Riding for the Range

A book by "John Benteen" a some-time pseudonym for the late, great Ben Haas.

I had a fairly pleasant weekend here at our tower on the shore of the Sea of Monsters. I had dinner Saturday with some old friends, and courtesy of an equipment loan from my brother-in-law have been transferring old family videos over to CD-ROM. It’s amusing how many vids we have of child 1. There are a lot fewer of them three years later with child 2, probably because we were already exhausted taking care of child 1. It’s a good exhaustion, mind, but two young children can keep a person busy, and child 1 didn’t sleep well when he was an infant and toddler. With my wife in school or training all through that period, that meant I was the one always getting up in the middle of the night, so it sometimes seems like those years are one long bleary blur.

Writing wise, I am deep in the middle parts of the third Dabir and Asim novel, still called, less and less tentatively, The Maiden’s Eye. At the end of August I’ll be switching gears to get back to¬† writing a new Paizo Pathfinder novel, a sequel to Plague of Shadows, and as a way of doing research, I’ve switched my reading material. You’d think that with the novel being set in the Pathfinder world that I’d be buried in fantasy texts, or at least Pathfinder gaming material. I’m sure I’ll be doing a little of the latter as I draw closer and closer to my start date, but no, what I’m reading are westerns.

You might wonder why a guy contracted to write about elves and orcs and swords and magic would be reading westerns. The answer is verisimilitude. The more fantasy I read, the more I sense it’s written by primarily urban people like myself. They might do their research about armor and swords, but the environment frequently feels as though it’s seen only through a window. I don’t want my fiction to sound like that.

I’ve got a slight advantage in that I own horses, but I just don’t spend a whole lot of time outdoors. I take a nightly walk along the shore, and I’m outside repairing the horse fence or helping care for animals, but there’s a world of nature survival tips I’m unacquainted with. A good western writer IS acquainted with those things, and brings them to life. A western writer’s readers are more likely to know how true these details are, so the writer has to get it right. Now, of course, you ALSO have to do some research to make sure you’re not just reading someone’s IDEA about what survival in the wilderness is like, but for a writer, seeing how a good writer brings this stuff to life is worth paying a college course fee.

That’s why I have been reading a genre that until recently has been pretty much untouched by me. Later in the week I’ll talk a little about Ben Haas and his work and his many pseudonyms. Right now I’ll tell you I’ve been getting a better handle about handling horses through rough terrain, knife fighting, and tracking, that thing wilderness rangers do all the time in fantasy. Oh, and I’ve been enjoying myself as well!

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