April ’24: Po Campo is God

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates:

Still waiting to hear back from the single full request I have out at the moment. 

Other than that, I’ve had a few other rejections, sent a few others out. The trenches remain. 

I was a featured author at the Brandon Public Library for Central Mississippi Regional Library System’s Author Brunch. I put together a sort-of unofficial and thrown together mini-collection for it and have a few copies left. If you’re interested in buying one, for 10 bucks, email me at loperwrites@gmail.com.

Project Progress:

Still in the process of editing the horror novella, and I expect progress there to be pretty slow going. It’s an old story that needs a lot of reexamination. 

Recent Fascinations: An Essay on Character Incited by Larry McMurtry

The idea for this essay has been on my mind since I finished my first read through of Larry McMurtry’s titanic classic LONESOME DOVE, but this or that got in my way every time I went to write it. Either a deep bout of melancholia or a full request or something of that ilk, and this is a thought that, to the best of my ability, I want to give room to breathe. 

For a great part of my time (so far) as a writer, I considered myself a character writer. I’ve talked about this before here, about the way that my own perception of my writing has shifted from character centric to setting centric. I still believe that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave good characters in the stories I read. 

All of my favorite books, and I mean all of them, are character driven, regardless of whether or not that type of storytelling is the center of the stories I write. I’ve been trying for years to find a way to put into words exactly why I feel this way. Why reading THE STAND makes me feel the way it does. Why AMERICAN GODS brought me to bitter, sobbing tears. And finally, a little over halfway through LONESOME DOVE, I found them, and, in the words of Kerouac, they were simple. 

Po Campo is God. 

Okay, maybe I should elaborate. I don’t actually think McMurtry ever meant for the Hat Creek Company’s second camp cook to represent God. The character isn’t a vessel for magic realism or anything like that, and he doesn’t represent some perfect, Christ-like figure. But he is important. 

LONESOME DOVE is full of characters, but for the short walk through its archetypes that I need to go on in order to set up the bulk of this essay, I’m going to focus on three. 

The Stoic: Woodrow Call

The Epicurean: Augustus McCrae

The Satisfied Man: Po Campo. 

While Woodrow and Gus are, from the very beginning, meant to represent opposite sides of the same coin, Po Campo’s arrival signals something else. He is a man, despite the hardships both ahead and behind, who is satisfied. He is happy with his life as it is and expects very little from himself and those around him, while also taking an enormous amount of pride in his craft. Woodrow seeks meaning and direction from labor, Gus seeks the same from joy and vice, but Po Campo seeks nothing and makes due with what is passed to him from beyond. 

Now, that in mind, I’m going to abruptly pivot away from LONESOME DOVE the story and towards character in general. The ideas behind these three core concepts are not particular deep or revolutionary, even at the time of publication. 

Call works hard and is seldom satisfied. 

Gus doesn’t work and is seldom satisfied. 

Po Campo is satisfied. 

Where the importance of these characters comes from, what gives them their layers, is the experiences they have on the page. 

While there is a sea of experiences behind the pages for all of the characters of LONESOME DOVE, and most other epic-length modern novels, it isn’t those experiences that carry the reader along. It is the things the characters do from the time the reader picks up with them. This carries true even for series that start the reader and the characters both at the “true” beginning. In Robert Jordan’s epic masterpiece THE WHEEL OF TIME, the reader starts the story with the main characters from their first call to action and then Jordan carries us along on the entire (and I mean ENTIRE) journey. It is through those shared experiences that WOT or LONESOME DOVE or any other character driven story earns its keep. 

So, that brings me back to Po Campo, and why he’s our ineffable savior. 

Despite the comedy and beauty and introspection, much of LONESOME DOVE is a harrowing experience. There is great violence and brutality on the pages of that novel, and at times, especially once Blue Duck makes his appearance, that brutality can feel oppressive. So oppressive that at one point, a literal, biblical-scale plague of grasshoppers descends on the Hat Creek Outfit. However, through it all, Po Campo does not falter. He is steadfast in his every action, past and present, and never doubts himself or his dedication to the road ahead. Perhaps most memorable is when he states that his wife is “in hell where I sent her,” without so much as a smidge of regret or introspection.

LONESOME DOVE is a book about characters, and almost the entirety of its purpose is the development of those characters, but, as I’ve said, Po Campo remains. There is no growth for him provided in the story, no examples of the ways the road north changed him. He is known, certain, stalwart. Po Campo, in other words, is God. 

Writing characters that live and breathe through the page is hard, exhausting labor for me. It’s something I have to work at, something that never comes natural in the flow of my prose. I think that difficulty is what drew me to Po Campo as I read McMurtry’s masterpiece. I struggle to imagine the ideas that must have passed through McMurtry’s mind as he drafted the earliest versions of LONESOME DOVE. I wonder about the changes that Po Campo had to go through in order to live on the page as totally and believably as he does from his very first appearance. 

I don’t think I’ll ever achieve that, that I’ll ever write my own Po Campo. 

But, then again, what’s the point in riding for Montana if you’re already there. 

Thanks for reading. 

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