Saturday, May 28, 2011

Throw the Devil From the Train by Stephen Bly

I am definitely buying this one for a friend of mine who is addicted to Westerns. The author is offering a giveaway copy, so go ahead and enter for the drawing by leaving a comment at the end of the post. Don't forget to include your contact information! I sometimes have entrants who would win if I had some way to contact them. ;-)

This post is chock full of goodies, so don't skip parts. There's a recipe for Elk chili, as well as an answer to the timeless question I often receive from readers: How do you think up your stories? Stephen answers that one quite well. Plus, for those of you who are writers, there's a nifty writing exercise at the end.

It's 1880.

Catherine's got to escape from her hometown in Virginia. She heads west to marry a childhood friend she hasn't seen in 17 years. She needs a fresh start and he's got a booming business in Paradise Springs. She'll do almost anything to get there. . .except reveal her true last name.

Race heads west set to avenge his brother's death, with a body aching for sleep, and determined to avoid the conniving lady with a throw-away heart. But it's a long, cramped, chaotic train ride from Omaha to Sacramento.

The only thing these two agree upon: they despise each other. And something evil's on board. As they gnaw on each other's nerves, a holdup, hijack, kidnapping and gold mine swindle shove them together, then push them apart. Fiery, opinionated and quick to react, can they team up long enough to throw the devil off the train?

Stephen Bly is a Christy Award winner for westerns and author of 105 books of fiction and nonfiction, some of them co-authored with wife, Janet. They live in north-central Idaho at 4,000 ft. elev. on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. They have 3 married sons, 4 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.

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Many of you have asked me. . .well, only one, maybe two. . .for my world famous recipe for chili. This is an expected and anticipated dish at every Wild Game Feed potluck at our northern Idaho church each November. It’s also a staple at our Broken Arrow Crossing events in the summer. Broken Arrow Crossing is the false-front town I’ve built beside our house. Wife Janet calls it our ‘theme yard.’

So, now the secret’s out. You can create your own chili sensation, Bly-style.

2-4 pounds of elk meat (for my pals in Quebec, that’s Wapiti meat)
1 16-ounce jar of Pace salsa (“medium” for most gringos; I prefer “hot”)
2 cans of Hormel Chili With Beans (life is too short to wait for beans to soak)
1 green bell pepper (make sure it’s crisp…the red or yellow bells will work good too)
Several fresh jalapeno peppers (don’t wimp out; leave the seeds)
An unending supply of Montreal Steak Seasoning
Red Tabasco Sauce

Apply for an out-of-state elk tag from the Idaho Fish & Game Department. Clean your Winchester 1895, 405 caliber rifle. Fly to Idaho and camp deep in the forest along the upper stretches of the north fork of the Clearwater River. Shoot your elk (whether you taxidermy the head or not is your decision). Pack meat in dry-ice and take it home with you on the plane. OR. . .accept that package of wild game meat your brother-in-law keeps trying to give you every Christmas.

The night before. . .put one cup of water, 2-4 pounds of elk (steak or roast) in the crock pot. Season with Montreal Steak Seasoning to taste. Turn that sucker on low, then go to bed.

Sometime the next day. . .drain most of the juices off the meat (yes, you can make elk gravy for breakfast, provided you don’t put it on biscuits that come out of a tube). Place meat in very large pan (the one on the bottom shelf at the back that takes forever to yank out). Dump in your two cans of Hormel Chili Beans (or more if you’re feeding the starting offensive line of the Green Bay Packers, or their equivalent). Important note: never use cheap canned beans that taste like they were soaked in fast food restaurant catsup.

Gut out your bell pepper and carve it into ½ inch squares, then sauté (that means fry ‘em in a skillet, but don’t burn ‘em black or let ‘em get mushy). Toss them in the big pan.

Cut the stems off the jalapenos, quarter them and toss them in. If your fingers blister while cutting the peppers, you have to invite me over for supper. Add a bunch more Montreal Steak Seasoning (bunch=6 tads) and red Tabasco.

Stir everything together and simmer the chili for an hour or so. (Simmer is what happens when you ought to throw another log in the stove, but you wait until half-time of the football game and the fire almost goes out.)

