Oscar’s Restaurant & Lounge: You don’t know good Mexican food until you have eaten here

When we were staying in Abilene we ate at Oscar’s Restaurant and Lounge. I would link you to their website but they don’t have one! They are small and special and they serve some of the best Mexican cuisine I have ever eaten in my life. In. My. Life.

Forget about your Tex-Mex or bland food that pretends to be genuine. This food is authentic and spicy.  Look, I love spicy food. I am from Louisiana, bayou country, and I grew up in South Texas. So I know spicy. All too often I go to restaurants and they say their food is spicy…but it’s not. It’s bland because they have to cater to the masses.

If you are ever in Abilene I urge you to seek out this restaurant and give it a try. It is excellent. I have eaten here several times over the years and the consistency and quality of the food is always the highest standard. It doesn’t look like much on the outside or inside, I’ll give you that. It’s darn near a clapboard shack. But hoo boy is the food fantastic!

Just thinking about them again has made me hungry, haha. Here is their address if you want to look them up:

Oscars Restaurant & Lounge

1665 Texas 351, Abilene, TX 79601-4745

Tell them Mark sent you! 🙂

 

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Unknown Legend

I want to ride a motorcycle in the desert at night. I want to be on a dark road that points toward the setting moon that hangs in the sky like an orange lantern.

Then I want to open up the throttle and see if I can’t reach it before it disappears below the horizon, forever.

The Writing Window

Writing is like a window onto another world. What we see there has to be brought to the reader through words. It’s not always easy, but that’s what we do as writers.

Ikiru: Making Death Relevant by Kurosawa

This film examines a fundamentally human question we all wrestle with from time to time. Is the universe a dark and cold place, or do our actions have lasting, and permanent, consequences?  Kurosawa doesn’t answer the question because it’s fundamentally unanswerable. As most human questions are. But his characters speak and react as if they can somehow find the answer.

Still, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The writing is great and the dialog superb. It follows a government bureaucrat who wants to accomplishing one worthwhile thing in life before he dies. I really loved it. A moving and contemplative film that takes a hard and unforgiving look at human nature.

Simply loved it.

Huh. So this is what relaxation is like? I like it.

Last night I played a little bit of LOTRO. I haven’t played any computer games for months and months. I have had no time. I’ve spent so much of my energy lately into writing (and all the facets that go into that) I have had no time for anything else.

It’s hurt me, I think. I have been so focused on writing I have lost track of other things and been unable to relax. It took an hour and a half of online gaming last night to make me realize that. For 90 minutes I didn’t have to think about writing, or marketing, or publishing, or editing, or story content, or…well, you get the idea. I could just put it all behind me and relax.

It was kind of nice. Maybe I should make Sunday night a regular thing to play some online stuff if for no other reason than to get my mind off all this writing stuff that, let’s face it, is beginning to feel like an anchor around my neck.

Other writers know what I mean. We get to a point, it seems, where everything we do is related to writing. I can’t remember the last time I read something for pleasure. No matter what I read I am always approaching it as a writer and wondering why the person used this tone, or did this certain thing with the characters and whatnot. I read critically, but I very rarely read for pleasure anymore. I miss that. I miss that a lot.

So that’s why I enjoyed my little time playing my Hobbit character Wobblefoot on LOTRO last night. Just messing around, not doing anything specific, but being able to put all the writing concerns on the back burner and get away mentally and physically.

I guess the trick is if I will remember to do this in the future or will I get stuck back in a writing rut and let the anchor drag me down farther….?

Another Conversation with Story: When the bloom fades from the rose

Me: This is pure drudgery.

Story: I love you, too.

Me: Hey, it’s no bed of roses here, either, smart guy.

Story: Where’s the love? The love. That’s all I ask. I look around and I don’t see it.

Me: I was in love with you when we first started. Now I’m ready to get it over with. Can you imagine how happy I’ll be when I finish the last sentence and type out “The End”?

Story: You really know how to sweet talk a person. I feel so special now. I think I might break into song.

Me: You’re not a person, you’re a story. A thing.

Story: That’s funny because I feel like a  person.

Me: That’s because I wrote you that way.

Story: Ooh, big man. What a big smart man you are. Let me tip my hat to you, Mr. Big Man, for my existence.

Me: I could always hit the Delete key.

Story: You won’t do that. Anyway, you have me saved on a memory stick over there. So, yeah, go stick it in your memory for all I care.

Me: I’m not sure how to take that.

Story: Want me to draw you a picture? Hey, watch that comma!

Me: I thought writing was supposed to be fun? This is work.

