Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pronghorn Antelope in SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL, a Prehistoric Thriller!

Ghosts of the Heart - the second book (Click to Order)
Shadows on the Trail (Click to Order)

Recently, I was driving down a Rocky Mountain graveled county road on an early morning jaunt to one of my favorite artifact hunting places. A sea of sagebrush and prairie surrounded me in every direction. My right eye caught some movement out on the prairie alongside my pickup truck. I glanced over and there was a pronghorn antelope buck racing with my pickup. I peered down at my speedometer and saw I was traveling around thirty miles per hour. I looked back at the pronghorn buck and he did not appear to be even exerting himself. I took a gander down the county road to make sure the road was straight and then decided to give Mr. Pronghorn Buck a run for his money.

Pronghorn antelope buck loping along in the sagebrush
and greasewood. Photo by Author.  
I sped up the pickup to thirty-five miles per hour and the buck matched my speed without too much trouble. I checked the road again and sped up to forty miles per hour. At forty miles per hour, the pickup was all over that bumpy county road. I decided that forty miles per hour was my limit so I was hoping that was fast enough for the pronghorn buck. I looked over at my pronghorn friend and saw that at forty miles per hour, he was still not finished with me. He lowered his head and found another gear. His legs chewed up the prairie as he accelerated past the front of my pickup truck. He literally left me in his dust.

I backed off to thirty-five miles per hour and that was when the pronghorn buck decided to zoom across the road right in front of me. The last thing I remember was that pronghorn buck’s white rump waving goodbye to my pickup truck and me. After crossing the road, the pronghorn buck headed out onto the prairie where he finally slowed down and stopped. I watched the pronghorn buck in the rear view mirror as I headed on down the road. I guess he was just showing me who the fastest dude on the prairie was. 
Pronghorn antelope are the second fastest land animal in the world, right behind cheetahs. At thirty miles per hour, pronghorns appear to be loping along. At forty-five miles per hour, they appear to be cruising right along. At sixty miles per hour, they are literally hauling!   

High Plains archaeological sites are well represented with the remains of pronghorn antelope.  Investigators have found the remains of pronghorn antelope in Folsom-aged strata at two key archaeological sites, the Lindenmeier Site in Colorado and the Agate Basin Site in Wyoming. This is important to me since my trilogy, Shadows on the Trail, is about the Folsom people.
Pronghorn antelope doe loping along in a large prehistoric
campsite. Photo by the Author.  
It is now time to climb into our time machine and set it for the late Pleistocene, sometime around 8,700 B.C. We will join three young hunters from the Folsom People tribe. These three young hunters are key characters in my prehistoric odyssey novel called Shadows on the Trail. They are on a difficult trek across the Arid Plains. The three young hunters are named Chayton, Wiyaka, and Keya and they are almost out of water and food. It appears things are getting worse when this scene happens.      

Wiyaka suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Keya to run into the back of him. After scolding Keya for his clumsiness, Wiyaka pointed his finger towards the parched prairie, northwest of them, where a huge dust cloud rose into the clear blue sky. The three hunters watched the dust cloud with curiosity, unable to determine what was causing it.

“Prairie fire!” Chayton spoke into a strong northwesterly wind.

Hee ya, – No,” Wiyaka responded. “It is the wrong color and we are downwind, we would smell the smoke.”

“Animals?” Chayton suggested.

“Perhaps, maybe bison, I am not sure?” Wiyaka yelled into the wind. “Let’s get closer.”

The three hunters slowly crept forward, hiding behind the tall sagebrush and greasewood, their spears ready to thrust. As they got closer, a low rumbling sound filled the dusty air. Crouching down, Wiyaka signaled to Chayton and Keya to join him.

“We are close enough!” Wiyaka called out to his companions.

The dust cloud was heading directly at the three hunters and Chayton looked around for something for them to climb up, but the naked prairie offered nothing. The rumbling sound became louder and the dust in the air became thicker. As the dust cloud headed straight at the three hunters, Chayton covered his watering eyes against the barrage of dust and dirt. The dust cloud was right in front of the three hunters when Wiyaka’s dirty face lit up in a broad smile. He jumped to his feet, waving his spear and screaming at the top of his lungs. Chayton and Keya still hunkered down, looked up at Wiyaka as if he had lost his mind. Wiyaka jumped high in the air, throwing his spear while screaming at the top of his lungs.

In as much time as it took to scream, the lead animals of the herd sharply veered to the right of the three hunters. The hunters watched hundreds, if not thousands, of tatoke – pronghorn antelope race past. The three hunters could no longer see each another in the dense dust cloud that shrouded the plains. When the sound of thundering hooves finally faded away, the dust cloud dissipated and the hunters looked at each other.       

