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The Ornery Gene by Warren C. Embree Banner

 

 

The Ornery Gene

by Warren C. Embree

on Tour August 1-31, 2019

Synopsis:

The Ornery Gene by Warren C Embree

When itinerant ranch hand Buck Ellison took a job with Sarah Watkins at her ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska, he thought he had found the place where he could park his pickup, leave the past behind, and never move again.

On a rainy July night, a dead body at the south end of Sarah’s ranch forces him to become a reluctant detective, digging into the business of cattle breeding for rodeos and digging up events from his past that are linked to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Sam Danielson.

Working with his boss Sarah, her nephew Travis Martin, and the cook Diane Gibbons, Buck unmasks the murderer, but at the cost of learning the reality of past events that he chooses to keep to himself.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth
Published by: Down and Out Books
Publication Date: April 27, 2019
Number of Pages: 216
ISBN: 1643960121 (978-1643960128)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Down & Out Books

 

Author Bio:

Warren C Embree

WARREN EMBREE and his wife grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. He did both farm work and ranch work during those years, and he still keeps track of what goes on in the hills. After leaving the area, he pursued an academic career in English, Classical Languages, and Divinity. He lectured at a couple of institutions and preached at a few churches, and he now works in Lincoln as a data analyst for the University of Nebraska. His knowledge and love of the unique culture of the Sandhills, his education in languages and literature, and his analytical skills contribute to his story telling. He and his wife currently live in Nebraska and have 3 grown children.

Q&A with Warren C. Embree

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to answer a few questions.

Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?

I have been writing fiction off and on for over fifty years but, with a few exceptions, I never took it seriously. Even those exceptions were half-hearted. Then, a number years back, I ran into an old college classmate at the University bookstore, and he wondered if I was still writing. He said he had always enjoyed what I had written in the classes we had taken together and told me I needed to write a novel about the Nebraska Sandhills. I wrote a couple of novels after that, but I wasn’t happy with them. However, a few years ago I finished one I rather liked. After numerous rewrites, I let it sit for a while with the intention of making a final version. Then my older sister, Paula Horii, wanted to read it, liked it, and said I should get it published. It was her dogged persistence that got it finished. So I was inspired to write the book by one individual and motivated to finish by another. Unfortunately, the gentleman passed away last year before he could see results of his “charge” to me.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

Actually, there are two biggest challenges for me with anything I am writing. One is focus and the other is an obsession to find the right word or phrase. With respect to focus, I often go down the rabbit hole when my imagination is ignited by some image or an idea that pops into my head in the process of writing. While writing and thinking about how to motivate Buck to look into his mother’s past, I thought finding an old thimble of hers would be an interesting thing. So I wondered about what metal–gold or silver or steel. Then I wondered about what pattern would be etched into the thimble. Before I knew it, I’d worked on a number of pages and literally days and weeks, and I had to throw it all away and backtrack to get back on track. I enjoy those adventures, but there comes a time to force myself to finish a book. I’ve learned over the years that I need to create an outline of some sort to guide my thinking and keep me focused on the story. Otherwise, as noted, I get lost in my imagination.

With respect to the right word, I’m haunted by Mark Twain’s observation that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” As an example, as I was writing one scene where I was having Buck consider his options, he crumpled up a beer can and tossed it across the floor. I spent countless hours trying to come up with the “right word” that embraced both the motion and the sound of the can across the floor. All the rest of my writing stopped. I finally came up with it–skittered. But the whole thing never got into the book because it ended up not being able to drive the story. Which dovetails into the challenge of focus.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

While I grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska, Dad was a school superintendent and Mother a teacher, so I didn’t grow up on a ranch. I did work on ranches and worked on our farm on the edge of the Sandhills, but I never worked much directly with livestock. Dad had a small ranch and would buy calves in the spring and feed them out during the summer to sell in the fall, he didn’t breed cattle. Fortunately, my wife did grow up on a ranch, was familiar with the various nuances of the cattle industry, and so was always my first source of knowledge. I also read books and articles about brands, bulls, cattle chutes, DNA, rodeo bulls, leatherworking, red angus, saloons, soapweed, windmills, and the like. And of course, the internet is now a great resource.

That would be a glimpse. But as I mentioned in the previous question, my lack of focus would have be researching things in a wide range of areas, none of which found their way into the novel.

How did you come up with the title?

I had a working titles for the novel throughout the process. One was “Death of a Bullfighter” and another “Recessive Gene.” However, after the book was finished and I needed to have a title, I wanted one that embraced all the layers of the novel as well as focus on a central thread that was woven into the entire story. “The Ornery Gene” seemed to provide such a focus and tied rather nicely into the central story, the characters, and the various scenes.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I’m afraid my routine in writing is “fits and starts.” Although I work full time, I do daydream a lot about characters and storylines. I enjoy the process of research immensely and even enjoy rewriting once I have something to edit, but the actual business of writing takes place in a rather haphazard fashion. At one time I did force myself to write 2 to 4 pages a night, but I neither liked the process nor the results. I hope to be a little more dedicated once I retire.

