by PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Western Humor
Publisher: Wild Horse Press
Date of Publication: May 19, 2016
Number of Pages: 234
2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas
With a passel of oddball characters and more twists and turns than a stagecoach trail, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin pits the baron against crooked gamblers, a one-eyed gunfighter, a savvy marshal, conniving females, a duplicitous cavalry officer and a worldly stump preacher. To stay rich, the baron must stay alive! And to stay alive, the baron must rely on a fourteen-year-old orphan and a rooster that serves as his guard animal. Even so, the odds and the cards are stacked against the Englishman and his bold vision of becoming the baron of bison in West Texas.
Written by Spur Award-winning author Preston Lewis, a master of western plot twists and humor, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin takes readers on an unconventional and uproarious journey through the Old West and some of its unsavory characters.
PRAISE FOR THE FLEECING OF FORT GRIFFIN:
“...a work of colorful and humorous fiction,”
“The Fleecing of Fort Griffin by Preston Lewis of San Angelo is one of the funniest westerns I’ve ever read.”
Glenn Dromgoole, Texas Reads
“If you're looking for a delightful tale, check out The Fleecing of Fort Griffin.”
Texas provides a sense of place, history and pride that I haven’t seen in residents of other states. I was a Kiplinger Fellow at Ohio State University and had the opportunity to work closely with a dozen journalists from other states, primarily in the Midwest and Northeast, and they didn’t share the same sense of identity with state that I did. When I graduated from high school, I said West Texas had seen the last of me, but after living in Central and Southeast Texas and then in Ohio and Michigan, I realized I missed West Texas, both the landscape and people, and was glad to get back in West Texas where I have remained ever since.
Why did you choose to write westerns?
I always loved history and growing up in West Texas, the Old West was the history that surrounded me, from old forts to cattle trails to dramatic landscapes. My youth was a heyday for western movies, which my father enjoyed and took us to, so those were the screen stories of my childhood. Perhaps the event that most cemented my fascination with the Old West was a trip my parents took my brother and me to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where I could walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid. The final impetus was the birth of our first child and I realized I was going to have to ultimately put our son (and later his sister) through college. So, I needed to start making more money to save for their education. Shortly, after our son was born, Bantam had a First Western Contest. I wrote a western and submitted it. Though it didn’t win the contest, it gave me a manuscript to circulate, and it was ultimately published by Tower.
Where did your love of books and reading come from?
Like many writers, I was an introvert as a child and found escape in books and reading. I was born with a vivid imagination and reading helped feed my imagination. On top of that, I came from a family of great storytellers, my father’s folks living through the Great Depression as tenant farmers. For instance, my grandmother, who died before I was born, never lived in a house with indoor plumbing or electricity. Though poor, my aunts and uncles always found humor in their childhoods and would tell such fascinating stories about growing up indigent. Their accounts seemed more akin to life on the frontier than the relatively pampered life I had growing up. I loved to go to family reunions and hear their stories, so much so that I often sat at their feet to listen while my cousins were outside playing.
How long have you been writing?
Forty years, both as a vocation and an avocation. I started out in print journalism, working at newspapers in Waco, Abilene, Orange and Lubbock before moving into higher education communications and marketing for 35 years, first at Texas Tech University and then Angelo State University before retiring in 2014. So, I wrote on the job and at home.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
An editor once told me I wrote funny. Now that’s not necessarily something a writer wants to hear because you don’t know if it’s funny “ha ha” or funny “odd.” His point was, as he explained it, that I often have an off-center perspective that lends itself to humor. So, it was an editor that first helped me see the possibility of writing humor. I’ve always enjoyed caper mysteries and thought it would be fun to set one in the Old West around Fort Griffin, my favorite town in all of frontier history.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The Fleecing of Fort Griffin brings together a bevy of oddball characters trying the swindle the young English baron of his money. It was a challenge to tie up all the varying story threads into a single coherent conclusion. It was hard, but it was also fun. As for the research, the hardest part was trying to understand enough about English nobility in the 1870s to write convincingly that my English baron was indeed English and indeed nobility, but I found a half dozen books that helped me understand the mindset and characteristics of English noblemen at the time.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I always enjoy researching places in the Old West. So, being able to insert my characters in Fort Griffin and weave them into the fabric of that frontier town in West Texas. Too, creating a menagerie of odd characters was fun.
How do you go about your research?
I had an aunt who was an expert quilter. She would cut out pieces of fabric, then arrange them and stitch them together in beautiful patterns and blocks. That’s what I do with research. Keep in mind in my historical novels I am writing about events that have been written about dozens of times. So, I first look for odd or unusual facts that haven’t to my knowledge been utilized in previous novels on this topic. Then I look for facts that intrigue me and facts that I think have some comical potential. Then I try to stitch them together in a narrative that I hope is as enjoyable to read as it was to look at my aunt’s quilts.
How do you approach humor in your novels?
I describe humor as a con game on your expectations or your intellect. So, I’ve developed my six “cons” of humor for novels: convention, contemplation, construction, contrivance (like this list), confluence and, worst of all, constipation. Convention is the parameters, stereotypes or clichés of your genre. Variances on those conventions provide opportunities for humor. Contemplation is a fancy name for research, where I am always looking for odd facts or information that can lend itself to humorous situations. Construction is the setup. Nearly all humor requires a sound setup for effectiveness. Contrivance is the use of plot twists or literary gimmicks to further the action and humor. Confluence is tying it all together into a coherent story rather than just a series of running gags. Then there’s constipation! Like life, sometimes in humor things just don’t come out right for everyone, particularly in these hypersensitive times. What is funny or amusing to one person may be offensive to another. I was once attacked by a reader who was offended by my flippant use of the word “Yankee” because it was demeaning. Seems as a child she moved to the south from the north and was called Yankee by her schoolmates, evidently scarring her emotionally for life. Weird! I happen to know a little bit about Yankees because I married a young lady from Pennsylvania. She is proud to be a Yankee, and we are proud to be parents of two half-Yankees.]
Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of 30 western, juvenile and historical novels, including The Fleecing of Fort Griffin , a western caper published by Wild Horse Press. Fleecing won the 2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association (WTHA) for best creative work on West Texas.
Lewis is best known for his comic novels in The Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series. Bluster ’ s Last Stand , a novel about Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, is the latest volume in the well-received series that began with The Demise of Billy the Kid . Subsequent books in the series — The Redemption of Jesse James and Mix -Up at the O.K. Corral — were both Spur Finalists from Western Writers of America (WWA). Blood of Texas , Lewis ’ s historical novel on the Texas Revolution, received WWA ’ s Spur Award for Best Western Novel. His True West article on the Battle of Yellowhouse Canyon won a Spur Award for Best Nonfiction Article.
In addition to his two Spurs from WWA, Lewis has earned three Elmer Kelton Awards from WTHA. Lewis ’ s novels have appeared under the imprint of national publishing houses such as Bantam, Zebra and HarperCollins and of regional publishing companies like Eakin Press and Wild Horse Press.
His short works have appeared in publications as varied as Louis L ’ Amour Western Magazine, Persimmon Hill, Dallas Morning News, True West, The Roundup, Journal of the Wild West History Association and San Angelo Standard-Times . A native West Texan and current San Angelo resident, Lewis holds bachelor ’ s and master ’ s degrees in journalism from Baylor and Ohio State universities.
He earned a second master ’ s degree in history from Angelo State University. He is a past p resident of WWA and WTHA. Lewis is a longstanding member of the Authors Guild and an a ssociate member of the Dramatists Guild of America.
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