Pronghorn antelope does as curious as cats.
On a wide-open environment like the Arid Plains, pronghorn antelope are almost unapproachable. They have phenomenal eyesight and they miss very little, even at very long distances. If you are a hunter from the Folsom People tribe, armed with a spear or two and without any mode of transportation besides your feet, it is not hard to imagine the dilemma you would have hunting pronghorn antelope.
However, for prehistoric hunters who hunted pronghorn antelope, there was hope. Although pronghorn antelope are unapproachable on a wide-open prairie, they become confused when dealing with physical barriers or surrounded by humans. Trap them in some kind of arroyo or manmade fence and pronghorn antelope will run around in circles until they literally collapse with exhaustion without ever attempting to break out of the enclosure. Prehistoric hunters took advantage of this by building brush fences that funneled the pronghorn antelope herds into enclosed areas. There, the prehistoric hunters dispatched the pronghorns with spears or stone mauls.

Pronghorn antelope also have another weakness. They are inherently curious. If most pronghorn antelope see something unusual on the prairie, they have to find out what it is. They will go as far as walking towards the object just to find out what it is, even if it is a hunter. I have tested pronghorn antelope’s curiosity more times than I care to admit while hunting for artifacts on the wide-open prairie. When I see a pronghorn in the distance, I will wave my walking stick in the air to get its attention. Once it locks on to me, then I have it. I will wave my walking staff occasionally and usually I can get the pronghorn to walk towards me a few steps each time. The game usually ends when I lose interest, not the pronghorn.        
Read about pronghorn antelope in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy novels.  Books by John Bradford Branney (Click)   

Click to Order Winds of Eden

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Light Hidden by Darkness - The Doorman Cometh

Click on this Link for Light Hidden by Darkness
Imagine waking up from a deep sleep and not remembering who you are. Then imagine you look around the apartment where you somehow landed and nothing in the apartment triggers any recognition from your memory. Are you just having a bad dream? Then, pinch yourself and wake up! That does not work? Well, I do not know what to tell you, except from here on out, things are about to get a lot more stranger. If you expected to remain in control, forgettaboutit! Next stop? You start meeting strangers who appear to know more about you than you know about yourself. And these strangers? Well, these strangers are truly bizarre!  

In my recently released novel called Light Hidden by Darkness that is exactly what happens to an old man I am calling Mr. Bud. This old man named Mr. Bud woke up alone and confused. He became even more disoriented after meeting some of the kooky souls who inhabit this strange new world.

In the brief passage below, taken from the novel Light Hidden by Darkness, cantankerous old Mr. Bud opens up the front door of his unfamiliar apartment and lo and behold, another odd neighbor is standing there. This neighbor just happens to be the doorman for the building. Here is how this initial contact between Mr. Bud and Joey the doorman goes. Knock! Knock!    

“Who is it?” Mr. Bud roared through the closed door.

“Joey, sir,” a voice replied.

“Joey?” Mr. Bud queried. “I don’t know any Joeys!”

“No, sir, we have never met,” Joey answered, loud enough for Mr. Bud to hear him clearly through the closed door. “I am the doorman for this building.”

“Oh great, another member of the welcoming committee,” Mr. Bud mumbled, peeking through the peephole.

“Joey, move away from the front door and I will open it,” Mr. Bud shouted through the closed door. When Mr. Bud was sure that Joey had backed away from the front door, he opened it.

“Good day, sir!” Joey bellowed at Mr. Bud.

“Yeah, what’s so good about it?” Mr. Bud challenged.

“Well,” Joey mumbled, not expecting the question.

Mr. Bud gave Joey the twice over with his eyes, the same thing he had done to Gloria. Joey was wearing a maroon polyester and wool overcoat. Mr. Bud noticed that the doorman had his overcoat buttoned to the very top button.

“Is it cold outside?” Mr. Bud asked.

“Uh…no, sir,” Joey responded.

“Then, are you cold?”

“No-no, sir.”

“Then, why the hell is your coat buttoned all the way to the top?”

“I do-don’t know sir,” Joey sputtered. “It is always that way.”

Pershing Cap
Mr. Bud went back to inspecting Joey. Like a sagging balloon, Joey’s bulging triple chin rested on the upper collar of his threadbare overcoat. Too many dry cleanings had left the colors of the overcoat faded and discolored. Although Joey was taller than Mr. Bud, no one would ever consider Joey tall. However, what Joey lacked in height, he made up in girth. His ample weight strained every button and seam on the worn-out overcoat. Mr. Bud’s eyes wandered higher, past Joey’s out-of-date black horn-rimmed glasses, to the top of Joey’s head. Teetering on top of Joey’s gigantic noggin, just like a doorman’s crown, was a black Pershing hat at least two sizes too small. Disgusted, Mr. Bud concluded his inspection. He had seen all he needed to see.

