John Brantingham
Professor and author of East of Los Angeles
Blessings, Bullets, and Bad Bad Men
Posted on September 28, 2011 at 7:00am  Print


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I like Westerns that are really just updated stories of knights or samurais.
A lot of the old Spaghetti Westerns were those kinds of stories. Clint Eastwood’s man with no name in "A Fist Full of Dollars" is such a hero. He rides into town in the first act to see injustice, and by the end, he has vanquished the evil. I’m not giving anything away here. Everyone knows it’s going to happen. So many of those cowboys riding about in fiction are really just knights, and I love them all.
But Jim Blessing, of the new novel "Blessings, Bullets, and Bad Bad Men," is not one of those characters, at least not at the beginning of the novel.
That’s not to say that I don’t love him.  He just comes from a different cowboy paradigm, one that’s talked about a little less than the knight, but is just as fun. Think of "Silverado" with its questions of good and evil, race and racism, bullies and heroes. So many of the characters in that movie are heroic from the beginning, but Kevin Costner’s Jake isn’t one of those guys.
He’s no coward, but he isn’t the hero type either. He’s just a guy having fun, and we love to watch him. There’s something so compelling and interesting about a cowboy who is still really a kid just enjoying the freedom of the range and living by his wits. Every moment is chaos and we get the vicarious thrill of youth.
Jim Blessing is a character like this. He’s bold and brash, and it is such a pleasure to be in his world.
I truly loved being in his world. I sat down and lost myself for a couple of hours and only just a little while ago came up for breath.
I recommend this fun western from an independent publisher to anyone who loved "Cat Ballou" or "The Sons of Katie Elder."

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Comments (14)

Sunny Frazier
9:32am on Thursday, September 29, 2011
The Western genre has been sadly neglected over the years, but I see a comeback. This time the female authors are riding the range. Expect to see a different take on how the West was won. Another insightful review, John!
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Bill Schweigart
10:16am on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Sounds interesting! Reluctant heroes, ambiguous characters, hellraisers with a heart of gold...these are so much more interesting to me than straight up "white hat" vs. "black hat" stories....
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Melanie Jackson
11:05am on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Cat Ballou and Sons of Katie Elder. This is high praise, indeed!
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William Doonan
11:15am on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Westerns are on their way out just about as fast as mysteries are on their way out. Did anyone watch "True Grit" with Jeff Bridges and not love it? Rooster Cogburn is a wonderful hero! The old west is one of the great American hinterlands, and there's room there for all manner of stories to play out. Even aliens make it in the west.
William Doonan
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Lesley A. Diehl
11:58am on Thursday, September 29, 2011
I'm crazy about cowboys who are fun-loving. This sounds like a great read and one I'd like to give as a gfit to my very own cowboy.
Lesleye A. Diehl
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Sally Carpenter
12:08pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Congratulations, Jim, on a great review, from a fellow OTP author! Sally Carpenter "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"
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Sally Carpenter
12:09pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Sorry, my congrats are for Bonnie--Jim is the protagonist in her book! I guess Jim is so realistic I mistook him for a real person. Sally Carpenter
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Melanie Jackson
12:26pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
I agree about Westerns not being on the way out. I always thought outer-space stories, like Star Trek, were actually Westerns. Here's a nerdy fact for. Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry wrote lots of Have Gun, Will Travel episodes. Hubby and I still watch them devotedly.
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John Brantingham
12:29pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
I've read a couple of really good westerns lately from small presses. The other that springs to mind is Rene Thompson's The Bridge at Valentine by Tres Picos Press.
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marta chausée
1:06pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Nice review, John. Great comments. I've never dipped my toe very far into the Western pool but all this talk is making it very appealing.
Marta Chausée Resort to Murder
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Patricia Gligor
2:16pm on Thursday, September 29, 2011
I grew up watching Westerns on TV and they will always have a special place in my heart. Some of my first loves (infatuations, I should say) were the cowboys who, as John wrote, rode into town and vanquished evil. This new kind of cowboy intrigues me too. Good review!
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Marja McGraw
2:21pm on Friday, September 30, 2011
Great review, John. I have a few friends who read westerns and I'll pass this along. I just recently read one of Louis L'Amour's books, and I can see I've been missing a lot. I'll have to add westerns to my TBR stack.
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Jason Hunt
5:14pm on Friday, September 30, 2011
Since I was a toddler sitting on my father's knee in front of an old black and white TV, I have been a fan of the gunfighter-as-knight-errant. I strode into my teens quoting John Wayne and Clint Eastwood -- after all, "There's nothing like a good piece of hickory." :-) But I absolutely LOVED Cat Ballou, also -- and believe it or not, I still catch myself singing the title song: "She came to town from Wolf City, Wyoming, Wolf City, Wyoming..." :-) Your review has sold me: I will definitely be ordering a copy of "Blessings, Bullets, and Bad Bad Men"!
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Bonnie Kelly
6:04pm on Friday, September 30, 2011
John, I wrote a thank you the other day for the great review of my novel, Blessings, Bullets and Bad Bad Men. I was very surprised to not find it here. I don't know what happened to it?? So, I'll try it again. Thanks John for the great review. I am so glad you liked my book. I've always loved westerns. You can read about it on my website at The writing group I belong to...Word Wizards of Santa Maria...have said they like my next book, Wild Justice, a lot more than Blessings. But, I really like that guy. I had so much fun with Jim Blessing and will always be grateful to him for getting me published. Again, thanks John. You made my day.
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    •    Blessings, Bullets, and Bad Bad Men


