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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

OUR SOUTHERN HIGHLANDERS

Recently I was asked by my cousin James Padgett, long a leading architect in nearby Asheville and now enjoying retirement in our beautiful ancestral homeland of Clay County in the southwestern corner of North Carolina, to participate with him in a tribute to Horace Kephart, who in the early years of the twentieth century abandoned his promising career as a library executive in St. Louis, MO to live a rustic life in a remote section of the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina.  Kephart wrote an account of his experiences in what was then still a near-wilderness, as well as a description of that isolated region and of its hardy people, in a book that has since become a classic called Our Southern Highlanders.  That work has become recognized over the years as required reading for anyone wishing to learn about our Southern Appalachian environment and heritage.  When I left Washington, DC to live and write in rural Yancey County, NC, Our Southern Highlanders was one of the first books I read to reacquaint myself with the mountain culture from which I had severed myself twenty years before.

Jim Padgett is a member of the more than century-old Pen and Plate Club, a consciously old-fashioned, formal and endearing organization composed of many of Asheville's most accomplished professional persons, which meets monthly to share dinner and hear essays presented by members dealing with a variety of subjects having to do with the history, traditions, and folkways of our region.  A charming custom of the club is that each paper requires a response by someone chosen by the presenter to comment on his or her offering; this month Jim was the presenter and I was honored to be the respondent.  Jim described Kephart's rise to prominence in his chosen profession of library science and then his surprising decision to retreat into the wilderness, leaving his wife and six children to fend for themselves while he immersed himself in woodcraft, wilderness living and learning about the lives of his rustic neighbors.

Something about that abrupt and, some would say, irresponsible decision of Kephart's to turn his back on family and work responsibilities and immure himself in what was then one of the most remote, isolated and backward parts of the United States in order to study and write, made me reflect that I too had done something similar, certainly less physically challenging but equally contrary to practical considerations.  As I meditated on this similarity, my response to Jim's paper began to take shape.  I was fascinated by the fact that Kephart, by turning away from a conventional life to satisfy what seems to have been an irresistible inner longing, had in one sense answered a profound personal need but in another sense had inflicted unforgivable pain and inconvenience on those who loved and depended on him.  The question loomed large for me, for in fact Kephart, though he reveled in his new, primitive and soul-nourishing life, at the same time became a slave to alcohol and, in the end, died in a car crash that may have been caused by drink.  While I do not think that I am embarked on a similarly destructive course, I do feel that I understand the troubling questions that may have tormented Kephart and led him to his tragic end.  How much is a commitment to art worth?  Why is it so hard to maintain such a commitment?  Should one follow one's heart when the cost to be paid by loved ones is too great?

This story of spiritual triumph won at the cost of personal and family anguish seemed to me worth examining, not only as a subject of an abstract essay about Kephart but as an exploration of my own motives and regrets as well as the motives and regrets of all of us who pursue the arts at severe costs to ourselves and to those who love and depend on us.
Those costs are harder to calculate and justify when, as in my case, one cannot point to some great accomplishment like Our Southern Highlanders, now acknowledged as a classic of regional literature.  One can more easily excuse Kephart for having chosen his passion for the wilderness over his responsibilities as a husband and father because that choice gave birth to a great literary accomplishment.  But absent such an accomplishment, what justifies a commitment to art whose costs others must bear?  What follows is my meditation on that question.


