Blakely, Mike 1958–
Blakely, Mike 1958–
PERSONAL: Born 1958, in Wharton County, TX; son of James Blakely (a rancher, musician, and humorist). Education: University of Texas at Austin, B.A., 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Riding and training horses.
ADDRESSES: Home and Office—Marble Falls, TX. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Musician, humorist, and writer. Member of "The Swing Riders Show," and bands Ghost Council, the Swing Riders, and Mike Blakely & the Whiskey Traders; owner of a horse ranch in Marble Falls, TX, as well as the record label Swing Rider Records. Organizer of music and book festival Mike Blakely's TexAmericana Fandango, 2002–. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1977–81.
MEMBER: Western Writers of America (president, 1998–2000), Ozark Creative Writers (board member).
AWARDS, HONORS: Spur Award finalist for Best Novel of the West, Western Writers of America, 1994, for Shortgrass Song, and 1998, for Comanche Dawn; Spur Award, Western Writers of America, 2001, for Summer of Pearls.
The Glory Trail: A Magnificent Epic of Texas, Harper Paperbacks (New York, NY), 1990.
Baron of the Sacramentos, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1991.
The Snowy Range Gang, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Shortgrass Song, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Wild Camp Tales, Republic of Texas Press (Plano, TX), 1995.
More Wild Camp Tales, Republic of Texas Press (Plano, TX), 1996.
Too Long at the Dance, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Spanish Blood, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Dead Reckoning, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Comanche Dawn, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Vendetta Gold, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Summer of Pearls, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Moon Medicine, Forge/Tor Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Come Sundown, Forge (New York, NY), 2006.
(Editor, with Mary Elizabeth Sue Goldman) Forever Texas: Texas History, the Way Those Who Lived It Wrote It, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.
Also author of songs released on six CDs by Swing Rider Records. Contributor to various magazines, including Texas Highways, Cattleman, Sports Afield, Sporting Classics, American West, Texas Sportsman, Texas Fish and Game, Ultra, and Western Horseman. Author of syndicated column "Lone Star Legacy," 1985–88.
ADAPTATIONS: Forever Texas was adapted for audio-book, Recorded Books, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Mike Blakely is more than simply a writer whose novels have made him a household word among devotees of the Western novel—he is almost an entire industry promoting the Old West, as well as his beloved home state of Texas. Blakely is also a musician, songwriter, and speaker who takes endless pleasure in his first love, horses, and who shares this love with his audiences around the world. Describing himself to Steven Law in a Readwest.com interview, Blakely revealed it was his childhood passion that carried him into his career as both a writer and a musician. "My earliest memory in life," Blakely recalled, "was a horse standing in a field. Thanks to the lifestyle my parents chose, I grew up in the country and learned to ride horses, work cattle, and also how to hunt and fish and appreciate the great outdoors." He spent his childhood growing up in a Texas ranching family that included a musician father and traveling to a dozen countries in Central America and Europe by the time he was fourteen.
Blakely grew up in Wharton County, Texas. By his own admission, he was not the best student. Following his graduation from high school, he spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. When his mother told him that his former high school English teacher had told her that she thought he should consider a career in writing, he was inspired to use his GI Bill benefits to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Even before graduation, Blakely's class assignments were being published in local and regional magazines. By 1985 he was producing a self-syndicated column titled "Lone Star Legacy." The column covered Texas history and folklore in honor of the Texas Sesquicentennial and was published in Texas newspapers for three years. As he continued to write not only magazine articles but songs, Blakely established a home in the Texas hill country near the town of Marble Falls.
Blakely discussed his full-fledged entry into the world of Westerns on his Web site. "The great western writer, Elmer Kelton, was a friend of my father's," Blakely wrote, "and he recommended that I join Western Writers of America. I joined in 1992 and went to the convention—it was in Jackson, Wyoming, that year. At the convention, I met Bob Gleason, editor-in-chief of Tor/Forge Books. I also met Tom Doherty, the founder of the company. We hit it off, and Forge Books ended up offering me a contract for several novels. So, my career began to take shape, and I got more involved with the inner workings of Western Writers of America."
Blakely received praise for two of his earliest novels from Sister Avila, writing reviews for Library Journal. She wrote that Baron of the Sacramentos is "not a traditional Western, although it starts like one." The hero of the story, Bart Young, "is not cast in a heroic mold," Sister Avila reported. "His rise and fall make a suspenseful tale, full of violent action involving treachery, brutality, even murder, and very unpleasant people, some being mere caricatures." She concluded by recommending the book to "readers who like novels off the beaten path." In her review of The Snowy Range Gang, Sister Avila noted that the book has "a tattered old plot" that is "transformed by the author's skill into an exciting, suspenseful novel with well-fleshed characters and several surprises."
