Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

cryfather-by-benjamin-whitmerIf you live long enough, you have the opportunity to reflect on your choices. If you are fortunate these choices are made deliberately, by conscious will, or not so by the shear movement of life — the propulsion of events that are beyond your control.

Patterson Wells is a man defined by a single event of which he had no choice — the death of his young son, Justin. Unable to cope, though he tries through a journal he keeps with touching, heartfelt letters to his son, he propels himself through the life with risk and recklessness.

Patterson works a dangerous job in disaster recovery, clearing away debris from fires, floods, tornadoes and all forms of natural disaster, and working along side men just as reckless and dangerous as the work he consumes. Long days, sleepless nights, allows Patterson to push away the pain, and what pain remains he dulls with booze, drugs, and the occasional bar fight.

While Cry Father primarily focuses on Patterson, Wells is not the only broken soul fighting against past sins and regrets. Through Patterson we meet Henry, a former rodeo rider in his twilight, and Henry’s son Junior, who runs drugs to Colorado for the Cartel and hates his father. Then there is Patterson’s ex-wife, Laney, who still love him and wants him to face Justin’s death, to mourn with her and live life again. Unwittingly, her well meaning attempts to help Patterson let go only pushes him away and into the company of Junior.

From the first chapter, Benjamin Whitmer establishes a teetering balance of violence and humanity that sets the mood and expectation for the rest of the novel. Cry Father, like Whitmer’s freshman novel Pike, is a brutal examination of man’s capability for self-destruction swaddled in the hope of redemption. Do men like Patterson Wells ever find hope? Do they deserve it?

This story of fathers — of choices, and of mistakes — connects deeply with me as a father and as a son. I’d like to believe there is hope for making up for past mistakes, but the reality is sometimes there isn’t ever time enough. We just move forward until we no longer do.

While I shamble into my future, I hope it is filled with more Benjamin Whitmer.


Publishing the Western

TBA-Fall2014-Front-Cover GOTB-medium

Some of my first experiences reading Western fiction come from the words of Louis L’Amour by way of Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott in the TV adaptation The Sacketts, taken from the books The Daybreakers and Sackett. I’ve always felt that Selleck and Elliott were the quintessential modern day cowboy actors. They’ve done a lot of other work, but they seem to settle into the saddle effortlessly. Much like Clint Eastwood who preceded them.

sackettsThe Sacketts wasn’t the first adaptation I had seen, it was just the first I realized was tied to a specific author. And for my 10-12 year old self, the stories of L’Amour were just the right length for me to read. Later I would find Portis’ classic True Grit and McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and others. Books made larger than life on the big screen, but so more imbued with story in the novels.

If not for the movies, I may have never found the books, but the books nonetheless became a part of my reading tapestry. So this lead to a lifelong notion that the Western was cool, that everyone got it. But if you weigh the shelves of any bookstore against mainstream fiction and Western, it’s been dwindling. You look at non-traditional publishing in open markets like Amazon Kindle, you can find what seems like a robust marketplace (until you realize a good deal of those releases are really “Historic” Romance).

So why publish Western fiction? It’s simple. Not just because I love the genre, but because it harkens to a simpler time. A time before technology took root and the hero had to live by his wit and his steel.

It’s why I created The Big Adios a little over 18 months ago. I believed in the stories and that there needed to be a place for them to be told. And with the admirable help of Ryan Sayles, Aldo Calcagno, and Chris Leek, The Big Adios shuffled through it’s first 12 months as a weekly online fiction zine before closing to prepare for its transformation into a quarterly Western digest to be produced for print and digital.

The Big Adios Western Digest debuted the 22nd for the Kindle and this week in print. Featuring stories by David James Keating, Tom Pitts, Jim Wilsky and many others. It was co-edited by former TBA editors Ryan Sayle and Chris Leek, the latter who I believe is one of the premier contemporary Western writers.

darkcornersmagiss1So much so, this week I published Chris’s novella GOSPEL OF THE BULLET, a heart wrenching post Civil War tale of a fallen preacher and a lost girl brought together out of loyalty and revenge. This novella is part of the One Eye Press Singles series, and the story is tied to a short that appears in The Big Adios Western Digest (Winter 2014) edition, as well as a story in the current debut issue of Dark Corners Magazine.

