Publishers dealt readers a “royal flush” of Western books in 2013—big epic fiction, cutting edge new Western history and robust biographies about some of our most famous and infamous Western outlaws, lawmen, women and American Indians. The authors ventured great distances from the warm confines of their offices, traveled byways and highways, dirt roads and frozen streets, to walk in their subject’s footsteps, visit their homes and pay their respects at their tombs.
Seeking a greater truth through experiential history, our five authors uncovered a more personal, poignant edge to our collective understanding of the West—as well as their own. Biographers of our Western mythmakers, real and imagined, also brought us closer to knowing how filmmakers, artists and authors created—and continue to create—our idea of the West—through their pen, palette and lens.
So, why don’t you join me in celebrating a great year in Western publishing, and I’ll deal you some books. Actually, I’ll deal you a winning hand, my royal flush of Western books and authors of 2013: Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend; Mark Lee Gardner’s Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape; Andrew R. Graybill’s The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West; Ann Kirschner’s Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp; and Philipp Meyer’s The Son.
Each one of these five books is an ace by itself, but together, they trump all others, for a royal flush of Western books and authors for 2013!
***Best of The West***
If 2013 is any indication on the future for writers, historians, readers and aficionados of the American West, then we should expect 2014 to be an even bigger year for Western books because publishers from coast to coast, big and small, know what a strong pool of authors they have to produce excellent nonfiction history and fiction of all Western genres.
Who was the best author of 2013? A tough choice between all the great writers applying their skills to their craft this past year, but Mark Lee Gardner has established himself with Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape, his follow-up to his Billy the Kid biography, To Hell on a Fast Horse, as one of the nation’s most innovative writers of the American West. His personal passion, journalistic fieldwork, archival research and historical analysis has proven a winning combination that results in a style of prose that actively engages the reader as if his report had been made in 1876 rather than 2013.
Best of the Rest:
1 Nonfiction: Robert K. DeArment, Bat Masterson
2 Fiction: Craig Johnson, Walt Longmire Series
3 Women in the West: Chris Enss, Frontier Life
4 Travel/Adventure: W.C. Jameson, Lost Treasure
5 Real and Imagined: Douglas Brode, Film and Television
Historians of the American West during the past 30 years have strongly debated over the right way to interpret the history of the region: process versus place, Turner’s frontier thesis versus New Western history, history from the bottom up versus top-down historical analysis. Fortunately, interpreters of the American West in the last decade have had the opportunity to apply all of these theses to their synthesis and biographical studies, providing a stronger, more rigorous interpretation of our Western past. Drury and Clavin’s biography of Sioux Chief Red Cloud brings forward the story of a legendary American Indian leader to the present. I believe their conclusion on Red Cloud, and his leadership, as the sole victor against the United States in a 300-year war, is the cliffhanger that hopefully will lead to their next book: an examination of the three-centuries-long white-Indian conflict which remains the most important, unresolved clash of cultures in North American history.
Best of the Rest:
1 Indian History: Geronimo by Robert M. Utley (Yale University Press).
2 Military/Empire: Seat of Empire by Jeffrey Stuart Kerr (Texas Tech University Press).
3 Women/Minorities: In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War by Kathleen P. Chamberlain (University of New Mexico Press).
4 Lawman/Outlaw: Pidge, Texas Ranger by Chuck Parsons (Texas A&M University Press).
5 Western Culture: Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Naming the best nonfiction Western title for 2013 is not an easy task when it was such a banner year of big history books published by New York, university and regional presses. Graybill’s multi-generational history, The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West, transforms a tragic, 19th-century story of heartbreak and revenge on the Rocky Mountain frontier, into a dynamic, multi-generational history that connects the American entrada into the Rockies with the Lewis and Clark expedition up to the white-Indian relations in present-day Montana.
The Son by Phillip Meyer (Ecco).
The American West has provided a palette for authors’ imaginations since James Fennimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales,” and 2013 proved to be another great year in Western fiction. One novel, and one author’s efforts to provide authenticity to the reader, stands out above all the rest, Phillip Meyer’s The Son, a broad expanse of an epic family history, whose trials and tribulations are as complex as William Faulkner’s Compson family history in The Sound and the Fury and as permanently stained by the seven deadly sins as Shakespeare’s Lord and Lady MacBeth.
