Tag Archives: Oghma Creative Media

The Passing of a Legend

I’ve been quiet over the holidays for a couple of reasons. Partly, because it was the holidays. But mostly… well, you’ll see.

About ten years ago, I walked into a writers group in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I was ready to get serious about the writing, ready to improve my craft. I can’t remember now how I heard about this particular group, at least not this time. I’d heard of it once before from a friend, but I guess I wasn’t ready for it yet, wasn’t ready to let strangers see my work.

But by then I was. I’d worked on a space opera, had written quite a bit of it, and wanted to see what others thought. I was arrogant and timid all at the same time. Part of me thought I was gonna knock em dead—that audacious part that every writer has to possess to have the courage to put his words out there for somebody. But the majority of me just hoped I would be up to snuff.

I knew no one there. I sat at one end of the group of tables in a room they used in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. A member of that church was also a member of the workshop, and that’s how they had access to this building.

I had no idea how fortunate I was to happen on this group. The two who ran it, Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton, had been published in New York, Velda years ago under a pen name just before the bottom fell out, and Dusty under his own name, writing westerns.

I’d known of Dusty since I was a teenager. I’d worked an FFA rodeo once in I think it was tenth grade, and Dusty was the announcer. He was a local celebrity even then, appearing on a regional morning show, doing the farm report. He’d been a biology teacher at my alma mater, Huntsville High School, as well as a field man for Tyson, traveling around to the chicken farms, helping them raise better chickens.

Over the next decade—or close to it—I stayed faithful in that writers group, and I came to know Dusty more. He became a mentor, a friend, a father figure, especially after my own father died. Time after time, I watched him encourage new writers, and he always told them the same thing: It’s good. There are problems, but don’t worry about that. Just write. Get the story out. You can fix it later.

There were times when I wondered how he could do that, because I thought some of them were horrible writers. But Dusty never said that, never discouraged a single one of them, regardless of their quality. I think perhaps he could see something the rest of us—or at least that I—couldn’t see: the potential of every writer to become more than they were when they walked into the group.

I watched a lot of writers come and go, and Dusty never failed to encourage them. He had a heart, as my boss Casey Cowan says, bigger than the western skies he wrote about. He was generous to a fault, and optimistic like few people I’ve known. To once again steal from Casey, Dusty woke up every day thinking of it as a new opportunity.

On December 19, Dusty and his wife Pat were on their way home from a lunch meeting with Casey and the Oghma business manager, Venessa Cerasale, when he apparently passed out and left the road. He crossed oncoming traffic—luckily not hitting anyone else, and, in one of life’s ironies, the Ranch Boss—as we affectionately called him—crashed through the fence of a horse pen.

I’ll spare you the medical details, but suffice it to say he and Pat lingered a time longer, and even looked to be improving briefly.

Then came the news that Pat had died.

To say we were shocked is an understatement. Pat was Dusty’s rock. As loud and boisterous as he could be, she was the only one who could control him, the only one who could rein him in. She was a quiet influence in his life, his bride of fifty-six years. While he was the center of attention, Pat would sit off to the side, reading her romance novels, the only kind I ever saw in her hands. Bodice rippers, as they’re known. She loved them, but I never really heard her talk about them.

Pat died January 10th. Dusty followed her on the 18th. Immediately after the wreck, he was in a coma, and once he woke up, he sometimes knew himself, sometimes didn’t. But, as another friend of mine said, I believe his spirit knew Pat was gone. Two days later, he was moved into hospice care, and we all knew it was a matter of time.

That’s Dusty’s story. But there’s more.

As I mentioned above, Dusty became so much more than that guy at the writers group for me. I had the honor of riding to Cheyenne, Wyoming in June of 2016 with him for the annual Western Writers of American convention. I drove him to hospital when Pat had to go a couple days before we were due to leave. She stayed Friday night, Saturday, and into Sunday morning. We left Cheyenne, made it to Hayes, Kansas, where she had to go back in the hospital. This time, they found the real problem, and she was able to continue home the next day.

But while we sat in the waiting room at Cheyenne, Dusty leaned over and said, “Gil, I hear you’re having money problems.” I was. I worked part-time then, twenty-four hours a week at nine dollars an hour, two twelve-hour shifts on the weekend. I was effectively giving up an entire week’s paycheck to go to the conference, but was determined I wouldn’t miss it.

I explained this to Dusty. He pulled out his wallet, handed me one hundred dollars.

“You take this,” he said. “Use it for whatever you need. Don’t worry about paying me back for it.”

