Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
ALL OF MY BOOKS, including Wagons Westward!!! Hiiiii-YAW and Ck-ck Giddup Beauty! C’mon Big Girl, Awaaaaayy! and Pa! Look Out! It’s—Aiiiiieee!, have been difficult for my readers, I guess, judging from their reactions when they see me shopping at Val-Mar or sitting in the Quad County Library & Media Center. After a rough morning at the keyboard, I sort of like to slip into my black leather vest, big white hat, and red kerchief, same as in the book-jacket photos, and saunter up and down the aisle by the fruit and other perishable items and let my fans have the thrill of running into me, and if nobody does I park myself at a table dead smack in front of the Western-adventure shelf in Quad County’s fiction department, lean back, plant my big boots on the table, and prepare to endure the terrible price of celebrity, but it’s not uncommon for a reader to come by, glance down, and say, “Aren’t you Dusty Pages, the author of Ck-ck Giddup Beauty! C’mon Big Girl, Awaaaaayy!” and when I look down and blush and say, “Well, yes, ma’am, I reckon I am him,” she says, “I thought so. You look just like him.” Then an awful silence while she studies the shelf and selects Ray A. James, Jr., or Chuck Young or another of my rivals. It’s a painful moment for an author, the reader two feet away and moments passing during which she does not say, “Your books have meant so much to me,” or “I can’t tell you how much I admire your work.” She just reaches past the author like he was a sack of potatoes and chooses a book by somebody else. Same thing happens with men. They say, “You’re an author, aren’tcha? I read a book of yours once, what was the name of it?”
I try to be helpful. “Could it have been Wagons Westward!!! Hiiiii- YAW!”
“No, it had someone’s name in the title.”
“Well, I wrote a book entitled Pa! Look Out! It’ s—Aiiiiieee!”
“No, I think it had the name of a horse.”
“Could it have been Ck-ck Giddup Beauty! C’mon Big Girl, Awaaaaayy!”
“That’s the one. Did you write that?”
“Yes, sir, I did.”
“Huh. I thought so.”
And right there you brace yourself for him to say, “Y’know, I never was one for books and then my brother gave me yours for Christmas and I said, ‘Naw, I don’t read books, Craig, you know that,’ and he said, ‘But this is different, Jim Earl, read this, this isn’t the girls’ literature they stuffed down our throats in high school, this is the real potatoes,’ so I read it and by George I couldn’t put the sucker down, I ran out and did the chores and tore out and back in the pickup to check on those dogies and I read for two days and two nights without a minute of shuteye. Your book changed my life, mister. I’m glad I got a chance to tell you that. You cleared up a bunch of stuff that has bothered me for years—you took something that had been inside me and you put it into words so I could feel, I donno, not so weird, feel sorta like understood, y’might say. That was me you put in that book of yours, mister. That was my life you wrote about there, and I want to say thanks. Just remember, anytime you’re ever in Big Junction, Wyoming, you got a friend there name o’ Jim Earl Wilcox”—but instead he says, “You wouldn’t know where the little boys’ room is, wouldja?,” as if I were a library employee and not a book author. So it’s clear to me that when people read my books they like me a little less at the end than at the beginning. My fourth book, Company A, Chaaaaaaarge!, is evidently the worst. Nobody bought it at all.
I know what it’s like to be disappointed by a hero. You think I don’t know? Believe me, I know. I met my idol, Smokey W. Kaiser, when I was twelve. I’d read everyone of his books twice—the Curly Bob and Lefty Slim series, the Lazy A Gang series, the Powder River Hank series—and I had waited outside the YMCA in Des Moines for three hours while he regaled the Rotary with humorous anecdotes, and when he emerged at the side door, a fat man in tight green pants tucked into silver-studded boots, he looked down and growled, “I don’t sign pieces of paper, kid. I sign books. No paper. You want my autograph, you can buy a book. That’s a rule of mine. Don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours.”
