December 2023

A Minor Regional Writer

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine |

Les Marcott

Early in his writing career, the late great Larry McMurtry found success with novels, Horseman, Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, and The Last Picture Show.  But even at that, the critics generally regarded him as a "minor regional writer".  Whether he clung to that moniker as a badge of honor or a show of sarcasm, didn't matter.  He had t-shirts made up with those words emblazoned on them.

pastures-2McMurtry who died in 2021 is the subject of a new book published by the University of Texas Press and edited by George Getschow:  Pastures Of The Empty Space:  Fellow Writers On The Life And Legacy Of Larry McMurtry.  Thirty-six diverse writers share their thoughts on his standing in Texas literature as well as the broader American literary culture.  Many of these contributors knew him personally or had brief interactions with him.

Of course, it was the publication of Lonesome Dove in 1985 that vaulted McMurtry into the upper echelon of American novelists.  The story about two retired Texas Rangers on an epic cattle drive in the 1870's from Texas to Montana which earned him a Pulitzer Prize.  Growing up on a ranch near Archer City, Texas helped inform his writing.  And more than a few contributors cite his knack for using "rancher" terms in the way he constructed his fiction.  He was a "word wrangler", "herding" words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters until they completed a book.  He also brought the work ethic of a rancher to his putting words down on paper.  He was an early riser, typing out five pages daily without fail on his ancient Hermes typewriter.

Another trait that McMurtry was highly praised for by the women writers in this collection was his ability to portray his women characters realistically in their emotions, their conversational tone, and their actions.  His personal relationship with women however was somewhat
complicated.  It was difficult to distinguish between business partners and romantic partners.  At the time of his death, he was living with wife Faye (formerly wife of McMurtry's good friend Ken Kesey – he of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Fame and writing collaborator Dianna Ossana whom he shared an Oscar with for the screenplay adaptation for Brokeback Mountain).  Her contribution is probably the most intimate and heartfelt, especially as she describes her efforts to help him through heart surgery followed by a long depressive state he was suffering from at the time.

When asked what advice he would give aspiring authors, his response was "read, read, read".  Read and develop your own style.  More than writing, his great passion was being an antiquarian bookseller for over fifty years.  His bookstore in Archer City at one time contained 400,000 volumes filling six buildings.  His private library alone contained some 30,000 books.  If one couldn't catch him at the bookstore pricing and determining the condition of recently acquired books, they might catch him at the local Dairy Queen drinking a Dr. Pepper and eating a Frito pie.

Most of these essays in this collection are highly praiseworthy of McMurtry's literary efforts and rightfully so.  Some delve into his personality traits which showcase his prickly and curmudgeonly
demeanor.  Writer Dianne Solis offers one of the few critical views of him.  She chastises him for his characterizations of Hispanics in his work who often don't come across well.

Overall, Pastures Of The Empty Page, is an excellent primer concerning the life and work of a "minor regional artist" who became a national treasure.


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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine |

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Les Marcott
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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