In Praise of Louis L’Amour

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This man was my Grandpa Aldrich’s favorite author.  Grandpa had ridden the range in the Dakotas in the 1920’s and early 30’s.  He was basically an Iowa farmer for his whole life, but he rode horseback on the plains just long enough to become addicted vicariously to the life L’Amour so vividly describes in his many western novels.

Grandpa read every Louis L’Amour book the Rowan library had.  He read a few more besides.  And I have no idea how many he read twice, three times, or more.  For the last decade of his life, he did very little sleeping, being used to two hours of actual sleep a night, and spending the rest of the time reading westerns while he rested.

This reading addiction is not only one that I understand, but share.  I, too, love the westerns, the heroes, the manly and poetic prose, and the sheer story-telling ability of Louis L’Amour.  I have not yet read every single book he wrote while he was alive.  But I am working on it.

Recently I reread the book The Daybreakers, a critical cog in the story-cycle of the Sackett family.  Here is my review from Goodreads of the third time I read this book.

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The Daybreakers 
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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 01, 2018  ·  edit
it was amazing


This book is as much a hero’s journey as Star Wars. In some ways it is more complex. And in many ways it is a better story.
Louis L’Amour is a master storyteller. He created the narrator hero, Tyrel Sackett, as a young Luke Skywalker. His natural Force abilities are those qualities which make him a competent Westerner and a powerful gunfighter. His brother Orrin Sackett takes the Han Solo role from rogue pilot to New Mexico Sheriff and eventual congressman. Jonathan Pritts is the evil Emperor. He wants to take over the Mexican land grant belonging to the Alvarado family (Princess Leiah’s family on Alderaan). (Drusilla Alvarado is the Princess Leiah character). Ironically, Tom Sunday is a reverse Darth Vader. He befriends Tye, teaches him to read and how to be a good cattleman. And then he later turns on the Sackett family because of a wrong he feels from Orrin. The confrontation between Tye and his dark-side father figure is inevitable.
The writer abilities I see in the author deserve a much more detailed analysis than I can write here, but I loved this great American novel and strongly recommend it.

We have lost Louis L’Amour.  He will never write another book.  Which gives me a chance to read everything he wrote.  But he writes so well, and is such an important part of American literature, that is only the smallest of consolations.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 13

Rat Poison

Bobby had always been amazed at the calm, easy-going way that Grandpa Butch handled a crisis.  He had examined Horatio himself when he had first learned of the eating of a part of Whitewhiskers Billy’s poisoned corpse.

He had then called the vet in Belle City.  They put a couple of soft but old blankets in the back of the red pickup and then driven Horatio to see his doggy-doctor while Bobby and Shane rode in the back to keep Horatio calm and safe.

The doctor had checked him over carefully, determining that the dog probably had not eaten enough of the poisoned rat to get any of the poison in his own system.  So, they gave Horatio some precautionary anti-coagulant injections, induced some vomiting, forced a bit of activated charcoal into him, and then, knowing Horatio would be better tended back home at the Niland farm than he ever would be in the Belle City animal hospital, sent him home.

“So, they’re sure that Horatio’s not gonna die?”  Shane asked on the ride back home.

“Pretty sure, yeah.  It’ll be our job to make sure he doesn’t eat any more poisoned rats.  And we have to tell Grandpa if he vomits again, or shows any more symptoms.”

“Yeah, that makin’ the dog vomit thing was sure icky.”

“But it got rid of any poison still in his stomach, Shane.”

Bobby put one hand on Shane’s shoulder as he continued to stroke the fur on Horatio’s neck with the other hand.  Shane had both hands deeply buried in Horatio’s brown-and-white fur coat.

“So, did Professor Rattiarty win this round?” Shane asked.

“No, he didn’t,” said Horatio confidently.  “He meant to kill me with this poison-eating ploy.  And we made him fail.”

“Horatio said he didn’t because Horatio is still alive.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

                                    *****

Rattiarty glared at Darktail Ralph.

“Don’t look at me.  It isn’t my fault the damned dog didn’t eat enough of Billy to do the job!”

