Thursday, January 10, 2008

Terry Burns: Cowboy Writer Whose Books Became High School Textbooks

Do any of you know real cowboys? I do. And like the heroes of the West, he is a hero! When my son's high school opened a class on Western history, using films and books, fiction and nonfiction as their materials, I connected the teacher with Terry Burns. I just knew they could use Terry as a resource. He went above and beyond the call of duty, despite the distance (from Texas to Indiana.)

But Terry is an amazing man who has done many jobs, including getting to be that cowboy, but also writing and publishing books and then becoming a literary agent with Hartline Literary Agency.

He is kind and tough, straight-shooting and a man of God. Terry is the kind of person you would want to have on your side at the OK Corral. And he is generous with insider information into publishing with the members of the American Christian Fiction Writers. This is where I first met him--at an ACFW conference. He came up behind me, held my hands and asked if I was still able to talk. It was tough, as yes, I must be part Italian and use my hands as I talk. So shoot me. (ha)His sense of humor is part of his cowboy charm.

Let's get a look at that cowboy that is a blood brother to the Navajo, and yes, I managed to get a photo of him as a cowboy, but also in an outfit that shows his legs. (Gotta love your mamas.)

  Terry early cowboy
Hold it right there, mister!

Terry Burns, an American Hero

Childhood Ambition:

Are you kidding? A cowboy. I've always wanted to be a cowboy ever since the days when I helped Roy and Gene clean up the West while I was at or immediately following the Saturday morning matinees I went to so faithfully. (see photo)  I've worked as a day hand, put on rodeos and rode in them,fixed fence and worked cattle, but I've always had to make a living another way. When I started writing it's only natural that I'd want to start there.At heart I've always been a cowboy.

Fondest Memory (then):

When I was quite young there was a Navajo family that lived near us. The father worked for the railroad and they had a boy named Bobby who was near my age. We played together a lot. His father conducted an elaborate ceremony to make us blood brothers that really impressed the life out of me. As part of the ceremony I was given a spirit animal, a mockingbird. Seems all my life there has been a mockingbird singing nearby. His mother invited me to stay for dinner. I ran home to ask, envisioning some sort of exotic Indian fare. It turned out to be tomato soup from a can. Up until that moment I had never liked tomato soup, but it was delicious. I often wonder whatever happened to Bobby.

ED.Note: Bobby are you listening?

Proudest Moment (then):
Most of my proud moments when I was young were associated with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I went all the way through the program lacking only a couple of merit badges making the coveted Eagle Scout award. Then I got too old.Nobody told me you could get too old to be a scout. Not making it to Eagle was a great disappointment, but all of the wonderful times more than offset it. Scoutmaster Ratcliff had a lasting influence on my life.

Biggest Challenge as a Child or Teen:

I was in the band from the third grade through college and even Amarillo Symphony. Some of my biggest challenges were associated with music and with preparing for solo competition. In high school the band director was a former Marine Corps band director and he was big time tough on us but really good. Twice we won national competition. I was first published while I was a teen as well, poetry in a statewide anthology.

My First Job:
I don't suppose you'd count paper route or the group of people I did yard work for each week in earlier years. So my first job was a night janitor for Cabot Carbon Company when I was in high school, a good paying job a lot of men would have liked to have, but my dad worked for Cabot over 40 years and was able to get me hired on there. I'll bet I could still make a floor shine with the best of them. I could sling a mop as good as a sailor, and could drive a 24 inch floor buffer like it was a Ferrari.

Childhood Indulgence:

Comic books. I had a stack of them that would be knee high on your average grownup. I devoured them. Many years later I would be in Houston at a mall and ran across a group of collectors having a trade show. I saw the prices one of those early comic would bring and ran to a phone to call my mom. She had given that stack away only months before not knowing that in today's market those books were worth thousands of dollars. >>>sigh<<<

Terry at 3

Terry, age 3

Favorite Dress up Outfit as a Child?:

Western of course, though for my family it was a little white outfit that mother made (see photo of me in the suit she made). Boys stationed out at
the WWII air base would come by our house walking to town and they loved to stop and talk with me. She made a lot of my clothes. Grandpa had a feed store and we'd go pick out patterns on the feed sacks that we liked which would soon become a shirt. Feed sacks were made of material that did that double role in those days. Man, do I ever remember the smell of that feed store.

Favorite Childhood Movie or TV Show:

As I said, the Saturday matinees. On TV it was Gunsmoke, Paladin, Lone Ranger, Bonanza and What's my Line? Of course earlier than that it was Howdy Doody and Mouseketeers. Mother probably still has the ears somewhere.

