Cowgirl Up! A Colorful Legend

Cowgirl Up .5x1

Reviewed by Ray Simmons for Readers’ Favorite

Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi M. Thomas captures a small piece of American history that might otherwise be forgotten. I’m talking about the contribution of women to the world of rodeo. Cowgirl Up! specifically concentrates on the contribution of women from Montana during the golden age of rodeo in America. Montana became one of the states holding commercial rodeos in 1896, but rodeo derived from the working world of ranching. Long before the commercial rodeos sprang into being, there were informal local contests to see who was best at roping, riding, and bronco busting. Conditions were terrible sometimes and the pay was not good by today’s standards, but that didn’t stop women from wanting to compete.
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Cowgirl Up! takes this early history and weaves it into colorful legend. There are many famous names from American history here. Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Dale Evans, and Annie Oakley are the ones I knew. If you are a real rodeo fan, you will probably recognize names like Lucille Mulhall, Prairie Rose Henderson, and Fanny Sperry. The characters, both men and women, are colorful. The history is rich, and the anecdotes, facts, and biography are very well written. It is obvious that Heidi M. Thomas loves her subject and, if you are a fan of the American West and American history, you do not want to miss Cowgirl Up! It should be on the bookshelf in every school library across America, but especially in states where rodeo played an important part in their history. These women and this sport should not be forgotten.


Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Can an Angel Survive Hell on Wheels?

by Alethea Williams

WallsfortheWindcover4My dad’s uncle wrote a little family history booklet called Our Home on the Prairie. His parents, who lived near Liberty, married in 1887 and moved to western Kansas in 1906. At that time they had adopted a boy named Johnie, who was about three years old when they went to live in their soddy on the Kansas prairie. There was no explanation of where they got this boy.

When I first started writing Walls for the Wind, there wasn’t much on the Internet or elsewhere about orphan trains. In the years between the writing of the book and its sale, there has been an explosion of interest in these children, who were scooped off the streets and shipped out in the hundreds of thousands between 1854 and 1929. There are now many pages of books on orphan trains on Amazon, a PBS documentary available online, and a museum and research center devoted to them at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas. The first to organize orphan trains to alleviate the problem of untended immigrant children roaming the streets of big Eastern cities was the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, Charles Loring Brace. But soon many religious organizations were following his example. I would be willing to bet that poor Johnie, who died of a rattlesnake bite at twelve years old, was an orphan placed by the nuns of a New York religious society with a devout German Catholic immigrant family residing on the Kansas plains.

I write about Wyoming, so that’s where my fictional orphan train headed. The building of the transcontinental railroad has always fascinated me, as has the ephemeral nature of the Hell on Wheels town that followed the building of the road. My fictional orphans make it all the way to Cheyenne, Dakota Territory, although few actual orphan train children ended up in Wyoming.

Here is a short synopsis of Walls for the Wind:

Can an angel survive Hell on Wheels? When Kit Calhoun leaves New York City with a train car full of foundlings from the Immigrant Children’s Home, she has no clue she might end up as adoptive mother to four of them in rip-roaring Cheyenne, Wyoming. Kit has spent her life in the Children’s Home and now she rides the Orphan Trains, distributing homeless children to the young nation’s farmers as fast as the rails are laid.

The first time handsome Patrick Kelley spies Kit in Julesburg, Colorado Territory, he wants her. But circumstances, and a spectral-looking demented gambler as well as Kit’s certainty no one in his right mind would want her cobbled-together family, conspire to keep them apart. As Patrick and Kit and her brood ride Hell on Wheels into their destiny, they’re all forced to leave behind everything they knew and forge new lives in the raw American West.

Buy links:

Whiskey Creek Press

Author bio:author photo

Western history has been the great interest of my adult life. I’ve lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Oregon. Although an amateur historian, I am happiest researching different times and places in the historical West. And while staying true to history, I try not to let the facts overwhelm my stories. Story always comes first in my novels, and plot arises from the relationships between my characters. I’m always open to reader response to my writing.





