THIS JUST IN . . .
Just in time for Christmas, my new novel arrives on December 16!
DILLY is the story of abused orphan boy, Orville “Dilly” Dillard Jr., who travels west from Ohio to Wyoming in the summer of 1893 and ends up at the Hatterson Cattle Ranch. He gains friends—as well as a few enemies—and dares to wonder if he’s found a home after all. He also finds himself smack in the middle of the infamous and all-too-real Sheep Wars, in which dozens of sheepherders are murdered and few of the attacking cattlemen are held accountable. No matter which side Dilly chooses, he’ll have a brutal fight on his hands.
Five Star Publishing, 213 pages, December 16, 2020
Pre-orders available at Amazon. Intrigued? Read the excerpt below….
By Matthew P. Mayo
Release date: December 16, 2020
Pre-orders available at Amazon
Big Horn County, Wyoming
Once again, I look back on that day so long ago when I was drawn to the Hatterson Ranch, and I shake my head. What would my life have been like if I’d kept walking? A number of people would not have died, I know that much. Some of them I cared for deeply, one in particular.
So with the view that long years give a man, if I could do it over again, would I stop at that ranch gate or would I keep on walking?
That’s when I hear the stove door squawk in the kitchen, and a log being chunked into its hungry mouth, and I smile and regret my thoughts. That is my Felice, using her apron as a hot pad to shut the door, saving the fancy flowered hot pads I bought her for Christmas last year, still hanging on the hook behind the stove, never used and never would be. Too pretty, she’d said, shaking her head.
I reckon it’s a good thing I was born with a keen curiosity to see what that ranch was all about, else I never would have met her.
I shift in my chair on the porch and shout through the screen door. “Hey, Felice . . . do you ever think on the sheep wars?”
I hear her footsteps, and there she is, standing on her side of the screen, drying her hands on her apron. “The past is a dead thing, Dilly. No use hauling up that sore memory from the bottom of the pond.” She shakes her head and walks back to the kitchen.
I carve a fresh knob off my plug of tobacco, snap my old, worn Barlow shut, and slide it back into my vest pocket. I pick off the lint and it occurs to me how right she is.
As I chew that tobacco, savoring the sweet molasses and applewood flavors, I fold my hands over my belly and fall to musing, the perfect pastime for a lazy Sunday afternoon. As I recall, that day I came upon the Hatterson Ranch had been a Sunday, too.
Hell, even if it wasn’t, it should have been.
I am not from here, I remember saying to a thin fellow in a boxcar one time, as a response to his question. I have never heard before or since a man fart so much as that skinny drink. He called it “bilious ructions,” but I spent the entire time in that dank boxcar with tears in my eyes, only half of them for the situation I’d found myself in—that of traveling alone across the country. “Ain’t none of us are from here, son,” he’d said. “That’s why it’s called a frontier. Raw and woolly and untrammeled by interlopers.”
I didn’t understand half those words, but I drew his meaning. Back in the spring of 1893, that part of the country was indeed still untrammeled.
I have since learned the meaning of the word and I trot it out like a fairground pony now and again to impress people, mostly my wife. She’ll snort and go back to her sock mending. I am hell on heels, she says. It’s because I am always looking up to you, my dearest, I tell her. She snorts again, but I see a tiny smile on her pretty mouth.
Nowadays, of course, this part of the U.S. of A is fair to bursting with all manner of people from all over the world. You have the Chinese—a more polite and kinder people you will not meet. I am proud to count two of them as my close friends. But I would not wish to cross them in a fight, fair or otherwise. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and I think he learned it from a Chinaman.
Then you have the Irish, also some of the kindest folks you are likely to meet. But you get one of their breed riled or drunk (usually one leads to the other), and you best duck and run. Then there are Italians. Again, good people but a whole lot like the Irish and the Chinese. It’s coming to me as I write this that folks all over the world are pretty much the same.
There was that Russian woman who ended up in these parts some years ago toting a pet rabbit and a mute little Mexican girl no more than two years of age. No one here speaks the woman’s lingo, and the child, as I say, can’t utter a lick, so we are left to rely on the wormy ways of our own minds to figure out her story.
But I tell you what, you have an ailment, you’d better have a deep-chested horse if you pass up her ministrations, because it’s a long distance to Doc Binner’s office in Greenhaven, some miles down the valley.
That Russian woman has cured more chesty croups and delivered more healthy bairns and eased more chilblainsand rheumatics than anyone in Wyoming. Though I wonder if she could have gained the upper hand in a battle with that skinny fellow’s bilious ructions . . .
I realize I am doing what my friend, Teapot Stover, calls generalizing. He says it’s a surefire way to raise the ire of them I am generalizing about. I can’t say I disagree.
But I will say one more thing about a certain people. The Basques. They are dearest to me of all the people I have met in my life. Not that I am a well-traveled man, though at one time, as a boy, I roved a long distance, only to find when I thought my traveling days had come to an end that my journeying had only begun. Different type of travel, though. I’ll get to that.
