Western Wednesdays—OPEN RANGE by Lauran Paine

I have to admit, I saw the movie Open Range before I ever read the book by Lauran Paine. In my opinion, the film was successful in many ways in adapting the source material to the big screen. But, Lauran Paine is Lauran Paine. He’s a hell of a storyteller. His books have a rhythm all their own, and his words create a unique experience that film simply can’t replicate. I’m previewing two chapters of Open Range today because, well,  I’m of the opinion that the more time spent with Paine’s characters, the better.

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

Chapter One

A Gray World

Everything had a uniform drabness: the sky, the earth, and everything in between was gray. Sudden downpours from squall winds added to the dreary sameness. Even glimpses of some distant mountains showed them also to be gray.

The old wagon blended into the gloominess. There was a waterproofed texas someone had made by raising a pole underneath the cloth, high in the center so water would run downward instead of accumulating in the center of the top, causing a hazardous sag. There was a shallow shovel-width trench completely around the wagon, which carried off most of the water. The ground beneath the texas was wet but not soggy.

Everything seasoned rangemen could do to mitigate wetness had been done, but after the second day of steady rainfall nothing could keep the moisture out completely. Even the air inside the wagon was damp.

There had been very little warning. One night when the men bedded down they saw a few fleecy clouds in the sky. The clouds looked soiled around the edges but they were not numerous. Sometime during the night the storm had arrived. Its intensity gradually built up from one of those customary summer showers that cattlemen welcomed until it became a genuine gully washer that had not slackened for two days and nights.

The cattle were out there, invisible to the range-men whenever the cattle were more than a hundred yards away. The same with the horses—two half-ton bay harness animals and eight saddle horses.

This kind of a storm, out in the middle of a thousand miles of rolling-to-flat grassland with a monotonous view in all directions, had an effect on men whose thoughts, habits, and customs had made them individuals who coveted wide open spaces. Suddenly the weather had forced their horizons to shrink way back to the perimeter of the old wagon, along with most of their activities. By the second day of the downpour they had gone from inhabitants of an almost limitless world to being prisoners of an area no more than sixty feet long by about twelve feet wide.

They played poker with a greasy and dog-eared deck of cards. They slept as often as they cared to. They talked about other times, other places, other people and events. Finally, they took to smoking beneath the texas, coat collars turned up, shirts closed all the way to the gullet, hat brims pulled in front and back so water could run off down the sides. The rangemen buckled their chaps into place, leaving the part below the knee swinging free, because leather kept water out, for a while anyway.

The eldest of them was Boss Spearman. Sixty-odd years earlier his mother had named her beautiful little chubby baby boy Bluebonnet because his eyes were the color of the flower, but no one had called him anything but Boss for about half a century.

His mother wouldn’t have recognized him now. Boss was a little under six feet tall, lean, scarred, lined, craggy with a shock of rarely combed iron-gray hair. Like all orphaned Texans left on their own in the wake of a ruinous war, Boss Spearman had reached manhood by clawing his way. Whatever was said about him, he was resourceful. He was taciturn among townfolks and strangers, and he was as shrewd as they came, tough and sinewy. His thoughts, movements, and actions were those of a much younger man.

The youngest of the rangemen was a waif called Button, which was a common name for youngsters. Boss and Charley Waite had rescued Button from an alley fight where townsmen in western New Mexico had pitted him against another boy and placed bets on the outcome. Button was getting whipped to a frazzle when Boss and Charley broke it up and took him out to the wagoncamp with them.

Now Button was sixteen, doing a man’s work in a man’s world, growing like a weed, thin as a rail, with hair the color of dirty straw.

Charley had trailed cattle west with Boss Spearman. He was a little less than average in height, had muscle packed inside a powerful frame, had dark hair and eyes, and could do something few other men ever learned. He could rope equally well with either hand. Charley’s full name was Charles Travis Postelwaite. Before he’d reached twenty he shortened it to Charley Waite. He looked to be about forty-five but in fact was thirty-five.

The last of them was well over six feet tall and weighed better than two hundred pounds. He had nondescript dark hair and deep-set gray eyes, a wide mouth, and scars. His name was Mosely Harrison. They called him Mose.

Big Mose, leaning against the tailgate beneath the canvas, was the first to see the rent in the sky far eastward and say, “It’s goin’ to break up. Look yonder.”

But the storm didn’t break up. Not for another twenty-four hours, and then it ended the same way it had arrived, silently in the soggy night. When they rolled out in the morning to get a cooking fire started with damp wood, there was only a misty dampness to the air. The downpour had stopped.

