When I was a grad student at UC Davis in the 1970’s, I believed in a liberal education. With a B.A. from UCLA, I entered the Ph.D. program in English in 1971, and I was in no hurry to specialize. University life seemed natural to me. Unlike some of my fellow students of that era, I enjoyed preparing for the foreign language exams, I liked all areas of literature, and I loved teaching English 1, the freshman composition course. Philosophically at least, I felt responsible for everything in my field, but I also felt I should be free to study what I wanted.
At the party after eighth-grade
graduation, some of us got to kiss the girls. When the party ended I went
outside, where my father and two brothers were waiting in the station wagon. I
could see it was packed and ready to go. A couple of my friends, guys, asked if
I was leaving that night for a fishing trip. I said, no, we were going to
follow the crops.
Having cited the three main
influences on my development as a student and writer of fiction, I thought I
might go on to discuss the topic in more variety. As I mentioned in my previous
post, I have read a little bit here and there, as most people in my world have
done. Most of us still have big things we haven’t gotten to, and most of us
have gone off on our own paths of interest, but there is a core of literature
that many of us share. I will mention a few highlights that are probably on
other people’s lists as well.
My sense of literary influence is rather broad. In the course of my undergraduate and graduate education I read all of the major novelists of Britain and America, plus many of the minor novelists. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the western novel, and in my teaching and writing career I have studied numerous short story writers plus many novelists I did not read the first time around. And in the midst of all of this, I have maintained a fondness for the two great epics of Homer. In order to discuss the most significant influences, I would have to cite three, as I could not pick two of the following to the exclusion of a third. As it turns out, one of my writers is British, one is American, and one is Canadian.
“Darlings of the Dust” is a short story that appears in the anthology Contention and Other Frontier Stories, released by Five Star Publishing in May 2019. In my story, the cowboy detective named Dunbar (from his own series of Dark Prairie, Death in Cantera, and others) arrives in the town of Westlock, Wyoming, and goes to work at the Paradise Valley Ranch.
of Great Price” is a novella that came out with Sundown Press, a division of
Prairie Rose Publications, in August of 2018. It was reprinted in book form
along with a handful of other stories in a collection entitled Tales of the Old West, also by Sundown
Press. “Pearl of Great Price” runs to 12,000 words, somewhere in the range
between long short story and novella. As with other works I have written in
middle length, this story found its own length according to the magnitude of
the idea I had.
“Leaving the Lariat Trail” is a novella, or short novel, that is a little less than half as long as a traditional western novel. It has been published as an e-book by Sundown Press, a division of Prairie Rose Publications, and at some point in the future it may appear in print form with one or more other selections.
In the fall of 2009, the president
of Eastern Wyoming College surprised me with a small tribute. He told me that
the governor of our state was going to be visiting our campus on October 16 as
part of a visit to the new corrections facility being built near our town. The
governor was going to stay for the Baxter Black show, and there was going to be
a reception before the program. At the reception, said the president, he
planned to present the governor with a collection of four of my books that he,
the president, had found in the college bookstore. The president said that if I
liked, I could attend the reception and present the books myself. I was quite
honored by the invitation, and I said that I would have to make sure I didn’t
have a conflict. I added that if I thought I had a small conflict such as elk
hunting, my wife would make it quite clear that meeting the governor was much