As I say, the Basques mean much to me. They are without debate the smilingest, kindest people you could meet. They are also the most talented, from gentling beasts to curing their ills to singing and dancing and generally whooping it up. Most of all, they are the hardest-working folks I’ve ever met.
My wife says all this praise of the Basques is hogwash. Which I find odd as she is Basque. I am not, though for years I tried every day to be one. I never really will be, of course. Nowadays I only fret over things I can change, if they need changing. The rest, I tip my hat to and move along.
The Basques come from Basque Country, which is part of Spain and part of France, and while some of them are sheepherders there, I came to find out that a good many more of them are not. But as they are clever, they picked up on the skills required of that trade and set to work here in the United States.
As sheepmen, they spend months alone, far up in the summer hill country, tending vast flocks, with no company save for their dogs and all those sheep, and a visit every couple of weeks from one of their fellows bringing up supplies and scraps of news, if there’s anything worth telling. Then there are the coyotes, the wolves, and bears. Hardly fit conversationalists for men.
The Basques have been called names I almost hate to mention in these pages, but I promised myself I would not shy from the bald truth in this document, and so I shall set down a few: sheepeater, muttonhead . . . There are others, but too much salt will spoil the soup.
I see I have been ricocheting off topics like a slug fired in a rock quarry. My wife says that talking with me is sometimes like chasing chickens. I am fond of chickens, especially under bubbling dumplings, and so I will take her remarks as a compliment, even though I know she intended otherwise.
When I first met the girl who would become my wife, she was grinding corn between stones, a slow, soft, dragging noise. That’s how I found her. I followed that scraping sound and there she was. Prettiest girl I had ever seen.
Wore one of those peasant shirts that tie at the throat. Only hers wasn’t tied and her skin at the neck and down lower was the color of Granna’s tea after she’d run more water than she ought through the leaves. The thing I remember most was that I could see down her shirt front.
I didn’t mean to, no sir, not in a hundred years would I say I did. But sometimes there isn’t a thing you can do but look. I saw a glimpse of her perfect body, and though she has changed some over the years, filled out, you might say, she has only become more perfect. But that sight, now that’s something I never told her before. Never told anyone.
And here I am setting it down on a page with a pencil. It’s time to be plain and bold and honest in all I do. Not that I haven’t been a straight shooter before now. But with our Constanza expecting the first of her own babies, our very own grandbaby, why, I feel it is time for everything I know to be laid out on the table. Shouldn’t take too many pages.
My wife is the one who bought me this stack of blank tablets, such as a schoolchild labors in, plus six fresh pencils, so pristine and straight and pretty in their red painted jackets, I almost did not have the heart to carve up the end of the first one. But I did, and here I am, my half-moon spectacles on the end of my nose, a tablet before me, and a cup of coffee not yet cold on the table beside my chair.
I cobbled together two pine planks and they rest on the arms of this rocker. Felice gave me scraps of flannel to tack to the underside at each end so I don’t scratch the chair. And here I sit, writing down my life’s story. It seems a foolish notion, as the only folks I ever heard who did such a thing were great men like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.
But when Felice gave me the paper and pencils, she held my whiskered cheeks in her hands, looked at me, into me like only she can. That is something she has done through the years when she wants me to pay close attention. She doesn’t know I do that all the time with her anyway. Her gaze pins me like a butterfly to a collector’s board.
“You are a great man to me,” she said.
I was set to disagree, but she did something she has rarely done. Her eyes got wet and she looked away. She picked up the tablet and pencils and pushed them to my chest. “For me,” she said.
And that’s why I am here. Great man or no, I am not a dumb man. When a fellow like me gets lucky enough to share his life with a woman such as Felice, he does what she says. She’s not steered me wrong yet.
Okay, back to it. If you’ve stuck with me this far, indulge me, old friend. Because the story I am going to tell you is unlike any other you will ever hear. Some of it you know, much of it you don’t. It is my story, every word the truth, because I recall that summer as if it occurred yesterday.
But before I tell you about that summer, I should tell you about me, myself, and I, the only folks I ever really knew, at least up until I was almost thirteen years of age.
Two fine writers, Richard Prosch and Paul Bishop, also happen to be podcast pards who run the excellent Six-Gun Justice Podcast. Imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, Rich asked if I would like to be on the show.
You bet, I said, and we proceeded to have a fine conversation about books, my writing, how I came to know and love Westerns, and so much more. It was an honor and a treat—I love talking shop and all things Old West. Here’s a link to the rootin’-tootin’ episode….
Yesterday I found out that of my short story, “Peaches,” which appeared in the 2019 anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories, has earned finalist status in the 2020 Will Rogers Medallion Awards. I believe “Peaches” is one of the strongest stories I’ve written, so it pleases me to receive this affirmation. While final results will be announced at a banquet in Texas in October, I already feel like a winner.
