Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some thoughts about Trayvon, Zimmerman, and Race in Our America

Everyone in America knows by now about the situation in Florida, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I've been having a running conversation about it on my Facebook page, and I am disheartened by how many people are focusing on the defense of Zimmerman and the culpability of Trayvon, and decrying the fact that, according to them, some people are trying to make this about race when it is not. Quite a few other friends have called for restraint on the part of those of us who are incensed by the circumstances surrounding this innocent young man's death- they're not defending Zimmerman, but the system, or at the very least calling for reason and rationality before jumping to conclusions about racism. I know they mean well- many of the folks I refer to are my best friends, and people I respect deeply.
I am willing to admit that those friends make some good points, and that many- including myself -have rushed to judgment (although many others have rushed to judgment in the other extreme.) I have another observation to make, and I hope it won't be misinterpreted -and that you read on to the end to see what my interpretation is. My initial Facebook post has gotten a lot of comments- a large number of people have expressed support for my viewpoint by "liking" and/or commenting, often sharing my outrage, and a significant number -about one-third of those commenting -have taken me to task for jumping the gun, not waiting for the facts, etc. Those who agreed with me represent a pretty good cross-section of my friends, so far as race, gender, and even political beliefs go. So far, everyone who disagreed has been a white male. Now don't get excited- I'm not saying that the people who disagreed with me are racists, or even denying that they raise good points... nor am I ascribing a particular political point of view to them, as some of those folks generally tend to be liberal. I am only observing that everyone so far who has approached this discussion with "reason" before "outrage" has been a white male (and there have been plenty of white males on the other side of the argument, as well, myself obviously included.) My interpretation of this is that often, we who are on the dominant end of the social spectrum and are accustomed to being so -white males -don't understand the outrage, sometimes "unreasonable" outrage, of those who are not, based on their lived experience. We don't live that experience, and it takes serious work for us to get a glimmer of it. If we did, we would KNOW why "we feel such a strong need to assume, squeeze, and shape interpretations." I want to once more emphasize and re-iterate that I'm not accusing any of those commenters (my friends) of being racists; I am making an observation about how we white guys (again, myself included) have our OWN opinions shaped by white privilege, often without realizing it. It is a lot easier to be the calm, rational one about something like this when we're not the ones affected by it every day, our whole lives.
It is a sad fact that walking down the street being black in this country automatically makes you suspicious... just like driving a car while you're black makes you much more likely to be pulled over even if you've broken no traffic laws. So far as I'm concerned the main thing that everyone debating Zimmerman's relative guilt or innocence is missing is this one basic fact- Zimmerman called the cops and then followed this kid through the rainy night because the kid was clearly "up to no good" and probably on drugs... based on nothing more than the fact he was walking down the street being black. That could have been any black family's kid. And THAT fact makes it all very much about race, because it clearly demonstrates, as if we needed it demonstrated any more, that racism is alive and well in America... and that's why people of color, and allies concerned with social justice, are up in arms, why they/we are so angry that their/our reaction is more impassioned than reasoned... and it is only amplified by the fact that there are so many people who just don't get it, just don't realize why it's such a big deal, just don't realize why we don't just get over it, just don't get what this whole situation symbolizes or why. And that means they're not seeing the problem, and in fact are blaming those who DO see it for all the fuss. Race has not gone away, will not go away, EVER, until the people who benefit from being on the top of the racialized social hierarchy around which this country was built acknowledge it and repudiate it, instead of ignoring, minimizing, or denying it. Lots of white people DO try to do this, although as humans none of us can do it perfectly, but we who work at it prove that it can be done... if we stop being defensive, look at ourselves and our culture honestly, and swear that it does not have to be so. Not swear that it is NOT, or never was, or used to be, or that the only problem is all those touchy people who just won't get over it. Acknowledge that this is how our culture IS, but that it doesn't HAVE to be; listen to the voices of the oppressed instead of blaming them for being too noisy about it, and instead of hearing our own denials and justifications.
And that begins with education. My biggest goal in life is to do all I can to help people understand where the social construct we call race came from, how it works, and how we got to be where we are. I don't just teach history, I preach history, and this is the gospel I am trying to spread. A lot of my fiction revolves around this, and I've written several essays on the subject (not to mention a dissertation.) You'll have to wait for the book where the dissertation is concerned, but the essays can be found in the previous posts of this blogsite, or HERE:
It doesn't matter how many black men get elected President: there will continue to be friction, misunderstandings, frustration, anger, and turmoil until we who are at the top of the racial hierarchy face up to the truths of how it has worked to our benefit, stop denying it, stop being defensive about it... admit it, and reject it. Racism, overt or subconscious, is just like any other addiction... we can't break it until we admit it is there. Even in ourselves.
Especially in ourselves.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Spur Award Winners Announced

Western Writers of America today announced the winners and finalists of this year's Spur Awards... A lot of my friends are on this list, and so are several people I don't know but whose work I admire... rounded out by some new names that I expect to hear more good things from in the future.

Congratulations to them all.

I am particularly pleased that one of the stories from Western Fictioneers' first anthology, The Traditional West, won for best short story- Rod Miller's "The Death of Delgado."

2012 Spur Award Winners and Finalists

Stephen Harrigan. Remember Ben Clayton, Alfred A. Knopf

Thomas Fox Averill, Rode, University of New Mexico Press
James Lee Burke, Feast Day of Fools, Simon & Schuster

Johnny D. Boggs, Legacy of a Lawman, Five Star Publishing

Joe Henry. Lime Creek, Random House
Alan C. Huffines, Killed by Indians 1871, Texas Wesleyan University Press

Johnny D. Boggs, West Texas Kill, Pinnacle Books/Kensington

Cameron Judd, The Long Hunt, Signet/Penguin
Dusty Richards, Between Hell and Texas, Pinnacle Books/Kensington

Meg Mims, Double Crossing, Astraea Press

Tammy Hinton, Unbridled, Roots & Branches/AWOC Publishing
Stephen B. Smart, Whispers of the Greybull, High Mule Publishing

David L. Bigler and Will Bagley, The Mormon Rebellion, University of Oklahoma Press

Paul L. Hedren, After Custer, University of Oklahoma Press
Richard White, Railroaded, W.W. Norton & Company

Frederick H. Swanson, The Bitterroot and Mr. Brandborg, University of Utah Press

Jim Kristofic, Navajos Wear Nikes, University of New Mexico Press
Rachel St. John, Line in the Sand, Princeton University Press

Paul Magid, George Crook, University of Oklahoma Press

Louis Kraft, Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek, University of Oklahoma Pres
Richard D. White, Jr. Will Rogers: A Political Life, Texas Tech University Press

Winner: (TIE)
Rod Miller, “The Death of Delgado,” Western Fictioneers
Clay Reynolds, “The Deacon’s Horse,” Ink Brush Press

Shann Ray, “The Great Divide,” Graywolf Press

Paul Andrew Hutton, “The Alamo, Well Remembered,” Wild West Magazine

John R. Wunder, “That No Thorn Will Pierce Our Friendship,” Western Historical Quarterly
Mark Dworkin, “The Wild West’s Premier Mythmaker,” Wild West Magazine

Candace Simar, Birdie, North Star Press of St. Cloud

Johnny D. Boggs, South by Southwest, Five Star Publishing/Gale
Nancy Oswald, Rescue in Poverty Gulch, Filter Press

Don Nardo, Migrant Mother, Compass Point Books/Capstone

Jean A. Lukesh, Wolves in Blue, Field Mouse Productions
Linda L. Osmundson, How the West Was Drawn, Pelican Publishing

John Logan, Rango, Nickelodeon Movies

Jonathan Raymond, Meek’s Cut-Off
Miguel Barros, Blackthorn, Rogue Pictures

Cindy Meehl, Director, and Julie Goldman, Producer, Buck, Cedar Creek Productions

No finalists

Bryan Langdo, Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, Marshall Cavendish

Mary Casanova. The Day Dirk Yeller Came to Town, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Mary Dodson Wade, Henrietta King, Bright Sky Press

Rod Miller, “Tabula Rasa,” Port Yonder Press

Floyd Collins, “What Harvest: Poems on the Siege & Battle of the Alamo,” Somondoco Press
Larry D. Thomas, “The Red, Candle-lit Darkness,” El Grito del Lobo Press

No Award Given

Jon Chandler. “Morning Star Moon,” Western Dog Publishing

Wylie Gustafson, “Raven on the Wind,” Two Medicine Music
Bob Thomas, “The Cowboy,” Easy Bob Music

Monday, March 12, 2012

Civil War Fiction

Here we are, right in the midst of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. It seems that I have written as many stories set during that conflict as I have in the Old West -and for the same reason, I think. It is a compelling backdrop for a story, especially when that story focuses on human passions. I also realize that my nonfiction is often centered on the Civil War -from magazine articles, journal articles I'm currently working on, my dissertation/ book-to-be, and even the field trip through Upper Cumberland Tennessee I embarked on last weekend with other Civil War historians and archaeologists of my acquaintance. 150 years on, and I'm not the only one still fascinated by the subject.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several works of fiction about the war that are especially noteworthy for various reasons (and let me note, I'm a huge fan of some of these and not so much a fan of others):

Andersonville, by MacKinley Cantor
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
Band of Angels, by Robert Penn Warren
The March, by E. L. Doctorow
(you thought I was gonna forget Gone with the Wind, didn't ya?)

