Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dust Bowling with Vick Schoen

Today I am sharing my blog with Vick Schoen. Vicki and I were critique partners for many years. Through several different groups the two of us wrote on. She has been essential in me becoming who I am as a writer. She has a new novel set in the dust bowl era here in the Texas Panhandle.  

Historical Fiction As It Was Really Lived

In the Texas Panhandle during the 1930s, the hard, cracked earth seemed to turn on the men and women who had nurtured it all their lives. The decade-long drought had rendered the fields barren, susceptible to the constant wind tearing away the topsoil. A tough place to eke out a living. Some folks left. Some died. Some lost their nerve and their hope. But the strongest survived and became the backbone of the area. These are the folks who personified the enduring values of the American West. These are the heroes of Inherit the Texas Earth.

These are the people who joined the Last Man’s Club promising to remain in the area and support each other through the hard times. These are the people who found time to play and laugh and love during one of the most trying eras in American history.

Writing about them was a challenge. I wanted to make my fictional characters strong enough and vulnerable enough to pay just homage to the real players in the drama. And I wanted to acknowledge the land on which they built their futures.

Meet some of the main characters.

Willy Gil Kellogg talking to Gramps as the old man is dying ... 
Gramps lay on his side facing the open windows. An evening breeze was making an unsuccessful effort to clear out the odor of medicinal alcohol and vomit. The western sky glowed with oranges and pinks—the day’s last attempt to keep the night at bay.
“Will, come ‘round over here.” Gramps’s voice sounded small and empty, not the commanding, full resonance Willy Gil had heard his whole life. “Pull that chair up. I got something to say to you.”
“Yes, sir.
“You comfortable, Gramps?”
“Oh, sure.” The old man sucked in a shallow breath of air. “’about as comfortable as a snake in mud.”
Willy tried not to grin—but did anyway. “Grandma says eat some soup.”
“Well tell her I ate it. Make her happy. But toss it out the window. I’d just throw it up.”

Rosemary Fielding on her first morning in Texas ...
Rosemary looked at the wheat ready to harvest, the shack needing repair that would be their home, this plot of land Pa had signed a lease on yesterday claiming, “The good Lord’s wantin’ us to be Texans.” Sharecroppers. That’s what they’d become.
Pa had tried cotton farming and failed. Then he’d worked at the sawmill in Augusta and failed at that too. Now was his opportunity to fail at wheat farming. About the only thing he hadn’t failed at was getting Ma pregnant.

Quan Blackhorse on returning to his family’s abandoned home in the Texas Panhandle ...
Quan sat cross-legged on the floor picturing what had been before the accident. His mom baking bread, his dad coming through the door dirty, tired, and proud. He strained, trying to make his memory retrieve the sounds of the Comanche his father spoke only to him, but it had been eight years. He shook his head. Then he rose and spoke to the air. “I am back, Father. I cannot assuage my guilt, but I will redeem your name. The burden of injustice is now mine.”

The Land
Willy Gil walked the hard, sore ground that was his farm, mourning. Mourning for events that couldn’t be changed and now needed to be put to rest. Mourning for the child and mourning for the family member who killed her. And now the killer appeared terminal.

You can read chapter one of Inherit the Texas Earth at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking Flight with the Thieving Birds

So I had this gig writing for a music magazine. It was fun while it lasted, but we mutually parted ways after having a deep philosophical divide about the musical influence of the late great Waylon Jennings, compared to the bro country babble of one Luke Bryan. I was hired as the Indie music contrarian and they want to now go more mainstream which is certainly their prerogative, but my musical tastes are not in line with that vision and faking articles I am passionate about, is not why I write.

I am proud of some of the stuff I wrote including a few articles that were rejected as too far off the mainstream path. Today I am sharing one such article about a band called the Thieving Birds.

by Travis Erwin

From small towns to big cities, they are all the same …

A scratched, dented bar. Stools to perch on. Not too comfortable, but sturdy and more than adequate to take a load off. Off in the corner, the golf video game replays glory shots of games past. Beside it, a man is taking shots, not of liquor, but at pixelated deer with an orange plastic gun …

… the neighborhood bar.

Under the soft glow of neon two men play pool. The clacking of balls a natural accompaniment to the clink of beer bottles. The flotsam and jetsam of conversation rises and falls to just trump the volume of the music. There, in the space between songs you catch a shiny bit of confession not hushed in time.

