Don’t Be a Stranger is my twenty-second western/frontier novel, published by Five Star Publishing in February of 2015. It was published before Justice at Redwillow, although I wrote them in the opposite order. I wrote them both while things were getting under way with Five Star and its frontier line. During that time, Dark Prairie was going through the acceptance, editing, and production process, and Across the Cheyenne River was making its way onto the list.
During this time, I was writing one to two novels per year, or an average of three in two years, and I couldn’t let things stand still. So I wrote these two novels, partly in response to conversations I had with other publishers. Justice at Redwillow went through some delays, and at length I had to take it back (separate story). In the meanwhile, I wrote Don’t Be a Stranger.
The story line for this novel first took shape in the form of a line and a tune I had running through my head. The line became the title of the song and then the title of the novel. I remember writing the major part of the song on a winter day in early 2013, at a cabin we have near the Rawhide Buttes, about an hour north of where we live. For the song, I imagined a story line about a cowpuncher who lives on one side of Rawhide Mountain and takes an interest in a girl who lives on the other side, near Silver Springs. I was sitting in the middle of the setting of the story, drinking coffee and putting firewood into the wood-burning stove. I wrote the song as a narrative poem in two voices, and it came out to be about three times as long as a more typical range ballad of 24, 28, or 32 lines.
For the next step in the process, I imagined the story line for the novel, which entails a straight-up ranch hand who has a summer romance with a woman who goes back East to her people. This part of the story becomes entwined with an inside job of cattle rustling, which the ranch hand has to track down, and then a treacherous bank robber who is masquerading as a nouveau rancher.
I found it challenging to work with a character who is good with horses and can ride the lone country, sleep in cold camps, and hold his own in a showdown. At the same time, he has to deal with people who have more worldly ethics (such as the woman’s new champion) and who take more ruthless measures (such as the bank robber and his minion rustlers and assassins). On the positive side, he meets another girl and maintains the confidence of his employer.
For the setting of the novel, I placed it in an area similar to that of the song but in more thorough detail—the country that goes from Prairie Center over to the Rawhide Buttes and down to Hartville, a town that figures in the song and in the novel (also the home of the oldest bar in Wyoming and a good place to have steak dinner in recent years).
Once I had the story written, in mid-2013, I sent it to the publisher with whom I had corresponded. Somewhat to my surprise, he had changed his interests in terms of what kind of new material he was acquiring. By this time, we (my agent and I) were ready to submit something new to Five Star, and so Don’t Be a Stranger found a better home after all. It came out as a hardcover novel with a nice ranch scene on the cover, and it received good reviews.
The narrative poem, meanwhile, found publication in a small magazine and in my collection of western poetry, Thorns on the Rose. It was included in the novel as a kind of theme song, which the main character hears in a saloon. A few years later, it fulfilled its destiny and became a song on the CD that I did with W.C. Jameson, In a Large and Lonesome Land. The title of the CD comes from the refrain of this song. We take special pleasure in listening to the CD when we go to Hartville for dinner.
Don’t Be a Stranger is available at Amazon.