Saturday, September 26, 2015



My mother never met a grisly story she didn’t like.
And she never met one she considered unfit for her children, no matter how young we were. In fact, she often retold these stories to my little sister and me with startling, sometimes morbid delight, as though she not only wanted to tell us stories of death and grisly destruction, but she considered it her parental duty to do so.
I’m not just talking about the vague imparting of mishaps in broad strokes, either. I’m saying she really got down there in the muck and with a keen reporter’s eye relayed calamities she’d heard from another party or recounted those that she herself had witnessed first-hand.
I once heard my grandmother tell about how “Daddy,” which is what she and everyone called my grandfather, had “cut himself with a hatchet” one day when the children were young, while he was out splitting firewood. For my mother, my grandmother’s tepid little generalized anecdote was much too murky and way too lacking in all the horror, dread, and grisly details of the actual event.
Though I and my sister were standing right there and I was probably only six years old—if that—and my sister was three years younger, my mother hopped right in with: “Oh, god—I remember that day so plainly! He buried that blade so far in his leg I didn’t see how anyone was ever going to get it out. I think Bud or Wayne finally got it out, but only after a lot of pulling and grunting--and oh my gosh, there was blood everywhere!”
“Oh, Yvonne--the kids!” my grandmother scolded my mother, jerking her head at my sister and me.
The admonishment didn’t derail our mother a bit. The proverbial horse was out of the corral and it was galloping across the back forty...
“I remember we got him into the car, that old Model-A we had, and we all thought for sure he was going to bleed to death before we got him to the doctor in Rugby--twenty miles over rough roads. He was as white as a ghost! And afterwards, when he was all sewn up and we got him home, we kids had to go out and clean the blood out of the car. I remember his boot was half-full of the stuff!”
“Oh, Yvonne!” our grandmother admonished once more in defeat.
But it was too late. The horse was heading for the neighbor’s filly, and the image of that bloody axe and the deep gash in our white-as-a-ghost grandfather’s face had been burned into my and my sister’s impressionable young brains.
When I was maybe five years old, there was a middle-aged farmer named Boob Keller. Boob always dunked his fresh donuts in his black coffee, and I got a big kick out of that, the way little kids do.
Boob was a big, tall, affable man with a bald head and huge ears and a long, broad nose and jutting chin. His light-blue eyes were always smiling. He’d tell the funniest jokes and stories while sitting around my aunt and uncle’s farmhouse kitchen, often with me on his huge knee. This is when my family was living in Rolette, North Dakota, and we spent a lot of time out on my aunt and uncle’s farm near Cando, where the old Minnesota Vikings running back, Dave Osborn, grew up.
Anyway, Boob Keller, who always smelled like grease, pulled so many quarters out of my ears that I often thought I’d be rich if I could get at all the money that must have been rattling around inside my head. Boob would give me sips of his coffee, too, and my uncle, Leif Dahl, always told me it would make my blond hair turn black. After every few sips of coffee I’d go run and look in the bathroom mirror...
One night in our home in Rolette, my mother hung up the phone, sobbing. She’d just spoken to my aunt, Lenore. Boob was dead. He’d been killed that afternoon in his gyrocopter.
“In his blame gyrocopter!” my mother sobbed as though scolding Boob himself for being so foolish as to fiddle with something so dangerous.
“How did it happen?” Dad asked Mom, gently. We were all in the kitchen and dining room. Mom had been washing dishes, and Dad was drying.
“Apparently he got tangled up in some power lines and crashed in a wheat field east of his place. Oh, just imagine! All those blades must have cut him up something awful. Poor Boob! And then the electricity... I guess when the sheriff got there, all he could find of Boob was that damn copter and his boots. Otherwise it was all blood. Blood everywhere!
Dad cut a look at my sister and me, both of us staring in hang-jawed shock. “Yvonne, the kids don’t need to hear this!”
Mom looked at us, then, too, tears dribbling down her cheeks. “Pete, you remember, Boob—don’t you? The guy who always dunked his donuts in his coffee? He’s dead!
“Yvonne!” Dad cried in defeat.
I stared at my mother in horror, my heart shrinking, my insides recoiling at the grisly picture of blood and steel-torn flesh that she’d just painted for us. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of death, but I could see as though in Cinemascope that bloody wheat field and the big, affable Boob Keller cut to bits in it. And his boots.
I was only a little older when she recounted the tale of a bloody car accident that happened when her family was living in Noonan, North Dakota, and she was going to high school. Two teenage boys and a teenage girl who “ran” with one of the boys were drinking and driving too fast on the highway, and rolled their car several times in a ditch. They were thrown from their vehicle and killed instantly.
