“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.
I chose to write this story as a novella because that was the length or magnitude that I felt was appropriate to the idea I was working with. I have written other works in this middle length between short story and novel, so I have developed a sense of relative length. For example, “Return to Laurel,” a short story that is coming out in a collection in December, is 10,000 words. “Pearl of Great Price,” a short story/novella that came out with Sundown Press about a year ago, is 12,000 words. “Leaving the Lariat Trail” has a little over 22,000 words. These are all traditional western stories.
In another area of my writing, retro/noir, I wrote a couple of novellas a while back, and after they appeared separately in e-format, I brought them out together under one cover with the unassuming title of Two Novellas. Separately, “Dead for the Last Time” is about 22,000 words, while “Trouble at the Labor Camp” is about 28,000 words. Together, they are enough for a print book.
The world of e-publishing in the last ten to fifteen years has offered increased opportunities for writing stories of varying lengths, so that writers now are able to write in lengths that were common in earlier periods, such as the era of the pulp magazines from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, or the era of serial publications in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Popular fiction writers such as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain wrote in these lengths, as did literary artists such as Herman Melville and Henry James, just to name a few. The result today is more freedom for the writer and more variety for the reader.
“Leaving the Lariat Trail,” then, like other works I have written, was able to seek its own length. I had an idea that I thought was worthwhile, and I had a story line that I did not want to try to drag out. My story is about a young man, Charles Landon, who wants to go straight. He has been hanging out with some other fellows, rustling on a small scale. One of them wants to put in with another outfit and go into business in a bigger way. Even though the main character has a girlfriend in this little clique and feels something like a member of the family, he sees that he has to get out. Some of the more ambitious and more criminal operators in what is now a bigger group don’t like the idea that someone wants to defect, but Charles makes his break. Once he does, he sees that the gang members do not hesitate to kill someone who knows too much, and he is sure it is just a matter of time until they come after him. He is right.
I wrote this story with some conviction and with some basis in personal experience. While I have not had experience trying to break away from a deadly gang, I have had experiences, especially in my formative years, of trying to stay out of trouble and trying to disassociate myself from people I tended to get into trouble with. Even later in life, perhaps in less material areas, one still has to struggle sometimes to stay on the right trail. As a writer, I transform this material into a western adventure story.
This is not the first time I have written about a young man who wants to go straight. In Red Wind Crossing, the first of my Jimmy Clevis novels, the main character spells out for himself and for the reader that he doesn’t want to live the crooked life any more. I explore the idea on a smaller scale and in different ways in a couple of other short stories, especially “Night Falls at Lonetree.” And I have at least one more story in mind for future work in which a person meets the challenges of trying to get away from the wrong trail.
“Leaving the Lariat Trail” is available at Amazon.