Battling prostate cancer, Brannon’s creator, author Stephen Bly, was the same way. He dictated Brannon’s final adventures from his hospital bed while his wife, Janet, wearing plastic gloves and a paper gown to stave off germs, typed them into their laptop.
Bly, a Winchester pastor, former mayor and author of more than 100 books, died June 9 at age 66, one month before the Western novel starring his favorite character was due to the publisher. After asking for an extension, his wife and three grown sons made sure his final book was completed.
While Janet often edited her husband’s work and even co-authored a series of mysteries with him, the Western genre, historical and contemporary, was his, she says.
“I could not have written this book without them,” she says of her sons, none of whom are writers. Michael Bly is the director of business operations at Inland Cellular. Russell Bly is manager of Deranleau’s in Moscow and Aaron Bly is a manufacturing supervisor for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Lewiston.
The family agrees it was an emotional experience to write the book so soon after Stephen Bly’s death. It also was cathartic. They will hold a book launch party from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at His Story Christian Gift Center in Lewiston.
Although Stephen and Janet Bly met in a high school English class, their story of writing together began decades later. The couple became Christians after they married and at age 31, Stephen became a pastor. He was the pastor at Winchester Community Church until his death.
As he found his calling, Janet wondered what hers was. After attending a writer’s conference, she was transcribing one of his sermons when she noticed it was full of stories. She asked him if she could edit them and send them to a publisher.
“Yes, but don’t get me involved; writing is your thing,” she remembers him telling her.
In December 1976, two slim envelopes arrived with checks from two different magazines.
“He looks at that and says, ‘You know, I oughta just try writing,’ ” she remembers.
Bly wrote his first book in 1981 when Russell was 17, Michael was 14, and Aaron was 1.
“From then on, he was a writer, and a good one,” Aaron says.
The Blys estimate there are more than 1 million of Stephen’s books in print. They’ve been translated into Chinese, German, French, Italian and other languages. His mainstay was Westerns. He was a winner and finalist for the prestigious Christy Award for Christian Western Novels.
The family moved from California to Winchester in 1988 in search of a quiet place to meet the deadlines of an increasing number of contracts. It was an experiment, Janet says, but they never left.
Loyal fans of Bly’s work know that Brannon makes a cameo or is mentioned in all his books. “Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot” is set in 1905 at the end of the Old West era. Brannon is a stand-up guy whose only flaw is to lose his temper in the face of evil.
“Stuart Brannon was the embodiment for my dad of, if he was in the Old West, this is who he would want to be,” Michael says.
Janet says her husband left 7,000 words and they wanted to use every one. The problem was that some of what he’d written didn’t seem to fit. There were scenes driven by morphine-induced dreams. The family kneaded them into the book using an Indian character from one of his short stories who explained that as this world fades into the next, “the old chiefs dream many dreams.”
Aaron says he once asked his father if he was afraid of death, of being forgotten in a few generations.
As a man of God, his father said, he didn’t fear death, but he added, through his writing he’d live on forever.
“Not everybody gets the chance to speak to his children from beyond the grave,” Aaron says.
Bauer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2263.
If you go
What: Book launch party for “Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot” by Stephen Bly, Janet Chester Bly, Russell Bly, Michael Bly and Aaron Bly
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: His Story Christian Gift Center, 1702 21st St., Lewiston