Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Special: The Beard of His Chin

The mud coach lurched, its iron-rimmed wheels slipping into a rut in the hard-frozen trail, and throwing Devereaux roughly against the wall of the coach. “Dammit, Adan!” he complained, hauling himself upright on the battered, barely-padded seat and shoving his head out the window.

Adan, perched atop the coach, gave him a smug glance. “You keep sticking your head out here, you’re gonna be all wet by the time we get to the Green. Get back in there.” The cigarillo smouldering on Adan’s lip glowed brightly through the swirling snow and the blue twilight. Sharp, sweet smoke wafted across Dev's nostrils, sweet in the cold, almost painfully crisp air. Adan went on, “Don’t want to mess your beard up, do ya?”

“To hell with my beard.” Dev scowled up at him. “I feel like damn baggage riding in here.”

Adan’s lightly whiskered face broke into a sympathetic smile, and his tone softened. “I know you do, Frank.” He gestured with his head and clicked his tongue, urging the pair of horses to quicken their pace. “We’re almost there. You can ride up top on the way back and get yourself as mussed up as you want. Just stay nice until we’re done.” Snow clung to Adan’s broad shoulders, clotted in the brim of his hat and fell in fluffy clumps into the thick, whiskey-colored tangles of his shaggy hair. Dev’s heart squeezed with a surge of affection despite his discomfiture.

He’s right. He’s going to need to dry off before we start back. Dev grunted and ducked his head back inside the coach’s window, leaving the leather curtain open. He felt awkward and nervous, and the cold air blowing across his face was cleansing. He drew in a deep breath of it, feeling it calm him. Adan’s deep, gentle voice went on, soothing him and  giving him something to focus on other than his own self-consciousness.

“It was sure nice of Monahan and Bari to bring the coach out, eh?” Adan said lightly. “And to stay on for us till we get back to our post.”

“It was.” Dev nodded. “It sure was nice of you and them to volunteer me for this horseshit, too. I notice you didn’t offer to do it yourself.”

“Aw, c’mon, Frank.” Dev could hear Adan grinning around his words. “You know there isn’t anyone within a hundred miles better for this job than you.”

Dev settled back in the seat. “I’m fatter and hairier than anyone else, you mean.” His lip tugged up with a self-satisfied smirk as he heard Adan guffaw rudely.

“That’s not what I meant, Frank.” Traces of mirth were still clinging to Adan’s words. “Look, we’re almost there. Try not to do a lot of cussin’, will you?” The coach slowed to a stop as Adan drove the coach behind Sheriff Holt’s jailhouse. “And could you at least smile?”

Dev hauled himself out of the coach, stepping down into the soft blanket of fresh snow and reaching up to take the burlap sack Adan was handing down to him. He grimaced, feeling his beard pull and itch, before giving Adan a wide grin. “This white shoe polish you put in my beard is gonna snatch my face bald before we’re done.”

Adan swung down, shouldering a second sack. His blue eyes, full of mischief and excitement, shone in the light from the rising moon. He reached into the coach, snatched out the red and white stocking cap Mrs. Lynch had made, and pulled it down over Dev’s heavily shoe-polished and powdered hair. “You look great, Frank,” he laughed, giving Dev’s beefy shoulder a squeeze. “This is gonna be fun.”

“I know it is.” Dev adjusted the weight of the sack on his shoulder, putting a finger to the side of his nose and winking conspiratorially.

“Oh, that’s perfect. Let’s head over to the schoolhouse.”

“Alright...but just wait a moment.” Dev stood still, listening to the silence of falling snow and watching the rising moon glinting like silver and magic on the pristine white around them. The ridiculous red cloak Mrs. Lynch had made for him was warm, and the weight of candy and fruit and toys in the sack felt even warmer. And Adan, brawny, rugged, cigarello-puffing Adan, stood with cheeks reddened with cold and his breath puffing in curling silver mist. Dev wanted to remember this moment, wanted to remember the snow and the yellow lights in the windows of the schoolhouse down the street and the boyish fun twinking in Adan’s blue eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Adan's voice was a quiet rumble.

