Inspiration from the past

I’ve been sitting here, trying to decide what to blog about this morning. There are a couple of topics I want to deal with, but not today. Those topics need to be discussed logically and reasonably and not solely on emotion and, because of what today and tomorrow are, emotion is high on my list. This weekend, and tomorrow in particular, mark that point in every parent’s life when you have to admit that your child is now an adult and all you can do is stand back and support them, love them and be there if they need you. Monday my son leaves to report to his first assignment as a 2nd lieutenant with the USAF. He’ll be training for at least six months in his specialty. After that, it will be up to Uncle Sam to determine where he goes. I’m proud to see the man he has become and to know that he wants to serve his country. I support his decision and will always be here for him. He will always be my “little boy” but he is also a man I can respect and admire – and worry about because of his chosen profession.

So, I needed to find something to write about today and, thanks to Sanford Begley, I have my topic. Sanford posted a question about a Louis L’Amour book on Facebook and that started a bunch of people, myself included, thinking about L’Amour and his writing style. I read my first L’Amour book as a kid, probably before I was much older than ten. My paternal grandmother lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma and I’d spend a couple of weeks every summer with her. Now, if you’ve never been to Ardmore, it’s not the most exciting place in the world to spend time. But my grandmother’s place was great for a kid — huge yard, neighborhood store a block away I could walk to and all the time in the world to read.

But there was one problem: I read voraciously even back then and would always run out of books before it was time to go home. Now, at home that wouldn’t be a problem because I’d either raid one of the many bookshelves in the house or my parents would take me to the library. At my grandmother’s, the library was out of the question because Grandma didn’t drive and taxis were expensive. Worse, there was only one small bookshelf in the house and I’d gone through most of those books the summer before.

Then, looking at the titles one last time, I realized there were some books that hadn’t been there the year before. My Uncle John, my father’s younger brother who was in the Navy, had been home and had obviously left some of his books behind. With eager hands, I pulled out the new titles, found my favorite chair near the swamp cooler and started to read.

And was quickly lost in the American West of Louis L’Amour. There was something about his story telling and about how his women, even if they did need the man to come save the day, weren’t shrinking violets that called to me. Oh, they’d not pass the PC smell test today, at least not by some folks’ standards, but they were and are still good books, books that had an impact on me back then.

In fact, as I think back on that summer, one of L’Amour’s books was the first one to inspire me to try to write something longer than a couple of pages. I probably still have that handwritten western somewhere. It might be fun to read what my child-self wrote so long ago, but I’m not sure I want to go looking for it. It might also be best to be resigned to fond memory.

Anyway, as I go look for my copies of L’Amour and sit down to reread them, what books most impacted you and started you writing?

26 comments

  1. L’Amour’s women were strong. When they needed a man it was much for the same reasons that a man would need such a man. The ability to win in combat is a different skill set than the ability to, for example, run a ranch. If you read all his books men needed his heroes nearly as often as women. And women were, often enough, as likely to be villains as dish-mops.

    1. Sanford, you’re right. That was something that called to me even at such a young age. They stood up for themselves, often with the odds stacked against them. I liked the fact he had strong characters of both sexes. Plus, i liked seeing a female villain from time to time — yes, I’m warped that way πŸ˜‰

  2. The things that appealed to me in Westerns are the same things that appealed to me in Science Fiction: stories about people out on the ragged edge of civilization, dealing with ‘people’ (either human or non-human) with a totally alien background and alien concepts of language, ownership, and what actions constituted honor.

    In other words, stories about people who are being tried and tested by their environment, and have only themselves or a few nearby others to help if things got difficult.

    I still think that’s SF at its best.

    1. Gotta agree with you there, Lin. I liked the aspect of the human spirit striving to overcome instead of just rolling over and dying. It’s why I liked the classic westerns and why I liked classic SF — and why i don’t like a lot of what is being written in sf/f right now.

  3. Wow. It’s been way too long since I’ve read any Western. Shane, of course. And some Max Brands. I really don’t recall any L’Amours. I may have to go fill in that hole.

