I have, since childhood, been a big fan of the western novel. As a matter of fact Zane Grey’s Rider’s of the Purple Sage was one of my first ‘favorite’ books when I was around twelve years of age. In later years I graduated to reading the western novels of such wonderful writers as Louis L’Amour, Elmer Kelton and Larry McMurtry to name just three.
So of course when a publisher expressed an interest in seeing a western novel from me, I didn’t hesitate to start coming up with plot ideas. I was born and raised on the Texas panhandle where once upon a time the Comanches and Kiowas reigned supreme. After the Native Amercians were mostly cleared out of the panhandle came Charley Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazing their cattle trail to New Mexico and beyond. Then later Goodnight started the JA Ranch (named for John Adair who financed it) and grew it to over a million acres, and he is largely responsible for improving the quality of the cattle in Texas. Then there were such things as Palo Duro Canyon which had once been a permanent camp for the Quahadi Comanches, the battle of Adobe Walls where Kit Carson led the US Cavalry against the Comanches and their allies the Kiowas, and old Tascosa – a real-life, hell-raising cowtown that was attributed to have one of the first two cemetaries to be called Boot Hill (the other being Dodge City). Tascosa is now a Ghost Town. I realized there could be no better setting for the novel than the High Plains of Texas. (By the way Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter was obviously in error if that was supposed to be the High Plains or Staked Plains as, with the exception of Palo Duro Canyon which is the second largest hole in the ground in the US in area after the Grand Canyon, the land in the panhandle is perfectly flat. )
At any rate, while having been a voracious reader of history, with an emphasis on the American Civil War and the Old West, I recall many of the historical facts from the Texas panhandle region, I still needed to do research to refresh my memory. Years ago research would take the form of a trip to the library just hoping the particular books one needed were not loaned out at the time. However, it is so much easier doing research on the world-wide web. So I spent a day yesterday reacquainting myself with the history of the Texas panhandle, a not at all unejoyable endeavor. And in fact I learned things I had not remembered ever learning before, such as the fact that Charles Goodnight smoked about 50 cigars a day or that Henry McCarty, aka William Bonney, aka Kid Antrim, aka BIlly the Kid spent a good deal of time in the Texas panhandle as well as in Tascosa. So much of what most of us learned about Billy the Kid when we were growing up is wrong. For example for years he was thought to be lefthanded because in the famous photo of him his revolver was strapped on the left side …. that is until someone figured out the photo was reversed! (The way this was figured out was interesting of itself – the loading port on the 1873 Winchester rifle was on the left side in the photo whereas in reality the bullets are loaded on the right side.) Also Billy is said to have killed twenty to thirty men by various accounts (a lot of it taken from the writings of Pat Garrett the man who killed Billy). In reality however only about four killings can be attributed to Billy and moreover Billy’s contemporaries seemed to speak more highly of his character than Pat Garrett’s character was spoken of by many of the peers. For certain Henry McCarty was a cattle rustler and an outlaw but even there it can be argued somewhat that he mainly stole from those he perceived had wronged him in the Lincoln County Wars, or other time. So the novel will present a somehwat more sympathetic Billy the Kid, albeit as a minor character.
At any rate I am excited about beginning to write the as yet unnamed novel. I am leaning toward Palo Duro, which is Spanish for ‘hard stick’ which gives a nice double entendre for a western that happens to have a couple of gay characters. (A very wise writer friend of mine, Jon Michaelsen, stated that he doesn’t write gay stories – just stories that happen to have some gay characters. And I agree totally with that sentiment.) And while one part of the book will be a gay romance (not erotica by the way), I also want it to be a crackling good yarn in the classic western novel tradition. I plan to include historical characters such as Charles Goodnight, Billy the Kid, and Kit Carson to name a few, and hopefully make history come alive for the readers.