Sunday, July 10, 2011

Time Warp Funeral

I’ve got almost 70k words written on the newest Garison Fitch book! No, I am not shooting for a particular total. I write until the story is told.

Unfortunately, the story took a twist I wasn’t expecting and I was having a hard time writing myself out of it. And then I went to the funeral. I don’t like funerals. I realize they are a necessary part of life, but I still don’t like them. So, as I sat there and listened to the speaker go on and on about the life of a person he never met, my mind started to wonder … or wander. Either word works.

When I am writing a story, the action of the story goes on in my mind in real time. If I break off writing to go to the store or work or whatever, in the back of my brain is the thought, “Garison’s still at the library, isn’t he? What is he learning there?” Or, “Bat’s on a stakeout. How does Jody feel about that?” So I sat there in the funeral asking myself, “Where is Marianne? Did she survive the attack?” (for those fans of hers, the answer is “probably”) “If she survived, where did she go? How did she get there? How can I get her back? What is Edward doing during all of this?”

I’m not going to tell you my solution here, but during the funeral I realized where Marianne was and what she was doing. (See, she’s still alive. Whew!) The problem is still getting her back to everyone else in the story. I think I found the beginnings of the path during the funeral. Now I just have to make sure that path meets up with the rest of the story somewhere.

Friday, July 1, 2011

King Louis L’Amour

by Samuel Ben White

When a Louis L’Amour character walks down a street, you get the sense that—if you were suddenly placed on that street yourself—you’d know where to go because he’s already laid it out so well for you. That trail through the mountains? You could find it from his directions.

L’Amour wrote about how, in preparation for his books, he would pour over old maps and journals. I’m sure this helped, but what comes through on every page is that he actually walked the paths he talked about or rode a horse over the hills he describes. With every sentence, the reader thinks, “This guy has been here. I may not get to walk those paths myself, but I feel like I have, because The Guide walked me over them with his words.”

So, how did I get on the path of this incredible guide with the (for a writer known primarily for westerns) unexpected name of Louis L’Amour? My father is and always has been a voracious reader. It must be in my genes, for I am the same way. In the late elementary years, I began to notice that one of the authors he was reading frequently was Louis L’Amour. I noticed this because my older sister had begun to put together her own collection of Louis L’Amour paperbacks.

One of our phones was in her room, so I would sit there, talking to friends (or, more accurately, listening to them talk about their “girlfriends” [something I didn’t have at the time]) and looking at that rack of paperback books with intriguing names like “Over on the Dry Side” and “Guns of the Timberlands”. Hearing her talk with my father, I came to know names like “Tell Sackett” and “Milo Talon” and felt like I knew them pretty well before I even picked up a book. (And I would one day name both of my sons after Sacketts, but could never talk my wife into letting “Sackett” be the middle name.)

I had missed out on the “golden age of westerns” on TV. By the time I came along, only “Gunsmoke” was left, but I remember watching it faithfully every week—and in reruns when the station out of Dallas would show it—and my love of cowboys and cow country culture was cultivated. Without the westerns on TV, though, where could I turn?

Seventh grade. That was the year I finally read a Louis L’Amour book myself. I think the first one was “Catlow”. I guess I liked it because I read the other fifty-plus Louis L’Amour books my sister had before I was out of junior high, as well as “The Lord of the Rings”, “Centennial” and every “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” book I could find. And I couldn’t figure out why I still couldn’t connect with the girls.

Part of that was because I wanted a woman like the women in L’Amour’s world. They were pretty, of course, but they were also strong and independent and they could ride and shoot as well as any man—all while maintaining their composure and virtue. I wanted the rest of the L’Amour life: long desert vistas, hard work done by strong backs, and battles that weren’t for glory but for right. As I read about sixteen year old boys leading trail drives or fighting to protect the family land I lamented that there were no such opportunities in my twentieth century west Texas upbringing.

Not that I would have taken them if they had appeared. I know now that I was too timid. The glorious charges on horseback were for people who weren’t afraid of horses (not to mention bullets!) and the fair maidens were won—they rarely ever threw themselves at the quiet guy in the back of the room scribbling furiously on stories of his own.

It’s been said by more than one observer that the western, or “cowboy story”, is uniquely American and that each generation of Americans re-writes it not to explain or explore the Old West but to try and make a comment about the current culture with a familiar venue. I find this comforting because I would hate to think that the west was really as it is written now: full of debauchery and mayhem and amoral horndogs.

I want the west of Louis L’Amour. A day when men protected women and the women walked side-by-side with their men. A day when a man didn’t just turn in a good day’s work for the boss, he worked from “can see to can’t see” to make the boss’s spread a better place and with an idea of building a spread of his own. A day when people thought the chivalry of Sir Walter Raleigh was how a gentleman ought to conduct himself and where even a man’s enemies were accorded respect. A day when people held the printed word in high esteem and thought bettering oneself through reading was a virtuous thing.

I can have that time any time I want, because the books are right there on my shelf, close at hand. I think it’s time to take one down.

[Coming soon: my epic novel of the old west: “Overstreet”. Available on Kindle and Nook. Read more about it at!]