Western Writer Profile: Elmer Kelton

elmer kelton

Name: Elmer Kelton (1926-2009)

Pseudonyms: Tom Early; Alex Hawk; Lee McElroy

Notable Works: 

The Time It Never Rained, The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Wolf and the Buffalo, The Good Old Boys, and The Man Who Rode Midnight.

Bibliography:

Books

  • Hot Iron (1956)
  • Barbed Wire (1957)
  • Buffalo Wagons (1957)
  • Shadow of a Star (1959)
  • Texas Rifles (1960)
  • Donovan (1961)
  • Bitter Trail (1962)
  • Pecos Crossing (Horsehead Crossing) (1963)
  • Massacre at Goliad (1965)
  • Llano River (1966)
  • After the Bugles (1967)
  • Captain’s Rangers (1968)
  • Hanging Judge (1969)
  • Shotgun (1969) Originally published as Shotgun Settlement under pseudonym Alex Hawk
    Bowie’s Mine (1971)
  • The Day the Cowboys Quit (1971)
  • Wagontongue (1972)
  • The Time it Never Rained (1973)
  • Manhunters (1974)
  • Joe Pepper (1975)
  • Long Way To Texas (1976)
  • The Good Old Boys (1978) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • Eyes of the Hawk (1981)
  • The Wolf and the Buffalo (1980)
  • Stand Proud (1984)
  • Dark Thicket (1985)
  • The Man Who Rode Midnight (1987)
  • Sons of Texas (1989) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • The Raiders: Sons of Texas (1989) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • The Rebels: Sons of Texas (1990) Originally published under the pseudonym Tom Early
  • Honor at Daybreak (1991)
  • Slaughter (1992)
  • The Far Canyon (1994)
  • The Pumpkin Rollers (1996)
  • Cloudy in the West (1997)
  • The Smiling Country (1998) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • The Buckskin Line (1999) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Badger Boy (2001) TEXAS RANGERS
  • The Way of the Coyote (2001) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Ranger’s Trail (2002) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Lone Star Rising: Texas Ranger Trilogy (2003) Includes first three novels of the Texas Rangers series
  • Texas Vendetta (2004) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Jericho’s Road (2004) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Six Bits a Day (2005) HEWEY CALLOWAY
  • Ranger’s Law: A Lone Star Saga (2006)
  • The Rebels: Sons of Texas (2007)
  • Sand Hills Boy: The Winding Trail Of A Texas Writer (2007) Memoir
  • Hard Trail to Follow (2007) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Texas Sunrise (2008)
  • Many A River (2008)
  • Other Men’s Horses (2009) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Texas Standoff (2010) TEXAS RANGERS
  • Long Way To Texas: Three Texas Novels (2011) Joe Pepper, Long Way To Texas, and Eyes of the Hawk
  • Wild West (2018)

Awards/Accolades:

Spur Award

1957 Buffalo Wagons
1971 The Day the Cowboys Quit
1973 The Time It Never Rained
1981 Eyes of the Hawk
1992 Slaughter
1994 The Far Canyon
2002 The Way of the Coyote
2009 Many a River

Western Heritage Award

1974 The Time It Never Rained
1979 The Good Old Boys
1988 The Man Who Rode Midnight

1977 Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement

2010 (posthumously) American Cowboy Culture Association Fictional works for Lifetime achievement

WWA Survey (2000)

Greatest Western writer of all time

In the author’s own words:

-A majority of my fictional works are based strongly in history, mostly Texas history, my own personal niche. I have chosen various periods of change or of stress in which an old order is being pushed aside by the new, and through the fictional characters try to give the reader some understanding of the human reasons for and effects of these changes. The challenge of meeting changing times is one thing each generation faces in common with all those which have gone before and all those yet to come. I strongly believe history remains highly relevant to us today, for what we are -our customs, our attitudes, our reactions to events at home and around the world -is the sum product of all that has gone before us. The better we understand history the more likely we are to understand the present and to be able to cope with the future.

-I’ve often been asked how my characters differ from the traditional, larger-than-life heroes of the mythical West. ‘Those,’ I reply, ‘are seven feet tall and invincible. My characters are five-eight and nervous.’

-As a fiction writer I have always tried to use fiction to illuminate history, to illuminate truth, at least as I see the history and truth. A fiction writer can often fire a reader’s interest enough to make him want to dig into the true story and make him search out the real history to find out for himself what happened.

