Heroes and Villains Cover Reveal

Wild-Bill-coverYeehaw, buckaroos! I just finished the cover designs for a new book series destined for publication in the next week or two. This first set of titles includes Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and Buffalo Bill Cody.

This is a re-boot of my Heroes and Villains of the Wild West biography series for young adults, which has gone out of print in hardcover. Now you won’t have to hunt for them on eBay or in dusty libraries. The e-book versions will be available as single titles, or all six books bundled together. Each book is about 5,000 words, perfect for school reports, or for adults who want to learn a little something about the American West and the wild and wooly people who made it so fascinating. Stay tuned for more details, or sign up for my newsletter to be notified by email when this series becomes available.


Just Published! Ghost Marshal: A Tale of the Weird West

GM Cover 800x1200Yeeha, buckaroos! At long last, I’m letting Ghost Marshal out of the stable. What kind of book is it, you ask, and just what the heck is a Weird Western, anyway? Think The Ghost and Mrs. Muir meets True Grit. It’s the kind of Western I always wanted to read myself, a fistful of nonstop Western action, eccentric characters, romance, vile villains, and things that go bump in the night. My team of beta readers sure enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too.

And lest you think Ghost Marshal is a one-horse wonder, fear not! I’m already hard at work on the sequel. This past summer I scoured the West, including trips to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana, both important locales for Jessie and Wild Bill’s next great adventure.

Mosey on over to the Ghost Marshal book page on this site for more info and links to ebook vendors. It’s live right now on Amazon Kindle,Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo. It’ll soon be up on iTunes (although I don’t recommend reading it on your Apple Watches). And I’ll be releasing a paperback version in a week or so. I’ll keep my website updated.

Thanks for your time, friends. Share this news with your posse to keep the spirit of Wild Bill and Jessie alive! Have a great autumn season, and happy reading!


Last Stand Hill

Last Stand Hill, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT

Last Stand Hill, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT

A Message For the Living (From my recently published young-adult book, “Battle of the Little Bighorn”)

In south-central Montana, just off Interstate 90 about 65 miles (105 km) from Billings, Montana, the United States National Park Service oversees Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. In 1876, the area was the scene of warfare and carnage. Today, it is hallowed ground, a peaceful place for people to learn and reflect.

The park preserves the battlefield, and also serves as a memorial to the people who fought and died there. It is the only battlefield in the country with white stone markers representing where soldiers fell in battle. There are also 17 red stone markers that show where Native Americans died. (Many more Indians died at the battle, but these 17 are confirmed by family oral histories.) George Armstrong Custer’s marker shows where he died on Last Stand Hill, along with many of his comrades.

Also on Last Stand Hill are two memorials. A large stone marker commemorates soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry who died on the battlefield. It was placed in 1881. In 2003, the “Peace Through Unity” Indian Memorial was dedicated to honor Native American men, women, and children who died on the sacred ground defending their way of life. The memorial was built to “encourage peace among all the races.”


Devil’s Tower

JH at Devils TowerI’m back from a short three-day, 1,900-mile trip to South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. It’s always good to fill my lungs with clean Western air, even if just for a little while. I was mainly conducting research for book 2 of the Ghost Marshal trilogy, but also shooting some photography for a set of ebooks I’ll be releasing soon on heroes and villains of the old West. Here I am at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, which plays an important part in the next novel. (Thanks to my sweetie Sue for the photo.) I love this place. The light changes from minute to minute. It’s hard to capture adequately with a camera. It’s one of those places you just have to see in person, even though it’s a bit out of the way (but the drive there is very pretty, just an hour or so north of I-90, northwest of the Black Hills). If you go, be sure to take the loop trail around the tower. The north side, away from the parking lot and most of the hubbub, is peaceful and quiet, and helps you better understand why it’s such a sacred spot for Native Americans.


Westward Ho!

JohnBadlands2005I’m heading to South Dakota tomorrow to do a little research for my next Western novel, a sequel to Ghost Marshal. Hopefully we’ll see Badlands National Park on the way to Deadwood. After that, it’s on to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana, and then back down to Wyoming to Hole-in-the-Wall territory. Time to make my RAV4 earn its keep!