For another few days, though, the ground would be too treacherous underfoot to do much, and there were seepage springs everywhere that underlying layers of rock would not allow water to penetrate.

Charley was frying sidemeat. The old pot held the last of their coffee. When the others squatted to eat in silence, Charley rationed out soggy fried spuds, meat, and three baking-powder biscuits to each plate. He sat down with his tin dish. “Nice little rain,” he said. “Grass’ll be strong all the way into July maybe.”

No one else spoke. They chewed, swallowed, and raised more food to their mouths. They washed the food down with the coffee, then put the tin cups and plates aside to roll smokes. The smoking was a ritual. It signified something: the end of a meal, the end of a day, the spiritual or philosophical girding up for something ahead. Maybe a self-reward for having survived a particular event.

Boss tipped ash into the little fire. “My maw used to say don’t anything happen it don’t bring some good with it.” He pointed with his cigarette hand. They’d been having trouble with the wagon’s wheels through a month of hot weather. “Them tires and spokes and felloes is as tight as when they was new.”

The next morning the sun arrived, huge and orange-yellow with a single cloud in its path toward the meridian. An hour later the ground steamed; the men shed coats and still sweated. They loafed around the wagon doing minor chores until the kid found the horses. One horse anyway. He’d gone out on foot with a bridle draped from one shoulder and a lariat in his right hand.

Boss walked out a ways, remained out there for a while, then returned to lean on the tailgate, scraping mud off his boots as he said, “Not a sight of anything. I got a feeling we’re going to set right here for maybe a week before we find all those damned cattle.”

Mose Harrison was rubbing mold off a saddle fender. “If the ground was harder, we could take the wagon wherever the cattle are instead of was-tin’ days finding them and driving them back here.”

Boss gazed at the hulking man. “Yeah,” he said dryly. “If. All my life it’s been, If.”

Charley went up front where the wagon tongue was held off the ground by a little wooden horseshoe keg. He sat up there until he saw distant movement, then returned to the tailgate area. “He caught one.”

Boss finished cleaning off the mud and pitched the twig into the dying coals of their breakfast fire. “You want to find the other one, Charley?”

When Button finally got back, mud to the knees and leading a roman-nosed, rawboned big sorrel horse with feet the size of dinner plates, Charley went out with an old croaker sack to dry off the animal’s back before saddling up.

The heat had been steadily, muggily building up for over two hours. It would have helped if there had been a little air stirring, but the air was stone-still. Visibility, however, was excellent as Charley reined away heading on an angling northwesterly course. Because there were no tracks, finding any animals would be by sight alone.

They would eventually find them. They’d been through worse situations than this many times. Grazing cattle constantly moved, and this sooner or later brought rangemen face to face with just about every inconvenience or obstacle nature or man could devise.

It was simply a matter of finding which way the cattle had drifted, with their heads down and their rumps to the force of the storm.

What made it unlikely that Charley Waite would find the cattle soon was the duration of the storm. The cattle could drift one hell of a distance in two days.

The roman-nosed horse sweated even at a steady walk. Charley did too. So did the ground, but its sweat was a rising faint mist as hot sunlight cooked soggy earth.

There was a lot of territory on all sides. The only barrier was a range of haze-distanced mountains to the north. They seemed to form around the big prairie in a long-spending curve, like a huge horseshoe.

There were no signs of two-legged life, but there were plenty of pronghorns and deer. Charley came up over a landswell and startled a young, tawny yellow cougar eating a rabbit. They looked at each other in surprise for a couple of seconds before the cat broke away with his belly hairs scraping the ground as he fled eastward. Charley could have shot him. He had his saddlegun along. Instead he turned northward along the rise and stood in his stirrups seeking movement. A rising heat haze shortened visibility a little but he could still see for miles.

The land was empty.

He zigzagged over a mile or two looking for tracks. When he found them, finally, he was about ten miles from camp. From this point on he followed cow sign toward those distant mountains. The cattle would not have got that far, but he loped a little anyway. He needed reassurance that they hadn’t got up in there, because if they had, it was going to be hard work finding them and driving them back to open country.

The mountains did not seem to be getting any closer no matter how far he rode toward them. What he sought was a sighting or, failing that, the scent of cattle.

What he found was a big calf lying dead. Squawking buzzards surrounded the corpse, too engrossed in feeding to notice his approach until he was close enough to yell and startle them. Most of the birds ran along the ground to get airborne, but several ignored the proximity of the man to tear at the carcass, too hungry to depart immediately.

