Writing news: Elmer Kelton, Sandhills Boy

Call me a foolish dreamer or a hopeless romantic, but I believe there is still a viable market for the western novel. The western and the western hero is in the ethos of America. I honestly believe if readers would pick up some of the western novels by the premier writers of the genre, they would find compelling books with great characterization. They'd also find that most of these characters and stories aren't as far removed from today as they believe.

Though Clint has given us the anti-western in Unforgiven, a grim tale of all that was bad about the West, I think there was much that was heroic and admirable and, yes, good about the West, though it has become unpopular to believe.

What brought on all this analysis of a dying genre? I read a review of Elmer Kelton's memoir Sandhills Boy: The Winding Trail of a Texas Writer. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Now, you may think it odd that I, a published romance novelist and a would-be mystery novelist (wait for it, my manuscript will be finished by fall!), see the allure of western novels. What you don't know is that I cut my teeth on Zane Grey novels. I read every one I could get my hands on the summer I was thirteen.

Kelton, the son of a real cowboy, has published 50 novels with many of them like The Time It Never Rained being highly regarded. Though he's not the household name McMurtry is, Kelton is one of the best writers from Texas, and this state has produced some good ones.

Sandhills Boy tells of his early knowledge that he wanted to be a writer. Encouraged by his mother and misunderstood by his father, he majored in journalism at UT but was drafted into the Army and sent to Europe. After the war ended, he was assigned to a POW camp in Austria where he met the young woman who became his wife.

Persistence paid off, red tape was eventually surmounted, and they married and settled in Austin.

Kelton began a full-time job as the farm and ranch reporter at the newspaper in San Angelo. Though he published his first fiction in the late forties, he never quit his day job. He did his faction at night and on weekends.

Kelton was, and is, a working writer, mining the theme of change over and over in his books. Get a copy of his memoir and let that lead you to his books.

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