Twitter: @ActuallyAlethea



Amazon author page:

The Romance Reviews author page:

Montana Promises: More Western Than Romance

Montana Promises (1)Montana Promises is the first in the “Montana Series” by Velda Brotherton and was recently republished. Tressie Majors is left alone in a soddie on the vast great plains after the death of her mother in childbirth. She has no idea where her father might be. Struck by gold fever he abandoned his family and set out for the gold fields of Montana Territory. She wants only to find him and let him know how much she hates him for leaving her and her mother alone and vulnerable. As she buries her mother and the child, she sees a horse and rider approaching in the distance. Perhaps this is her way out.

by Velda Brotherton

This book originally was my very first publication. Intended to be a western, I was told by a western editor that it needed to be turned into a romance because of the female protagonist. So that’s what I did, and it came out from Topaz in 1994. The publication happened so quickly I walked around in a daze for months. In fact, it was chosen at the last minute when another author failed to meet her deadline and a space opened up. The manuscript was lying on my editors desk, she’d read it once as a romance. The original cover was computer generated. It featured Steve Sandalis, the Topaz Man. I would later meet him at a Romantic Times Conference. He was a bit shy and very charming. Attending that first conference was a culture shock, but I recovered nicely.

My editor told me later that I’d kept my hero and heroine apart for too much of the book, and I wasn’t to do it again. We laughed about that later, but I was more careful with the books that followed. I was accustomed to writing westerns, and turning one into a romance challenged me. I still feel my books are more western than romances.

Two more Montana books follow this one. The next, Montana Dreams, features Ben Poole, who visited with Rose in chapter fifteen of this book. His adventures are tied up with the railroads that are beginning to criss-cross the west.

We are told, as authors, to write what we know. I disagree with that. I say, write about what we want to know. And that’s what I did when I wrote this trilogy that takes place in the Big Sky country of Montana. All my life I’d wanted to go to Montana. My Dad would go hunting in Wyoming and Montana once every year and I’d beg him to let me go along. But in those days, girls didn’t do such manly things.

Once I began this series, I visited Montana every day in my research, and later the actual writing. I dug deeply into Montana’s culture, the flora and fauna of the countryside, and traveled from one small town to another.
new Velda One day after a couple of the books were published, I was pleased to receive a phone call from a lady in California who said she was raised in Montana and when she read my books she felt as if she’d gone home. I couldn’t have received better praise.

Several years later, I was able to visit Montana and Wyoming, and when we went to the preserved ghost town of Virginia City, felt as if I were going home myself. I knew this place, where Reed and Tressie spent so much time.

To check out my books, go to Amazon or my website.

Velda Brotherton has a long career in historical writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of history and the west is responsible for the publication of 15 books and novels since 1994. But she’s not about ready to stop there. When the mid-list crisis hit big city publishers, she turned first to writing regional nonfiction, then began to look at the growing popularity of E Books as a source for the books that continued to flow from her busy mind. Those voices simply won’t shut up, and so she finds them a hSad Songs cover 4ome.

A need to continue to write and submit her work, soon led to publishers in the growing field of E books. Within a matter of months, she placed a western historical romance, Stone Heart’s Woman, with The Wild Rose Press, an award winning E Book publisher; then a mainstream paranormal, Wolf Song, was accepted by SynergE Books. A much grittier book set in the Ozarks, A Savage Grace, about a demon gone rogue and a woman who tames him, is under consideration by another E Book publisher. Recently Wilda’s Outlaw: The Victorians was published in both E book and print by The Wild Rose Press. She is now producing audio books through ACX from her Kindle published books. Montana Promises came out in audio May 8, 2013, read by Jeff Justus. She also uploaded a novella, The Legend of the Rose to Kindle that same month.

Velda signed two more contracts in May, 2013, one with Wild Rose Press for Once There Were Sad Songs, a women’s fiction, another with Oak Tree Press for a mystery, The Purloined Skull.