They finally left when Charley was about a hundred feet from the carcass. He rode closer, sat his saddle studying the dead calf, trying to figure out what had killed it. He gave up on that because the body had been torn and dragged until there was little semblance of its original self. Charley rode northward on the wide, perfectly visible trail of a lot of cattle.

He had not found the brand back there. If he’d cared to dismount and roll the carcass over to expose the right side, he probably could have found it. Boss Spearman, for some private reason, used one C-iron to make three letter Cs on the right rib cage of his cattle. Charley Waite had been with Spearman six years and still did not know what the three Cs stood for.

Some coyotes appeared through stirrup-high grass following the scent of blood. Charley saw them, then lost them, only to see them again in other places. He thought there were about fifteen of the varmints. There was no doubt about what they were seeking and would ultimately find. When that happened the buzzards would leave, and would stay away.

With the sun coming down the far side of heaven to make Charley tip down his hat to protect his eyes, he finally detected dark movement far ahead.

The cattle.

By count there were supposed to be four hundred cows, mostly wet ones with sassy-fat calves, along with about two hundred and fifty big marketable steers and something like fifteen bulls, a bigger ratio than most cattlemen used. But then, most cattlemen had particular ranges; their cows were not always moving.

Charley turned back, satisfied with this part of his mission. Now he concentrated on locating the horses. With them a man could never be as certain of eventual success. True, there had been no lightning and thunder to spook them out of the country, but they could still be a long way off.

Chapter Two

Getting Back to Normal

He found the horses by riding the course of a crooked creek that had the only tree shade for many miles. The horses were absorbing filtered sunshine while simultaneously stamping and flailing their tails at myriads of flying insects.

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Pardon the Interruption—Got Blood?

Check out these stars-in-the-making in today’s Pardon the Interruption. The students of Brooklyn’s PS 19 wrote and recorded this rap video in support of NY Blood Center’s Little Doctors Program. Take the lead from these little rappers and donate during National Blood Donor Month. Even those of you with needle phobias will be warming to the idea once this catchy chorus gets in your head.

To find information on how to donate, visit the American Red Cross website.

ReCOVERy Room: HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON’S WEB

Click for original cover copy.

Bring some adventure to your Monday with this week’s ReCOVERy Room featuring the action-packed Hunt Through Napoleon’s Web by Gabriel Hunt. The crew at Dorchester tested this one out at lunch, and I have to say it got a little crazy. But I guess that will happen when people start throwing out fictional places for geographic locations (but really, who didn’t want to travel to Middle Earth and Narnia when they were kids?). Take a stab at it with your lunchmates and see where the road takes you!

Cheers,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

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Hunt Through Napoleon’s Web ReCOVERy Room PDF

Let’s Make a Book: The Production Process

Happy New Year Y’all!

I hope 2012 has been good to you so far, and you’re keeping up those resolutions. With a new year comes new titles and authors. In case you didn’t know, January is National Book Month. What better way to continue our kickoff of 2012, than an insider’s look into the publishing world! I’m taking you on a behind-the-scenes journey into the Production Department at Dorchester, and specifically, into my job as Production Assistant!

The role of the Production Department varies in each publishing house; however, one thing remains constant: we make the books! Each department will claim they are the most important, but we all know it is the Production Department who is the MVP :). For a more detailed overview of the traditional publishing process, I turn again to my man, author and former agent, Nathan Bransford.

As Production Assistant at Dorchester, I help with the managing editorial duties for each title. Basically, once our Editorial staff acquires a title, and the Editorial Director and author collaborate on changes, they submit the corrected and finalized manuscript to us! Keep in mind, however, that the editors and authors can take months perfecting the product, so the schedule operates much like a revolving door idea—as soon as one title moves to the next step, another title fills its spot.

Once our department receives the manuscript, more tweaking occurs—copyediting, proofreading, and 1P & 2P (1st & 2nd pass galleys). Here you carefully examine the details (both grammar and aesthetics) with a fine-tooth comb. You are the last set of eyes on this book before it’s sent to the printer or converter…no pressure! The cover art is completed and finalized concurrently.

So, from concept to product, it will take close to a calendar year for an acquired manuscript to reach your bookshelves or e-reader. I hope y’all enjoy the new year while the busy folks here at Dorchester look ahead to spring, summer, and even fall 2012. Keep a lookout for more of our terrifying horrors, heart-racing thrillers, and captivating romances.