Best of the Rest:
1 Old West: The Gila Wars by Larry D. Sweazy (Berkley).
2 Mystery: Of Grave Concern by Max McCoy (Kensington).
3 Modern: Animal Stories: A Lifetime Collection by Max Evans (University of Oklahoma Press).
4 Ranch Life: Winter of Beauty by Amy Hale Auker (Pen-L Publishing).
5 Crime: A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson (Viking).
BEST REAL AND IMAGINED WEST
If 2013 was a banner year for Western nonfiction and fiction publishing, the third rail of Western American history, popular culture, where the real and imagined West intersects, was an outstanding year for authors, publishers and aficionados alike. Which was the best of 2013? A very difficult choice, but Frankel’s groundbreaking work, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, is my top pick because of the ongoing influence of John Ford and John Wayne’s 1956 classic film adaptation of Alan LeMay’s novel of the same title on our collective, real and imagined, understanding and interpretation of the West.
Best of the Rest:
1 Classic Western Art: Art of the American Frontier: From the Buffalo Bill Center of the West by Stephanie Mayer Heydt, Mindy N. Besaw and Emma I. Hansen (Yale University Press).
2 Modern Western Art: Schenck in the 21st Century by Amy Abrams Schenck Southwest Publishing).
3 Poetry: A Cowboy Spirit by Stuart Hooker (XLibris).
4 Film/Television: Dream West: Politics and Religion in Cowboy Movies by Douglas Brode (University of Texas Press).
5 Western Craftsmanship: The Colt: The Revolver of the American West by Jeffrey Richardson (Rizzoli).
For Yellowstone historians and devotees of the world’s first national park, the University of Oklahoma Press’s superior reproduction of pioneer photographer F. Jay Haynes’s rare photographs, large and small format, of Yellowstone during President Chester A. Arthur’s 1883 tour in Frank H. Goodyear’s A President in Yellowstone gives it a slight edge against the competition as the best historical photography book of 2013.
Best of the Rest:
1 Historical: Iron Muse: Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad by Glenn Willumson (University of California Press).
2Modern: Authentic Texas: People of the Big Bend by Marcia Hatfield Daudistel and Bill Wright (University of Texas Press).
3 Cowboy: A Family of the Land: The Texas Photography of Guy Gillette by Andy Wilkinson (University of Oklahoma Press).
4 Landscape: Heartland: The Plains and the Prairie by David Plowden (W.W. Norton).
5 Nature: Spectacular Yosemite by Quang-Tuan Luong and Stuart Booth (Rizzoli).
BEST NEW WESTERN AUTHOR
In 2013, a new historian of the American West debuted from the City University of New York, Ann Kirschner, with the publication of her biography of Josephine Marcus Earp, Lady at the O.K. Corral. While she had previously published the personal memoir, Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story, Kirschner recently wrote a biography of the controversial wife of Wyatt Earp that has cut open new ground in the saga of the Earps and their legacy in the American West during the great transitional era of America from frontier nation to the world’s industrial and political leader.
Kirschner, like her contemporaries Frankel, Gardner, Graybill and Meyer researching and writing history in 2013, applied her skills of historical research in archives, oral history and fieldwork, including trips to Nome, Alaska, and the long-lost Earp, California. Courage is needed in approaching the trap-laden records of the legendary Earp family, but like her subject, Kirschner had the steel and determination to seek the truth behind the legend.
Readers of Lady at the O.K. Corral may claim that many questions are yet to be answered on the life of the mercurial and passionate Josephine, but her place in history, as an independent woman in an era trapped with limitations for women in America, has been firmly established by Dean Kirschner and sets a new standard for our understanding of feminism on the American frontier.
Yale University Press, founded in 1908, and the University of Oklahoma Press, founded in 1929, had banner years in Western history publishing in 2013. By sheer volume, Yale cannot match Oklahoma’s breadth and depth, yet Yale’s dedication to annually publishing a strong cross section of biography, cultural, art and American Indian Western history must be equally recognized with Oklahoma as the best publisher of American Western history in 2013.
Best of the Rest:
1 National: TwoDot/Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT
2 University: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE
3 Regional: The History Press, Charleston, SC
4 Old West Fiction: Kensington, New York, NY
5 Specialized: Tiny Satellite Press, Scottsdale, AZ
BEST WESTERN ROMANCE
Mary Connealy lives on an eastern Nebraska ranch, but she takes her readers across the West with her romance novels that include books set in Texas, Alaska, Montana and more. This mom of four daughters and two grandchildren who teaches GED classes wrote for years before selling her first book. She’s won the Carol Award and been a finalist for the Christy and a Rita, all given by Romance Writers of America.
Best of the Rest:
1 Western Historical Romance: The Journey of Josephine Cain by Nancy Moser (Summerside Press).
2 Old West Romance (series): Uncompahgre: Where Water Turns Rock Red (Threads West an American Saga) by Reid Lance Rosenthal (Rockin SR Publishing).