An Interview with the Women of Pendleton Petticoats

Our interview today is with three characters from Shanna Hatfield’s new historical series. Set in the western town of Pendleton, Oregon, the Pendleton Petticoats series highlights brave, determined women. During the early 1900s, Pendleton was a modern, progressive town, despite its Wild West reputation. In addition to 18 bordellos and 32 saloons, Pendleton offered residents such cultured experiences as an opera house, a French restaurant, and a tearoom. It was the second city in Oregon to have paved streets and boasted a telephone office as well as wonders like indoor plumbing to those who could afford the services.  The women in Pendleton Petticoats are from diverse backgrounds but find unity in following their hearts and chasing their dreams.

Pendleton PetticoatsAundy, Caterina and Ilsa join us today to talk about life in Pendleton.

Welcome to you three lovely ladies. Tell us a little about how you each came to be in Pendleton.

Aundy: I came to Pendleton as a mail-order bride for a kind-hearted farmer named Erik Erikson. We wed as soon as I stepped off the train, but had a wagon wreck on the way home. Erik died three days later, leaving me, a city girl, his farm and everything he owned.

Caterina: Growing up in New York, I never expected to live so far out west. When a mafia boss decided I would marry him, my family helped me escape and I got off the train here. Aundy was the second person I met and we’ve been friends ever since.

Ilsa: (Giggles) You forgot to mention the first person you met was your very good-looking deputy sheriff husband, Kade. You literally ran into him when you turned a corner and smacked into his chest.

Caterina: (Glaring at Ilsa) So I did. Thank you for sharing that with everyone. Let’s talk about why you came to town.

Ilsa: Because Aundy, she’s my sister, and Garrett, that’s Aundy’s husband, rescued me from our horrid aunt in Chicago who was holding me prisoner and brought me here.

What does a typical day entail for each of you?

Aundy: Garrett and I live on the place I inherited from Erik. Our day starts early in the morning with chores. I still don’t like gathering the eggs because our rooster is a nasty little fellow, but I enjoy everything else on the farm. My favorite thing is riding my horse Bell with Garrett, or sitting on the hill above the pasture watching our sheep. Thanks to our Chinese cook, I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the house.

Caterina: Kade and I live just outside of town with his behemoth dog, Ike. We ride into town together in the morning. He goes to work at the sheriff’s office and I go to my restaurant where I create Italian food that reminds me of my family.

Aundy: She’s an amazing cook. You really should drop by sometime for dinner. Her ravioli is divine.

Ilsa: And you have to try one of pastries. In fact, if I don’t stop eating there so often, I’m going to have to let the seams out of my dresses.

Caterina: You could always learn how to cook…

Ilsa: (Shakes her head) I’d rather sew.

Aundy: (Smiles sweetly and bats her eyelashes at Ilsa) We all know she eats at the restaurant so she can ogle Caterina’s handsome brother.

Ilsa: I don’t ogle Tony! (Huffs indignantly) Returning to the question, I have a dress shop just down the street from Caterina’s restaurant. I design and create clothing, primarily for women. I used to sew for the most elite in Chicago’s social circles, but I’m excited to bring high fashion to the women of Pendleton and Umatilla County.

What’s one thing people might not know about your town?

Caterina: It’s growing faster than we can imagine. In the two years I’ve been here, there has been a boom in new businesses and enterprises, like Ilsa’s boutique and my restaurant.

Aundy: There’s also a boom in less savory businesses like those in The Underground.

What’s the Underground?

Caterina and Ilsa both look at Aundy.

Aundy: There are tunnels running beneath a section of town that connects several businesses and provides a place for unsavory characters to quench their thirsts, play cards, and engage the services of… um… (Aundy leans close and whispers) women of ill repute.

Ilsa: And you should never, ever stand on top of the grates set in the boardwalk because some of the men in the tunnels will try to peek up a lady’s skirt.

That’s certainly scandalous. Have any of you ever been in the Underground?

 Caterina: Gracious, no!

Ilsa: I should say not! It’s no fit place for a lady.

Aundy: Oh, goodness, look at the time. We really should be going. Thank you so much for inviting us here today. We’re so grateful for this wonderful opportunity to connect with your readers.