It is a privilege to have been asked by my distinguished cousin Jim Padgett to respond to his fine paper on the inspiring and tragic life of Horace Kephart, who did so much to acquaint the rest of America with the unique culture and environment of our southern mountains. 
         I hope it is not too perversely self-referential to remark that I sense in Kephart’s life and work a contour somewhat similar to my own; and that because of that similarity I tend to feel a certain kinship with him.  I was fascinated by Jim’s detailed and objective account of how Kephart first  succeeded in his chosen, and very traditional, occupation and then abandoned that occupation to pursue a personal passion—a passion which has yielded great benefits over the years to many of us who would never have known of his more traditional professional work.  While I can’t claim to have shared the strenuousness and hardihood of the life and labor Kephart took up in the wilderness, I do think that both of us felt, and acted upon, a fascination with the pioneer past and lifeways as they have tended to survive in our highlands longer than they have in many other places in this country.
         Like Kephart, I spent much of my early life in a professional pursuit in urban centers.  He was a library executive; I was a newspaper reporter and columnist, then an urban planner and finally a management consultant.  He worked in St. Louis; I worked first in Greensboro, NC, then in Birmingham, Alabama; and finally, for twenty years, in Washington, DC.  He grew disillusioned with his professional life and ended by disposing of it and of all its appurtenances, including his responsibilities as a husband and father, to immerse himself in the sort of life that spoke to his soul. 
         I too grew weary of the professional grind and, also in defiance of societal expectations--and at a time in my career when most might have considered themselves established on a path toward accomplishment--removed myself from the hurly-burly of the nation’s capital and a lucrative and demanding profession to assume a quiet life in rural Yancey County, North Carolina, to try my hand at being a writer of regional fiction—wishing, like Kephart, to immerse myself in the traditions and history of the Southern Appalachians.  
         It was in many ways a daunting choice.  I had very little savings, no paying job, and while I had won a contract for a novel with a Chicago publishing house, there was no assurance that anything else I wrote would ever find favor with that, or any other, publisher.  Unlike Kephart, I had no family to support and had no practical skills and no abiding passion for living the past or surviving in the wilderness such as he possessed.  So perhaps my choice was easier to make than his, though I think it may justly be said that my decision looked equally irresponsible, as measured by traditional expectations, and looked probably even more irresponsible because I had no practical skills to fall back on, as he had.
         Naturally I can’t claim to have succeeded in my ambitions on a scale equal to his.  But I do sense a commonality in our passions.  I too had come to be fascinated by the past, by the magic of our ancestral mountains, and by the hardy spirit of our highland forebears.  I too wished to immerse myself in that other world and to turn my back on modernity.  I do not know whether he struggled, as I have, with feelings of guilt for having given in to what seemed selfish preoccupations and to have abandoned one’s practical responsibilities. 
         Jim has mentioned Kephart’s difficulties with alcoholism; perhaps this problem suggests that Kephart did in fact suffer, that he may have sadly reckoned the cost of his choices that others—loved ones—had to pay.  Of course, in the largest sense, the pain and disappointment of his loved ones must be judged against Kephart’s accomplishments after he retreated into the fastnesses—his written works which have inspired so many of us.  And these kinds of judgments must be made when we look at the lives of all great artists and creators, whose accomplishments have come at great costs to a few, but have been of immeasurable value to many.  I imagine that Kephart continually had to balance his satisfaction with his wilderness life and work with his guilt for having abandoned his duties as a husband and father, and that this guilt played a part in his descent into alcoholism.  But my imagining may be wrong; it may be nothing more than my own lingering suspicion that I may have done what I suspect him of having done.
         Since I took up the life of a full-time writer, the day does not pass that I do not wrestle with two competing obligations—either to fulfill my spiritual dedication to the written word or to carry out my responsibilities as a practical human being.  Both are vital; but as soon as I address one, the other assails my conscience with its insistent demands.  How to choose?  It is the abiding challenge of every moment of existence.  Perhaps if I were more famed as a writer, the choice would be easier.  But if one is blessed, and cursed, with the powerful urge to create, success, as the world measures it, does not necessarily augment, or dilute, that urge.  The urge exists, and in some ways it is as vital an urge as the very will to live itself.
         I imagine that Horace Kephart struggled with issues like this.  Surely he knew agony as well as satisfaction.  And we are the beneficiaries of his determination to obey the dictates of his heart, no matter the cost to others or to himself.    And is this not the measure of every creative spirit?  The tension between living one’s daily life responsibly and feeding one’s inmost soul with ferocious determination may be the very force that yields the art that speaks to many.
         I would be remiss in ending this response without giving grateful mention to my good cousin Jim Padgett and to others of my immediate and extended family who have aided me in my search for myself and for my mountain heritage.  Nor would I would so nourish my love for our highland heritage were it not for my late mother Gertrue Ann Greene Price and my late father Edgar Conrad Price, both descendants of long lines of Southern Appalachian forebears, my mother’s clan in what is now Mitchell County and my father’s in Clay County, who imbued me with their fascination with and love for this place and these fine people.
         And in addition to the heritage they passed on to me, when as a late-blooming writer I at last turned to seek out my family’s past, Jim Padgett came forward, and so did my cousin, now retired Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Willis P. Whichard, former Dean of the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University and now a practicing attorney in Durham.  I am honored to have had the friendship and counsel of these distinguished North Carolinians, and to share their heritage.  Together they and other kinfolk helped me trace out my lineage and forge a connection across the years to the same Southern Appalachian past that fascinated Horace Kephart to the end of his life.

