KidCharlem95 karma2021-05-02 19:05:10 UTC
Well, I initially set out to write a fictional novel about these wild west badasses turned Broadway stars. Because Texas Jack, Buffalo Bill, and Wild Bill really did spend a season touring together, playing all of the big eastern cities. I thought this would make a great book. Because I'm a HUGE procrastinator, I read a lot of books about those guys. I found lots of information and some great books (They Called Him Wild Bill by Joseph G. Rosa and Buffalo Bill's America by Louis Warren). It turned out there was only one book on Jack, and reading it made me feel like there had to be more to his story, but also really surprised that he was so largely forgotten.
So the more I looked into Jack, the more I realized his story needed to be told, not fictionally but factually. So I researched and made notes and delved into historical archives and old dime novels, forgotten journals, newspaper archives, all that. And the more I found out, the more I realized this guy was the first cowboy to make an impact on popular culture. A lot of fiction we believe about cowboys (their lives were exciting, they were sharpshooters, they fought Indians, etc) has kernels of truth in the life of Texas Jack, largely because of his relationship with his best friend, Buffalo Bill, who went on to popularize cowboys and the American West after Jack's death.
So really the story just kind of crept up on me, and then demanded to be told. I was compelled to keep finding out more and then to keep trying to get it published.
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KidCharlem42 karma2021-05-03 00:24:39 UTC
I would say pretty difficult. I think most writers who don't have name recognition from something else, who haven't written a successful book before, and who aren't writing about something that is a well known and marketable commodity should probably expect a hard time.
That said, there are ways (like Amazon direct publishing) to skip the step where you try to convince a publisher to take a chance on you and your work. If I hadn't been able to eventually convince a publisher to print my book, or if another book on the same subject had somehow been picked up before mine, I would have published through Amazon.
Luckily, a publisher specializing in my genre (western US history) saw the value in the book and me as an author, and their editorial staff really did help me polish some rough edges that makes the book much better than it would be otherwise. I would like the suggest for anyone self-publishing to hire an editor if finances allow. One good thing about traditional publishing is that they handle the layout, cover, marketing, distribution, editing...so it is better, especially for non-fiction IMHO, to go that route.
KidCharlem40 karma2021-05-02 18:57:20 UTC
That's a great question. I think much of western history tends to be hagiographic, where the bias is such that you can tell that whoever wrote it is talking about a TRUE HERO who is additionally one of their personal childhood storytime favorites. And because of that, there is a lot of accepted fact that likely isn't true. I've seen grown men get into shouting matches over whether or not Buffalo Bill Cody rode for the Pony Express or not. Most biographies and biographers wouldn't and don't even question it.
Additionally, because Texas Jack specifically was a kind of folk hero at the time, some of the fictionalized dime novel accounts by people who knew him (Ned Buntline, Prentiss Ingraham, Bill Cody himself) create or perpetuate myths about him that aren't true. My research didn't uncover anything about a young Jack traveling to Texas and becoming a cowboy prior to the Civil War, though multiple dime novel stories claimed that he did...much less did I find evidence of Buntline's claim that Jack ran away from home at 13 to become a sailor, visiting Africa and Australia before settling in Texas.
Separating truth from myth can be hard, but it gave me an opportunity to talk about the truths that lean themselves to exaggeration, and how those combined to form the basis of tropes that are now real genre cliches, like shootouts at high noon and "cowboys and Indians" battling on the plains.
Oh, also, I always connected with Walter Becker. When I eventually met him, he was incredibly kind to me, and we kept in touch over the years. That's why I help out running www.walterbecker.com, where his family/estate periodically releases tracks he recorded but never finished, in accordance with his wishes.
KidCharlem25 karma2021-05-02 20:36:27 UTC
I do talk about the true racial mix in Texas after the Civil War, where the majority of cowboys were Mexican vaqueros, mixed-race Native Americans, and increasingly large numbers of former slaves seeking gainful employment far from the Reconstruction-era South. Texas Jack's fame and popularity is one of the major reasons that the false narrative of "manor-born" white cowboys became so ubiquitous. After Jack's death Bill Cody turned their old stage shows into the outdoor spectacle of The Wild West, and hired a crew of cowboys in the mold of his old friend...tall, handsome, and white...to join him. That version is the one that stuck around, pop culture wise.
KidCharlem22 karma2021-05-02 20:12:54 UTC
Motivation is always a problem for me. At some point you're just staring at a blank page or one full of something you wrote but hate and its hard to keep working. But keeping the momentum going really helped. Seeing the word count grow helps convince you that you can keep it up. And sometimes I would tell my wife or a friend something I had just learned or some insight I had just had, and their questions or trying to explain it without giving hours of background told me something I needed to add.
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