By Stephen Bly
“Perhaps more than any other genre, westerns require adherence to some fairly strict guidelines. Writing in this genre requires knowledge of its expectations,” says R. L. Coffield in her article, “Sexuality and Cursing in the Western.” http://snipurl.com/rgmrt
This applies especially to classic westerns.
Most classic western fans presume a certain code. No explicit scenes. Swearing minimal or nonexistent. But there can be lots of romance amidst the shootin’ and dyin’. Character development is a must. (Or setting development, such as in a classic Zane Grey.) Good triumphs over evil. That’s why classic westerns attract lots of female readers.
In my newest western Creede of Old Montana (to be released October 2009), protagonist Avery John Creede rides into Ft. Benton, Montana, looking for old army pals. Instead, he stumbles into a running gun fight with a notorious outlaw and two women determined to distract him, each for her own reasons. Creede seems at first to either be very naïve with the ladies, or one smooth cowboy. Whichever, the results prove to be the same.
There’s lots of the usual head banging in the book, and it’s not all done by the males.
“With the quickness and velocity of a mother killing a snake with a hoe, Sunny slammed the barrel of the revolver into the back of the outlaw’s head. He crumpled to the sand.”
In one chapter I put Avery John Creede on the trail with this same Sunny (a.k.a. Mary Jane Cutler), and male/female sparks happen…some humorous, some “Aha!” But I do keep a close eye on them. Trust me.
A note about this scene, that also has to do with genre expectations: On the trail ride, even though Sunny’s a tough gal in lots of ways, she rides sidesaddle. That’s not just because she’s wearing a dress. It was thought to be scandalous beyond civilized reason for females to straddle a horse in the 1800s. And much later into the 1900s. She has no intention of breaking that sanction. And I, as the author, try very hard to stick with historical cultural facts. That’s one reason the movie, Shane, rankles me. In an otherwise excellent western, why in the world did the wardrobe people clothe Jean Arthur in pants? U.S. women, even ranch gals, didn’t start wearing slacks of any sort until WWII with the advent of Rosie the Riveter and the influence of the working gal.
That’s what it’s all about for the reader…knowing what to expect when they pick up another title by an author they’ve come to know and enjoy. I try to stay with the expectations…if I don’t, I hear about it…whether I’ve crossed a line in this reader’s mind in language choice, a suggestive taboo, or getting the details right.
On the trail,
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