My Work

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fire in the Mountains, Run Boys, Run

That was a pretty good little scare we had on Friday. A wildfire burning across a mountainside close enough that some of our neighbors were put on alert to evacuate the premises. Black smoke billowed from burning brush and piñon pine, cedar, and sage. Controlling anxiety, panic, is most important in a situation like this, and most difficult.

Were we ready? Patty and I have discussed what to do in the event of a wildfire forcing us out. If it were just us, it would sure as hell be easier. Grab the laptops, some documents, a change of clothes, jump in the truck, and go. We have two horses, a dozen or more rabbits, and eight chickens. And one overweight, elderly dog.

Those little problems weren’t enough for us to contemplate yesterday. Our truck was in the hospital and we didn’t have access to it. This was our wake-up call. Our so-called battle plan just went the way of Dunkirk. It wasn’t a battle plan any longer, and it has forced us to seriously face reality.

We know we can’t bring the rabbits and chickens to safety. Maybe a few, but the rest will have to be set free and hope they can survive. Our horses must be brought out. The plan has been altered and over the next few weeks we will hone it down to a workable battle plan.

What goes? What stays? Prepare a kit that can go in the truck, if it’s available, and in either saddlebags or back packs if it’s not. If the truck’s available, Patty takes the most important stuff, what few rabbits and chickens we can get in cages, the dog, and flees. I take bare necessities, ride Poco and pony Sundance, and ride for safety.

If no truck, we each ride for safety with saddlebags and back packs full of most important stuff.

As far as safety goes, being on the horses will be far safer than moving with traffic trying to flee the conflagration.  We can go cross country and they can’t, we won’t be caught up in road rage problems, and you know they will exist, and we can base our direction on what the fire and wind is telling us, not just where pavement has been laid.

It’s the being ready that’s most important right now, because we discovered the stark truth that we were not ready Friday. The fire was almost close enough to feel, fire retardant had been laid behind homes that were close enough to be seen easily. Sheriff’s deputies were telling those people to pack it up. And we weren’t ready.

If there’s a next time, and living in northern Nevada you can bet there will be a next time, we will be ready.  Fire moves fast, has no friends, no will of it’s own. Que sera sera.

To everyone who offered help and good thoughts, thank you, thank you. We’re safe and out of harm’s way, this time.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Score One or a Score

It was in the Viking era that one of today’s less used words or terms came into existence. At the time, it would have been considered most useful. They spelled it skor and we spell it score. It meant to make a mark, that is score or scratch a mark, maybe on a piece of wood, a stone, or something that would be kept. That mark or skor, represented twenty.

So, if you were running cattle in Iceland you would hold a stick in one hand and your knife in the other and as the cattle came through the gate you would make one mark on that stick for every twenty that moved through. We hold little clickers in our hands today and are not any more accurate than the Norseman in 823 AD counting his cattle or sheep or pigs.

In the 1800s, a twenty dollar gold piece was also called a score. To ‘score’ meant you came into possession of twenty bucks by some means or another. Of course ‘to score’ today has an entirely different meaning and may cost you far more than twenty bucks.

Words and how we use them are not set in stone. Trying to read Olde English makes that point understood. Even trying to read the relatively later English spoken by those living at the time of the American Revolution, can be difficult. It is also sadly ironic that many today with a limited knowledge of the language condemn immigrants for not speaking perfect English upon arriving on our shores.

A writer attempting to write in the vernacular of a specific area or era can find nothing but alligators and crocodiles waiting to pounce. If one lives in the hills of West Virginia and tries to write as those living there speak, it should work out fine. If one lives in northern Nevada, has never been to the hills of West Virginia or even known someone from there, it is best not to try to write in the vernacular. You would not score a victory.

Our language changes constantly, generation to generation. In 1870 someone having a gay time means something vastly different than today’s gay time. When reading the Dime Novels of the 1800s one will often find phrases and words that don’t seem to make sense and it takes a little getting used to finding them. It’s like reading Shakespeare for the first time. What am I reading? What does that mean?

Jump now to the year 2210 and picture yourself with a reading instrument of some kind and you’re reading a Ralph Cotton western. Fugm, fugm all, he said, and you say, What? I think it’s time for me to try to score a cold beer. Or a score.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Of Fear and Despair

This is the time of year that is filled with hope and fear of despair. That may not seem likely unless you, too are one who plants a garden each year. You wait, just as the seed package advises, until the last frost before planting, but that is an unknown time in these parts. It could be the end of April, the middle of May, or even the first week or so of June. There’s the despair.

The ground is worked, the rotted manure is spread and tilled in, seeds are ready, and the forecasts change daily. Rows are plotted out, maps are drawn, and the only thing missing is that last frost. When will we feel safe? Tomorrow? Next week? Next month?

Pity the farmer who doesn’t have an out. No, not a greenhouse, but something that takes up the time that would be spent working in that beautiful garden, filled with green and yellow and red things that taste good and are good for you. In my case, I’m lucky to be a writer. I pound on this keyboard until my fingertips ache. I learned to type way back in the fifties on an ancient Royal. I don’t have the foggiest idea how someone can type with finger’s pads. One must pound those keys, with emphasis, using fingertips.

