Between the Lines: How the Western was read

Epitaph: A Novel of The O.K. Corral by Mary Doria Russell
Epitaph: A Novel of The O.K. Corral by Mary Doria Russell scanned cover

One of the most popular and enduring genres is the Western, still vital in the face of burgeoning sales of romance and thriller novels. Could there be a better frontier-fiction adventure than “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry? Or a more lasting heritage than the 100-plus works of “America’s Storyteller,” the late Louis L’Amour?

Few books in any genre have been more critically acclaimed than Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” winner of a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Let’s not overlook this resounding event: the publication in 1912 of Zane Gray’s “Riders of the Purple Sage,” which helped create the Western genre.

More recently, Western writer Chris Enss of Grass Valley has a bibliography of 35 nonfiction books, mostly about frontier women. Her latest is “Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous and Wayward Ladies of the Old West” (Globe, $17, 220 pages). She helped organize the 51st annual Western Writers of America convention that rode into Sacramento last June, featuring 70 Western writers in a series of panel discussions and special events. It quickly sold out.

This column lassoed a few more recent Western titles to get the literary cattle drive moving:

▪ On Oct. 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Ariz., a brief shootout between lawmen and outlaws made history as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Two of the “good guys” were deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. In ensuing decades, their pre- and post-gunfight friendship became a book and movie franchise. Few writers have done the two characters and their drama as much justice as historical-novelist Mary Doria Russell, first in “Doc” (Ballantine, $15, 411 pages) and now in its sequel, “Epitaph” (Ecco, $28, 592 pages).

▪ In Johnny D. Boggs’ “The Cane Creek Regulators” tavern-owner Breck Stewart and his fellow townsmen form a vigilante group to put an end to the lawlessness running rampant in their town (Five Star, 240 pages, $26). The prolific Boggs has written more than 60 novels. “I’ve always believed that the West isn’t as much of a physical place as it is spiritual,” he has said. “The West is how you feel it.”

▪ James Scott brings a dark tale of murder and revenge in his debut literary novel “The Kept,” which begins when three men slaughter most of the members of a farmsteading family (Ballantine, $16, 411 pages). The survivors are a mother with shocking secrets and her determined 12-year-old son, who embark into a brutal world to find justice. But that’s not all they find. Kirkus awarded it a starred review.

More ‘Places to See’

Last year, travel writer Patricia Schultz appeared at the Sacramento Public Library for her best-selling guide “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” She’s returning this month for the updated “1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die” (both books are from Workman; each is $20 and 1,200 pages).

“I have very good memories of Sacramento and learning about the Gold Rush,” she told me last year. “Sacramento is included in ‘United States and Canada.’”

On the philosophy of travel, she said: “The world is a classroom without walls, which sounds dorky but is so true. I went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., but everything I consider invaluable, pertinent and character-enhancing, I have learned through travel. I consider it to be my real education.”

Catch her slide show, talk and Q&A session at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento; (916) 264-2920,

From area writers

The children’s book “The Little Lemon That Leapt” is an example of a Kickstarter program that worked (Little Lemon, $18, 42 pages). Through a charming story, fun illustrations and creative typography, it delivers messages about embracing the differences in ourselves and others. What gives it more depth is the dynamic between its creators, residents of Roseville: The writer is Karen Sanders-Betts, and the illustrator is her daughter, Hannah Howerton. Get it at; you can also search #ichooseweird on Twitter.

Thomas S. Dittmar of Elk Grove knows the faces of personal tragedies, and writing the self-help allegory “Be Your Own Salmon” has helped him to “keep my head on my shoulders and my nose pointed upstream,” he said (Wheatmark, $16, 171 pages). The book is inspiration for “swimming upstream in the wild river of life,” offering such guiding words as “Your longitude and latitude often depend on your attitude” and “Humble pie is good pie.”

Terrance Donnell Taylor of Sacramento is a court bailiff and former New Orleans deputy sheriff who has turned his sensitive and insightful sides to a mix of heartfelt and edgy poetry in “From My Thoughts to Your Thoughts” (Xlibris, $16, 85 pages). One of our favorite lines: “Daddy knows the rest of what mommy knows best.”

Bob Dreizler of Sacramento wrote an entry for the new “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hopes & Miracles,” compiled by Amy Newmark and Natasha Stoynoff (Chicken Soup For the Soul, $15, 400 pages). The long-running series collects inspirational stories from everyday people with good news to share. In “The Amazing Foul Ball,” Dreizler recalls the day when his 7-year-old son caught a foul ball at a San Francisco Giants game, an event that energized the boy, who was undergoing a long and painful course of treatment for an illness. He is now 31 and in “excellent health.”

Author appearances

▪ Avid Reader in Davis continues its program at 617 Second St.; (530) 758-4040,

Michael Finkelstein for “Slow Medicine,” 5 p.m. Sunday

Danna Wilberg for “The Red Chair,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20

Randy Henderson for “Finn Fancy Necromancy,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21

Walker Abel for “The Uncallused Hand,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28

▪ Tricia Stirling for the young-adult novel “When My Heart Was Wicked,” 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Face In a Book, 4359 Town Center Blvd.; (916) 941-9401,

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.