Apparently, there was no undertaker in Noonan—or at least none like we have today. Someone drove his pickup out to collect the teenagers’ bodies and deliver them to their families. When the pickup was parked outside the home of one of the dead, Mom and several friends walked over to the pickup to have a look.
Mom gasped and rolled her head and eyes, the way she always did when recounting such a delightfully ghastly event. “Oh, my gosh—you should have seen it. No, I wouldn’t even want you to see such a thing, and I hope you never do! This was before safety glass. The cars back then had real glass in the windows. Imagine that—real glass! And of course no one wore seatbelts. Well, you can just imagine how badly those boys and that poor Candace Syvertsen were torn up. I recognized Candace by her long hair. But the boys--hah! I remember that one had dark hair and one was a towhead, but after going through those glass windows there was no way you could tell them apart!”  
Over the years I learned in vivid detail about drownings, electrocutions, farm accidents, plane crashes, stabbings and other murders, and even about the death of one of my young friend’s mothers who had gone into the hospital for a simple surgical procedure and ended up dying from a blood clot.
“Dead at thirty-four!” my mother lamented, bawling after learning the news from a neighbor. “She left three little boys and a little girl. Just think, Pete—Julius’s mother is gone! She was younger than I am. That poor boy. Who’s going to raise that family now?”
Mom really drove that one home. The possibility of my mother’s demise haunted me for a long time, keeping me awake nights.
Another one that troubled my dreams worse than any bogeyman was the retelling of a shooting accident. Two teenage boys and their father, Dale Westemyer, went out hunting deer one fall afternoon. While they were walking through a grove of trees looking for whitetails, another hunter mistakenly shot Dale.
The Westemyer boys and the hunter who’d shot Dale got the wounded father into his pickup and drove him to the nearest doctor. But they were too late. Dale had died on the way to town.
“Just think if something so terrible ever happened to Dad!” Mom cried. “Oh, it’s even too awful to think about!”
But of course I thought about it. For many nights on end. It was as though the void was yawning over me, threatening to suck me up out of my bed and smother me under its wicked wings. Or worse—kill my parents and leave my little sister and me to wander alone in a horrifying world plagued with sudden and arbitrary tragedies.
Sometimes I thought that by relating such violent and chilling events so vividly Mom was being malicious. That she was purposely trying to scare the hell out of us. Sometimes, after some close calls we ourselves experienced on life’s perilous highway, she seemed to enjoy horrifying us even further with what might have happened. Like when we were on vacation out West one summer and a car plowed into the little travel trailer Dad was towing behind our Chevy wagon.
The car missed the station wagon completely but it hit the trailer broadside. Suddenly, our little seventeen-foot home away from home was little more than a scattered mess of sticks and paper plates and cups in a ditch. Mom turned around to look out the back window, eyes wide in horror.
“Oh god, oh look, kids—what if one of us had been riding back there? There’d be nothing left!
Having had time to think about it for more than a few years, in the seventeen years since she died, I don’t think Mom was trying to scare the hell out of us. She didn't realize she was traumatizing us. I think that in her emotional ignorance she was trying to vent and thus purge herself of her own often-overpowering anxiety. True, she did often scare the hell out of us, and her reasons seem a little psychotic and selfish as well childish to me today. I doubt that any current books on parenting would sanction such loss of self-control.
But my mother was raised during tough times in western North Dakota, on what was essentially still the American frontier in the 1930’s and 40’s, where people died tragically, unexpectedly, and in often grisly ways. My mother’s own father, whom I am named after, drowned after being electrocuted by a water pump at the bottom of a flooded strip mine. Mom and her twin sister were only seventeen at the time, and they’d worshipped “Daddy” as though he’d been a god.
Only a few years later Mom’s oldest brother, Delbert “Bud” Mayer, died near the same mine his father had drowned in. From a mine office window, Bud saw a coal car rolling free on its tracks, and ran out to stop it. Bud climbed onto the car to try and set the brake, but he fell to his death under the heavy iron wheels.
“Cut in two,” was how one of my uncles told it.
No, Mom wasn’t malicious. She was getting all of that off her chest in the only way she knew how. By sharing it. It wasn’t her fault she had a vivid imagination and a way with words. Hell, I do the same thing for a living.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Check it out HERE AT AMAZON! 