-As a livestock reporter, I am in everyday contact with the kinds of people I write my stories about, the spiritual sons and grandsons of the characters in my historical works and, in many cases, the actual characters in my more contemporary stories.

Adaptations:

The Good Old Boys was a made for TV movie in 1995.

What the critics said:

-“Kelton’s works have recurrent themes which center on the courage and integrity of the cow rancher, cowboy, and settler; the ordeals, losses, and successes of his people; the authenticity of his locales; the effect of change upon people and how they meet the challenge of change.”

-“All of his work is realistic and filled with action. The strength of his fiction lies in the historical background, the folklore, and the development of his characters. He is especially good with dialogue and he certainly knows Texas history”

-“…his western novels are realistic studies of the land, animals, and men and women who gradually settled the Llano Estacado and other parts of Texas.”

-“…Kelton passes comment on the culture whose dissolution he is tracing. Although it seems inappropriate to label him a master of the novel of manners, his life-earned knowledge of the cattleman’s existence shines brightest in his commentary on range etiquette.”

-“The most knowledgeable and perceptive contemporary novelist to write of both historical and present-day cowpunchers is Texan Elmer Kelton. He grew up on a ranch around story-telling old cowhands, so Kelton acquired first-hand much of the knowledge of cowboy life he depicts in his fiction.”

-“Kelton explores here with a sure pen the complexities of the kind of human spirit that can never alight in one place long.”

-“Kelton’s fiction is of two sorts: the shorter, simpler novels, which were often early in his career, and the longer, more complex ones, which tend to explore the consequences of the western myth.”

-“A Kelton hero does not vanquish his enemies, win the hand of the heroine, or find serenity in general. More often then not, he must stoically accept what his sometimes harsh, unforgiving environment metes out. Most of Kelton’s characters simply endure, rather than triumph. Yet the novels are not bleak; in fact, there is much humor in them.”

-“Kelton…broke away from Western stereotypes in his fiction and instead wrote sbout simple people–the working cowboy, the working rancher, and the working lawman.”

-“The conflict quite often in Kelton’s Westerns is not supplied by the formulary  hero vs. villain convention, but rather by confrontations between opposing beliefs or viewpoints.”

-“Perhaps what makes Kelton one of the most important contemporary Western authors is the tremendous respect he had for the people he wrote about. His men and women are sensitively drawn people of integrity who suffer great hardships in building their homes and working the land.”

-“Elmer Kelton has come to be seen as a priceless literary commodity, hitting all the notes with essential American archetypes, and leavening his work with a dry wit.”

***

Sources for this article:

A Literary History of the American West

Updating the Literary West

The Wister Trace

Twentieth Century Western Writers

Read the High Country: A Guide to Western Books and Films

Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction

Wikipedia 

https://web.archive.org/web/20060104063925/http://westernwriters.org/best_westerns.htm

http://www.elmerkelton.net/

http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/417a60_5fc54b1f283b4c4da5f8d10aa1dc2e6a.pdf

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Five Fingers For Marseilles – trailer

Five Fingers for Marseilles is a South African neo-western thriller that is worth keeping an eye on. I hope this is as amazing as it looks.

Here is the synopsis:

Twenty years ago, the young ‘Five Fingers’ fought against brutal police oppression for the safe-keeping of the rural town of Marseilles. 

Now, after fleeing in disgrace, freedom-fighter-turned-‘outlaw’ Tau returns to Marseilles, seeking only a peaceful pastoral life. When he finds the town under new threat, he must reluctantly fight to free it. Will the Five Fingers ride again?

The noir songs of…Porter Wagoner

Otto Penzler famously said:

“Look, noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with.”

Thereby providing as close to a true definition out there as possible. Or at least the one that people refer to the most.

If you think of Porter Wagoner do you think of noir? Probably not. First, I’m not convinced that he ever really fully crossed over into popular culture consciousnesses and stayed. To the extent he has, people think of his blonde pompadour, his nudie suits, his TV show, and, of course, his partnership with Dolly Parton.

What if I told you that that Porter Wagoner was one of the most classically noir musicians of all time.

There have been many posts online over the years, from the writing and music communities, about murder ballads and crime fiction songs, yet Porter Wagoner name hardly comes up.

