Cover Art: Montana


A committed… and commit-able…  used-bookstore junkie, I always have my eye out not just for volumes of poetry, but also for old paperbacks with great covers. And though I usually read as much of the paperback books as I am able, it is purely for the sake of the cover art that I pick up the book. And art it is indeed…!

Here are some Western covers with a Montana theme that would be hard to leave on a shelf. 







Cover Art: Western Paperbacks

A committed… and commit-able…  used-bookstore junkie, I always have my eye out not just for volumes of poetry, but also for old paperbacks with great covers. And though I usually read as much of the paperback books as I am able, it is purely for the sake of the cover art that I pick up the book. And art it is indeed…!

Here are some Western covers with a Winchester/rifle theme that would be hard to leave on a shelf. 



Last_Stand_at_Saber_RiverArizona Guns


Cover Art: Western Paperbacks


A committed… and commit-able…  used-bookstore junkie, I always have my eye out not just for volumes of poetry, but also for old paperbacks with great covers. And though I usually read as much of the paperback books as I am able, it is purely for the sake of the cover art that I pick up the book. And art it is indeed…!

Here are some Western covers with a pistol theme that would be hard to leave on a shelf. 




Mitchell Stocks and “The Prick of the Spindle”

MontanaWriter has been on an “unplanned,” planned hiatus. A time to step back and recharge the batteries. A time to read, to recover, to find peace. In the meantime, here is a link to the literary journal “Prick of the Spindle” and three great online stories from one of my oldest  friends, Mitch Stocks.

Bannack Jail (photo by m.a.h. hinton)
Bannack Jail (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I am partial to the short-story form for the same reason that I am partial to poetry: compressed language is just far more interesting.  Ultimately a good short story is far more difficult to write than a good novel. The list of great –truly “great”– short stories is relatively small. I dare say a case could easily be made that there are actually more “great” novels than “great” short stories. At the very least, we can say that there are certainly more very good novels than very good short stories.

The reason is that in a novel, a writer can afford to be sloppy with words because each word does not matter as much. But in a short story… each word matters mightily.

Mitch is a writer and an attorney: two professions where words actually do matter. And it shows. In the three brief  online pieces, we are drawn in by carefully constructed language and images. The result is magical.

Mitch grew up in Montana and has lived and worked for decades now in China. His love and understanding of two seemingly unconnected-able places results in marvelous fiction.

Enjoy! I did.


Prick of the Spindle
Vol. 6.4

Mitchell Stocks
An Innocent: Bannack, Idaho Territory, 1864
The One-Armed Cowboy: Staten Island, New York, 1886
White Sun over China: Hong Kong, 1895
The Princeling’s Daughter: Cody, Wyoming, 2011 – A Kindle Magazine Exclusive



Book Review: “Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce” by Robert Penn Warren


“A strange land we wandered to eastern horizons
Where blueness of mountains swam in their blue–
In blue beyond name.” 


Robert Penn Warren is probably remembered more today as a novelist than as a poet. While it is true that he did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1946  for his famous novel All the King’s Men, he actually won twice as many Pulitzers as a poet (in 1958 and 1979). He remains the only writer to win Pulitzers as both a poet and novelist.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, a 64-page, book-length poem, was published in 1983 when Warren was in his late 70s.  It is about  ”the last Indian war,” about the Nez Perce’s fighting flight from Idaho into Montana and Yellowstone and north toward Canada.

To write a 68-page poem about an one-hundred-year-old  historical event in the west is, by any definition, audacious. For that reason alone Warren should be admired. That he succeeds so often in what he attempts should make us consider Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce one of the essential, late-20th-century works of American literature.

Warren makes demands on his audience. But it is not the kind of demands that Modernists make. Warren is not in his heart a Continental poet but an American one… but an American poet of a more intellectual kind. He is not Frost or Sandburg. I have thought of him at times as an American Auden, with less musicality. In the American literary tradition he is more Melville than Whitman, more mind than spirit.

In the most successful parts of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce we see Warren at his poetic best. That is the greatest merit I think of the long poem. It reveals poetic character because it so challenges poetic skill. It is the ultimate poetic risk.

