My latest novel (please purchase it here) is a western. To date, I have written four westerns*, three already published.
What is attractive about the western?
Without going into a lot of, or any, argument about what exactly constitutes a western, I think it’s the same thing that attracts readers and writers to any period from the past: there is a built-in set of assumptions and rules.
For instance, my latest novel to be published, Six Men Dead, is set in Texas in the year 1895. Having told you that much, think about what has already come to your mind: horses, wide-open spaces, dusty streets, six shooters. There are no automobiles, and train travel—which you and I might find excruciatingly slow—was the quickest way to get around. Churches were a center of the community, even for those who didn’t attend.
If I had told you my novel was set in the nineteen-twenties, different pictures would have probably popped into your mind: jalopies, flappers, speak-easies. Nineteen-sixties: protests, hippies, soldiers shipping off to Vietnam. Seventeen-seventies: colonial soldiers, powdered wigs, corsets, silly hats.
Right now, on the whole, the western era of the United States still holds some romance. Realism in different forms has been used in books and movies set in the era (outhouses or just pots [uhg, more on that later], prejudice, disease), but there’s still an image in many of our minds of the “old west” that’s been put there by the western movies of the forties and fifties and the television shows of the fifties and sixties which still play on several TV channels.
Much has been written to psychoanalyze this phenomenon, often casting aspersions on those who enjoy the western—or plugging the western as if it is some sort of ideal. Maybe there is some truth to these thoughts, or maybe the people still watching the movies and (hopefully) reading or listening to my books (yes, it comes out in audio form in August!!), are just there for the entertainment, the escapism. Escapism isn’t always bad, so long as we don’t escape into whatever it is and never come back.
For me, I am attracted to the western for two main reasons: I live in an area of the United States where western iconography is still ubiquitous and, 2] there’s attraction to the ideal of living in a time and place where right and wrong are pretty well established.
Yes, I know that wasn’t as true of the Old West as “Gunsmoke” might make one think. Besides the fact that Matt Dillon had to shoot someone almost every week (someone who “deserved it”, of course), there was much iniquity that went on, maybe as much as now. And let’s not forget those outhouses, because I sure cant! So no, I don’t want to live in the old west. If I had Doc Brown’s time machine, I might want to go there for a few minutes and see it—and then come quickly back to the present, hoping I hadn’t changed anything. (I write a lot about time travel, too, see more about that here.)
Whatever the morals and mores of the time might have really been like, writing stories set in the old west is a chance to explore themes that are important to me because I find them easy to set in that era: love, loss, honesty, greed, guilt … I can explore those issues in other areas, and I have, but today I’m looking at the western.
Assuming you have read this far, and then double-assuming what led you to read at all was the title of this blog, I’d love to know what attracts you about the western. Write to me at email@example.com
* A Thousand Miles Away is essentially a western, dedicated to Louis L’Amour, set 10,000 years in the future.