Life has become tranquil for young Cuno Massey, now residing in a quiet little town where he’s taken a job driving a beer wagon. But trouble has always had a way of dogging the young gunslinger’s heels. It hunts him down here in Cottonwood, as well, when the middle-aged stalker of the pretty schoolteacher discovers her giving Cuno more than just reading lessons.

When Cuno’s accused of rape and murder, and a passel of toughnut outlaws start chafing at the bit to hang him from an old cottonwood, young Massey finds himself having to rely on his old gunfighting well as the courage of an aging keep Jake Hardaway’s bunch from giving him a formal his own necktie party.

From the book:

Marshal Palmer grimaced. The room felt too small for him. He didn’t feel like he should be here. He didn’t feel like Horn should be here, either, lying dead on the floor. For some reason, Palmer felt responsible for them both being here, in this poor girl’s room. But he had a job to do...
He pulled up a straight-back chair from the wall, angled it toward the bed, just left of Bill Horn’s sightlessly staring eyes, and eased his considerable weight into it. He could hear the wood creaking beneath him.
Oh, sure, he thought, holding his hat in his hands. Now break the poor woman’s chair, you big oaf...
“Miss Strowbridge?”
Silence. Then she drew a breath and, facing the wall, said, “What?”
“Did...uh...did that fella down there—I think I seen him drivin’ the beer wagon fer the brewery—did he...was he the one that...that assaulted you, Miss Strowbridge?”
Again, silence. Palmer studied her. She stared at the wall for nearly half a minute and then she closed her eyes tightly. She squeezed them shut and drew her trembling lips back from her teeth. Her shoulders jerked.
“Yes,” she said in a pinched voice as she sobbed.

Friday, September 18, 2015


The first book in my new and well-reviewed Dag Enberg, Shotgun Rider series will be free from Saturday through Sunday. I hope you enjoy...

Check it out for free HERE!

Zee slid her hands over his. Enberg closed his eyes to savor the warmth of her flesh pressing against him until he could feel her pulse through his own skin.
“You still have a chance.”
Enberg opened his eyes. “How?”
“Get your woman back. And love her the way you should. Love her like a man.
Enberg felt a wave of emotion roll through him. Self-loathing. Regret. Loneliness. Heartbreak. Longing for something he wasn’t sure was attainable:
Love and honor...
He swallowed the knot in his throat. He felt his eyes grow wet. He nodded. “I’m going to. If I can find a way out of this cell, I’m going to.”
Zee reached up and began unbuttoning her dress.
Enberg frowned. “What’re you doing?”
“Keep it in your pants, pendejo.

When she had five buttons undone, revealing a good portion of her coppery, mounded flesh sliding down inside a fringed pink corset, she slid two fingers into her cleavage. She pulled out an over-and-under derringer with gutta-percha grips.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Runnin' Off the Leash

I wrote this for Paul Bishop's blog last week. I thought I'd go ahead and post it again here. It's an autobiographical essay about my switch from legacy to self-publishing…or busting out of jail….

