Monday, June 14, 2010

Fiction as Research by Stephen Bly

This Manuscript Monday Stephen Bly has returned to help us with our research. I don't know about you, but research intimidates me (Annette), so I appreciate any helpful hints. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your advice with us! Readers/writers, enjoy.

Do They Sweat In Duke City?/Fiction As Research
By Stephen Bly

New Mexico heat blanketed Albuquerque that July like too many covers in a stuffy cabin . . . the kind of day that you sweat from the inside out and feel sticky dirt in places that you don’t ponder much except in the shower.
From Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon
Released: June 2010

Every novel’s got a place and time. That often means plenty of research. My next release, Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1954. So, I needed to know some things about a specific city, a state, and what the world was like that year.

Research Thru Travel

It’s tough, dirty work . . . but I love any time I can go to New Mexico. The only other site I’ve been that boasts similar layers of culture stacked one upon another: Rome. Yet, New Mexico’s still a cowboy state. From the Pecos River in the east to the Plains of San Agustin in the west, from the Sangre de Christo range in the north, to the “bootheel” in the south, it’s full of great ranching country. A perfect setting for a cowboy story.

My wife, Janet, and I drove up and down Historic Route 66 that runs through Albuquerque. It was known as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road.” It was the primary route for those leaving the dust bowl of Oklahoma and moving to California during the Great Depression. Albuquerque was selected as a stop on the first transcontinental air route in the 1920s and Route 66 brought the first transcontinental motorists through the city.

Research Thru Study

Duke City is a nickname for Albuquerque, because it was named after Viceroy Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the Duke of Alburquerque. Later the spelling was changed because some influential person couldn’t pronounce the “R” in Alburquerque.

The cowboys in my story retire in Albuquerque, not Santa Fe, because even in 1954 the latter was becoming the artsy, celebrity spot it is today. These guys needed a cheap hotel and city amenities. So, Albuquerque suited them fine. Before there were retirement communities and senior citizen housing, some elderly lived in old downtown hotels. Well past their prime in attracting overnight guests, they catered to senior citizens who scraped by on something fairly new in the fifties: Social Security.

One of my favorite governors hails from New Mexico. Governor Lew Wallace authored the novel Ben-Hur (a movie made in 1959, starring Charleton Heston) and he also tried to negotiate with the notorious Billy the Kid. What an eclectic group of folks tramped the Old West.

A piece of historical tidbit . . . a hard thing for some readers to realize: in 1954 no one considered cigars or cigarettes or their second-hand smoke in any way harmful. That’s why you see so many actors and actresses lighting up in the movies of that period. Cowboys often carried peppermints, which were tasty, portable, and covered up the smell of such vices, at least so they thought.

Research Thru Memories

In 1954 an old man’s vision of feminine loveliness would be Bow, Grable, Monroe or Kelly. Grace Kelly in High Noon stole my own ten-year-old heart. However, I figured she wasn’t too smart because she couldn’t understand why Will Cane had to turn back. But I did. Shoot, that’s in a cowboy’s bones. But, my oh my, she surely was purdy.

The summer of 1954, in Albuquerque, a ten-year-old boy becomes A Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon. Maybe I wasn’t born 100 years too late.


Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (hardback, Center Point) will release this month (June 2010). Available through Amazon or

More about Stephen Bly:

Married to writer, Janet Chester Bly, 46 years; they’ve co-authored 18 books. Resides in northern Idaho at 4,000 ft. elev., on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Father of 3 sons: Russell, Michael, & Aaron. The family includes daughters-in-law, Lois, Michelle & Rina Joye, plus grandkids: Zachary, Miranda (& husband Chris), and Keaton. Third-generation westerner, Steve spent 30 years working family ranches and farms in central California. His hobbies include collecting and restoring Winchesters; studying histories of Old West; doing construction on Broken Arrow Crossing, a false front western village next to his home. He also plays a par game of golf.

* authored and co-authored 102 fiction and nonfiction books,
including historical and contemporary westerns
* Christy Award winner, Westerns, 2002, The Long Trail Home
* Christy Award finalist, Westerns, 2003
* mayor of Winchester, Idaho, pop. 308 (1999-2007)
* pastor of Winchester Community Church
* speaker for men’s and writers’ groups, USA and Canada
* roving editor, Big Show Journal
* mentor, Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild
* represented by agent Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary
* Interviews and Media Kit available,
* Fresno State University, CA, Philosophy, summa cum laude
* M. Div., Fuller Theological Seminary, CA, 1974

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