Antelope Sky is a collection of short stories set in the contemporary West, for the most part Wyoming. It consists of twelve short stories, nine of which were previously published. I brought out these stories as a collection in the spring of 1997 so that I could promote it along with Wild Rose of Ruby Canyon, a hardcover western that came out in June of the same year.
This was the third short story collection that I produced under my own imprint, and I did so because I wanted to see these stories together in a group and available in book format. When I first embarked on the venture of self-publication, I had the idea that my short fiction could be sorted, for the most part, into four piles: traditional western stories, ironic stories, contemporary stories set in the modern West, and contemporary stories set in rural California. I had written a good number of short stories by this point, and I felt it was time to get them into piles. Antelope Sky was the third pile, and its subtitle is Stories of the Modern West.
The collection consists of stories that I wrote from the early 1980’s until the mid-1990’s. When I first came to Wyoming in 1981, I was happy to be here and willing to take the place on its own terms. That meant that it would take me a while to know the place well enough to presume to write about it. Within a couple of years I was writing stories set in Wyoming, and at the same time I was writing fiction that would end up in the other three piles. I was also doing book reviews, literary articles, and an occasional poem. All this is a way of saying that I wasn’t on production. I had the free life of a writer in that stage of his or her career, in which a person writes whatever seems to come next. I was writing short pieces (nothing book-length), trying to stay versatile in a few different areas, and avoiding the commitment of doing something longer with which I would have the risk of success or failure.
As time went on, I found myself focusing more on fiction and less on reviews, articles, and the like. As I got into book publication with traditional westerns, I still felt that short story writing was an important part of me and that I did my best work in contemporary fiction. So when I brought together the selections for Antelope Sky, I felt that I had some of my best work to show. Not only had nine of these stories been published, but seven of them had won me awards with literary magazines, writing organizations, and the Wyoming Arts Council.
For stories of this nature, I try to maintain what I think of as a modern outlook (though I realize it is still pretty traditional in comparison with cutting-edge and avant-garde material). In my version of modern life, the characters are everyday people rather than the “larger-than-life” characters that are reportedly necessary for stunning bestsellers. My characters are not all good or all bad, and they have normal problems of adjustment that do not have easy or definite solutions. I think of these stories as being realistic to the average run of people who do not have fame or fortune and who do not get to solve their problems with flamboyant action.
For example, in “Junior’s Family,” a young man who has grown up with his friend’s family receives a letter from his long-lost brother and mother, who want him to go meet them. He enlists his friend’s company and moral support, and they go on a road trip for a not-so-perfect meeting. For another example, in “Lodgers in Queer Street” (with a tip of the hat to a chapter title in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend), a handyman becomes friends with a couple who have rental property. As the story develops, the narrator gets to know more than he really cares to about the couple’s disintegrating marriage, and in the end he has some observations about friendship.
These stories of the modern West are, for me, serious studies about life around us. As with the work of any author, they come from that person’s narrow view of the world. But that is what I feel I have to offer, my view of things. I have continued to write fiction in this mode. My later collection Shadows on the Plain continues with fiction set in the contemporary West, as does my novel Poacher’s Moon. I still feel that I do my best work in contemporary fiction, and I plan to do more.
Antelope Sky is available at Amazon.