The Best Characters are Real

The advantage of working in the publishing industry and meeting writers from different genres is that I get to meet the most interesting people in the world. I have the opportunity to learn more about different geographic areas, different time periods—past, present, and future—and meet incredible characters.

As readers, I know that you have favorite characters. Characters that you just can’t get out of your mind, that steal your heart, that you wish were real and you could learn more about after the book is finished. If you are very lucky, the character is part of a series that you can follow along with. If you are incredibly lucky, the character you adore is real.

In January 2018, I became an incredibly lucky reader. I met a character in a book, a young girl named Avery. Avery is very real, and very brave. Let me introduce you to her.

Avery lives in Canada, a country that I dream of visiting someday. A few years ago her mom Jodi looked at Avery’s back, and noticed that it looked, well, different. Jodi noticed that Avery’s spine appeared to curve a bit more than it should, and in a direction that it probably shouldn’t. A visit to the doctor confirmed their fears. Avery was diagnosed with scoliosis.

Personally, I knew very little about scoliosis before reading this book. I thought it was just something that people lived with, or at worst they might have to wear a back brace for a while. But not in Avery’s case. Her prognosis was so severe that surgery was her only option.

Imagine if this happened to you. You’re going along in life, don’t even feel like anything is wrong, and the doctor tells you that you have to have surgery. And not just a little surgery, like having your tonsils out, or your appendix removed. The doctor wants to cut your back open along your entire spine.

Now add the fact that you are a preteen girl. I don’t know about you, but I’d be terrified.

I don’t mean to minimize the effect of this news on her parents, or on her brother. This is their story too. This is the story of an entire family and how they acted and reacted to the diagnosis. As a mother, and a former preteen girl, I followed their story with trepidation and couldn’t help but think of how I’d react to the situation. And let me say, I don’t think I would have been as strong as they were.

One of the things that they did was turn to the internet for information. Not just medical insights—the doctors could provide that—but real-life anecdotes about what to expect during the process. And you know what they found? Almost nothing. So in an effort to help others, as well as deal with their own fears, they started a blog. On the blog, they took turns telling their story, so readers got different perspectives. And from that blog grew this book.

But don’t worry—this book is much more than a collection of blog posts. Yes, there are a sprinkling of blog posts throughout. This is a great way to experience the thoughts and feelings of the family throughout each step of the journey. The book also includes medical information about the journey and pictures. Lots of pictures. Pictures of the family, and before and after pictures of Avery’s spine.

That’s right folks—this determined girl not only bravely faced major surgery, she allowed her family to take pictures of her back, both before and after surgery, and she allowed the pictures to be shared. With total strangers. Around the world. Because she wanted to share her story with others who might be facing the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but there are very few pictures in existence of me at that age. I was awkward, and shy, and did not want pictures taken at all. And certainly not pictures this personal. And if someone did take a picture, I didn’t want anyone to see.

 

The title of the book is Bent But Not Broken, which perfectly sums up Avery Butters. When you get your copy of the book, you’ll notice that she graciously allowed her father Andrew to place his name as the main author, and her mother Jodi to have her name as an author as well. They did contribute significantly, and they wrote many of the words between the covers of the book.

But Avery is the real author of this story. She lived it, she wrote it, she shared it with the world.

So buy her book—she’s a character you’ll never forget. And best of all—she’s real.

 

 

Goodbye to an American Legend

What do you do when you’re a master of words—a publisher of them, even—but none will come to describe the hole that has suddenly appeared in your heart? What do you do when your stock-in-trade can’t come close to conveying the depths of emptiness and despair at the loss of someone you looked up to more than anyone? You keep going. You keep typing. You keep doing the one thing that your mentor admonished you to do above all other things… You keep writing. Because today the world is changed, and that mentor has moved on.

They say that a child doesn’t come into their own unless and until the death of their father. If that’s the case, we as a company were shoved into adulthood this morning when we learned of the passing of our mentor, legendary Western author Dusty Richards.

Keep writing.