I like Warren, even when he fails… and he does fail at times in Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Failure though in a great undertaking is not the same as failure in a easy thing. Indeed, sometimes in poetry, failure is more admirable than success. It is certainly more interesting. And Chief Joseph of the Nez Perceis above all else an interesting poem and one of the best books written about Montana and the West.



Some favorite lines

What does our blood,
in arteries deep, heaving with pulse-thrust
In its eternal midnight, remember?
We stir in sleep. We, too, belong
To the world, and it is spread for our eyes.

* * * * * * * * * *

But could he forget
The bones of his of his fathers, and the Old Wisdom?
Nor eyes of the fathers that watch from the darkness?

* * * * * * * * * *

Into a dark place my father had gone.
You know how the hunter, at dawn, waits,
String notched, where the buck comes to drink. Waits,
While first light brightens highest spruce bough, eyes slitted
like knife wounds, breath with no motion. My father
Waits thus in his dark place. Waiting, sees all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Remember your dead now lonely under
High stars with no names. Snow comes soon. In darkness, awake,
In new mountains, you stare up to see, bright as steel,
Stars wheel in unfamiliar formations. You know not
That sky. Nor that land, nor where foot leads.

* * * * * * * * * *

He knew– could see afar, beyond all night–
Those ancient eyes, in which love and judgement
Hold equal glitter, and, with no blink,
Strove always toward him. And he–
He strove to think of things outside
of Time, in some
Great whirling sphere, like truth unnamable. Thus–
Standing there, he might well,
Already in such midnight, have foreknown
The end.




Book Review: Gun Hand by Frank O’Rourke

Gun_HandI have long had a weakness for certain kinds of pulp fiction. It is my literary undoing. I cannot browse thrift store bookshelves or charity book sales without picking up a few cheap old paperbacks for no other reason than the fact that they have “interesting” covers.

Attentive readers to MontanaWriter have no doubt noted over the years that a few of my links here have been to blogs that specialize in old paperbacks and paperback covers. It is a guilty pleasure that I share with many.

It was this cover for Gun Hand by Frank O’Rourke that originally caught my eye. Over the years I have picked up and read a number of old westerns that have had on their cover basically the same kind of picture…. the quintessential distillation of the genre I suppose.

According to Wikipedia, Frank O’Rourke wrote mysteries and westerns. Some of his book were turned into movies, including the movies The Professionals with Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster, The Bravados, and The Great Bank Robbery.

Gun Hand touches on noir western but ends on a more hopeful note. The blurb on the back cover describes Gun Hand this way:

“Charley’s Atchley called the shots in Nioebe. And asked the questions afterwards. Nioebe was Charley’s town, Charley’s territory. It looked like he had it sewed up too tight for trouble.
Then John McCabe set out to find the man who killed his partner. With a red head at his side and a gun on his hip, he rode into Nioebe… and all hell broke loose.”

The cover blurb declares: “Vengance and a redheaded woman led him into a town of killers.”


Neither blurb is accurate. McCabe helps escort the “redhead,” Elizabeth, and her brother, Adam, out of a crooked town where McCabe has just escaped jail and Adam is wanted on trumped-up charges. He helps the brother and sister get to Nioebe with the help of an honest drover. The drover and McCabe start a cattle business partnership but the partner is quickly killed. The blurbs have the essentials of the story… sort of, but just barely. Connoisseurs of old paperbacks are used to such misleading advertising. It is part of the allure.

The opening paragraphs pull you in like the opening of a good paperback should:

“He lay in his frowsty gray blankets on the hard bunk and listened to the night sounds and remembered the past when all the future lay bright and unexplored. He heard the restless, sloshing gurgle of the river below his cell window, and the mosquito hum rising from turgid backwater overgrown with hairy swamp grass that cast a thick, animal odor upon the wind. He reached forth in his mind and saw the land with the last of his caution break away. He was going out of here tonight and nothing would stop him; and then, adding steel to his resolution, the night deputy opened the hall door and came between the cells, jingling a key ring against the brass shell cases in his gun belt.

“McCabe,” the deputy asked, “you done with that belly ache?”

O’Rourke is a good writer and the story is paced well enough to keep you going, even when the basics of the story are fairly predictable.

All in all Gun Hand is that rarest of all paperback birds: an interesting cover that reads as well as it looks.

Enjoy! I did.