With sales and luck, hopefully GOSPEL will end up as part of a Series instead of a Singles. It’s a great story with a batch of good blurbs.

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET is as tough-minded a Western tale as you’re likely to run across. Dark, violent, yet heartbreakingly poignant, this story of the tragic legacy of war, as well as the unlikely friendship between a gunslinging preacher and an orphaned teenage girl with a troubled past and an uncertain future, will stick with the reader for a long time.”
— James Reasoner, author of Dancing with Dead Men and Last Chance Canyon

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET IS a wonderfully satisfying Western novel. Mesmerizes… First-rate.”
— Edward A Grainger, author of Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles

“GOSPEL OF THE BULLET hooks you from the first volley of rifle fire to its last beautiful irony. Chris Leek’s novella reminds you of the acid-stained Westerns of the 70’s, by way of Charles Portis.”
— Gareth Spark, author of Half Past Nothing

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET is a tight, gritty tale about redemption, blood, and friendship between the friendless. Gospel is another winner from One Eye Press, who have had nothing but winners to date.”
— Craig McNeely, editor of Dark Corners Magazine

I’ve got another Western in the queue for 2015 from a talented young writer who takes the reader and a pair reluctant bounty hunters on tale riddled with bullets and humor. It all depends on the success of these Western projects now. If you are a fan of the Western as much as I am, I encourage you to pick up The Big Adios Western Digest (Fall 2014) and GOSPEL OF THE BULLET by Chris Leek today.

I love the Western. I hope you do too.

The one where I get to sign a contract

beattoapulphardboiledA few months ago, I suppose I could look back and tell you the exact date, but really that’s just an exercise in exactness and I’m anything but organized or precise, I received one of the most flattering emails that a writer could receive, and remember, while I’ve written on an off for 20 odd years, I have yet to put myself out there in a way that markets me as a writer, except for the years of 2010-2011 (really 12 months). During that loose year I wrote several short stories, even got invited to participate in a few anthologies. It really should have been the rejuvenation of my languishing career as a writer. Then life got in the way, and distractions happened (some good distractions), and my writing has been limited. Stagnant and uninspired. Then I got an email.

An independent producer/filmographer of short films contacted me, and over the last couple years he’s held on to this virtual rumpled copy of Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, that in my mind I imaging tucked into his back pocket, dogeared and well read. He was reaching out because he liked the story “The Janitor” that appeared in that collection, which had lead him back to this vary website where he had read more of my stories.

First, I can’t say how gratifying that someone could or would put such weight on a story I wrote 4 years ago that they would reach out. It’s flattering, uplifting, and inspiring. I should write more, and I am working hard to do just that. So for that I am thankful. The ember was almost out, but now there’s a flame again. Thank you.

He was reaching out in a professional capacity. He wanted to adapt “The Janitor” and another story that had only been published on my website. Imagine the grin on my face.

We discussed his process, his previous movies, even the possibility of me assisting with writing the scripts. I really liked his direction for “The Janitor” which has a more action oriented end, something that was already one of the potential directions I had contemplated during the initial writings. So the prospect of seeing the story of crime scene cleaner Mike Banks in search of his missing employee Conny Parker became so much more tantalizing,  inspiring. I may even get to writing the novel that the story was a character exercise pretext.

There are no guarantees and don’t expect me to be able to buy a round of drinks next time we meet, but I wanted to share because the license agreement contracts for the two stories arrived today at my office and I’m about throw down my John Hancock with that big grin. With luck, I’ll be able keep you supporting friends apprised of production status and possibly one day add my name to Internet Movie Database.

Twenty years is a long ride for Dewey Thompson

It would take me some time, effort, to write something as confoundedly interesting as some of the verbose ramblings of Rust Cohle from True Detective, but there are moments when I see my life like that crushed can of beer. Time is not only circular, but flat, that all the moments of our existence are already present, just not experienced and as we attempt to experience all that we are, undoubtedly we are bound to stomp over some of our past and relive those singular moments. Tangentially speaking it feels like I’ve been here before, only younger, and not the least bit wiser.