And then, not two months later, he had me meet him at Best Buy and bought me a laptop when he saw I had no way to write if I wasn’t at home. On the way out of the store, he said, “Me and Pat talked about it, and we decided you needed to have that to help you write.”

I tell this as a way to show you how generous, how giving, this man was. He gave, and didn’t ask for anything in return.

After the accident, when we posted news of the wreck on the Oghma Facebook page, I happened to go there to look at another post and saw that one. Over seven hundred comments, and I’m told there were thousands of views. I’d known Dusty was a celebrity, but I had no idea he was that well known. I scrolled through the posts, and comment after comment had to do with how generous he and Pat were, how they’d helped this person or that one in some way or another. One even posted that her family wouldn’t have their farm if not for Dusty and Pat.

It’s been a hard few weeks. I think the conferences will be a lot different without Dusty and his loud laugh. There’ll be something missing from them. But his legacy will live on. We intend to see to that, finding a way to give back to this man who gave so much to so many, a way to keep his generous legacy going.

In the spirit of that audaciousness I first exhibited by going to that writing group, I’m going to do my best to step into Dusty’s shoes and encourage new writers, do my best to help them set their feet on the path he helped so many travel, including me.

Knowing Dusty Richards was an honor, one I didn’t fully realize until this happened. I don’t know if I can ever approach his generosity, his optimism, but I’ll do my best and try, because he had faith in me, believed I was a good writer. I will cherish every memory I have of him, and every time I help a writer, it’ll be in his name, for his legacy. Not mine.

The Ranch Boss is gone. A legend has passed from this earth, a legend I had the distinct honor to know. I believe we all go to whatever we envision to be heaven, and I’m sure Dusty is sitting around a prairie campfire somewhere, spinning tales as he always did, conversing with his hero Zane Grey, and I’m sure people like Luke Short, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour, and who knows who else, are sitting around that campfire, each taking his turn, telling tales to one another the likes of which we’ll never know. At least not until we join them.

Adios, my friend. You had a long ride, and a good one. I’ll miss you, and so will so many more. My heart is heavy, even though I know you’d want me to smile. The pain is sharp now, but it’ll fade, and I’ll be left with so many good memories.

And I’ll tell the stories like you did, passing them along to a new generation of writers, so they’ll know what kind of man you were.

My friend. My mentor. My second father.

Hold a spot for me at that campfire. I want to hear more stories.


Taking Part

book-editor-ebcb397f3d23b39df4f06bf10e3044On the whole, I’m finding that I enjoy being an editor. As little as a year ago, I wouldn’t have taken on the job because I didn’t feel qualified. Still not sure if I am, but I’m getting compliments on my editing, so I guess I’m doing something right.

The problem with editing at a growing company, though, is that I have to wear several hats. I guess it’s happening more and more at the big New York publishers too, as they downsize to try and up their bottom line, but in days gone by, when your manuscript was accepted, several editors looked at it. We don’t have the personnel for that—though it would be nice if someday we did—so I find myself, along with the other editors in the company, being line editor, general editor, copy editor, and acquisitions editor.

Line editing is probably the easiest part. That’s where I look for things like typos, misspelled words, and things of that nature. It’s the most tedious, probably, and the one it’s probably easiest to mess up on because we simply can’t see all the mistakes by ourselves (but that’s what we have beta readers for). Copy editing, of course, takes research sometimes, because it means I have to catch mistakes—such as having a safety on a revolver (not very many revolvers have safeties, so pay attention, folks).

It’s the copy editing I worry most about. I can tell a good story within a few pages, and I’m pretty good at spotting typos and the like. But copy editing? What if I don’t know they’ve made a mistake? It’s not me the reader blames—they don’t think of the editor, or at least I never did. If there’s a mistake, I always assumed the writer didn’t do their due diligence. And a lot of times that’s where the mistake originates.

But what about larger mistakes? Sometimes, because of the meticulousness involved in line editing, you can forget to keep the larger picture in mind. That’s when I’m afraid I might miss some gaping plot hole that will make the book fall flat on its face without me realizing it. So it’s something I’ve been thinking about rather heavily the past few weeks.

And I realized something: reading is not passive.

Here’s where my fear of missing something like that comes from: movies.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been talking over a movie with someone only to have them point out some gaffe that undermines the whole thing, and I didn’t see it. Not at all. Hollywood is famous for not getting things right, so I should be spotting these things. But I don’t. Not as often as I should. So it’s made me wonder if I’m missing things when I edit. After all, it takes longer to get through a book, especially when you’re editing, than it does to get through a movie.

