Sunday, May 31, 2009

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Sick today. After having lunch yesterday with friends at the Scuba Show in Long Beach (I was a scuba instructor in a past life), I spent a hellish hour in traffic, realizing that I had a fever and just wanting to get home so I could collapse. Spent the rest of the day in chills and wandering around the house half-delirious. Thankfully the fever broke last night, but now have a sore throat, which can only promise a cold in the next few days. So much for the end of my vacation.

I spent a couple of minutes this morning in the Secret Garden. Some colors are so vibrant that the color cannot be transferred onto an image.
Other things are starting to get overgrown, which is fine with me. I love the overgrown, wildness of a cottage garden. Taking photos and watching Annie relaxed in the grass and Xena hunting for bees, I completely forgot about my sore throat.

I started to do some minor research on Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote the book The Secret Garden in 1911. She was a prolific writer before she wrote her most famous work (she also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy), and lived on an estate when she wrote The Secret Garden. But she also experienced her share of hardships and tragedies. After her father died when she was still a child, her family was forced to live in squalor in Manchester and later in Knoxville, TN. When she was eighteen, her mother died, leaving Frances to support her other siblings. Wisely, she turned to writing to make a living. Later, she divorced her first husband, and her son died in 1890 from consumption. Later, she would marry her business manager, but that marriage only lasted two years. I don't have all the details yet, but it makes me wonder how that all played into her writing her most famous book of all. I'm sufficiently intrigued, and I've ordered a copy of one biography to read more.

In the meantime, I'm reading Frontier Medicine by David Dary and hope that these next couple of days will provide me with the forced confinement I need to finish it and write a review.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: Cowboy Lingo by Ramon F Adams

Cowboy Lingo
Ramon F. Adams
Houghton Mifflin, 1936, 2000

Cowboy Lingo, which is an introduction into the vocabulary and culture of the cowboy, is one of those little gems that every lover and writer of the West should have on their bookshelf. First published in 1936, it was republished in 2000. This newest version has a stand up introduction by Elmer Kelton, who introduces us also to the fascinating world of its author, Ramon Adams.

Cowboy Lingo is divided up into themes. Adams covers all of the topics that may touch a cowboy's life at one point or another. The chapter on The Cowboy and his Duties covers what a cowboy would normally be responsible for while working on a ranch. He then discusses his clothes, his saddle and other riding equipment, ropes, guns, brands, nicknames, and so forth.

Being a horsewoman, I had a really hard time reading the passages on the various training and restraint instruments that were used on cattle and horses, such as various spurs, quirts and severe bits. But I know that if you're a student of the West, you just can't avoid these topics. Adams discusses them matter of factly and does point out in some cases that cowboys disapproved of such equipment due to their cruelty.

I am glad I discovered Cowboy Lingo. The book just gets more interesting the more you read. But I think that I am even more thankful that it has introduced me to the world and many other writings of Ramon Adams.

Adams, who was born in 1889, originally trained to be a musician and went so far as to become head of the violin department of the University of Arkansas. Then his life changed in the late 1920s when he broke his arm and wrist while cranking a model T Ford - a common mishap in those days. Adams was faced with not being able to do the one thing he had loved and trained for his entire life. In 1969 Adams recalled his fondness for music: "I loved the music Business. I hated to leave it, it got so that every time I went to a movie after that, it brought tears to my eyes because I had to get out of the Business. So I just quit going."

Adams and his wife eventually opened a candy store in Dallas in 1929, a business that would eventually become very successful, selling candy wholesale to retailers such as Neiman-Marcus. But during the next twenty years, Adams pursued another interest: his love of the West and the cowboy way of life.

Adams had first been exposed to the cowboy way of life when he was a young boy. The family home was near a cattle trail, and Adams, listening to cowboys tell tales when they stopped for lunch, became enthralled, and eventually became one of the most respected and well-known of historians of the cowboy.

The following is list of publications from the web page for the Ramon Adams collection at the University of Texas.

Cowboy Lingo(1936), a book focusing on the language of the cowboy
Western Words(1944), a dictionary of words used by the Cowboy
Charles M. Russell: The Cowboy Artist (1948), the first book-length biography of Russell
Come An' Get It (1952), a monograph about the almost forgotten cowboy cook
Six Guns and Saddle Leather (1954), an annotated bibliography of books about western outlaws and gunmen

