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Awesome Men Throughout History: Louis L’Amour

Louis L'AmourI’ve been playing through Red Dead Redemption over the past week (what? I’m a sucker for sandbox games), and the experience has reminded me how much I love westerns. And not just movies, either; a good western novel will always have a place on my bookshelf.

This week’s Awesome Man Throughout History, Louis L’Amour, wrote roughly a bajillion westerns over the course of his life, and pumped them out with a regularity and consistency that baffles me. I mean, I’m a writer, but Louis was a machine.

He was also a legitimate Westerner, born in North Dakota to a family that traveled around a lot after a series of bank failures wrecked his father’s large animal veterinary practice, as well as the surrounding economy. Louis and his family bounced around from place to place looking for work, which instilled a permanent love of travel in Louis. He spent the beginning of his adult life as a merchant seaman, itinerant worker (including stints as a miner and lumberjack), and professional boxer (winning 51 out of 59 fights). When World War II broke out, Louis served as a transport officer for the United States Army.

It all sounds quaint and kind of romantic, but when Louis settled down to write, he had a ton of life experience to draw from. I envy him for that, especially because most writers these days are adjunct creative writing professors or ex-journalists, and thus modern literature is lacking in the journeyman’s perspective that Louis’ writing brought to the table.

Louis settled down to become a writer after WWII, writing under the name Tex Burns. He switched to his real name after one of his novels, Hondo, was made into a John Wayne movie, at which point he felt comfortable publishing under his extremely un-Western-sounding name.

His novels, all 100 of them, certainly adhered to a formula of scrappy frontier justice prevailing over lawlessness, but his attention to detail was unparalleled. He camped in the places he wrote about to familiarize himself with the specific landscapes, researched the geological ins and outs of mountains, and memorized what people ate and the architectural details of their houses and workplaces.

His efforts create a very inviting sense of time and place, and the setting is often enough to draw people into his stories.

Louis thought of himself as a storyteller first and foremost, saying that “I write my books to be read aloud and I think of myself in that oral tradition.” He didn’t win much critical acclaim with that approach, but beyond disapproving of their clubby disregard for genre fiction, Louis didn’t care much what critics thought of his work. He was too busy to care, really.

If you want to read some of Louis L’Amour’s stuff, and you totally should, here’s his bibliography. And rent Hondo while you’re at it. It’s pretty good.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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