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South Texas Living

My favorite Western author, Zane Grey

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Rainy Days and Starry Nights
October 3, 2012 | 1,791 views | Post a comment

Zane Grey was one of my favorite authors during my adolescent years. Before that, I was reading The Bobbsey Twins books by the time I was 8 years old, graduating to Nancy Drew books and The Hardy Boys books. But I guess those became too tame for me, because I wanted to expand to more exciting books. That’s when I started reading Zane Grey books. The first book I read was Riders of the Purple Sage, and I was hooked. I think I can remember my daddy reading those too. Daddy was a smart man and loved to read.

So Zane Grey books were my addiction back then. Between the age of 13 and 16, I think I read all of his books! Zane Grey wrote more than 90 books. He became one of the first millionaire authors. His total book sales exceed 40 million.

Zane Grey was from Ohio and his father was a dentist. Zane made rural house calls with his father, and performed basic extractions, which his father had taught him when he was a teenager. He also loved baseball and played summer baseball for the Columbus Ohio Capitols. Eventually, Grey was spotted by a baseball scout and received offers from many colleges.

He went to the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship and studied dentistry. They played in the Ivy League and Grey was a solid hitter and an excellent pitcher. Grey struggled with the idea of becoming a writer or baseball player for his career, but unhappily concluded that dentistry was the practical choice.

After graduating, Grey established his practice in New York City. He wanted to be close to publishers. He began to write in the evening to offset the tedium of his dental practice. He struggled financially and emotionally, suffering bouts of depression, anger, and mood swings.

Grey really disliked dentistry and continued writing, and finally published a story in a magazine, but he had difficulties in writing his first novel, Betty Zane (1903). When Harper & Brothers rejected it, he lapsed into despair. He then self-published it, and gave copies away to his patients.

In 1909, Grey wrote a book, The Last of the Plainsmen, and Harpers rejected it again (the fourth work in a row for Grey). The editor told Grey, “I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.”

I think I would have given up writing by then. But I am grateful Grey didn’t give up. He wrote The Heritage of the Desert in four months in 1910. Grey took it to Harper & Brothers again and this time they published his work. The book became a best-seller. Two years later Grey produced his best-known book, Riders of the Purple Sage, which became one of the most successful Western novels of all time.

And that brings me back to why I was writing this story. As almost all teenage girls do, I always fantasized and made up stories in my mind. That is, when I was alone, which was not very often, in a family with seven kids. So the only time I was alone was when I had to get the cows in the pasture for milking -- every afternoon. I tried to take my time, slowly walking amidst the cactus and scrubby mesquite trees while I fantasized about a handsome cowboy, which appeared in the pasture, riding on his horse, and when I stumbled over the prickly cactus, he jumped off of his horse and lifted me to my feet from the ground, then tenderly pulled the thorns from the palms of my hands, gazing into my eyes with his piercing blue eyes. Oh, the story was always sweet and touching. We fell in love in that moment, and I looked sad when he said he had to go away, and got up on his horse and rode away. But he always said he would come back to get me. Sometimes in my fantasy he would kiss me, in another, just hold me close. Isn’t that romantic?

It really didn’t happen, but in those imaginations life always has a happy ending.

I always will be grateful to Zane Grey’s books for letting me have those fantasy-filled days when life for a teenage girl was not very exciting on the farm!

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at

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