    By the time I realized I could put those daydream worlds in my head onto paper, I was deeply under the influence of Lois Bujold. Don’t think I’ll ever get that smooth. Don’t think I can be that brutal to my characters. Know I’ll never be so brilliant. But I’m trying.

    1. Pam, i was lucky. I come from a family of journalists, so writing my ideas down was always natural. I also had a great 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Winslow, who dared peek over my shoulder one day in class and see me writing a story and who encouraged me.

  4. I think I have a couple of Lois L’amour books around somewhere. I have (also somewhere) rather more JT Edson’s. JT was an Englishman and (as I understand it) went rarely if ever to the US. But he wrote over 100 books, mostly westerns (some modern day police procedurals, a few US civil war books) and they were pretty good. Good enough that my best friend at school, who was dyslexic, was insired to really learn to read by reading them. JT also did his research and was extremely good about getting the background right (and the characters when they were real ones).

    Must see if they are available in some cheap (or free) ebook format

    1. I’ll have to get my hands on some of Edison’s work. I haven’t read him before. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. If the books don’t pass the PC test it’s because the test is rigged.

    Which it is.

  6. I don’t know what to say about the other, since I’ve only been on the “in the military” side of it and never on the “mom left at home” side. I never knew that my mom worried until she told me just a couple of years ago that she did. I never felt in danger even though Americans were killed in the Philippines where I was stationed and then the whole place blew up! Ahem! Anyhow… maybe it will help to remember that the Air Force has an interest in keeping all its cogs functional and healthy and goes out of it’s way to manage the lives of young people to subvert the self-destructive tendencies of those young men (something akin to randy adolescent raccoons contemplating a busy highway) who are bound and determined to “do something stupid” so if *your* kid has a normal measure of common sense he’s golden. After all, the sergeants watch over the new butterbars just like they watch over the 18 year old Airmen away from home for the very first time and they’re usually just as attentive as any mother would wish. There are even those who’s explicit job is “mother hen.” It’s gonna be okay, and that’s the truth.

    It’s always harder to be the one at home, though. And that’s the truth, too.

    1. This has been something I’ve been preparing for for some time now. My son’s wanted to go into the military since high school, if not earlier. Between high school and college, we discussed the options open to him and he chose to go the ROTC/TAMU Corps of Cadets route. He signed his contract with the USAF on 9/11 four years or so ago. He’ll be at training for a minimum of six months, longer if he goes Shred A in his specialty. Still, even knowing he is only 9 hours away, it’s hard because this is the real start of his life not only as an adult but as a member of our military. I’m proud and scared and filled with love all at the same time. BTW, I had the talk with him about listening to his sergeants because I know they will keep an eye on the new butterbars.

      BTW, thank you for your service.

  7. I fell under the triple curse of Ann McCaffrey, Rudyard Kipling, and Mercedes Lackey, with a slug of John Masters and Viscount Slim (“Defeat into Victory”). I found Louis L’Amour as an adult, and “The Lonesome Gods” is still one of my favorites. He catches the scent and taste of the land as much as the plot, and I’ve considered using some of his books along with Conrad Richter’s “The Sea of Grass” in my environmental history class.

    1. Kipling was another I fell for as a kid. My parents had a collection of his work that I loved. I remember taking my copy of The Jungle Book to school early in elementary school and the teacher reading us Riki Tiki Tavi from it. I still love Kipling and turn to him when I need a comfort read.

  8. Just ran across an excellent western (far-eastern?) called The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker. 15 Montana cowboys accompany a herd of 500 longhorns to Vladivostok for delivery to the Siberian interior, and are met by 15 cossacks who will guide them. It’s a lovely coming-of-age and character story. Highly recommended. (Tatars as militarily inclined red Indians.)

    1. So? L’Amour is worth two posts. Any author who has over one hundred novels still in print over twenty-five years after his death was doing something right.

    2. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I agree with bearcat. L’Amour is worth at least two posts. I had a lot of great hours reading him when I was younger and look forward to being able to carve out some time to revisit his books now.

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