“Nothing.” Dev said, and meant it. He jerked his head towards the schoolhouse. “Let’s go.” His hand shot out and gave Adan’s bicep a gentle shove before headed up the street. “Ho, ho, ho.”

There’s our Saint Nicholas.”

“Some kid pisses on my lap...” Dev said, trying to sound stern and failing. “...we’re trading pants.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes:The Artwork of The Five Dollar Mail

 When I get artwork for FDM, most of the time, our artists are not readers and are not familiar with the characters. So I have to send them "character packets" that contain clothing notes, relevant passages from the book, a written description of the character, and a page of headshots from Google Images of people that have a general look of someone I might cast if, say, this were a tv show or movie. So I've included a few examples of the sorts of stuff I send to artists.

I do have sheets for each character, but I don't want to swamp this post with so many pictures it makes it hard to load. So I just snatched some out what was on this particular computer and went with it.

I specifically tell the artists not to make them look like any recognizable actor or model. The photos are to give a general idea of the type of look for each character.

 I don't imagine I have to tell you who these redheaded stunners are modeling for.

The problem with Lily is that in general, women are not really allowed to be plain-featured on TV. We know a girl on TV or in a move is plain featured because they take some beautiful girl and throw a pair of glasses on her, something that annoys the crap out of me.

Sometimes we have to go with what we can scrape together that might work well enough. It is what it is, I guess.

Here's a sheet of women's work clothing that we used for Lily.  I love that we have Ma Ingalls here on this sheet. I suspect that woman in the middle pic is boiling cane sugar down.     

Not really the sort of pics I wanted to use for Luis. Luis is a very specific sort of look and I really was coming up empty handed on it. Underweight Hispanic kid in his early to mid teens. Kind of hard to do a Google search on something like that.

Someone sent me one of these kids as a suggestion and I just went with it.   

I'm a whole lot happier with these guys. Fortunately, it's not hard to find pictures of pretty young men with blond hair. I'd be fine with any of these guys playing Jesse.

I had a similar problem with Wash as I did with Lily. All the guys I could find that might make an okay Wash were actually far too good looking. He's not unattractive, but it's certainly not the first thing someone would notice about him. His is the type of attraction that has to grow on a person a bit.

Anyways, I was looking for someone with a strong, open face, tousled hair, and a bit of a weathered look. Again, it is what it is. I thought all the artists that took a crack at him did a great job, despite my non-committal descriptions of him.

I think part of my problem is that I see these people so clearly in my head they are as familiar to me as my own face. All the artwork that's come back is different from that and from each other, and I love that. I love seeing different interpretations. But when I'm looking at actors or models to express my own interpretation, I have a hard time. 

Some of these have actually been updated and are no longer in use. Without looking into the laptop, I don't know off the top of my head. But all of these have been in use at one point or another. 

I do have more of these things. If you enjoyed this, let me know and I round up the others and throw them out there for you.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pony Express Mythbusters

Everyone’s  heard of the Pony Express, but judging from what I’ve heard from talking to people (and seen in movies and whatnot), few people really know much about it. So, in no particular order, I will present you a snopes-style rundown on common misconceptions I have heard over the years.

MYTH: Let's start with this poster right here:

BUSTED:It’s true that they hired a lot of lightweight guys to ride mail. It’s not true that they were all children, or that they were all orphans. That poster is believed to have been made up after the fact, as part of the huge, romanticized pseudo-history that has grown up around the Pony.

There were grown men riding for the Express, and men and boys with families. I have no doubt some of them were small, painfully young orphans. But not because that’s all that were hired. Luis is my nod to that part of the mythos. Tommy, Jesse, and Storm are my interpretation of what might be closer to reality.

MYTH: The Pony Express delivered mail all over the US.