What can we say about Dusty? The real question is what can’t you say about him? To say that he was larger than life is the grandest of understatements. He was an irresistible force and an unmovable object all rolled into one, a personality wider than the western skies he wrote about. He was an eternal optimist, a man who woke up each and every day renewed and ready for the next job, the next challenge, the next good fight. He was a father, a patriarch, a mentor of the first order. He toured the country teaching and encouraging new and experienced writers alike, challenging them to follow his lead, tell the next inspiring story, pen the next Great American Novel. He was a fighter, a lover, a joker, an entrepreneur, a canny businessman, a television and radio personality, a famous rodeo announcer, a cowboy, and, perhaps above all else, a master storyteller. Dusty was everything that fit under his trademark ten gallon hat and so much more, and we could keep writing for a year and not do him justice. He was a legend, and one that touched the lives of many, many thousands—possibly millions—of people.

What would he say to us right now? “Dig in those spurs and get on with it.” He’s sitting around that big ol’ campfire in the sky right now, Pat at his side, swapping stories with the likes of Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and his old friends Jory Sherman and Cotton Smith. He was not one for self-pity, grief, or taking his foot off the gas for a second. He wouldn’t want to be grieved, but celebrated. He’d want to keep his memory alive by following his lead. By chasing the sunset with all that we’ve got, pursuing our dream, living with passion, and cherishing the ones we love. And that’s what we’ll do, how we’ll honor our beloved father. Keep writing. Keep fighting. Keep telling stories. Keep doing what Dusty did until we can’t anymore.

Happy trails, Boss. We’ll see you again someday.

Keep writing.

The Woman Behind the Man

I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks, because when my emotions are highest, my voice is the softest. As most of you know, a few weeks ago, right before Christmas, our dear friends Dusty and Pat Richards were in an automobile accident. The accident was dreadful, leaving both of them in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

They were listed as stable but critical, and the prognosis was hopeful but guarded. There have been small gains, and small losses. Our emotions have been riding a constant rollercoaster. We have tried to carry on business as usual at Oghma, but I’m sure you all understand that is almost impossible when family members are going through trials. And Dusty and Pat have been family since the beginning of Oghma.

We worried about their conditions, waited for any and all updates, wondered what the updates meant for their futures, wondered if we were hoping for too much, or too little. We agonized as Pat went through surgery for her back, her arm, her wrist. We waited for news of Dusty regaining consciousness, regaining memories, we wonder if he will ever again be the Dusty we know and love. We agonized over infections, celebrated the removal of ventilators, celebrated as Pat began rehabilitation and we were told she might regain some movement in her legs after all, and not be completely paralyzed.

Last week, unexpectedly, we received the news that Pat had passed from this world. It was her birthday that day. I choose to view this as a positive sign. Everyone who ever met Pat Richards can attest to her strong spiritual nature. What better way to begin a new phase of her spiritual journey than to celebrate her heavenly birthday on the same day as her earthly birthday?

Today we celebrated the life of Pat Richards at her funeral. The family provided photographs of beautiful memories to help us celebrate with them. Wedding pictures, family vacations, community events, glimpses into a life well-lived. Friends and family sent beautiful flower arrangements to remind us that life is indeed beautiful, yet fleeting, and should be celebrated.

Yes, we are devastated to lose her. But our tears are for ourselves, for all of the things we won’t say, the times we won’t see her, the events we won’t enjoy along with her. And we cry for Dusty, who lost his partner of 56 years, her daughters who lost their mother, her grandchildren, her extended family, her friends, and her community. Pat Richards lived a beautiful life, and her spirit was strong, her faith stronger still. There was no need to cry for Pat, because as long as even one person remembers her, she is never truly gone. And knowing she touched so many lives, and so many generations, she will live on for many years here on Earth, as well as in Heaven.

Thoughts and Prayers for Dusty

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And so it always goes. While we were all busy planning vacations, honeymoons, family gatherings, and drumming up Christmas cheer yesterday, two other members of our family had life throw them a curveball.

For those of you who don’t yet know, our friend Dusty Richards and his incredible wife Pat were involved in a serious car accident yesterday afternoon near their home in Springdale, Arkansas. Both are now in critical but stable condition in a local hospital, though Dusty remains in a coma after incurring a head injury during the crash, and Pat is currently undergoing surgery for a spinal injury.

There really are no words to convey the depth of our grief over this turn of events. Dusty is a true living legend. A big man with an even bigger personality and a heart of gold, there isn’t a writer in this region whom the Ranch Boss hasn’t helped or influenced at some point in the last thirty years. Heaven knows he’s had a massive influence on all of us here at Oghma, and there has never been a better mentor or greater friend for any of us. As for Pat, she’s the perfect foil for our favorite cowboy, the epitome of grace under fire, as quiet as he is boisterous, but as strong as they come. They’re a matched pair, and one we’re honored to count among our family.

Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Pat or Dusty, please glance through these photos of him, and join us all here in the Oghma Creative Media family in keeping them and their loved ones in your thoughts and prayers, both today and in the days to come.

NaNoWriMo Lessons

It’s December now, and NaNoWriMo has been over for more than a week. I promised to report back to you on my results, and here I am to keep that promise. Not surprisingly, I crashed and burned on my first attempt at winning NaNoWriMo. The reality is that I pretty well stopped writing after the first 5000 words or so. I’m not going to make any excuses for myself, but I do see reasons why it happened.

First, I am not a professional writer. I haven’t yet developed the discipline needed to complete a project of that magnitude in a short time. I’m sure that you will agree with me, as you have experienced evidence of me trying to “find my groove” here on the blog.

Second, as a reader, I had no real idea of the WORK that is involved in getting the stories and characters from my head to the page. When I’m thinking a scene through in my mind, it seems as if the events and the dialogue go on for hours. On the page, it turns out to be a few paragraphs, may be a couple pages if I’m really lucky. Now what do I do? Go to a new scene? Create more dialogue? More background information? It’s a delicate balance.

Third, I’ve spent my life as a wife and mother. I have not yet learned that it’s okay to create a time and place in the day for me to concentrate on myself. People are constantly talking and writing about “self-care”, and this is just another form of that. Learning that I am important, and that it’s okay to put aside the needs of others in order to accomplish my own goals. I’m honestly not sure that is a lesson I can ever learn.

Fourth, I am a professional procrastinator. I’ve told many people that my house was never cleaner than when I was going to college. Every time I had a paper or project due, I suddenly discovered the dishes or laundry needed washed, or a closet needed cleaned. Or something similar would occur at the most (in)convenient time.

Having said all that, I have a question for you—have you ever seen anything crash and burn? Does the fire instantly die out? NO. What happens is that the fire continues to burn, consuming everything, burning brighter when it finds more fuel. And that is what has happened to me. No, I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year. I didn’t really expect to. But I did light a fire, and am now consumed with the dream if being a professional writer.

So come along with me, follow the adventure, join me if you will—the dream is burning bright.

~ Cyndy

Back in the Saddlebag Again

After a much needed, but much lamented, break from writing for this blog, I’m back on track
again folks. I know the past couple of weeks have been busy for all of us, and the next month
won’t be much better. The holiday season is always a busy time for everyone, and it’s not any
different at Oghma Creative Media.

In addition to the novels we publish and the events for writers that we are involved in, we have
an incredible western-theme magazine that we publish. Saddlebag Dispatches is a full-color,
glossy publication that comes out twice a year right now, perhaps more often in future, that
features fiction, non-fiction, interviews with western writers, articles, and advertising featuring
other western-themed writing.

   

 

And western-themed isn’t limited to cowboys. We are also serializing Bender, the Graphic
Novel, the true account of America’s first family of serial killers. The Bender family lived in
Kansas, and therefore fits the western criteria. Brothers David and Michael Frizell do an
incredible job of bringing the story to life in all its horror. If you’ve never heard about the
Bender family, I encourage you to check out either the serialization in our magazine, or better
yet, get the full-length graphic novels telling the story. The first two volumes are currently for
sale, and the third in on its way. Keep your eyes open for public appearances around the Midwest
as well. The Frizell brothers love meeting their fans and talking about their work.

Bender: Volume 1     

 

When we say “western-themed”, we mean anything that happens west of the Mississippi River,
and embodies the spirit of the Old West, as most American imagine it. This of course includes
the cowboys, but also the pioneers, the women, the settlers from all nations who moved
westward to create a life for themselves and future generations. And it includes modern stories of
rodeos, and ranchers, and anyone else who continues to work hard, play hard, and keep the spirit
alive for all of us.

We’ve talked to romance novelist Linda Broday about the power of storytelling, interviewed
Craig Johnson, the man behind the incredibly popular Longmire books and television series,
included articles about Native Americans, and introduced our readers to museums and
collections that are relevant to all of our topics.

 

Our next issue will be out soon, but in the meantime pardner, mosey on over to pick up an issue
or two. Then grab a chair or a log, get a little closer to the campfire, and let yourself be
transported to the spirit of the West.

SaddlebagDispatches.com

~ Cyndy