Authors to Watch in 2012

A look back at what hit the proverbial thriller shelves last year:

Out in paperback and e-book in May 2011, The Bonaparte Secret was the much awaited fifth installment in Gregg Loomis’s Lang Reilly series. From Venice to Port-au-Prince, Alexandria to Paris, Lang takes readers on a fast-paced search for a lost relic of Napoleon Bonaparte’s. Even if you haven’t read the previous four books, The Bonaparte Secret  is easy to jump right into. Da Vinci Code fans will love it!

 

A fresh face in the thriller genre, Chuck Hustmyre brought you House of the Rising Sun (July) and A Killer Like Me (August) in 2011. His back-to-back award-winning releases are both set in The Big Easy and tell the tale of detectives caught on the wrong side of the law. Not only did House of the Rising Sun debut in trade and e-book last year, it also celebrated its film release with Lionsgate Home Entertainment!

 

Stacy Dittrich is no newcomer to the genre. Her years as a police officer and detective inspired her to write true crime and thrillers, of which she has almost a dozen. October release The Rapture of Omega is the fourth title in her popular Detective CeeCee Gallagher series. A Major Crimes Division detective and the top of her field, CeeCee knows too well the burden the job can bring to one’s professional, and personal, life. No matter the circumstance, CeeCee manages to pull through. Teaming up with her forbidden love, FBI Agent Michael Hagerman, the CeeCee Gallagher series brings a hint of romance to a modern day crime series.

Be sure to check in with the Dorchester Web site for more of what’s new in thriller. Follow these exciting authors and many more in 2012!

Western Wednesdays—GALLOWS by Robert J. Randisi

There’s not many who could ride into danger as calm and collected as Robert J. Randisi’s iconic hero, Lancaster. But Lancaster’s found trouble he’s not yet known when he comes to the aid of a widow in Gallows. While his actions are on the side of the law, those sworn to uphold the law have their own corrupt interests—interests that have Lancaster facing the hangman’s noose. Preview the first two chapters below!

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

Chapter One

Lancaster spotted the house and felt lucky. His horse was in need of water and some rest. He’d passed a sign post a few miles back that told him he was twenty miles from the town of Gallows, but the horse was worn out. All he needed was a couple of hours and then he could make the rest of the trip.

There was a well right outside the house, but he knew how people were about their water, especially on a small spread. He needed to get permission from the owner before he tried to use it. He’d seen men die over less than a bucket of water. He also noticed that there were three horses tied off in front of the house. He didn’t know what he was riding into. All the more reason to ride into it carefully.

He wanted his horse to walk slowly toward the water, but the animal could smell it and was headstrong to get to it. Lancaster took strong hold of the reins, though, and kept the animal from rushing in. They could wait the few minutes it would take to find the owner.

As he approached the house, though, the feeling of luck quickly turned to something else as the door to the house opened and three men dragged a dark-haired woman outside with them.

“Bitch!” one of them shouted. “I never did trust her.”

“We’ll make her pay now,” another man said.

They dragged her toward the well. Lancaster wondered whether they were intending to throw her in. He found it odd that while the men were shouting at her, cursing and taunting her, the woman was not resisting, and was not making a sound. Then again, she probably felt that, as outnumbered as she was, it was futile to fight them.

All three men were wearing trail clothes, minus hats, and were carrying sidearms. If he intervened on behalf of the woman he was going to have to be ready to deal with three armed men. On the other hand, he didn’t have much of a choice. He couldn’t just watch them chuck her down the well, or worse, kill her.

He gigged his horse and trotted the last fifty feet, which brought him right up to them. At the sound of the horse the three men stopped and looked at him. They all released the woman, who slumped to the ground. Lancaster could see that her eyes were open, but he took his eyes away from her and put them on the three men. Looking at the woman too long could end up getting him killed.

“Looks like some excitement,” Lancastersaid. “Mind if I water my horse before you finish up?”

“Get outta here, mister,” one of the men said. “This ain’t none of your business.”

“I know that,” Lancastersaid, “I was just asking to water my horse.”

“Go water it someplace else,” the second man told him.

“Where’s the nearest water after here?” he asked.

“A town called Gallows,” the third man said, “’bout fifteen miles.” He was the youngest of the three, maybe twenty. The other two gave him annoyed looks.

“Fifteen miles,” Lancastersaid. “See, that’s too far. My horse needs some water now. If you’ll just let me water him, I’ll be on my way and you can finish.”

The three men exchanged glances. The woman moaned once, but Lancaster didn’t risk a look at her. The men all turned to face Lancaster squarely. Any chance he had at surprising them was gone. In the old days he would have rode in with his gun blazing. But no…in the old days he would have waited at a distance for them to finish and then watered his horse.

