Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I'm ghostwriting a western.

It's not my usual genre, but I have fun writing anything! Here's the condensed version:

Girl falls for gunslinger—gunslinger ditches pregnant girl—girl marries hero—

hero and girl make good life, raise son—gunslinger comes after hero—

gunslinger's son saves hero.

(This idea could be a worth a quarter with a little effort.)

My client recorded his idea for the story on a digital recorder and hired me to turn it into a book. Since people don't talk in sentences, the word-for-word transcript starts like this:

"I want to, uh, tell a story, well I've got a story I, uh, want to tell, and, well, Jack Smith is a, well, he was a cowboy in Texas, and his training, I mean his job is training horses for the, uh, army. He trained horses for the United States Army in Texas. And he has this horse that's a beautiful, bright red color. He's a gunslinger, with a beautiful horse with a pure white tail."

~Step 1: Transcribe and format into paragraphs.

New and improved 5¢ version:

Jack Smith was a cowboy on a small ranch in Texas. Jack's job was to train horses so they could be sold to the US Army. Jack's horse was almost red. A pure white mane and tail stood out against it's shiny auburn coat. It was Jack’s pride and joy. All he had in his life was this beautiful horse.

Although Jack was very fast with a gun, he practiced whenever he could. He liked to shoot, but he was very fair. If a squirrel was on a tree, he waited until the squirrel blinked or gave some indication that it was going to move before he pulled his gun to shoot it. The same with a bird on the wing; he’d never shoot while it was a still target. A snake had to slither away before he took aim—any living creature deserved a chance. He worked on his skill as he traveled.

~Step 2: Go through 20 pages of text. Highlight work to be done.

Newer and improved 10¢ version:

Jack Smith was a cowboy on a small ranch in Texas. (Where in Texas? When? Describe Jack. Give a little background. Create authentic setting. What's the landscape in this part of Texas? Is Texas still a country or is it a state? Check history. Do we like Jack? Why or why not? Show don't tell.)

Jack's horse was almost bright red. A pure white mane and tail stood out against it's shiny auburn coat. It was Jack’s pride and joy. All he had in his life was this beautiful horse. (Are there red horses? Is it a male or female? What's it's name? Find out what you call female horses at various ages. Where did he get her? Why is she so special?)

~Step 3: Preliminary research for authentic details on:

clothing, saloons, horses, guns, geography, mode of travel,

distances, ranch life,Texas history, landscape, animals to shoot,

etc., etc., etc.

New 15¢ details:

  1. Stephenville, Texas, founded 1856, 56 miles from nearest neighboring town, Erath County, Texas. Adjacent counties: Hood (northeast) Bosque (southwest, pronounced Bos-kee, 30 families in 1850, 56 miles away) The imaginary towns could be placed nearby.
  2. Kick-a-poo and Comanche Indians nearby, not Apache or Navajo.
  3. Arrival of Fort Worth/Rio Grande Railway in 1889, but stage coaches met the trains.
  4. Lumber: hickory, poplar, ash, beech, timbered basins of the Trinity, Brazos, Bosque Rivers. Antelope, wild hogs, wolves, coyotes, and buffalo roamed the plains.
  5. Stage coach stop, in Stephenville, day's ride (40-miles) on horseback from Bosque.
  6. Names of drinks ("Tarancula Juice") and card-games ("Three card monte and Faro") popular in 1870's saloons.
  7. Customers paid 75¢ for a 15-minute dance with a saloon girl. They bought her a drink for 75¢ but she was served colored water in a shot glass.
  8. Saloon girls were called "Shady Ladies" or "Soiled Doves" although most of them were not prostitutes.
  9. Texas cowboys always wore chaps made of goatskins with the hair left on to protect from cactus thorns.
  10. Stagecoaches rocked instead of bouncing. There were usually 12 passengers who sat so close they intertwined knees for the whole 12 hour ride.

~Step 4: Write first draft:

New and vastly improved 25¢ version:

Jack had lived a man’s life since he was a boy of fifteen. Back then he had no trace of the dark shadow that haunted his face, even after a close shave, or the deep drawl that charmed women and intimidated men. When other Texans called him Smitty, he took offense, his left hand never far from the pistol he wore tucked in the front of his pants. “It’s Smith,” he snapped. “Jack Smith.”

Besides his quick temper, Jack was known for his fast draw. It seemed to be inborn. He couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t shooting snakes or squirrels, blue jays or black crows. It got so he even let them play his game. If a bird wasn’t flying, he kicked up some leaves to scare it off the branch and into the air before he brought it down. Jack was fair. He didn’t pull his gun on unsuspecting varmints.

Sitting astride his bright red chestnut horse, Jack was conspicuous when he rode through town. At six feet, three inches, with thick dark hair and glacial green eyes, he looked menacing. “Come on, Big Red,” he murmured, although she responded to his movements as if she was part of him. They’d been a team since she’d first tossed her pure white mane and gazed up at him as a foal. Her blue eyes were unusual in a horse without white face markings, but Big Red was unique in many ways. The striking filly was the only female Jack was faithful to.

I'm only on page 5 of this rewrite, with at least 50 to go.

Then we'll start the serious editing, fact checking, and final proofreading.

It could turn out to be a pretty good story!

I might be the next Zane Grey.

(I'm Zaney, don't you think?)


Christie said...

Oma! That last edit is fantastic. You have unleashed your inner western writer. Well done.

But hurry and get to the part where they make love all night long in the hay, will you?

marta said...

your ghosting is such a good gig.. congrats on creating a great story! did we know you'd get this gig when i used to watch Ghostwriter on pbs?! am impressed with your skills, as usual. but am even MORE impressed that you know how to make the CENT sign.

p.s. dan will be in heaven if there are more zane greys out there. he's just finishing listening to one of them on his commutes.

Diane said...

Ooh, it's exciting now! What a great way to show how to progress/edit your work.

You have a talent. It's fun to be a small part of it. I don't think I could ever write like that.But, if you need a proofreader, I'm fantastic at that!

The Grandmother Here said...

Cool! Go for it!!

Kay Dennison said...

Definitely zany!!! This looks to be a fun project.