Shortgrass Song, set from 1860 to 1884, tells the story of a drifting cowboy musician named Caleb Holcomb. In a review for Library Journal, James B. Hemesath observed that Blakely "delivers an oft-told tale of the Old West, but this particular family saga proves more than ordinary due to strong, vivid writing." Roundup reviewer Doris R. Meredith remarked that the book is "a philosophical message disguised as a pleasant read for a winter day."
Comanche Dawn tells the story of the birth of the Comanche Nation. Budd Arthur wrote in Booklist that the book is both "a heartfelt expression of the author's love of horses," and "a detailed study of life among those Blakely considers to have been the greatest horsemen of all time." Blakely drew on his extensive research into the history of the early Plains Indians to write this story. Longer than the average western novel at 413 pages, Comanche Dawn, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "reads briskly, despite its length and is leavened with much Comanche lore."
Blakely's Moon Medicine continues the story of a character he introduced in Too Long at the Dance, which is also a kind of sequel to Shortgrass Song. The character Honore Greenwood, given the nickname Plenty Man by the Comanche Indians, is introduced at the end of Too Long at the Dance, and Moon Medicine is the first book in what Blakely envisions as a series of "Plenty Man" adventures. A Publishers Weekly contributor explained that Greenwood is "like a spirited western Forrest Gump with a high IQ." Greenwood tells his story at the age of ninety-nine in 1927, the Publishers Weekly writer related, "with arrogant good humor and the honesty of an old man who delights in admitting that 'Even in my youth I was a marvelous liar.'"
After a hiatus of some five years, Blakely released a sequel to Moon Medicine titled Come Sundown. In this novel, Plenty Man finds himself caught up in the wars against the Comanche. Having been adopted by the tribe and taking one of their number as a wife, he is loyal to their cause; however, he is also a close friend to Kit Carson, who unfortunately is pitted against the Comanche. Blakely follows Plenty Man through a good portion of the 1850s and 1860s as he meets a variety of real-life historical figures while American forces slowly round up the remaining Comanche to force them onto reservations. Booklist contributor John Mort observed how the author's "plot is sprawling but holds together because of … humor." A Publishers Weekly critic also commented on how it is Blakely's sense of fun that really makes the story: "a story this funny and affecting can do without an original premise."
A songwriter and a western performer, Blakely often appears with his father, Dr. James "Doc" Blakely, and the two have traveled throughout the United States and taken their tour as far away as Australia, performing western music as "The Swing Riders Theatre Show." In 1995 Blakely cowrote a song in Nashville with John Arthur Martinez and Alex Harvey that he described to Law as "a fun Tex-Mex song called 'Seguro Que Hell Yes!'" Tejano accordion player Flaco Jimenez recorded the song and won a Grammy for his entire album, which included Blakely's song. Blakely has his own band, Ghost Town Council, which toured in Italy and Switzerland in the late 1990s.
Still living in his one-room cabin on his horse ranch, the "Who Knows," near Marble Falls, Texas, Blakely gives visitors to his Web site regular updates on all facets of his creative life.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of Too Long at the Dance, p. 989; August, 1998, Budd Arthur, review of Comanche Dawn, p. 1958; March 1, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Comanche Dawn, p. 1154; June 1, 2006, John Mort, review of Come Sundown, p. 53.
Library Journal, September 1, 1991, Sister Avila, review of Baron of the Sacramentos, p. 227; February 15, 1992, Sister Avila, review of The Snowy Range Gang, p. 195; November 15, 1994, James B. Hemesath, review of Shortgrass Song, p. 86.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of Baron of the Sacramentos, p. 61; February 10, 1992, review of The Snowy Range Gang, p. 72; October 31, 1994, review of Shortgrass Song, p. 45; September 14, 1998, review of Comanche Dawn, p. 47; August 14, 2000, review of Summer of Pearls, p. 329; July 30, 2001, review of Moon Medicine, p. 60; April 10, 2006, review of Come Sundown, p. 44.
Roundup, March, 1995, Doris R. Meredith, review of Shortgrass Song, p. 27; April, 1996, Doris R. Meredith, review of Wild Camp Tales, p. 21; December, 1996, Doris R. Meredith, review of Spanish Blood, p. 24; October, 2000, Doris R. Meredith, review of Summer of Pearls, p. 32.
Roundup Quarterly, fall, 1990, review of The Glory Trail: A Magnificent Epic of Texas, p. 43.
School Library Journal, May, 2001, Pamela B. Rearden, review of Summer of Pearls, p. 175.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2000, Julie Wilde, review of Summer of Pearls, p. 344.
Mike Blakely Web site, http://www.mikeblakely.com (October 18, 2006).
Readwest Online, http://www.readwest.com/ (October 18, 2006), Steven Law, "A Conversation with Mike Blakely."