Bryan Ney

Literature & Fiction

Author Profile

Bryan  Ney

Bryan Ney is a practicing physician in the Los Angeles area who aspires to a second career writing historical fiction. He has had a harmless obsession with 1860's Montana since he found a copy of "Vigilante Days and Ways" at a Hollywood used bookstore in the 1990's. In his free time, when not writing or researching his next book at a local coffee house, he can be found going all out on the tennis court.


Calamity Jane: How the West Began

Literature & Fiction

A Fifteen-year-old girl arrives in the goldfields of 1860's Montana in impoverished circumstances and despised for uncertain reasons. Soon though, she makes a name for herself as Calamity Jane through her exploits, wins friends and becomes the toast of the town. Murder and robbery stalk all who travel the surrounding trails, and Jane thinks she knows who is responsible. Can she and her new friends rally forces to clean the place up?

Book Bubbles from Calamity Jane: How the West Began

Humor as Counterweight

The Western genre is populated with stern stories. Consider the movie "High Noon" - a hero, snubbed by those who need him most, faces down a villain bent on revenge. There is no comic relief, or friendship, let alone romance in that story. "Calamity" is a stern tale as well. Teen-aged Calamity Jane has to convince her frontier town that a respected citizen among them leads the outlaws, or her friend won't be the last to die. In contrast to "High Noon," however, I inject humor at multiple points to deflate tension. The "agnostic" excerpt attached here is a good example. See my "Kustar's Pies" bubble for another example. The reason I inject humor is two-fold. One is just a matter of style- I think that the story benefits from humor as tension relief. The other is to be true to the primary historical sources, particularly Langford's "Vigilante Days and Ways." Biased by TV Westerns as a child, I was surprised to find humor woven into Langford's story. But as that author tells the story, in the darkest hour of this frontier town, humor was a daily undercurrent. In order to be true to history, I had to inject humor as well.

True to Theme in Historical Fiction

In my view, events and characters can be changed when creating a story from history, but the themes should be true to the events. A major theme of my story is that the good guys were at first unable to unite against the bad guys for several reasons. Lo was a lone Asian in a sea of Europeans, with tenuous ties to any of the rest. This is meant to reflect the history, as explained by Langford in "Vigilante Days and Ways" (p. 134): "Outside of their immediate acquaintances, men knew not whom to trust. They were in the midst of a people which had come from all parts of this country and from many of the nations of the Old World." Secondly, there was a lack of affiliation with the community as a whole because, as Langford elaborates on p. 174, "(The miners) intended to leave the country as soon as their claims were worked out. They would be driven from their claims...if they engaged in any active opposition to the roughs..." So while I have changed several facets of history to make a story, I have remained true to the themes, and thus the motivation of my characters, as laid out by the main historian of these events. For more:

An oblique writing style

At times in my story, I attempt to emulate the style of the writers of the day. Please see the following link for the fight in Kustar's as described by Langford;;view=1up;seq=210 Langford and other writers of the time bring out the humor in an otherwise unfunny situation by using oblique references ("frequent potations"), and long sentences that may contain within them a twist of meaning. My intent in this excerpt is to use this style to distance the reader from the violence of the situation, and let them see the humor. Of interest, Mark Twain, whose style I also kept in mind as I wrote, met and wrote about Slade, a violent man who rode with the Vigilantes. Google "Twain, Slade' for that, and as always, if you are interested in the backstory of my "Calamity", go to

Everyone needs an editor

At the start of chapter two of my story, my editor wrote a one word comment; "How?" How did the Fergus family learn that Jane's wayward parents had returned home, so it was safe to return the children? One of the problems for a writer of historical fiction is having a blind spot for what needs explanation. We tend to think that because an event actually happened, that no more explanation is needed. My reaction to the comment was, "What do you mean 'how?'- it was a small town." So rather than create some mundane passage about how word went from one party to the other, I chose to create a passage which was intended to create a pause, leading the reader think of how Jane fits into the infinite universe.

Calamity Jane's friend Dez

There is a wealth of anecdotes and short biography available about the time and place of my novel, and I tried to include as much of that wealth as I could, keeping in mind that a compelling story comes first. Dez is based on a real character, who may have had some acquaintance with Calamity Jane in 1860's Montana. Dez was the town beauty, a single girl in her late teens in a town with very few other respectable girls and hundreds of potential suitors. Matilda Dalton was her real name. She was given the nickname Desdemona after the Shakespearean character; only her friends were allowed to call her this or "Dez." And yes, it was said that one of her suitors "blowed his brains out" when he could not marry her. For more, go to, the essay "Female Companionship"

Now I Got Your Attention

Some readers have said that my story starts out slow. My editor commented on the first chapter line where a bullet hits the wall of Jane's home, "now you have my attention." So here is the back story for this. Person to person gunfire was very common in early Montana.. Granville Stuart comments in "The Montana Frontier 1852-1864" p 261 (edited by Phillips) that 3 men were killed one typical month and another badly wounded in drunken rows. But the most proximate inspiration for this part of my book comes from "Golden Treasure," by Ovittt, pages. 127-8: "Mrs. Ferster said that things were hard for the women in the road-agent days. That winter candles were scarce and kerosene was ten dollars a gallon, but not too much of either was needed as it was safer to sit in the dark, and keep the children down and quiet as so very often the smack of bullets could be heard as they struck the cabin." If you enjoy this historical backstory in Bublish, you will love the essays on my website

The Hazards of a Sod Roof

Andrew Fergus, who had to have been at least acquainted with Calamity Jane, has a living granddaughter by the name of Charlotte. Charlotte loves my book, and I cherish that. One of the things she liked was the part where the sod roof plops into Jane's cooking. Here is the history behind that vignette, from "Golden Treasure," by Mabel Ovitt, page 127: "Cabins were extremely uncomfortable, as conveniences were not to be had. They had to establish themselves in business as the necessities of life were very high. It was hard to make the cabins waterproof and it was said that in making bread on a rainy day the French children would hold an umbrella over the mother's head and the bread pan to keep the rain out of it.". In the "School and Church" appendix of that same book, it is mentioned that the first school had a dirt roof, which was probably true of many homes at this time and place. If you like this sort of background history for Calamity Jane and her Montana youth, you will love the essays on my website:

The Blue-eyed Indian

There was indeed at least one native american who claimed to be the son of Meriwether Lewis: "In this party was an old man remarkable in appearance by reason of wearing quite a full beard. He came up in front of me and saluting "How! How!" pointing to his breast and said, "Me Clark, Me Clark." What the celebrated early explorer would have said about the claimant of his name, I know not, but it is an old saying that "It is a wise son who knows his own father." -p. 128, "A Tenderfoot in Montana by Francis M. Thompson Lewis did have blue eyes.

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