What are some of your favorites that I missed?

And if you haven't read mine, here is a link to some of my Civil War related titles:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jean Giraud, aka Moebius- Rest in Peace, maestro.

Sad news today- internationally renowned French comics artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, has passed away in Paris at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

English: Jean Giraud at International Festival...

In the United States, Moebius is best known for his Silver Surfer collaborations with Stan Lee and his American star-making turn in the magazine Heavy Metal -an English language version of the French magazine Metal Hurlant -which was in turn the basis for the cult favorite Ralph Bakshi animated film Heavy Metal in 1981 (Moebius also did art design on the films Alien and Tron.)

But he was best known to French fans -and to me -for his long-running Western comic, Lt. Blueberry. Blueberry was a nom de plume (that's French!) for Mike Donovan, an Irish-American Southerner who fought for the Union in the Civil War and served as a cavalry officer in the West afterwards. Blueberry was created by Moebius.Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier in 1963, and was a European-made Western anti-hero before Clint Eastwood donned his first serape. Moebius continued producing occasional Blueberry stories on his own after Charlier died in 1990.

Blueberry Giraud.png

Last year I wrote an article at the Western Fictioneers website called "The Top Ten Western Comics and a Whole Slew of Others."   We had a panel of several comics and/or western fiction professionals. Blueberry rounded out the Top Ten, at #10, although it got my #1 vote- it was the highest ranked non-English comic on the list (there were several others.)

In 2004 the character inspired a Western movie which was called Blueberry in France and Renegade in the U.S. Unfortunately it wasn't that great -though it was better than the movie adaptation of that other great Western comics anti-hero, Jonah Hex (I've always wanted to see a Blueberry-Jonah Hex team-up- how great would that have been?)

At any rate, Moebius was one of the greatest comics artists ever. If you love Westerns, or comics, or just beautiful art and great stories, you should check out an English translation of Blueberry (although I prefer to read 'em in the original francais.) Hopefully someone'll make 'em available again soon, as the English translations are out of print right now and used copies cost a fortune.

Know what, though? If you've got it, they're worth it.

Au revoir, Monsieur Giraud.

The Blueberry Saga: Confederate Gold

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Crime novel CROSS ROAD BLUES now available on kindle

Perfect Crime Books has made my blues-detective novel Cross Road Blues available for the kindle: Click HERE

For a review of the book by best-selling author James Reasoner, GO HERE

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Free this week: "The Blackwell Claim"

My western ebook short story "The Blackwell Claim" is available for free until March 10 at THIS SITE (under the price you will see a "free" code.)

"The Blackwell Claim" is one of a series of short stories I've written about the Blackwell family (some of whose members also show up in my full-length novels from time to time.) The series is my attempt to look at a broad range of Old West settings and events through the experiences of a single family, in a short story format which allows the reader to get immediately into the action. I plan many more stories in this series, and look forward to revisiting the Blackwell brothers often.

Here are the Blackwell stories so far:

  • The Blackwell Claim

  • Blackwell's Stand

  • The Divided Prey

  • Blackwell's Run

  • The Windigo

  • You can find more info about the Blackwell stories in general HERE.

    Surf over to Smashwords and try the first story out for free! Their ebooks are accessible by most ebook platforms, including the Kindle and Nook.

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Good Rebel Soil: The Champ Ferguson Story

    My novel about notorious Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson, first published a decade ago, is being released in a new edition by Western Trail Blazer.

    Ferguson led a group of independent partisans based in Sparta, TN (my hometown.) They occasionally operated with the Confederate Army, but more often acted on their own in a bitter war with similar Union guerrillas also based in the region, and any civilians who got in the way. Champ was idolized by pro-Confederate Tennesseans and demonized by pro-Union ones (for good reason.) Many legends grew up around him, and there is evidence that Forrest Carter combined Ferguson with Quantrill riders such as Bloody Bill Anderson to serve as the template for The Outlaw Josey Wales. He was tried and hanged by a military tribunal in Nashville at the end of the Civil War. His last request was for his body to be returned to Sparta and buried "in good Rebel soil."

    Here is the description from the back cover of the novel: "To some he was a brutal thug, a heartless murderer – a monster. To others he was a protector, a beloved martyr to the Confederate cause – a hero. To a few he was a family man, a good old boy caught up in passions beyond his control – a man.He was all these things, and more. He was an American tragedy. He was Champ Ferguson."

    I am honored to have received this ringing endorsement from my friend, renowned Western author (and previous president of Western Fictioneers) Frank Roderus: "Troy Smith is a superb writer. The life of Champ Ferguson is a powerful story. Put the two together and you have a wonderful read. I highly recommend Good Rebel Soil."

    The book is now available for most ebook platforms from at this location and should be up at amazon soon, in paperback as well as ebook.