True Grit — Shooting Rodeos

True Grit 1600x1280I recently published six young-adult books about rodeos (Abdo Publishing), which involved not only researching and writing the manuscripts, but also photographing the action. (Yay for platypus journalism!) Bareback riding is one of my favorite rodeo events to shoot. With no saddle and a single handhold called a rigging, cowboys try to stay on the bucking bronc for eight nerve-rattling seconds. Bareback riding is a wild event that takes tremendous skill to master.

One of the biggest problems with many rodeo photos (or any sports photo) is that the photographer isn’t close enough to the subject. Filling the frame was my goal when I took this shot at the 2012 Hamel Rodeo, in Corcoran, MN. I wanted a “you are there” feel that captures the frenzied action.

I’ve noticed that in saddle bronc riding, the horses like to bolt out of the chute and head for the opposite side of the arena. But with bareback riding (and bulls), the animals often stick close to the chutes for some reason. So, armed with a pre-arranged press pass, I positioned myself along the inner fence, close to the chutes. This is a no-man’s-land where only a few photographers are allowed to shoot. (I’ve chosen not to join the PRCA photographers who shoot inside the ring–I don’t think I’m fast enough to outrun a bull!)

With my trusty 70-200mm zoom, I knelt down in the dirt and waited for the right moment (knee pads are always in my camera bag). I set my ISO to 400 and aperture to f/2.8, which gave me an action-stopping shutter speed of 1/3,000 sec. I often shoot with much slower shutter speeds to give a slurpy feeling of motion, but in this case I wanted to freeze all the action. One of the cool things about sports photos is being able to freeze a sliver of time so your eye can take in the whole scene, which normally zips by literally in a blink, too fast to comprehend.

When this bronc burst out of the gate, it headed right for me. It was a tough ride; the cowboy was barely hanging on. I racked my zoom back to 70mm. I waited until the action filled the frame, then got off a burst of three or four frames before the horse banged into the metal barrier, sending me tumbling backwards into the mud. Kids, don’t try this at home! (As I recall, the rider stayed on for the full eight seconds, scoring big.)

In choosing this frame for publication, I like the interaction of horse and rider. The cowboy’s leg is showing air, but his teeth are gritted with determination. His hat brim covers his eyes, giving him an anonymous “everyman” kind of vibe. The horse’s mane and the cowboy’s chap fringe are flying. This is an action shot! It’s man against beast! (One thing to note: the horse’s ears are up. He’s not really angry, he’s just trying to shake off the dude on his back so he can get back to his pen.)

To process the shot, I decided to go black-and-white, with a gritty texture. I didn’t want color to distract from the main point of the photo. In Camera RAW, I adjusted for contrast. I had to double process, once for the horse/cowboy, and once for the crowd, to keep all the highlights from blowing out. I combined the two exposures with a mask, then flattened.

I first converted to black-and-white using a simulated red filter, which darkened the sky and lightened the skin tones. Next I used the Gradient Map adjustment panel, then converted to grayscale (Image–Mode–Grayscale). After that I converted to a tritone, a nice combination of rich black and two warm grays.  Back to RGB mode.  Burned the four corners, which brings the viewer’s eye more toward center.  Lastly, I used a high-pass sharpening method for extra-crispy goodness.

Thanks for stopping by, buckaroos!


Wild Bill R.I.P.

Wild-Bill-HICKOK-FoutsJames Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was murdered by the cowardly Jack McCall 138 years ago in Deadwood, Dakota Territories. His funeral notice in the Black Hills Pioneer read: Died, in Deadwood, J.B. Hickok, (Wild Bill) formerly of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Funeral services will be held at Charles Utter’s Camp, on Thursday afternoon, August 3, 1876, at 3 o’clock, P.M. All are respectfully invited to attend.

Wild Bill was buried at Ingleside Cemetery, a nice spot on the mountain overlooking Deadwood. Because the real estate at Ingleside was so valuable to a growing Deadwood, Hickok’s body, along with all the other residents of the boneyard, were reinterred a couple years later farther up the mountain at Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill rests to this day.

Wild Bill’s headboard, provided by his best friend Colorado Charlie (Charley) Utter, reads: “Wild Bill–J.B. Hickock. Killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood Black Hills. August 2nd 1876. Pard we will meet again in the Happy Hunting ground to part no more. Good Bye–Colorado Charlie C.H. Utter.”

Rest in peace, Wild Bill.