Now, it’s time for the taste test. After stirring the chili again (wooden spoons seem to be less susceptible to corrosion), take a small taste. You may want to add more Tabasco. (Note: if an obnoxious nephew is visiting, let him test the chili. It’s about right if he spends the rest of the day out in the yard with his head buried in leaves, sand, or snow.)

Serving size: this varies. Most times, the bowl is scraped clean with only 10 to 12 people. But, with luck, there will be some leftovers and you’ll get to have it cold for breakfast for several days.

for Throw The Devil Off The Train

I don’t have a clue how I derived the idea for my newest release, Throw The Devil Off The Train. Sometimes plot ideas seem to fall out of the sky for me. When I recognize one that I like, I pick it up and run with it, to see where it leads.

I’ve set stories in Colorado and Arizona, in New Mexico and Nevada, in Montana and Idaho, in Wyoming and Nebraska, in Texas and South Dakota. The old western Stagecoach was a road story in a stage. Throw The Devil Off The Train is a road story inside a train headed west.

Idea germs that evolve

The grandeur of the West from a train window.
The very slow journey, compared to modern transportation.
The theme that people are much more complex than first meetings reveal.
The hurts and pains, the victories and defeats of the past form a part in acts and responses in any given situation.

I tossed two cats into a burlap bag, then watched to see how they’d survive. . .or not. After a few gouges and bites between Catherine and Race, I could see the trail and markings of their story in Throw The Devil Off The Train.

Setting A Scene

You’d think after more than a hundred books in print, most of them set in the Old West, that I’d have exhausted every possible location. I’ve used cabins, saloons, dance halls, jails, hotels, cafes, sandbars and most any other place you could name. All, except one. In my newest book, Creede of Old Montana, I set a whole scene inside an outhouse.
As much as I like telling western tales, it was not the time for me to live in. Two reasons at least: health care and sanitation. That doesn’t mean a cowboy never used soap. Some even shaved every morning. Living in a wild and primitive land doesn’t mean you have to look uncivilized.
And I don’t want you to think I’m weak-willed and pasty skinned. I can survive just fine for days, weeks, even months in the wilderness. But I know that sooner or later I’ll be back in civilization that boasts hot showers, waste treatment plants, and flush toilets.
I wouldn’t even mind a footed bathtub. Many fun western movie episodes have centered on bubbly bathtub scenes. But hot baths were a real luxury and only the nicest of hotels would offer such an amenity. Some of the more modest hotels would advertise: Baths 25 cents; Used Water 15 cents. Which, in my opinion, is a great motivator to save up your money when on the trail or hang with friends who smell like you do.
Which brings me back to…setting a scene inside an outhouse.
On a trip to Yellowstone with our teen grandkids, Zachary and Miranda, we stopped to explore at Garnett, a Montana ghost town. One structure that captured the kids’ curiosity: the double set of outhouses behind the old hotel. There was a two-seater for gals and a two-seater for guys. Quite the deal on a busy Saturday night.
Ah, the romantic Old West.
And about that scene in the outhouse…you can read about it yourself after October 1st in Creede of Old Montana. I promise…it won’t be R-rated. That’s the thing about the classic western genre. Good triumphs over evil. There’s little or no bad language. And sensual details are relegated to the fightin’ and shootin’ only.


Create two strong characters. Make one the type the other tends to dislike. Make them so disgusted with each that cannot exist in the same room for several minutes without being at each other’s throats. Then, stick them in a place where they have to co-exist for hours, days, weeks: a cabin, a mine shaft, a train car, etc. Then, write the dialogue. Start out with no descriptions. No identifiers. No narration. Just two voices conversing. Make the words authentic as you can. Then, edit it later.

Do they wind up killing each other? Or total estrangement? Or a truce of some sort? Or a breakthrough to relationship?


Charity said...

Loved the post! Please do not enter me as I won a copy from another blog but I wanted to stop in and say hi:)


Rebecca said...

I am still laughing about the chili recipe! Woohoo! We don't have any elk here in NC, but maybe I can talk one of my hunting cousins into trying it on deer instead.
I would absolutely LOVE to read this book. It sounds fabulous and I love westerns. :-)
FWIW - This is one of the best blog posts I've ever read. So full of info, fun, and even a writing exercise. Love it! Thanks Jill!!


Jill said...

Rebecca, if I am able to contact the author's family and/or publisher for the free copy, I will send it your way. Sadly, Stephen Bly passed away last month. He and his writing gift will be missed.