Tuesday, July 8, 2014



Last week, I headed out for the six-and-a half-hour drive from L.A. to the state’s capitol, Sacramento, for the annual convention of the Western Writers of America, a professional writers’ organization that has been in business since 1953.  And this organization is seriously about business as well as literature – the members are all professional writers, whether they write traditional western fiction, decidedly non-tradition western fiction, history, biography, books for children, western screenplays or teleplays, or western music.  I haven’t joined the outfit (yet), so I was very grateful to be allowed to attend.

Having waited until after the rush hour, the highways were clear, and in well under an hour I was beyond the TMZ – the thirty mile zone, measured from the center of L.A.  That measurement determined which western movie towns were officially ‘local’ – like Melody Ranch, Paramount Ranch, Corriganville – and which, like Pioneertown, got workers a boost in salary for travel.   I was quickly out of the movie west and into the real west, typified at its bleakest by acres of dead orchards that lined the ‘5’, often with posted signs demanding something be done about water rights.  It was a very different world when I passed the California Aqueduct, where everything was green.  I recalled a dozen western movies and a hundred TV episodes where men were killing each other over water rights.  I recalled CHINATOWN, too. 

Sacramento was a logical choice for the gathering, being nearly ground zero for the Gold Rush of 1849.  The Convention began on Tuesday, June 24th, commencing with a tour of the California Museum and California State Capitol.  It was followed by receptions to welcome new members, and to give a chance for members to mingle, renew friendships, have a glass of wine, and cut a rug.   Wednesday began with Authors Guild General Counsel Jan Constantine providing an update on the status of the writers VS. Google lawsuit – over Google’ s providing unauthorized previews of copyrighted writings – as well as other legal issues.   This was followed by a panel discussing California Overland Trails, and those infamously poor map-readers, the Donner Party – speakers included Terry Del Bene, author of THE DONNER PARTY COOKBOOK.  Later panels examined Gold Rush Entertainers Lola Montez, Lotta Crabtree and Lillie Langtry; the history of the Pony Express; research sources and techniques for writers; and the marketing of western literature.  Speakers on the various panels included well-known western authors Chris Enss, Johnny D. Boggs, and the new President of the WWA, Sherry Monahan.  The evening was capped with a screening of the Oregon PBS-produced documentary, THE MODOC WAR, with remarks by writer-producer Kami Horton, and Modoc Indian Cheewa James.

Thursday began with breakfast networking roundtables, and a wide array of topics, including developing characters, reenacting, daily life in the Victorian west, developing story for young readers, John Steinbeck’s work, screenwriting, short fiction, marketing your book, inspiration for western songs, and Roundup Magazine – not this blog, but the magazine of the WWA, which is edited by Johnny D. Boggs.  Among the speakers were those mentioned before, plus outgoing President Dusty Richards, Win Blevins, C. Courtney Joyner, Rod Miller and Jim Jones.  Later that morning, the Keynote Address was by Liping Zhu, an advocate for including Chinese characters in Western stories.  This was followed by a trip to Old Town Sacramento, featuring visits to the Delta King Paddlewheel, Wells Fargo Museum, and the wonderful California Railroad Museum. 

Next up, the Homestead Dinner and Auction – the Homestead Foundation supports WWA by helping to fund educational programs, awards, and pays for participation by industry pros.  The auction, the Foundations’ main fundraiser, included a wide array of member-contributed Western books, art, jewelry, toys, and even the pilot script from JUSTIFIED. 

Chip MacGregor & Holly Lorincz

Friday opened with a unique discussion, looking at The Modoc War, the documentary about it, and the broader topic of writing for and selling to PBS and the National Park Service.  This was followed by a discussion focusing on how to pitch a project.  Panelists Chip MacGregor and Holly Lorincz, both of the MacGregor Literary Agency, were generous with their no-nonsense advice.  Among the points they made: the need to have the work completed before you pitch it; to have a one-sentence pitch, and a two or three minute pitch if they’re interested, and a 2 or 3 page synopsis so they can take something with them – and the need to practice your verbal pitch instead of winging it.    Skip feels that this is a new Golden Age of publishing – that more books are published, sold and read than ever before.  Also – and this observation came up panel after panel – the eBook has created a whole new market for the short story and novella.  And while in actual paper-type books, nonfiction outsells fiction six to one, on eBooks, fiction outsells nonfiction ten to one. 