From 1966 to 1970 Porter Wagoner released six albums: Confessions of a Broken Man (1966); Soul of a Convict (1967); The Cold Hard Facts of Life (1967); The Bottom of the Bottle (1968); The Carroll County Accident (1969); Down in the Alley (1970).

They were considered kind of concept albums, in many cases he would be inhabiting the character Skid Row Joe.

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Bear Family Records collected these six albums in a three disc collection, The Cold Hard Facts of Life.

When taken as a whole these songs connect in surprising ways. The man who commits murder in one song may be the man in jail in another song. The wino bumming a dime in one song might be the man dying alone in another song. There are some songs that are of a type we have all heard before. But when placed in the context of this broader pattern, a new tragedy can emerge.

This is an outstanding collection of songs and worth seeking out. In the meantime check out a couple of the songs.

This darker aspect of his work would continue on in individual songs on oater albums but wouldn’t again be spread over an entire album. Here’s two songs not on this collection but worth remembering.

 

 

Announcement: New series of profiles on western writers

I know they aren’t for everyone but I like westerns. Recently on Facebook I wrote the following:

Norman Fox was a western writer who wrote 33 novels and more that 400 short stories (and novelettes). As far as I know, only 11 of the stories were collected in book form.

There’s a ton of western short stories out there that just feels lost.

I’d like to try and do something about it. I plan on writing a series of profiles on western writers that will gather together good information on western writers both remembered and forgotten. I will be relying heavily on the books in the picture above. These books are a great study of the western genre in the 20th century. There is a ton of great information contained in these books. I hope to free some of it.

I will start with my favorite western writers before expanding out to cover others. I hope that these posts will be informative and will encourage readers to try some of their works.

The first post will be on Elmer Kelton. Future posts will be on Luke Short, Ernest Haycox, Lewis Patton, Jack Schaefer, Brian Garfield, TV Olsen, Wayne Overholser.

Interview with Eric Red

This interview originally appeared at Spinetingler on October 26, 2016.

On July 31st Eric Red’s new western novel, Noose, first in a series, was published. To celebrate, I am reprinting my interview with him about westerns.

***

Today I’m talking to Eric Red. Eric Red is known for writing films like The Hitcher and Near Dark. He’s also written a fun western/horror book called The Guns of Santa Sangre.

Brian Lindenmuth: Why westerns?

Eric Red: The mythology of hero and villain cowboys with guns on horses in a hard landscape where problems are settled in definitive physical terms resonates for everyone on a subconscious level. It’s remained a popular storytelling form for over a century for a reason.

Why did The Guns of Santa Sangre have to be a western?

Guns is a western novel so maybe the better question is why it had to be a horror novel as well. Since the book is a spin on the classic oater tale about anti-hero gunfighters who regain their honor by protecting a defenseless village from bad guys, I made the bad guys werewolves because I hadn’t seen that before. The western and horror genres mash up organically, because the elements of both are so iconic for readers.

What is your favorite type of western?

The old west was a tough, violent place. I like westerns that portray that dangerous world accurately, but have bigger-than-life good guys and bad guys.

What is your favorite western movie?

The Wild Bunch

What is your favorite western novel?

I have four. The Searchers by Alan LeMay, The Shootist by Glendon Swartout, The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker, and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Who is your favorite western writer?

Sam Peckinpah, as a screenwriter.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

A propulsive narrative that pulls me in and keeps me turning the page, with characters I care about. Doesn’t matter the genre.

Who is your favorite violent western character?

The Judge in Blood Meridian.

Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?

Readers and audiences love westerns, always have and always will, all over the world. Western movies, TV shows, and books continue to be successful because people always have an appetite for them. Just count the amount of western movies, shows, and books that have come out over the last few years.

Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next?

Just finished The Girls by Emma Cline, am reading Breakhart Pass by Alistair MacLean now, and am going to read The Fireman by Joe Hill next.

What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?

The Hateful Eight.

***

Eric is a Los Angeles based motion picture novelist, screenwriter, and film director.

His first novel, a dark coming-of-age tale about teenagers called DON’T STAND SO CLOSE, is available from SST Publications. His other three novels, a werewolf western called THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE, a science fiction monster undersea adventure called IT WAITS BELOW, and a serial killer thriller WHITE KNUCKLE, are available from Samhain Publishing.