B. A. Kelly, "Blessings, Bullets and Bad Bad Men"  Interview on Blog Talk Radio from May 12, 2011.


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Blessings, Bullets and Bad Bad Men - B. A. Kelly

This action-packed western novel, depicts the adventures of gunfighter Jim Blessing, who ridges into Las Flores, a sleepy little town in 1870's New Mexico Territory, thirsty, rich and single. When he wakes up the next morning he's hung over, broke and married, and he can't remember how he got that way. Then someone starts shooting at him.

As he searches for a way out of his troubles, Blessing finds himself more deeply involved with Maria, his beautiful young Spanish wife, a young boy and his dog and Morgan Price, the man
who was supposed to marry Maria.


Why the Western?

                  Picture the world as it is today.  The world of boom boxes, back up beepers (those really drive me insane), noise, noise, noise. Everywhere you turn, everything you do is contributing to making you deaf. Even in your home you can’t get away from it, everything from your vacuum cleaner to your blender makes you crazy. Then you just sit down to watch your favorite television show and your next door neighbor has decided to have a party. You might be able to deal with the music if it wasn’t for the base that they have turned up so high that it is invading your house through the ground, up through your cement floors right into your whole body and your brain which considers a violence you could not imagine yourself capable of.  You wonder, what has happened to manners, consideration for your fellow human beings?

                  I was born in a large city—Chicago, Illinois. The school I attended was around the block. The movie house that showed the nickel Saturday movie matinee was a block away in the opposite direction. As a kid, I thought nothing of the noise made by the streetcars running on the tracks up and down our street.

                  But on my tenth birthday my parents decided my younger brother and I needed a more wholesome environment and that is when my life started to change. We moved to 16 acres with lakefront property and we spent summers swimming, boating and fishing, watching Great
Blue Herons hunt from the turtle mounds and lily pads.

                  In the spring the lilacs bloomed, then the dogwood and fall brought a wall of   autumn     COLORS to the trees surrounding the lake before the snow of winter brought its quiet stillness to my world.

                  When we first arrived there was no electricity, we used kerosene lamps, pumped fresh spring water from the pump outside the house and trudged out back to the outhouse. We walked 3 miles to a one room school house past apple orchards with no fences where we could pick the fruit. One bite and the juice would run down your chin.

                  Today they tell you to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, but who can stomach the dry mealy apples and unripe tomatoes they pass off as healthy eating. By the time I reached my senior year in high school I was bored with the slow paced country life and dreamed of travel to faraway places and longed for the excitement I thought you could find out in the world.

                  Once again my parents decided my brother and I needed more advantages than could be had living so far away from civilization, so once again we moved. This time to Phoenix, Arizona, the land of year round great weather and supposed opportunity. When we first arrived I saw a family of Navajo, wearing their native dress, ride into downtown Phoenix one Saturday afternoon in a horse drawn wagon. We got to ride horses on Squaw Peak. The desert sunsets were spectacular.

                  In the summer we’d camp at the lakes in the mountains to escape the heat. Once, our parents and those of the boy next door, who was my brother’s age, drove us up past Payson and dropped us off with food and a tent for one weeks in an area inhabited by only a few cows and a cowboy on a horse who came riding by one day as I squatted by a log taking care of business—he was gentleman enough to pretend he never saw me and fortunately I never saw him again.  

                  We had to lug water a half a mile and by the end of the week the only food we had left was some potatoes, and we were just about ready to kill each other.

                  I lived in Phoenix for four years, but never got used to the heat and dry air, so when I turned 21, I loaded up my car with my few belongings and headed west. When I hit salt water and could go no further without getting wet, I settled in and have spent the last 47 years as close to salt water as I can.

                  I still have the urge to travel and have camped in places like Sequoia National park, as far south as Tampico, Mexico and as far north as Alaska.  In 2004, I put my dog in a van and we traveled almost 10,000 miles across this country.

                  And this I know, these experiences have taught me that I’d rather hear a bird sing than a jack hammer pound the cement. I’d rather here a chorus of frogs calling for mates than listen to some boom box pound in my head. And listen to the wind in the trees and see the stars fill the sky at night.

                  This is why I write westerns.

                        The western can be many things, stories of adventure, romance, mystery and more. It shows  But whatever tale it chooses to tell, of this we can be sure, it usually takes place in a time and place where there is still hope for mankind and for nature in all its grand and glorious wonder.

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