Massacre at Agua Caliente - A Western Tragedy

Massacre at Agua Caliente by Craig Rainey

Craig Rainey Published his first western novel in the Spring of 2018. Massacre at Agua Caliente - A Western Tragedy (Craig Rainey Publishing) is based upon the award-winning screenplay of the same title.

The Book Came from Craig Rainey's Roots

San Angelo, Texas was not much different in the ’60s, when I grew up there than it was in the late 1800’s and the early years of the twentieth century when my ancestors settled in the region. The car had replaced horse and buggy and we had a TV in every house with at least 3 stations available. But all one had to do was step outside, and the waning remnants of a passing era were easily recognizable in the fast-moving clouds and the warm acrid dust in the ever-present winds.

“Angelo”, as it was called by the natives, moved at its own pace. That pace was slow but not plodding. The hot days were oppressive, but you got used to it. Country wisdom was known simply as wisdom. Anyone without a west Texas drawl was a yankee, even if he was from only as far north as Dallas.

You respected your elders - and that was a tall order in a town populated by a large number of older west Texans. We didn’t give the respect reluctantly. We youngsters depended on the unerring guidance of our predecessors.

West Texas culture is not carried on as one might a religious dogma. The culture is something with which one is born: not necessarily a birthright, but rather an instinct as vital as the will to survive.

In the sixties, my grandparents, great grandparents, and their immediate families were celebrities in my view: they were the remaining witnesses and players in a rugged adventure only read about now. The significance of their first-person accounts was never lost upon me.

It seemed that the Old West lingered in west Texas as a passing stranger reluctantly leaves the comfort of a welcome fire. In those final days of the wild west, my great-uncle was the sheriff in Eldorado. After a vicious outlaw threatened to murder him in his sleep, he sat in his old rocker on his front porch where he waited through the night. A 12-gauge shotgun rested across his knees as he rocked and smoked cigarettes, ready for the vengeful outlaw to arrive in the dark to carry out his
Original Cover for the Novel
threat. My great-uncle was killed in the line of duty some years later, but he survived that night.

My great grandmother, Nanny, told stories of her youth where her family crossed Indian country in a covered wagon. Even in my boyhood, I remember the wagon livery which stood behind her old house, a large mound protecting the wagon and the occupants of the house from Indian attack. Many of my ancestors lived in nearby Paintrock where they battled angry redskins as a matter of course.

Growing up in the company of those who represented the last participants of a rich western heritage; and having been touched throughout my life by the magic of that oasis town at the edge of the vast sage and sand deserts to the west, it was no wonder that I craved the stories of the old west. In those days, western novels were popular and inexpensive. Max Brand entered my world from the disorganized contents of an ML Leddy and Son boot box on a table at a garage sale. My mother purchased several books there for she and my father to read – they were, and still are, voracious readers.

The western novels were quick reads for them. I was younger and slower at the skill. The stories were wonderous in their similarities to those stories of my forefathers and mothers. Privately, I read slowly, savoring every word. Publicly, I blamed much of my slow reading pace on my father as he directed me to keep a dictionary handy rather than trouble him incessantly for the definitions of unfamiliar words.

Max Brand was the master of western dialogue. His prose were exquisite turns of phrase, seasoned with a genuine delivery as only denizens of the old west could achieve. Zane Gray soon entered my worn paperback collection. My first Zane Gray novel was “Man of the Wilderness.” His descriptions were palpable and compelling. If he described cold and wet misery, I reached for a blanket. Hot desert scenes had me on my feet desperate for a glass of water.

My first efforts as a writer were less than admirable. I wrote my first story in my early teens. The characters were too perfect, and their motivations were painfully contrived. Although poorly conceived, those early imaginings were the tender seedlings of a strong desire which would beckon me all my life.

My Film Career created my Screenwriting Debut

I entered the film business in my late 30’s. I have heard that 90% of all film actors make less than $2,500.00 per year at the craft. My claim to fame was that I was among the top 10% - just barely. Recently I was described as a failed actor. That is a painful observation based upon how low the success bar is set.

After more than 60 films, commercials, industrials, and other video productions, I was considered a minor celebrity within the Austin/San Antonio film market. I rarely auditioned, yet I appeared in 3 to 4 projects per year.

One of the directors with whom I worked on more than 15 films cast me exclusively as the heavy in many of his movies. Once, I asked him why he never cast me as a lead in any of his films.

Movie Poster - The Return of Johnny V
As he considered his response, he pursed his lips and shook his head sadly. Finally, he told me that in the limited talent pool of the local industry there was no actor who could successfully convince an audience that a Craig Rainey character would have anything to fear from them. He blamed the predicament on my strong screen presence. He told me when he found a script where the bad guy was the lead character, he would surely cast me in that role.

Years later I worked with another film company, Mutt Productions, which made larger budget films better-known actors. I managed to land the lead antagonist role of The Mayor in the grindhouse film The Return of Johnny V. After acquiring the film, the distribution company requested a follow-up film falling in one of any of three genres including: science fiction, movies featuring animals, or westerns.