“Well, we just have to try again.”

“Not that way.  There has to be some other plan.  Something that works better.”

“This plan will work if you eat more of the poison.  Saturate your system with toxins to make the dosage more lethal!”

“But there are only two of us left!  Why should I be the one to sacrifice myself?  Why don’t you let Horatio eat you?  You have a lot more poison in you than I have in me.”

“It may come to that if you fail too.”

Ralph snarled at the Professor.  “I won’t even try.  You can’t make me do it!”

“We shall see about that.”

Rattiarty made the first lunge, going for Ralph’s throat.

Ralph was a veteran rat-warrior, however, and still very quick to dodge.  He had the advantage of youth over Rattiarty, as the Professor was quite old for a rat.

As Rattiarty’s attempt at grabbing Ralph with teeth in his throat, the old rat’s superior strategy came into play.  The lunge having missed, the Professor snagged the right nostril of Ralph’s nose with one claw.  He ripped the skin all the way up to the Darktail’s right eye. 

Blood half-blinded Ralph.

Rattiarty built on that advantage to swing his thin body up onto Darktail Ralph’s back. Stabbing rat teeth descended on Ralph’s neck, gouging into his spinal cord and effectively paralysing him.  In mere moments more, the head was off, and Rattiarty was alone, but ready to drag the poison-filled body to some place where Horatio T. Dogg would see it and eat it.

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Telling Lies for Fun or Profit

When I was a boy in Iowa, living in a boring little farm town where nothing really ever happened, I made a bunch of stuff up in my stupid little head and had great fun pretending it was all real.

I loved stories about Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and Jungle Jim on the Saturday afternoon TV ;matinee on Channel 3 from Mason City.

So, naturally, I told my friends at school that I was secretly a boy from outer space pretending to be Mike Beyer as part of a super-secret mission from a Star Empire that nobody but me knew existed. I got really embarrassed one night at 4-H Fun Night in Eagle Grove when the girl I had a secret crush on confronted me about telling my friends that she was a Martian Princess trapped on Earth by agents from outer space. She wasn’t mad. She thought it was funny. But I turned shades of red and purple in the face that no one knew was humanly possible. I got both joy and agony out of being the sort of juvenile liar who is destined to grow up to be a story-teller.

But lies are not always harmless amusement. I am not saying I never told an evil, black lie. But I don’t think I ever did. At least, if I ever did, it was forgettable enough to be forgotten by me.

And the lie about the sexual assault I endured at ten was not really a lie. I didn’t tell anybody because he threatened to hurt me worse if I did. That scared me enough that it would be years before I even allowed myself to remember that it happened. And lies of omission are not regular lies. You are not telling somebody to believe something that isn’t true. You are simply not telling anyone about something you don’t want to be known.

To be honest with both you and myself, I never really ever got into trouble by telling a lie and getting caught for it. Most of the problems I ever had with girlfriends and eventually wife were created by telling the truth. That happens when you have two girlfriends at the same time and they really don’t like each other. It also happens when you decide things for yourself because you think it is the most sensible decision you can make, and when you tell your wife about it, you find out it is, in fact, the stupidest, most-wrongest idea any stupid person ever had… simply because husbands are always wrong. Funny, though, the decisions and ideas I carry out without telling her first always seem to work out fine. So, I must only be the world’s stupidest man if I tell her about it.

It almost seems like it is better to lie by omission than to tell the actual truth.

I am aware, however, that lies can be told in hurtful ways, fundamentally immoral and evil ways. It seems my email is full of scams and cons and lies daily. Not just African princes with money that desperately needs to pass through my bank account for some obscure reason, but Amazon gift cards for a thousand dollars that you just need to supply some information to have delivered to your bank account, and Norton security subscriptions that need to be renewed by credit card even though I stopped using Norton for that ten years ago.

And then there was an orange man who told us from before the first vote was cast that the 2020 election would be stolen by voter fraud. He whipped up an angry mob who took weapons and flags and anger into the US Capitol building so they could poop on stuff and kill some capitol policemen and try to get their hands on AOC because apparently they think she is a communist or something. That was an election lie that caused an insurrection. It caused people to get killed (on both sides, some battered policemen to commit suicide later, and Congress-people to tell more lies about terrorists merely being tourists. ‘

That’s a truly evil lie.