Some other favorite lines:


“He smiled pleasantly at the night, but he had no good thoughts, and his face was blank behind the smile.”


* * * * * * *


“There should be one good word for every man,” McCabe said quietly. “Think how lonely a man will be on the last day, with nothing left, with no one to speak for him. Could you do that to any man?”


* * * * * * *


“Why do we follow our own separate roads to perdition?” Vargas said. “One little word, a mistake, who can tell when it happens? I cannot be sorry for myself, or apologize, for my life is my own doing.”


* * * * * * *


“Once a thing has started, you can’t step back and let others shoulder your rightful load. A man must see his own affairs through to the end”


A Great Story

Regular readers of MontanaWriter know that the most frequent and faithful commenter here is Ron Scheer. Ron is the creative mind and muscle behind Buddies in the Saddle, my favorite western blog.

Besides writing about westerns, Ron also writes stories himself. His latest story, called “Jingle Bob,” was just recently published at a new westen eZine called Fires on the Plain. Ron knows the western canon as well as anyone and uses that knowledge to take his story in a new direction. Check it out!

I have high hopes for Fires on the Plain which is officially “going live” tomorrow, March 24th. In their submissions guidelines they say: “we love our Westerns hardboiled and very noir.” 

As a reader and writer of noir westerns, I am looking forward to a new source for great fiction to read… and a new “marketplace” for my own writing.

Congratulations again to Ron for a great story… and good luck to Fires on the Plain on their new venture.

(from Fires on the Plain website)
What are we looking for? Westerns with an edge. Hardboiled. Noir. Gritty. Dark. Tough. Stuff that Harry Whittington, Clifton Adams, H.A. DeRosso, or Brian Garfield would have written. Who else do we love here at Fires on the Plain? Elmore Leonard, Ed Gorman, James Reasoner, T.V. Olsen, Frank Castle, Tom Piccirilli, George Gilman, Bill Pronzini, Richard Telfair — the list goes on.

Want to write about the West from a different or unusual point of view? Want to give the genre a new twist? Or just want to let loose with some gut-punching Western action? Or maybe you have something else in mind? Just shoot us an email and let us know what you’re thinking.

At Fires on the Plain, we believe the Western is not dead. The genre is thriving, and there are still new voices to be heard, old voices to be heard from again, and more ways to look at our history and learn from it.

Long live the Western!



Short Story: “Montana is Big” by Mark Hinton

"Ghost Town Morning" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)
“Ghost Town Morning” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I found out yesterday that The Western Online has just published one more of my western short stories. This one is entitled “Montana is Big”. Regular readers of MontanaWriter may remember that The Western Online published another story of mine, “Box Canyon”, last May.

For those keeping score, right now on-line you can find the following short stories of mine.

Thank you to the folks at for liking my story enough to publish it.

You can find and my short story “Montana is Big” here.



Book Review: Black Rock Canon by Les Savage, Jr.

Del Rockwall is a Texas horse runner working the high country of Montana for wild mustangs with his young partner Tie Taylor. On the day Rockwall first sees the most beautiful wild horse he has ever seen he also meets the most wild and beautiful woman (Aldis Spain) he has ever seen. Both the horse and the woman are claimed by one man, Kenny Graves, who will stop at nothing to possess them both.

All the ingredients that make a classic noir story are here: anti-heroes and moral ambivalence; a femme fatale and dark inescapable destiny. Black Rock Canon is classic western noir because it is classic Les Savage, Jr.

As a writer, Savage’s stories do at times require a willing suspension of disbelief. Yet there is something in his poetic prose and the strong, unrelenting undercurrent of fate that keeps you reading. It is a dark vision, but one you find difficult to put down.

One of the hallmarks of a noir story, western or otherwise, is this sense of inexorable circumstance and fate… characters locked into a grim battle they cannot ultimately escape . Savage, Jr., captures this well. His characters are haunted and hunted men and women, battling simultaneously the situation they find themselves in and one another.

The geography of Montana that Savage describes is an “idealized” one… or more properly an iconicone. It is a wild and mountainous place of great valleys and great ranches and violent boom towns. It is western mythic.

Black Rock Canon is available at Amazon in both paperback and kindle editions.

I end with some quotes from Black Rock Canon, courtesy of the kindle highlight function. Great writing? Perhaps not. Great classic western noir lines? Indeed!