3 Modern West: Protector by Diana Palmer (Harlequin).
4 Frontier Romance: Follow Your Heart by Rosanne Bittner (Severn House Publishers).
5 Western Romantic Suspense: Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas (St. Martin’s Press).
INSIDE SCOOP ON WOMEN WRITING ABOUT THE WEST
What’s hot in women writing about the West? Western Writers of America Executive Director Candy Moulton says women are publishing a large percentage of Western nonfiction, Old West fiction and Western mystery, but Western romance is a heating up the market, including the fast growing genres of Christian Western romance and Homestead/Pioneer romance.
Moulton recommends three hot Western women writers to read: Sandra Dallas, Jane Kirkpatrick and Darcy Lipp-Acord. And if you are looking for a newer face in Western romance, check out the “An Everlasting Heart” series by Sara Barnard. The newest title is A Heart Forever Wild.
Want to learn more about what women are publishing about the West? Go to the Western Writers of America website and read “In the Chute” for an up-to-date list of WWA authors’ most recent books: WesternWriters.org.
BEST WESTERN BOOKSTORES: Independent and Proud of It!
While I was growing up, a visit to the local bookstore was one of our favorite activities as a family. When my family went on vacation, my parents would seek out the local college bookstore or the bookshop on Main Street.
Today, all across America, the independent bookseller is still a cornerstone of book sales and authors across the byways and highways of the country. Whenever I travel and make a stop in a new town, I will always look for the local bookshop and introduce myself. I know the proprietor will always be welcoming, have great tips on local authors and books, and be the first to share with me great places to explore, eat and spend the night.
So, the next time you stop in a small town while traveling down your new favorite back road, look up the local, independent bookstore. I promise you will make a new friend and probably leave with a stack of new books!
Guidon Books: Celebrating its Golden Anniversary in 2014, Guidon Books, founded in 1964 by the late Aaron and Ruth Cohen, is True West’s best bookstore for the second year in a row for its dedication to Western authors, artists, history, literature and, most important, the customer. Managed today by Shelley and Gordon Dudley, the Cohens’ daughter and son-in-law, Guidon continues its mission of celebrating the West everyday, one book, one customer at a time. • 7109 E. 2nd St., Scottsdale, AZ 85251; Guidon.com; 480-945-8811
Best of the Rest
1 Large: Powell’s of Portland, Oregon, Powells.com
2 Medium: Hooked-on-Books/Aamstar, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Facebook.com/hookedonbookscoloradosprings
3 Antiquarian: Dumont Books & Maps, Santa Fe, New Mexico, DumontBooks.com
4 Specialized: The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, Arizona, PoisonedPen.com
5 Writer’s Haven: Prairie Lights, Iowa City, Iowa, PrairieLights.com
THE LEGEND CONTINUES: 20th-Century Western Fiction Five for the NightStand
1 All the Land to Hold Us by Rick Bass (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
2 Crossing Purgatory by Gary Schanbacher (Pegasus).
3 Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson (Viking).
4 Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig (Riverhead Books).
5 Wilderness by Lance Weller (Bloomsbury).
THE NEVER ENDING STORY: 20th -Century Western NonFiction Five More for the Library
1 The Elusive State of Jefferson: A Journey through the 51st State by Peter Laufer (TwoDot).
2 Hang ‘em High: Law and Disorder in Western Films and Literature by Bob Herzberg (McFarland).
3 Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier: Exploring an Untamed Legacy by John Clayton (The History Press).
4 Route 66: A Road to America’s Landscape, History, and Culture by Markku Henriksson (Texas Tech University Press).
5 Tracking the Texas Rangers: The Twentieth Century edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Harold J. Weiss Jr. (University of North Texas Press).
HOT AUTHORS FOR 2014
Here’s five to watch:
1 Renegade Roads columnist and Santa Fe author Johnny D. Boggs, writing at a Max Brand pace, has four novels set for release in 2014, Greasy Grass, Valley of Fire, Poison Spring and Rio Chama. We think he types in his sleep!
2 Like his friend from Santa Fe, Michigan author and master storyteller Loren D. Estleman continues to thrill his audiences with fiction of all eras and genres, but he returns West with a new book from Forge Press this spring, Ragtime Cowboys, featuring what will be considered one of the all-time fictional pairings of Pinkerton detectives Charlie Siringo and Dashiell Hammett.
3 Spur Award-winning author Larry D. Sweazy, scribe of the bestselling Josiah Wolfe Texas Ranger series, has a new Berkley Western, Vengeance at Sundown, featuring ex-Confederate spy Lucas Fume, set to hit bookstores in August.
4 Max Evans, who is 89 years old and just published Animal Stories: A Lifetime Collection, is rumored to have a big book on his friend Sam Peckinpah in the works. Stay tuned.
5 George Armstrong Custer will be the subject of a new biography, Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero, by James S. Robbins, senior fellow in national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council. Robbins’s interpretation of Custer should be fascinating since he has also written extensively on terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.