The Night Herding Song

Harry Stephens, an American cowboy, wrote this song circa 1890, while he was herding wild horses in Canada. While the rest slept, one or two unlucky cowboys always had to stand guard overnight. Called the “night hawk”, this job was one of the worst a cowboy could draw, and they believed the sound of music would keep the herds calm. You can hear a version of it by the inimitable Roy Rogers here. I believe he’s backed up by the Sons of the Pioneers, one of the most well-known Western bands, with whom he sang lead at the beginning of his career.




Oh slow down, little dogies, quit your roving ’round.
You’ve wandered and trampled all over the ground.
Oh, graze along, dogies, and go kinda slow,
And don’t always be on the go.
Move slow, little dogies, move slow.

I’ve circled, trail-herded, night-herded too
But to keep you together, that’s what I can’t do.
My horse is leg-weary and I’m awful tired,
But if I let you get away I’m sure to get fired.
Bunch up, little dogies, bunch up.

Oh say, little dogies, when you goin’ to lay down?
And quit this forever shiftin’ around?
My limbs are weary, my seat is sore
Oh, lay down, dogies, like you’ve laid before,
Lay down, dogies, lay down.

Oh, lay still, dogies, since you have laid down
Stretch away on the big open ground.
Snore loud, little dogies, and drown the wild sound
That’ll go away when the day rolls ’round,
Lay still, dogies, lay still.

Today is World Poetry Day

In honor of World Poetry Day today, I offer


        – by Gifford MacShane


how time does pass

and yet not dull

           the thrill and silent words

                               the lightning glance


the spark

            electric in its charm lives on


startled once

       the swift and eerie message in the air

                    did touch my heart and lodge there


and rending now and then does still abide



Old Maid in the Garrett, Traditional Irish Song

#IrishMusic #amwriting

A traditional Irish toe-tapper bemoaning the single state, Old Maid in the Garrett introduces an unmarried woman whose fate would probably lead to a dismal life in her brother’s attic. She is extolling her virtues and ready to settle for anyone, even “a wee fat man”, as single women were considered a drain on the family resources and much scorned. For it was children who would grow to keep the family farm thriving. A version of this song by Sweeney’s Men can be found here, so you can tap along with the words if the spirit moves you.


Now I’ve often heard it said from my father and my mother
That going to a wedding was the makings of another.
Well, if this be so, then I’ll go without a biddance.
Oh, kind providence, won’t you send me to a wedding?

And it’s oh, dear me, how would it be
If I die an old maid in the garrett?

I can cook and I can sew, I can keep the house right tidy,
And wake up in the morning to get the breakfast ready.
There’s nothing in this wide world would make me half so cheery,
As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary.


Well, now there’s my sister Jean, she’s not handsome or good-looking,
Scarcely fifteen and a fellow she was courting.
Now, she’s twenty-four with a son and a daughter;
Here am I at forty-five and I’ve never had an offer.


So come landsman or come kingsman, come tinker or come tailor,
Come fiddler or come dancer, come ploughboy or come sailor,
Come rich man, come poor man, come bore or come witty,
Come any man at all who will marry me for pity.


Well, now I’m on me way home, for nobody’s heeding.
Oh, nobody’s heeding to poor Annie’s bleeding!
So, I’m on me way home to my own pity garret.
If I can’t have a man, then I’ll surely get a parrot!


“A Nation of Immigrants” and Passive Racism

#Charlottesville #Racism #Resistance

The acts of the white supremacist terrorists in Charlottesville VA this weekend, the notifications posted of more “rallies” planned by these terrorists, and the White House response to it―laying the blame equally upon those who were beaten, mauled, and killed―had me shaking in my shoes.

When I finally calmed down, I started wondering what actions I can take to create a better world. Some people seem to have figured it out. They’ve made speeches of condemnation and of unity; posted stirring remarks that are worthy of quotation long after today; demanded that the Justice Department investigate; and criticized the White House response. They’ve put the blame squarely on the shoulders of those it belongs to.

Citizens marched in solidarity in Charlottesville, created a yuuuge peaceful protest around Trump Tower in NYC. Veterans are banding together to protect the counter-protestors, in much the same way as they protected Native Americans at Standing Rock. People are sharing stories of friends and family members who have fought and died to defeat the Nazis and other racist/genocidal ilk. And they’ve set up a GoFundMe page for Heather Heyer, the victim of vehicular homicide.