One of the things I appreciate most about nudists is the fact that naked people are not hiding anything.

So, I am able to identify being a liar as essentially a bad thing.

Of course, that is not going to prevent me from being the liar I have always been. Though, from now on I will be calling it being a fiction writer or a storyteller.

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I Love to Laugh

It began in childhood with the Red Skelton Show.    Every Wednesday night it a was a refuge for me.  And refuge was a critical idea for me.  I was a child hiding a terrible secret from the entire world.  At times I hated myself.  Twice as a teen I came very close to choosing suicide over life.  The person I most needed to hide from was myself.  And humor helped.  Red Skelton’s gentle humor helped me to not only escape from myself for a while, it taught me to laugh at my own foibles and not take things quite so seriously.

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In my college years I discovered humor in written form.  Mark Twain swiftly earned my utter devotion as I read not only Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, but Roughing It, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Mysterious Stranger, and The Autobiography of Mark Twain.  You know, there are a large number of things in Mark Twain’s humorous books that make you cry, that make you angry, and make you think deep thoughts.  I basically discovered that humor is a way that smart people choose to think of things which helps to keep you sane and basically un-suicided.

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A beautiful portrait by artist Emily Stepp

It is obvious that some people become very skilled at humor because they have used it all their lives to fight the darkness .  Robin Williams is only few years older than I am.  In many ways his life has paralleled my own (obviously minus the wealth and fame in my case… but what would’ve happened if Robin had become a school teacher?)  I have depended on Robin Williams’ movies to keep me going, giving me insights in how to talk to kids, how to be a parent, and how to empathize with others.  Of course, I haven’t yet taken some of his movie advice.  I never put on a mask and a dress to deceive my own children.  But only time will tell.

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I obsess about humor and how you create it.  I gorge on things like the works of Dave Barry.  Do you know who he is?  Florida newspaper columnist who writes books about everyday life and the fools who live it?  I have to do a post on Dave Barry, because he makes me laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose, sometimes when I am not even drinking milk… believe me, I don’t know how that works either.

 

 

I love to laugh.  It makes the world right again.  I have laughed an awful lot for almost an entire lifetime now.  I treasure all the funny people I have known.  And I need to continue to try to make people laugh up until the very end.  Because the world is too often not a funny place.  It can be full of badness and sadness and suffering.  And as Mark Twain  so aptly pointed out, “Against the assault of laughter… nothing can stand.”

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Shorthand Cartooning

I drew this picture back in my college days, the middle 1970’s. If you look at it closely, you will see my shorthand in action. The rose on the trellis is one. I have drawn a thousand roses since I did this one. It is the formalized set of lines, colors, and shading that I always put together whenever the thing I mean is “a ro se.”

You can see it in the orange bricks of the goldfish pond. Compare those to the gray foundation bricks. The same shorthand patterns. The brick grid in the background as well.

The shadow patterns of wrinkles in the boy’s clothing are also shorthand I almost always do when drawing from my imagination. The faces in profile, too.

There is a language here spoken silently in colored pencil. Complex ideas pictured in a simple colored-pencil picture-language.

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Softer Sunday Symbolism

Yesterday I was walking the dog when I was approached by a man and two women in the park. They were Jesus pushers. As a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am not supposed to have anything at all to do with such folks. They admired the little four-legged poop factory that I was walking. They listened patiently to the story of how we rescued her as a puppy in the middle of the street as cars zoomed past. They wanted to know what breed she was, and how we came to own her and love her. And then, they wanted to pray for me.

Jesus pushers! Just like the door-to-door work the Witnesses do, they want you to learn to pray their way and believe their truths.

I shared with them that I was a Christian Existentialist, and that could easily be interpreted as saying that I was an atheist who believes in God. And I admitted to them that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to him constantly. I admitted that in hard times I don’t merely rely on science for comfort. I do know what grace really means. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” says the Psalmist David. (The shepherd uses the rod to guide the flock and the shepherd’s crook to rescue the stranded and endangered one.)

