Out West

Five Summer Stories

Here is some great summer Western reading with five new titles from five multi-talented authors to check out this summer.

Here is some great summer Western reading with five new titles from five multi-talented authors.

As the West heats up this time of year, it’s always a good idea to set some time aside and hunt up some shade with a good read. The five books included here are diverse in their subjects, but all live in the West. It is ironic that as I wrote this, I learned of the passing of writer Cormac McCarthy, whose dark and bleak literary worlds presented new looks at the West, like the existential cowboys John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins whom we follow on their buddy adventure across the steaming border into Mexico. His books unknowingly gave permission to future writers to add dimension, depth and not-so-white-hatted subjects to the genre. The authors of the five works included here are all as multi-dimensional as their characters and their writing.

“Against The Blood”
Tom Russell
Frontera Press (2020)

Here is some great summer Western reading with five summer stories from five multi-talented authors to check out this summer.

Tom Russell could easily be described as our true, contemporary renaissance man of the West. He is, of course, a singer/songwriter, but in addition, an accomplished writer and painter. Above all, no matter the medium, he is a storyteller. In many cases, he leans a bit to the darker sides of his characters that adds to their presence. In 2016, Russell released “Ceremonies of the Horsemen,” a collection of essays he had written over the years. All were non-fiction about people and life he had experienced along the way.

His new book is his first novel titled, “Against The Blood,” almost 300 pages of lubricated reading —  pages turn as if greased for any contingency. In Russell’s writing, we are present, meaning “you are present” like the old Walter Cronkite “You Are There” early television series of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Russell makes you feel you know his characters as though you are right there with them. As the author himself describes with a few words about his saga, his main character relates bar-side, some of the glory days of his youth when America still had a night-latch grip on its innocence.

“Welcome to 1953,” he writes. “A Pima Indian and a young cowboy songwriter are driving across the Great Western Deserts on an odyssey to pick up a load of saddles … discussing Western history in a dying film era when there were 100,000 horses in the Los Angeles Basin.”

Russell’s way with characters and storylines keeps you square in his sights. “Cowboy songs,” he writes, “went the way of the Wurlitzer jukebox. At least as far as radio play. Nashville took the ‘Western’ out of ‘Country Western’ music and, in the 1980s, ushered in the ‘Urban Cowboy’ ham-fisted form of pop country for car washes and chicken wing bars. Singers with fake rural accents trying to slam-dunk false whiskey emotion. Mostly.”

Against The Blood is part of the stuff we always demand from Russell and usually get more than we bargained for: unvarnished truth. Russell has once again delivered the goods.

“Mr. Brick & the Boys”
Paul Hunter
Davila Press (2022)

Here is some great summer Western reading with five summer stories from five multi-talented authors to check out this summer.

Paul Hunter is another contemporary writer who has ventured again into his novelist self. Hunter, like Russell, has had a chapter-filled life of adventures as a farmer, a college and high school teacher, a poet, a playwright, a letterpress publisher, a musician and a woodcut artist.

His new novel, “Mr. Brick & the Boys,” involves an aging west Texas rancher who, as a widower and Vietnam vet, finds himself unexpectedly a mentor to a couple of young kids and sets about giving them pointers on the finer points of working horses and ultimately, how to live effective lives. It is a story of discovery for both Brick’s young students as well as for himself as he discovers a new purpose in his life, becoming more aware and learning how to negotiate ranch conditions made worse by climate change. It is a story that is over way too soon, but you will truly enjoy the ride. As Mr. Brick tells his young charges, “If you want a real lesson in what’s going on around you, just watch your horse.”

His earlier novel, released in 2020 and a recipient of the coveted Will Rogers Medallion Award, “Sit a Tall Horse,” is a journey into Hunter’s West of cattle, horses and hardscrabble types. It’s a set of stories about the worth of what is being left behind in the disappearing world of the day-riding cowboy. Hunter’s West is populated with people based in traditions and loyalty, where a handshake still meant something.

“J is for Jackalope” (Second Edition)
Teal Blake
Teal Blake Studios (2019)

Here is some great summer Western reading with five summer stories from five multi-talented authors to check out this summer.

