win I'll find it somewhere!

Stephen Bly said...

We just drew the winner for a copy of my June 2010 release: Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon. It's Virginia C. Congratulations! E-mail us your snail mail address and we'll send it to you as soon as our first books arrive.

Meanwhile, for the rest of you. . .we'll be featuring a number of other drawings in the months to come. So, stay tuned. You still have a chance to get this book into your shelves. Let us know if you want to receive notices about these ops.

Virginia C said...

Thank you so much! I am very much looking forward to a wonderful read!