The seeds for the Moon-Eyed Stud struck me, not surprisingly, on horseback. Actually, a lot of the things I write come to me while riding. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the hooves or creaking leather that lulls the mind off to that place where ideas pile up, waiting to be born. Or maybe it’s simply being outside, away from the clutter and clamor of modern life, that frees the sub-conscious enough to let random thoughts flow into a more coherent form. Or, most likely, being in the saddle is just a good place to daydream.
For the record, I raise cattle for a living. Writing is just another of those bad habits I’ve picked up along the way. Part of my job - the best part, by far - is gathering the cattle in October and bringing them home from the high pastures along the Continental Divide where they summer. The day this story came to me was in the middle of a typical Montana autumn, cold enough in the morning that I wished I had worn a heavier coat, so hot by afternoon that a flannel shirt felt too warm. I was riding with a friend named Ron Russell, one of that dying breed that shows Hollywood cowboys up as the patent forgeries they are, a man who has spent the better part of his life working stock throughout the western states. The cattle we were after, half a dozen stragglers holding out above the snow line, had given a pretty good fight, leading us down some of the steepest, nastiest real estate in Beaverhead County, (Yes, I really do live in a county called Beaverhead) but by the time we reached the river bottom all involved, horses, cattle and humans alike, were thoroughly worn out. We stopped to tie our coats behind our saddles, and Ron pulled a folded bag of tobacco and a packet of cigarette papers from his vest.
“Hang on second,” he said. “I’m going to twist a smoke.”
I must have had a strange look on my face, because he went on to explain that when he was a young man in Wyoming, some of the old timers referred to making cigarettes as ‘twisting a smoke.’ At that moment I was hit by the image of John Garret leaning against the wall of an abandoned livery stable, rolling Bull Durham tobacco with cold fingers in a place he thought of as Hell.
Of course, Garret didn’t have name at point, and the plot was more sketch than portrait, but the basic story was there. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of fate, that we are given certain tasks or lessons to face and if we avoid them in this life they might well hound us into the next. I knew this story would be about a man obsessed with breaking the horse that killed him, a feral stud with a pale blue eye. I also knew it would be about coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the hardest thing in the world is admitting you can’t do it alone. And, I knew it would be about friendship. Beyond that, things were nebulous. Some of the plot fell into place easily, while some of it came harder, much of the story not finished until the day it was accepted. (Thanks, Edmund, for the help with the final revisions!)
And, in the end I suppose, I wanted a chance to write about the afterlife. It’s always intrigued me that Heaven - or Hell - is not just some shining city in the clouds or a lake of fire, but something more personal, something tailored to the individual. I think all of us have wondered at one time or another what, if anything, lies beyond death. And I also think most of us have given at least some thought to their own vision of Heaven. Mine just happens to look like Montana.