How to write like uber-popular author Louis L’Amour

Louis L’Amour was born in 1908 and died in 1988. The heyday of his writing career was in the 1950s and 1960s. But— a few weeks ago I went into WalMart in the book section to find a Louis L’Amour book still available.

What is the secret of Louis L’Amour’s fiction-writing power? Why is he, a writer known for writing Westerns, not the most popular genre today, still on the WalMart buyer’s mind as someone to keep in stock? It may be in the nature of the very first book Louis L’Amour published.  A book of his poetry called Smoke from this Altar.

You see, here is the difference between writing a novel and writing poetry. In a novel there are thousands of words, and a writer who worries overmuch about whether word 27322 is exactly the most powerful and best word for that position doesn’t finish many novels. Words and sentences in a novel can be bland or dull, so long as the action in the novel keeps coming and you find ways to make readers identify with the characters.

In a poem, every word counts. A novel can have unnecessary words, sentences and even paragraphs so long as they don’t interfere with the flow of the story. A poem must not have a single word that does not serve the poetic purpose. The words in a poem must be powerful and evocative. Even the sounds and rhythms of words must be considered in a poem.

So what happens when a poet, or someone who loves and reads poetry, writes a novel? The language gifts of the poet may find their way into the prose, making it more powerful. Here is an example taken from L’Amour’s ‘The Sackett Brand.’

“The trouble was, when I walked out on that point my mind went a-rambling like wild geese down a western sky.

What I looked upon was a sight of lovely country. Right at my feet was the river, a-churning and a-thrashing at least six hundred feet below me, with here and there a deep blue pool. Across the river, and clean to the horizon to the north and east of me, was the finest stand of pine timber this side of the Smokies.

Knobs of craggy rock thrust up, with occasional ridges showing bare spines to the westward where the timber thinned out and the country finally became desert. In front of me, but miles away, a gigantic wall reared up. That wall was at least a thousand feet higher than where I now stood, though this was high ground.”

Lest you think the above example was too descriptive, rest assured that someone gets shot by the end of the page. It still is an action-packed western. It’s just that L’Amour knew how to use language very well, as a result of his work as a poet. So he could through in a good bit of description that could bring the West to life.

If you are curious about the poems of L’Mour, his book ‘Smoke on the Water’ is available and so you can see for yourself. But until you get so far, here is an example poem that tells a Western story.

I have three friends, three faithful friends,
more faithful could not be-
and every night, by the dim firelight,
they come to sit with me.

the first of these is tall and thin
with hollow cheeks, and a toothless grin,
a ghastly tare, and scraggly hair,
and an ugly lump for a chin.

the second of these is short and fat
with beady eyes, like a starving rat-
he was soaked in sin to his oily skin,
and verminous, at that

the crouching one is of ape-like plan,
formed like a beast that resembled man:
a freakish thing, with arms a-swing,
and he was the third of that gruesome clan.

the first I stabbed with a Chinese knife,
and left on the white beach sand,
with his ghastly stare, and blood-soaked hair,
and an out-flung, claw-like hand;

the fat one stole a crumbling crust,
that he wolfed in his swinish way-
so i left him there, with eyes a-glare,
and his head cut of half-way.

we fought to kill, the brute and i,
that the one that lived might eat,
so i killed him too, and made a stew,
and dined on human meat.

and so these three come to visit me,
when without the night winds howl-
the one with the leer, the one with a sneer,
and and one with a brutish scowl;

their lips are dumb, but the three dead come
and cough by the hollow great-
the man that i stabbed, the man that i cut,
and the gruesome thing that i ate.

their lips are sealed, with blood congealed,
but they will not let me be,
and so they haunt, grim, ghastly, and gaunt,
till death shall set me free.

i have three friends, three faithful friends,
more faithful could not be-
and every night, by the dim firelight,
they come to sit with me.

#PoetryPantry 219: Sackett’s Sijo

Turkish translation book cover for one of L'Amour's Sackett novels.

Turkish translation book cover for one of L’Amour’s Sackett novels.

This is a post for Poetry Pantry #219. Click on the link to find other poets, to look at cool pictures from Slovenia, or to share one of your own blogged poems.

Sackett’s Sijo

My mind a-rambling like wild geese
I took in the river far below
A-thrashing and a-churning
With here and there a deep blue pool.

Then a shot struck me a wallop
Falling I met the clear cold water.

(c) 2013 Nissa Annakindt

This poem came about when I was reading one of Louis L’Amour‘s Western novels, and features one of his most popular characters, William Tell Sackett. I crafted it using words, phrases and images from the opening scenes of one of the Sackett novels.

The sijo, in case you are unfamiliar, is a Korean poetic form somewhat like the Japanese haiku. I rather enjoyed using this Asian poetic form for a decidedly non-Asian subject.

Louis L’Amour, by the way, in addition to being one of the bestselling Western authors of all time, also wrote a volume of poetry, Smoke from This Altar. I have not yet managed to add this volume to my Louis L’Amour collection, but I have found some of his poems online, such as A Handful of Stars.

Publishing Update:

I’m getting close to finishing the e-book version of ‘Where the Opium Cactus Grows’. just have to figure out how to attach a book cover in Scrivener. The second poetry book, ‘Waiting for the Poison Shot’, will follow in a few months after the first. Both will also be available as physical books. I’m also working on an e-book poetry chapbook, ‘surly petunia’, which will be a free e-book. It will be mostly poems from my original ‘surly petunia’ chapbook, which also went in to the original ‘Opium Cactus’, but I’ve put in some that are scheduled to be in ‘Poison Shot’.

Also in the works: a sci-fi serialized story set in a future United States that has become a grim, Soviet-style totalitarian state where faith is forbidden and vast numbers of people live on the streets or in robot-patrolled govt Shelters.

If you want to be notified when these books are available, join my new mailing list:

Reviews: I may be willing to do reviews of poetry books if the poet will provide me with a review copy. I won’t review erotic or ‘naughty’ material as I don’t read that type of thing. So if you have a poetry book out….