I remember a time when letters – those rectangular white envelopes sent not by pressing a button but by affixing a postage stamp that gets more expensive every year or so – used to bear real news instead of bills or solicitation flyers.
So when I opened the envelope from the Writers’ League of Texas a few weeks back, I expected to be reminded that it was time to pay my dues again. Instead, I found a letter from director Cyndi Hughes saying that Wearing the Cinco Peso, the first book of my two-volume history of the Texas Rangers, had been selected as a finalist for the League’s 2009 Texas Book Award for Nonfiction.
In addition to being pleased, not to mention impressed at having received some good news the old-fashioned way, that letter got me thinking about something that every long-time writer faces sooner or later: Will my Ranger history (the other is Time of the Rangers: The Texas Rangers 1900 to Present) be my signature work? Is it all down hill from here? At 60, have I written my best work?
That question aside, I am pretty sure I have written my longest work. Combined, the set covers more than 180 years of Texas history with more than a quarter-million words filling almost 1,000 published pages. Researching and writing it took 10 years, though I wrote a couple of other books along the way.
Coincidentally, about the time I got that letter from the Writers’ League, I read where Larry McMurtry, who won a Pulitzer for his epic novel Lonesome Dove, has declared that after 30 novels he may stop writing fiction. No one older than 60, he opines, has ever written a great novel. I get the feeling what he’s really saying is that no one older than 60 has anything of value left to put into a book or the energy to do it.
Oops! Not having checked with Larry first, I have two pending book contracts and plans for even more books. My dilemma is not running out of things to say, but time to say them. Of course, I write nonfiction.
But thinking about Larry’s pronouncement finally helped me get comfortable with my own question: My Texas Ranger history may or may not be my definitive work, but I’m going to keep writing books, with apologies to the National Rifle Association, until someone has to pry my cold, dead fingers off my laptop.