Red Country is finished! Or at least my final changes are made. Page proofs will no doubt appear some time over the coming weeks for a final read through, but basically it’s done. One always feels one could perhaps do a little more, tweak something here, something there, but the last run through was mostly for tone and word choice and I didn’t make a great number of changes. Too often found I was just slipping into reading without really concentrating on what could be changed, what could be improved. Diminishing returns, and production want a manuscript, and so … adieu.
Thought this might be a good time to recommend a few westerns I’ve read and enjoyed, both while working on this book and before, and that have probably had some influence on one part or another of Red Country. A lot of the influences, perhaps most, have been filmic ones, but I’ll stick to books for now:
Pete Dexter, Deadwood – I suspect the makers of the TV series owe a debt to this offbeat, dark and hilarious telling of the last days of Wild Bill Hickok.
A.B. Guthrie, The Big Sky and The Way West – Great novels of the early west. Tough and authentic-seeming, it’s hard to believe they were written in the late 40s.
Richard Matheson, Journal of the Gun Years - If you only read one on this list, make it this one. Very slim, very powerful story of the cost of violence, from the man who brought you I am Legend. I’d never heard of it before plucking it at random from a bookstore shelf but I’m mighty glad I did.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian - The west as hell. The crazy, unpunctuated biblical style and searing bleakness won’t be for everyone, but you can’t ignore the power.
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove – Superb stuff. Tough, moving, packed with memorable characters. There’s a brilliant TV adaptation as well.
Charles Portis, True Grit - A classic, with brilliant voice and style.
Elmore Leonard, The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard – He’s a master at characterisation, is Leonard, and can sketch a vivid character with a few words of description and a line of dialogue. I read a couple of his full-length westerns as well (I say full length, they’re barely more than novellas, really) and I thought in the end his stuff worked a lot better short form. Valdez is Coming is an extension and elaboration of one of the stories in this volume, and he actually takes a fascinating, surprising, and hard edged short story and spins a rather predictable novel out of it. The shorts are fantastic, though. Amazing how many memorable characters he produces in these thirty stories, and never seems to be treading the same ground.
Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder – The only non-fiction I’m putting in here. Rousing account of the conquest of the west centring on Kit Carson.
I read an awful lot of other stuff too, but these are the ones I’d unreservedly recommend…