__This_Is_Your_Life__Dewey___by_NetizenRonBack in 94-95, freshly returned from my moment of freedom in Colorado, now with a new wife and a new child I aspired not to be an office worker, a cog, but an independent businessman. I knew nothing of business, and well the short duration of Enigma Comics is a testament to that. Yes, for a short gleaming moment I was a comic book publisher. Clearly low rent, but I managed to get a rag tag bunch together and we produced a few stories and xeroxed comics. Low rent.

At that time I was teaming with story ideas. It was where my first ideas for the blue gelatinous duo Klik Boom, which would come colorfully to life eight years later in the pages of Digital Webbing Presents, came into frame. It all derived from a drawing I co-opted from one of the creators in my comic group, Jason Arthur. Jason started the drawing and for whatever reason ditched. I finished the initial figure and added three black oily characters (two who would turn blue and gelatinous a couple years later). I may have aspired to be a comic artist, but as evidence shows I was long ways from claiming it as fact. It’s a realization though, a fruition of an idea that grows with each viewing.

From this drawing grew Dewey Thompson, a rockabilly monster hunter with a well quaffed pompadour and an affinity for Elvis Presley. Over the years, Dewey existed in the occasional sketch, a half ass attempt to create a webcomic, and strings of notes for short stories and longer.

So roll down the road twenty years. I’m playing the publishing game again with One Eye Press, my business acuity has maybe doubled but I’m learning, and I’m ready to let Dewey Thompson ride again. This time out Dewey is hunting real life monsters: criminals, hustlers and dealers.

I don’t know where this ride will take me, but hopefully away from all my previous missteps and redundant efforts. I’m geared to see this to the end, and I want to thank Bryon Quertermous of Exhibit A Books for helping me find a moment of focus.



It’s a Big Adios

big-badgeIt wasn’t that long ago, all things considering, that with my best huckster smile I tried to sell you on a little fiction web magazine featuring some of the rootinest tootinest western shorts east of the Pecos: The Big Adios. I had some mighty ambitions of that growing in popularity alongside Shotgun Honey and much like Costner’s Field of Dreams, if I built it you would come. Readers and writers alike. Unfortunately, the over all success was more akin The Postman as opposed to Dances with Wolves. I don’t know why I’m stuck on Costner, perhaps because the majority of his success had a western bent. Unlike Costner’s failures I’m not ready to dismiss the lack of success for The Big Adios on my own self-aggrandizing ego. No I think there’s a place in the world for The Big Adios, for tales of western leaning to thrive and survive.

In December I closed submissions for online western magazine, and today I sent out the last of the accepted and rejected notices. The site is scheduled with stories until the end of February, and then that is that. It’s a bittersweet moment knowing that there won’t be anymore stories to publish to the site.

I imagine your curious why I called it an end? The Big Adios made is going to make it a full 52 weeks and then some, so why end it now?

We have been extremely lucky with the submissions to the site, so much so that had our acceptance rate dropped even by 5 percent we wouldn’t have seen through to the end of 2013. This is just open honesty. We didn’t let submissions slide to fill a slot, but we managed a few times to get a good story just in time. So it got me thinking, why are we always chasing submissions? There aren’t that many western publications, at least not compared to crime and horror?

There are slew of possibilities towards a lack of interest from both writers and readers, and the one most probable reason was format. While we did update the site this fall and it is more mobile friendly, neither submissions or readership changed drastically in the three months leading up to my decision to cease the web magazine.

So the sun is setting on The Big Adios, but you know, the sun always rises.

In May 2014, in conjunction with One Eye Press, The Big Adios will begin release as a quarterly western magazine featuring 10 thrilling short stories inspired by the Wild West and will be available in both digital and print formats.

We are accepting submissions now through April 14th to fill slots for issues 1 and 2. Jump over the OEP submissions page today.

I want to thank all the contributors who submitted, our readers who came back every week for a new story, and to our editorial team: Ryan Sayles, Chis Leek and Aldo Calcagno. Call it success or failure, it wouldn’t have happened without you.

Be sure to get your copy of The Big Adios this May!


