PW caught up with celebrated Texan Larry McMurtry by phone in his second favorite state, Arizona. At age 68, the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of 28 novels, two collections of essays, three memoirs and more than 30 screenplays (all rendered on a typewriteror in longhand) is still going strong. We asked him about his latest novel, his passion for antiquarian books and the secret to producing prose for more than 40 years.
PW: What was the inspiration for Loop Group?
Larry McMurtry: As executive producers of several action western miniseries [e.g., Lonesome Dove], my writing partner Diana Ossana and I have worked with loop groups. They are the sound effects people in movies who put in the non-human sounds, the grunts and groans. Anyone who makes an action movie works with them; it's the last thing you do. The groups seemed like a good Hollywood subject, a way to lead into the personal story, about the friendship between two women, which is what I'm really interested in.
You have often been praised for your ability to write women. How do you do it?
I don't really know that I do write women well. I'm persuasive; I persuade women that I write them well [laughs]. It's really just guesswork. Who knows if I'm getting close? I like to write about women. My friends are all women, my life has been lived among women. If you're going to find anything out about emotion and how it functions in human life, you're going to have to find out from women. You won't find out from men.
Can you talk about your writing process? Do you have any special rituals?
I have no writing rituals, but I write so many pages a day. For most of my career, it's been five. Lately, I've gotten faster, 10 pages a day. I write as early as possible, about 6:30 a.m. And I never miss a day. The only secret of 40-some-odd years of writing is regularity. It's the most important thing.
In one of your memoirs, Roads, you write that your life is divided into the time before your heart surgery in 1991 and afterward. Has your writing changed along with your life in the years since the operation?
The trauma following heart surgery isn't instantaneous—you don't just get out of your hospital bed and feel that you've lost yourself. It comes about 60 to 90 days later. I came out to Tucson, Arizona, to recuperate, and wrote three novels pretty rapidly (as rapidly as if the stuff was being faxed to me from my former self). But I began to feel unhappy with the distance between me and my prose. I then started to write nonfiction, longhand, which I've never done before in my life. Writing six nonfiction books in longhand brought me back to my prose, to some extent.
In your native Archer City (population 1,748), you own Booked Up, a "booktown" with four stores and 300,000-plus titles. What prompted you to go into bookselling?
I've been a rare bookseller for 45 years—first a book scout, then a book dealer. I did it at first to finance my reading; I would buy books that were underpriced and sell them for enough money that I could buy books I wanted to read. It's gotten a little beyond that now....
What's next for you?
This summer, I wrote a joint biography of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley—they were our first two superstars. I'm not finished with fiction, but I will be writing biographies, travel books, more belles lettres.
And forever scouting for rare books?
For me, the hardest part about writing is that you get up in the morning and sit down. Being a novelist is private and rather lonely; it's all coming out of your head. Bookselling gets me out; it's physical, it's social, you make friends with dealers all over the country and the world. It's the perfect balance to writing.