Some of these are big things, some of them are small. All of them will have an impact on where we go from here, and make me proud to be an American. So the question becomes: big or small, grand or minuscule―what can I do?

The first thing I can do: I can tweet and re-tweet, to let others know they are not alone in their outrage, in their sorrow. Let others know that their actions are abhorred by the majority. I can encourage the groups that are active, and the people who are just beginning to see how deep this problem goes in our society.

And there’s another thing I can do. Because through all of this, all the condemnation of terrorism, all the support of the victims, all the voices calling for a swift and uncompromising statement from the White House―through all of it, I’ve noticed a strand of passive racism:

We are a nation of immigrants.”

It sounds like such a little thing, and I know what the point is. I know it’s meant as a show of solidarity. It’s supposed to shame the white supremacist terrorists whose ancestors, like most of ours, had the same dreams and goals as those who come today. Who came willingly across the seas, searching for a better place, a better life, a better day.

But it does so at the cost of those whose ancestors did not.

The “New World” was populated before the advent of Columbus. There were peoples here who were self-sufficient, who had complex religions, governments and languages, whose myths and histories were handed down through countless generations. Who had a connection to the land and a reverence for it that most of us are lacking today. The European invasion decimated these populations, forced new religions and languages on the conquered, dismissed their care of this precious earth. Those who did not conform were exterminated. There is a long and bloody history of abuse of these peoples.

They were not, and their descendants are not, in any sense of the word, “immigrants”.

There is another history, just as long and just as bloody, that the adage ignores: slavery. Men, women and children crowded into the holds of ships, treated like cattle, fed just enough to stay alive, and thrown overboard if they died of abuse, starvation or disease. Those who survived were sold to the highest bidder. And whether you call them slaves or “indentured servants”, these individuals did not come here willingly.

To call them immigrants denies their history in this country.

I objected to one Tweet and was told “nobody means any harm by it.” I choose to believe that, to believe that most people do not mean to harm. But it does harm.

If the objective is solidarity, this phrase accomplishes exactly the opposite. It makes outsiders of those who did not choose to come to this continent, and outsiders of those who fought and died to preserve their right to live freely, and who are now confined to the worst pieces of land our government could find. Land that’s been whittled down to practically nothing.

Yes, it sounds good in a tweet. Yes, it’s accepted by the mainstream. But systemic racism exists, and “nation of immigrants” is a passive yet destructive force within it.

So this is my first tiny step toward eradicating passive racism: trying to convince others of the harm inherent in this popular adage. There are quotes that sound just as good in a Tweet: “America is a melting pot.” “Lady Liberty welcomes all.” “America thrives on diversity.” Find one, or make up your own.

But please. No more “nation of immigrants.”

Not only does it hurt, it isn’t even true. And if we can’t stop telling our own lies, can’t recognize and fix our own passive prejudices―how can we criticize those who live by lies and prejudice?


#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars

PitchWars is not just another contest—not just another chance to snag an agent’s attention or improve your query, pitch or first page. No, on Wednesday, August 2, PitchWars is a chance to work one-on-one with a published author for two months, polishing up every page of your manuscript! The contest is run by the fabulous Brenda Drake and all the deets are on her blog here.

 As a potential mentee, I’m pimpin’ out my bio to entice all the mentors a mentor to work with me. I’ll start by telling you:

What I write: Historical fiction with romance—stories about a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory. Right now there are three completed novels (two in edits), a “prequel” under construction, and at least three more planned. The story I’m submitting is LET THE CANYONS WEEP, the first novel of the series. (If by now this is sounding a little familiar to you, I did submit the manuscript last year, but it has been extensively edited since then and I believe it’s much improved.)

Why have I chosen that subject and time period?

  1. I grew up on cowboy TV and I really, really wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl—they wore silly skirts and sat sideways on horses. A cowboy. I was asked in school one time (I think I was 8) who was the greatest hero in history, and I answered “Roy Rogers”. The hard-core Knight of the Range and the literature of that time, that place—both live deep inside me.

