Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Faithful Depiction

You can tell a lot about people by how they live. Not the structures they inhabit, but how they relate to the place they live and to  their neighbors.

Cedar Flats, the Mormon village depicted in The Tithing Herd is typical of those created by the pioneer Saints across the West. Its orderly design reflects tenets of this truly American religion.

Unlike the ramshackle structures and haphazard layout of Gentile settlements, the towns of the Mormons adhered to a plan passed down from the Prophet Joseph Smith and which reflected his vision of sanctuary and a final holy dwelling place based on scripture.

They came in sight of the village then and Tom gave a little gasp of surprise.

“Right nice, haint it, boy?” Donnelly said. “Not like those Gentile towns you’re used to.”

Donnelly was right. The little Mormon village was a paragon of order, cleanliness and serenity. Tom was unaware of how all towns of the Saints—big or small—were modeled on their idea of the City of Zion. The little houses sat back in their yards along a wide street, all four-square and neat, the yards planted with hedges and flowers, cottonwoods and poplars. At the end of the street sat the Ward House and it was from there the singing emanated.  Fields and pastures stretched out beyond the village as far as a distant range of foothills. Beyond that timbered steppes rose up to bald-faced mountains, hazy in the distance.

You’ll find a similarity in these villages in the writings of Zane Grey, Wallace Stegner, Vardis Fisher and others and I could not portray mine otherwise. It’s one of those historical facts a writer can’t ignore. In this case it reveals the community-minded, family-oriented tenets of the faith.

And it is her faith in her religion, her family, her community and—especially—in Lute Donnelly that helps Serene McCullough cope with her ordeal and believe she will be rescued from the bandit known as Spanish.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Read An Excerpt

My latest novel, The Tithing Herd, is a Western set in Mormon country in New Mexico in the 1890s. Luther Donnelly, a guilt-ridden former lawman is on a quest for revenge when love gives his path another motivation.

Here's a short excerpt I hope will entice potential readers to want more:

Donnelly was saddling a big buckskin when Tom awoke. His other horse was the prettiest the boy had ever seen, a trim mare with a glossy black coat and a white blaze on her muzzle.
“Will you take me to Foulds?” he asked.
Donnelly glanced at him, shook his head. “Not going in that direction.”
“Loan me a horse then and point me the way.”
“You go up there, Foulds is likely to hang you again.”
“Not if you give me your pistol.”
Wagging his head, Donnelly smiled broadly. “You sure do have sand, boy.”
“Then you won’t help me?”
“Got other business.”
“You’re just going to leave me here?” The boy hung his head.
“I didn’t bring you here, son. Just because I pulled you down out of that tree don’t mean I intend to be responsible for the rest of your life.” The boy’s pained expression primed that troublesome streak of compassion again. “What are you gonna do if you get up there?”
The boy looked up, beaming. “You’ll help me?”
“Didn’t say that. Answer the question.”
“Find out why they strung me up; get my outfit back.”
“You’re going to take on Clem Foulds and all his boys single-handed?”
“If I have to. Will you loan me a pistol?”
“Never carried one.”
“Your shotgun?”
Donnelly laughed, shaking his head. “Hell, but you got gumption, kid. Do you think even if I gave you my gun—which I’m not—Clem is just going to apologize and hand over your gear?”
“He owes me,” the boy said, firmly.
Donnelly shook his head. “He don’t owe you nothing, Tom.”
“How do you figure that?”
“How long were you with Hanks and Witherspoon?” He regarded the boy closely, sun glinting on the frames of his spectacles.
“Couple weeks. Why?”
“Who did the shooting?”
“They did. I done the skinning out and drying of the meat.”
Donnelly was nodding. “Sounds right. Foulds must have been keeping an eye on you fellows. The other two got off before he made his move. Probably thought they was off shooting more cows. Strung you up as a warning for when they got back.”
The boy squinted at him, curious. “I don’t understand. What business was it of his?”

“It was the company you were keeping got you in trouble, Tom. Did you notice brands on any of those cows you were skinning?”
“Some. Moon said it didn’t matter, they was all wild cattle now. He said it didn’t matter.”
Donnelly had finished saddling. He climbed up on his buckskin, the mare’s lead rein in his hand. “It mattered. Moon and Dent haint the kind to go chasin’ slow elk through the brambles when range cows are easier pickin’.”
“You do know them, then?”
There was a hard edge to Donnelly’s voice as he replied, “I know them.” He kicked the buckskin and the big horse moved. Tom rushed forward and grabbed at Donnelly’s sleeve. Donnelly pulled back on the reins, pushed up his hat and peered down at the boy. “Take me to Foulds,” Tom pleaded.
Donnelly plucked the boy’s hand from his sleeve. “Leave it, son. You gained a few inches dancin’ on that rope. Let it at that and choose your companions better in the future.”
“I won’t leave it,” he said, sternly.
Donnelly stared down at him. He’d steered clear of human connections for a long time and didn’t want any entanglements now. But he couldn’t help liking the boy. The kid had stones, there was no denying that. “What’re you going to do if you get to Foulds?”
“Explain to him I didn’t know they was shooting his cows, get my gear back and go after them.”
“You sure are something, boy,” Donnelly said, his mustache raising with a wide grin. “Look, Moon is about as mean as they come and Dent is just plain stupid. Alone or together, they’re trouble. Forget them.”
“I earned that money.”
Donnelly pulled his hat lower by the brim. “Go get your boots on,” he said.
Tom beamed. “You’ll take me to Foulds?”
“Guess you’re determined to pursue trouble whether I lend a hand or not.” He still wasn’t certain it was the right thing to do, but maybe the boy knew more that would be of value to him.