Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cowboy Slang

By Natalie Bright

Down in the Skillet

In the olden days, the Texas Panhandle was down in the skillet. On the cattle drive, the chuck wagon cook, or dough-wrangler, might whip up a batch of sour-doughs with sop (biscuits and gravy), along with a boggy top for dessert (a pie with only a bottom crust).

After work, a cowboy might dig around in his war-bag for a clean shirt. I’ve heard the term used today by rodeo cowboys. A war-bag is a sports bag with their gear for riding broncs or bulls.  Back to the olden days, if he could find clean duds, he’d slick-up for the shin-dig at a neighboring ranch where they’d shake a good hoof until daybreak.

Talking Hoss

Raising quality beef steak was a real profession back then, and continues to be so today. Technology has had some influence on the cattle and ranching industry, but what remains is a simple way of speaking. There are few story tellers equal to a group of cowboys gathered around talking hoss.

Our spring branding will be held in a few short months. I’m already hearing mention that it’s time to “leg-up” the horses. They’ve had a fairly easy winter and they’ll need to be in shape for a full week of riding and moving cows. Our ranch foreman mentioned that he used to get “legged-up” in his younger days. When he worked on a 10,000 head spread, he’d start a serious work-out program to get in shape.

These types of conversations are gold to a writer’s ear.  I heard a cowboy mention that his horse was smoked, which means the horse had already been ridden hard and needed a rest so the cowboy had to quit work for the day.

One simple word can say a lot.

Cowboy Slang Reference

These witty and colorful catch phrases are interesting to me and I love sprinkling a few throughout my stories. To help with the details and jumpstart your muse, I’ve discovered a few invaluable reference books that I find myself referring to again and again:

COWBOY LINGO by Ramon F. Adams, is a collection of “slack-jaw words and whangdoodle ways” (Houghton Mifflin Company).

WESTERN WORDS, also by Adams. A dictionary of the Old West. (Hippocrene Books, New York).

COWBOY SLANG by Edgar R. “Frosty” Potter.

HOW THE WEST WAS WORN by Chris Enss. Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier. (The Globe Pequot Press, 2006)

Happy trails and keep writing those wonderful stories set in the West!

Side Note: Portions of this blog post appeared on Prairie Purview,

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, and enjoys speaking about history and story craft. Her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, most recently this March “A Cowboy’s Life” will appear in Appleseeds. She is represented by Stephen Fraser, of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, NYC, who is currently shopping her western novels for middle grade readers. She holds a BBA from WTSU, her husband is a geologist and cattle rancher, and they have two teenaged boys.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

March Member News

Women Writing the West members are awesome, prolific, award-winning, forward looking women! Congratulations to you all for your accomplishments!

Cj Fosdick The Accidental Wife (Wild Rose Press) It is calculated that you have six people in the world who look like you! Chances are less than 10 percent that you will meet one of them in your lifetime. How does a modern day intelligent 30-year old (determined) spinster become an instant mother—and the look-alike wife to an ancestor who lived 130 years ago?

Margaret Gooch, The West, The West. In a setting where environmentalists clash with ranchers over grazing rights, what are the chances that agency intern Joan Aquero and rancher Zeb Enwright will trust their growing attraction? As a novice but aspiring Westerner, Joan compares herself with Ann Bassett, the “Queen of the Cattle Rustlers” (and a real person), who by feuding with a large-scale cattleman in former times made a name for herself in the region. Ann’s marriage to a man initially allied with her enemies was unsuccessful; should that outcome be a warning to Joan? How will Joan come to understand the grazing rights issue, respond to the threat against her it provokes, and resolve her feelings for Zeb as she strives to make a place for herself in the West?

Sharman Russell, Teresa of the New World is a young adult novel about the fictional daughter of the Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and a Capoque mother from the coastal tribes of Texas. Set in the dreamscape of the American Southwest in the sixteenth century, the story explores the turbulence of First Contact as Teresa struggles to find herself in the New World.

Cynthia Leal Massey has won a 2015 San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award for her latest book, Death of a Texas Ranger, A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier. The book, set in 1870s Texas, is about Texas Ranger John Green, who was slain in northwest Bexar County in 1873. The killer was alleged to be Cesario Menchaca, one of three Rangers of Mexican descent under Green’s command.

Several WWW members are Western Writers of America Spur awards: Nancy Oswald winner for Edward Wynkoop: Soldier and Indian Agent in Western Juvenile Fiction, and finalists Sandra Dallas for Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky in Western Juvenile Fiction, and Jane Kirkpatrick for  A Light in theWilderness, Western Historical Novel.

Karen Casey Fitzjerrell, Forgiving Effie Beck, has won an EPIC award in Historical fiction.In this Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award-winning work of fiction Mike LeMay, a Federal Writers’ Project interviewer arrives in a small Texas town days before the town eccentric, Effie Beck, is reported missing. While conducting his interviews, Mike learns that the enigmatic, elderly Miss Effie has moved through the lives of the town’s populace "like brown smoke" after having suffered a harsh childhood under the discipline of a cruel father.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Whose Story Is It?

By Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Saturday, March 14, 2015 ForgivingEffie Beck, a novel that took me two years to write, received the EPIC Award for Best Historical Fiction. It was the second award for the book. In October it won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Since I had written the story without regard to most of the shoulds and shouldn’ts writers are hammered with daily the EPIC announcement left me stuttering with confusion. 

The Will Rogers Award: A fluke? I had to wonder. But a second honor: The EPIC?

I never, ever felt comfortable with anyone reading drafts of my book. I wrote it in a style or voice I’m most comfortable with - like my journal entries about everyday observations. Agents, editors, publishing houses would probably label it “too colloquial.” The characters are far less than perfect, dreamed-up combinations of family members, old friends and past enemies. I put them in a setting familiar to me, then placed them in difficult situations. Words flew off my fingers tips and onto the computer screen. I worried writing it had been too easy, probably not worthy of much. It was too elementary, too simple, entry-level work. Worse, I couldn’t name an age group or audience who’d want to read it. I’d always believed that trying to control reader’s perceptions stifles one’s particular writing voice. But I also believed my real story telling voice wouldn’t hold a novel together.

And yet . . . Awards?

It’s true that authors can never be sure how their work will be read or interpreted, or what readers will glean from it when they’ve read to the last page.

And we’ve all heard “write what you know.” This story is what I know, some of what I’ve lived. I worried most about keeping personal agendas at bay - a point I believe vital to writing decent fiction. Especially if it is to have any universal meaning whatsoever. To guard against having my agendas seep into the story I gave the task of telling Effie Beck’s story to the characters. Characters like down-and-out Mike LeMay, heartbroken Red Kasper, lonely and isolated Effie Beck herself and ostracized Jodean Travis. They told my fingers what they thought, felt, how they perceived troubling events. All I had to do was set them free on the page. The voice, the writing belongs to them.

My Ah-ha moment:  I noticed I most often say, “Forgiving Effie Beck won an award.” Then I wonder why I don’t say, “I won an award for Forgiving Effie Beck.” Of course now I know - it is not my story.
Karen Casey Fitzjerrell’s debut novel, The Dividing Season, won the 2013 EPIC Award for Best Historical Fiction. She is a former journalist who traveled Texas back roads for eight years in search of history mysteries and unique-to-Texas characters to include in her newspaper and magazine articles. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas.