Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post: Elisabeth Foley

Today, I'm pleased to welcome fellow blogger and writer, Elisabeth Foley. She's just published her first book of short stories and they're all westerns. How cool is that? Even cooler? You have a chance to win a copy! Just leave a comment and we'll randomly draw a winner!

My favorite singing group, past or present, is the Sons of the Pioneers. One of the most famous Western singing groups of all time, they were pioneers in nature as well as name, with their unique harmony singing and an array of fine original songs by group members Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. Nolan, who is best known as the composer of their biggest hits “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water,” was an especially gifted and versatile songwriter—who never learned to read or write music, although he composed hundreds of songs in his lifetime. Many of these songs are considered lost, because some were never written down or recorded, and in addition Nolan lost a large amount of his work in a 1948 fire.

Early last year, I was reading a list of these lost songs. At some point they were registered for copyright, so only the titles remain—the music and lyrics were never found. One of these titles caught my eye in passing: “The Ranch Next Door.” I remember thinking that it sounded like a good title for a story.

And my incorrigible imagination started saying, “I wonder what it would be about…?”

For some reason that title stuck in my head. I couldn’t help thinking about it over the next few days, and mechanically started to put the story together in my mind. I envisioned two ranches side by side, but with something that separated them so effectively that their near neighbors might as well not have existed. A feud, of course! From there it was an easy step to the classic cattleman vs. sheep rancher conflict, and then to the romance that threatens to break the long silence.

In the end, I just gave in and wrote the story.

Having done so, I still needed to reassure myself about “borrowing” the title before pursuing publication. So I contacted archivist Elizabeth Drake McDonald, who has researched and collected all of Bob Nolan’s surviving music, and asked her if it was all right to use the song title. She shared my request with Nolan’s grandson, Calin Coburn, and they both encouraged me to go ahead with it.

That was back when I was still thinking along the lines of submitting my short stories to magazines. But I used to daydream sometimes about what it would be like to publish a collection of stories. I always pictured “The Ranch Next Door” as the title story of the collection, whether because I had written it first, or because the title had so captured my imagination, or maybe because the barbed-wire fence dividing the feuding families seemed the strongest metaphorical and visual image to emerge from the seven stories. And here I am, a year and a half after putting the first words of the story on paper, and that old daydream has actually come true!

If you’d like to read more about Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, you can visit this website, which has a wealth of pictures, music, biographies and much more.

Thanks, Elisabeth! Visit her blog at The Second Sentence.


  1. Elisabeth, Your title is a wonderful tribute! How sad that so much of Bob Nolan's music is lost, too.

    I live in a western town, and oh the drama that goes on. One of my friend's husband is a hay farmer and cattle rancher and there are some pretty good real life feuds (including murder!) that have gone on.

    I'd love to read your collection of short stories-they sound good!

  2. Elisabeth - so glad you know Melissa too. I love to hear where story ideas come from, especially when there is a bit of a historical tie to it.

    I love the song Cool Water!

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    I've visited your blog twice now and find it entertaining and informative. I'm not familiar with the western genre, but you make it sound enticing.

    Good luck with your short stories and congrats on publication of them.


  4. I grew up with the Sons of the Pioneers on the radio, so those old songs have a lot of Nebraska dust on them. Nolan and his boys would probably not be remembered at all were it not for the movies. I think of them as Hollywood cowboys, their songs about the Hollywood West. The close harmony singing seems so easily to evoke the campfire, though I doubt that real cowboys did much close harmony.

    I don't believe any of SoP had much ranching or cowboy experience. I'm even wondering without that screen exposure whether Roy Rogers would have ever become a star. I once read a list of the vast number of recordings of those songs by other artists. They were icons of an era.

    Thanks, great post, and I'm smiling about the connection between your title story and a "lost song." The whole idea of lost songs evokes all manner of fictional possibilities.

  5. Valerie - thank you! Sounds like you live right in the middle of a lot of story material. :) Yes, if the lost songs were as good as the existing ones I'd sure like to have heard them.

    Margo - isn't it funny how you 'run into' people you know in unexpected parts of the blogosphere? I didn't know you knew Melissa either. :)

    Patricia - thanks for visiting my blog, and I'm glad you enjoyed it! If you try out a Western I hope you'll like it. There's a lot of variety within the genre, as there is in others.

    Ron - I think the Pioneers' music is the musical equivalent of what a lot of popular fiction and film is to the Western genre - something unique that developed quite a ways from its historical roots, and then became a tradition of its own. I believe you're right about the ranching experience, although most of them did come from rural/farming backgrounds. The closest to the frontier experience was probably Tim Spencer; his family were homesteaders in the early 1900s.

  6. What a fascinating post. I love discovering how authors found their titles.

    Good luck with the stories, Elizabeth!

  7. Very intriguing post! I've never read western much, but growing up trail riding and jumping horses I've definitely been around that crowd.

    My grandma would love this book!

  8. Congrats on publishing your book! And I love the idea of an old fashioned freud and romance in a story!

  9. Shirley, Talei, thanks so much! Michelle, I grew up horse-crazy, so that's probably one reason I ended up liking Westerns so much.

  10. How cool that it all began with a song title! Redemptive that it was finally used. :)

  11. Just going to visit now - thanks for that!


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