Some of you may remember the confusion and distress during the summer of 2014 with the change of publishers (Rowman and Littlefield purchased parts of Globe Pequot/Two Dot Press) of Frontier Madam, The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk when that book ‘went out of print’ and was unavailable. Since that time, it has been brought back in print – 2nd edition, and is available on amazon.com as well as on barnesandnoble.com, or you can contact me. I keep copies with me.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the years of research and writing of the nonfiction biography of Dell Burke, it was with anticipation that I turned to historical fiction short stories this past year. It was fun to note the differences in the skills required for books in these two different genres.
The ‘pithy comments’ that kept floating mysteriously through my mind a couple years ago kept evolving, and became an entire fiction book about a boy and a man. However, the book proved to be too short to excite the interest of publishers, and finally ended up on amazon.com last December as an ebook titled “Just a Hired Man”.
For some years I have wanted to produce a book of short western historical fiction stories. My Wyoming stories. So this past year I did it. I dug into memories, past experiences, and my imagination to come up with stories that fit. The heart strings will twang for many of us as we watch the old ‘home place’ be replaced with new modern plans. The Blue Bordello drew on some of the interviews I held and used in Frontier Madam, and satisfied an itch I had had for years. Ask me about that. Other stories drew on my western upbringing but did not directly relate. I could not resist including The Man and The Boy whose name I went back to (rather than Just a Hired Man) and actually put in a slightly different twist to the story. Study questions are included in the book edition as well.
The first four stories seemed to take place at the same area of Wyoming, so I chose them to introduce readers to the book Whistle Creek and Other Wyoming Tales. Whistle Creek is a modest western town, located somewhere around the Worland – Thermopolis area, with little dabs of the Niobrara region thrown in.
With all the changes in publishing industry I decided to explore a couple new ones. I’m not so sure about this ebook thing, but it may work out in time. “Just a Hired Man” is on amazon.com as an ebook only.
Whistle Creek and Other Wyoming Tales was self-published and required some additional skills and gave me some new experiences. The folks at Alabaster Book Publishing have been most helpful and good folks to work with.
For readers who like to be challenged by study questions, I put together a few to look at the differences between western ranch life and other parts of the country, as well as the cultural changes that have occurred since post-WWII and today.
Study Questions for ‘The Man and the Boy’
1— This story is set on a Wyoming ranch in 1946, the year after World War II ended, along with the end of rationing of gas – food - clothing, etc. Many of the young men who had enlisted in the Army did not return. The Great Depression of the ‘30s had been preceded in the western states by a massive drought. What effects did the war, the drought and depression have on rural Wyoming life? How comfortable would you have been if you had been in Edie’s shoes?
2—Why would his family abandon Jeb and drive away in 1940? Why didn’t Edie and her husband take the child to someplace like Child Protective Services? Why didn’t they legally adopt him?
3—What would cause a WWII veteran to jump on a train along with unemployed hoboes to cross the US? Do you think Hob was trying to make sense of life after war, or were there deeper issues he wanted to explore?
4—What was your first clue that Hob and Jeb might be related? Did any other information help you make that connection? When do you think Hob decided Jeb might be one of his nephews? Why didn’t Hob say anything about it to Edie? Why didn’t Hob go looking for his other nephews and nieces? How do you feel about him not doing that?
5—In 1946 Wyoming, gender roles were still mostly defined traditionally, where the man did most of the outdoor work and the women were housewives. How would this affect Edie’s running a ranch? Why was Edie so unsure about getting involved with Hob? Was she afraid of losing the ranch to him? Did you think he wanted her ranch?
6—What made Edie so passionate about the ranch? What difference did it make that her grandparents had homesteaded the ranch lands? Would this have been a factor in Edie’s indecision whether she should get married?
7—How do Hob and Edie communicate their feelings? Was there room for misinterpretation or was this a clear way to communicate? What would have been a more effective way to discuss their feelings? Is it easier to reveal our feelings nowadays than it might have been in 1946?
8—Were you satisfied with the ending? If you were to write another chapter, how would you end it?