But then I was a beta reader for JB Hogan’s Living Behind Time, his Jack Kerouac-type novel of a man discovering himself. I’m not trying to make an example of JB and editwars2shame him online (okay, maybe I am; he’d do the same for me lol), but this is such a graphic example of what I want to illustrate. JB wrote this novel years ago, and did a few updates to it in the interim. Then, when Oghma agreed to publish it, he brought it out, blew the dust and cobwebs off (to hear him tell it there was plenty of both), and touched it up some.

There are a lot of years—about thirty at this writing—between his original writing of the book and it being published. So mistakes are bound to creep in, and I found one that ended up being a humdinger: he had a man in his mid-forties stationed at an Air Force base in Biloxi in 1964—fifty years ago. That was the largest timeline mistake, though there were a couple of others. The upshot of it was it simply couldn’t be, unless the man really was time traveling. And that wasn’t the plot of the book believe me.

Turns out I was the only beta reader who spotted this, which means it was a good thing I read the thing. It took a bit of changing, but according to JB, it was a fairly easy fix.

The point to this is that it boosted my confidence in myself as an editor, even though I wasn’t actually editing his book, only beta reading it. But when I read a book, whether it be for review purposes or as a beta reader, I bring the same tools to the work bench as I do when editing. Beta reading or reading for a review is just as important to the author as a good edit. In fact, it’s another step in the editing process, as far as I’m concerned, and I hope beta readers who go through books I’ve edited do the same thing I do: go over them as if they were editing. In this print on demand world, this allows a writer and publisher to fix mistakes in each consecutive printing so that it’s continually evolving, at least on that end of things. Obviously, that’s not the place to make major changes to the story, but it does allow you to fix mistakes.

And that got me thinking about movies versus books, and I realized that, for me anyway, watching a movie is a passive thing. I just go along for the ride. Sure, I make minor criticisms, but on the whole, I let the thing take me where it wants me to go. I’ve got a drink of some kind at my elbow, a comfortable chair, and I’m ready to go. It’s a good way to unwind. Unfortunately, it’s also a problem in that too many people are turning themselves over to mostly mindless entertainment. It’s why we’re getting the quality of movies we’re getting.

TV seems to be breaking the mold, at least on the the cable channels. With shows like Justified, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, and a few of the newer ones people are geeking over, cable TV is bringing some quality entertainment to our living rooms, and Hollywood is feeling it when it comes to the blockbusters they try pushing on us every year.

they-said-i-spend-too-much-time-watching-tv-i-said-they-spent-toBut when I’m reading—and especially when I’m editing (the lines of which are becoming more and more blurred these days)—it’s not passive for me. I have to actually do something, think about what I’m taking in, rather than going along for the car chases and explosions. Books don’t have to justify their budgets, so they don’t have to have all the nifty special effects to pull you in. Movies are a visual medium, so they need that kind of thing to keep you going. Lots of people just sitting around talking doesn’t really get it unless they’re wailing on one another.

And let’s face it: books make for far better entertainment. And maybe that’s partly our fault. Yes, I realize they’re two different mediums, but movies could still be better if we the consumers demanded it the way we do with books. Some bad apples will still get through in both arenas, but if we’d apply the critical thinking skills to movies as we do our books, we’d eventually get better movies.

Meanwhile, I feel better about my editing skills. I doubt I’ll ever reach a point where I think my word should be law as some editors seem to do, but at least I can feel confident in giving writers advice that I think is solid, and I hope they will too.



It’s not very often you see authors working as teams. There are a few, such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child—who also write solo—but on the whole, you don’t see it very often. Writing is very much a solo endeavor. Even if you bounce ideas off other people—as I often do—or you refine your story after it’s written by taking in the feedback you get from beta readers, in the end, you’re the one sitting there at the keyboard pounding out the words.

Musicians work in teams all the time. In fact, it’s rare to see a song written by just one person. I just finished reading Dancing with Myself, Billy Idol’s autobiography. It’s a great story about a guy who started out in punk in the seventies and worked his way up to be one of the most iconic stars of the eighties and beyond. One theme I saw throughout the book was that he worked with his guitarists to write his songs. Primarily, this was Steve Stevens, one of the most proficient guitarists out there, though he did work with Mark Younger-Smith for a time in the nineties. But almost any album you pick up will show the songs are a collaborative effort, whether it’s a solo artist or a band.