It is not in me to turn away true believers, even if I cannot accept the tenets of their faith. I let the Witnesses down. But I am no more a Witness anymore than I am one of whatever flavor of fundamentalist Christian they are.

So, they prayed for me… my poor health, my financial difficulties, and my little dog too. Their prayers touched me. Though I believe they needed the prayers more than I did. They were proving their faith to their God after all.

My own faith, my own spirituality is fundamentally simpler than theirs.

I am a part of the universe, and the universe is all that is relevant, all that there is. The universe is God. And I know my place in the universe. It is as simple as that. When I die, I will still be a part of the universe. I don’t need to live forever. Death is not the end. But it is not the end because when you finish reading and close a book, the book does not cease to exist. Past, present, and future are all one. The book can be opened again.

I appreciate that they wanted to offer me “the good news” and give me comfort. But I don’t need the forgiveness of sins they offer. I have forgiven myself, just as I have forgiven all who have ever sinned against me. I am at peace. Life is good while I have it. I thanked them and wished them well.

And that’s what Sunday means to me.

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Continuing to Create Covers

I recently got criticism for the unprofessional ugliness of one of my novel covers. Of course, that was only a part of the review that generally hated everything about my book. Some people feel certain works of art have no right to even exist. So, for art day today, I will inflict my recent crimes against the world of novel art on all the regretful followers of this blog, and probably ward off future followers as well.

This novella is already published. The first one I showed you represents only a novel idea. No writing yet exists for The Necromancer’s Apprentice outside of my stupid head.

This one is a part of my endless AeroQuest rewrite. The ending of the book and a handful of existing chapters that need to be expanded exist already. It is still a project planned for the part of the future in which I am most likely already dead. The character of Spaceheart featured on this cover has not been written at all yet.

This book is only a few chapters along. It is a currently stalled work in progress.

This one was written as a Tuesday novel-writing project and presented chapter by chapter on this blog. This is an updated cover that came about once I learned how to better create a cover, a thing I am still learning about.

This last one is the cover for a novella I am currently presenting on Tuesdays. It is nearing completion.

So, here now for your consideration are the most recent cover efforts I have made. Be disgusted and horrified at your leisure. I can take criticism. And I know it is useful to be open to criticism. It does indeed make you reflect on what you are doing.

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Return of the Star Wars Figures

On a previous Saturday I admitted to the crime of using 12-inch action figures to play the Star Wars role-playing game.  The Dungeons and Dragons RPG world was horrified.  You are supposed to use scale-appropriate metal miniatures.  How can you simulate combat without small figures on a grid?  I have to confess.  It was via x’s and dots on graph paper.  But we didn’t use the action figures to represent ranges and lines of site in combat.  And one of my players was my niece, an actual girl.  So, I guess, to be honest, we were actually playing with dolls.

But it helps to have a lot of dolls.

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Emperor Palpatine, Snow Trooper, Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, Quigon, Droid Soldier, and home-made Mace Windu

We started play after the first two movies in the Prequel Trilogy.

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Wicket, Imperial Walker, Astroboy (What’s he doing there?) Darth Vader, Little Anakin, and Boba Fett.

We got creative with stories.

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Jango Fett, General Grievous, and Admiral Akbar

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Anakin Skywalker

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Robot from Lost in Space, R2D2, Slave Girl Leia, and a Green Orion Slave Girl Dancer from Star Trek

So there is evidence available to my offspring to help them have me committed to an institution.  The truth is, these are not even all of my Star Wars Dolls.  So this morning’s confession session is now at an end, though all of the horrible truth is not yet revealed.

 

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Premonition

I actually saw an event happening in my little mind’s eye before it happened. And then it came true. My daughter and I went to Whataburger’s drive-thru last night to get a burger for her and a strawberry milkshake for me. I was driving as I have a license and my daughter does not. At one of the three red stoplights on the way there, I had a sudden vision of my milkshake being crushed and covering my shirt. In the vision I was tearing up from disaster recovery when I said, “I really wanted to drink that.”

