Wednesday, August 17, 2011

OF TRUTH AND LEGEND BY EARL STAGGS

Earl Staggs
Please welcome a long time friend, Earl Staggs. He and his lovely wife, Carol, are transplants to North Central Texas from the Baltimore area. Earl and I belong to a small mystery writers group. His stories are always well written and often humorous. Earl is a spare bones writer who hates excessive adjectives and adverbs, so I feel it's my duty as a friend to throw in very and really to taunt him if he's going to read my work. What are friends for, after all?

His official bio reads: Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and BN. His column "Write Tight" appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups. Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

Here's Earl:

OF TRUTH AND LEGEND


I love history, particularly about people, how they lived, loved, and died and what they did to earn a place in the archives of life. I learn about people from the past by reading books and watching movies and TV. The facts and truths are there, documented by stories handed down through generations or recorded by historians and writers.

But sometimes facts and truths foster legends and once born, legends develop an enduring life of their own. We may call them alternate truths, other possibilities, or myths. Was there really a King Arthur, or was he only a compilation of various myths and legends? Did George Washington really chop down that cherry tree, or is that only a legend forever linked to the truth?

How do we separate legends from truths? Fortunately, as a writer, I don’t have to. The truth is, I don’t want to. My job as a writer is to write an interesting and entertaining story, and it doesn’t matter if it is based on the truth, a legend, or a combination of both.

Available at Amazon
Not too long ago, I came across a legend that fascinated me, and I used it as the basis for a short story I called “Where Billy Died.” It could be my best story ever. It’s also one I talk about when people ask the question all writers are asked:

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Here’s what I tell them.

My wife and I took a day trip with friends to the small town of Hico, Texas, a couple years ago. There I learned a local legend. They contend and have convincing evidence that one of the most famous outlaws of the old west did not die at the wrong end of a gun as history books claim. History claims Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Old Fort Sumner, New Mexico, when Billy was only twenty-one years old.

Not true, according to the Hico legend. They claim Billy lived out his final years there and died in 1950, a month after his ninetieth birthday. I visited the museum devoted to him and stood on the exact spot where they say he dropped dead of a heart attack. The museum has pictures of him when he lived there under the name “Brushy Bill” Roberts. There are newspaper articles and write-ups covering his attempts to obtain the pardon from the state of New Mexico which had been promised him many years before. There are also stories there about how he eluded death that night in Old Fort Sumner and wound up in Hico some sixty years later.
 It didn’t matter to me whether Billy died in New Mexico at age twenty-one, or in Texas at age ninety.


I was fascinated by the legend and knew I had to use it in a story someday.

“But,” I reminded myself, “you don’t write westerns.”

That’s true. I don’t. Not that I won’t someday, but for now, I write contemporary mystery stories. That meant I had to come up with a contemporary story incorporating the Hico legend.

It took a while, but I eventually came up with a story about a modern day skip tracer named Jack who travels from Philadephia to Hico to bring back a young bail jumper named Billy Joe Raynor. Piece of cake, thinks Jack, until he discovers he has a tail. The chief bonebreaker for a New Jersey mobster has followed Jack to Hico. Is it because Jack beat up the mobster’s brother, or because of something young Billy Joe did before he skipped town? Jack only knows he’s tangled with the hulking bruiser before and will have to again. Jack doesn’t know he’ll also get tangled up in Hico’s legend about another young outlaw named Billy and that the past and present will merge in a surprising conclusion. Three different legends surrounding Billy’s life and death are mentioned. One of them saves Jack from his predicament in Texas and fixes his marriage problems back in Philadelphia.

If you have an opportunity to read “Where Billy Died,” I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Available at Amazon
and at Smashwords
Legends abound, forever intermingled with truth in history, and they’re often more provocative and interesting than what may really have happened. One legend, for example offers that Butch Cassidy may have escaped his storied death in Bolivia and lived to a ripe old age back in the US. Another one proposes that John Wilkes Booth lived in Texas many years after that night at Ford’s Theater.

Are these legends true or merely fanciful variations of the truth born and nurtured over the years? I don’t know and, as a writer, I don’t care. To me, they are more of the tempting nuggets in the gold mine of history begging to be written. I hope I live long enough to write more of them.

Earl Staggs


“Where Billy Died” available for $1.99 at http://untreedreads.com/

Read two stories for free at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com/


“The Day I Almost Became A Great Writer” – Loaded with laughs and a message to writers.


“White Hats and Happy Trails” – About the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.


15 comments:

Alice Duncan said...

Loved your blog, Earl. And this, from a writer who never met an adjective or an adverb I didn't fall in love with (or with which I didn't fall in love, I guess). Not that I'm on the Hico side of this controversy, mind you. And I still have to read your Billy story -- but I will!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Earl, I'm so glad you stopped by. Best luck with sales for all your works.You know I think you're a very, very, very good writer.

Mark Troy said...

There's nothing like old legends to fuel the imagination. We hate to see our heros or anti-heros go and love to play the game of "what if." Where Billy Died is a fun read, no matter which legend you believe.

Celia Yeary said...

Earl--I am happy to meet you. Any friend of Caroline's is a friend of mine. I was born near where Caroline lives, but now I reside in Central Texas. However, I go through Hico on my way north up on 281 to see relatives. Yes, I have known about and read many things about the legend of Billy dying in Hico. It's been proven, it's been disproven, it's been argued to death.
Still, what do we care, you and I? To me, he died at the hands of Pat Garrett--I saw that grave!
I love legends, and Texas is filled with them.
I don't think I used a useless adjective in this entire post. If I did....please overlook them...I am female, and I like lots of extras!
Congratulations on your many successes. Celia

Isabel Roman said...

That's a great story and very apropos considering just yesterday I read an article about a new supposed-Butch Cassidy manuscript that recently turned up claiming he lived in Wash. until his death in 1934.

I love taking legend/myth and weaving it into a story; it sounds like you did a fantastic job with this one. I'll have to download it, thanks for sharing!

Joyce Henderson said...

Thanks, Earl, for an nteresting post. I suspect legends are much like rules of writing. Anything goes, as long as one presents a plausible argument. It's the writer's vision on paper, after all.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

We always say that truth is better than fiction. Taking both and blending them together makes for great stories. I love the way you do this. Your stories sound interesting.

Elaine Stock said...

Interesting reading, Earl. You gave me a lot to think about.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for allowing me to visit, Caroline. Great to hear from Alice Duncan, a friend from DorothyL, and Mark Troy, who's been a valuable writing partner for about a hundred years. But I've made some new friends, too, and that's always fun.

Celia, Isabel, Joyce, Paisley, and Elaine, a pleasure meeting you and I'm glad you enjoyed my thoughts.

Best regards to all.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Hello Caroline.

I enjoyed the post, Earl. I like reading about the old legends.

Sounds like your book will make for a good read. I'm intrigued on how you weaved the legend into your tale.

I wish you the best.

jrlindermuth said...

Enjoyed reading about the inspiration for your story, Earl. There's always a grain of truth in those legends. The problem is sorting it out.

Earl Staggs said...

Karen, sometimes it's hard to know where truth ends and legend begins. For fiction writers, it doesn't have to matter as long as we turn out a good story.

Earl Staggs said...

John, I can't remember who said this, but I think it applies:

"When the legend outshines the truth, print the legend."

That's probably not exactly right, but the idea is there.

jenny milchman said...

I love this story about your story, Earl. It's true--writers find material everywhere. And good writers mine it.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Earl really is good at telling tall tales and Billy isn't the only tall tale he tells, Don't believe a word he says about his Wii bowling score. He cheats like a son of a gun!