McMurtry revisits American West in newest book
ARCHER CITY, Texas (AP) — Standing among the towering shelves in his bookstore in the small Texas town where he grew up, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry says he has a need to be among books.
“I’m very attached to the books. I need them. I need to be among them,” said McMurtry, 77, whose rare and used bookstore in Archer City contains about 200,000 volumes, while the library in his nearby home holds about 28,000.
McMurtry is the author of almost 50 books including the novels “Lonesome Dove,” ″The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment,” and biographies and essay collections. He has had simultaneous careers as a screenwriter and bookseller.
In his new novel, “The Last Kind Words Saloon,” he again takes readers to the American West — this time peeking into the lives of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday as they ramble through Texas, Colorado and Arizona.
“I usually start a book with some notion about a character that I’m curious about or interested in,” McMurtry said in an interview. “And I think that’s what I did here. I kind of wanted to demythologize” Earp and Holliday.
″‘Lonesome Dove’ was an effort to kind of demythologize the myth of the Old West, but it kind of came to people won’t let you. They’re going to twist it into something romantic no matter what you do.”
McMurtry spoke Wednesday night — in what likely will be his only public appearance for the book — as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s “Arts & Letters Live” speakers series.
He divides his time between Tucson, Arizona, and Archer City, a wind-swept town with a population of about 1,800 located about 140 miles northwest of Dallas. “My gig in Dallas is my book tour for this one,” he said.
Beth Wasson, who attended the museum event, said she couldn’t miss an opportunity to see one of her favorite authors in person. She said she enjoys his books for his character development and is in awe of his ability to write about both modern day and the Old West. “Just the titles of his books tell a story,” she said.
“The Last Kind Words Saloon” features historical figures including Earp, Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody and Charles Goodnight, along with fictional characters such as journalist Nellie Courtright, who appeared in his novel “Telegraph Days.” McMurtry said he enjoys revisiting characters, including Earp and Holliday.
“That’s fun, to go back and see your characters at different stages of their lives,” he said, noting that he followed the characters from “The Last Picture Show” through several books, marking their transformation from teenagers to old men.
Andrew Graybill, director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University, said McMurtry cleverly brings together famous characters of the American West in his new book. “Putting them on the stage together at the same time — I think it’s a wonderful way to undercut and subvert these myths,” said Graybill, who introduced McMurtry at the Dallas event.
McMurtry won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for “Lonesome Dove,” which later became a miniseries. Several films have been based on his novels, including “Hud,” ″The Last Picture Show,” ″Texasville” and the Oscar-winning “Terms of Endearment.”
Both “The Last Picture Show” and its sequel, “Texasville,” were filmed in Archer City.
Don Graham, a professor of English and American literature at the University of Texas in Austin, said McMurtry is “preeminently a storyteller.”
“He’s a great creator of characters and dialogue. That’s one of the reasons he’s had so much success in Hollywood,” Graham said.
McMurtry, who along with writing partner Diana Ossana won the Academy Award for writing the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” said they are now working on television screenplays. He and Ossana, who joined him at the Dallas event, have collaborated since 1992, co-writing more than 40 screenplays.
McMurtry said his next book will be about his “life with women.” (Three years ago, McMurtry married the widow of friend Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”)
Graham notes that one of McMurtry’s strengths is creating female characters that women love. “He was able to create women characters that were real and convincing,” he said.
McMurtry traces his love of books to when he was about 7. A cousin who was going off to fight in World War II gave him about 20 children’s books.
He opened his first bookstore in 1971 in Washington, D.C., and later opened other stores in Houston, Dallas and Tucson. He opened his Booked Up store in Archer City in the mid-1980s; it is the only one that remains.