Two risks for old timers: sitting still, guaranteed to kill you; living life flat out, also guaranteed to kill you, but a heck of a lot more fun. I vote for having fun.
With perhaps the exception of Melville’s “Call me Ishmael,” I have found no writer who ever jump started a novel better than Louis L’Amour. I recently read my way through my stack of novels and found myself out of something to read. So I scrounged my bookshelves and found “Passin’ Through,” one of the Louis L’Amour books I can’t part with…my reserve reading in case I run out of books again. In the first line, there it was, the quickest start a novel ever had: Behind me a noose hung empty and before me the land was wild. I try to match that. I haven’t yet, but I might have gotten close with Bitter’s Run.
I think of Louis L’Amour as an old friend. I have read all of his novels and most of his short stories. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, but I bristle when literary types dismiss his contribution to American literature. I mean, how many writers have so many books in print the titles are listed alphabetically?
Not me. (I haven’t checked, but the Patterson book factory might have as many. Someone should look that up.)
For several years I hunted deer with the same group of men. Each Fall we gathered in the North Warner Mountains, or at Willow Creek Cabin, or near Bear Mountain. Supper over, we sat around the fire, passed a bottle of French whiskey around, caught up on personal news, and finally started in on the old tales of past hunts. My friends told the same stories every year. I didn’t mind. Each was a richly embellished, finely plished tale worthy of the oral tradition. Over time, the stories improved, or maybe our story telling improved. I didn’t mind that either. But when I started hearing tales I once told as my own, I began to see the danger of French Whiskey. Apparently, If you drink enough, it will change the history of your life.
My favorite fishing guide, young Ryan Herbert just called to let me know he is quitting the fishing guide business for a steadier profession, one with predictable time for after school events with his two boys, and maybe a dinner or two out with his beautiful wife. Dang…but we had a lot fun. On one float trip on the Umpqua in below Elkton my buddy Ivan and I caught about two hundred smallmouth bass. (Caught and released.) It was a great sunny summer day on the river. And my last trip on the Siletz with Ryan saw two nice steelhead on the end of my line. (Also caught and released.)
I’ll miss the trips, and I’ll miss the rivers, but I’m proud of Ryan for trying out a new venture. Good luck, Ryan. Stay in touch.
I can’t seem to help it. When I start in on a new book, I always take one or more of my friends on the journey. My old compadre Aaron backs up what I send him (on two different storage systems), and my friend Dale keeps and reads a copy…mostly without comment until a story is finished.
My friend and mentor Jerry Barrowcliff acts as another of my off-site storage keepers and as an unofficial editor. He’s well qualified as a “suggester” of improvements. (I mean, how many people do you know who took creative writing classes from Bernard Malamud?)
When I turn out a few pages and worry I’ll lose what I’ve written, I ship Aaron, Dale and Jerry each an electronic file. Jerry also reads along when…or if…I make progress. If he gets hooked on the story, as he did with Bitter’s Run, he runs out ahead of me, researching interesting things like “Beecher’s Bibles.” I managed to work that gem into the story of the rifle match between Ezra Shipley and Tom Beecher at Fort Hall. (Bitter’s Run, Book III, Chapter 9, Beecher’s Bibles.)
But when I pushed Bitter’s Run to my personal record of 135, 000 words, he gently suggested some judicious pruning might be in order. Vi, my wife and chief critic agreed. So…I reread the entire manuscript and reluctantly cut more than 15,000 beautiful, precious words from the story. (I did save a few really good chapters I hope to work into the next John Bitter book, but that’s another story.)
Thanks to his editorial prowess, Bitter’s Run turned out much better than it might have. So let me give public thanks for Jerry’s hint.
My retirement is closing in on eighteen years, and I reckon it’s time I learned to relax at home. For the first few years every day was Saturday, which meant it was time to get work done around the house. But Saturday turned into seven-day weeks of year-long bouts of getting “work done around the house.” (I wonder if that’s what happens to other people who retire? Some tell me they’ve never been so busy.)
To relax, I have to run away. And I’m good at running away. I love my drift trips for steelhead, fishing the Umpqua River, stalking bass at various reservoirs, camping out at Diamond Lake…that kind of thing. But those trips don’t solve the problem.
Take a few days off and “IT” grows while I’m gone. I’m finally determined to master the art of ignoring “IT.” Here’s the plan: I’m going to put a stack of books I’ve been intending to read beside my recliner, along with chips and dips and my favorite brand of brew, sign up for Amazon Prime videos, fasten my seat-belt, and suffer the pangs of withdrawal from keeping up with “IT.”
Wish me luck. (I’m rooting for you, too.)