After retiring, Adams was even more prolific. Before his death on April 29, 1976, he had published many more books, including:
The Best of the American Cowboy (1957), an anthology of passages from what he considered to be the best books about the cowboy
The Rampaging Herd (1959), his bibliography of the range cattle industry
A Fitting Death for Billy the Kid (1960), a critical account of the kid and the literature about him
The Old Time Cowhand (1961), a book focusing on the cowboy, his life and his work Burs Under the Saddle (1964), a hard hitting look at the inaccuracies in some 400-plus books about the West
From the Pecos to the Powder (1965), a biography of cowboy Bob Kennon
The Legendary West (1965), an exhibit catalog for a Dallas Public Library display of the same title
The Cowman and His Philosophy (1967), a book of the cowman's philosophical sayings The Cowboy and His Humor (1968), a volume discussing the jokes and pranks of the cowboy
The Cowman and His Code of Ethics (1969), a book about the unwritten ethical laws of the range
Western Words (1968), a revised and expanded edition of his 1944 publication
Six Guns and Saddle Leather, a revision of his earlier book by the same title
Cowman Says It Salty (1971), a book of the cowboy's earthy language
Horse Wrangler and His Remuda (1971), a look at the wrangler in cow work
The Adams One-Fifty (1976), Adams' checklist of the 150 most important books on Western outlaws and lawmen.

There's enough there to keep any armchair historian/writer/Western buff busy for quite a few lonesome nights on the range.

The University of Texas, which holds his records, says on their web site: "Never a cowboy himself, he befriended countless of them and has become perhaps their most important chronicler."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pulp Writer Reviewed by The Tainted Archive

The Tainted Archive, a well-known blog dedicated to the revival of the Western, recently reviewed Pulp Writer. I want to thank Gary Dobbs for his wonderful review. Gary's first novel, The Tarnished Star, written under the name Jack Martin, will be coming out on June 30th.

To read the review of Pulp Writer, go here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review of Cowboy Stories, illustrations by Barry Moser

Cowboy Stories
Illustrated by Barry Moser, Introduction by Peter Glassman
Chronicle Books, 2007

Barry Moser is a world reknowned artist who has made a reputation illustrating classic works like Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and countless other works of literature. Cowboy Stories is a publication along the same lines as his Scary Stories, Tales of Edgar Allen Poe and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In addition, as I discovered while checking out his numerous bios on the web, he is currently on the faculty of my alma mater, Smith College. Very cool indeed.

Cowboy Stories is a collection of 14 Western short stories from writers such as Luke Short, Elmore Leonard, and Max Brand, and 7 excerpts from longer classics such as Lonesome Dove, The Virginian, and Shane. Included are stories from more modern writers such as Annie Proulx.

If you are an aficionado of the Western story and are looking for a collection of lesser known stories, there are probably only a few in this collection that will satisfy you. Most of these have been reprinted hundreds of times and the book excerpts are extremely short, so much that they could be considered just passages. So this is not a definitive anthology by any means of the Western story. What it is, however, is a beautiful little book with illustrations that took my breath away. Each story is accompanied by one of Moser's stunning engravings.

So Cowboy Stories isn't a collection of Westerns as much as it is a celebration of the Western, and even more specifically, a celebration of Barry Moser illustrating the Western. And that's not a bad thing for a book. And as the introduction says, "How fitting that Moser's illustrations are painstakingly hand-wrought engravings - the very sort of art form that went from viable craft to lovingly preserved....."

Just like the Western story.

Update on the Secret Garden

Some of you know of my latest project: a secret garden in the backyard of the house I'm currently renting. I've always been enchanted by the idea of a Secret Garden, probably from when I first read the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was one of my favorite books as a child. Being able to go somewhere and shut the door behind you, to escape into a magical world where no one else could find you, was exactly what I wanted as a kid.

The people that lived in the house before me, who are actually the owners of the house, had erected a tall wood fence around an area in the backyard in which to keep their dogs. When I moved in on January 1, the area looked like this:As you can see, even from the outside, the fence was something of an eyesore. The pictures and planters on the exterior are mine, but you get the idea.

I certainly didn't have the idea of a secret garden when I first moved in. In fact, for the first month, I didn't know what to do with the area. First I made it into a storage area for my gardening tools and pots and whatever. But that really didn't work, because the area was dirt and weeds and, because there was no overhead covering, it would just turn into a muddy mess when it rained. I thought of making it a vegetable garden, but determined that the area didn't get enough sun every day.

At first, I talked about making it a secret garden as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it was important thing for me to do. I had just emerged from the year from hell. I needed something that would heal me, keep me occupied mentally, yet not be too taxing. Besides, gardening is strongly tied into my creativity needs; when I can't write, I garden. And I certainly wasn't in any shape to write after last year. I also wanted a garden that I could use as a photography studio of sorts.

So this is what it looks like as of last weekend:It's just this dirt here: it is amazing. My neighbor tells me that Lakewood was farm country before they built the town back in the 1950s. It makes sense.

