Great Lonesome is my twenty-ninth western/frontier novel and my tenth book with Five Star. I wrote it in 2018, and it came out in November of 2020, delayed by a few months as many books were during the pandemic.
Prior to writing this novel, I gathered notes over a period of a few years. I wanted to write a story about a person who rejected materialistic and conformist values, and I thought it would be a good story if this person met another person with similar interests. And so I came up with my protagonist, Reese Hartley, and my unconventional heroine, Muriel Dulse. Both characters have come west in order to have their own land and to forge a new life. Hartley also wants to get away from systems and machines, which become sort of a correlative for a way of life in which people pursue wealth and material possessions and oblige others to cooperate with them.
In order to write a western or frontier novel, however, I couldn’t just have a story in which a boy meets a girl, they discover that they both dislike materialism, and they retreat to a shady grove in order to live on fruits and berries (or, in modern terms, eat yogurt and quiche). I needed to have serious conflict and physical danger, so I brought in a murder mystery that has sexual exploitation at the center (another kind of correlative to the people who take what they can get), with a perp who kills people in order to keep the truth hidden.
I decided to set most of this story in the Goshen Hole and Goshen Rim area near where I live. I used this setting for Dark Prairie, so I used some of the same fictionalized place names in this story. To renew my sense of place, I took a couple of day trips out into the country, and among my stops was a wheat acreage that my wife and I have out in a wide and silent area east of Hawk Springs. That is a nice place to ponder in solitude and to gaze at a distant set of bluffs.
For one segment in the story, the main character goes on a trip north to look at a possible new area in which he and Muriel can file homestead claims. This trip takes him to another remote, wide, and silent area, this time north and east of Lusk, which becomes the Great Lonesome area that gives the novel its title. For this trip, I stayed overnight at our cabin and parcel up by the Rawhide Buttes (which I have done in some of my other field trips), and then I drove out to the Hat Creek Breaks and crossed over them on a memorable dirt road. I visited the historical Hat Creek Station, and from there I drove east several miles, taking notes and photos all along, and returned to Highway 85, which is the north-south highway from Lusk to Newcastle and beyond, much favored by modern-day travelers who go to the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, and other places. On the way back, I stopped in Lusk and wandered around a little on foot, just to give me a renewed sense of a place I have been to many times but wanted to see through the eyes of my protagonist. Back at our retreat in the shadow of the Rawhide Buttes, I met a nice buck antelope who visited and huffed at me and earned a bit role in the story.
After I gathered my impressions and had a set of planning notes, which is my practice, I wrote the novel. It came out at a little over 70,000 words, which was my objective, and it held up pretty well when I went through and edited it.
I submitted the novel in contests for works published in that year. I was honored when it received the Best Western Novel award from Western Fictioneers. That is a nice phrase to read on a beautiful plaque, and the contest itself has strong competition, so I felt very good about this novel I had wanted to write for quite a while.
Great Lonesome is available on Amazon.