If you’re curious and would like to read “Peaches” to see if it measures up, here’s a link to the book in which it is but one of sixteen compelling stories about pioneering women of the West.
My new novel, DILLY, tells the story of abused, ravenous, and all-but-feral orphan boy, Orville Dillard, Jr., aka Dilly, who travels west in 1893 from Ohio to Wyoming and ends up at the Hatterson Cattle Ranch. He also finds himself smack in the middle of the infamous Sheep Wars that plagued the region, in which dozens of sheepherders were murdered and few of the attacking cattlemen were ever held accountable for their brutal crimes.
DILLY was to be released in hardcover this month, but due to the pandemic, its public debut has been postponed until December. Not to worry, it can be pre-ordered online right now. Here’s a link.
I’m pleased to announce that my story, “Peaches” (called a “grim tale of survival” in a starred review by Library Journal) is included in a bold new collection of sixteen previously unpublished stories by a number of award-winning authors. The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories (Pioneering Women of the West),brought out by Five Star Publishing, clocks in at a hefty 360 pages and is available in hardcover on November 20, 2019, though it’s up for pre-orders right now at all the usual online booksellers.
The collection shines its lantern light on pioneering women of the West in the 19th century who face challenges in often brutal, oppressive settings contrasting starkly at times with civilized society. In these pages you’ll find high-action traditional Westerns, day-to-day struggles, and introspective dramas of the strong, often overlooked, women who shaped the iconic American West.
Early reviews are unanimous in their acclaim for the collection:
“Sixteen stories illustrating the United States’ past through women’s experiences comprise this impressive new collection. Western literature has passed in and out of fashion; at present there’s a movement toward openness and candor regarding the U.S. march to the west. This compilation provides an excellent starting point for book club discussions of Americans in these times.”
—Starred, Library Journal
“Each piece in this 16-story, female-focused anthology packs a punch. The heroines confront death, disease, rape, domestic violence, and poverty, all while living in an era that denies them equal legal status . . . it’s about personal strength in a time and place when that was often the only resource an individual had in excess. To that end, The Spoilt Quilt provides brief glimpses of optimism in an otherwise overcast world.”
“Each story’s protagonist is a woman in the American West, and what an unforgettable group of women they are. This collection will surely please fans of frontier fiction as well as those who are new to the genre.”
—Historical Novel Society
I recently had the pleasure of talking, via Skype, with Bellows Falls, Vermont’s own Rockingham Free Public Library’s monthly book group. This month they all read STRANDED! And they hit me with a pile of great questions, including: Since you’re a guy, how were you able to write so convincingly from a 14-year-old girl’s perspective? First of all, I’m flattered they felt I channeled Janette well. As to the question, the short answer is … very carefully. The long answer? Well, come on down to one of my presentations or signings some time and we’ll chat.
I love it when book clubs read my books and then want to talk about them with me. It’s a genuine, win-win situation. Writing is, as so many before me have said, a solitary pursuit. So having the opportunity to talk with folks who love reading and who have spent their valuable time with a book I’ve written is doubly gratifying.
If you’d like me to speak to your group, or at your store, your school, or your library, feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.
I am pleased and honored to announce that my latest Roamer novel, TIMBERLINE, has been named as a finalist in Western Fictioneers’ Peacemaker Awards in the Best Western Novel category. I offer a hearty congratulations to all other finalists and to the judges for giving their time.
If you haven’t yet ridden the trail with Roamer and his mentor, the crusty mountain man Maple Jack, TIMBERLINE is a great place to join the pair:
A high-country train trek turns into a blizzard-bound trainwreck-from-hell for Roamer as a gang of gunmen run roughshod on the rails. With righteous rage and hard justice their only allies, Roamer and Maple Jack track the killers deep into the winter mountains for a final showdown at . . . Timberline.
Just released:MOVING FOREWORD: REAL INTRODUCTIONS TO TOTALLY MADE-UP BOOKS, is a collection of dozens of real introductions to imaginary books, written by celebrities, comedians, musicians, and other writers (that’s where I come in)….
My contribution, “Lucky Tam’s A Tramp’s Tales, or Episodes from the Life of a Rover, annotated ed.”, tells the story of a lost journal happened upon by a rambling scientist, and the ensuing hooplah…. I share the covers with the likes of Adam West, John Oates, Shirley Manson, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Moby, Jerry Springer, and more!
(I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute, wise guy…. Who wants to get stranded in a school?”)
What I mean to say is … my multi-award-winning YA novel (ahem, crow crow), STRANDED: A STORY OF FRONTIER SURVIVAL, is now available in a large-print edition specifically for schools! (Available to fine schools everywhere, as well as at all the usual online retailers!)
This makes it easier than ever for people large, small, young, old, or otherwise to jump feet first into the frigid, action-packed adventures of Janette Riker as she battles the elements and surly critters of the frozen Northern Rockies.