Tell us why we should read your book?

It is simply a well-written novel, with a satisfying story, set in a little known part of the United States, and populated by interesting and compelling characters. The Sandhills of Nebraska is the largest grass-stabilized sand dune region in the Western Hemisphere and sits atop the largest aquifer in North America (the Ogallala estimated at 174,000 sq. mi.–450,000 sq. km.). Its culture is as unique as its geography.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I am working on another novel, plus a couple of other books.

My sister wants to know about one of the minor characters in the “The Ornery Gene,” Peggy Williamson, who did not make the final cut of the novel. Buck knew her from the time he worked construction in Gordon, Nebraska and roomed with her boyfriend, John Lambert. She had left Gordon under suspicion of having had a part in the death of a classmate and ended up working in a bar and grill in Tryon, a small town north of where Buck was working at Sarah Watkins ranch. When Lambert turns up dead in Tryon, Buck gets reluctantly involved in finding out why Lambert was killed and why Peggy has vanished. The background to the story is, of course, the Sandhills, but more specifically the county fair, show cattle, 4-H, trucking, and whatever else I might be able to weave into it. I do not know when it will be done or if it will be picked up to be published.

Fun Questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

Buck Elison: Jeremy Lee Renner
Sarah Watkins: Ellen Tyne Daly
Travis Martin: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Diane : Chloe Bennet
Goff Hansen: Robert Duvall
Harvey : Joshua James Brolin
Tom Anderson: Kurt Russell
Eleanor Anderson: Annette Carol Bening

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

During the summer I garden and during the winter I work on indoor projects, but reading is my primary leisure activity.

Favorite foods?

Philly cheese steak sandwiches, but only when I’m in Philly. Sweet corn, shrimp, ice cream sandwiches and, believe or not, spam. Spam was a treat when I was a kid.

Catch Up With Warren Embree On:
warrenembree.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Wednesday, 9:15 p.m.

Sam Danielson slowed his pickup to a stop beside an old cattle chute, switched off the engine, rolled the window all the way down, and listened. He absentmindedly counted the cricket chirps for ten seconds, added forty to the number of chirps and calculated it to be about sixty-five degrees or so outside. A trick his dad had taught him. It was a little chilly for July in this part of the hills, but he had heard the low rumbling of thunder on the drive out. It smelled like rain; there was a storm moving from the northeast that was cooling things down. There could even be some ice in it. He checked his watch: nine-fifteen. Just past twilight. He opened the pickup door and took a deep breath. He reached over, grabbed the flashlight from the glove box, and slid out of the driver’s seat onto the soft sand.

Off in the distance, he heard a mama cow lowing. This was the life he had chosen, and he had never looked back. It hadn’t been easy working for, and then with, his dad. They had gone back and forth on the best way to select the bulls and broncos they supplied for “rough stock” events at the rodeos in the Sandhills of western Nebraska. There was only one way for Dad. “You don’t have the feel for how much the bull don’t want rode,” his dad would say. But Sam had gone to school and studied twentieth-century methods of livestock rearing. For his dad it was a way of life; for Sam it was a business. Sam liked the numbers. He liked to narrow the odds by more than just a feeling. He had tried to show his dad the value in breeding techniques and genetic tracking in estimating the probability that a particular bull would do well in the arena. His dad would just laugh it off. “Show me the ornery gene,” his dad would laugh. “I’ll have five bulls picked before you decide on one.” But Sam knew his would be a better one than the five. He could prove the temperament of a bull before anyone tried to ride it. He had never convinced his dad. The ornery gene had been elusive, but not the genetic makeup of the ornery bulls. He had been right, and he had a genetically identifiable line of stock to prove it.

During his travels from his ranch outside of Laramie, Wyoming, Sam had been made aware of a genetic curiosity in one of the cattle he purchased in Colorado in the spring. Being off in the records would end up being off in the genetic makeup of the calves. There never was just one gene that made the difference. It was a matter of multiple generations. He had traced the lines that looked the most promising, and closely followed the leaders in the industry. Discovering that curiosity had led him into this part of the Sandhills of Nebraska. Talking about it at the bar had got him into an argument with the old cowboy, and listening to the old man had brought him to this particular spot.

“You’ll find what you’re looking for out there,” the old cowboy had said. “Then you’ll know I was telling you the truth.” Danielson switched the flashlight on and scanned the area around the cattle chute. He had let himself be convinced that the old man knew a thing or two about cattle breeding. What had surprised Danielson most was that the old man had known about the science behind modern breeding at all. The old cowboy looked more like he’d been “rode hard and put up wet” as his dad would have said: a man who had spent a hard life out in the sun and the rain and the snow. Danielson expected someone like that to know less about biogenetics and more about old school solutions. Like his dad.