He created and wrote the comic series and graphic novel CONTAINMENT for IDW Publishing, recently reprinted in hardcover by SST Publications, and the comic series WILD WORK for Antarctic Press.

His original screenplays include THE HITCHER for Tri Star, NEAR DARK for DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, BLUE STEEL for MGM and the western THE LAST OUTLAW for HBO. He directed and wrote the crime film COHEN AND TATE for Hemdale, BODY PARTS for Paramount, UNDERTOW for Showtime, BAD MOON for Warner Bros. and the ghost story 100 FEET for Grand Illusions Entertainment.

Remembering the narrative encyclopedia

In the 60s/70s and into the 80s there was a spate of book sets that were released. I’m not sure that they have ever been recognized as a group, so they don’t really have a name. I’m going to call them narrative encyclopedias (I’m open to a better term).

What the hell is a narrative encyclopedia?

I don’t think there is a standing definition, here’s my best take on one: Multi-volume sets of over-sized hardcovers about a single, large subject with individual volumes covering a specific area of the subject, released over an extended period of time. They often employed a strong visual style, utilizing extensive images, drawings, pictures, and photographs that accompanied the text. Taken as a whole, they were somewhere between a superficial overview and a deep dive of the subject, a medium dive if you will.

The most popular of these was Time Life Books. Here is a link to the Wikipedia page, there’s no need to regurgitate what is there. But they were not the only publisher of these types of books. These books often, but not always, sold millions of copies and were once a staple of many a household. I think people close to my age will likely remember reading some of these books.

Then they disappeared. Maybe the audience for them aged out. Maybe, like Time Life, there was a shift to audio. Whatever the reason(s) the model was no longer attractive. The linked Wikipedia article sheds some light on these shifts.

Despite elevated prices on Ebay (I suspect many of these auctions are re-listings) there is not much of a market for these books. A patient shopper will find them much cheaper at yard sales, fleamarkets, and thrift stores.

When I see sets out in the wild for cheap prices, on subjects that interest me, I jump at the chance to buy them. I have fond memories of them, they are interesting book artifacts, and, even if the information is dated or has progressed, they can still be informative. To me they’re just cool.

Why Did These Books Exist?

In the beginning of the 20th century there was a push to canonize western literature by way of multi-volume sets that collected great works of literature. Half a tumultuous century later, narrative encyclopedias seem to represent another push to collect information in an easily accessible way. These books almost represent a breather. Like there was a period of huge growth and there was an unspoken desire to take a moment to assess what we had learned, what we had done, and all that had happened.

If you are feeling generous, you could say the narrative encyclopedias were kind of like the internet before the internet (like how Steve Jobs and other early, pioneering computer guys considered the Whole Earth Catalogs to be “Google in paperback form”). Maybe the existence of these books created a space where something like the internet could be created.

The decline of these books leads into another period of large scale change with the rise of the internet and the digitization of information. What these books did, the internet does better.

Examples

The best way to end this is to share some of my favorites from my collection.

Out of This World: The Illustrated Library of the Bizarre and Extraordinary is a 24 volume set that I once saw described as X-Files in book form. I nearly have a full set of these, I am missing two volumes.

Crimes and Punishment: A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior is a 20 volume set. I have a full set of these, pus some extra individual volumes.

The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau is a 20 volume set. A 21st volume was later added and the information from this series was eventually updated, combined, and condensed into the single volume Ocean World which was published in 1985. I have a full set of these.

Time Life’s The American Indians is a 24 volume set. I only have a couple of individual volumes of this set.

Time Life’s The Old West series is a (26) volume set. I only have a couple of individual volumes of this set. Complete sets of this are, in my opinion, almost always priced too high. I remember reading this one when I was younger.

The Old West series just might be the most well known narrative encyclopedia set of them all. Here are some of the TV commercials that ran during its publication run.

 

Do you remember these types of books? Did you read any of them? What were some of your favorites?

Links of interest

What is this? Links to various pieces that caught my attention and that I enjoyed reading. I will not be posting many (if any) crime fiction links. David Nemeth already does that and you should be reading him. This truly is shit that Brian found found interesting. After I started the blog, I was posting interesting things as I found them. That was too much. Look for these posts infrequently.

Continue reading “Links of interest”