The next panel gave agents, editors and magazine and book publishers a chance to introduce themselves – following the introductions, writers could sign up to pitch to one or more of them.  From TRUE WEST were editor Meghan Saar and senior editor Stuart Rosebrook; Larry J. Martin from WOLF PACK PUBLISHING; Lou Turner from HIGH HILL PRESS; Tiffany Schofield and Hazel Rumney from FIVE STAR BOOKS; Dusty Richards, who is starting SADDLE-BAG EXPRESS an on-line magazine he describes as a ‘Cowboy Facebook’, and is looking for short pieces; literary agent Chip MacGregor; Duke Pennell of Pennell Publishing, whose site, FrontierTales.com is full of free-to-read western stories; Kathleen Kelly of University of Oklahoma Press; Martin Bartells, senior editor of WILD WEST; Bob Clark, of the Washington State University Press; and Gary Goldstein, editorial director of Kensington Books and Pinnacle, currently the only mass-market paperback publisher of series westerns.  

The mad rush -- writers sign up to pitch!

The speakers provided a clear demonstration of the importance of researching your market, as the readerships and needs were very different for each.  Some were interested in only fiction, or only non-fiction; some wanted only short stories or short articles; others wanted VERY long manuscripts; some offered an advance against royalties, others did not.  Among the surprises, while the eBook trade wants shorter pieces, real-book buyers want an ever-longer read.   Larry Martin revealed that an increasing number of Germans are downloading their Western novels in English.  Meghan Saar said that TRUE WEST is especially interested in articles set around historic anniversaries, and advised that they be submitted a year in advance.  Gary Goldstein put his needs most succinctly: “Historical accuracy with a decent body count.”

Schmoozing 101 -- writers chat up Gary Goldstein of
Kensington Books


I was able to catch up with Tiffany Schofield of FIVE STAR BOOKS after the discussion, and ask some follow-up questions.  I’m interested in the segmentation of the Western book market, and intrigued that FIVE STAR’S bread and butter is the library book market.

TIFFANY SCHOFIELD: With the library market, we sell directly to distributors that handle library sales, that help the librarians with the one-stop shop.  Because they’re so busy these days, and it’s harder and harder for them to do hand selections of titles of what they want.  So in the library market we typically work with standing-order plans,  where librarians can sign up to know exactly how many titles they’ll get a month, and annually, so they know how much to budget each year.  It really helps them with their planning and their budget, and they know it’s going to be a product that’s 100% satisfaction guaranteed.  It’s peace of mind; they know they’re going to get something that their patrons will love.  It does act differently than the trade market in a lot of ways.  It’s kind of the square peg in a round hole.

HENRY:  How does the material written for the library market differ from what you would write for regular mass-market?

TIFFANY SCHOFIELD:  Oh, that’s an interesting question.  I wish that Gary Goldstein was here to chat with us, because we joke all the time that we share custody of our lovely Johnny Boggs.   Some of Johnny’s westerns, on the trade side with Gary, they always joke about how they have a much higher body-count; there’s a lot more action, and things going on.  For the library market, Johnny has been in our western list, but (his books) are really rooted so much more with historical fiction.  He’ll take an event from history and then just build this amazing story around it, so it’s really not just a western of the  cowboy on a horse with a gun,  it’s this real person, it’s Custer, so you get this history, with this fictional story wrapped around it.  Where probably in the Kensingtons it’s more action, shoot-em-up, body count!

HENRY:  Who are your top authors?

