Dangerous Trails, published by Prairie Rose Publications in June 2020, is a collection of twelve western short stories that (with one small exception) I wrote since my last collection (Blue Horse Mesa) came out in 2013. This is my third collection of western short stories and my eleventh collection of short fiction. It includes “Return to Laurel,” which was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist and a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award finalist, both in 2020.
The stories in this collection range in length from short, with “Dutch and the Hired Man” at a little over 2000 words, to “Return to Laurel,” at a little over 10,000. (The typical length of a commercial short story is often described as 5000 words, and stories that run past 10,000 approach the novella range, at least by some people’s measurement.) Overall, the twelve stories here have a total of 67,500 words, which is a length similar to that of many western novels. As I have written in other commentaries, I like writing works of varying length and not being confined by what some people call cookie-cutter patterns.
In tone, these stories are not pastoral rhapsodies or ranch romances. Most of them have people going places and facing trouble (hence the title). This is not to say that the stories are without humor (but then again, who am I to say what is funny?). The opening story, “Monroy’s Daughters,” is narrated by Jimmy Clevis, who elsewhere narrates three novels (Red Wind Crossing, Rancho Alegre, and Raven Springs) and a short story (“Rose of Durango,” in Blue Horse Mesa). Jimmy is a good-natured fellow, but he lives in a world of scoundrels and malefactors. Perhaps the most ironic story is “Dutch and the Hired Man,” which I hope readers do not find mirthless, and there may be a bit of humor and irony in some of the other stories.
In addition to “Monroy’s Daughters,” two additional stories have characters from my novels. The somewhat somber “Borrower of the Night” is narrated by the same young person, Grey Wharton, who narrates my first Dunbar novel, Dark Prairie. Dunbar himself appears in “Darlings of the Dust,” in which he brings a perpetrator to justice.
A short story collection is like an album, in which one strives for variety as well as continuity. Even though I have brought out several collections of short and middle-length fiction, I have several published stories that have not made their way into a collection, which is a way of saying that I am selective each time for content, tone, and overall quality. I hope that a reader of any collection of mine will like most if not all of the stories, and I sure hope that is the case with Dangerous Trails.
Dangerous Trails is available at Amazon.