  2. My father’s family were Irish immigrants. Family legend has it that his Uncle Sean was chased out of Ireland by the Black & Tans, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Several years ago, I realized that my Irish ancestors from County Clare had to have lived through the worst of the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mor),a disaster that cut Ireland’s population by at least a third while food was exported to England at astronomical rates. I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors—the ones who somehow held body and soul together, managed to live through it, and found a way to prosper.

  3. On my mother’s side, I’m descended from the Lenape Nation, so I’ve spent my life absorbing Native American history and customs.

Miscellaneous: I’ve created a diverse village in the Arizona Territory called “White’s Station”, named for a real river in AZ. While LET THE CANYONS WEEP is the love story between two white, able and heterosexual people, there are several citizens of other ethnicities and abilities with whom they interact. Some of my later manuscripts feature these villagers as MCs.

I write in the third person multiple POV. My style is literary (some say lyrical **blushes**), but my content is commercial.

Trigger Warnings: rape/murder; physical abuse; rape/incest. All of these occur before the story opens and are presented without graphic violence, and treated with respect and empathy for the victims and/or survivors, and no sympathy/excuses for the transgressor. Within the novel, there is an unwanted pregnancy, a stillborn baby, and depression.

That being said, LET THE CANYONS WEEP is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and there is most definitely an HEA (and no, not the kind that says, “See, he loves her—so now she’s okay.”)

So, you want dark secrets? angst? guilt? shame? romance that’s tender? #OwnVoices? and an HEA? You’ve come to exactly the right place!

cat on book

What I’m good at:

  1. I’m a grammar nerd—that kid in sophomore English who completed the sentence-diagramming workbook in two days. I have a love affair with the Oxford Comma (my husband understands there’s nothing he can do about that); I’m quite fond of the em-dash, the colon and the semi-colon, though I hate to see any of them used to do the comma’s job. I’ve also coached a couple of ESL novelists in English grammar and sentence construction.

  2. I enjoy the judicious use of adverbs, adjectives and dialogue tags. I have a vast vocabulary, but know how to make my meaning clear. I believe that any word can be used as long as it fulfills the sentence’s needs; as a reader I’m always looking to expand my vocabulary, and expect my readers to want the same.

Soooo… if you’re a staunch proponent of the “Heming-Way”, or otherwise totally opposed to any of the above, I’m probably not the right mentee for you. But if you enjoy the unparalleled grace of the English language, please… read on…

What I’m looking for:

  1. About one-third of the professional feedback I’ve gotten states “I didn’t connect,” whether with characters or plot. A few have stated they don’t understand the motivations of my male MC, though I believe that’s been addressed with the revisions I’ve done. I need to be sure that people feel connected to the story I have to tell and the characters therein.

  2. This book explores the inner workings of a large Irish-American clan. There are scenes that advance the family dynamics while not necessarily moving the plot along, and at times provide much-needed comic relief. My critique partners and Beta readers are split on these scenes: three say they’re “dead zones” and should be cut; three find them enjoyable and want even more; and the last wants me to scrap the whole book and write a shoot-em-up. I definitely need feedback on this issue.

  3. I’ve gone as far as I can to eliminate “telling”, but I wonder if it’s far enough. This has always been the hardest thing for me, and perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees.

  4. I have Fibromyalgia with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has the added benefit of “brain fog” on occasion. (I always feel I should say “CFS has me”, because it otherwise infers that I could, if I wanted to, throw it away like an old pair of shoes.) Anyhow, I need to have deadlines with some wiggle room—not in terms of weeks, but an occasional day or two. On a bad day, you may have explain something twice before it sinks in, but if you’re flexible and comfortable working by e-mail and/or scheduled phone calls, I can bull my way through the problem days.

What I will/won’t do to get there:

  1. I’m a perfectionist. I sometimes sweat the tiny details to the detriment of the “big picture”. I believe I’ve done everything in my power to make this manuscript the best it can be and I’m still not getting the response rate I want. So I’m willing to listen to any advice that will get me closer to my goal of traditional publication.

  2. That’s not to say I’m a pushover. I won’t compromise my vision for the novel, but I will work—and work hard—wherever necessary, to create compromises we can both live with.

  3. I will consider and appreciate every single bit of feedback you offer, even if it’s harsh, but

  4. I won’t scrap the whole thing and write a shoot-em-up!

In conclusion, here are a few things about

Who I am:

  1. Gifford MacShane is my pen name, but you can call me “Giff” (many do). It’s comprised of a family name and a loose translation of “descended from John.” There are three important men with that name in my family: my grandfather, John Patrick Sr; my uncle, John Patrick Jr.; and my father, John Francis.

