Larry McMurtry goes west again in new book

  • By Jamie Stengle Associated Press
  • Friday, May 16, 2014 11:21am
  • Life

ARCHER CITY, Texas — 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. “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 divides his time between Tucson, Arizona, and Archer City, a windswept town with a population of about 1,800 around 140 miles northwest of Dallas.

“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.

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 “pre-eminently 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 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.

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