The excitement the old cowboy had shown assured Danielson it would be worth his time to find out if he was headed in the right direction. But as he looked around the area, all he saw was a dump site for old batteries, tires, cook stoves, windmill parts, cans, bed springs, and used up corral panels. He saw nothing that would explain the old cowboy’s intensity. Now he was more curious to find out how the old cowboy would explain the genetic anomaly that he was so passionate about. It was one of those things his dad would say shouldn’t make a whole lot of difference in his deciding on a bull. It probably wasn’t all that important to breeders either. But he was curious, and keeping careful records was important to the integrity of breeding livestock. It was a necessary component in the breeding business and his business. He was hoping he could find some answers out here as he tried to piece together the puzzle. He was determined to take some time to track it down to the source and maybe be able to verify when and where the mistake was made.

He had tried to be low-key when he was asking questions, but the speed at which the old cowboy had raised his hackles this afternoon showed Danielson just how hard that was going to be. He had touched the wrong nerve on the first try. He wasn’t sure whether he had asked the wrong question or his question had been taken the wrong way. It took a couple of beers and a good bit of time getting the old man calmed down. When it finally got friendly again, the old cowboy had told him about the spot out here in the hills. He gave directions and said he’d meet him out there around nine that evening.

As he waited for the old cowboy to show up, Danielson kicked at a broken pitman, picked it up, and used it to move around some cans at the edge of the dump site. He wasn’t terribly interested in getting bitten by a rattlesnake or a rat. It was a half-hearted effort. He sniffed the air again and caught the scent of pine and cedar trees this time. The hills hadn’t changed much from when he was a kid except the cedar trees. They were becoming a weed out in the hills. He shoved a wooden box with the pitman, then threw the stick of wood back into the pile. It was altogether possible that the old cowboy had sent him out on a snipe hunt. It just as well be. There was nothing he’d seen so far that was tied to the cattle breeding. If it were here, it wasn’t something obvious. What galled him was that he could be looking right at it and still not see it. For that matter, there could be nothing to it.

A loud clap of thunder caused Danielson to look up at the sky. In the southwest the clouds were fast turning to an ugly black. He saw the lightning streak across the sky and started counting. He reached fifty-two and he heard the thunder again. The storm was only about ten miles away. He didn’t want to get caught in the storm, and he hadn’t found anything yet. It wouldn’t be the first time he had gone on a wild goose chase.

He walked over to the rear of the pickup, pulled out a can of chewing tobacco from his back pocket, and stuffed a pinch in the back of his cheek. He put the can back in his pocket and picked up an old spur that was in the pickup box. He turned it over in his hand as he walked over to the chute—just an old spur. The old cowboy had given it to him, along with some old rodeo flyers, claiming he’d known Danielson’s dad and had got it from him. His dad had never been a bull rider, so the spur didn’t belong to him. He didn’t know whether someone had given it to his dad or his dad had simply found it tearing down after one of the rodeos they had supplied the bulls and broncs for. It reminded him that he needed to go through his dad’s things, a clutter of boxes, something he’d put off for ten years after his dad died. He tossed the spur toward the pickup box but hit the fender instead, bouncing the spur at an odd angle forward of the pickup. He walked over toward the cattle chute and battery and pointed his flashlight in the direction the spur had bounced.

Danielson caught the flash of lightning in the corner of his eye, heard a pop from behind him, then felt a sledgehammer hit him in the middle of the back. The strength drained out of his legs. He felt a sharp pain spring out from where the hammer had hit that seemed to rush through his torso. His legs gave out and he hit the ground, knees first, and then fell on his face. The pain was now a hot, burning sensation from the place where the hammer had hit and his back felt wet. He thought he had been struck with lightning, cursing himself for miscalculating the distance of the storm. He tried to use his arms to push himself up, but he couldn’t gather the strength. He dropped back down. He could feel that his back was soaked, but it hadn’t started raining yet.

From off to his right, he heard something moving cans around. It wasn’t the wind. It was deliberate. No animal would do that either. A few moments later, he felt someone kick his side. He grunted involuntarily, and then tried to roll over. His legs were a dead weight. He twisted his face away from the pickup, but couldn’t see anything. “He shot me,” he whispered. He tried to raise himself with his arms, but was light-headed now. I can’t believe he shot me. A few moments later rain poured from the clouds, diluting the blood from his back and mingling it with the sand.

***

Excerpt from The Ornery Gene by Warren C. Embree. Copyright © 2019 by Warren C. Embree. Reproduced with permission from Warren C. Embree. All rights reserved.

 

 

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  One Response to “THE ORNERY GENE by Warren C. Embree (Interview, Showcase & Giveaway)”

  1. Cheryl, thank you for the interview and opportunity to give some background on the novel. I appreciate your time and attention to detail.

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