“Rick Steber – The Man, Our Myths, His Legend”
originally appeared in the Bulletin August of 2011
Growing up on a ranch in Klamath County, Rick Steber never thought about becoming a writer. “I read a lot,” exclaims Steber, “that’s for sure.” But, it would take an Economics degree from Southern Oregon University and a short stint in Portland for Rick to realize his career could be forged through the creativity of his mind, and not the blistering hard work of his hands.
Fast forward a couple of decades, over 30 published books, and a handful of prestigious awards to arrive to where Rick Steber stands proudly. One spur remains deeply rooted in the Old West and the other kicking the mule into the social-media driven world in which we currently live. “I like that each day is different,” states Steber. “The best part is being wrapped up in a story, working all day, and realizing I haven’t eaten while I build the Lego city of my story. In fact, the most difficult part is losing the time to write as I spend time doing the other things needed to complete the process.”
The, “other things,” Rick is referring to includes the list of business chores needed to ensure his story is told to the masses. Rick runs his own publishing company, Bonanza Publishing that releases all of his works. “Usually, I will print a 1st edition to release on my own before handing it over to a major Publisher.” For his latest book, Caught in the Crosshairs, Rick is extremely proud of selling the first 5000 copies in under a month.
In fact, one of Rick’s most endearing qualities is his humility in his accomplishments. “Anytime someone pats you on the back is a good feeling,” states Rick through his Buffalo Bill-style white goatee. But, he is also genuinely proud of his awards, obtained without succumbing to the pressures of the modern world.
“I’ve always prided myself that I never kissed anybody’s ass. I don’t do things the way other writers do.” This attitude allows Rick to wear the well-earned badge of “Outlaw Writer.” This two-fold moniker highlights his approach to the business of writing as well as his choice of antagonists.
This business stance runs concurrent to his writing style. Steber has become known for his historically important story-telling, complete with honest character descriptions and vivid landscape details. Rick says, “I’m a combination historian, biographer, and storyteller. Most of all, I like to tell a good story that gives the reader a sense of time and place.”
Who could have guessed a kid raised on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Louis L’Amour would be able to so effectively capture the stories of his time and place. A list of synopses of his books reads like an Oregon history lesson. An unsolved murder on the range, the death of an aging rancher, a blind sled dog musher, and a questionable Native American deal are just a few of his topics that could have been stripped from a collegiate lesson plan.
When pressed about his writing process, Rick speaks of the human body. “The first draft pulls the bones together. Then, a rewrite adds the muscle and then tendons. And with another and another you get the skin and hair.”
Rick likes to interview living people for his topics. “I’m not big into pouring over a box of papers in the basement of a library. I like to interview. Often times the story changes as I learn more about the characters.” It’s this attitude that has lead him to interview over 10,000 people and collect over one million pictures. “Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burns down,” reminisces Steber over one of his favorite quotes.
Alongside his significant contribution to Western history, Steber also donates his time speaking to students about the importance of education. “I was on the board of the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), but I really just prefer working directly with the kids.” While his helping to set national educational standards and achievement levels for the US Department of Education may seem like a big deal, Rick prefers to tell another story of his helping kids.
“I had gone to a school and spoke with a group of students. I usually give them a book when I’m finished. Years later, I spoke with a former student who thanked me and told me how important it was to him. He had gone through some rough years, parents divorced and the such, but said he had always held onto that book and the words I spoke that day. That’s the kind of achievement I am most proud of.”
At the forefront of Rick Steber’s other accolades is his Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Novel in 2005. Buy the Chief A Cadillac is a fictional story set during the time of the termination of the Klamath Indians of southern Oregon by the federal government. “I’m the only Oregon writer to have won that award. So, I guess I’m pretty proud of that one.” However, even this opportunity to toot his own horn is supplanted with an opportunity to tell a story of another person he’s met along the way.
Rick’s latest book, Caught in the Crosshairs, is 17 years in the making. Set on a ranch located between Prineville and John Day, Crosshairs examines the facts surrounding the murder of a local cowboy. The interesting thing about the book is its lack of Hollywood ending. “It’s really a question about justice and injustice. You don’t have to have that answer. It’s up to the reader to be the judge and the jury,” Steber concludes.
“It’s difficult to walk the fence and not take sides…trying to stay independent of the facts, without opinion.” But, that is exactly the goal Steber accomplishes. His presentation of the facts, as told by as many of the original participants as possible is what makes the book a complete work, allowing (and expecting) the reader to draw their own conclusion. Steber hopes the book will lead to some new information to bring justice to the family of the murdered cowboy.
It is easy to like the writer who’s works bring to life the shared stories and told tales of the America’s West. But it is even easier to respect the author and storyteller who always has time for a beer and a story for friends. It’s the combination of both that allows Central Oregonians the pleasure of referring to Rick Steber as, “local, award-winning author.”