I know how Buffalo Bill felt watching his Wild West Show from the sidelines, astride his own horse with gloved hands at rest on the saddle horn, casually holding the reins. He knew how to sit a saddle — balls of his feet lightly pressed in equal weight to each stirrup, boot-heels slanted downward, posture straight, unlike movie cowboys who flop like slouching trout against saddle leather and press their feet too far in the stirrups so boot heels catch and toes point down.
Buffalo Bill knew that audiences might not know the difference between an actor or a real cowpoke, but he understood that they’d react enthusiastically to the authentic passion of riders — Native Americans, cowpokes or cavalry scouts — when they rode a horse. The crowd roared with delight when each group performed a trick or re-enacted scenarios so smoothly no noticed things like how a cowpoke aimed his boots.
You can’t fake riding. Nor can writers fake writing.
Sure we all ride or write differently. Sioux warriors had no stirrups and leaned far over the necks of their horses in a full gallop. Texas cowboys had different saddles than California buckaroos and each wore different hats. Scouts were soldiers who held the reins differently so that they could also maneuver a rifle on the run. Some writers craft believable characters; others set scenes that pop to life like the start of a movie in a theater; and others twist plots that make eager bobble-heads out of readers.
Writing, like riding, improves with practice. Of course, you need to have knowledge, too. Those actors who slipped out of their saddles at a change of gait might have asked how to avoid it next time, just as a writer struggling with dialog might read a post by an author who has mastered it. It becomes a cycle of learning and applying.
But you have to write and be willing to fall once in a while.
Then there are those cowpokes who love the riding so much that they sing with joy to the prairie sun, “I’m lonesome but I’m happy, I’m rich but I’m broke.” These are the riders that Buffalo Bill sought for his Wild West Show. The riders who, like him, knew the joy of living on the back of a horse despite its hardships the same way some writers know the joy of living on the words they express despite it being a tough career or a demanding hobby.
Each week when I compile the stories of the Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers & Friends, I know how Buffalo Bill felt when he watched his Rough Riders perform. It’s good to have others who share the love of the ride/write. Writers who write (blog posts, reviews, essays articles, short stories, poems, letters and journals) are as authentic as riders who ride (appaloosas, cow-ponies, cutting horses, race horses, jumpers, trail-blazers and Percherons). And the results are worth beholding.
Like many of the riders who rode the wild west show circuits, many writers seek the purse (fame and fortune). Cowpokes, Indians and buckaroos created rodeos as a way to win a cash prize and hear an audience cheer. Writers seek a cash prize in publication and receive cheers from readers who review. Neither is easy to achieve and booing is an unwanted possibility. To ride successfully you have to be able to connect with your horse. To write successfully you have to be able to connect with your story. Both have to win over audiences.
Thus, I’m calling my manuscript publication process The Rodeo. At first, I named it the Great Rejection Rodeo to acknowledge that rejection is part of the process. Manuscripts get rejected for many reasons; some are within a writer’s control and some are not. Some days, you draw a bad horse to ride. Yet, it occurred to me that rodeo riders never say, “The Great Broken Bone Rodeo” so why am I fixating on the inevitable negative when it is the ride that gives me joy? When it is the purse I’m doggedly pursuing come broken bones or rejection? The Rodeo it is.
And there’s a big rodeo coming up in March called the Out of Binders Symposium held in Los Angeles at UCLA. It includes a line up of workshops, networking with established authors and a VIP event with literary agents and publishers. My name was called in the draw and I won a scholarship. It makes me feel like these lines from the song, Cowpoke (give it a listen; it’s a beautiful cowboy yodeling song):
“I ain’t got a cent in these old worn out jeans
Stop eating steaks and go back to beans
I’ll pick up a ten spot in Houston I know
For a-riding the broncs in a big rodeo”
So this carefree range-writing drifting buckaroo is going! Despite my inner cringe factor at asking for money, I’m launching an Indie.GoGo fundraiser tomorrow in response to family and friends who offered the encouragement to do so. Now I know how Buffalo Bill felt when he got investor backing to take his Wild West Show to Europe.
Speaking of backing, I’ll be updating the collaboration page (with yet another call for feedback) because I want to roll over any raised funds to support the launch of any Rough Writer collaboration and have a plan for it by the time I go to LA in case I can find an interested publisher. Why not? That’s the spirit of the rodeo — go for it!
If you’ve hung in the saddle this far you’re thinking about this week’s tie to the prompt — Buffalo Bill, riding horses, being rich but broke? All tantalizing possibilities, but it’s going to be about nutty aunts. How so? Well, you see, Geoff, one of the Rough Writers, commented on the universality of nutty aunts. And while I was contemplating this post a flash came to mind about a nutty aunt who used to ride broncs in the rodeos. I really just wanted to write that story! So tell me one about a nutty aunt.
February 4, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt. What makes her nutty? Is it the situation she’s in or a quirky habit? She can be anybody’s aunt. Maybe she’s really somebody’s uncle but wants to be an aunt. Maybe it’s the name of a cowpoke’s horse, a hockey team or a village pub. Follow where the prompt leads.
Respond by February 10, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Aunt Bronco Billy by Charli Mills
“No one cared where I’d go,” Aunt Billy said to the children sitting cross-legged at her booted feet. Her rocker creaked with undulating bulk.
“Not your Ma?” asked the youngest. The others shushed him.
“Nope. Too many chits and not enough beans.” She puffed a hand-rolled cigarette and snuffed it on a beer bottle.
“Won this silver belt buckle at the Clay County Rodeo.” She grinned and lifted up her belly from the belt that girdled her faded gauchos. The kids grinned back, some nearly as toothless as the celebrity aunt who once busted broncos for buckles and bucks.
Ranch-keeping for Rough Writers: In case you are wondering, I’m looking into some options for listing books in the Bunkhouse Bookstore. A gallery lets me set up a collection of thumbnails, but doesn’t allow for links to purchase. A list calls for too much scrolling. An idea will come to me! Like with writing, sometimes I just need to let the page simmer.
Watch for a book give-away over at Annecdotal this week, as Rough Writer, Anne Goodwin, will be posting one with a book review.
Thanks for the terrific show last week! Your feats and remarks were inspiring!