The old days were gone, though. Even though the old ways may have been easier.

He wasn’t the old Lancaster, anymore.

Lancaster turned his horse slightly to the left, exposing his right side to the three men, but keeping his horse’s head from being a factor when he had to snake his own gun.

“What do you boys have against the lady, anyway?” he asked.

“We told ya,” the first man said, “this ain’t none of your affair. Now ride off before ya get hurt.”

“I’d really like to oblige you boys and ride off, but my horse has already caught the scent of that water. I don’t think I could get him away from here if I tried.”

The woman moaned at that point and the oldest of the men kicked her lightly in the ribs and said, “Shut up. We’ll get back to you in a minute, bitch.”

“Hey, come on,” Lancaster said. “That’s really no way to treat a lady.”

Lancaster noticed that the youngest of the three kept looking down at the woman. He was the last one he’d have to worry about. The oldest man had taken the time to kick the woman in the ribs. It was the middle man, the one who kept his eyes onLancaster, that he was going to have to worry about first.

“Mister—” the oldest man said, and then drew his gun.

Lancaster drew and fired. Despite the fact that the oldest man cleared leather first, Lancaster still shot the middle man first. He caught him bringing his gun up. The bullet hit the man in the chest. The man stepped back, tripped over the fallen woman and went down on his back.

The oldest man was bringing his gun to bear as Lancaster snapped off his second shot. As he did so he slid out of the saddle, falling behind his horse. He was hoping to get off a shot underneath the animal but the oldest man, as he fell to his death, managed to squeeze off a wild shot that hit the horse with a perfect killing shot. It was all Lancaster could do to roll away and keep from being pinned.

The youngest man had been startled by the gunplay and went for his gun way too late.

“Don’t do it!” Lancaster yelled at him, getting to one knee.

The young man paid him no mind, probably didn’t even hear the warning because of the blood pounding in his ears. Lancaster had to choice but to shoot him, which he did. He managed to dispatch all three men with three shots, which was the kind of shooting that had made his reputation many years ago, when he was plying his trade as a killer for hire.

“Damn it, I told you not to!” he shouted as the boy fell onto his face.

Lancaster got to his feet and quickly approached the fallen men, kicking their pistols away just in case, but he needn’t have bothered.

They were all dead.

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What’s your blood type?

Stow away that garlic necklace and turn down your collars! It’s National Blood Donor Month where your contribution can provide much needed help to those in need. Be sure to spread the word—every drop counts! To learn more, visit the American Red Cross website for details.

In honor of this worthy cause, we offer you blogging mortals (and immortals!) a few of our fanged favorites. New York Times bestselling author Nina Bangs enchants us with her book My Wicked Vampire. A delectable thrill-ride, this paranormal romance is set in a theme park with plenty of twists and turns to leave you reeling.

“You know all about vampires, right? Wrong! Ms. Monajem has approached vampires from a totally new direction. A direction you are going to be captivated by.” —The Long and the Short of It

Fancy a set of feminine fangs? The incomparable Barbara Monajem spices up the usual flavor of old lore in Tastes of Love & Evil.

On the run and ever-tempted, the femme-fatale vampire Rose must solve the mystery surrounding the elusive Jack and why he is being hunted by underworld hitmen. Or will she be the one to stop his pulse first?

Now what sort of undead line-up would this be without the famed daughter of history’s first vampire slayer, I ask you! Minda Webber’s wit is razor sharp in The Reluctant Miss Van Helsing where our heroine has big shoes to fill. In this particular gavotte through the graveyard, Jane attends a masquerade party and all hell breaks loose. Literally!

What are some of your fanged favorites? Do you prefer the walking undead or the wandering slayers? Tell us! Personally, I’m partial to the slayer’s assistant. What? Somebody needs to hold the bags!

Allow me to thank all those who volunteer and donate to the American Red Cross.

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

ReCOVERy Room: PRESSURE by Jeff Strand

Click for original cover copy.

If you have ever read anything by Jeff Strand, be it a full-length horror novel or a short blog post on his Gleefully Macabre website, then you know how funny this man is—dark and twisted, but funny. Pressure, one of Strand’s earlier works, is shocking, gruesome, horrifying (of course), and emotionally memorable. And so it is a tall order today for you folks at home to work your own flavor into this book’s cover copy. Today’s ReCOVERy Room proudly challenges you to reinvent Jeff Strand’s Pressure in eight lines. I think you’re up for it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Cheers,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

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Pressure ReCOVERy Room PDF

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