Some Quotes

“The parallel struck him. A man could want this kind of horse as intensely as he could want a woman.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He gained the tamarack and poplars along the trickle of water. The timber was bunched in dense patches here, and beyond its tangled mat a sentinel peak had speared a falling ball of fire. Light spread in a crimson tide from this impaled sun as if it were flooding the world with its life’s blood, to form ruddy pools of the open glades and cover the forest floor with a sanguine dappling. The foliage of the poplars caught it up thirstily, till each slick olive-green leaf gave off a brazen glitter. It made a tawny illusion of the shadows, to close about Rockwall like a dark mist whenever he left the patches of light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“The moon was a painter, splashing the earth with a pot full of yellow ochre. The wolves were singers, filling the night with their mournful chorus. The brush was an audience, applauding in ghostly whispers with each passage of wind.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He knew a momentary disgust with himself that he could feel such desire for the wife of his friend. Then he knew how foolish that was. A man couldn’t help what he felt; he didn’t have that much control over his emotions. It was what he did about them that counted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was an odd habit of mind, he often reflected, to test the past against the future, when so many were content to let each experience fade so soon behind them. It had been taken for cynicism in him. But a man didn’t make the same mistake twice, very often, if he put things together this way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Like a beautiful woman you can’t leave alone. We’re wound up with that horse, Kammas, and, if one of us can’t finish it, the next one has to, one way or the other.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *.

His head seemed empty now. He was left with the sense of awesome inevitability, as if following out some plan that had been ordained for him long ago.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *..

He tried to read defeat in the lines of her silhouette, standing there, watching the end of everything she had tried to gain by playing so many ends against the middle. But, somehow, he could not find defeat. She seemed as unbridled, as defiant as ever. She was like Blue Boy. One man could never hold her. Probably no man ever would.

Savage Jr., Les (2009-01-01). Black Rock Canon . Dorchester Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Western Writer: Elmore Leonard

This is the fourth installment in the Western Writers Series at MontanaWriter. 

While the last two western writers featured here (Les Savage, Jr. and H.A. DeRosso) remain obscure enough to not even have Wikipedia articles, today’s featured writer is quite well known… though not primarily as a western writer.

Elmore Leonard  is a household name for gritty novels with great dialog like Get Shorty and Rum Punch. But his gritty style and his long writing career actually began in the 1950s with stories for western pulp magazines. It was not until the marketplace for westerns began to dry up in the early 1970s that Leonard made the switch to crime fiction for which he is now so famous.

What caused the marketplace for westerns to dry up has been greatly debated. Some have suggested that it was the ubiquity of bad western television-shows during the 1950s and 1960s that exhausted America’s interest in all things western. Some believe it was the 1960s and Vietnam that made the western mythos seem anachronistic and irrelevant, especially when the biggest star of the Western movie came to be synonymous with all things that were being rejected.

I suspect it is a combination of both combined with the rise of Louis L’Amour as a market force. The fact that L’Amour’s competent historical fiction came to represent the art-form of western fiction at every newsstand and bookstore ensured the end. Blase had won the day. The western was dead… at least for awhile. (Obviously, I believe in the resurrection of the dead.)

Westerns, as has been said before at MontanaWriter, fall along a continuum between mythic literature and historical fiction. Leonard shares much in common with is fellow Michigan writer, H.A. DeRosso. His West is not the historically accurate one. It is more the metaphorical/iconic one. That is why he is one of my favorite of all western writers… and to my mind the best..

Leonard honed his 10 famous rules for writing first by writing western short stories and then by writing 8 western novels, each of which would belong on any list of best western novels.

              Elmore Leonard’s 10 Tricks for Good Writing 

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.


Though Leonard has written that he kept a research notebook at his side as he began writing westerns so things would be accurate, his rules of writing indicate that accurate description was not his primary focus. There is none of the extraneous horse-talk and gun-talk that some historical-western writers feel compelled to throw-in just to show-off. He gets to the point of the story and sticks with it. And the point of a story is to tell a story. And he does it well… better than any western writer.

It is shame that Leonard felt he had stop writing westerns… a shame for the western art-form and for those of us who are readers. Think of all the great westerns that were never written.


Elmore Leonard Western Bibliography