When I tell people that I've created a Secret Garden, some laugh as if it's a silly, childish thing. Which throws me. Why wouldn't you want to have one of these? Besides, it has become a haven for various animals, real and fake, as well as butterlies and grasshoppers. I'm helping the environment. So far, the biggest problem has been the bermuda grass that occupied the area before; I had tried to kill it before planting. Silly me. I should have known that bermuda grass, which is nothing short of evil, always comes back. Always. So I spend sometimes up to a couple of hours a week pulling up where the strands have snuck in.

I really haven't spent a lot of money on this. Probably the most most has been spent on the cobblestones for the pathway. All of the roses were given to me; most of the other plants were bought as small starters. My sisters and Mom gave me a few plants and also helped me with digging and planting when they were down in April. My best friend gave me a truck load of bulbs, and other things were planted as seed. My neighbors Bo and Kathy just gave me a bunch of plants from Kathy's mother's garden.

So this has been a labor of love for a lot of people, not just me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day at the Autry

Today was spent at the Museum of the American West, otherwise called the Autry Museum.

It had been over a year since I last visited, and it's always a bit tricky finding the place. Even thought the Museum is right next to Interstate 5, finding the right exit is a challenge and if you're not careful you could end up on the way to Glendale. But I managed to take the right exit, telling myself to remember for next time exactly which exit to take. Of course I won't remember. The Museum is in Griffith Park, right across the expansive parking lot from the Los Angeles Zoo, and judging from the parking lot appearances, the difference in attendance is remarkable. The zoo parking lot was completely full, the Autry parking lot close to empty. And this on a Sunday at noon.

Waiting for my friend, I made a beeline for the Gift Shop like I usually do and went straight to the bookshelves. They have a large collection of history of the West books, along with books on ethnic studies, Native American studies, the Western in film, Art, women's studies, you name it.
I fell upon a copy of Pulp Writer on the shelf, which was nice to see that it has a respectable place in such a collection, but not nice because nobody had bought it. Oh well, can't be too picky.

The museum has a permanent collection that I love, that covers the discovery and exploration of the West, to community living including how African Americans lived and the settlement of the Mormons. There is a large saddle collection and a gun collection (although I didn't go through that this time). And while I'm sure it isn't the same caliber, so to speak, as the Smithsonian or even other museums of the West, it still entertains me and I learn something new every time. This visit, we ventured outside and learned how to pan gold. Now I grew up in the Gold Country - Angels Camp - and the entire time I lived there I never bothered to go to any of the "tourist traps" and "panned for gold." What a uncool thing to do, I used to think as a smug 16 year old. If I had done it, perhaps I would have had a better appreciation for the history of the area. Panning for gold is hard.

Back inside, I love how you walk onto a movie set when you enter the gallery that talks about the Western in Hollywood. and I always end up engrossed in the exhibits that cover everything from the first silents up through the heroes of the 1920s like Tom Mix and Ken Maynard (never get tired of watching the video in which Maynard rips off his saddle at a full gallop) to the grand old masters like Wayne and newer ones like Eastwood. The merchandising of Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger, and proper homage is paid to other cowboy singers of Autry's time like Roy Rogers.

The museum of course, has a rolling schedule of exhibits that change every few months; this time I didn't bother. Namely because none of the subject matters interested me, but also because that buffalo burger in the Golden Spur Cafe was calling me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Autry Museum

Seems lately that by the time Friday rolls around, whatever plans made for the weekend get changed. That's the case for this weekend. I was originally going to spend Saturday at Will Rogers State Beach with friends; now that's been cancelled and I have a nice free weekend. So free, in fact, (there aren't even any Dodger games around) that I think I'm going to mosey up to the Museum of the American West - formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage - on Sunday. Founded by Gene Autry in 1988, it really is a spectacular place to visit. I've been there countless times and in late 2007 even had a Pulp Writer book signing there on an author's weekend. I go mainly because I like the collection that deals with the history of the cowboy in movies. I have tried in the past to get the museum interested in presenting a collection on the pulp Western, but the response I got was that the museum has a set schedule of exhibits for several years in advance. Maybe they were brushing me off. I still might pursue the idea.

The museum has a gift shop that is worth the trip alone with a killer book collection for those interested in the history of the West, the Western, the American Indian, and much more. Those of you who are looking for a particular book that you can't find in a regular book and mortar store - chances are that the museum has it in their book store. The DVD collection of old Westerns isn't bad either.

I think that the museum seems to have lost a lot of its quaintness over the past few years and gotten a little corporatized. Still, I love "going to the Autry" (I still call it that, like many people, even though the name has been changed at least twice since it opened) is turning into an annual tradition for me. Oh yeah, and they have buffalo burgers in the cafe.

Anyway, although a day at the beach wasn't a bad idea, this is a good substitute. And I won't get a sunburn. I'll post a report when I return.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Western Notes

It's been noted by friends of late that I have shifted away from my original Western theme for this blog. I do not live by Westerns alone, but like to mix it up with other interests of mine. Just like my life.