By Peter Brandvold

My whole career is based on a lie.
I mean, beyond the lies of the fiction I write though I would argue that fiction in general is a whole lot more honest than the fibs I tell daily—outside of the novels I pen—just to amuse myself.
When I’m writing my western novels I feel “truer” than I ever feel in the “real” world, meaning the world outside of the world in my head that I bleed onto the computer screen eight to nine hours every day and that has kept me from getting a really good night’s sleep since I went through the somnambulism of adolescence.
My characters are more “me” than “I” am. Does that makes sense?
No, I’m not drunk. Yet.
Getting back to the lie...
Back in 1996, I sent my first western manuscript to a New York editor who not so promptly returned it, rejecting it and telling me that westerns “need to be really gritty these days. Good luck!” So, being the good liar I am, I sent the book back to him saying, “Okay, I grittied it up for ya!” or something like that.
In truth, I didn’t change a word. I didn’t even run the thing through the printer again. I just sent the same manuscript back to the same editor. I might have even reused the same envelope he sent it back to me in.
And it sold!
Once A Marshal came out a year later.
Obviously, the manuscript hadn’t been read the first time around.
Which brings me to the thesis of this wandering discourse, which is about how much I hated having to answer to those corporate orangutans for a good fifteen years and nearly one hundred novels, and how much I love publishing my own westerns under my own pernicious imprint--Mean Pete Press.
It’s true that I owe New York something for giving me my start. But just a little. Unless you’re Stephen King, you really get treated like the mutt in the kennel of the New York book publishing industry—when you get treated like anything at all.
Mostly, you get ignored. And condescended to. Generally, you’re treated like one of the fellas wearing the red shirts on Star Trek.
For instance, they’ll ask you for input on the kind of book cover you want—and they’ll of course want it right away because the editor forgot to ask you two weeks ago when she should have. And she’ll remind you in the tone of your first-grade teacher that if you don’t write the description you can’t complain about the cover you end up with.
So, since you’re the small fish who needs to please the big fish, you take a couple of hours off from the book you were hammering away on so busily, and busily write up a good description of the ideal cover that’s gonna make this book the biggest book of your whole career!
You really work at it, and you nip it and tuck it, and you hit “Send.”
You sit back with a big grin of a job-well-done on your mug.
And when you get the proof back, the cover looks nothing like your description. It couldn’t look more different than a Van Gogh from a Kinkade!
Turns out the editor forgot to bring to the meeting the description you so dutifully dropped everything to write, so the art department just went with what they had on the shelf. When you call your editor on it, she says something like, “Gosh, I just got busy and it slipped my mind. Thanks so much for being so understanding, Peter. You’re a great team player. Cheers!”
In the New York publishing world, unless you’re James Patterson, you have no mouth and you must scream...
So, yeah, I’m glad to be out of the fringe of the New York publishing mainstream and hustling my own books myself on Amazon—and getting 70% of the cut from each sale rather than 8-10%. When I was writing for a long-running adult western series, I was getting a measly 6% of the sale of each mass-market paperback. When I found out that I was getting only 6% of each ebook sale, as well, I went Johnny Paycheck.
I, like many other writers (at least the ones as stupid as I), thought that all publishers were obliged to pay their writers a minimum of 25% for each ebook sale.
Hadn’t that become the industry standard?
Somehow, this publisher was able to scheme us out of those earnings. They claimed that since we were writing under a “house name” we were merely “working for hire” though I did nothing different in writing that adult series than I did in writing any of my other novels.
Soon after, the publisher canceled the series—not because I quit but because they felt they weren’t making enough money on the adult westerns anymore despite dropping their advances to pennies and pisswater. However, every quarter I still receive royalties for nearly every series novel I wrote across ten years—even at 6% earnings! Even at 6% earnings on ebooks!
So, imagine what the publisher is still making on those books, since they’re getting 94%! Yet they didn’t think they were making enough to keep the books coming despite the writers and readers who had come to love and depend on those yarns each month.
In fact, they canceled all of their westerns.
That’s New York for you. They have to make truckloads of money on something or they won’t publish it—and they don’t care how many writers and readers are depending on the product. They don’t care who they screw.
Just one more (possibly two) knock(s) against New York:
In all the years I wrote for them, I might have had one editor—and he was a real anomaly—who’d ever even read a western before he’d started editing them. Can you imagine putting an editor on a genre they’d never read before? And I dare say that most of my editors had nothing but disdain for the western—the very genre they were editing!
(And I use the term “editing” loosely. Mostly, my editors changed what didn’t need to be changed and totally dropped the ball on obvious mistakes.)
So, yeah, I’m very happy here in the very un-corporate offices of Mean Pete Press, in this little adobe house in this quiet little town in western Minnesota. It’s just me and my dog and no suits telling us what to do.
Now, since I’m running off the leash, so to speak, I can come up with new series ideas at the drop of the Stetson. Instead of writing up a long, laborious proposal that an editor may or may not skim, I just pour a cup of hot mud, pick up the laptop, and let my fingers dance the western rumba!
That’s what I did recently with my new western series—The Shotgun Rider. I just finished the second book, Two Smoking Barrels. (It’s up on Amazon, by the way.) I’m very proud of that series. I think it’s turning out well because it’s new and fresh and I could spontaneously start writing it without having to jump through a bunch of corporate hoops.
I write a book a month now and publish them myself on Amazon. Not because I need to write that much but because I LOVE to. I do my own editing and I make my own book covers. For the covers, I don’t use any elaborate software—mostly just Pages which came with my Macs. I might have spent $150, tops, on all the stock photos I’ve purchased from online sights.
I like the challenge of doing things independently and on the cheap. The covers might look a little cheap but I figure the stuff between those virtual pasteboards makes up for it. My name is well enough known in the western genre that readers know what they’ll be getting from me, despite the cover.
In the mean time, I’m working on it. One of these days I might just spring for Photoshop.
That’s another thing I love about self-publishing—all the opportunities to learn new stuff, to grow at my own time and my own pace, answering to only myself.
Don’t fence me in!
That said, I still like ink and paper. And since I know many readers still do, as well, I publish one or two traditional paper books a year with Five Star, which is still a small enough company that they’re able to do terrific work, and they seem to love doing it. They don’t suffer from the bureaucratic-like dysfunction of larger publishing companies. They’re good at publishing books, and, while their advances are low, their royalties are competitive. Like me, they know how to carve out their own niche and grow a market.
In that way, they compliment my own self-publishing beautifully.
I’m not making money hand over fist, but then I never was. But we here at Mean Pete Press—i.e., Mean Pete and his dog Syd—are devoted to writing the best damn westerns we can and are having one hell of a good time running off our leashes while we do it. Hell, we don’t even wear collars!
We may not be drinking champagne every night, but we are drinking the champagne of beers...
Peter Brandvold also writes under the name Frank Leslie. Check out his westerns at: