Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Man Who Rode Midnight
I first discovered western writer Elmer Kelton around 1989 when I bought his book, The Man Who Rode Midnight. I became an instant fan and went on to read The Time It Never Rained, The Good Old Boys, The Day the Cowboys Quit, and Cloudy in the West, just to name a few. I'd always enjoyed Louis L'Amour westerns, but Elmer brought something new to the genre. His stories were real, his characters were real. They were everyday people with flaws, even his heroes. Having been around ranching, ranchers, cowboys, and country people all my life, I could fully relate to his people. They reminded me of my dad, my uncles, my neighbors, my grandparents. I even saw a little of myself in his characters from time to time. He wrote what he knew, and he wrote it so damn well.
Elmer was every bit as real and down to earth as the fictional people he wrote about (I wouldn't be surprised if many of them were fictional only in name to protect the innocent, and not-so-innocent). I met Elmer at a Western Writers conference right after I'd read The Man Who Rode Midnight. Even though I, too, was a published author, I had to muster the courage to introduce myself and tell him how much I enjoyed his book. To my relief, he was humble and polite. We didn't talk long about writing. He and my husband soon launched into a conversation about ranching that went on for a considerable length of time.
Ten years later, it was with trepidation again that I summoned courage to ask him if he would read my historical saga, Raveled Ends of Sky for a possible endorsement. I thought for sure he'd tell me he was too busy–after all, every western author out there was probably asking him for the same favor, and I knew he had book deadlines. But he kindly consented. I can tell you, I was nearly as proud of his endorsement on the front cover of my book as I was my book.
Voted Best Western Author of All Time, Elmer passed away on August 22nd at the age of 83. He wrote over forty books. He was the recipient of seven Spur awards and the Saddleman Award for Lifetime Achievement from Western Writers of America. He also received four Wrangler awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. His death will be deeply felt by his family, friends, and his many, many fans. I feel fortunate to have crossed his path, if even for a moment, and to have had his stories touch my life.