Work, James C. 1939-

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Work, James C. 1939-


Born August 29, 1939, in Denver, CO.Education: Colorado State University, B.A., M.A.;University of New Mexico, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Walking, swimming, backpacking, camping, canoeing.


Home—1540 Westview Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80521.


Worked as a sporting goods salesman, back country guide, house painter, and truck driver. Taught at the College of Southern Utah; Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, professor of literature, retired.


Western Literature Association (president, circa 1990), Western Writers of America.


Charles Redd Center for Western Studies award for Following Where the River Begins: A Personal Essay on an Encounter with the Colorado River; Excellence in Teaching award, 1992; WLA Delbert and Edith Wylder Award for Distinguished Lifetime Service, 2000.




Ride South to Purgatory, Five Star (Unity, ME), 1999.

Ride West to Dawn, Five Star (Unity, ME), 2001.

Ride to Banshee Cañon, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.

The Dead Ride Alone, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2004.

Riders of Deathwater Valley, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2005.

The Outcast of Spirit Ridge, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2006.


(Editor) Shane: The Critical Edition, foreword by Marc Simmons, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1984.

(Editor) Prose and Poetry of the American West,University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1990.

Following Where the River Begins: A Personal Essay on an Encounter with the Colorado River(memoir), Signature Books (Salt Lake City, UT), 1991.

(Editor) Gunfight!: Thirteen Western Stories,University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1996.

The Tobermory Manuscript, (novel), Five Star (Unity, ME), 2000.

A Title to Murder: The Carhenge Mystery (second in the series begun with The Tobermory Manuscript), Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2004.

Windmills, the River and Dust: One Man's West,Johnson Books (Boulder, CO), 2005.


James C. Work, who over two decades has written several nonfiction works as well as a series of western novels, retired from teaching at Colorado State University to become a full-time writer. The scholar of Victorian culture and literature changed his focus in the 1980s to western literature, and his first volume, as editor, is Shane: The Critical Edition. It is a replica of the first edition of Jack Schaefer's classic novel first published in 1949 and subsequently edited many times for many reasons, including to remove profanity from the text. Work's volume includes an interview with Schaefer, a historical background of the novel, and reviews of the film starring Alan Ladd that was based on the book.

Work's Following Where the River Begins: A Personal Essay on an Encounter with the Colorado Rivercontains seven essays about a trip he made with another professor and a group of students that began at the headwaters of the Colorado River in the Rocky Mountains and took them south to Moab, Utah. The award-winning memoir contains reflections and meditations on Work's life and inspirational advice on finding one's own headwaters. Work writes, "Go find your headwaters, but do not dwell in them; anticipate confluences, and rejoice in them; and wherever you are on the river, make it your river of most moment."

Prose and Poetry of the American West is a collection that includes Native American myths and legends and journals written by the first Europeans to travel to the American West. The contributions by fifty authors are arranged chronologically from the sixteenth century to the 1980s, divided into four distinct periods, and include poetry, fiction, and essays. Notes and Queriesreviewer A. Robert Lee wrote that the volume "does good service, full in itself and a genuine prompt to further interest and reading."

Work is also the editor of Gunfight!: Thirteen Western Stories, called "an assembly full of grit and substance and sudden danger," by a Publishers Weekly contributor. The stories were written between 1904 and 1990 and include several classics, such as Dorothy Johnson's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and John M. Cunningham's "The Tin Star," which was adapted for film as High Noon. Work includes a biography of each writer, commentary on each story, and an introductory essay about gunfights in western American literature. The cover of the book features an image of Clarence Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy, painted by N.C. Wyeth.

The first of Work's series of novels set at the Keystone Ranch is Ride South to Purgatory. Like subsequent books in the series, the debut is based on history and fact. The story of Pasqua Pendragon—a cowboy who, while seeking revenge for the murder of his brothers, confronts an armed giant—is also a history of the Wyoming territory and a vehicle for Work to demonstrate his "not inconsiderable knowledge of Native American mysticism" surrounding the rebirth of living things, as was noted by Booklist reviewer Budd Arthur. Arthur concluded by saying, "On multiple levels, Work's work works."