Smokey’s problem was that he was a jerk, but mine is that I get halfway through a story and everything goes to pieces. In Wagons Westward!!! Hiiiii-YAW! the pioneers reach Council Bluffs, having endured two hundred solid pages of Indian attacks, smallpox, cattle stampedes, thirst, terror, bitter backbiting, scattered atheism, and adulterous inclinations, and then they sit on the bluffs and have a meeting to decide whether they really want to forge onward to Oregon or whether maybe they should head east toward Oak Park or Evanston instead. Buck Bradley, the tall, taciturn, sandy-haired, God-fearing man who led them through the rough stuff, stands up and says, “Well, it’s up to the rest of you. Makes no nevermind to yours truly, I could go either way and be happy—west, south, you name it. I don’t need to go west or anything. You choose. I’ll go along with whatever.”
I don’t know. I wrote that scene the way I heard it in my head but now I see it in print, it looks dumb. I can certainly see why it would throw a reader, same as in Giddup Beauty! C’mon Big Girl, Awaaaaayy!, when Buck rides two thousand miles across blazing deserts searching for Julie Ann and finally, after killing twenty men and wearing out three mounts and surviving two avalanches, a prairie fire, a blizzard, and a passel of varmints, he finds her held captive by the bloodthirsty Arapaho. “So, how are you doing?” he asks her. “Oh, all right, I guess,” she says, gazing up at him, wiping the sweat from her brow. “You want to come in for a cup of coffee?” “Naw, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You look okay.” “Yeah, I lost some weight, about twenty pounds.” “Oh, really. How?” “Eating toads and grasshoppers.” “Uh-huh. Well, now that I look at you, you do look lighter.” “Sure you won’t have coffee?” “Naw, I gotta ride. Be seein’ ya, now.” “Okay, bye!” To me it seemed more realistic that way, but maybe to the guy reader it sounded sort of unfocused or something. I don’t know. Guys have always been a tough audience for me. The other day a guy grabbed my arm in the Quad County and said, “Hey, Dusty! Dusty Pages! That right? Am I right or am I right?”
“Both,” I said.
“Mister,” he said, “your book saved my life. My brother gave it to me and said, ‘Buck, read this sometime when you’re sober,’ and I put it in my pocket and didn’t think about it until, October, I was elk hunting up in the Big Coulee country, other side of the Little Crazy River, and suddenly wham it felt like somebody swung a bat and hit me in the left nipple. I fell over and lay there and, doggone it, I felt around and didn’t find blood—I go ‘Huh???????’ Well, it was your book in my jacket pocket saved my life—bullet tore through the first half of it, stopping at page 143. So, by Jim, I thought, ‘This is too crazy, I got to read this,’ and I started to read and I couldn’t believe it. That was me in the book—my life, my thoughts, it was weird. Names, dates, places—it was my life down to the last detail, except for the beer. I don’t drink Coors. The rest you got right. Here.” And he slipped an envelope into my hand. “This is for you,” he said.
It was a subpoena to appear in U.S. District Court the 27th of November to defend myself in a civil suit for wrongful misuse of the life of another for literary gain. I appeared and I tried to defend, but I lost. My attorney, a very, very nice man named Howard Furst, was simply outgunned by three tall ferret-faced bushwhackers in black pinstripes who flew in from Houston and tore him limb from limb in two and a half hours in that cold windy courtroom. They and their client, Buck Bradley, toted away three saddlebags full of my bank account, leaving me with nothing except this latest book. It’s the first in a new series, the Lonesome Bud series, called The Case of the Black Mesa, and it begins with a snake biting Bud in the wrist as he hangs from a cliff while Navajo shoot flaming arrows at him from below and a torrent of sharp gravel showers down on his old bald head. From there to the end, it never lets up, except maybe in Chapter 4, where he and the boys shop for bunk beds. I don’t know what I had in mind there at all.