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Book Review: Man Wanted in Cheyenne

inter(re)viewed by Ashley Holloway

As a genre, Westerns conjure color-saturated images of Lorne Greene sitting atop a horse as Ben Cartwright in Bonanza and runaway stagecoaches in the mind’s eye, with Lonesome Dove’s theme song playing in the background. Dubbed a “contemporary Western,” Richard C. McPherson’s A Man Wanted in Cheyenne is a brilliant example of a story that appeals to just about everyone, dispelling the notion that Westerns are only for small boys and old men. Set in west Nevada on the Circle J Ranch, this story takes readers on a journey of life “on the range” that is accessible to readers who never knew they could love a Western. Meanwhile, Zane Grey and Louis L’ Amour would approve.  

McPherson has created relatable characters with great depth, leaving the reader feeling as though they are on familiar terms with each of them. With beautifully crafted phrases such as “He put on his worry every morning, like it was woven into his rough work shirts,” and “If a fancy suit, complete with its own set of rules, is supposed to make a man feel special,” the reader gets a true sense of who Jake is not only as the protagonist but as a person and how his history has shaped him as well. Though somewhat nuanced, these quotes also illustrate humanities’ propensity for hiding behind self-imposed armor as a form of protection, a subtle but clever theme that surfaces throughout the story.

The reader is plunged into the action right in from the start with Hollywood arriving at the Circle J to film a Western featuring movie star Robert Lange, upsetting the normal rhythm of life on the ranch. As with any great Western narrative, action, chaos, love, friendship, disaster, and adventure ensues, leaving Jake faced with a choice that has the potential to forever alter his course of life. In doing so, McPherson humanizes the agony of making choices and living with the consequences, illustrating how a sense of belonging acts as a basic human needs common to all.

McPherson’s work demonstrates the delicate relationship between research and fiction, as well as the necessity of establishing narrative truth in this well-researched book. This helps to build a sense of trust with the reader, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the story, and particularly in the case of McPherson’s work, learn something in the process. In addition, this also helps the reader to develop a sense of empathy for the characters, Champ the ailing bull included.

Originally appearing in Living Springs Publishing's international short fiction contest, and in their 2017 anthology, Stories Through the Ages, protagonist Jake is revisited in this unforgettable novel, only now as an aging cowboy in the process of healing from grief and loss. This is a wholesome story of courage that is triumphant in its delivery. With its well-developed characters, balanced and evocative prose, and captivating storyline, readers will be engrossed from the first page. This book is the perfect combination of tradition and modern rolled into something entirely original.

Perhaps Man Wanted in Cheyenne will be the catalyst for a whole new genre of fiction to hit the shelves…

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Interview With the Author

AH: How did you go about your research for this book? What was your process and what resources did you use? 

RM: For cattle and bison ranching I stayed as close to the source as I could, online and on the ground. I tracked bison and cattle associations' websites, auctions, and state agriculture departments, and stumbled across sites run by families who left cities and turned to bison ranching. Every reference - including Dave Letterman's ownership of the biggest bison herd in Montana - is accurate. Americans forget (I know I did) that cattle are not native to North America and are much harder on the environment than native bison. On the ground, I have often visited a friend's ranch near Jackson, Wyoming, where I rode horseback (and mule-back) across all manner of terrain, and among the local herd of free-roaming bison. Finally, I spent time at a local ranch joining in the actual daily cattle feeding and learned that "bull whisperers" are a real thing and met the handsome bull who was the model for Champ. Researching the Hollywood parts consisted of memories and conversation, given my friends in the movie business and my time living in LA - though it was fun to pick up Variety and Hollywood Reporter again, since I'm a big movie fan. The conversations reminded me of the long, hard, physical days required by movie making, and the elusiveness of authenticity - just like in a novel.


AH: This story feels as though it was something you, as an author, needed to get out to the world, like it needed to be told. Can you tell me about the impetus for this story and character? 

RM: I was challenged once in a writing prompt to forget conflict and write about someone who was simply happy. I am always struck by people who radiate peace and happiness, despite having little material wealth. The Buddhists I know seem a happier lot than the multi-millionaires I know, so it seemed natural to make Jake ultimately a rather Zen figure. I frankly enjoy material and social success, but I also cherish the spiritual peace that can only be achieved internally, so I suppose Jake was my way to delve into those competing desires.    


AH: Jake, the protagonist in this book, is a recurring character for you, appearing in Living Springs Publishing's international short fiction contest, and in their 2017 anthology, Stories Through the Ages. Do you have any plans to carry this story even further? Will we see Jake again?

RM: He recurred largely because readers of the original short story were sometimes curious about his early life and history. A couple of years after the Cheyenne story was published, I was given another prompt in a writing workshop in Hollywood: throw two unlikely strangers together. The result was the first meeting between Jake and movie star Robert Lange on the location shoot. Once that scene was written, and with the original short story providing resolution, I had the bookends, the beginning and end of the story. All that remained - for three wandering, exploring, experimenting years - was to write the other 60,000 words. I don't expect to see Jake again, but journeys like his often inform my short stories, because we are all learning and searching. 

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Man Wanted in Cheyenne is available on Amazon, B&N, Indiebound and more.

About Ashley Holloway

Residing in Mohkinstsis, Ashley Holloway teaches healthcare leadership at Bow Valley College in Calgary, AB. She is a nurse with a Master of Public Health, a graduate diploma in Global Leadership, with further studies in intercultural communication and international development. Ashley’s work has appeared in the Calgary Public Library Short Story Dispenser, The Nashwaak ReviewThe Globe and Mail, Magna Publications, The Prairie Journal, Alberta's CARE MagazineUnleash Press, with regular contributions to Lead Read Today; forthcoming publications include Flash Fiction Magazine (Jan 2023). Her writing has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Ashley also reads manuscripts and provides editorial support for Unleash Press.

About Richard McPherson

Dick McPherson says he writes to learn more about himself, about people, and the haphazard world we share. He sometimes writes to share beauty, sometimes to celebrate life's ironies, and sometimes just to see where a story leads. His short fiction includes mystery, thriller, romance, and satire. Man Wanted in Cheyenne is his first novel: a modern Western in which Hollywood collides with a cowboy's dreams, and the past battles with the future. Reviewers call it "moving and inspiring," and "smart, funny and tender.

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