Larry McMurtry Speaks His Mind, Again

Archer City's most famous son tells a writer's group that Blood Meridian "was a little windy" and admits that two of his favorite television shows are The Sopranos and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Thu October 10, 2013 5:45 pm

hundreds of photographs. There was a change of executive structure at Simon and Schuster. The new person didn’t want it, and so they held it a year and a half, they tarted it up with all those photographs, and I’m very disappointed in it. But that doesn’t mean the end of the Western. There will still be Westerns.

Amy Burgess: You’re one of the few writers who’ve had equal success in the different genres, with TV and movies and books. Which ones get you the most excited when you have a new project that gets picked up?

LM: They’re so different, it’s very hard to compare them. I’ve written 32 novels. I can’t say that I get excited when I start to write a novel. I get to work, but it’s not a daily thrill. And neither is working in movies. Working in movies has become harder and harder and harder. I’ve had three or four very successful movies. Average time on making those movies was ten years. Ten years to make Terms of Endearment, ten years to make Brokeback Mountain. It doesn’t come quick. You have to get the money. and to get the money you have to get the actors that can bring the money. It’s very slow.

We have several projects right now that I don’t understand why nothing is happening. Two years go past, no checks come in the mail. It just sits there. We have a project with Ridley Scott right now that’s set in this part of the country. So, there are stories out there. But it’s really, really hard to make westerns. The thing that’s so hard about it is that they involve animals – cattle, buffalo, horses – and animals are so expensive. The reason it’s more likely to happen on television – the reason Lonesome Dove was on television instead of film – is that it’s so much cheaper. It’s all about money.

AB: Would you ever self publish?

LM: Yeah, I was just about to self publish this weird little novel, then somebody bought it, strangely enough. To my intense surprise. Someone bought it and saved me the trouble.

Harry Hallall: Why were you going to self publish?

LM: My own publisher had been so negative about it that I thought, ‘Maybe they’re right; maybe it is awful.’ Then two years passed, and I got it out and read it, and I rather liked it. I told the agents to say bye-bye to Simon and Schuster and shop it around a little bit. It sold instantly.

It’s an end-of-the-West western. Most of the westerns that you read or have read are end-of-the-West westerns. This one is just a little more clearly an end-of-the-West western. I felt that there were stories and people like Charles Goodnight, people like Wyatt Earp, people like Buffalo Bill, that could use a little coda of some kind, one more pass. So I did it. I think it’s pretty good. I don’t think it’s a world masterpiece, but it might be. You never know for sure.

HH: What authors have you enjoyed reading, or what works have you really enjoyed reading recently?

LM: I’ve reached an age in life when I read very differently. Mostly I’ve read for adventure. Now I read for security. Which means I re-read almost entirely. If I get sent a book that I have to decide whether to try to do the script or something like that, I read it. But for myself I read two authors over and over again. Robert B. Parker, the mystery writer from Boston, and an English aesthete named James Lees-Milne. He left a twelve-volume diary that is one of the treasures of twentieth-century English literature.

GG: One of the things that distinguishes you from any other Texas writers is courage. You took on the nostalgic writers like J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb. And even though you respected their work you also found their work far too sentimental for the reality that you saw before you. You were skewered in some circles for doing that, and yet you did it, and I know that, I’m sure there were costs involved.

LM: I think I just am better informed. Look at all these books. I have 28,000 books in my home. Most of which I’ve read or at least considered. That’s what I’ve found lacking in Texas literature, and I said it. They haven’t read enough. They haven’t traveled enough. They haven’t seen enough of the world. Gary Cartwright and Larry King and Ronnie Dugger, and a whole gang of quasi-journalists, quasi-writers around Austin. Bill Brammer occasionally wrote really pretty good stuff, but few of them really sustained it. So I was asked to make that speech at a Fort Worth museum, and it caused a little stir.

I like literary controversy. There’s not enough literary controversy in Texas. Needs to be more.

BM: What would you tell young aspiring writers about reading – the importance of reading, and what to read?

LM: I’d tell them that the most important preparation for writing is reading. Certainly for me and most people I know. Trying to imitate the writers that we love to read. That’s what got us all started.

BM: But you have to read a lot before you find those writers that want to imitate, I would think.

LM: That’s fine. It doesn’t hurt you to read a lot. In fact, it’s better that you read a lot. You’ll find the right ones.

Matthew Jones: I wondered if you could expand on that a little bit. Earlier you were saying that television writing is booming. I’ve noticed that there are shows like you mentioned, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Sopranos,” that are essentially visual novels.

Larry: They’re like the nineteenth-century novels. They satisfy the same appetite for narrative and family life. The backbone of the nineteenth-century realistic novel is the family life. And Tony Soprano is family life in the gangster world. Everybody Loves Raymond

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