Thursday, July 05, 2012


Author Stephen Bly
Stephen Bly
by Stephen Bly

The man with the cowboy hat is holding a thesaurus and a dictionary and he tells his friend, "I've got all the words I need for my western. Now I've got to put them in the right order."

So, you want to be a writer? That's a noble goal, it's true. Jist like big time wrestlin', the urge comes over you, to pen that one immortal line before your life is through and find your name in micro-print in America's Who's Who.

So, you want to be a writer? Well, pardner, shake my hand. I hope your journey's short and swift to that published Promised Land, where reviews flow in from coast to coast with accolades so grand. And among them literary giants, you're asked to take your stand.

Manual Underwood Typewriter
So, you want to be a writer? Well, it don't sound all that tough. I hope you find the contracts big and loaded down with fluff. And editors a beggin' you to send them some more stuff, while your banker's holdin' up his hands, cryin', "Hold it! That's enough!"

So, you want to be a writer? I know jist how you feel. It holds a certain status and a glamorous appeal. I've been there once or twice myself. That hunger's kind of real. 'Til one day you wake up and find, it ain't that big a deal.
(from "So, You Want To Be A Writer?" copyright©1997)

Here's seven quick tips that might help you kick that barrel down the trail. 


Stagecoach with horses
1.) Get real. Capture the grime and odor of the Old West. Can you imagine what a crowded stagecoach smelled like? But remember, even cowboys, mountain men and gunslingers had a bath now and then.

2.) Get the culture. While writing Creede Of Old Montana and the setting at Fort Benton, I found out about the decade of smoldering resentment against Chinese mine laborers. In September of 1885, white men at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, went on a rampage, killing 28 Chinese and wounding 15 others. Several hundred more Chinese got chased from the area. Similar incidents sprang up all over the West. Congress decided in 1882 to suspend all Chinese immigration, but the violence continued. This played a part in the story I was creating.

3.) Get the details. Baker and Brother was one of the West's leading firearm dealers. Their store in Fort Benton armed thousands of cattlemen, miners, farmers and Indians. Thus, I added Baker and Brother Mercantile to the scene.

back of young couple in sepia
4.) Get something new. I had created all my character sketches and am writing along when all of a sudden one of them does an unexpected thing. Ace Emerson has a girlfriend? Why, he's only a teen. I leave the kid on his own for a chapter or two and look what happens. What's an author to do? A new wrinkle to weave in. Maybe I should have left him trapped in a grizzly bear den.

5.) Pull out something old. Characters from other novels have a way of reappearing in my new ones. In Creede Of Old Montana, young Angelita Gomez from The Code Of The West Series returns. She hadn't changed too much. She's now selling elephant rides on a 'borrowed' baby elephant. So like her.

6.) Salt with someone sane. Besides the hero/ine, that is. Like the Fort Benton mayor who makes common sense, unlike those civic leaders in the movie High Noon. Not everyone out west was a shootist. Not everyone packed a gun on his or her hip. But they did recognize evil when they saw it. Some, like the mayor, just had to discover what they could do about it, what were reasonable options.

7.) Pepper in action. Often I hear from writers that they have trouble keeping their plot moving. They get about two or three chapters into the story and it seems to grind to a halt. They can't think of where to go next. So, they ask me, "What do you do with writer's block?" I'm not much help to them. I've never had that malady. But I can give a bit of advice about what to do when the story drags. This literary trick has never failed me. It will grab your reader's attention and pull them right back in. Grab your pen and write this down. Tape it to your computer. Memorize it. When your plot dies, shoot someone. That's it. Always works for me. I wonder why they don't teach that in English 101?

When's the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Creede of Old Montana by Stephen Bly
Creede of Old Montana
An ex-cavalry soldier tramps to Fort Benton, Montana, in search of four Army pals who don't show up for a scheduled reunion. Instead, he stops a bank robbery and finds himself in one conflict after another, which includes two women. He buys a ring for one of them. The other wants him dead.

Available on Kindle, Nook or iPad. Also, through  If you have trouble with this website, you can email for ordering instructions.

Stuart Brannon's Final Shot by Stephen Bly (with Janet, Russell, Michael & Aaron Bly) now available through as hardback, paperback or ebook. Click below.


MK said...

Great post! I love finding westerns set in Montana, so I'll be sure to check this one out!

Janet Chester Bly said...

MK: Thanks much for the note!