Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: When is a book epistolary?


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— I plucked a book of Western fiction I hadn’t opened in a decade off the shelf during the weekend and learned a new word. Epistolary fiction is a piece of creative writing based upon actual historical letters and diary entries.

In case you haven’t noticed this month, I’ve been bingeing on books about the old west ­— both fiction and nonfiction. I don’t live in a homestead cabin, but if I did, the tales I’ve been reading would be a cure for cabin fever.

It was in a book entitled “American West, Twenty new stories from the Western Writers of America,” that I came upon a story by the author, Patti Sherlock, that told the story of a late 19th century midwife in Bonneville County, Idaho. “Mother George, Midwife,” is about community and the interdependence of its members. It’s also about bigotry and tolerance. And it has a surprising ending.

The book, edited by Loren D. Estleman, is a 2001 collection of 20 works by members of a writers’ group called the Western Writers of America.

And by discovering the organization this week, I’ve come upon a new reading list at, you’ll find the latest version of Roundup Magazine in PDF form and a list of nonfiction and fiction books scheduled to be published this year called “In the Chute.” (It’s a play on words.)

The list of intriguing books there will lead you further to explore the Web pages of the book publishing arms of the universities of Washington, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Finally, I stumbled on another good source for identifying western authors at, where a list of recipients of the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers awards can be found.

Meloy herself was a noted writer about the West until her sudden death in 2004. One of her books, “Raven’s Exile: A season on the Green River,” has just been added to my list.

And hopefully, in the near future, I’ll be able to read the latest from 2011 Meloy award winning author Craig Childs, who is working on a book about how deserts form, their role in climate and how deserts will fare in an era of climate change.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


rhys jones 5 years, 2 months ago

Might I recommend a gem I ordered from Off The Beaten Path, Tony Hillerman's "The Best of the West" 'An Anthology of Classic Writing from the American West' where Tony writes a brief introduction to 142 stories, but all are authentic writings from the old West, covering the gamut, a whole encyclopedia, in one book.

There are contributions from Calamity Jane, Custer, Lewis, Clark, Pike, Powell, Sinclair, Steinbeck, and many many more. Miners, trappers, cowboys, Indians, Mexicans, explorers, outlaws, women, military, humor, fiction, all told by people of the time, some with tongue in cheek.

The fur-bearing trout of Salida are sure to elicit a chuckle, and "I ask: What is Life?" (from a eulogy) will choke you up, at least.

I recommend this collection highly to Tom and anybody interested in Western writing and lore. I keep mine nearby, a good coffee-table book -- just open it anywhere, for a quick trip back in time. Then your problems won't seem so bad.


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