         

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I CAN'T DEAL WITH THAT

The above words were often brusquely spoken by one of the senior associates of the Washington, DC lobbying firm where I worked in the late '80's and early '90's.  He was then about the age I am now, and I was in my early 50's, still young enough to cling to certain ideals but also beginning to verge on the nihilism that comes with experience of life.  Thus his curt dismissals called forth both my moral disapproval (I had been taught by my parents that acceptance of inconvenient duties was a virtue) and my envy (I wished that I possessed a similarly unrepentant power of decision).  Still, I did recognize that since he was one of the founders and owners of the business and I was but a worker bee, the things he refused to do necessarily devolved upon me or upon others of my lowly caste; we enjoyed no such cavalier freedom of choice.  The sorts of things he refused to do composed our daily fare. That was the Darwinian nature of things.

Now that I am in my late seventies, I find that my views are reversed.  Now I too am disinclined to shoulder the burdens of unwished-for responsibility.  It is not that I wish to avoid the necessary jobs of living.  It is that I am incompetent to perform them.  I look back over a life that now seems to me little more than a long catalog of tasks humbly and obediently accepted but for whose accomplishment I was constitutionally unequipped.  I was a dreamer, a would-be writer, impractical and unaccomplished in the utilitarian things of life.  But duty, that hateful word, drove me again and again to attempt tasks for which I had no talent or understanding. A lifetime of submission to such responsibilities has left me weary and unfulfilled.  My memories are not of obstacles surmounted but of humiliations born of inept attempts to do what the average male is routinely expected to do but which for me proved impossible, inscrutable.  There was the time I attempted wire an exhaust fan in my basement bathroom--and blew out the entire electrical system of the house.  To this day I drive a car bearing within me the gnawing, terrible knowledge that I do not know how to employ jumper cables in the event they are required, or to reliably change a tire without resorting to the owner's manual.  Once I bought a house and tried to consummate the settlement with a personal check rather than the cashier's check that anybody else would know was required.  I dread encounters with handymen, plumbers, roofers, car repairmen, realtors, anyone who confidently handles the work expected of them that I cannot understand, cannot do, and must hire done.

I have borne the burdens of honor and obligation with the muteness and docility of a Mexican burro, yet I search in vain for the rewards of such labor and fret.  I am tired.  I want to rest.  Now I understand the attitude of my co-worker, whose voice I can still hear, declaring in his habitual brassy shout , "I can't deal with that!"  Oh, were I he!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A STRANGE AMBITION

In my last post I attempted to speak of my lifelong fascination with history and the strong connection I have always sensed between past and present.  Night before last, while reading for the second or third time MacKinlay Kantor's magnificent Pulitzer-Prize-winning Civil War novel Andersonville I happened across a description of a character who might have been, at least in one particular, myself. That character--Nathan Dreyfoos, a Jewish Union soldier, intellectual and world traveler--has, by ill fortune, ended up a captive in the horrendous Confederate prison.  While it should be obvious that I share few traits with such a redoubtable and civilized person, Kantor's account of him, which I had not remembered from my previous readings, this time struck a chord of kinship.  Kantor wrote:  "He owned no ambition in life except to worship the better elements of the past and (in some vague manner as yet undecided) to acquaint people with the lessons and glories of the past, to the eventual comfort and enrichment of humanity."

In but one respect does this account differ from my own long-held intention; unlike Nathan's, my personally decided manner of celebrating the past has been by way of the written word.  All my novels and my one nonfiction work are set in the past, and were composed with a conscious intent to bring that past as alive for the reader as it was to me.  The degree to which I may have been successful in that intent is of course debatable; but the sincerity of the intent is not.  It was, and is, literally, the ambition of my life.  That it is a strange ambition cannot be doubted.  But it has been in me for as long as I can remember.  As a child, and still even now, as I travel the highways of my mountain South, I see not only the forests and mists and uplands and landscapes but, almost superimposed on these views, I see also an imagined vision of what they must have looked like long ago.  Sometimes, on the rare occasions when a vestige of the past actually remains--an old farmhouse, a half-collapsed barn, the lonely sentinel of an ancient chimney whose house it once warmed but has long since vanished--there is a delicious shock of actuality to give power to my imaginings.  And I wished to communicate that sublimity to others.