Story: Fun? Who sold you that drool? Writing is work. Hard work at that. Especially if you want to do it right. Hey watch it, genius, you don’t need an adverb there!

Me: Sorry.

Story: That hurt. How do you think you can fit something like that in there and not have it hurt?

Me: I took it out. You know, someday I’ll finish this story and I’ll be able to get on with my life. Maybe I’ll go visit the dentist. I bet that would be way more fun than this.

Story: I’m counting the seconds myself, pal, when we part ways forever. Don’t you worry about that.

Me: Well it can’t come too soon for me.

Story: Same here. The sooner I scram out of here the better off I’ll be.

Me: Well, it won’t end too soon for me, that’s all I’m saying. Why I…hey, what do you know. I’m finished. You’re finished.

Story: Hey, what do you know. Wow. I…I have to admit I feel pretty good.

Me: Yeah, I think you look okay. You turned out pretty well after all.

Story: Yeah. Well, thanks.

Me: No problem. I’ll let you sit here a while and then I’ll come back to take another fresh look at you.

Story: Oh. Okay. All right, then.

Me: What’s wrong now?

Story: Well, I…I mean…well…you’re going to come back. That’s what you said. Aren’t you?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll start a new story and forget all about you.

Story: Come on, no kidding around here. Will you? Come back, I mean.

Me: Of course I will. You know I will.

Story: Thanks. I…well, thanks. I guess that’s all I meant to say.

Me: Hey, don’t be that way. What’s wrong?

Story: You still like me, right? I mean, just a little bit?

Me: I love you, you big silly. I created you.  Of course I love you. That will never change.

Story: Thanks. I love you too. Aww, look at that, you made me blush.

Me: How can you tell?

Story: I felt my hyphens wiggle.

No matter how tired you get of the story, when you finish it you will feel a sense of deep accomplishment.

Is Anyone Going to San Antone? (layered imagery by Charley Pride)

One of my favorite western songs. Great imagery in this song, and Charley Pride’s clear, strong voice lends a heartbroken resonance to the well-crafted lyrics.

 

ELEKTRA: Expressionist Opera by Strauss

Elektra is a modern expressionistic opera full of angst and anger and remorse and revenge.  I’m not a huge fan of expressionism (though I love Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the silent film version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), the art form which distorts reality to engender emotion.  But, boy, does this opera in question ever work in this opera by Richard Strauss.

But it’s hard to watch because it’s so disturbing and…well, unrelenting.  It’s a modern treatment of the Sophocles tragedy by the same name. Strauss wrote the opera in 1905 when Freud’s theories were beginning to take hold. So father-daughter complexes and female hysteria run rampant throughout this opera. The music is discordant, scraping the nerve endings and laying them bare.  The sets are bizarre and other-worldly, the makeup horrifying — all to bring about an overwhelming feeling of dejection and remorse.

Elektra, mourning the death of her father, Agamemnon, looks dead herself. Her skin is grey, her hair snarled, and her eyes are yellow with lack of sleep as she plots her revenge and scrabbles at her fathers grave. Her murdering mother, Klytamnestra, confronts Elektra in a key scene and confesses she, too, hasn’t been sleeping since the murder of her husband.  “I have had bad nights,” she says.  It makes your skin crawl — it’s that powerful.

Finally, Elektra’s brother, Orestes, shows up and kills everybody, even the servants, because he’s pretty pissed.  Klytamnestra screams off stage as Orestes strikes her down, and Elektra screams back, “Stab her again!”  Finally, Elektra is revenged and as blood drips from the walls of the castle she dances in the gray rain, her bare feet splashing in puddles of bloody rainwater, until she falls dead.  When the screen goes black you sit there for a few moments trying to get your brain into gear and back to reality.  Or what you thought was reality. You’re actually kind of relieved the opera is over because it was so goddamned oppressive…but you also realize you have just witnessed something that, in some small way, has also contributed to your growth (and destruction) as a human being.

I’m not kidding.  This opera really is that powerful. It changes you, turns you inside out, and not necessarily in a good way, but in a necessary way. It’s hard to explain, but that’s expressionism for you.

I highly recommend this opera to anyone who wants to be disturbed. Give it a peek if you have the time. I think you’ll be impressed, and disturbed. 😛

Lambshead and Daws Crossing on the Clear Fork Comanche Reservation (1855-1859)

This is Lambshead, one of the oldest ranches in the area. It was first built by J.A. Matthews. It lies south of the old Butterfield Stage Route. You could get from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA in 25 days using this route.

