In all the years of coming and going from Payson, Arizona, a small mountain town a mile high on the Mogollon (Mo-gee-on) Rim, I’d never read a Zane Grey book. When his cabin burned in the Dude Fire back in the 90s outside of Payson, they reconstructed his cabin in town. This time around, I checked out Riders of the Purple Sage and Arizona Ames. I’m reading Arizona Ames first, published in 1929. While people were freaking over the stock market crash, Zane Grey was collecting book royalties.
The writing is similar, yet different from how people write now. His first 5 pages describe the Rim Country of the high desert mountains. I like description and editors always ding me for too much. But if you’ve never been to a place, how the heck else does a writer convey it to you in a single sentence? No cell phone videos in 1929.
The writing is fun to read. Takes some doing getting used to the language. He has people ejaculating when they talk. “Cain’t wait to get on the trail!” Manzanita ejaculated, warmly. This would be considered porn now.
I like reading books from 89 years ago. The world was different, but rural settings haven’t changed. 1929 descriptions are still accurate:
“The ridge tops waved away from the Mogollon Rim, a sea of evergreen, pine and spruce and cedar and pinon, a thick dark mantle in the distance, but close at hand showing bare spots, gray rocks and red cliffs, patches of brown pine needles, scarlet sumac and blue juniper.” —Arizona Ames.
And that’s just the first page. Stepping outside, I look up at the Mogollon Rim, bordering Rim Country towns like Payson, Star Valley, Heber and Showlow. Zane Grey is dead-on-balls accurate with his description. Back in 1929, people had longer attention spans to read lengthy descriptions. Now, they want a crisp, short sentence to describe a setting—and no adjectives (they’ll have to pry adjectives out of my cold, dead, decomposing hand).
Lots of exclamation points and swear words, shown as —–! Left to the reader’s imagination. Curious, I googled Zane Grey’s bio. His dad beat him for writing a short story because he thought it a waste of time. Zane had the last laugh, as one of the first millionaire writers in the U.S.
What I love about this guy who was a dentist from the east coast: He had passion for the West and for writing about it. It shows in his stories. He wrote about cowboys, trappers, and love. I didn’t expect romance in his books, but there it was. His love scenes were probably considered risqué in 1929, but they have lots! Of! Fun! Exclamation!! Points!!! He wanted readers to get the point about where all the body parts were during love scenes. Let me see if I can get away with that in the novel I’m writing…!!!
Next time yer out West, an’ git a hankerin’ fer somethin’ to read, grab yoreself a Zane Grey book and take a gander. Read about Tonto Basin. Then you’ll be lookin’ over yonder mesa for Johnny Depp to show up on a horse with a bird on his head!!!
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