Kill SwitchBut even though we writers tend to work alone, that doesn’t prevent something special from happening when a few of us get together to hatch shared world projects. That’s just what happened to me this week—last night, in fact—as I got together with Casey Cowan, creative director of Oghma Creative Media, and science fiction authors Gordon Bonnet, whose conspiracy theory-heavy Kill Switch is available as an eBook preorder on Amazon, with print copies available April 14, and JE Newman, author of Changeling, a novel about the world after the superheroes have left (also available on Amazon).

Even though it was an informal visit, Casey hoped putting us together in one place would spark something, and it did. Over dinner, we hashed out a shared world project, the details of which I can’t reveal at this time. I think it’s gonna be an exciting thing to work on, though, and I think readers will like it. Part of the experiment will also involve reader feedback to determine the later course the project will take. The idea is to be on the edge of where writing is going, at least in part, a direction posited by Jason Merkoski, author of Burning the Page. Jason was on the development teams for the first two Kindles, and I highly recommend his book, which predicts some trends in the eBook market, one of which is a form of audience participation in the plot line of novels and stories.

When I went back to school, one of the classes I had to take was a business communication course. One of the things taught in that course is brainstorming and how companies can use it to initiate new projects. I thought it was a neat concept, but never expected to take much part in such things myself.

And yet, that’s exactly what we did at that meeting. We may not have followed the “letter of the law” by all of us writing down every single idea that came to mind, but we didChangelingFrontCover-200 end up with a consensus, nevertheless. We did it through talking, first about separate ideas we’d all come up with that might lend themselves to a shared world, then by hatching a concept completely independent of our solo projects.

Then we started paring them down, bouncing ideas of one another, evolving things suggested, dropping some things and completely changing others so they didn’t even resemble the initial suggestions, until we had something we were all excited about: a project that allows each of us to explore the world in our own unique ways while contributing to the whole, with the finale to be determined by reader consensus. And, in the end, the hope is that we attract readers to our solo projects while at the same time finding new writers to possibly extend the concept in a unique way by adding that twist at the end you expect from good science fiction.

I’ll keep you posted on this project, which should debut sometime next year, hopefully coinciding with our science fiction/fantasy ezine we intend to launch sometime in early 2016. So stay tuned to this blog for further developments, and I’ll pass them to you as I get them. If you’re a science fiction/fantasy fan, I think you’ll like what we’ve come up with.


Here We Go

Well, it’s finally happening: My book Spree comes out—if all goes well—the middle of next month.

It’s hard to describe what I’m going through. It’s exciting and hectic and I find myself loving every minute of it. Tacky as it sounds, I’ve had a couple nights where I had trouble getting to sleep. The first one was the night I found out when it was being published. I signed my contract back in January, and I knew it would be a while before publication happened. But, of course, this being my first, I spent an anxious year waiting for Duke Pennell, my editor, to give me the good news. He kept me updated as often as he could, but his company, Pen-L Publishing, has been growing its stable of authors quite rapidly this past year. It’s a good thing to have happen.

The next time I had trouble sleeping was when Casey Cowan, creative director of Oghma Creative Media (yes, I’m shamelessly plugging these folks, and with good reason) brought me the concept for my cover design, which I’m helpfully—and proudly—including below. This isn’t the final version, of course (you’ll see it though, have no fear), but it gives you a good idea of what this company is capable of.

Spree Concept

Just to extend those plugs a bit further, Pen-L Publishing is an independent publisher made up of writers. I’ve known Duke and his wife Kimberly for some time now, and they formed this publishing venture a year or more ago, and it’s really taken off, from what I can see. He’s published books from members of my writers group as well as authors from across the country, including Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell. Duke appreciates good writing, and it’s nice to have my editor right there as I read new projects in group. Saves a lot of time in the editing process.

As for Oghma, they too are made up of members of my writers group. Velda Brotherton, one of the group leaders, had been using some of our meetings to educate us about how to promote our books in this electronic age, and these three started talking about putting that into practice. They offer a wide range of services, from book covers to professional editing to promotional materials of all kinds.

Again, a company of writers doing services for writers. And they’re not some faraway New York company made up of faceless businessmen whose only concern is the bottom line. Both companies work with new authors, and we can use all the help we can get.

Over the next few weeks, leading up to publication and beyond, I’ll be posting about the process and where I’m at in it. I know it’s something of a mysterious process for unpublished writers. I mean, we read up and educate ourselves about how to get published, but as to what happens after acceptance…well, I’ve not seen many articles about that. So I thought I’d shine some light on my experiences, hoping it’ll help somebody else out there know what to expect.

So stay tuned. The journey’s just getting started….