BUSTED: Nope. It ran from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, in a more or less straight line.  If that doesn’t sound like a big area, remember that’s 2000 miles and done entirely on horseback through some of the roughest terrain in the country.

Also remember that when you are watching some old movie that has an express rider running through, say, Texas. Which I have unfortunately seen.

MYTH: It ran all during the days of the Wild West.

BUSTED: It ran for 18 months, and not even for all of that due to the Indian Wars out around the western reach of the trail. This blog has been running far, far longer than the actual service that it’s about. By the same token, there was a television series that ran during the late eighties/early nineties by the name of “The Young Riders” that was about the Pony Express and it ran longer than the actual Pony Express ran.

It’s a good series, but only season one is readily available, Still, you will like it if you like FDM. 

THIS JUST IN, Y'ALL: Evidently seasons two and three are now available! Which rocks! I'm glad I wrote this article, or I'd have never know about that!

MYTH: Everyone sent mail via Pony Express.

BUSTED: Not unless Aunt Ruby’s pecan pie recipe REALLY had to get across the country in a couple weeks time. Because it really did cost five dollars to mail a half ounce letter. Which, by the standards of 1860, really was “obscenely expensive.” Heck, five bucks is steep to mail a letter now.  A dollar in 1860 would be the equivalent of a little less than thirty bucks, in terms of what it would buy. So we’re looking at about 150 bucks to mail a thin little piece of ultra thin paper.

It was high end specialty mail, mail that absolutely, positively had to be there by ten days. The saddle had four smallish pouches on it, called mochilla,8and those were locked. There was no big mail bag involved. At least, not on the Express, there wasn’t. The great big mail bag was on the stagecoach. So the vast bulk of all mail wasn’t delivered by the Pony. It was delivered by the likes of Saint and Wash.

MYTH: Riders took a single horse and didn’t stop riding at a breakneck speed until they got where they were going.

BUSTED: They’d kill an awful lot of rather expensive horses like that. It used to amuse me that on Young Riders, one of the riders had a prize horse named Katy, and he was always seen riding her while he was making a run. That would not have happened. The horses were actually switched out every ten or fifteen miles or so for a fresh, rested one, at relay stations set up all along the route. That’s why there is no crew at Church Buttes and Dev works alone. He’s simply tending the horses at a relay station, not manning a full home station like the one at Green River. The spotted Indian pony out in front of the jailhouse in Green River, in the first chapter in which Bender appears, was not Storm’s horse Yellow Sky. Storm does not take Yellow Sky on runs, because he’s not a company horse and would get swapped for a fresh ride ten miles out.

And as for the “breakneck speed” idea...well  riders couldn’t afford to lollygag around much...but they’d stay on schedule if they kept more or less to a brisk pace. They didn’t have to break the sound barrier to stay on schedule. I have read accounts of riders falling into rivers and having to chase down horses and having unexpected calamity befall them on the trail, and still manage to stay on schedule. I have also read accounts, though, that the idea was to never let the mochilla stop moving. So yes, they did a considerable amount of rushing, but not the racehorse level of constant, unrelieved running the mythos would have you believe. 

MYTH: Riders were always getting shot full of arrows and killed on their rides.

BUSTED: That's completely unsubstantiated. What history does provide evidence for is the idea that it really was more dangerous in the stations than it was on the trail. 

MYTH: The horses that pull the coaches....

BUSTED: Yeah, actually if FDM were obsessively factual, those would be oxen. As a writer, I didn't want to use oxen, I wanted to use horses. I've tried to make FDM historically accurate, but that's my one big inaccurate indulgence. Sorry. You got me. 

Honestly, I don't have to make much up to give you a good Pony Express story. It's a fascinating history, and there's many good books our there you should check out if you're interested at all. A couple of my favorites are : 

Orphans Preferred by Christopher Corbett

The Saga of the Pony Express by Joseph j. Di Certo

Saddles and Spurs by Raymond W. and Mary Lund Settle

The Pony Express A Photographic History by Bill and Jan Moeller