Zane Sterling understands odds. After all, he rose through the working ranks in Reno casinos, including pit boss duties for 13 of his 20 years in Nevada. And he’s lived to tell about i t— even gain from it — thanks to extensive “people watching.”
The West Texan — back in Snyder near the spread his great-grandfather bought in 1898 — chose “home again” for a specific reason. Cowboy “to the bone,” he wants to abide where words flow most easily. Behind him are stretches of work on the farm and ranch, oilfield “roughnecking” and casino management.
His novel describes West Texas in its formative years, when “cowboying” was big, life was raw, and it didn’t take much water to make good coffee. He shares the experiences, recollections and yarns passed down by forebears in a genre whose best-known authors have taken their leave. At age 54, Sterling is on his pilgrimage.
Debt of Vengeance is a fictional work he hopes will pique the interest of readers keen on the Texas frontier.
He took to writing when much of the luster of Reno was dulled by “big business and its professional bean-counters.” He started writing cowboy poetry in 1998.
Soon, he was reciting poetry and telling western stories in California and Nevada, often alongside two well-known personalities — Waddie Mitchell and Baxter Black, whose work spurred him on. He appeared for years in California’s longest running poetry event, adding his poems and stories to horse training clinics, funerals, and, well, just about wherever cowboys gathered.
A 1979 graduate of Snyder High School, he and his wife Kathy returned to Texas five years ago. “Back home, I’ve gotten my mind right,” he joked. Out in the land of brilliant sunsets, tall cotton, cattle herds and wind farms, he writes daily. He says much is experimentation, trying to determine what works and where he fits in a profession where technology is off the charts.
He cherishes hardscrabble surroundings, where he’d rather feed the deer than shoot them. In his “word-weaving,” he paints vivid pictures of the “way it was.” With an appealing style, Sterling is well-studied in reality, using humor in his characters’ dialog to soften many tough situations.
Several West Texas newspapers picked up his series of 16 short stories, and a couple of years ago he wrote My Fair Scurry County Lady (an adaptation of My Fair Lady) for Snyder’s community theater. It played three nights, 95 percent sold out. “I ‘red-necked’ it up pretty good,” he said.
He doesn’t claim to have much in common with Zane Grey, but he smiles at the mention of their identical first names. He’s sorry novelists like Grey, Louis L’Amour and Elmer Kelton are deceased, but happy that Larry McMurtry is still in his literary saddle.
Kelton, a brilliant western writer from San Angelo, died in 2009. Sterling had been scheduled to appear with Kelton at a book-signing about a month after his death.
“Elmer was one of a kind. I watched how he treated people one day during a book signing on the courthouse lawn in Snyder,” he said. “Kelton was pure class.”
Sterling is not without help. Wife Kathy points out where he needs to explain more, and his dad, Mickey Sterling, is a great sounding board and “brutally honest.”
Sterling also is encouraged by Austin producer Suzanne Weinert and by Barry Tubb, a Hollywood star who was a classmate at Snyder High School.
Debt of Vengeance is a great read. Sterling’s work is filled with more twists and turns than mountain roads in the Ozarks.
My wife and I met the Sterlings for coffee recently. Their zeal for his writing projects is admirable, and it’s refreshing to see folks in the “second half” of their lives chasing dreams.
The book is available, both in paperback and as an e-book, on Amazon. With limited arm-twisting, he’d likely “cowboy things up” with western poetry for gatherings so inclined.
I started reading his novel prior to watching the Dallas/Arizona NFL game. By game’s end, I had finished it. The book was memorable; the game wasn’t. If picked up, it is not to be put down. Alas, my books seem opposite. Once put down, they aren’t usually picked up.
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