 Thank you for joining us. Any parting words for our readers?

Ilsa: If you enjoy historical fiction, clean romances, or a good western, I hope you’ll consider reading our stories in Aundy, Caterina and Ilsa.


 Shanna Hatfield is a hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. In addition to blogging, Shanna Hatfield 2eating too much chocolate, and being smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller, she is a best-selling author of clean romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”

Find Shanna’s books at: Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords 

Follow Shanna online: ShannaHatfield | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads | You Tube | Twitter

Email Shanna at

Hacker’s Raid a Page-Turner

Hackers RaidHacker’s Raid by fellow author and friend Jared McVay is an action-packed, energetic novel. Jared is a master storyteller and his talent comes alive on the pages of his second novel. I enjoyed the adventures of Justin Hacker in his quest to break his brother, then his father and uncle out of a notorious Mexican prison. Jared often offers buyers a packet of tissues when they buy one of his books, and you may just need one for this book too.

Jared, tell us how you came to write a western?

I had just finished my novel, The Legend of Joe, Willy and Red and was basking in the great reviews it was receiving, when my wife asked me, “So, what are you going to write next?”

I told her I hadn’t thought about it, and she replied, “Why don’t you write a western? You’ve read a ton of them and you’ve traveled throughout the south west, plus, as a young man you worked on a ranch and did some rodeo riding, didn’t you? And haven’t you said at least a dozen times, one of these days I’m going to write a western.”

She was right on all accounts, so the next day I sat down and began to write. After the first chapter, I left it for a few days, then came back and deleted the opening, which was totally wrong, and started over. Not sure why it was wrong, just knew that it was.

This time I turned on a switch in my head and watched a movie and wrote down what I saw. It was just that easy. The story, the characters the location was all, right there in the movie inside my head.

Of course the editing was the hard part – cleaning up all my grammar errors.

Synopsis: After a seven year exile, Justin Hacker returns to his hometown of Nogales, Arizona to try to break his younger brother out of a Mexican prison where he awaits the hangman’s noose for crimes he didn’t commit. But first, Justin must overcome certain obstacles, such as a town bully, a Mexican bandito and his gang, an Indian attack, a father who has vowed to shoot him on site should he ever return, and match wits with a maniacal prison warden who hates gringos. And if that isn’t enough, after several twists of fate, Justin leads the whole town back across the border in an attempt to rescue both his father and uncle from the dreaded Mexican prison where they now await the hangman’s noose.


“A wonderful read. Jared’s engaging characters come to life in this superb western as Hacker’s Raid thunders through an ever increasing narrative of nonstop action and adventure… Hacker’s Raid proves Jared’s command of storytelling remains unrivaled.”
Howard Loring, Author of “Beyond the Elastic Limit” & “Piercing the Elastic Limit”

Hacker’s Raid is the latest book by “the master story teller” Jared McVay. I was riveted from the first page. The pace of the story, the characters, all played their part in an adventure that I just didn’t want to put down and I did not want to end. I am looking forward to the next installment of Jared’s foray in the western genre.”
Rob Krabbe, Author

I’m not usually a fan of westerns, but I found, “Hacker’s Raid” interesting and engaging. The characters are very personable, whether hero or villain – and real! They led me through a story laced with smiles, tears and even a gasp or two, always leaving me wanting more. A very worth while read.
Ann Schwarz – ProofreaderHeadshot003

Jared McVay is a veteran Hollywood movie and television actor, who now lives in Bellingham, WA. He has had a long-time love affair with the old west and enjoyed roles as an actor in western films on the screen and stage. He has published several western short stories, a children’s book Bears, Bicycles and Broomsticks, and a historical novel, The Legend of Joe, Willy and Red.

Follow him on his website and his blog, Jared McVay’s Scribblings.

