The paragraph above sounds like a blurb out of a promotional flyer. Let me tell you what it’s really like to be a member of WWA and to attend the annual convention. When you attend your first convention, you’ll find the friendliest, most supportive folks who go out of their way to make you feel welcome. This just continues every year and these people become your friends. Some of them have won Pulitzers, Emmys, Oscars, Grammys; some of them write for a Western travel magazine. Doesn’t matter…they write the West.
One of my friends is Bill Groneman, whom I met for the first time in Knoxville in 2010. He is an expert on the Alamo and was on a panel discussing Davey Crockett (who MUCH preferred to be called David, by the way…who knew?). Paul Hutton, then executive director and renowned history professor, introduced Bill as a “hero of 9/11,” which Bill hates. You see, Bill is a retired Captain of the New York City Fire Department and was indeed in the thick of it when our country was attacked. Although he now lives in Kerrville, TX, just up the road from the Alamo, he was born and raised in NYC. I asked him how a guy from Brooklyn (or thereabouts…I get lost in all their little inter-neighborhood squabbles) came to be an expert on the most famous battle in Texas history. He said, “Walt Disney.” He got hooked on the Fess Parker/Davey Crocket story that aired back in the 1950s and has been fascinated with the Alamo ever since. Anyone who questions whether we need heroes as role models for our children to emulate need look no farther than Bill’s story.
Bill, our friend Carol Markstrom, and I have become responsible for the “Music Room” which happens every night during the convention. Anyone who plays an instrument is welcome to participate and we have a good old down-home jam session. We usually start around 9 PM and go until the musicians are too tired to continue. Inevitably, there are Western authors clamoring for more (since they usually put the music room close to the hotel bar, they tend to “clamor” quite loudly and insistently!). We play original material, cover songs, instrumentals and anything else we feel compelled to sing. Bill’s specialties are Irish songs and parody songs…last year when we met in Las Vegas, he wrote “I Wish They All Could Be Western Writers Girls.” Carol is a professor of Native American studies at West Virginia University who has developed into a fine singer/songwriter over the past four years. She now performs at a number of the Cowboy Gatherings throughout the West.
People grow when they participate in the Western Writers. As I mentioned, Carol was a successful academic with major non-fiction publications under her belt. Now she is a singer/songwriter with one album out and another in the works. She’s also written a children’s book which will be published soon. I’ve seen other folks who joined around the same time that I did go from being unknowns to winning their first and even second Spur awards. Since I joined with one book to my credit, I’ve published two more and have a fourth one nearing completion. I’ve signed with an agent who hopefully can be more persuasive than I am in getting this next one paired up with a good publisher. I’ve also had two songs win Spur Finalist awards and last year, my song, “Texas is Burnin’,” won a Spur for Western Song of the Year. The judging is rigorous and it’s great to be honored by your peers.
Like everyone else in the book business, Western Writers struggles with how to keep stories of the West alive and in front of the reading public. Some thought the advent of the e-book would kill publishing. Instead, more people than ever are reading. Western author Win Blevins, who was honored as a “living legend” at this convention had this to say about the subject. He said that humans have been telling each other stories for over two hundred fifty thousand years in whatever format was available (spoken word, papyrus, the printed word…thanks Mr. Gutenberg…and now e-books). He believes that the human race needs stories and therefore will always need story-tellers. I believe he’s right. Check out Western Writers of America and read the West.