Five Broken Winchesters from Zelmer Pulp

914eCxe1ZXL._SL1500_Zelmer Pulp is a handful of writers from around the globe who by fate or consequence have gravitated together to produce a series of genre collections. Their first two collections C’mon and Do the Apocalypse, a send off of the zombie horror genre, and Hey, That Robot Ate My Baby, a dastardly take on sci-fi, were some of my favorite reading earlier this year. And if I have to be honest I have known the Zelmer Pulp crew individually as writers and artists for some time now. I’ve had the pleasure to publish Brian Panowich, Chris Leek, Ryan Sayles, Isaac Kirkman, and Chuck Regan through the Shotgun Honey flashzine. I knew they were talented and crazy, and so I guess like minds attract.

When I heard they were going to tackle the Western next, with their special point of view, I dropped some not so subtle hints I’d like to participate. They were kind enough to oblige, though I imagine they might be kicking themselves for that choice from time to time. The long and the long of it, I managed to contribute my short story called “The Last Shot.”

The collection is labeled weird west, but “The Last Shot” is traditional and a counterbalance to the talent you will find in Five Broken Winchesters. The following is the first part of my story.

The Last Shot

“Marshal? Do you think I’ll hang?”

Hank Markum said nothing at first, taking a sip from his coffee before considering the grave question of his prisoner. He looked across the fire, the flickering light played against the boy’s youthful appearance making him seem younger than his nineteen years. The tremble in Caleb Monroe’s voice only impressed upon the marshal that this was no grown man he was taking to the gallows.

“Son, they already strung up that boy, Oren Canter, and it doesn’t look likely that that judge up in Cheyenne is going to side any different with you,” he replied before taking another sip of his harsh brew. “You and the other killed that man, and took his horses, or perhaps the other ways around. Not that it matters much.”

“I know that man died. I know, but…” the boy began to bluster before falling into silence.

Markum saw the sheen of tears well up along the boy’s eyelids, cresting, capturing the dance of the firelight.

This was the first bit of concern the marshal had seen from the boy since taking him into custody down in Greely two day ago. Any attempt to speak of his crimes or what was to come in Cheyenne was met with silence, sometimes distraction. The boy wasn’t obliged to talk, but Markum was grateful for any conversation on the trail. Most of which leaned toward the boy’s pa, who Markum figured would have been about his own age had he not died when Caleb was eleven, leaving him orphaned, and eventually in the company of Oren Canter.

“Silence isn’t a defense, Caleb,” Markum pressed feeling the boy was ready. “It is not likely to be any help in Cheyenne, but maybe talking will ease your conscience, ease the load, before…before we get there.”

The boy swiped his hand across his eyes, “I didn’t know about Oren.”

The two boys, Caleb had told Markum, had been inseparable since he had found his way to Cheyenne after bouncing from one well-meaning home to another. Canter’s father drove the stage coach, giving the boys more freedom than ought to be had by two so rambunctious. The stories he told of the two reminded the marshal of the carelessness of friendship, and now the hollowness of the boy’s face reminded him of the loss.

“Oren didn’t deserve that, not for that old rancher. They was stubborn, the both of them—the old man for putting up the fight, and Oren for insisting we steal his useless swayback nag from the stable.” The boy balled up his fists and shook his head in frustration.

“Them tugging back and forth spooked an old gray in the next stall. It gave a kick and both got knocked sideways into the mud. Only the rancher didn’t jump back up like Oren. He just moaned, clutching his chest till he didn’t moan no more.”

“Why didn’t you get help,” Markum questioned.

“I wanted to,” Caleb demanded. “Least I might have thought about it if I weren’t scared and Oren weren’t insistent on that horse, and the other two.”

“It were just an accident. An accident,” he pleaded.

“Accident or not, whatever defense you boys had for the rancher’s death was void when you stole those horses.”

Caleb stared across the fire at the marshal, “I didn’t want to steal them.”

“But you did, and they still hang horse thieves.”

The boy’s expression crumpled, and without a word turned away from Markum to lie on the cold unforgiving earth, knowing that was all the comfort he’d enjoy in this life.

Buy Five Broken Winchesters to read the rest.