It is early still. The back corner where the small stage sits, if you can call a few raised planks of plywood a stage, is dark. Waiting.

Most of the crowd came to drink. They'd be just as happy if the band didn't play. Talking over the jukebox is one thing, but they’ll have to shout once the band kicks off.

There are a few of us who came for the music.

But not the rowdy happy hour holdover holding court at the bar. His suit jacket tossed to the side as forgotten as the crappy work day that drove him to stop in for a beer or ten before heading on home. He'll call in sick tomorrow, not really remembering what went down, but neither will he regret the night. Except maybe for the dry cleaning bill to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from his suit jacket. But even that is okay, because hey, he nearly talked that waitress, the one with two inches of tanned flesh showing beneath her Senor Frogs tank top, into going home with him …

… the neighborhood bar.

The band arrives. Checks in at the bar. Everybody but the base player orders a beer, because the bar provides domestic bottles or drafts free of charge to the talent. The bassists doesn't care. He pays for a Jack and Coke because he likes that whiskey burn. Because he needs that moody edge.

The band takes the stage to tinker with their equipment. There are no roadies here. These guys are their own roadies. For that same reason the t-shirt and CD table stand empty until after their set.

This same scene is played out night after night. Could be any bar. Could be any town. Could be any band.

But on this night there is magic in the air.

The Thieving Birds are playing more than three hundred miles from their home in Fort Worth, Texas. They are playing for less than fifty people in a nondescript bar. In a nondescript town. Lead singer and guitarists Ace Crayton looks like Val Kilmer, circa Doc Holiday in Tombstone, but like the band's genre, Crayton's voice is harder to pin down. Smooth entering the notes, but rawer on the exit. Every word packed with emotion. Are the country? Are they rock? In the end it doesn’t matter, because they are just that damn good.

The band has undergone a few changes. Kenny Hollingsworth has taken over at guitar joining Crayton, bassists Rody Molder, and drummer Beau Brauer, but their music is raw, emotional, thoughtful and rebellious somehow. Listening to them is liberating in the way adulthood seldom is. Like a stolen smoke in the junior high bathroom, or that rush of adrenaline the first time you talked your girlfriend into sneaking out the window after midnight. Live and on stage they interact with their audience and are playful between songs. Readily accepting shots from their handful of admiring fans, the band didn’t seem to care how many were in attendance just so long as those in the room enjoyed the show.

And enjoy it they did. In the middle of the set I looked around. The pool balls sat idle, the orange plastic gun dangled from its tether. The happy hour business man took a break from his pursuit of Miss Senor Frog and settled happily onto a not-too-comfortable stool, whiskey in hand. The Thieving Birds had captured the room, taking flight with energy, magic, and talent.

These birds are no doubt headed for greatness and my thoughts after listening to both of their albums (Gold Coast and Thieving Birds) only reinforced that I was lucky to catch them in such intimate terms down …

… at the neighborhood bar. 


Thursday, October 8, 2015

P is for Plodding

These days I seem have more to say than I do time to say it. Or in this case write it.

It's been a busy hectic summer and fall, but I think the one normal facet of life these days is that none of us have enough hours in the day.

Writing has been going well, despite no obvious evidence to the outside world. I am closing in on finally finishing a novel that I first started some ten years ago. At the time I was a bit intimated by he complexities of the story and its characters but as my skills have grown over the years so has my desire to finish. I have also started another story, this one with series potential that I am really excited about.

Meanwhile I've been doing a fair amount of freelance work for everything from a music magazine, to to football articles, and the exciting world of Femco oil pan drain plugs. A great novel

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Women's Fiction Writer's Association first ever retreat. The event was perhaps the best writer's gathering I've ever been to. Met a lot of great and talented authors and I just finished reading The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White . I loved the novel. Deep complex characters that surprised and enlightned from start to finish.  And that ending ... WOW!

I was fortunate enough to get to hang out with Barbara and listen to hear cute cheerful British accent.

She and my wife haggled with the jewelry makers in Old Town while I strolled along and soaked up the cool vibes. I met many other longtime online friends as well as acquired new ones. The talent level was amazing.

Bet you can't pick me out.

I encourage anyone who writes Women's Fiction to check out he group and join. You won't find a more supportive organization.

So that's what I've been up to. What about you?