  2. I’m addicted to traditional folk music, including Irish, American, Appalachian, cowboy songs, and African-American spirituals. I’m often singing or humming… anywhere, really, or any time… but if you were to ask me what the song is, I might not know. I might not even realize I was singing. I’m a typical Irish soprano: if you like the Celtic Women sound, you’d like my voice. There are many snippets of traditional music contained in my works: life without music would be just too hard to bear.

  3. My first library was a Book-Mobile. My grandmother lived in a tiny hamlet called Herbertsville (now part of Brick Township NJ, if you ever find yourself out that way), and my sister and I would visit her for 2 weeks every summer. The Book-Mobile came every week and parked at the village grocery store. Granny (pronounced “Grah-nee”, emphasis on the first syllable) would bring us to pick up books for my bed-ridden grandfather, who read voraciously. Tired of kids’ books by the time I was 10, I asked the librarian to recommend something, and thus became acquainted with The Virginian by Owen Wister. Slam! Bam!! hooked on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, The Light of Western Stars, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization—I bet you get hooked, too!)

  4. I won a puppy at the school fair when I was 12. I don’t know who was more surprised—me or my father! I do know who was happier.

  5. Because of my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, theaters are too cold for me; the last movie I viewed within one was The Search for Spock. Yes, I’m a Trekkie—one of the originals. I watch limited TV, and in fact lived for over 6 years without one. The only shows I make sure to see are The Daily Show and Major Crimes. I also love black & white movies, and anything starring Katherine or Audrey Hepburn, or Vivien Leigh. I love to see Lucille Ball in a dramatic role, don’t think much of slap-stick comedy or spoofs. I also enjoy cooking shows and TV talent competitions, as well as Yankees baseball.

  6. I read every day, averaging 3 books a week. In addition to #HF and #HR, I enjoy mysteries, especially vintage noir, Dick Francis, & J. D. Robb. There are over 2,000 books in my personal library. Books I read recently that I considered “GREAT” were The Time Between by Karen White, and What Boys Are Made Of by S. Hunter Nisbet. I highly recommend both.

  7. I love Sudoku, but no matter how easy I find Levels 1, 2 & 4—and I occasionally breeze through the Challenger level as well— I just can’t seem to solve the mystery of Level 3. I love those puzzles where you have to find the hidden word after you’ve crossed off all the used letter clues.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know. But if you’re still interested—please, Mentors, pick me for #PitchWars!!!

Want to read about other PitchWars contestants? You can find other authors’ pimped-out bios here!

When life gives you lemons…

Last year and earlier this year, I had to take significant time off blogging because of personal health issues. On the up-side, I was able to do an enormous amount of editing and now have 3 manuscripts under my belt: one finished, one getting close (just needs final tweaks), and one that I’ve just finished the first round of edits on.

This year, just as I was getting back into the flow, the news comes that my sister has melanoma. The surgeries went well, though both of them were pretty extensive. But two weeks ago, she fell and broke her leg. At the hospital they informed her that the leg actually broke first and caused her fall. Because she has bone cancer in both her thighs.

Bone cancer. Even now it makes me tremble. Makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.

She had surgery to put the leg back together: an enormously long rod is attached to the upper and lower parts of her femur, with stops between. The other leg will need one as well, they tell us, and that’s above and beyond the treatments for cancer. Katie has other issues that make chemotherapy a very iffy proposal for her immune system, so we’re not sure what’s going to be done yet. Her oncologist wants her back to self-care (she’s in rehab and progressing more rapidly than anyone expected — and that’s a really significant silver lining) before the plans are made to deal with the cancer.

So here, for now, my bloggery will go back to the rather slap-dash approach it had last summer and the beginning of this year. I’ll try to post something short at least once a week, but make no promises. In the meantime, if you like, you can catch up with me on Twitter (@giffmacshane). I try to play either #2bitTues or #1lineWed every week (it’s infinitely easier to copy & paste lines than it is to write!) and have been fairly active in #TheResistance. And, hopefully, by the end of summer we’ll be all sorted out again.

Thanks so much following me. And if you’ve got a spare “good thought” today, please send it Katie’s way.