(AP) - Rodney Thompson says he's no cowboy.
But if you passed him on the street, you might beg to differ. He certainly looks like one.
And the self-described ex-South Dakota farm boy knows how to paint a vivid picture of the cowboy lifestyle in words. He so impressed the editors at Penguin Berkley Publishers in New York that they accepted his epic western manuscript, "The Black Hills."
Thompson has dabbled with his writing over the years.
"But this is really my first serious attempt and, quite frankly, I'm surprised at the success I've had," he said in an interview.
He calls Fontana, Calif., home these days, but his roots are on the prairies of South Dakota, where he learned to ride a horse and, by the age of 8, was taught how to hunt rabbits and pheasants.
"I rode a horse to school for the first grade," Thompson said.
Born in Pierre, he grew up on the family farm southwest of Ree Heights. Readers of "The Black Hills" will be saddened by tragedy, and Thompson was not immune from his own trying times at a young age.
After the death of his mother, followed by the loss of one of his brothers six months later, his father decided to give up farming. Home was then in Miller, on a farm north of Highmore and later in Huron, Brookings and Sioux Falls. The family then pulled up its South Dakota stakes entirely and moved to southern California. While in Huron, Thompson worked as a parts runner and car wash boy at Johnson Ford. No teen-aged boy with a fascination with cars would forget the day, as he hasn't, that the first 1955 T-bird that came to South Dakota was delivered to the dealership in Huron.
"I had the oh-so-terrible job for a 16 year old of cleaning it up in preparation for the auto show," Thompson said. "Every other employee got to take it out for a drive."
In a lifetime of interesting experiences, Thompson has gone from humble beginnings to published author, and to rave reviews for a debut novelist.
His publisher notes the extreme odds of that happening in the book.
"One in 45,000 debut authors earn a contract from a major publisher, many only after years of attempts and rejections," write the editors at Penguin Berkley.
"Because of its unique multi-genre mixture of adventure, excitement, true emotions, drama, Americana, and just plain fun, this was accomplished the first time out by 'The Black Hills,'"
Thompson is described as "a country cracker-barrel philosopher and story-teller with a quirky style all his own."
Asked to provide an insight into his book, Thompson agreed, but only to a degree. He wants to save the lion's share for each reader to enjoy.
"Any western worth its salt has to have someone with a fast gun," he began.
His "someone" is the main character, Cormac Lynch, who carried a Colt in one holster and a Smith & Wesson in the other.
"He's got an attitude and he has a sense of humor," Thompson offered. "He has a red-headed Irish girlfriend with a volcanic temper. His best friends are horses."
Lynch was still in his teens - in Thompson's book set in the 1800s - when his family was murdered and he was left for dead.