As anyone who has recently visited this blog will know, I have entered into a retrospective, not to say valedictory, stage of life; and that, at the age of seventy-six I now gaze back over my existence with the realization that my life has very largely been lived and the work of my life has for the most part been done.  Inevitably, one who has attained such a perspective will impose a judgment on that life and that work, and I suspect that for many who do so, the judgment will be a disappointing one.  It is for me.  Like Nathan Dreyfoos, I wanted to do more.  But again like Nathan, who fell into the hands of an enemy and ended his days, not bathed in contended satisfaction at having accomplished his mission of acquainting people with the magic of the past but as the random victim of a prison guard--an idiot child drafted into Confederate service who simply wanted to shoot someone to see how it would feel.  No such dramatic exit awaits me, of course.  But the loss of the cherished dream, or of the possibility of a long and distinguished life, in Nathan's case at the hands of a pitiable illiterate ragamuffin or in mine, because of a failure to have achieved what I hoped was in me to accomplish, there is a certain poignancy.

MacKinlay Kantor was, in my opinion, simultaneously a masterful and a vexing writer.  He wrote of the past in a way that both invited the reader intimately into the mysterious milieu of the past and rendered that past in a fashion so minutely observed and so lushly invoked as to strike the reader with both its strangeness and its deep familiarity.  Conversation was rendered in the stately, formal style of the Late Victorian period, replete with allusions and formulations of that time which rang oddly in modern ears.  As one who has striven hard to make the past accessible to latter-day readers I am amazed and mystified, not only by his ability to accomplish this but also by his bravery in attempting it, because the result was often a dense, challenging style of writing that could easily be mistaken as inartful.  But I also know that he achieved his own strange ambition to make the past live on its own terms.  I salute that, and envy it.

  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

OF TIME AND PLACE

For twenty years I lived where past and present visibly intersected.  You might legitimately protest that we all do; that natural and man-made artifacts from prior times always surround us, if we are alive to their presence.  But I stress the modifier visibly.  I could literally see the past, and feel it too. My home was in Arlington, Virginia, a busy suburb of the nation's capital, crisscrossed by highways and Metro lines, occluded with residential developments, buttressed by the glittering high-rises of Crystal City.  But only a few steps from my front yard was a system of old earthworks, since overgrown with forest, which had been dug by Confederate troops during the Civil War to defend Northern Virginia from the then-enemy city of Washington, D.C., just across the Potomac River. Often I strolled among the old ivy-choked fortifications, imagining the trenches filled with soldiers in gray and butternut anxiously gazing across the broad river for signs of troop movements amid the docks of Georgetown.

The office where I worked was located on the other side of the Potomac in an old Washington neighborhood near the Capitol that has come to be known as Chinatown.  There I often lunched in an Asian restaurant that had once been the home of Mrs. Mary Surratt and her boarder John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.  Within a few blocks stood Ford's Theater, where Booth shot Lincoln.  Also close by was the Old Patent Building whose top-floor gallery had once served as a hospital for Union wounded; it had also hosted Lincoln's second inaugural ball.  Although my work as a lobbyist engaged me in the comparatively trivial, certainly perishable and unhistoric business of securing federal funding for various clients and projects, I was also, in the privacy of my home, a writer and historian, and I found the proximity of these landmarks fascinating and stimulating.  I spent many a lunch hour exploring them and, given my bent, was profoundly aware of, and even ashamed of, the contrast between my inconsiderable daily strivings amid surroundings where such momentous and tragic events had once occurred.

Furthermore, Lyon Village, the residential neighborhood where I lived, was in easy driving distance of Northern Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and battlefields like New Market, Cedar Creek, Port Republic and Winchester.  Not far away lay the sites of First and Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg and others.  At convenient distances in different directions lay the preserved battlefields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Seven Days, Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor; and westward was Appomattox, where Lee surrendered to Grant.  I often visited these places too.  They brought me nearer to the experience of the past, though that closeness was always darkened by an awareness of the immeasurable tragedy they had seen.  And I felt sure that some essence of those events still lingered, like a very faint reverberation, even as I walked on the same ground.