Work has added to his "Keystone Ranch" series and has written the first two novels of another western series. The Tobermory Manuscript is a contemporary story featuring David Lachlan McIntyre, a professor who travels from Colorado to Scotland in search of a manuscript written around 1905 that not only is the history of Estes Park but also contains the details of the death of James "Rocky Mountain Jim," who was murdered there in 1874. Arthur called The Tobermory Manuscript a "cleverly conceived and stylishly presented tale."

Professor McIntyre returns in A Title to Murder, in which one of his students disappears and the man she had been living with is murdered. The clue to the crime is to be found in the English novels McIntyre was teaching the summer Cass disappeared, each of which is named after a woman.

Work told CA: "It was a seventh grade teacher who first showed interest in my writing and therefore made me more interested in it. Mary Thomas, Estes Park High School, taught a creative writing class for kids who liked to write poetry and essays; she also formed a ‘Writer's Club’ for us, where we could read our stuff to others. She also brought in local published writers to speak with us, which we found pretty impressive."

"There is no single person, writer or otherwise, whom I could say influences my work. The writers I admire most include Frank Waters, Loren Eiseley, Owen Wister, Mari Sandoz, and Wallace Stegner, although there are literally thousands of works, ranging fromOld English to modern Western, that I find coming to mind as I write. They show up as part of a character here, a turn of phrase, a choice of detail, an angle of thought."

"You ask about the writing process. For me, a novel always begins with a question. What happened to an old artifact? How did that building come to be built? Who really created this or that? Why does this situation remind me of some archetypal story? Then, if I feel that pursuing the answers would be interesting enough to invest time in, I start a pretty much unorganized investigation. I visit museums, libraries, talk to people, look at places where something happened. Eventually I end up with a couple of file folders bulging with clippings, photocopies, pictures and scribbled notes. And a story in my head."

"As for actual physical process, it is to rise before 7:00, have coffee, go outdoors for ten or fifteen minutes, then write for two or three hours. Two days a week I swim, three days I walk. As I swim or walk, my mind is at work on the next chapter, or is creating an outline for the next book, or is trying to come up with a way of describing this or that. I sometimes write in the evening, but not often. And of course I tend to read a couple of hours a day."

"The most surprising thing I've learned, I suppose, would be how easily the words can flow and how impossible it seems, at times, to reach the level of complexity and universality of my favorite authors. I can see, for instance, how Stegner makes a character come to life, but I cannot find how to do it out of my own character and my own command of words."

"My wife once asked Frank Waters which of his books was his favorite—a question which I find as impossible as asking someone which of their children they love most—and he replied ‘the one I'm working on.’ I like that. It's true. The book of my own I like best is the one I'm writing at the moment."

"As for the past books, the comparison cannot be made. I love the memories of the days I spent makingFollowing Where the River Begins; the most satisfaction came from Prose and Poetry of the American West,because I was able to teach out of it and found it a good textbook; Purgatory is a favorite child because it was the first novel, which was a thrill. I have much affection for Banshee because at the time it was written it served to purge and flail some personal and dark demons of my own. I like Ride West because my agent says it is his favorite."

"In Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather wrote ‘to fulfill the dreams of one's youth; that is the best that can happen to a man.’ When Mary Thomas, and my own mother, praised my childish essays and poems and said they wished I would write more of them, I began to dream of a day when I could write and publish. And it happened."



Work, James C., Following Where the River Begins: A Personal Essay on an Encounter with the Colorado River (memoir), Signature Books (Salt Lake City, UT), 1990.


Booklist, February 1, 1999, Budd Arthur, review ofRide South to Purgatory, p. 963; June 1, 2000, Budd Arthur, review of The Tobermory Manuscript, p. 1862; November 15, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Ride to Banshee Cañon,p. 570.

Journal of the West, April, 1993, Robert F. Walch, review of Prose and Poetry of the American West,p. 98.

Notes and Queries, June, 1994, A. Robert Lee, review of Prose and Poetry of the American West, p. 279.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1996, review of Gunfight!: Thirteen Western Stories, p. 57.


James C. Work Home Page, 26, 2005).