What do writers have in common with the Pony Express?
March 3, 2015
BEING ONE WHO HAS STUDIED and researched the Old West during many different phases of my life, it suddenly dawned on me how much writers have in common with the riders of the Pony Express.
The Pony Express was involved in the communications business.
So are writers.
The Pony Express carried the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to California, on horseback in the early 1860s, with riders crossing the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada.
Writers have just as many ups and downs, more dry spells than a ride across the desert, would love to see the sale of books follow the same trail and maybe even branch out into the other side of the Great Divide as well.
Pony Express riders never knew what to expect when they began their journey.
Nether do writers.
Pony Express riders had a map. They seldom followed it.
Writers generally wad up and throw away their maps about halfway through a novel and often watch their characters run off in directions they hadn’t planned or even considered.
The journey in the 1860s was never easy.
The journey still isn’t.
For Pony Express riders, it took ten days.
For writers, it may take a lifetime.
According to advertisements, this is what the pony Express wanted in the men chosen to carry the mail:
Must be expert riders.
Authors must be expert writers.
Willing to risk death daily.
Authors die a thousand deaths, often daily.
Locked up in a little room with only a computer and some scattered thoughts, authors might as well be orphans.
Wages $25 a week.
Authors seldom earn that much.
Pony Express riders faced Indian attacks.
Authors face writer’s block.
Both are about the same.
Pony Express riders had little contact with humanity.
If Authors didn’t have the characters in their heads, they might not have any friends at all, and one of those friends almost always wants to kill somebody.
But here is the big difference in the two.
Pony Express agreed “not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman.”
That’s when the writers would spit out a profanity or two, take a drink of strong whiskey, continue to gamble on their next novels, throw up their hands, and quit the Pony Express.