No one typing before the advent of electric machines and now computers had elegantly styled fingernails. They wouldn’t last through the morning’s memos. When spring arrives, I spend the first two or three hours in the office, say from 5:30 to about 8:30, writing the next great American novel, but unlike the winter or mid summer, at scene breaks or chapter breaks, I’m running outside moving the water, chasing those pesky cottontails, or shooing off the ravens.

The seeds are in, I have trust in NOA, that is, the weather bureau, and we’ve had our last frost. But have we? The furrows are geometric designs for the ages, the water system covers everything, and now, the sprouts are emerging.

No! What do you mean cold front arriving overnight? No! I just spread the last of the straw for the chickens. I wouldn’t need it for the garden. The last frost, remember?

Come morning and the thermometer reads 41, not 31. Whew. Write two chapters and at sunrise walk through the garden, searching for that frost burned squash leaf, and can’t find one. Back to book three in the Ezekiel’s Journey series, a smile, not a frown, and the garden is safe for one more night.

The sprouts take form, get strong, grow toward the sun, the corn will be thigh high on the Fourth of July, and the cucumbers and melons will mature, beans will grow long and sweet, and pea pods will fill nicely. Spring is finally over, the garden made it one more time, but I’m not sure about my id.

The garden is green and orange and yellow and red, Ezekiel’s Journey book three now has more than 20,000 words and a new character, Terrence Corcoran is born and his first book has about 5,000 words pounded into its manuscript. In the summer, it’s a case of doing the proper amount of watering, getting down on your hands and knees ripping those blasted weeds from their homes, and picking what’s ripe for tonight’s meal.

The words flow, the garden grows, and there is no fear of Jack Frost. Oh, spring, you tease and taunt, and from time to time you let me win. It’s a time of fear and despair, and at 5,000 feet above sea level in northern Nevada, sometimes, joy.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Friday, May 12, 2017

Big Eight-Wheeler is Steaming

I just barely got the engine to turn over and it’s already the most incredible ride I’ve ever even conceived. I think it would be safe to assume that anyone who gets a piece of work published has the words “best seller” dancing about in the head bone. But for it to really happen? That’s for the S. Kings of the world.

I’ve been living in the stratosphere of the publishing world for well over a month now and ranking results seem to get better each day. In addition to the two books leading the pack, my other westerns are getting a good look as well and their rankings are climbing daily.

It is Jack Slater, Orphan Train to Cattle Baron that got this big eight-wheeler steaming down the tracks. It climbed into the bestseller ranks as a YA novel and within days was accepted in the general western categories for adults and YA. My wife has a wonderful way of keeping me halfway grounded.

“Hey you,” she hollers from the back porch. “Yes, you, internationally acclaimed best selling author, it’s time to muck out the corrals. Get to it, cowboy.” With a square nose muck stick and a wheel barrow I know my place in the world. She’s my love for the rest of our lives. She even lets me wash the dishes. Often.

One month after Jack Slater hit the stacks and the best seller lists, Wolfpack Publishing released Ezekiel’s Journey, and within days it was in the bestseller lists at Amazon.

I was all set to put some magnetic signs on the old flatbed and drive around proclaiming this wonderful status I’m coming to enjoy when I got a little note, in cursive, thank you. Patty left it on my half-empty coffee cup. “Better get that tractor warmed up and get the corn patch ready, buster. Quit burnin’ daylight, cowboy.”

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Western Book is Alive and Well

I'm going to convert this from a standard blog to one in which I discuss writing, my writing, and promote others as well.
For instance, this is the cover of my latest novel. It is basically a YA, that is, young adult novel, but has been well received by adults as well. It is riding high on Amazon lists and has received two good reviews already.

Jack Slater became orphaned at ten when his parents were killed in a buggy crash. He wandered the streets of New York until a copper with a soft heart turned him over to the Children's Aid Society. They ran the orphan trains from the mid 1800s until well into the 1900s, finding homes for thousands of children with farming and ranching families living on the frontier.

Some have called this story hearwarming. Others have used the word uplifting. Jack has a unique outlook on life, doesn't understand the work quit, spends a great amount of time making friends. Be careful, he's just liable to grab your heart, too.
Jacob Chance, U.S. Marshal was my first published western novel and is close to my heart. He's always believed that he was a loner and then was sent to a little podunk of a village in Nevada to clean up a land fraud problem. Yup, this big old law-dog met a pretty girl and she roped him, dragged him to the fire and put her brand smack dab on him.

He did clean up the town, retired from the Marshal Service, took up a homestead and started to raise a family. Then his brother in law went outlaw.
Jacob Chance put the badge back in place and chased the man down. He visits many little communities spread across Nevada's high mountain desert. Blizzards, attempts on his life, and a lack of food tend to slow him down, but he continues the pursuit. Back in Preston, Nevada, there is chaos and Chance returns home in time to get in the middle of that also.
Take Out The Judge wraps up the Jacob Chance trilogy, and it's a humdinger. A Nevada Supreme Court Justice's life is on the line, the same judge that Chance has tremendous respect for, and in the middle of another fierce Nevada winter, he takes on some seriously dangerous, selfish, very rich people looking to take out the judge.

