I can’t tell you how many times Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” have played out in my mind during the past 30 days.
I’ve taken longer trips before, and I’ve ranged much farther from home, but I don’t know that I’ve ever driven as many highway miles in a single month.
Getting my daughter settled in with her husband out in West Texas. Visiting my wife’s aging parents, as well as my own (in North Carolina and Louisiana respectively). Spending time with my other two daughters and my grandchildren in Florida. It all added up to a whole lot of hours behind the steering wheel.
So what kind of mischief did I get into along the way?
Elmer Kelton’s Hometown
The first leg of our travels took us to San Angelo, Texas, where iconic Western author Elmer Kelton spent a number of years of his fruitful life. An 8-time Spur Award winner, Kelton also won the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement in Western literature. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a movie, starring Tommy Lee Jones.
On East Concho Street in San Angelo, where the facades of several buildings bear dates from the 1880s, I stumbled across Felton Cochran’s Cactus Book Shop–a treasure trove of volumes, old and new, on Texas and the Old West. The congenial Mr. Cochran offers quite an inventory of Elmer Kelton first editions and out-of-print titles. Or if it’s the grandkids you’re shopping for, he’ll be just as happy to point you to his collection of John R. Erickson’s Hank the Cowdog paperbacks.
Back in the Saddle
My wife and I really wanted to spend some time on horseback out in West Texas, soaking in some of the sights, sounds, and smells of the region. (Nothing like doing things the old-fashioned way to help add a dose of authenticity to a story.) Sadly, time got away from us In Texas. We remained determined, however, to saddle up somewhere, so we squeezed in a ride up in North Carolina. It wasn’t the great American West, but the weather was glorious, and the ride was still quite enjoyable.
While traveling last summer, I bought my youngest granddaughter a nice pair of cowboy boots. (Boy or girl, every American kid needs a pair at one point or another!) I’m tickled to know that she wore them three to four days a week throughout much of the school year, and they’re still holding up great. Only thing is, every time she pulled them off, her younger brother was quick to snatch them up and clomp around the house in them. What’s a Western-writing grandfather to do? Why, buy the boy his own pair of boots, of course. Seems I hit a home run–he’ll scarcely take them off.
Can Hardly Wait
As enjoyable and important as the past thirty days have been, I can hardly wait to settle in and get back to making significant progress on the final installment of the Emmett Strong trilogy–Strong Ambitions.
While my wife and I were zigzagging our way across Texas and the Southeast, Western Fictioneers honored Strong Convictions with their Peacemaker Award for Best First Western, and Readers’ Favorite Reviews and Awards gave a glowing five-star review of Strong Suspicions. I’m tremendously grateful for the recognition that each organization has bestowed on the first two Emmett Strong novels. And believe me–as much as anything else, both honors motivate me to double down on trying to produce a powerful and thoroughly enjoyable finish to the Strong trilogy.