April 23, 2017
Spring is my favorite time of year, especially this year. I had a tough winter. Everything in my life halted. Actually, my life came to a screeching halt. But, by the time I pulled myself back upright spring arrived. A time of beauty that lifted my spirits. A time of freshness that pulled me out of darkness. A time of new beginnings that once again opened my eyes to new opportunities.
So, I blew the dust off my computer, cleared the cobwebs from my head (or most of them), wiped the tears from my eyes (or most of them), and put my fingers back on the keyboard. There is, however, an old saying that says, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ I’m finding this to be true. My words are stuck. The stream is clogged with old enemies. Self-doubt. Fear. Frustration. Large boulders block my progress. ‘I can’t do this.’ I don’t know where I’m going.’ ‘I can’t think.’
I want to hear the beauty of my words rippling over my enemies making them smooth pebbles and sliding like silk ribbons of water around the boulders that threaten to block the song my words sing to me.
Then spring’s beauty settled over me like a warm blanket. A road I travel often greeted me with beauty and freshness as I went about my business. My heart whispered a little tune and smiled again.
I looked for things to reset my filters. To provide me the mindset I needed in order settle back in the time and place where Will and Buck live. I realized how much I had missed them. I had shut the door to their space.
So, I looked out the back door and there was the key. My space! And Will’s and Buck’s space, patiently waiting for me.
The elements I needed were all around me. All I had to do was look. The elements of Will’s and Buck’s lives are everywhere, even today, long after their time has past. The soft lowing of a momma cow for her calf, the little fellow’s tail swishing like a flag as he downs his supper, the curious bunch of heifers that come to the fence to see what I’m doing as I hang clothes on the line, a neighbor’s herd of Longhorns grazing among the wildflowers, all these things speak to me of a long ago time when boys like Will and Two Feathers lived on this land.
Now, it is up to me to listen for their words, to listen for the song they sing to me. I hope I’m worthy.
October 16, 2016
In the last two excerpts from The River of Cattle I have introduced you to Will and Two Feathers. Launch day is coming soon, November 1st, so I decided to give you a taste of the first day on a cattle drive. This drive begins with plenty of dust, heat, and confusion.
First Day of the Cattle Drive
The hot sun beat down. The back of Will’s neck itched from the dust that worked its way down his collar. He wondered if they were ever going to stop. His backside hurt. His stomach growled continuously. Breakfast seemed like a long time ago. The water in his canteen tasted awful and was hot. He wiped sweat and dirt from his face with his bandana. A cool drink of water would sure be good. He licked his dry lips.
At lunch, the men changed weary horses for fresh ones. Will turned Buck over to Naldo. The buckskin lay down and rolled in the dry grass. His legs waved in the air as he squirmed to clean the sweat from his back. When he stood, he shook himself, throwing grass and dust off his coat.
Will walked over to a group of drovers standing around a horse apart from the others. When he got close, he saw a deep cut in the horse’s hip. Goodnight held the horse’s head, and Cookie spread thick salve on the cut.
“What happened?” Will asked Curtis.
“One of the swing riders didn’t get out of the way quick enough. An ol’ mossy-horned steer raked that bay.”
Will walked with Curtis to the cook fire. They filled their plates with beef stew and leaned against the wagon wheel to eat. They ate in silence for several minutes.
“You be careful out there, Will-boy.” Curtis mopped up the last of his stew with a biscuit. “These old steers that have been wild all their lives can turn quick and will gut you if they get a chance.”
Suddenly, Will wasn’t hungry. He didn’t want Buck to end up like that bay.
“Will,” Pa called. “Mount up. Let’s go.”
The long hot hours of the afternoon passed slowly. Will’s new respect for the sharp horns of these brush cattle kept his attention focused on his job. He decided if Buck was going to be safe he’d better learn how to be a good drover.
“Pa, don’t you think Buck’s rested enough? I don’t like this horse,” Will said after a few hours on the strange mount.
“I guess so. See the remuda off to the right?”
Will nodded and spurred the horse in his eagerness to find Buck.
The sun hung low in the western sky before Pa and Goodnight turned the herd toward the spot Smokey had picked for the night camp. A good-sized creek wound its way through scattered clusters of cottonwood trees. Buck bent his head to drink. Will’s throat was dry, but he didn’t like the look of the muddy water along the bank and decided to wait till he returned to camp.
He looked down the trail at the line of cattle stretched as far as he could see. Pa rode up and stopped to let his horse drink. Will and Pa sat in their saddles as the sky turned gold, then purple and pink. “Pa,” Will said pointing back the way they’d come. “It looks like a river of cattle.”