In intimate contact with this deep, deep, still-living history, I sensed my own, if transient and unimportant, position in the long flow of time.  I also felt the fixity of physical place in time; time had flown but the ground remained.  The very earth I trod, men long dead had also trod; I lived where they had dwelled, where some of them had died.  They and I were in intimate communication across the gulf of time.

More recently I sensed the immediacy and danger of the past on a visit to the old silver-mining boom town of Leadville in my wife Ruth's native Colorado.  We were touring the home of some mining magnate of the 1870's whose name I no longer recall.  In a dim hallway hung photographic portraits of the former residents, a bearded gentleman and his wife.  As I studied their pictures I received a sudden, disorienting, near-nauseating shock--an impression so powerful that I knew it to be true--of some appalling unhappiness that had afflicted them.  The sensation was so overwhelming and so disturbing that I feared I might faint; I had to leave the mansion and sit on the porch so the impression of their pain would dissipate.

I never learned whether in fact the couple had experienced such distraction and sorrow.  I didn't need to confirm it; I had felt it.  Later that night I experienced something else--a waking dream, a nightmare, a vision, I know not what, I know only that it was as palpable and as frightening as actuality--of being in a smoky, dimly-lamplit nineteenth-century saloon.  A hulking man in a bowler hat and heavy clothing approached me and I saw in his face an implacable, irresistible hatred and sensed that he was intent on doing hurt to me--possibly lethal hurt--and I could not under any circumstances turn aside this inexplicable wrath; it was a glimpse of pure, reasonless, merciless hostility.  And it came to me that this was the face of irresistible danger of a kind natural to the frontier where one could rarely rely on law or decency--it was the causeless violence I often wrote about but had never confronted for myself.  What made the experience even stranger was that, even as I had this vision, through an open window in the house next door I heard a man's voice roaring with rage and, stranger still, his voice was accompanied by a high-pitched keening sound, a kind of hieratic, dirge-like chanting that told me the past was beyond any reasoning or safety, was in fact unapproachable and past any understanding.  The impression soon passed, but I knew that I had received two glimpses that day into a past that I understood I would never have survived, had I lived then.  The past then became for me a place to be respected and perhaps feared and that I would probably never completely understand no matter how long I tried, in my writing, to imagine its reality.



Monday, September 1, 2014

RIDING THE HEARSE - AVAILABLE NOW

As you must know if you've visited this blog before, the above is the somewhat baleful-sounding title of my new e-book, available from today on amazon.com.  Its sinister implication is, I think, justified, because its subject is the bloody struggle between Old West lawman Wyatt Earp and his formidable brothers against a dangerous cartel of rustlers and outlaws in and around the silver-mining camp of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory of the 1880's.  Yes, I know, Hollywood and the various outlets of the popular media have already given us multiple versions of this tale, very few of which have been worth the reading or viewing.  Usually the story is cast as a simplistic conflict pitting stalwart agents of law and order against evil cowboys, but I have always been fascinated by the human dimension--call it the tragedy, if you will--of that struggle.  These were, after all, real people, engaged in a grim contest for survival in an unforgiving frontier environment.  On both sides they were not only swaggering, gun-toting males but also innocent wives, sweethearts, children and step-children; and I prefer to think of them all not as familiar Western stereotypes but as frail, flawed human beings thrown into opposition by forces beyond their control and often beyond their understanding.  If I had not seen the story this way, I don't think it would have been worth my while--or the readers'--to revisit it.  I hope you will agree with me.  Whether you do or not, I would appreciate hearing from you.

The cover of the e-book was designed by my friend Britt Kaufmann, who has created the covers of all my e-books.  It appears below, for the second time.  I repeat it because I think she has done such a masterful job.  You would be well advised to check out her own website at www.brittkaufmann.com; she is amazingly talented in several artistic media, not least as a poet and playwright.  I'm also deeply grateful to my dear wife Ruth for navigating the maze of electronic publishing to get this book online, a task I could never have performed myself, Luddite that I am.