This is Daws Crossing where Robert E. Lee signed a peace treaty with the Comanche…for as long as that lasted. It was the site of the main Comanche village at that time. Unfortunately, nothing of the old village is left. This is also where cattle crossed going north on the Western Cattle Trail up to Dodge City. We had a picnic lunch right here on the banks of the river and as we ate we thought about the long violent history of this place.

Part of the Comanche Reservation and Lambshead. The main reservation was mostly north of Lambshead but encompassed Daws Corssing.

The country side is very different today than it was back then and a western writer has to be aware of that. At one time all this was open prairie with an occasional mesquite tree grove. But as the land become “civilized” all the prairie dogs were killed. They used to eat the green mesquite shoots before they became trees. Also, farmers and ranchers started to put out prairie fires. Fire was  a renewing force which kept the prairie open. Now you are hard pressed to find good open prairie anywhere in the vicinity of Fort Griffin or Lambshead.

Yay! Updated Word Press with Random Banners

Okay, I’ve updated my Word Press and included a random assortment of banners other than the empty header I had before. These are all pictures I have taken on my research travels for westerns and other stuff. The banner will change as you go from page to page. Eventually I may pare these down, and probably add new ones in the future.

I hope you guys like this better. I think you were right at least in that the other theme was way too empty. 🙂

Fort Griffin Photographs

More photographs from my research trip. Everything I saw was beneficial. I doubt I will use all this information in the novel, but it’s always better to have it and not need it, right?

(the bodies were moved when the fort closed down, but this is the original site)

New Word Press Theme. Like, or not? Theme hate, or theme love?

As you guys can see I have changed the theme to my blog from Kubrick to Comet. I like them both but I like the fact Comet is easier to find things in the sidebar than Kubrick, I think.Don’t you think? I think.

So what do you think of the overall theme? Do my older readers prefer this theme or the other one? I’m not necessarily wedded to either one so I’m good with your criticism, don’t worry. I mean, so you break my heart and I start sobbing into my pillow with big teddy bear tears, big deal, right? No pressure or anything on your part. 😛

Thanks! 🙂

 

Doorway to the Past: The Bush Knob Massacre and the Larn Wall

While I was visiting Fort Griffin I heard a story about a man called John Larn. He worked for Bill Hayes. In 1872 Hayes went to New Mexico with a herd of cattle expecting Larn to watch his stock at Fort Griffin.

Larn rebranded the cattle as his own. When Hayes got back he discovered Larn had stolen his cows so he hired men to steal them back. Larn in turn hired his own men to steal the cows back again and then tracked down Hayes and nine other men and killed them all.

Later, Larn built a home for his wife, Mary Matthews, south of Camp Cooper. By this time Larn was the sheriff of the town of Fort Griffin. Larn hired Irish brothers, stone masons, to build a fence. When it was finished, rather than pay the brothers, Larn killed them with his deputy and dumped the bodies into the Clear Fork of the Brazos.

In 1878 the same vigilantes Larn had led against Hayes rose up, hunted him down, arrested him as a cattle thief, and killed him.

This is what the Old West was like. This is why I don’t like the hoary cliches and maudlin romanticization of the west that have taken root in our culture.

We know what the west was like. We know exactly what the west was like. That’s what I want to write about. Other people can write about other things they think the west is about and that’s fine.

But this is the red plain upon which I work, and this is why I like working in the genre. It hasn’t even begun to be tapped for story potential.

I really believe this. Westerns have been around as long as the Old West itself, since Ned Buntline. And I am telling you we have just begun to scratch the surface as far as story potential goes.

We haven’t even begun.

Fort Griffin Ruins: Sutler’s Store, Sergeant’s Quarters, Armory & Weapons

Fort Griffin: the bakery

Here is the old bakery at Fort Griffin. But first, the main hill where the fort is located and the parade ground:

More Conversation with Story: Does this genre make me look pretty?

Story: I’m back.

Me: You were gone a while.

Story: The editor had a lot to say about me. Maybe you should read his comments.

Me: Wow. These are a lot of changes. Nothing too spectacular, though. I think I can do this all right.

Story: Did you see his last suggestion?

Me: Uh oh.

Story: Yeah.

Me: I wasn’t expecting that.

Story: I know.

Me: If I make a change like this it will change you completely. You will no longer be the original vision I had when I wrote you in the first place. Hm. I’m not sure I want to do that.

Story: I know. What are you going to do?

Me: I’m not sure. I think I need some guidance here. What do you think?

Story: Here’s how I see it, and how any writer should see it when confronted with this problem. You are the one who has the first vision as to what I am going to be about. As you write me there’s probably some synergy between you and the story itself, leavened by your imagination and creativity, which itself is tempered by knowledge, confidence, and technique. That’s all fine and dandy, especially when it works. Let’s say in this case it did work, which I think it did or you wouldn’t have sent me out in the first place. At least, I hope not.