“A river of cattle?” Pa wiped sweat from his face. “A good name for what we’re pushing. A river that behaves as smooth as well water through a trough, but can scatter like a waterfall exploding down a rocky cliff.”
September 18, 2016
I would like to introduce you to the thorn in Will’s side, Two Feathers, a half white, half Comanche boy whose goal in life is to capture Will’s big buckskin stallion, Buck.
Here’s a little background history. Before the Civil War the army had managed to push the Comanche back toward the Llano Estacado (also known as the Staked Plains of Texas) and settlers had begun to establish farms and ranches past the hill country of central Texas into the eastern edges of what we now call west Texas. When war broke out the army removed most of its troops to fight in the east and the Comanche managed to reclaim much of their territory back toward central Texas. There were Comanche raids as far east as Fredericksburg.
Will Whitaker lived with his Pa, Dan, on their ranch near Fort Belknap located near present day Newcastle, TX northwest of Fort Worth. The Comanche were active in this part of Texas at the time and danger lurked behind every rock and tree. It was a hard country to live in for both white men and Comanche.
Two Feathers stood behind the trunk of a sycamore just below the edge of the creek bed. He could feel his blood spurting through his arms and legs, making them twitch, pulse, and want to move. Standing still was not an easy thing to do that morning. He waited.
The birds twittered in the trees, disturbed by his presence. The morning held no hint of summer haze. It seemed he could see every detail of every blade of grass. There seemed no end to the distance. He eased his way from the creek bed up a small rise and bellied down to get a better view of the activity at the ranch.
The white man and the boy had been easy to follow. The big horse had left deep tracks. He watched the yellow-horse- with-black-mane-and-tail, a dunnia. Even from this distance, he knew he had not been wrong when he had first seen the horse earlier that morning. How can a white boy, younger than my own twelve summers, ride such a horse? No white boy can ride like a Comanche.
“A warrior’s horse,” he whispered in awe. His head swam from the sight of the magnificent stallion. So big. So strong. So fast.
He dreamed of riding the big horse into his village, the other boys watching in envy as he brushed the golden coat and braided his eagle feathers in the long, flowing black mane.
The morning sun brought new plans, new confidence. I will follow the boy who rides the dunnia. My chance will come. That horse will be mine.
Two Feathers watched as a dark-gray horse and rider burst from the pen and raced across the prairie. The boy and the dunnia followed, easily keeping pace. His heart swelled with pride. No horse can beat you. You run fast, like the antelope. He slipped from the crest of the hill and ran to Old Pony, leaped astride, and took off through the woods, keeping the running horses in sight. Following a gully, he reached the creek bed in time to see the gray horse with his rider leap off the bluff. It was all he could do not to let out a wild whoop in surprise. The man and horse scrambled up the other side and raced off.
Wild, like a gray wolf, fierce and strong. He, too, is a warrior’s horse.
He stepped Old Pony from the cover of the trees in his amazement. Realizing his mistake, he ducked back in the shadows.
He looked across the prairie. No horse stood on the bluff. The dunnia? His breath caught in his throat. Has he, too, gone over the edge? Eyes searched the prairie and relief made him weak when he spotted horse and boy racing back to the ranch.
Two Feathers searched for the gray horse. It had disappeared over the crest of a hill. Its gutsy spirit thrilled him. Two warrior’s horses! He sat still, lost in dreams. Old Pony nudged his shoulder. Two Feathers thoughts returned to the white man’s ranch and the dunnia. I will have you.
Since this is a blog of my first public showing of the cover of The River of Cattle I decided to include the first scene in the book. It’s just a teaser (I do so love to tease people) and a little dose of temptation to stir the juices of curiosity so that on the official launch day, NOVEMBER 1, 2016, you will be ready and eagerly waiting to see what happens to Will and Buck. I’ll post another excerpt, this one about Two Feathers, in October. So, STAY TUNED!
“Come on, Pa. If we don’t spur up, the wild horses will be broke before I get there.” Will Whitaker’s heels itched to tap Buck into a gallop. Yesterday had been all about hurry up and get the work done. Will slipped another side glance at Pa. Today there was no hurry up in the man.
“It’s going to be a long day. You want to burn Buck out before we get started?” Pa asked. “I’m gonna need you two on the way back. Besides, we aren’t buying wild horses. Goodnight and I need working stock for the cattle drive.”
They crested a hill, and Will spotted the corrals in the distance. He gave Buck a slight kick with his boot heels, and the stallion stepped out ahead of Pa’s sorrel. Pa didn’t seem to notice. The last quarter mile stretched forever.
They rode up to Charlie Goodnight at Baxter’s ranch. Horses milled in the loaded corrals, except the big pen in the middle. It held only one. Will forced his gaze from the horse in the pen and turned to greet the tall trail boss. Goodnight was still on his horse. We’re not too late.
“Good to see you, Dan.” Charlie shook Pa’s hand.
“Howdy, Will.” The trail boss’s big hand surrounded Will’s. “You ready to be a drover on a long cattle drive?”
As far back in his eleven years as he could remember, Pa had told stories about the famous cowman. He hoped his grin disguised his grimace as the big hand closed with a tight grip. He wiggled his numb fingers and maneuvered Buck closer to the action in the pen.
He watched a bowlegged cowboy walk up to the angry, white-eyed mustang. The blowing, snorting horse stood snubbed to the post in the middle of the corral; sweat already streaked his shoulders. The rider gathered the reins in one hand, stuck one foot firmly in the stirrup, and swung his other leg over the saddle. The cowboy at the horse’s head pulled the rope loose and scrambled for the rails. The horse jumped and kissed the moon.
“Ride that bronc!” Will whooped and waved his hat in the air. Snapping the well-worn Stetson tight on his head, he nudged Buck closer and stretched tall in the stirrups to see over the men standing on the corral rails. Billowing dust rose from the horse’s hooves like steam. The cowboy was jerked up, down, and sideways. The horse crow-hopped, twisted, and bucked from one end of the corral to the other.
“Buck, did you see that?” Excitement made him wiggle in the saddle, and he slapped his leg with his hat.
The buckskin stallion turned his ears back toward his best friend.
Will pulled his boots from the stirrups and onto the saddle beneath him. Straining to see every second of the action and his heart jumping with every leap of the bronc, he practically stood on the saddle.
“Pay attention. You might learn something about buckin’. Hold tight! Hang on!” He hollered along with the men who rooted for the rider from the safety of the tall bars.
“Pa,” Will yelled over the noise of the cheering cowboys. “If all the horses are like that one, I may be the only cowboy not getting a buckin’ lesson in the mornings.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Pa. “You won’t be on Buck all the time. You’ll have to ride other horses.”
Will watched the bronc slow to a walk, horse and rider both sweat soaked. Finally it stopped, front legs spread, head drooping, sides heaving. After a few minutes, the rider nudged it into a walk around the corral.
“Here he is, boys, gentle as a new-born foal.” He tipped his hat to the men.
Will patted Buck’s neck. “You know, Buck, I can handle horses. I taught you, and you’re bigger than any horse here. I can handle anything they put me on.”
Two cowboys lassoed a wild-eyed pinto and dragged it, kicking and bucking, to the snubbing post, and the circus started over.
Will wiped his sweaty forehead with his sleeve. He worked his tongue around his mouth to stir up enough spit to swallow. Well, almost anything.
July 10, 2016
Did I dare to dream? That question has haunted me for the many years I have worked on this book. I would work on it almost in a frenzy for a while and then I’d think, It’s never going to happen. I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not creative enough. Who am I fooling? Nobody will read it. And I’d quit. But it stayed in my mind. Something would happen and I’d go at it again.
I remember one day we had cowboys come to pen and work cattle. One of them brought his son with him. The boy was about nine or ten. I watched him out at the lot with the horses and at lunch when they all came into my kitchen stomping the dirt off their boots and washing rough calloused hands with my lemon scented kitchen soap. They all were laughing, joking around and hungry as bears after a winter’s sleep. As I watched this young boy, who had been a student of mine, I saw my character, Will. My Will, who at the time was flat, without much life to him, suddenly took form and blossomed into a real boy in my mind. Because I fed the cowboys my book took a giant leap forward.
That is the way this adventure has progressed, from stagnate pools of self-doubt to forward progress in antelope leaps. Now, it’s done. But still I have no image of its bookness (can you tell I made that word up?) It still doesn’t seem real to me.
Then, one day I got an email from my editor and in an attachment was the first very rough draft of a possible book cover. I began to think of it as a book instead of a manuscript. I began to think of it in book form, something I could actually hold in my hand. A book. A real book. My real book!
After viewing several cover possibilities, deciding on the general idea for the cover, going back and forth with my editor, fine tuning and tweaking, the wonderful cover design folks at Pen-L Publishing came up with a cover that passes all my hopes. It is terrific and beautiful. I am so pleased!
I will be posting it on my website and my author Facebook page soon. Let me know what you think.