“Cowboys we are, and cowboys we shall be.”
— Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa to Gen. Felipe Angeles, Chihuahua, Mexico, 1918
I’ve been struggling a bit with focus and direction lately. In part this is due to increased responsibilities at work, which demand additional attention. In part there is some work involved in integrating the principles and passions behind the Running Iron Report with my Frontier Partisans work. And part of it — probably most of it — is plain old creative funk.
I’ve been poking at a Volume II of Warriors of the Wildlands, but I really don’t want to do a sequel with new characters. It feels like a rut. I’ve dusted off a couple of desk-drawer novels, but I know damn well that I can’t devote the fierce concentration, time and full absorption needed to write a piece of long fiction. And I can’t convince myself that I feel the fire. You writer folk out there know what I’m talking about.
So I had a bit of a sit-down with myself and asked a fundamental question: What really trips my hair trigger heart these days?
Ain’t none of it new. Not really. For many years now, the x-ring of my frontier interests has been in the turn of the 20th century — the “persistent frontier.” I’m also endlessly fascinated by the revolutionary ferment of that same era — the rise of various ethnic nationalisms and quasi-religious political ideologies, poised to sweep away the hoary remnants of a feudal West. The genesis of Running Iron was an interest in picking apart the workings of the Empire and the world order that now seems to be tottering like a glutton and a drunk who just got up from the table and is reeling off, desperate to find the bathroom.
All of those interests and themes mash up spectacularly in an orgy of Wild Bunch mayhem in the Caribbean and Latin America from about 1896 through the 1930s. The outlandish shenanigans the U.S. and American corporate interests got up to in our first and nearest imperial frontier; the various revolutionary movements that flared up in jungles, deserts and sierras; American and European mercenaries trading firepower for cash and kicks. Oh, hell yes.
That’s it, I thought. This is where I need to be. I heard Tom Russell singing the words of Pancho Villa, who knew that no matter what his credentials as a revolutionary warlord might be, he was and would remain a cowboy.
And then, in the midnight hour last night, I stumbled upon the paintings of Stephen Walsh. Cuz the Muse will give you what you need for inspiration when you give yourself over to her…
Seems that Osprey Publishing is serving up a new Men-at-Arms edition on exactly this business: Latin American Wars 1900–1941.
Yep. And staring me right in the face is my old friend Tracy Richardson, American merc machine-gunner, beckoning with a ticket on a steamer headed for southern climes where the pay is in gold, the action is hot, and there are wild tales to be told…
All the old gunfighters are leaving town
Pistol packing mama, lay that pistol down
I’m still around
Lord, I’ve got one more round
And I sure hit the mark
With my hair trigger heart