Favorite Childhood Book:
Too many to name. I got all I could get in addition to the comic books (and still have many of the books) and when we could afford to buy no more
learned to haunt the library most days on the walk home from school. Particularly fond of a treasury of O'Henry stories and a leatherbound collection of Saturday Evening Post stories.

Favorite Childhood Activity or Pastime:

Playing let's pretend. My brother, cousins and neighbors would join in pretending we were cowboys, policemen, firemen, detectives, you name it. We spent so much time constructing the constraints of our make believe world that we spent little time playing in it. What if we were this, and what if we did that? I'm convinced this is still the way stories are constructed, taking an idea and asking what if until the story emerges.

Did you love the Old West even as a Kid? What kinds of things nurtured this spirit?

Sure. As you can see in early topics the Saturday matinees and westerns on TV shaped much of my life. That, and my faith, of course. I was at church
every time the doors were open. Gave my life to Jesus at fifteen. Would have done so much sooner but it took a good while to work up the nerve to walk that aisle. Of course being born and raised in West Texas made it much easier to love the Old West.


Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Childhood Hero:
Easy. Roy Rogers. Loved him as a kid, and later when I grew up came to respect him tremendously as a man. He and Dale were wonderful Christian
people and parents of a "rainbow family" who took their job as role models very seriously. Every time I get to Branson I love to go through the Roy Rogers Museum. It's like a pilgrimage to my past. It's a shame we don't have celebrities today who take the function of role model that seriously.

Hartline Literary: 

and personal web site where you can also check out his
weekday blog:

Books by Terry Burns:
24 books in print including work in collections, most recent:


Shepherd's Son from River Oak

Mysterious Ways series from River Oak

Trails of the Dime Novel from Echelon

And here's a sample poem from his book, Cowboys Don't Read Poetry!


Anonymous said...

Terry is my cousin and I am just as proud of him as any cousin can be! His writing is genius and from the heart. He can take anything and make a story out of it, leaving you only wanting more. There is such excitement in his stories and you always feel like YOU are a part of the story and all that is happening. I happen to know that the one thing he wants people to take away from his writing is the love he has for God and he wants his stories to be inspirational. They certainly are. Keep on writing, Cuz!

Maggie Brendan said...

Terry, All I can say is "I should've been a cowboy!" I recall many of the same things in my childhood, except I wasn't in band but wanted to be. Great blog post and I enjoyed the pictures.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Those pictures are just too cute for words! forgot The Rifleman...he, along with the rest that you named were my favorites too...along with SkyKing...LOL, and his niece Penny!

Jennifer Taylor said...

Terry, those photos are adorable! Thanks for sharing such wonderful memories. This is a wonderful blog!

Angie A. said...

What a cutie! The cowboy outfit reminds me of my Jane West skirt and matching "six-shooters."

One thing that hasn't changed though: Terry's kind eyes are still shining.

Thanks for all that you do, Terry.

Donna J. Shepherd said...

What a cute kid! And tomato soup. Funny!

Thanks for interviewing Terry. I enjoyed it so much.

Mary Cunningham said...

Super, super, blog, Crystal! And, Terry, I love reading your childhood memories.

And, I'm with Bonnie on Sky King! I loved that show!!

Kudos, Crystal and Terry.

Caroline said...

Crystal, I love your blog! It's so refreshing from most. And the one of Terry Burns is superb. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into their likes, past, and present!

Kathleen said...

Loved reading about Terry's growing up years and I love those pictures.

Mrs. C said...

This is the first time I've seen your blog, and it is terrific! I don't know when a smile has spread so far across my face that it hurt...

I absolutely loved seeing this side of you. I am on Shoutlife, and I read your news often, but there's something about seeing someone slaying life's challenges at 5 with a holster that puts things in a whole new light. Maybe it was the precious white suit that kept my smile in place. I've put my son in an almost identical outfit and wondered what he'll think of that memory years down the road.

Thanks so much for sharing; I enjoyed it immensely.

Mary Ellen

Anonymous said...

Terry, This was a wonderful insight. I loved hearing your stories. It reminded me of one: We had friends who used the stair wall in their entry as a family photo gallery. Pictures were hung like a collage, and among them I spotted the very picture of Roy and Dale that's in this post. I asked my friend if she'd put it there as an inside joke. She said, "No. I put it there because those are my grandparents." She was a charming Christian who lived out her faith. Thought you'd like to know that the Rogers' faith made it to another generation.

Thanks for sharing your memories!

Lynn Dean

Pam Halter said...

Thanks for a fun interview, Terry! It was nice to get to know more about you.