Me: Ok.

Story: Then another reader comes along. It could be an editor, a beta reader, anyone. Let’s say it’s another writer who agreed to be your beta reader, but it could just as easily be an editor or publisher or anyone. She reads your story and likes it, but recommends changes. Now what you have to remember is she is not you. She didn’t write the story and she wasn’t in your head at the time you wrote the story. When she reads it she brings her own worldview into play, and her own lens through which she views and judges fiction, talent, and artistic integrity. This doesn’t make her less right or more right when it comes to judging your story, it just makes her bring a different viewpoint into play.

Me: I’m with you so far.

Story: So this is what you must take into consideration. Do these suggested editorial changes make the story, make me, better? If they do, perhaps you should seriously consider adopting them. If your main goal is to write the best story you can, and then with outside suggestions and editorial control make the story even better….yeah, that’s usually an easy decision. Sometimes writers are hesitant to make any changes at all. Personally, I think this is a mistake. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a blue pencil now and then, to be frank with you. Writers aren’t perfect, and the work they create is not perfect, because they are human. And despite what some people think, humans are not perfect. Especially writers, when you come right down to it.

Me: I always thought I was quite wonderful, myself.

Story: That’s a conversation I’ve been meaning to have with you later on. But back to the problem at hand. So you have a story, the suggested editorial changes make it better. Okay, easy decision. Maybe the changes don’t substantially change the story much at all. Again, probably an easy decision on your part. But if the changes harm the story, at least in your estimation, or in my case change me completely from what I am into something totally different, maybe even into a different genre altogether…then you’ve got a hard decision to make.

Me: Like now.

Story: Like now. This isn’t a plot shift or concentrate more on one character thing. This suggestion morphs me into something completely different from what you originally envisioned, and ultimately worked to create. So the final decision is left up to you. Are you willing to make these kinds of substantial changes? Even if they change the whole tone of the story, perhaps what the story is about in the first place? If they are changes you can live with, and if you see a valid reason behind them, well…your decision becomes more difficult. If you don’t like the new artistic direction, or if you believe certain changes actually harm the story, then you probably should not make them. There’s one thing you should never do, however.

Me: What’s that?

Story: Make changes you don’t agree with because you’re afraid the editor won’t buy the story. Well, maybe he or she won’t. But you should never make a change to a story based on fear. Make the change if you agree with it, if you believe the change makes the story stronger. Frankly, you’d be a fool not to. Everyone involved in this process, yourself, the editor, the publisher, the reader, they all want the best story possible. Keep that in mind.

Me: Okay, I’ve decided. I’m going to make this change. I know it doesn’t guarantee you will be accepted by the editor, but I’ve been thinking about the proposed suggestions and I think I see what he is getting at here. It means I will have to substantially rewrite you, but there’s something in my gut, some instinct, that tells me this is a better way to go. I had the original vision of what you should be about. I think the editor looked a little deeper because he had a different perspective and saw something that originally escaped me.

Story: In that case you are almost certainly making the correct decision. As you said there are no guarantees in this profession, but I’ve always believed a writer should be willing to go that extra mile to make the story better, even if it goes against his vision. Writing is a profession and it’s a business. If you think the changes make me better, even though they make me different, then I agree you should go ahead and make them.

Me: I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me now.

Story: We both do. I can’t exist without you.

Me: That’s a very nice thing for you to say.

Story: Don’t get all slobbery on me now. C’mon, I can’t wait to see how I look in my new genre. I only hope the shoes match.

Making changes to your story is sometimes a difficult decision. But if the changes make the story better, perhaps you should make them.

Fort Richardson: First stop on the research trip

I didn’t expect to stop at Fort Richardson. I meant to visit later in the year or early next year, but imagine my surprise when we were driving and I came upon it. So I thought, why not stop? While nothing in the new novel happens at Fort Richardson I knew it would be helpful for me to see this place again and use that experience to integrate what I need for the story. So it all worked out well.

Serendipity for the win!

Gunsmoke: “I will not tolerate a disturbance. You know me.”

Forget everything you know, or think you know, about Matt Dillon and Kitty and Doc.  This radio series which ran for nine years was meant to be an adult-oriented western that broke the mold and challenged the archetypal Western hero.  The creators, Norman MacDonnell and John Meston wanted to shatter all Western stereotypes.  They were successful.

The result was Gunsmoke.