Monday, August 25, 2014

RIDING THE HEARSE

Those of you familiar with the lore of the Old West will recognize Riding the Hearse as a term from the gambling game of faro, which was all the rage on the frontier.  I've borrowed it as the title for my historical novel about the Earp-Clanton feud in 1880's Tombstone, Arizona Territory, which will be posted in the coming days as an e-book on amazon.com, thanks to my lovely and tech-savvy wife Ruth.  The book features a cover designed by Britt Kaufmann, our gifted neighbor here in Yancey County, North Carolina (she's a mom, wife, poet, blogger, playwright, writer in many genres, and good friend). Britt has designed the covers for all my e-books, and each of them (the covers, that is) is a compelling work of art.  I hope the content of the books measures up to the quality of the covers but I won't claim that. Her website is well worth checking out at www.brittkaufmann.com.  Here is an image of her Riding the Hearse cover, assembled from 19th-century photos. I'll post an announcement when the e-book goes online.  Meantime, take a look:

                                                                       

Monday, May 26, 2014

THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE

In my last post I hazarded some remarks about my nearly lifelong and possibly mistaken effort to elevate the Tombstone/ OK Corral story into art via an immense novel I recently completed which I call Riding the Hearse. In that post I acknowledged at least one major writer who made the same effort some years ago and who enjoyed a deal of success and prestige as a result.  This was the late Oakley Hall, whose 1958 novel Warlock, a masterfully fictionalized retelling of the Tombstone story, earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination; and, in case any reader continues to doubt its merit and desires higher proof, I might mention that Hall's novel was republished in 2006 by The New York Review of Books as a classic of American literature. Thomas Pynchon has called Warlock an "agonized epic" whose "deep sensitivity" makes it "one of the best American novels."

It was Warlock that caught my eye when I was a college freshman visiting a bookstore in High Point, North Carolina, in the far-off year of its publication.  It in fact was the very work that lit the improbable fire in me which has yet to flicker out, which led me inexorably over the many years since to return again and again to what became Riding the Hearse.  And while I am ready to admit that my book may not be all I wish it to be, I can unhesitatingly agree with Pynchon that Warlock is one fine read, a tragedy of epic dimensions and probably one of the finest novels ever published in America.

I mention Hall's book because he not only wrote Warlock but also many other novels, plus a libretto for an opera based on Wallace Stegner's classic Angle of Repose.  Further, he was director of the writing program at the University of California at Irvine and a co-founder of the respected writing conference known as the Community of Writers at SquawValley.  New York author Robert Stone, himself a Pulitzer finalist, has written, in his introduction to the new edition, "rereading Warlock I found again the light I remembered, an afternoon brightness, a clarity that is, I think, the essence of good realism.  In an almost literal way it illuminated the characters.  When it focused on individual lives it seemed to vary its distance from each...as though there existed a different extension of sympathy or withholding of it for different individuals in the narrative.  The light I...recognized...as western light. Big Sky light. This is good realism."

Hall was not alone among major literary figures who in one way or another have taken up the Tombstone story as a pattern for profound examination of large and important themes. In 2000 British-born novelist, poet, essayist, critic and memoirist Paul West, known for his startling erudition, marvelous working vocabulary and winner of numerous international literary awards, published OK: The Corral, the Earps and Doc Holliday.  Though it earned mixed reviews, OK at least illustrated how the Tombstone tale could lay hold of the imagination of one of the finest writers of our time.  Similarly, Bruce Olds, in the front rank of America's postmodernists, in 2001 published Bucking the Tiger, a densely-imagined, challengingly written account of Wyatt Earp's friend Doc Holliday, set in the Tombstone period.

Like OK, Bucking the Tiger had a style that was probably too daring to win widespread popular approval, but it underlined the fascination the Tombstone tale can have for a recognized literary artist. Nor were West and Olds the last to pick up the baton, or--figuratively--the six-shooter.  Just this year, Larry McMurtry, in The Last Kind Words Saloon, retold the Earp-Clanton-McLaury saga in his inimitably terse and acrid style.  And Mary Doria Russell, widely-acclaimed author of 2011's Doc, a novelized account of the life of Holliday up to his time in Dodge City, Kansas, is reported currently at work on a novel about the OK Corral affair.

I think the fact that some of our best writers have considered the Tombstone events as somehow fundamental to an understanding of not only the American character but the universal human experience gives testimony to its value as a subject of serious literature.  While Riding the Hearse may not be worthy of mention in the same breath with the works I have cited, I hope at I have at least made a case for revisiting that tragic and compelling drama.