“Yes?” Mr. Bud demanded. “What do you want?”

“We-well, sir,” Joey mumbled. “Mi-Mi-Miss Gloria told me that we…the building had a new arrival and I wanted to per-per-personally we-welcome you to the building.”

“Good, now that you have per-per-personally welcomed me to the building, good day,” Mr. Bud replied while patting down his pants pockets in search of money for a tip. He found his pants pockets empty, not even a piece of lint.

“I will have to catch you next time,” Mr. Bud said, referring to the tip. “By the way, Jimmy, you said I just arrived?”



“My-My name is Joey.”

So much for first impressions…I am not sure if either of them – Mr. Bud or Joey – got an A for effort on this first meeting. However, I can assure you that the ongoing relationship between Mr. Bud and Joey will have readers talk about it.

                        Read Light Hidden by Darkness and see if Mr. Bud and Joey become BFF.      
Click to Find Adventure

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Saving Miguel - Creating the Characters - Part Uno

Click this Link for Saving Miguel
For this blog posting, I want to discuss the creation of characters in novels. Let me rephrase that. I want to discuss the creation of interesting and believable characters in novels. What do I mean?

We have all read novels where the characters literally jumped out of the pages of the book and pulled us into the story. These types of novels are hard to find. Most of us have also read novels where the characters were as wooden as trees in a forest. The characters in these novels did not pull us into the story, instead, they made us want to close the book and hurry to take it to the used book store.
I have only written four novels (soon to be five) so I don't want you to think that I am an expert on writing or character development in novels. I am not. I am still a novice.  I am still working hard to improve my ability to bring depth and breadth to my characters in my novels. That's why it is so important for me to focus on a process for character creation and development. I am a country mile away from achieving a standard where I can even sit at the feet of such great fiction writers as Stephen King or Dean Koontz. For anyone who has read their novels, the characters seem to explode from the pages, grabbing readers by the nape of the neck and dragging them back into the plot of the book. Before a reader of King and Koontz even knows it, they are participating in the story as one of the characters. THAT is the place where I want my characters to be!
So, how do these great writers create these believable characters? I am sure every novelist has his or her own formula, but since this is my blog, we are going to discuss how I do it; right, wrong or indifferent.    

Characters! Those little jewels that supply life to any novel. If done right, they transform pages of paper into a reader’s involvement in the day-to-day lives of the characters. The reader becomes a part of the character’s life, not the other way around. From a novelist’s perspective, where do these characters come from? I assume that almost every novelist gets these characters from pretty much the same place. Most of the characters I have created are composites of people I have known or studied, either directly or indirectly. I also believe that most novelists inject portions of their beliefs and personalities into certain characters in every novel. I know that more than a few of my characters have a bit of me in them.   

In most good novels, a variety of characters is the spice of life. The last thing any novelist strives
Could this be the character of Volk from Saving Miguel. Read
the novel and create your own Volk. Courtesy Sons of  Anarchy.
for is a bunch of characters that act like zombies walking down the road, unless of course the novel is about zombies. Characters should have different behaviors and personalities. Then, it is up to the novelist to integrate these various characters into the storyline of the novel. Just as in real life, some characters are going to be more interesting than others and some characters are good while others are evil. Creating a novel is like creating seafood gumbo. When we make a delicious seafood gumbo called a novel, a variety of ingredients is essential and if we want the taste of the novel to be rich and fulfilling like our gumbo, a variety of characters is essential.

One of my all-time favorite character creations is in my novel, Saving Miguel. Volk is this character’s name. He was built from a composite of people I have known, watched, or read about. Volk's character in the book would be easy to stereotype so I went out of my way to make sure that did not happen. The physical attributes of Volk were modeled after a country and western singer, believe it or not. Any guesses who that country and western singer could be? Sorry, I plead the fifth. 

The first thing I try to do when I introduce a new character in one of my novels is to provide the reader with a little background information as to how that character fits into the overall plot of the story. Following are a few excerpts from Volk’s first appearances in Saving Miguel Let’s see if you can understand from this paragraph how Volk fits in to the overall plot of the book.  