TIFFANY SCHOFIELD:  Our top western writers would be Johnny Boggs, Michael Zimmer, who’s also here as well,  Bill Brooks.  Those are some of our top ones.  We’ve also published a lot of the classic writers – the Louis L’Amours,  Max Brands, Lauren Payne – the list goes on and on.  The literary rock-stars of yesterday!

HENRY:  And how about of tomorrow?  Are you looking for new writers? 

TIFFANY SCHOFIELD:  We are; we have expanded our list, which started last July, thanks to the Western Writers of America, and attending this conference.  We realized how many people were still writing these great stories who needed to find a publishing house.  And thankfully in the library market, I think because these stories are so deeply rooted with their non-fiction elements.  But there’s not always (historical) information you can find.  So these literary rock stars can build a whole story around it, so it’s kind of like fictionalized non-fiction, if there is such a thing.  And the librarians I think enjoying offering that to their patrons, because not only do they get the feeling for what it might have been to live in the 1800s American West, they learn about the peoples, the cultures, the battles, from a fictionalized account that makes it really interesting and keeps their attention. 

HENRY:  What else should I know about you and FIVE STAR?

TIFFANY SCHOFIELD:  That we love discovering new writers, and I think libraries also enjoy that.  Sometimes in the trade, someone walks into a bookstore, they’re going to look for a western; they’re going to look for a Louis L’Amour, they’re going to look for a Max Brand, the perception of the names that they recognize.  Whereas perhaps in the library market they’re open to new names, new voices.  The same stories with a different twist.   


Meghan Saar is the editor of the magazine which, now in its 61st year, is the oldest and most recognized nonfiction Western magazine in the business, TRUE WEST.  I wondered if the WWA convention was as valuable to magazine publishers as it was to the writers themselves.

MEGHAN SAAR: I am here representing TRUE WEST because I’ve been coming to the WWA for eleven years, and it’s a fabulous place to meet writers.  Quite a few writers who are regular contributors are regular members of WWA.  It’s a good chance for me to reconnect with them, and also to meet new writers, find out what’s going on in their lives, what projects they’re working on, to see if we can get any more story ideas or develop some relationships.  Because when you’re working on a history magazine, you never know when some idea is going to hit you.  It’s good to make contacts – and I’ll think – oh, I remember that writer knew a lot about that (historical figure).  So l know who to contact.  I find it very beneficial to build those relationships.   

HENRY:  I would think normally, day to day, you’re not face to face with that many writers.

MEGHAN SAAR: No I’m not.  And it’s a lot more fun, because you get a much better sense of people when you meet them.  And they get a better sense of me.  A lot of people don’t know that I have a hearing loss, and when they meet me they kind of understand -- ohhh, that’s why you’re always on email, and don’t talk on the phone that much.  So it’s also helpful for me that they get to know me a little bit more.

HENRY:  Have you actually gotten writers that ended up working for you through these events?

MEGHAN SAAR: Every year; every year, there’s not a convention that I haven’t got articles from;  there’s always been benefits in attending.

HENRY:  Anything else I should know?

MEGHAN SAAR:  Just that it’s a fabulous convention, and I really enjoy that it moves around, because I do meet more people, because people come to what’s closer to them.  And I think that’s more fun.  Not that I don’t like the regular crowd, I do.  But it’s nice to see new faces and meet new people. 

HENRY:  How many conventions do you go to in a year?

MEGHAN SAAR: This is the only one.  This is it.  I do go to the Tucson Book Festival, but I don’t know if you’d call that a convention.  There are a lot of writers, but they don’t go there to learn about writing or to mingle with each other.  They’re there to promote their new books.  I have done Woman Writing the West before; I did that one time.  I get asked by my bosses, ‘Where do you want to go?’  I say WWA; I don’t think I need to go anywhere else.  It works for me.

After a lunch break, the panel, From Page to Stage: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, examined the business of adapting your own or someone else’s book to the screen, or allowing it to be done.  You couldn’t ask for a more experienced group of writers on the subject, and with widely varied experiences and points-of-view.  Moderator and WWA Veep-elect Kirk Ellis is the multi-award winning adapter for three celebrated mini-series: ANNE FRANK, INTO THE WEST and JOHN ADAMS.  

