Saturday, November 30, 2013

Visiting with a Living Legend




At the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo, I signed up for a pre-conference workshop for beginning writers.  I checked into my room and barely made it down in time for the first session. The instructors treated us not like beginning writers, but like small children. I was discouraged a little as I heard college professors rattle off rules I had already broken. My left brain that likes to abide by rules battled with my right brain that likes to break them. 

The CEO of Hastings bookstores talked at a banquet that night. I learned a few things.  

On Saturday, my first sessions were almost as bad as the pre-conference, but I did get to spend an hour and a half in an informal conversation with Elmer Kelton and three other writers. Kelton was probably the best living author of westerns at the time, a consummate gentleman who imparted more information in that time than I had received in all my previous sessions combined.

He told us how he corrected and edited each page before going to the next one. It was not a method I adopted, but he was clear that it was not a rule, just a preference for him.  My favorite story was of his by-pass surgery.  As he came back from anesthesia, he hallucinated and imagined himself to be Huey Callaway, one of the characters in The Good Old Boys and The Smiling Country who was hurt while riding a bronc.  He said he was pretty sure the pain he was experiencing was from a bronc, not surgery.


Elmer  Kelton and I crossed paths a few more times before he passed away. One of the nicest people I have ever met. Years later, Sam Brown told me that Kelton agreed to read his first book and advised him on getting published.  I know he did the same for many authors.

Naturally, I was flattered, when seven years later, this review by Dr. Stephen Turner appeared. ''Jim Ainsworth is a master story teller. He is cut from the 'old rock,' the stone of Kelton and Dobie. He is able to weave a story that can transport the reader to a different time and place. Home Light Burning is a well written page-turner with crisp prose and dialogue that flows like a spring from a limestone bluff.'' --Plainview Daily Herald, December 24, 2009.

Then later, George Aubrey penned this review on Amazon for Go Down Looking. "This is one of the best pieces of fiction since Elmer Kelton died.

Okay, I don’t claim to be in the same class as Kelton, but the comparisons are nice.

Even if the first day had been a disaster, I knew I would always cherish that short time with Kelton, even if I never wrote another word. But I still was disappointed that I was not taking something more concrete away from the conference. I found it in the last two sessions.

Jane Kirkpatrick , author of several books, was down to earth, humorous and an all-around excellent speaker. My ears perked up when she said she had grown up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and now lived in a remote part of Oregon called Starvation Point. What was she doing in Amarillo?  

In the final session, I met Jan Epton-Seale from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Like Kirkpatrick, she had traveled far to speak in Amarillo. She spoke about writing memoirs and creative writing. She had also written several volumes of poetry, and also published both fiction and non-fiction. She was later named Texas Poet Laureate in 2012.  But she made a big mistake when she hinted that she also did professional editing.

I approached her at the end of the seminar and asked if she would read my manuscript. She asked how long it was and I said about 425 pages. She frowned at the length but still quoted a price. I went to my car to retrieve the nice manuscript box I had put the draft of Rivers Flow in. When she opened the box, she frowned again. “This is single spaced.”

“I double spaced it when I wrote it, but changed it to single so it would fit in the box.” She smiled and said the price would be a little higher. To her credit, she did not double the fee.

I left the seminar feeling pretty good and had a relaxing trip home. Something had been accomplished, maybe something substantial. I had an experience working roundup and branding on a huge Texas ranch, reconnected to a friend from long ago, visited my old home place and had hired an accomplished, unbiased author to read and critique my first novel.

I mentally charged my batteries all the way home, giving myself pep talks. When I arrived home by one in the morning, I was charged. Jan and I talked till three.

I didn’t hear from Jan Epton-Seale for several weeks. She called the house on a Sunday afternoon and my Jan answered. I was team-roping that day, so I will probably never know exactly what Jan said to Jan. I am sure it was more critical than my wife said. However, when I received her written critique and marked-up manuscript the next week, the first sentence began   . . . First, you can write. Excellent criticism and suggestions followed, but that first sentence was what I needed. Jan Epton-Seale, South Texas editor for Texas Books in Review, knew that. Someday, I’ll write about a surprise meeting with her eleven years later in a Highland Park mansion.

3 comments:

Jan Speight said...

I always love your comments Jim. It must have been fun & inspiring to meet up with so many other writers.
Who knows, perhaps at some time, I will finish putting my memories of growing up in Enloe, Cooper & Delta County onto paper, or at least into the computer..this is a lot easier than handwriting, and I'm sure more readable. Here's hoping that you and Jan have had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a great time of celebrating the reason for the season.

Doc Turner said...

I still feel the same way about the way Jim writes. I re-read all of his books. I never knew Elmer Kelton, but I know his adopted son, Gary. I re-read all of Kelton's books, too. Keep writing, Brother Ainsworth. Keep writing.
Stephen L. Turner aka George Aubrey

Jim Ainsworth said...

Thanks to Doc and Jan. Have a wonderful Christmas.