The Chapter President of the Skulls was a man named Johannes Pudine or Volk as his fellow club members called him. Johannes Pudine began his career in the early 21st century as a pledge in an infamous, global outlaw motorcycle club. Through brains and brawn, Volk rose through the ranks of that motorcycle club until the world’s economic collapse occurred. Volk took the collapse as a good opportunity to break off from the larger motorcycle club and form a much smaller, regional organization he named the Skulls. The smaller, less political organization allowed Volk to move the organization into different business opportunities without having to go through the politics and bureaucracy of a global organization. As chapter president, Volk not only focused on the bread-and-butter illegal businesses, but he had enough business savvy and foresight to invest in legitimate enterprises, such as farms, ranches, and feedlots. Ironically, the Skulls’ biggest customer for beef, pork, fruit, and vegetables was the Security Service at Camp Randolph. To get in the door of the Security Service with the Skull’s legitimate businesses, Volk had bribed several influential people in the S.S., but when the Skulls proved they could effectively manage the businesses, Volk slowly weaned these people away from bribes. The business with Camp Randolph grew exponentially and allowed the Skulls the hard currency to expand into other legal businesses. Volk wanted his club out of the illegal activities altogether but it would take time. His biggest frustration in growing these businesses was that few people had anything worth trading, so if he wanted to sell their goods, the S.S. was their only customer.

Are these people the Skulls from Saving Miguel? I don't
know, read the novel and YOU decide. Courtesy 81?

What do you think? Do you at least have a general idea how Volk and the Skulls tie into the story of Saving MiguelNow, that the introduction is done, it is time to give the reader an idea of Volk's physical attributes, i.e. what does the character physically look like.

Volk was in his mid-fifties. His long jet-black hair and beard of yesteryear had turned from coal to salt. He stood about six foot, four inches and weighed around two hundred fifty pounds. Volk had always been able to handle himself in the violent encounters that were part of the culture of an outlaw motorcycle club. Even as he became older, his legendary temper was always boiling under his calm exterior, but now he was wise enough to handle things less violently, or at least let his subordinates handle the violence.

There, we understand a little bit about the physical makeup of Volk. He is no one to mess with, obviously. We now know how Volk fits into the story and some of his physical characteristics. We will let the reader now fill in the blanks of Volk's appearance. It is now time to inject Volk into the story.  

Tonight, Volk was sitting at a table in an old south side restaurant that served as his headquarters. The restaurant was quiet except for the steady hum of an electric generator on the outside of the building. The S.S. had offered to run electricity to his headquarters, but Volk declined the offer.
He did not need the Security Service to know where his headquarters were and besides, he moved his headquarters routinely.

Volk was waiting for his six captains to show up to a meeting that he had arranged. He was concerned about the reports that the S.S. had taken over several sectors on the north side of the city and that they were continuing to expand into other sectors. He wanted to know what his captains knew and if there were any opportunities or threats for the Skulls."

Dialogue is the most powerful tool a novelist has to work with. Dialogue is the heart and soul of character development. Through dialogue, the reader really gets to know a character. Just like when we meet someone and get to know them by talking to them, the reader gets to know the characters through their dialogue with others. They begin to understand the character's thoughts, beliefs, motives, and behavioral tendencies through dialogue. Below is where dialogue starts to build a connection between Volk and the reader.    

The last captain finally showed up and Volk did not wait for him to sit down before he called the meeting to order. Volk asked what the captains had heard about the invasion in the north part of the city and then he sat back and listened. The captains had all kinds of information about the invasion, but it was all second-hand information, rumors, and speculation. Volk held his temper in check as he listened to the unsubstantiated hearsay coming out of his captains’ mouths. This is like listenin’ to an old women’s sewing circle! Volk could not rely on anything his captains told him without collaboration of the information. Volk watched his captains yap and noticed that one of his captains, at the end of the table, was not saying a word.

“You’re awful quiet, Joey,” Volk said to the captain at the end of the table.

“Just listenin’,” Joey replied.

“Listenin’?” Volk asked, glaring at him. “This is not listenin’ time, if you know somethin’, spill it.”

“Well I was waitin’ until these guys got through their tall tales,” Joey answered.

“Well they’re done, if you don’t mind sharin’ your captivating insight,” Volk declared, giving each captain a stare.

“What do you want to know?” Joey asked.

“Part of your territory is around that hospital that just got blown up, the S.S. is as thick as gnats there; what are you hearin’?” Volk replied, unhappy with having to pull information out of his youngest captain, one thread at a time.

Even in this very short section of dialogue, the reader gets an idea how Volk runs things on the ‘south side of the city’. There is no better place to learn about a character than to listen to them talk and interact with others, including the reader.

To summarize my process for character development. First, I introduce the character into the overall story and plot, i.e. how do they fit in. Then I give the readers just enough of a physical description to allow them to fill in the rest. Finally, I inject the character into the overall story through their dialogue. This is where readers learn the most about a character, just by the way they talk and interact with others. There is no reason that a novelist would have to go through the specific order above. The order could be changed to fit the circumstances, but I would recommend all three elements.   
I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to hearing how you like my novel Saving Miguel, which by the way is available at better booksellers around the globe. Click the Link to Join the World of Saving Miguel