In the community

Renowned western writer plans Malheur County tour

VALE – Rick Steber still distinctly remembers a particular life insight.

Steber was working as the senior administrative assistant for then Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk in the late 1960s.

“I thought I wanted to be in politics. Once I got in there I thought, you know, I don’t want to do this,” said Steber.

Yet it was a quote that made the native of Bonanza, Oregon, confirm his decision to take a new path.

The quote: “Every time an older person dies, it is like a library burning down.”

“I grew up on the east side. Every time I came back home, I’d find out more and more from these old-timers. I liked listening to the old-timers spin stories. I just decided to dedicate my life to saving as many of those stories as I could,” he said.

It proved to be a good choice.

Now Steber is a successful writer with more than 50 books with sales of more than two million copies. He’s a well-known western writer and has and has won several literary awards, including the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western novel. Five of his books have been optioned by movie production companies.

In November, Steber will be in Malheur County, making stops in Vale and Ontario, where he will share stories and poems from his books.

Steber will be at the Vale Senior Center, on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 11:30 a.m. to speak at the Malheur Country Historical Society’s annual meeting. Tickets are $20 and include lunch. For more information on tickets, call 541-519-0420 or 541-519-0855.

Steber will then be at the Treasure Valley College Weese Building that night in room 110 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.

On Friday, Nov. 10, Steber will speak during a luncheon session at the Oregon State University Extension Office in Ontario from 12:10 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. There is no cost for the Extension office luncheon. Steber will wrap up his Malheur County tour at the Ontario Community Library, Friday, Nov. 10, where he will speak from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. He will also sign books.

Steber speaks in a straightforward way, sprinkling in jokes, and said his best advice for aspiring writers is to get “all the education you can.”

“Then forget most of it and do what your passion is,” he said.

His second piece of advice?

“Never give up,” he said.

Steber’s writing process is lengthy.

“Generally, I spend all year researching. I generally write a draft on a book about the time the snow comes on the ground and until it leaves,” he said.

Yet, he said, that’s just step one.

“Then the real work begins. I will rewrite a book probably 50 times,” he said.

Steber said he is represented by an agent but does most of his publishing in-house in Prineville, where he lives.

“I will do the first edition (of a book) exactly the way I want and then my agent will sell it back East. They consider me a mid-list writer, which means they don’t pour any money into advertising,” he said.

Steber’s books cast a wide net in terms of describing the human condition as it relates to the West. He’s written books about the Pendleton Round-Up, cattlemen at odds with the government, a cowboy coming to terms with his errant lifestyle, and the impact of the changing West on Native Americans.

Crafting a novel can be hard work but there is always an element of fun to his work, he said.

“I struggle with finding the voice for whatever book I write, for that particular story. What is the funnest part of writing is when all the research is done and then the challenge of putting it on paper. That, to me, is the fun part, making it as compelling as I can,” he said.

Steber said he realized early in his career that “if you are going to be a writer you have to love it first.”

“And you’re not going to get rich,” he said.

Still, Steber’s writing is more than just modestly successful, but when he started out he realized that “I needed to have so much coming in each month.”

So, he penned a newspaper column, dubbed “Oregon Country.” The column, he said, was at one time published in 54 newspapers across Oregon.

Steber said his visit to Malheur County will be as informal as possible.

“Ever since college I’ve tried to stay away from anything that is a lecture,” he said.

To find out more about Steber, go online to

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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