One of the producers with Mutt Productions asked if I knew of any available scripts for any of the genres. I said I didn’t, but of those listed I liked westerns. As we talked further, I recalled my conversation with the director with whom I had asked for a leading role. A glimmer of an idea struck me. I snapped out of my reverie and interrupted the producer’s continued conversation, announcing to him that I had an idea for a western film. After a few questions about my idea, which I could not answer, I promised to produce a summary or possibly a treatment for a screenplay.

Less than a month later, I had the treatment completed for Massacre at Agua Caliente. The producer loved the premise and offered to forward it to Hollywood where vetted screenwriters would create a full script. I asked if I might have a try at writing the screenplay. Reluctantly, the producer agreed. 30 days later, I had the first draft of the script completed.

The script was passed around to several production houses including two major film studios in Hollywood. Offers were made for the rights to the script. I turned them down, doggedly holding to the desire to play the main character – the villain. With the return of the script came notes on how the film companies thought the story might be improved. Everyone agreed that the story was too long and complex. The most common criticism I heard repeatedly complained that it was two movies in one and would be too expensive to make.

Ultimately, the script was shortened, and the main character was softened to increase his likeability with audiences. I submitted the screenplay to several festivals where it won many awards and official selections. Although the story was well-received over time the offers dwindled until the script was no longer the hot property it once was. After 3 years, I felt driven by a desire to write the complete story I had originally created before the edits and redactions. The novel would contain every scene and present the main character as I had intended in the original script.  

The Novel is the Intended Story the Script Wasn't

As I began the novel, I saw in my imagination the story told in the style of the books I had read as a child. I wanted the novel to be an ode to those turn of the century authors I loved, and who had influenced me so greatly. To succeed, the dialogue had to be important and the imagery needed to jump off the page and grab the reader, pulling him or her into the midst of the characters.

Because a novel is filled with description that a script never contains, I found it necessary and critically important to research many of the places, people and events peripheral to my story. With few exceptions, the locations and references to outlaws and Indian tribes mentioned in the book are accurate. Hurrah City is a real place. The name was changed in the early twentieth century, but it is authentic to the period.

I completed the novel five years after the final version of the script. Four additional edits refined the style until I was satisfied with the work. I knew I risked a great deal by departing from the quick prose and spare descriptive styles of modern novels, but I wrote the novel with the idea that it would ultimately be a monument to the genre.

I am a reader, and I know the styles of popular authors. I enjoyed the Sackets of Louis L’Amour. The grit of Larry McMurtry enthralls me still. Both are masters of their craft: their styles wisely modern and swift. Still, I dared to risk the dangers of my throwback novel.

My intention was to bring my readers a taste of those turn-of-the-century authors with the modern sharp edge of my present-day favorites. I hope I have succeeded. Only you, the reader, can know for sure. No matter the reception of Massacre at Agua Caliente, my goal was achieved.

I was in San Angelo recently – my first visit in more than 15 years. A new expressway runs through the middle of town. The Twin Buttes seem smaller and less significant, and one must drive as far as Mertzon to feel the few remaining ghosts of the old west. I hope my first western novel is true to my dream of creating a turn-of-the-century style western novel.

Massacre at Agua Caliente - A Western Tragedy Synopsis

Craig Rainey's debut novel, Massacre at Agua Caliente, is based upon the award-winning screenplay of the same name. Masterfully written in the unique style of turn-of-the-century western authors, the action-packed story is beautifully crafted with rich description and colorfully authentic dialogue.
Massacre at Agua Caliente has been favorably reviewed by critics and readers alike for its unique story, writing style and interesting characters that leap from the page and make the reader care about them. The story is told through the eyes of the supporting characters, casting the main character, Boyd Hutton, in a shroud of mystery which never reveals his thoughts or ambitions. Only his actions give the reader any indication of his thoughts and motivations.
Boyd Hutton is a desperate and ruthless outlaw, known for his swift and deadly actions. His latest crime, the attempted robbery of the most secure bank in the western territories, ends with the destruction of his devoted gang of outlaws. Alone, he flees a posse and Texas Rangers. He is joined along the way by the young Cab Jackson, who helps the outlaw across the Rio Grande into Mexico where Hutton continues his crime wave. One evening Hutton and Jackson happen upon a Quinceanera where Alida, the daughter of a powerful Mexican official, is being celebrated. Hutton encounters Juliana, Alida's elder sister. Unexpectedly, Juliana's interest in the tall stranger turns into a desperate fight for her life as Hutton kidnaps her and eludes the immediate pursuit of her father's men.
Juliana will learn that despite the efforts of her father, the Mexican army, and relentless bounty hunters, she will have to rely on a courage and inner strength she never knew she possessed. Torn from her life of luxury and privilege, her life on the run in an unforgiving wilderness changes her. As the kidnappers elude desperate rescue efforts, Juliana presents Hutton an opponent unlike any he has ever before faced. Before the end of her ordeal, Juliana will grow to learn much about her father, her captors, and to her surprise, her own abilities and strengths.


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