Thursday, September 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: An Accidental Novelist by Richard S. Wheeler

An Accidental Novelist- Richard S. Wheeler

Every once in a while somebody says to me that they're thinking of writing their autobiography. I try to ease on out the door and run screaming across the prairie until I can find a suitable place to hide in the woods.

Yes, I know YOU'RE fascinating. And so am I. God, I'm fascinating. The trouble is that for most of us, that fascination doesn't travel very far. In my case, if I published an autobiography it would sell only to my blood kin and our cat Tess, though in her case it would take some nudging. She prefers romance novels about horny vampires and vampirettes. I guess all her graduate work on Chaucer (which we had to pay for) was for naught.

But you know what? Richard S. Wheeler has written an emminently readable, interesting, entertaining memoir about how he stumbled into becoming a writer of fiction after having a very rough time trying to be a) a newspaper writer and b) an actor in Hollywood. and c) a real impoverished guy wondering what to do next. Well, thankfully for all of us, he struggled through a first novel he ultimately threw away and then hit the premiere western imprint of the time, the Doubleday DD brand.

This is the real story of a real writer. I've never read a a clearer fever chart of the ups and downs of a person who tries to sustain himself financially and emotionally as a full-time writer. We meet other writers, editors (a very warm tribute to the late Sara Anne Freed); agents (an equally warm tribute to Ray Puechner who was my first agent and who had in his stable at that time Joe Lansdale, Loren Estleman and Gary Paulsen among many others); and even Hwood windbags (who may well have stolen one of his movie ideas).

Into all this is tucked the story of Richard Wheeler human being. Life hasn't always proved easy for him and (if I'm not overreading) you sense a real loneliness in the man, a loneliness that has driven him for much of his life. He's the F. Scott Fitzgerald hero--the man who looks but never quite finds. Until, as in the ending of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams," he realizes that his life has been richer than he imagined.

I really recommend this thoughtful and rewarding memoir.


Mathew Paust said...

Looks like another "must read". Thanks, Ed.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wheeler's California Gold Rush novel, "Sierra", is one of the best I've read about that era.

Also Ed, as a side note, the full text of Winter Dreams can be found at;

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks, Ed. Richard is a generous soul and self-effacing in person. Hard to imagine him in any kind of Hollywood context. If I had the time, I'd read all his historical novels end to end without stopping, they are so good and sometimes so affecting. The tribute to Major Reno at the end of that novel about a complicated and difficult cavalry officer at the Little Big Horn just breaks your heart.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Richard is not only a gentleman in the true sense of the word, but a gifted writer. Thank you for this great review of his work.