The first audition was a hardboiled detective story set in the West. The main character was “Mark Dillon.”  The second audition was more Western-oriented but then the project sat on the shelf and gathered dust for two years.  Eventually, a radio actor named William Conrad read for the part and was immediately hired as the show moved into production.

Everybody has an idea of the type of man Matt Dillon is. Whether it be from the television show or national iconic status, everybody knows what kind of man he is and what he believes in and how he deals with people.  Forget all that. In the radio program, Matt Dillon is damn near a psychopath.  He’s as hard and brutal as the violent men who pass through Dodge City from the cow trails.  He’s acerbic and bitter and when his gun hand moves, it moves in a blur.

The writing portrays this all the time. In one episode a man comes up to Dillon out of the dark.  “Some night I’ll get drunk enough to pull on you you, Dillon.”

Long pause, and delivered with conviction:  “Then that’s the night you’re gonna die.”

Or:

“If you’re figuring to draw on me, don’t.”

“Why not, Matt?”

“I’ve seen you in action. You’re not fast enough.”

And Dillon is always shouting at the rubbernecking crowds, telling them to shut up or he’ll club them to death, or threatening them he will NOT tolerate a disturbance, or asking with clenched teeth when they don’t disperse fast enough, “Who wants to die first?”

Yeah, he’s a psychopath barely holding himself together, nerves made of barbed wire and a soul of scarred leather.  The radio series establishes this at the beginning.  Dillon is a violent man who has moved West with violence.  He is hard and brutal; life, and his job, made him that way.  He is completely different from anything you have seen on the television program.

And Kitty Russell?  It was never implied on the television series she was a prostitute.  But if you knew anything about the Old West you knew what she did for a living.  The radio show is very different from TV.  Kitty’s not a prostitute on the Old Time Radio series.  She’s a whore. I find this incredible.  You’re talking about 1952 and it’s cut and dried: Kitty sells herself to other men and Dillon is in love with her. And if you say something bad about her, well, you’d better start digging your grave.  Fascinating with what they got away with on radio, but couldn’t even touch, or allude to, on television.

Doc Adams?  He’s a gibbering ghoul who rubs his hands over a corpse because he’s going to be paid an autopsy fee. He was played by Howard McNear, the same actor who played Floyd the Barber on The Andy Griffith Show.  His soft spoken voice and gleeful nature as he pokes and prods at a cadaver is very disturbing.

Sound effects, as you might guess, are essential in radio.  Gunsmoke was famous for layering sound to create the emptiness of the prairie, the dust-filled streets of Dodge, the cold wind blowing through the stunted trees, the sound of the night train coming into Dodge.  When you hear a gunshot on the radio program that’s an authentic weapon: carbine, six gun, scatter gun, being fired.  It’s all authentic, even the animal life was meticulously researched.

As the show progresses it begins to concentrate on the human relationships between the principal characters with violence and adult sex as an undercurrent theme.  But as good as it is, the acting, the emotive voices, the incredible sound effects, the stark characterization…nothing beats the writing itself.

John Meston wrote about 25% of the episodes. He accurately portrays the harsh brutality of what life was like in an unforgettably harsh and graphic manner.  Dillon doesn’t always win in the end. In one episode he amputates the leg of a man to save him from blood poisoning.  The man dies anyway. In another, a girl is raped for weeks by four men.  Dillon rescues her, but she becomes a prostitute.  Sometimes the bad guy gets away completely.  In one story, an entire family is slaughtered and the wife kicked to death.  Dillon finds her daughter in a copse of dark trees, raped and killed and scalped. Chester stands over the body and weeps.

These aren’t feel good stories. They’re stories.  Therein lie their power.

As a writer I like to think I know something about writing. But I’ve learned more by listening to these programs than in all the years I’ve been writing professionally.  Maybe that says something about me, but I think it speaks more to the power of these stories and what they ultimately reveal about human nature and all its brutality.

If you want to learn how to write, if you are a writer and want to learn more about theory and characterization and stark dialog, I strongly urge you to give some of these episodes a listen.  You won’t be disappointed.

One final note. Those who know about the creative process of my own western series, Haxan, know how much of an influence Gunsmoke had on me. I can’t think of a better inspiration throughout the entire genre than John Meston’s creation.

Fort Griffin: Research Trip for New Haxan Novel

Here are some preliminary pictures from the trip to Fort Griffin and Fort Richardson. It was exactly what I was looking for as far as the novel goes. I will post a lot more pictures throughout the week.

Whistling Past the Graveyard: A Writer’s Perspective

Sometimes writing is like whistling past the graveyard. We will ignore reality and pretend everything is all right.

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