Whatever my state, I'm going to urge any and all who follow this blog to acquire and read Vengeance on the Sweetgrass, my first e-book, a work which I believe is probably the best-written of all my efforts. One may acquire this literary gem for a mere $9.99 at Vengeance on the Sweetgrass on amazon.com or at Vengeance on the Sweetgrass at barnesandnoble.com. (If you don't already know, you can download to your computer for free Kindle for PCs or Kindle for MACs or Nook for PCs or Nook for MACs and read the book on your desktop.) Now I do realize that in making such a recommendation I'm engaging in an unseemly act verging on the reprehensible; but my readers will, I hope, notice that it also runs entirely contrary to my usual attitude of extreme modesty, which at times descends to the level of self-degradation.
Seriously, though, this book is quite exceptional to me and I do hope to share it broadly. Its content stems from an issue lying very close to my heart--the vital, even essential, importance of social justice. As fine a piece of writing as I believe it to be, I regret to admit that I've been unable to sell it to a conventional publisher and I'm still researching how to offer it in independent bookstores like our own beloved Malaprop's in Asheville and also take advantage of print-on-demand options. But because Vengeance is set in the Old West yet is written in what I dare to call a literary style, and because it addresses the human condition in a number of serious ways, Western-type publishers have rejected it for not fitting neatly into the traditional horse-opera genre. And literary houses have rejected it for seeming to resemble a common oater. Furthermore it's hard enough to get anything published today that doesn't deal with fantasy or blood-sucking (there is some blood in Vengeance on the Sweetgrass but nobody is sucking it; what blood there is comes as a result of gunfire).
The book was actually written some time ago, probably as early as 2003; I can't now recall exactly when I wrote it. It was inspired by a true event in Wyoming history, the lynching of a woman named Ellen Watson and her lover James Averill by six cattle barons who accused the pair of rustling. But Ellen and Jim's real crime was to claim land under the homestead laws which the cattlemen had illegally appropriated. As many of you know, my wife Ruth is from Colorado and we frequently visit there. During one of our trips I purchased a book on the affair, The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate, 1889 by George W. Hufsmith (High Plains Press, Glendo, WY, 1993.
"Cattle Kate" was an abusive nickname the cattlemen had assigned to Ellen implying she was a prostitute who sold herself taking payment in rustled cattle, most probably a false accusation. The book aroused an outrage in me because the six lynchers never paid for their crime but lived on to ripe old ages pretending to be the Western equivalent of lords of the manor with spotless reputations.
I decided I would bring retroactive justice to Ellen and Jim, and in my own small way try to tip the scales of justice a degree or two to the rightful side, even using the frail tools of a novel whose plot delivered an imagined fate to the murderers that repaired, at least figuratively, the foul crime that had gone unpunished for nearly a hundred and fifteen years.
Vengeance is the only book of mine that I have re-read. I've made attempts to re-read my other works, but my interest always stalls out because I remember all too well the anguish of writing them. I'm three-quarters of the way through Vengeance as I write this, and each new page comes as a revelation. I will admit to you that as I read I keep wondering Who is the guy who wrote this? The richness and texture of its language; the vividness and complexity of the characterizations; and above all, the zeal for justice that animates it, leave me astonished. It is unrecognizable to me as any work of my own. I could no more repeat its quality today than I could fly to Mars. I feel I can say this without blushing with shame for the simple reason that I don't feel that I was ever capable of writing it, that it must be the work of some other author.
Why is it such an impassioned book? Because, I think, my sense of justice--and the almost complete lack of it throughout human history, extending even to today--is in a state of permanent disgust. Injustice offends every cell in my body. I have always hated it and always will. I believe it is far too prevalent in our politics and in our treatment of people of different conditions than our own. The man who wrote Vengeance wasn't just telling a story; he was on a mission, and that mission mattered to him in a fundamental way. So, blame me if you will, but I hope you'll read this book. I don't care if I've been immodest. I want this book to have the audience I think it deserves. I hope you'll feel the same way when you read it. And I hope you'll read Mr. Hufsmith's book too--he was as impassioned as I when he wrote it. His book is still available and has drawn excellenet reviews.
Happily I can offer an opinion of Vengeance other than my own, in case you nourish doubts about my judgment of things literary. Our very own Brian Lee Knopp, as tough a critic who ever pecked on a keyboard and author of the Malaprop's bestseller Mayhem in Mayberry, generously consented to read and review Vengeance for me; and has given me permission to broadcast it in any way I see fit. I feel the opinion of another writer--especially one as respected as Brian Lee--is worth repeating here. It is below:
"Vengeance on the Sweetgrass" is Charles F. Price's stunningly well-crafted tale of greed and get-back set amid America's 19th century range wars. Price weaves these two twisted strands of motivation together so cunningly and convincingly that one 1889 Wyoming atrocity becomes the barbed-wire genetic blueprint for an entire nation hell-bent for fulfilling its "Manifest Destiny" by way of the knife, the gun, or the rope. His wordcraft is supple and electrifying, and his characters are unforgettable. This powerful history lesson seethes with honor and authenticity. If fans of historical fiction want to know how it was really done in the Old West--and if would-be writers want to know how it can still be done today--look to a master storyteller like Price and to his latest tour de force "Vengeance on the Sweetgrass."
The book, featuring a stunning cover designed by Britt Kaufmann, may be ordered in the Kindle Store on amazon.com and the Nook Book section on barnes and noble.com. I hope Malaprop's will forgive me.