Destiny at Dry Camp is my twenty-sixth western/frontier novel, my seventh book with Five Star, and my third Dunbar story. I wrote it in 2015, and it came out in April of 2017. By the time I wrote this novel, I had a decent track record with Five Star. Both Dark Prairie and Death in Cantera had done well with reviews, sales, and a small award each, and the editors at Five Star were happy with the prospect of another Dunbar novel. So was I.
I had learned earlier, with my Jimmy Clevis novels, that it worked well for me to go back and forth from one kind of a novel to another. It helps me to think in one track and then in another, with a different kind of conception and story. From a practical point of view, it is also good not to have two series novels come out one right after another, as I do not want to be identified with just one series or kind of story. Also, writing a Dunbar story has several built-in conditions or demands that make it better for me not to work on two of them in a row. To begin with, a Dunbar story has an observer narrator. That means I have to have a story line that lends itself to having a secondary character present to observe and narrate the events. Also, the story has to have, for me at least, a higher level of importance. Dunbar does not just come in and catch cattle thieves. He works on cases that may entail common crimes, but the higher importance comes from insidious crimes having been committed and not having been brought to light.
The original crime in Destiny at Dry Camp resides in a woman of color having disappeared many years earlier. Because she may have been unhappy in her marriage, and because she was reported (by one of the characters now in the story) to have been seen far away, some but not all people have assumed that she ran away. But if Dunbar is working on a case, the reader can be sure that things are not that simple.
For my narrator, I chose again (as in Dark Prairie) to use a young cowpuncher. For other characters I brought in people of color, immigrants, a celibate midwife, and a drunk, as well as the more common sampling of good and bad cowboys, prosperous townspeople, and a pretty girl or two. To this gallery I added Medora Deville, a woman who has a bit of mystique to make her a fitting acquaintance for Dunbar. As happens with characters, she rather claimed her place in this novel and suggested that she might show up in future stories. For the present, she was just the right character to help solve the disappearance of Louise Brumley.
To write this novel, I did my usual planning and plotting over a period of time and did some varied background reading. By June of 2015, with sunny weather in the forecast, my wife and I set out on a field trip. We were towing a camp trailer we had acquired for this sort of purpose–modest and clean but small enough to drag out into the middle of nowhere.
We drove down to Cheyenne, over the summit to Laramie, and out onto the two-lane highway that leads to Medicine Bow. We stopped in Rock River, where half the buildings are abandoned, and ate our lunch in our new-to-us camper. Back on the road, we drove to Medicine Bow, a pleasant route that I had traced in more detail when I was doing my field work for West of Rock River. At Medicine Bow we turned north and drove out to an area called Shirley Basin.
About twenty miles north of
Medicine Bow, we turned off the main highway and followed a county road out
into the rolling plains. According to my reading of the map, we were on public
land, so I found a turnoff not far from the road and parked the camper. It was
about 4:30 in the afternoon, and the solitude was beautiful in that treeless
sweep of grassland with antelope and cattle near and far. The grass was green
from the rain of late spring and early summer, but I could see how sparse it
grew in normal conditions. With dry, distant hills and a hot sun overhead, I
could imagine this place as the setting for my story.
The sun went down in a scarlet haze, and the night sky was a broad, starry vault with a sliver of a moon hanging in the west. Faint light showed on the northern horizon, suggesting the sizeable town of Casper, some fifty or sixty miles away.
The next day, I was able to ponder this setting some more. It was what I had hoped to find, an expanse of nothingness, dry and semi-arid most of the year, with an ample supply of dirt (the last word of the novel). It was green at the moment, but my narrator could comment about that phenomenon as well, when seasonal rains left ponds in the low spots where cattle and antelope would leave their tracks.
After two nights and very few vehicles passing by, we drove home by way of Casper, where we dealt with traffic and stoplights and buildings and hot asphalt. We had a tire blowout ten miles from home, but even that could not erase my memory of Shirley Basin, a quiet and perfect place of waving grass with specks of antelope in the middle distance and low, dull hills far away.
I went on to write this novel in the remainder of the year, and it came out a little more than a year after it was accepted.. It received good reviews, and it went on to win a modest recognition as a finalist in the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards. My Dunbar novels were doing all right, and I felt that my work was worthwhile.
Destiny at Dry Camp is available at Amazon.