Sunday, April 19, 2015

My two minutes of fame

I was flattered some time ago to be asked by interviewer Dan Schneider to be part of a program he planned on the life and work of the late Elmer Kelton, Texas novelist who transformed the western genre. TCU Press was fortunate enough to reprint many of his books, and I had the privilege of working with him on those reprints as well as a nonfiction title and writing a literary biography--which came out before its time because he went on to write many more books. Elmer died in 2009, but his legacy and his literature live on. Literary critic Jon Tuska called his The Time It Never Rained  "one of the dozen or so best novels by an American author in the twentieth century." He raked in honors--Best Western Author, chosen by Western Writers of America, Inc., Spur Awards, Western Heritage Awards, Lifetime Achievements Awards, even from the Texas Institute of Letters, which usually doesn't recognize westerns. He was simply a great writer, one who transformed genre writing into literary achievement. But he was always absolutely humble about the recognition he earned.
He was also a nice guy, cowboy throughout though he would tell you he never made a hand. But he retained that courtly politeness of the cowboy. A gentle man. And a terrific story teller. Those of us who heard him talk often grew to know his stories by heart, but we never tired of hearing them again. I was delighted to consider him a friend and to think that he considered me one.
We taped the show Saturday morning--after my mistakenly thinking it was Friday morning and sitting around waiting for the call that never came. On Skype with me were Steve Kelton, Elmer's son, Joyce Roach, my good friend and a fast friend of Elmer's, and Dan Schneider, the interviewer. Let's say I was a bit nervous--okay more than that. I was afraid of not getting Skype to work, afraid of relying on my memory--but what could I study? There wasn't time to review all of Elmer's work nor even my paltry book on him. So I winged it. But I did get Skype to work.
Joyce did not, so we have an hour and ten minutes of her with her hand on the nose of a horse. But her comments were spot on and revealed a deep knowledge of Elmer's sixty-some books as well as his personality. Afterward, Steve said hers was the most patient horse he'd ever seen--any he'd ever had would have knocked his block off by then. Schneider was well prepared to lead the discussion.
I thought we would only be visible when we were on camera--not so. You can see me scratching, checking something else, eyes wandering. But it was okay. I didn't realize how jowly I've become--my father's daughter. But all in all I was proud to be part of it and hope I held up my end of the discussion well. IF you want to watch it in bits and pieces--it's an hour and ten minutes--you can find it at or Dan Schneider Video Interview #14.
Steve Kelton summed it up best when he said, "It's strange to talk of Dad in the past tense. He's still with us." And through his books, he still is and always will be. Like many others, I think Kelton's work will easily stand the test of time.
There's a postscript to this story. I showed the video to Jacob this morning, and he went wild. "You talked to Dan Schneider? He interviewed you?" He went whooping and hollering about the house, stopping occasionally to give me unprecedented hugs and showers of affection. I had really gone up in his estimation. Turns out there are two Dan Schneiders--the one I talked to and one who writes for Nickelodeon productions. "My" Dan Schneider said the other one is richer and more famous, but he's the smart good-looking one. So there went my two minutes of fame.

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