Like last year but quite different, this year has been a good year for me with awards. My short story “Return to Laurel” was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction Story and was also a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction. My novella “Leaving the Lariat Trail” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction. Any one of these distinctions would give me an occasion to be thankful, and so I am appreciative three times over.
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.
and again I remember an innocent moment, over thirty years ago, when I was
sitting in the college cafeteria at lunchtime. As was the custom at the time at
our small college, the instructors sat with classified staff and students, all
of us like a family. On this day, one of the students came out of the kitchen,
stopped, and dropped his tray of food. Utensils crashed, glass broke, food
scattered, and people laughed.
Sometimes I recall
an incident in which my father and another man were talking about a fifth
wheel. This was many years ago, when I was in my late teens and when fifth
wheels were not common features of recreational vehicles. They were used almost
exclusively with large equipment such as trucks and farm tractors. I asked what
a fifth wheel was, and instead of just explaining, my father took the occasion
to criticize me for not knowing. “It’s a fifth wheel. That’s what it is. Don’t you know what a
fifth wheel is?”
During the summer between my fifth- and sixth-grade years, I had to go to the hospital to have my appendix taken out. While I was there, I read my first traditional western. I was ten going on eleven, and as I recall, the pediatric ward was full, so I was put in another ward to share a room with an old man (old to me, probably no older than I am now) who had stomach ulcers. Not having much in common with my roommate, and being a proficient reader, I turned my attention to the reading fare on hand. It was a novel called West of Abilene. For years after that, I had lingering memories of a few of its salient features.
It is a truth, perhaps not universally acknowledged, that a large percentage of college instructors come from middle-and lower-middle-class families of industrial workers, construction workers, hard-scrabble farmers, farm workers, and other blue-collar employees. I am one of them. Like a great many people I have met in my line of work, I chose a profession that offered a moderate but secure income and a modicum of status—two things that I did not grow up with; like many of my colleagues, I followed the ideal of humanistic education rather than the lure of material success.
“Rangeland Lament” is a song recorded by Carol Markstrom and included on her award-winning Desert Rose album. I wrote the original lyrics to it, and it has been a great honor to see my work end up in such a distinguished place.
It has happened to me, and I imagine it has happened to many of you: an aspiring poet is ready to “do something” with his or her work but needs a little help in knowing how to get it published (or “publicated,” as I have heard it called). Sometimes it is difficult to respond to such a request, but I have stumbled onto a few points that could be useful to others in giving direction to the emerging poet.
I could see I was snowed in but good. My circular drive had three huge drifts, and the dirt road that led out to the paved road was drifted over in several places. Snow was still falling, and a hard, cruel wind was blowing from the northwest—a true Wyoming blizzard. I walked the half mile out to the corner to see how bad it was, and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere. Even if I did dig myself out and manage to get to the main road, I would lose a few hours, and most of my work would be drifted over when I got back.
had been teaching English as a grad student for five years, part-time, when I
received an appointment to teach a section of composition at a branch campus of
a community college. I had done an internship at the same place a year before,
which meant that I had worked for free, grading papers and giving lectures for
the regular instructor. Now he was on sabbatical, and his work load was divided
up among a few part-time adjuncts, including me.