Teal Blake is a collected young painter of Western lives and tales and started professionally in 2005, when not hanging and rattling around the West, working on various outfits. He is one of the youngest members of the Cowboy Artists of America and comes naturally to the family craft as the son of artist Buckeye Blake. He wrote and illustrated his Western Heritage Award winning “J is for Jackalope” after telling stories to his young son about the stuffed jackalope head his father gave him as a kid.

The story, accompanied by Teal’s marvelous watercolors, revolves around young Samuel CB and his family’s working ranch way-out West. A bit bored with day-to-day ranch chores, our young hero sets out to search for the legendary Jackalope that he heard might be living in the mountain range nearby. Teal’s writing is authentic and melodic as he tells the story of Samuel’s adventure. The story teaches us about pursuing your goal while being empathetic in the task. This is a great story to be read aloud to the kids or whoever loves a great story.

“Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo:
Life in Spanish, Mexican, and American California”
Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M, Senkewicz
University of Oklahoma Press (2023)

Here is some great summer Western reading with five summer stories from five multi-talented authors to check out this summer.

Great biographies of the seemingly forgotten can give us a sense of history we might not have ever known. The history of Alta California, before California’s statehood, was filled with unique and fascinating people. One such character was Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. And if he was remembered by a few, it was as the founder of Sonoma, California. Vallejo was part of the fabric of the state’s formation and history before the gold rush, and he worked with then historian and publisher Hubert Howe Bancroft, who composed a five-volume history of Alta California.

The works have only recently come to the surface published as “Recuerdos: Historical and Personal Remembrances Relating to Alta California, 1769–1849,” translated and edited by two eminent historians with major street cred, Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz. Ms. Beebe is Professor Emerita of Spanish Literature at Santa Clara University, and Mr. Senkewicz is Professor Emeritus of History at Santa Clara University. They are also the coauthors of “Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary.

In their new work, out this past January (Volume Seven in the series “Before Gold: California Under Spain and Mexico”), titled “Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo: Life in Spanish, Mexican, and American California,” Beebe and Senkewicz illuminate Vallejo’s life and history and examine the broader experience of the nineteenth-century Californio community.

It includes a significant portion of the correspondence between Vallejo and his wife, Francisca Benicia, for what it reveals about the effects of the ultimate American conquest on family and gender roles. In eight essays, the authors consider Spanish and Mexican rule in California, mission secularization, the rise of rancho culture, and the conflicts between settlers and Indigenous Californians, especially in the post-mission era.

A long-overdue in-depth look at one of the preeminent Mexican Americans in nineteenth-century California, “Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo” also provides an unprecedented view of the Mexican American experience during that transformative era when everyone from Spain and Mexico to Russia wanted California. A fascinating read.

Santa Ynez
Dennis Roy Patrick
Doeg Hill Publishing (2023)

Dennis Patrick, the author of the new novel “Santa Ynez,” is another talent on this list that comes with an extraordinary and eclectic resume. He served as president of Time-Warner Telecommunications, president of AOL Wireless and president of National Geographic Ventures, the for-profit division responsible for overseeing National Geographic’s film and television production and the National Geographic Channel.

He has an extensive background in politics, beginning with his appointment to Ronald Reagan’s White House staff in 1981 and extending through his service as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. But as he told me recently, his love of the West and its people all started when his father took him to the Salinas Rodeo when he was 9. “That rodeo planted the seed that grew my interest in the West and the Western lifestyle, and of course, rodeo is a big part of this story.”

His novel unfolds in today’s world with us being introduced to a young family: Cole Clay, his wife, Jessica, and their young son, Justin. They are living between Los Angeles and the family ranch in Santa Ynez, north of Santa Barbara. Cole has received his doctorate in intellectual history from Stanford, and Jessica has gotten a job at a very pony LA law firm. Cole has cowboyed his whole life on the central coast, and the question hanging heavily in the air is — where will they live? LA? Santa Ynez? It’s a tough question, and there is trouble brewing in paradise for them and the family ranch.

Patrick goes on to introduce us to some very interesting characters, and we quickly see his previous screenwriting chops in developing his characters for the reader. What also develops is an age-old battle between the traditions of cattle ranching, its horse and cow culture and the evolution of the wine business in California. The book zooms along, and the 300-plus pages fly by. One senses the closeness of the author to his characters as they seem familiar to anyone from a ranching community. “Santa Ynez” is a compelling “romantic Western” perfect for a shady, summer read.

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