So, I vowed to be a careful driver and not have a car accident anywhere along the drive, especially after I had purchased my milkshake.

I didn’t have the car accident. So, I thought it was just a nervous thought and not a prophecy. Then, walking from the car to the house, we walked through the shadowy back yard. Suddenly my right leg found a protruding part of the old bicycle sidecar that was sitting in the darkness. L landed on the milkshake I was carrying in my right hand. And, of course, tearing up from arthritis pain, I said, “I really wanted to drink that.”

Now, I can’t prove any of that, except showing you the crushed styrofoam milkshake cup, and by experience I know you are rolling your eyes and thinking about what a goofy man I really am.

But I have had an unignorably large number of these experiences in my life. There is no way to avoid these little experiences of the bizarre. But there is also no way to make use of them either.

The picture is the Wizard of Tellosia called Eli Tragedy and his two apprentices, Bob and Mickey the Wererat. It is a start of a cover illustration for a planned novella called The Necromancer’s Apprentice. Oh, and Eli is NOT the Necromancer in the title. He has premonitions too. But he can’t use them for anything either.

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What’s the Real Reason?

What’s the real reason behind the choices I make as an artist? For instance, why didn’t I do this photo of the artwork over again when the wind warped the bottom left corner. That answer is simple. I was taking this picture with natural sunlight. And once the wind started messing up my pictures, it only got worse. This was the first and best of five attempts. And, while it doesn’t show up here, I did several photo-shop manipulations of this picture, including shrinking the girl’s head. The original was done from a couple of models I got consent from when I worked at a daycare center in Iowa City where I went to college. The boy was eight years old in the summer of 1980. The girl was six, but I used a photo of a girl I went to second grade with, so the head was also eight. They represent David Copperfield and Emily, Pegotty’s niece from the Dickens novel. I had to read the book for my Master’s Exam which I took instead of writing a thesis. The picture is about how I saw myself and my world in that timeless novel.

This picture won a blue ribbon in the art competition at the Wright County Fair in 1979. It is a colored-pencil cartoon situation right out of a Jay Ward, Dudley Do-Right cartoon. I used a picture from a Canadian travel ad for the Mountie. The Indian sidekick is a modified version of Little Beaver, Red Ryder’s sidekick. The villain and the girl were basically Snidely Whiplash and Nell from the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, but made to look slightly more realistic… but only very slightly.

Actually, I lied a bit about the blue ribbon. I got the purple Grand Champion ribbon for this picture. I had entered it solely because two years before I saw how easy it would be to win a purple ribbon looking at the pictures that won it, and I wanted to win the purple ribbon. Sorry I lied, but the real reason for this picture is that I wanted to win that ribbon.

This painting, from the 1990s, was an attempt to make sofa art to sell in my sister-in-law’s home décor store. So, the real reason for this painting’s existence is greed. But since I ended up putting so many hours into it that I couldn’t justify selling it for twenty dollars in a store that went out of business because nobody ever shopped there, I got far more value out of it by keeping it and enjoying it myself. It was inspired by numerous paintings of Native Americans done by white people on display in Love’s Travel Stops across Texas in the 1990s.

This picture, “That Night in Saqqara,” is about youth versus age, thinking about death, immortality, and being afraid of any or all of it. The model for the Mummy is Boris Karloff who was so nice to pose for a production still from his movie that I could draw him long after he was actually dead. The boy was a seventh-grader in 1983 who did not actually pose for this without a shirt on or with an actual Ankh life-symbol around his neck. The Pharaoh in the tomb-mural in the background was from National Geographic Magazine, and I think was supposed to be Tutankhamun, but I could be wrong. I am old and I mix up lots of things I once clearly knew. That’s what mummified brains have to be like, apparently.

The reason I had to create this artwork was because I was increasingly falling victim to illness, especially arthritis, and I was constantly thinking about what it would be like to die alone, entombed in a two-bedroom apartment on North Stewart Street in Cotulla, Texas. This was well before I met and married my wife, who is now my wife of 25 years.

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