But just to appease those of you out there who come here for information on Westerns, here's some tidbits.

Apparently Kevin Costner is developing a four hour TV miniseries set in the post-Civil War. Here's the article (thanks to David Whitehead of UK-based Black Horse Westerns for posting it):

"Kevin Costner is set to make a return to the Western genre with a new TV miniseries. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Dances With Wolves star is developing a four-hour movie for US cable network A and E.
Along with executively producing the project, Kevin may also direct and star in the series, which will tell the story of a post-Civil War conflict in the settlement of the American West.
"Costner understands the Western better than anybody, and he respects the genre," said A and E network vice president of drama programming, Tana Nugent Jamieson.
"He knows every bit of detail about the West; this is a genre he feels a lot of passion for. It's a perfect fit.
"There is a character that he's interested in, and we're hoping he will potentially play, but until we have a script we can't say too much," she added."

Also, here's an interview with Jack Martin, aka Gary Dobbs, who's debut Western novel, The Tarnished Star, was recently topping the selling charts for Westerns in the UK. And it's not even out yet. For those of you who would like to pre-order a copy of The Tarnished Star, there's more information on the UK Amazon site, as opposed to the US site.

And if that isn't enough, here's an great post by Holly Emblem on the significance of the Dead Man's Hand on the UK Casino Online web site.

If you see a pattern here - namely one of Westerns and the United Kingdom, you would be right.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Mystery Surrounding Everett Ruess

I have to admit that I didn't know anything about Everett Ruess or of the mystery surrounding his disappearence in the Southwest in the 1930s. It wasn't until about two weeks ago, when the story broke that the mystery may have been solved, that I learned of who he was.

Everett Ruess was a 20-year old writer and artist who was noticed by such artists as Ansel Adams. But he rejected modern society and, at the age of 16, he left San Francisco to find another life in the Southwest. He wrote once that he doubted that he would ever be able to return to civilization. In 1934, he was last seen in Escalante, Utah, stocking up on supplies. He then took off into the wilderness with his two mules, never to be seen again.

The mystery of his disapperance has inspired books and at least one movie.

NPR radio ran a segment on the story this morning. To read the article and hear the segment, which I think is very good, go here. I understand that it is to be featured in National Geographic magazine's current issue.

Ruess has been called a modern-day Thoreau, an artist of nature, an early environmentalist in the style of Edward Abbey. Unfortunately, it appears that on one day in 1934 or 1935, he was just one very unlucky young man.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Birds in the backyard

Eventually I will get back to all things pulp fiction and Westerns; but for right now, I am still hibernating and refueling. I promise to write soon on a very interesting Western history book I'm reading right now.

In the meantime, I've been feeding the birds in the backyard since I moved into this house, and it's starting to evolve into a complete ecological system all on its own. For one thing, a few weeks ago I discovered that some of the finches had nested in an opening into the attic above the kitchen window.

Then came unwelcome visitors: first of all, pigeons. Someone told them of the feast going on every day at the Autry House. Now, I know that pigeons deserve to eat just like all other God's creatures, but just not in my backyard. I guess I'm a pigeon NIMBY. I've spent a lot of energy trying to chase them away to no avail. I finally decided to get finch feeders, including this sock, which will hopefully deter the pigeons away because they can't perch on it.

But yesterday came another visitor, which had ominious tones: a hawk. This was the only photo I could take before he took off - I hope he's decided that he can find better meals somewhere else.

Because there are babies now, including this finch that was resting in the grass tonight at sunset. At first I didn't pay much attention to him, being as there are birds all around the place from sunrise to sunset now, but then I noticed that he was awfully small and wasn't going anywhere when I walked by. I realized that he was very very young and probably was just learning how to fly. So I grabbed my camera and took some pictures, trying to keep an eye on Annie, who was unusually interested in the creature but behaved wonderfully and kept her distance. Annie is a good smart dog - she respects other animals' spaces. I wish she'd respect mine once in a while.

Anyway, the little thing just sat there in the grass, ignorant of the instinct to flee that apparently doesn't surface until he's a little older. He even shut his eyes several times - probably because of the very strong setting sun late in the afternoon.

I was worried about him - for one thing, he was out in the middle of the lawn for all hawks and stray cats to find. Poor little thing - exposed to all kinds of dangers from almost day one. The only thing that was a comfort was knowing that he was probably blissfully unaware of all the predators that surround him. But he'll find out soon enough.

I tried to keep an eye on him as I worked from the kitchen sink, and made the dogs come in. As soon as I was in the house, the birds descended on the bird feeders and onto the lawn. When I went back outside a few minutes later, he was gone. The hawk had not reappeared, so I'm thinking that his parents came back and gave him a quick, intensive flight training program.