Saturday, 18 July 2009

Zane Grey: A Great Western Writer

Yesterday I and a fellow writer were rummaging through a new bookshop here in Oxford called the Albion Beatnik (love the name!) and I picked up The Heritage of the Desert by Zane Grey. I've only read one of Grey's westerns before and I'd forgotten how good of a writer he was. His descriptions are fluid and vivid and really give the flavor of the Old West. Despite having been written in 1910, it doesn't feel very dated, only authentic. Grey was writing at a time when wagons were more common on the streets than cars, many people raised animals, and everyone had country cousins. It must be hard for a city-bound Western writer of today to get so close to the feel of the range.

I highly recommend Zane Grey to any writer who wants to learn more about how to write scenery. His prose manages to be rich without being purple, exact without being lengthy, and vivid without distracting the reader from the plot.

I'd love to learn more about his life, but I'm skipping his Wikipedia entry. It claims he was an usher in a movie theater in the early 1890s, before the invention of motion pictures, and in the section on Riders of the Purple Sage, it claims this 1912 novel was one of the earliest works of Western fiction. I've read Westerns from the 1880s and I suspect the genre goes back well before that!

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.