Published in: on July 19, 2013 at 6:40 am  Comments (2)  
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The Whip, the Extraordinary Story of Charley Parkhurst

The Whip coverI recently read a fascinating novel, The Whip, by Karen Kondazian. The book is inspired by the true story of Charley Parkhurst (1812-1879) a renowned stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. It was not discovered until Charley’s death that “he” in fact was a woman.

As a young woman in Rhode Island, Charlotte Parkhurst fell in love with a runaway slave and had his child. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the killer.

Charley had an extraordinary life living as a man. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first woman to vote in America (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California.

The Whip is Karen Kondazian’s debut novel. She is an award winning theatre actress and has starred in over fifty televKarenision shows and films, including the role of Kate Holliday in the TV movie, The Shootout at the OK Corral. Kondazian is also author of The Actor’s Encyclopedia of Casting Directors.

Karen Kondazian discusses “The Whip” Novel with Peter Robinson

Video filmed at San Francisco’s Wells Fargo Museum in an original Concord Stagecoach– with NPR Peter Robinson interviewing Karen Kondazian on her novel, The Whip, based on the true story of Charlotte ‘Charley’ Parkhurst (1812-1879) (18) minutes)

Watch The Whip Audio Book Trailer

Video filmed in Los Angeles at Deyan Audio Services -producer of Audio Book- on the making of The Whip by Karen Kondazian– with narrator Robin Weigert  (Emmy nominee and star of HBO’s Deadwood–  played Calamity Jane)  and Karen Kondazian, author.

Follow the Dream Wins WILLA Award

I am excited and honored to announce that my second novel, Follow the Dream, sequel to EPIC-award winning Cowgirl Dreams, has won the national WILLA award.

Both novels are based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in Montana rodeos during the 1920s and ’30s.

Named for Pulitzer prize-winning Willa Cather, one of our country’s foremost authors, the WILLA is awarded by the Women Writing the West organization. It is given annually for outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west. Awards are chosen by a distinguished panel of librarians and presented at the annual WWW Conference.

This year’s conference will be held Oct. 14-16 at the Embassy Suites in Lynnwood, WA. Keynote speakers are Nancy Pearl and Ellen Waterston. The conference features workshops on writing, publishing, and marketing, panel discussions, a bookstore, and agent/publisher appointments. All writers are welcome. For information and to register, go to the WWW website.

Follow the Dream synopsis:

Nettie Moser’s dreams are coming true. She’s married to her cowboy, Jake, they have plans for a busy rodeo season, and she has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rodeo in London with the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe.

But life during the Great Depression brings unrelenting hardships and unexpected family responsibilities. Nettie must overcome challenges to her lifelong rodeo dreams, cope with personal tragedy, survive drought, and help Jake keep their horse herd from disaster.

Will these challenges break this strong woman?

To read an excerpt from Follow the Dream or Cowgirl Dreams, go to my website at Heidi M. Thomas.

Why Write Westerns?

I didn’t set out to write westerns. I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story,. Since she was a bonafide rodeo cowgirl, my books are classified as “western,” although not in the traditional 1800s “old west” sense. I like to say they are “stories of the west,” stories of the heart, of courage and strength.

I love this reason quoted by John Locke in an interview with Jean Henry Meade on her blog, Writers of the West:

“Why westerns? Let me tell you something. Westerns are magic. When you read a western, you’re viewing the world in microcosm, because there’s a fixed time and setting, generally, with endless possibilities. The whole dynamic of a man and woman optimistically venturing into an untamed land with little more than a horse, gun, wagon, meager supplies…and a whole lot of courage—is the very definition of heroism. Courage is at the core of every western. And every good western offers adventure, heart, and a classic confrontation between good and evil.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Courage is the definition of “Cowgirl Up!” something my ancestors and my characters do.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Writing the West Into a Story

My guest today is Craig Lancaster, a fellow writer and Montanan, whose debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, has just been released by Riverbend Publishing of Helena, Montana.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Craig’s book!


