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Cowboy Poetry & The Texas Two-Step

Just ask anyone wearing mustache wax at Elko's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and he (or she) will tell you: Cowboy poetry has the same rhythm as the Texas Two-Step.

Fast-fast, slow, slow. 
Fast-fast, slow, slow. 

The basic building block of the Texas Two-Step is a walk—forward if you’re a man, backward if your a woman:

Left-right, left, right.
Fast-fast, slow, slow. 

The dancing couple can then add any number of spins, turns, sashays and promenades, like two hearts beating together, then apart:

Fast-fast, slow, slow. Fast-fast, slow, slow.
Together, then apart. Together, then apart.

Here’s that same two-step rhythm coming through in the poem “Working For Wages,” by cowboy Baxter Black:

I’ve worked for wages all my life, watchin’ other people’s stock
And the outfits I hired on to, didn’t make you punch a clock.

Let you work until you finished! Like the feedlots in the fall,
When they roll them calves in on ya, they’d jis’ walk the fence and bawl. 

We’d check the pens and pull the sick and push and treat and ride
Then process new arrivals that kept comin’ like the tide.

And I’ve calved a lot of heifers, though it’s miserable sometime,
It’s somehtin’ that I’m good at, and it’s like she’s sorta mine. 

She knows I ain’t the owner, but we’re not into protocol.
She’s a cow and I’m a cowboy, and I guess that says it all... 

Got no truck with politicians who whine and criticize
‘Bout corporate agribusiness, I guess they don’t realize

Somebody’s gotta own ‘em that can pay the entry fee!
Why, who they think puts up the dough to hire ol’ boys like me? 

Oh, I bought a couple heifers once, maybe fifteen years ago.
I held ‘em through a calving, then I had to let them go

‘Cause all I did was worry ‘bout how to pay the bills.
Took the fun outta cow punchin’, I don’t need them kinda thrills.

Though I wouldn’t mind a-ownin’ me a little hideaway
So when some outfit laid me off, I’d have a place to stay. 

But I figger I’m jis’ lucky to be satisfied at heart
That I’m doin’ what I’m good at, and I’m playin’ a small part 

In a world that’s complicated where the bosses fight it out
With computers and consultants and their counterparts with clout. 

They’re so busy bein’ bosses, they’ve no time to spare somehow,
So they have to hire someone like me to go out and punch their cow.

From Lessons from a Desperado Poet, Baxter Black, TwoDot Globe Pequot Press, 2011.


The Teaching Cycle

  1. Introduce "The Why": Why are we here in this class? Make eye contact. Learn and use names.
  2. Assess Students: Motivations may range from the purely intrinsic (to get better) to extrinsic (to get rewarded). Do the students' interests overlap with "the why"?
  3. Determine Goals: Then blend what the students want to do with what the class aims for them to do.
  4. Present Information: Show (visual), tell (auditory), and perform or model (kinsethetic)
  5. Guide Practice: Let the students work under some amount of supervision.
  6. Check Understanding: Does what their doing make sense to them? What have they learned? Get and give feedback.
  7. Summarize and Debrief: Were the goals and motivations met? Create an ending that gives closure to the class. Without proper closure, the work is forgotten, like a good movie with a bad ending.

Writing Workshop at Columbia Center for the Arts

I'm taking the writing workshop into the art museum. Should be fun!

Putting Art Into Words: 
A Community Writing Workshop with Kevin Fann 

March 2 & 3, 2013

About the Class

In this group writing workshop, we will use art in the Columbia Arts Gallery’s local artists' exhibit as our inspiration. Not only will we freewrite in class and talk about writing as a group, but we will also talk about art and compose an artistic essay over the two-day session.

We will have fun.
We will hope to learn.
And maybe, just maybe, we will find something beautiful in the process.



Kenny Rogers, 1978

Research on the neuroscience of gambling featured in The Economist and  marketing practices used within the casino industry itself as detailed in the "Blackjack" episode of This American Life suggest gamblers are not addicted to winning.

Gambling addicts are addicted to having nearly won. Their brains crave losing by the smallest of margins more than winning itself. A maladaptation of the amygdala seems critical.

"The researchers found that those who scored highest in gambling severity also showed the most activity in the midbrain area in response to near misses. (They did not differ in their response to real wins, however.)

"This area of the brain is of interest to researchers because it is where dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is produced. Dopamine has been implicated in other addiction studies. It could be the near misses that enhance dopamine transmission in gamblers who suffer the most severe problems, the study suggests."

Abstract: "Gambling Severity Predicts Midbrain Respons to Near-Miss Outcomes," Henry Chase and Luke Clark, Society for Neuroscience, 2010.

PDF: "Neurobehavioral Evidence for the 'Near-Miss' Effect in Pathological Gamblers," Reza Habib and Mark Dixon, Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 2010.


What's A Script Consultant?

Cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine

This information came from a presentation called “How To Get Hollywood To Pay Attention,” by Luke Ryan, producer of films like Red Dawn and Hottub Time Machine, speaking at the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference.

Who Wants What In Hollywood: A Quick Rundown

  • Agents—want to make big money: They represent the script and concept.
  • Managers—want to be producers: They think, “I sell your script, I become producer.”
  • Producers—want to get movies made: They make no money unless the movie is made, even if the writer gets paid.
  • Studio Execs—want not to get fired: They place their bets on whatever worked before.
  • Assistants—want to get promoted to executive: They are your best friends. They have an incentive to read.
  • Lawyers—want to argue: As soon as you get a deal as a writer, they descend upon you.
  • Talent—want to be no less famous than yesterday: Actors and filmmakers.
  • Readers—want to be writers: They do “coverage” on scripts. They are angry “non writers.” You have to take away their reason to say “no” to your script.
  • Writers—want to earn a living writing: Usually you don’t even have to write the script. You just have to prove you can write on the things Hollywood will do anyway. You get about $20,000 to be on a script round table. (He noted Hottub Time Machine had 20 writers.)
  • Script Consultants—They, Ryan says, are usually douchebags who want your money.

Elizabeth Taylor


When you pitch an idea, making people think “I have to read that” is the only goal, and you want to do it using as few words as possible.

A character sets out to achieve a goal but runs into a problem and must do something to overcome certain doom. Two vital pieces:

“but” = complication
“and must” = character growth 

For the certain doom element, find an emotional hook: “or the marriage will fail,” "or the kid dies."

Boil down the pitch line to this: 

“A (character) sets out to (goal), but (obstacle) and must (grow or face certain doom).”

Hollywood Style

Fiction, Ryan says, is more a writer’s indulgence. Hollywood writing is a matter of: Is this something people want to see? And can you rock it out? Write the kind of thing that will make people hire a babysitter for the night.

You only have so many scripts to write. Write things that can change your life. Be in control of your voice. People love voice. 

Write in genre because your audience picks movies that way. And always make the conflict happen to the main character. Don’t coddle the hero. Ever.