Miles Swarthout (you’ll soon be reading my interview with him from the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival) adapted his father Glendon’s famous novel THE SHOOTIST for the screen.  He also wrote early drafts of the upcoming THE HOMESMAN, also based on a Glendon Swarthout novel, and will soon release his novel THE LAST SHOOTIST, a follow-up to the classic.  Miles is so committed to the screen that he won’t start a novel without a clear idea of an actor who could play the lead character in a movie.  Multi-Spur-winning novelist Thomas Cobb wrote the novel that became the Oscar winning film CRAZY HEART.  His advice was to divorce yourself from the adaptation process as much as possible, and just concentrate on the prose-writing.  

Anne Hillerman, daughter of novelist Tony Hillerman, who has just written a mystery continuing her father’s characters, was involved in the making of several movies based on his books for PBS with producer Robert Redford.  Her father’s experience with the first filmed adaptation of the Leaphorn and Chee stories, DARK WIND, was un-rewarding and awkward enough that Tony had little to do with the later films.  “But he liked being on the set, because it was really fun for him to see that something that he had written in thirty words, just eluded to, became a whole big deal in the movie.  And in my dad’s books, his description of landscape was really part and parcel of why people love to read his books.  Well of course, in a script you don’t need that, because you see it.  So all of those words that dad labored over so long, nobody needed it…  My dad said the best part (of being on the set) was the food – excellent coffee!”  


I’d spent several hours of my drive to Sacramento finishing the audio-book version of David McCullough’s biography, JOHN ADAMS, which was the basis of Kirk Ellis’s miniseries script.   I was eager to ask him about that, and about INTO THE WEST. 

KIRK ELLIS:  I was the writer and supervising producer for TNT for INTO THE WEST in 2005.  And I was the co-executive producer and writer for JOHN ADAMS in 2008.

HENRY: How do you attack a piece of work as big and as – for film – as unstructured as JOHN ADAMS

KIRK ELLIS:  I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve discovered that the challenge with any adaptation or subject derived from historic reality is all about finding the right in-point and the right out-point, particularly the in-point, because where you decide to start the story really determines the mood of the story, the whole approach you’re taking to the character.  With JOHN ADAMS, it would have been very easy to start the story with him as a young lawyer trying to make his way, meeting Abigail, play out all of that courtship.  But that would have been a very different movie from the movie we made, which was from the beginning going to be about John Adams as a man of principle, who would stake everything, his reputation, his welfare, his family’s welfare, on a very firm belief in what the America that he helped to create should represent.  And so we start the story the night of the Boston Massacre, with John coming back from the judicial circuit and discovering that there has been this horrible shooting, and a representative of the soldiers comes to him the next day and says there’s not a lawyer who will take the case.  And Adams without hesitating does, because he believes that in a free country no man should lack a fair trial; and that set the character for us.  And it was very much about who John Adams was, this New England Puritan who believed that government was very much like the human character, that it needed checks and balances.  And that’s the story we elected to tell.  So once you make those choices, and I’ve gotten better at it with each project over time, then things tend to fall into place for you.

HENRY:  How about with INTO THE WEST? How did you approach that?  Did that start as a novel?

KIRK ELLIS:  No, INTO THE WEST was actually an original idea by another writer, William Mastrosimone, a very well-known playwright.   It was derived from an idea from Steven Speilberg, who said in a meeting that, “I’d love to do HOW THE WEST WAS WON, but I want to do it right.  And I want to do it from the point of view of two families, one Native American and one Anglo family coming west in the Manifest Destiny movement.”  So that’s how that started.  So it was an effort to meld fictional characters with real-life historical incident and people.  I think that it was more successful in its latter half than in its earlier half, as the story started to gel a bit better.  But that was a challenge too, because it was, again, focusing on a vast panoply of characters, and deciding which ones you were focusing on from episode to episode.

