What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



March 2011

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June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011














What am I currently reading?

Shane by Jack Schaefer – this really does raise the bar on the myth of the gunfighter.

Did cowboys swear? And if so did they use the ‘f’ word?

Why do I ask? Well I recently followed an interesting debate amongst Black Horse Western (BHW) writers, in a forum on the internet, that commenced with the discovery of the ‘f’ word by an author in another author’s BHW book. She was a little amazed and wondered if it was appropriate. What was to follow was an examination of the use of expletives within western stories, and of course the HBO TV series Deadwood became the touchstone on which many opinions and examples were put forward on the state of the modern western.

I’ll come back to Deadwood and give you my opinion, for what it is worth, but first, let’s start at the beginning. Did cowboys swear? And I think the only answer to that is yes, sometimes. And when would that be? Maybe when a cow steps on a foot, or a red-hot banding iron handle singes a hand. These surprising and painful experiences tend to cause a sort of spontaneous response to escape the lips, especially in a male dominated workplace that doesn’t have the moderating influence of women. (I’m old enough to remember the call, ‘Ducks on the pond,’ which was code for mind your tongue, women are approaching.) But on feeling that jolt of pain to the foot or hand, what did a cowboy, back in the 1800s, actually say?

Now, I do know there are reference books out there on the use of colloquial language within various cultures and even sub-cultures. I don’t have any in my personal library but I do remember when I discovered their existence in my early teens. It happened in our State Library and it was an American publication that dealt in detail, complete with examples of street talk, of the language used amongst the black population in the industrial north from the 1900s on. The ‘f’ word got more than a fair hearing, normally tacked onto the front of a name or gender of a close family member. Jack and his mother got singled out for special attention. So, for a 13 year old to see this written in ink and between the covers of book from the library, it gave pause for thought – could there be another world out there different to mine? This question has since been answered in the affirmative more than a few dozen times.

The next interesting book I found after this in our State Library was on Chicago gangland killings of the 1920s and 30s, complete with graphic photographs of the dead, shot down in restaurants and covered garages on Saint Valentine’s Day. The penny really dropped this time. Maybe not everybody is living the pedestrian life of a middle-class Christian Brother’s College schoolboy? No wonder I got to love libraries.  

But back to the chase, or should I say Deadwood. Now let me declare, up front, that Deadwood didn’t work for me. I thought the sets were magnificent, as were the costumes and the cast, but the script just seemed to lack the authenticity, or picture I have in my mind of the west. Is that because my picture is flawed? I bet it is. The Old West has become a fantasy world of myth and wonder, which started with the dime novel and has since been reinforced by Italian film directors and a thousand Hollywood movies since. But some elements of this magnificent age are irrefutable – the frontier, the cattle, the guns, the hardship, the endeavor, and finally the success – as it truly was the forging of a nation. Yes, I know, I can get carried away with it all but you get my drift. So, Deadwood, at least for me, didn’t seem to be telling that story, so I lost interest; and being a boy with a short attention span, I moved on and didn’t give it anymore thought, until a few months ago when by chance I picked-up the book Reading Deadwood – A Western to Swear By, edited by David Lavery.

I came across the book at the closing down sale of our Borders city store. I wandered in to pick over the bones of the carcass, something I wished I hadn’t done; because the death of what was once a big vibrant bookshop was downright depressing. On a ‘going cheap’ table was Lavery’s book and I bought it on spec.

This detailed and lengthy work is academic in nature. David Lavery is the Chair in Film and TV at Brunel University in London and he draws on a heard of fellow academic contributors who work, teach and research film and television. Now I’m not too sure if any of them actually worked in the entrainment industry producing stuff, but I digress. Some of the views are pretty interesting and some are, just academic. But two facts, unknown to me before reading this book, allowed me to better understand Deadwood.

The first was about the show’s creator, David Milch. He had successfully bought Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blues to the little screen, and was invited by HBO to propose a project for their consideration. What he turned-in was another police drama but this one was not set in Los Angeles or New York, but Rome – at the time of Nero (AD 54-68). Yeah, interesting ah? The proposed show started with the arrest of St Paul, which is even more interesting. However, HBO had already committed to a new series called Rome, to be made in partnership with the BBC, so they declined. But the door was left open with the advice to Milch that he might like to explore similar themes in a different setting. The result is Deadwood.

This revelation was one of those eureka moments and it now all made sense. The decadence, debauchery and decline of Rome had been superimposed onto a small town in South Dakota in the 1870s. Nero, Caligula and Claudia Octavia were now replaced by Hickok, Earp and Calamity Jane.  So think of this as a little exercise next time you are watching an episode of Deadwood. Substitute the bandanas for togas and the cowboy boots for Roman sandals and see if the decline into debauchery makes more sense. It did for me.

The trouble is, that’s not what I think the Old West was about. Its star was on the ascendency with the wealth that was coming from cattle, agriculture, mining and the railroads. This was a nation of immigrants seeking their fortune and heading towards industrialization and the wealth it would produce. The frontier towns thrived on opportunity and were not ruled by a tyrannical empire; in fact it was the opposite. The east coast legislators had only a precarious hold over the lives of the settlers and the delivery of law and order, so it was mostly left to each isolated community to figure it out for themselves, by hiring or electing a town lawman. So the out of control behavior befitting Emperor Nero and his court starts to look a little out of place, even for a wild Saturday night at Al Swearengen’s Gem saloon and brothel.

My second revelation was about David Milch himself. David Lavery is quoted as saying in Reading Deadwood that, he (Milch) is a former Yale University creative writing professor who left academe to seek his fortune in Hollywood because an Ivy League salary could not sufficiently support his heroin addition, alcoholism, and gambling habits.’

Now, that what I call a serious lifestyle of excess, and while I have written the odd line or two while under the influence of a glass or three of red wine – and been under the impression that I was writing with the flare of John le Carre – I did find the next morning that my scribbles were mostly a load of old tripe. Now, throw in a whack or two of heroin, and well, I’ll leave you to consider what the end result might be.  

So, do I have a view on the use of profanity in the Western? I guess only that it has to fit, a little like violence and sex. If it is thrown in, purely for effect, to add nothing to the story, then it is unnecessary and just gets in the way. But, if it is in context and character, then it can enhance the story and therefore has a place. Anyway that’s my tuppence on the subject and it’s now time for me to f . . . Oops! I mean, it’s time for me to go.

See ya,


November 2011

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