I am so happy to introduce my guest blogger for the entire month of June: award-winning author, Stephen Bly. Stephen has written over 100 books, won the 2002 Christy award for his book, The Long Trail Home, and a Christy award finalist for Picture Rock, The Outlaw’s Twin Sister, and Last of the Texas Camp. His new book, Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon, releases June 1st AND YOU have a chance to win a copy (details at the bottom of this post).
- I’d love to write a novel. As someone who has written over 100 books and countless articles, what advice can you offer?
My first question to you: are you starting with a book? I wrote and published hundreds of articles and short stories and cowboy poems before I ever attempted a book length project. Even then, it was nonfiction first. I had established myself as a writer of family, devotional and discipleship books for adults, teens and kids, before I considered fiction. And before I did novels for adults, I tried stories for youth. But that’s my journey.
To publish a first novel in today’s competitive market requires a well-honed craft, a cadre of ready readers, and some name recognition. On the other hand, to become a novelist, you must get your first story or two into your slush pile. So, keep plugging away. Doesn’t mean it won’t be good and printable on the first try, but your manuscript(s) will provide that necessary well of experience with words and a story-world.
- You have had so many varied life experiences, i.e., pastor, mayor, writer, speaker, father, husband, gun collector, etc. How has God led you in these different ventures?
My wife, Janet, and I had been married four years and had our first two sons, when we were confronted with the claims of Christ on our lives. After we became followers of Jesus, my life took a dramatic turn…from my father’s ranch to going to seminary, to see what God called me to be and do. After I began to serve in my first church, Janet searched for God’s will for her talents. That eventually led to Mount Hermon Writers Conference. As she learned how to write and send materials to editors, she asked permission to edit some of my sermons…to pull out stories and articles…and send those too.
“Sure,” I said, “but writing’s not my thing. It’s yours. Don’t get me involved.”
One day I went to the mailbox and found two checks made out to me from two different magazine articles. That’s when I considered that maybe I might try writing on my own.
After I published my first western, a man moved to our small town, a tool and die maker, who was an expert on antique Winchesters. I asked him if he had any guns like the ones my characters carried.
“Sure do,” he said.
“I’d like to shoot them, so I know exactly how that feels,” I replied.
We went to a shooting range a couple times and that began a partnership that evolved into a full-blown collector hobby.
- I’ve heard people use the term “cowboy philosopher” used for years. What is it about the “cowboy life” that lends itself to philosophizing and a closer walk with God?
A cowboy’s friendships were shaped by tough work and tragedy, companionship and daily battle with weather and critters. Only the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would equal the old West in producing men of courage and character. This stark reality on the land, with lots of nights around a campfire and under the heavens, goaded them to storytelling, philosophizing, and wondering about God.
Good cowboys are highly skilled workmen. They might not need a college degree, but it took years to attain the level of expertise they possessed in working cattle and reading brands. Those qualities meant the difference between a cattleman’s profit and loss. By the time most cowboys realized that the independent life can get mighty lonely, it was too late. Few were drafted as cowboys. They rode by their own choice. Though they might not regret that decision, most wished they’d planned better for their future.
Talk slow and think deep. It’s part of the Code of the West. I remember in the mid-1980s standing at the graveside of my uncle. At the time, his place encompassed around 14,000 acres. As I looked down at the coffin of my Uncle Buster, an old-timer slid up beside me. “He was a good man, son. He lived by the Code.”
People who lived out West didn’t figure there was a Code of the West, like some historians and writers do now. Their unwritten code was “the way we do things.” Those oral principles got handed down from father to son. Not much different than any family, clan, or culture. And it contained lots of very practical advice.
“Little Brother, a man don’t jump into the stream until he sees which way the water’s flowin’,” says a character in my newest release, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (June 1st, hardback). It’s told from a 10-year-old boy’s point-of-view, but years later as an adult. He learns many life lessons one summer’s day in a lobby at the Matador Hotel in Albuquerque. He gets a graduate degree in cowboy philosophy.
- You and your wife are known for your western novels. In fact, you’ve been a Christy Award finalist four times and were the 2002 winner for The Long Trail Home. Has there ever been a time when you had doubts about a book you were writing?
No. I’m usually three books ahead in my mind. The one I’m writing today is already finished in my head. I think it’s going to be a good story. And so is the next one I’m going to do. Now, the one that is third on my list is a bit sketchy still; however, I really have no doubts about it.
- I have some friends who raise cattle and they’ve gotten a kick out of my attempts to help them (remind me to tell you why you don’t chase cows with an umbrella, even if it is raining). What’s the funniest “city slicker” moment you’ve seen?
The ones I’m aware of are most often not funny; they’re painful…and naive. Many gentle city folk think a range cow is a tame backyard pet. When they start harassin’ her calf, they’re lucky not to get corralled in a hospital.
And there’s the guy who thinks he can rope a calf, horseback, so he ties hard-and-fast, ropes a fencepost, and rips the saddle off the horse.
Or there’s the look on a tenderfoot’s face as they slip to the ground and try to walk, after a 5 hour horse ride.
- I know that feeling – although it’s been close to twenty years since I’ve been on a horse! Thank you so much for taking the time to answering my questions and participating in my Blyfest Blogfest. I’ve ordered my copy of Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon and can’t wait to get it.