HENRY: With JOHN ADAMS, you said that took six years of your life.  How about with INTO THE WEST? 

KIRK ELLIS:  INTO THE WEST came together very quickly.  They were already shooting the miniseries in Canada, and they were planning a move to Santa Fe, where I live.  They had tremendous trouble with the scripts.  And I had done some work for Dreamworks in the past.  They called me to find out if I would work as supervising producer and writer for the Santa Fe sections, and I agreed, and so that was a very fast learning curve.  I was literally writing some of those scripts on my dining room table nights before the episodes were meant to be shooting.  It was literally research books on Wounded Knee piled three or four deep spread out, existing script pages that I was revising, everything attached to a printer.  That was chaos in one sense, but out of chaos sometimes comes a fairly decent script. 

Next week I’ll have part two of my coverage of the WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA convention, including the Barnes & Noble book-signing, the Spur Awards Banquet, and an interview with the banquet’s emcee, western star Clu Gulager. 


On Saturday night, July 26th, at 6 p.m., head to the historic Leonis Adobe Museum in Calabasas for the annual Mid-Valley Community Police Council  COPS & COWBOYS celebration!  There’ll be toe-tappin’ music, dancing, delicious barbecue, Black Jack and Poker in the saloon, silent and live auctions and more!

The Leonis Adobe is Los Angeles City Cultural Monument #1!  Built in 1844, its early years are a mystery, but some say it was a stagecoach stop along El Camino Real, between Mission San Buenaventura and Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana.  In the 1870s it was acquired by Miguel Leonis, a Basque farmer who’d made a fortune in the sheep business, and his wife Espiritu Chijulla, daughter of the local Chumash Chief.  The Adobe presents an authentic view of 1800s ranch life, and features several period buildings, a Chumash village, and livestock, including Percheron horses and Longhorn Texas Cattle.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the MVCPC raises funds for supplemental training for the officers of the Van Nuys Station, for improvements to the station itself, and the LAPD’s Youth Programs, including the Cadet Program, the Jeopardy Program, and the Juvenile Impact Program.  Your contributions will have a direct impact on safety in this community!  For more information on these programs, go to  www.midvalleypolicecouncil.org

Chumash village

Individual tickets start at $75 if you’re in the LAPD, $150 if you’re not, with VIP tickets for $250.  There are all kinds of tables, levels of sponsorship, and advertising available in the program!  To buy tickets, and learn more about what will be a terrific night for a very deserving cause, please call 818-994-4661, FAX 818-994-6181, email info@theproperimageevents.com, or visit www.midvalleypolicecouncil.org .


In conjunction with their ROUTE 66 show, on Saturday at 1:30 pm, the Autry will screen GRAPES OF WRATH, directed by John Ford from the brilliant John Steinbeck novel.  The 1940 Oscar winner for Ford’s direction, Jane Darwell’s supporting performance, and with five more nominations, WRATH is one of both Steinbeck’s and Ford’s greatest achievements, putting a human face, the face of the Joad family, on what had been seen as anonymous Okies travelling Route 66, their farms lost, in search of work and food.  

Fonda, Carradine & Qualen

Wonderfully adapted by Nunnally Johnson, it contains career-highlight performances by Henry Fonda, John Carradine and John Qualen.  It will be introduced by Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s curator of both Popular Culture and the Route 66 show, as well as Firearms.  If you’ve never seen it, or never seen it in 35mm on a big screen, GRAPES OF WRATH is required viewing.  And check out the Route 66 show before or after, to put it all in context. 


And that’s it for this week’s Round-up!  Have a great week, and see ya Sunday!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright July 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


  1. Henry,

    Thank you for posting all this excellent coverage of the 2014 WWA convention in Sacramento!

    As the current president, I'd like to personally invite you to join WWA as a member.

    If you have any questions, please get in touch with Bill Markley, who is our membership chair.



    1. Thanks so much -- I gratefully accept, and I'll get in touch with Bill. Thanks again for all your help during the convention. You are president of a great organization!