By Craig Lancaster

In my late teens and early 20s, as I began cutting my teeth on the literature that spoke most toLancaster4LM me with the most resonance, I found myself drawn inexorably West – into the seaside shanties and other-side-of-paradise locales of John Steinbeck’s California, into the mind of Wallace Stegner’s Lyman Ward, and into the shadow of Ivan Doig’s Two Medicine Country of Montana, among other literary destinations. I marveled at these great writers and their ability to cast a story against a backdrop so vivid that it became a character unto itself. They led me into places I wanted to see with my own eyes.

In the first few sentences of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck does this masterfully, setting the scene of the infinite sadness to come. His descriptions are full of color and the shape of the land. By the time the two itinerant workers at the center of the story, George and Lenny, appear a page later, they’re trudging through a world that is splashed brilliantly across the reader’s mind:

It’s conceivable that Steinbeck could have set the core story anywhere – a cattle ranch in New Mexico, a dairy farm in Oregon, a feedlot in deep West Texas. But it wouldn’t be the same. Central California, snug against the mountains separating the verdant Salinas Valley from the sea, is where the story belongs. Steinbeck made it so.

I suppose that those of us who write start out idolizing certain authors to the point of mimicry and then, if we’re lucky, develop our own voices and zero in on the stories we want to tell. In the 20 years that lapsed between my first reading of Of Mice and Men (or, for that matter, of Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair) and my writing of my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, I found myself drawn to an aspect of the West that is different from those that I had been absorbing through others’ words. As my main character, an obsessive-compulsive Aspergian named Edward Stanton, confronts the rapid changes that transform his life, he does so in a small city (Billings, Montana, where I live) that is very much his milieu. Edward is acutely aware of his place in the world – its rhythms, its geography (he doesn’t like left turns, and so whenever possible he plots a driving route that doesn’t include them), its politics (his father is a powerful elected official) and such. The West with which I’m most familiar – the one that plays out in this regional hub city that constantly strains as its borders – becomes part of the story’s fabric.

Here’s a small section of the story that illustrates what I mean. This comes about midway through the book, as Edward prepares for an online date that he has managed to wrangle as he begins to deal with the world that is crashing into his front door:

Here are a few things you should know about Rimrock Mall, so you’ll understand why I am dreading today’s visit there.

Rimrock Mall is the biggest mall in Montana. Because Billings is such a geographic oddity — atcover 100,000-plus people, it is the largest city in a 500-mile radius — it isn’t just Billings people who come to the mall. I read somewhere, maybe in the Billings Gazette, that half of northern Wyoming does its monthly shopping in Billings, and it stands to reason that a good number of those people end up at Rimrock Mall.

If you walk through the Rimrock Mall parking lot on a weekend — I would rather not, but I am setting up a hypothetical statement — you will see license plates from all over Montana and Wyoming and even other places. Montana makes it easy to pick out where license plates are from: The first number is the county code, and the counties are numbered by the population size of the counties when the system went into effect. Yellowstone County plates have the number 3 on them, because it was the third-largest county, population-wise, back when the system started. It should be No. 1 now, but that would make the people in Butte-Silver Bow County angry, so it stays at No. 3.

Anyway, when I am driving in Billings and someone in front of me makes a wrong or erratic turn, I get angry if I see a 3 on his license plate, as he is from here and should know better. If I see a 27 — that’s Richland County, an agrarian (I love the word “agrarian”) outpost in far Eastern Montana — I don’t get so mad. That’s someone who perhaps doesn’t spend much time in Billings, and I have to be a good person and remember that Billings can be confusing to outsiders.

I am dreading today’s visit to Rimrock Mall.

Setting isn’t just a place to drop a story. Done right, setting becomes something like a story’s center of gravity, an anchor to which plot lines can be tethered and held in place, allowing for a book’s architecture to stand strong. While I’m partial to the writers of the West, they certainly don’t have the market cornered on brilliant use of setting. It matters not whether you get lost in Anne Rivers Siddons’ Maine or Pat Conroy’s South Carolina or Larry McMurtry’s Texas. They’re all worthy destinations.

To order Craig’s book, 600 Hours of Edward, on

Craig’s Web site:

Craig’s blog:

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