A grandfather’s story collection finds a home in Western novels
By KATE LUDLOW
One day, his granddaughter walked in and pitched him a copy of The Idiot’s Guide to Publishing.
“What do you want me to do with this?” he asked her, and she replied, “Write a book.”
It was a challenge Alex Alexander readily accepted, and what was previously a collection of stories that he used to entertain his grandchildren has become a Western book series available for sale on a national level.
Alexander grew up in Brown County, Texas. As a kid, “there weren’t any stories,” he says, “Life was pretty hard. We had a little house that was about one-room with a dirt floor. The land was there to cultivate. We had the only car in the whole county — an old Chevrolet that you had to push to start. It was full of old tubes, all the part that you might need to fix it. People thought we were rich ‘cause we had that old car.”
Alexander went to school with 13 other children, who all shared one teacher. Reading was always important to him.
“I read anything that had a label, from a tin can on up. I read Zane Grey, Luke Short stuff. When Elmer Kelton started writing, I started reading his stuff. I would say he’s probably my favorite,” he said.
Alexander later moved to Austin and graduated from Austin High School, and while out visiting Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock, he met his future wife, Dutch.
“We met on a Wednesday, I asked her out for a date on Thursday, I asked her to go steady that night, and we were engaged on Friday,” he says. They were married about six months later, and Alexander began working stock and running cattle with his new father-in-law.
Alex and Dutch “scooted around” a bit, owning a hardware store and lodge in Colorado before moving back to Texas. In 1984, he opened Ranger Supply, a construction supply store that dealt in insulation, sheet rock, scaffolding and more.
The Alexanders have three children, nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
“They’d be around, and they’d start saying, ‘Tell me a story, Papa!’ I told every story I could ever think about to those kids,” he said.
It was not only his grandchildren who gave him the idea to start writing, they also helped him get his start.
“My computer knowledge was very limited. I’m a cedar tablet Big Chief pencil guy. I never got into electronics, I never had to,” he said
He set out to write his first book and with the help of a newer faster computer, and his grandchildren helping him to work it, he accomplished it. He found an interested publishing company, and learned the hard way that the publishing industry isn’t always there for the author.
“They asked for three to four paragraphs, but I already had the first draft done. I sent it over, thinking that they would edit it, and get back with me, and they published it. I had the idea it would be a $12-13 book, but they were selling it for $26.95. I eventually had to buy the rights back. I found another company, they edited it, and republished it,” he said.
Alexander uses his business sense to help guide him through the publishing world.
“Sometimes I misspell words on purpose, just to see if they catch it. I had one company, they never caught them. I never went back to them. It’s a cut-throat business,” he said.
Alexander’s novels are in the historical fiction genre, and he purposely keeps them family friendly.
“It’s a lot of cowboys and Indians stuff. I keep it clean,” he said. “There’s no nudity, no cursing. They might drink a beer every now and then, but it’s usually the bad guy that does it.”
He focuses on character development before plot, creating characters that the reader can connect with before setting the action in motion.
“By the first, second or third chapter, you’re in the book, you feel like you know the characters,” he said, adding that all of his characters are based on some part of himself. “I put myself in his shoes. I ask myself, how would I react, what would I do in this situation?”
Alexander also focuses on his female characters with the same amount of detail. “I try to appeal to the ladies,” he said.
His books also focus on the railroad as part of the iconic west. Alexander is not only historically inclined, but geographically as well,
His wife, Dutch, describes him as a history buff, and a look around his office says that is true. The bookshelves are filled with historical tomes, mostly involving Texas history. He displays a flag that was flown over the Texas State Capitol.
He also has a letter that was written by a soldier who lost his life in the infamous Mier Expedition. During that 1842 attack by the Mexican army on the members of the Texas militia, the Mexican army decided that “one in ten” men in the militia would die, and forced them to choose from a pot holding 159 white beans, and 17 black beans. The solider in Alexander’s letter had chosen a black bean. He died the day after writing the letter to a friend.
Alexander also has an original land grant given to Davy Crockett from the Republic of Texas, bestowing his land as a reward for his service to Texas.
In June 2010, Alexander received a proclamation from the state, authored by then-State Rep. Dan Gattis, praising him for his literary achievements.
His grandchildren are a huge part of his life.
“They call all the time from college, for help with their history classes,” says Alexander. “’Papa, who is Zachary Taylor?’”
“They call him because he can remember all of the dates,” added Mrs. Alexander.
These days, Alexander can be found sipping coffee with his friends at the local convenience store or writing away on his nearly 75 acres of land near Liberty Hill.
Though he once moved from Cedar Park on account of the increased traffic his children faced when going to school, he and his wife aren’t worried about the influx of growth. For now, they are content with the quiet and peace surrounding them, evocative of the old west Alexander writes about in his books.
Alexander’s novels are available online through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com