Thursday, April 20, 2017

Working: A poem for May Day in the Upper Cumberland


Troy D. Smith

Coal dust settles on me like black snow
Choking in the darkness
Sweat and soot making grime
Soaking into the clothes
From the company store.
Lint swirls around me, blowing fans
Only moving the heat around
Shirt factory whistle sharp in my ear
Walking through the fallen buttons
Fallen faces, fallen wages
Chunking rocks in muddy fields
Clearing the way for bright leaf dreams
Scent of tobacco curing in faded barns
Splinters from tobacco sticks
Break on callused hands
Grandkids now grown toil away
Stocking shelves, shining floors
Making change at drive-through windows
Everything has changed
Nothing has changed
Driving down from the mountain
Window open to the chill morning air
Watching the people drive to work
Trudging yet hopeful, finding joys
In simple things, finding strength
In Psalms and prayers and Johnny Cash
As the Caney Fork flows slowly by
(fish are biting somewhere)
As pride in labor, and dignity, and humanity
Still manage to take root
And weather the sun, and reach for the sky
Always reaching, always proud,

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 Spur Award Winner

I was deeply honored to have my novella "Odell's Bones" chosen as the winner of Western Writers of America's Spur Award in the short fiction category. You can see a complete list of winners, past and present, HERE, and I congratulate all the winners and finalists.

I have to tell you straight up, I've never made much money at this writing gig. Once upon a time I hoped I could pay the bills with it, but I wound up relying on a day job for that (a day job I absolutely love, being a history professor, and one that ALSO involves writing and publishing for little if any money.) But if given a choice, the recognition for my work that I have received from the Spur Awards (I won once before, 16 years ago, and was nominated a couple of times before that), the Peacemaker Awards, and a handful of critics and historians of the genre who have spoken well of me -plus the many, many author colleagues who have encouraged me through the years -well, I honestly value that, and appreciate it, and treasure it, far more than any amount of money. Sounds weird, but it's true. I am especially grateful, all the time, for several close friends I made in this business who were my mentors and my boosters who have shuffled off this mortal coil. It is an honor to labor in their shadow, and on the shoulders of the many giants this genre has produced and continues to produce.

The first great American fiction to catch the world's attention, that of James Fenimore Cooper, was frontier fiction. Much of the literature produced on this continent before that -ostensibly nonfiction, but some of it ya have to wonder -also was about the frontier experience, from the captivity narratives of New England to the accounts of people like Daniel Boone. And in a tiny, shimmering, but very real way, I and all my western writer colleagues are a part of that tradition, of that chain. It is humbling. And, at the same time, it is something for all of us to be proud of. This includes a large number of exceptional writers -some of them among the greatest western writers who have ever lived -who have yet to be awarded one of those shiny, jingly Spur plaques, but who should have been many times over. So my hat is off to us all: today's winners, yesterday's, tomorrow's, and the many who were deserving but unjustly (or unluckily) neglected.

That said, I should tell you how to find "Odell's Bones." You can get it on amazon and elsewhere as a 99 cent EBOOK. OR, in paperback only, it is one of six stories in the collection WEST OF SUNDOWN.  Finally, available in either paperback or ebook, it has been added in a revised edition of my (very large) collection THE STEALING MOON, which has 36 stories in all.

Check it out. And then check out those many other fine western writers out there.