Coming soon, a three book series starting with Ezekiel's journey. Ezekiel Hawthorne has the internal strength of giants, a heart big enough to forgive even those wishing him dead, and a love for a half Shoshone woman that would last through eternity. He carves his way into Oregon history, helping bring the territory to statehood.

You'll meet Terrence Corcoran, sometimes lawman, sometimes pain in back side, soemtimes lover, who rides the open range of 1870s Nevada. His first novel will be called, Name's Corcoran, Terrence Corcoran. Watch for it.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular.

Johnny Gunn
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Hows and Whys of an Amazon Best Seller

With the wonderful acceptance of my latest novel, Jack Slater, Orphan Train to Cattle Barron, I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the background and little points of interest in the book. First off, of course, are the orphan trains. These were operated by the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. It’s estimated that as many as 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were moved from the east coast to homes and families in the hinterlands of the western frontier between 1854 and 1929.

That’s an incredible number. The Children’s Aid Society was founded by Charles Loring Brace in 1853. The 1850s were bad, but it was following the Civil War that the numbers of orphaned and abandoned children soared. Stories have been written about some of the children who grew up to be civic, business, and political leaders in their adopted communities.

It was a combination of stories that the concept of Jack Slater began to form. The greatest majority of the children that rode the trains to their new homes and families found warmth and love, hard work and plentiful food, but I couldn’t let Jack have that kind of happiness. He was a feisty, strong willed boy with an incredible sense of personal responsibility. No, he had to ride into an atmosphere of cold, fear, and depredation.

It was those personal characteristics that kept him alive and made him into the man he became, allowed him to find two strong loves, and become a community leader. Which brings us to one of the fun parts of the book. Fun, that is, from my point of view as the writer. He settled in a wonderful valley south of Elko, Nevada that is home of many fine cattle ranches today. The grass is high and rich, the water is pure and cold.

Slater met a man named Paddock who lived in a little town called Skelton and bought some land from the man for his ranch. Paddock said he named the town after his mother, which Slater found rather humorous. Those of us that wander all over this great state of Nevada are rather familiar with Skelton even if we don’t immediately recognize the name. Today, we call it Jiggs, Nevada. The saloon is closed, but the sign always says open. Paddock’s story about naming the town after his mother is real. It’s history.

On his travels Jack made numerous friends, including the first sheriff of Deadwood, sat at the table where Wild Bill met his end, and participated in protecting the herd of one of Wyoming’s first major cattle ranches.

I have to say, of all the stories I’ve written over the years, this one was plain old fashioned fun to write. I took on the character and just let it flow, and apparently the currents and eddies were adequately postulated. Jack Slater, Orphan Train to Cattle Barron is an Amazon Best Seller, my first best seller. Thank you, Jack, it’s been a fun ride on that old train.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Daylight Saving Time? Not Again!

Stand by. We’re about to start that adventure known as Daylight Saving Time. Note, it is not Daylight Savings Time. We’ll hear all the arguments once again about how someone’s entire life is threatened by this change of deleting an hour here and then adding an hour there, and, oh my God, what will I do?

The idea of lengthening the amount of daylight toward the end of the day started back in 1895 in New Zealand and became popular in Europe during the WWI. It’s not universal, it’s not even practiced in all fifty United States.

Farmers still start work in the dark and quit at sunset. The animals don’t know what a clock is anyway, and neither do the fish. Those that work seven to four-thirty have more time to ruin a good BBQd steak, more time to play softball, more time to drown a worm or two. Those that live for a good sunrise just have to wait a bit longer according to the clock. There is no space-time shift, just an advance of Mickey’s big hand by one revolution.

About that sunrise. Because of the earth’s tilt on it axis, sunrise is at a different time every day anyway. So is sunset. Summer days have more sunlight no matter what the clock says. Does DST save energy as some proclaim. Not in my household. I get up at five every morning, so on standard time I will have lights burning until daylight. On Daylight time, I will have lights burning until daylight.

Canada was the first to introduce DST back in 1916. The German Empire joined in 1917, and the good old US of A came aboard in 1918. The concept faded away following WWI and then came back strong during WWII. It was on its way out when the so-called energy crisis of 1970 hit and proponents of the concept kept it alive.

There are ways to make DST fun. Assume the position of official clock taker care of in your household, and then don’t do it but indicate that you did. Be prepared for a severe beating. Put up signs in the office that say: “Spring back, Fall ahead”. Computers ruin some of the fun by changing automatically. I wonder what the computers do about Arizona, a state that does not make the switch?

The kids complain about having to catch the bus while it’s still dark. Oh, poor little darlings. Most of us had to trudge fifteen miles or more through snowdrifts as high as the telephone poles, didn’t we?

The change this year is Sunday, March 12. Oh my God, what will I do?

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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