Writing on the range


A few years ago I found myself in search of a new hobby.

A few years ago I found myself in search of a new hobby. My practice had grown to a point where I worked 30 hours a day, and with two little children, I had little downtime to blow off steam. Money was tight, horseback riding was out of the question since my faithful horse had died, and a recent attempt at boating had turned into a fiasco. (It's true what they say about boats being holes in the water to throw money into.)

In search of solitude and mental relaxation, I escaped nightly to my study after my wife and kids were asleep. They're light sleepers and I didn't have headphones, so I couldn't watch television. Instead, I turned to my roll-top desk and decided to try writing as a less noisy form of entertainment. At first I considered writing about animals or veterinary medicine, but there were two problems with that: First, James Herriot had already written the definitive veterinary book, and I didn't want to face that comparison. Second, I was trying to relax and escape from the stress of the day and writing about veterinary medicine would be like doing another shift at work.

I considered the various genres and quickly ruled out romance novels (too girlie), how-to books (too dull), biographies (even duller), and science fiction (too technological). That left Western adventure. Like most of us who grew up in the 1950s and '60s, my life was filled with Western lore. My father was an ex-cavalryman from before World War II, back when they still rode, and he put me on a horse as soon as I was out of diapers. He served as an armaments officer in the Air Force for a while, and it wasn't long before I collected a wallful of antique firearms and cutlery. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching Westerns on television with my dad. At one point in the late 1950s, about 300 of them aired on the small screen. Urban dweller or not, Western adventure was ingrained into my psyche.

Sadly over the last several years I had noticed there were few good role models in the media. At the time, Hollywood was promoting the antihero, and the latest generation of kids had never heard of the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, or Bronco Lane. So in 1993, I decided to buck the trend and write a throwback novel similar to the Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, and Max Brand novels of the 1930s and '40s. Every night from 11 p.m. until about two in the morning, I escaped to the range. If I had a good day at work, the hero rode the range and enjoyed the great outdoors, while a bad day would result in a barroom brawl or a stampede.

After six months of hard writing, I was finished. Then I began to wonder if what I had written was any good. Several clients and colleagues read it and liked it, so on a dare, I sent it to a publisher. Within a couple of months, to my surprise, a New York editor called and offered to publish my novel and sounded surprised that it was my first attempt. However, three months later she called to explain that her publishing house was being purchased by a European firm and wasn't going to publish fiction anymore.

My novel ended up in my desk drawer for many years until October 2005 when I chanced upon a new edition of an old Western novel. The book cover explained that Five Star Publishing was a new company dedicated to Western literature. So I dug my manuscript out of the desk and sent it to them, and three weeks later Trail Hand: A Western Story was accepted. It was published in hardcover last December.

Becoming a published novelist hasn't changed my life much; I'm still plugging away at my day job at the Veterinary Trauma Center in Groveland, Fla. But once in a while, I get to ride my new horse, Cutter, and occasionally get some shooting in. I still have late nights—my second novel, Vengeance Is Mine, is currently under consideration, and I'm working on my third.

For more information about Trail Hand, go to www.amazon.com.

R.W. Stone, DVM, is chief of staff of the Veterinary Trauma Center in Groveland, Fla.

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