Sunday, June 7, 2009

The New Western

WARNING: The following blog was written by a woman (me) who has two degrees in English. I earned them. I might as well use them. Sorry.

What the heck am I writing? What on God's green Earth is a "new western?"

For Pete's sake, what was an 'old' western?

What we think of as the "western" genre today is largely defined by the people who did the defining. Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour wrote the classic westerns, set between 1860 and 1890, and John Wayne was the western for a long time. These were your standard lone hero, sweeping frontier, horses and cowboys and maybe some Indians who may or may not have been ignorant savages, and some sort of good woman who needed defending or hooker with a heart of gold.

Then along came Clint. Mr. Eastwood singlehandedly redefined the genre, first in the spaghetti westerns, and then later in Unforgiven. Heck, those of us with one or more degrees in English can even claim that his last acting role in Gran Torino is a western - set in urban Detroit. Westerns became less good-guy-white-hat/bad-guy-black-hat, and more morally ambiguous. Even the ultimate cowboy Wayne lost his cowboy moral clarity at the end of his career.

Science fiction - as western? It's true, and not just because Joss Wheldon made that TV show Firefly/movie Serenity. You got your hero (Hello, Kirk), your Final Frontier, your ambiguous legal framework, your barely containable savages (aliens) etc. Just with phasers.

So, given this non-exhaustive review of the 'western', what am I writing?

To be totally honest, I didn't even know I was writing 'westerns' until I had an agent reject me after reading the full manuscript of the Noseless Cowboy. Her short email said, "I normally love westerns, but the characters just didn't work for me." And I went, "DAMN!" and then, "It's a western?" I had been laboring under the impression that I was writing Women's Literary Fiction with STRONG Romantic Elements. So, when I sent out the next round of queries, I dropped the Literary Fiction part and stuck in Western (with Paranormal Elements). And my agent? She was looking for the "next new western."

So, what is it? Three of the four books take place primarily around or in the West. (Warrior, Lawyer primarily takes place at Harvard, but they do go west in the last half.) There are cowboys. They do cowboy things, like ride horses to herd cattle with six-shooters strapped to their legs. They have a problem with authority, and someone needs to be rescued. Bad guys pop up, too.

But. My cowboys are, more often than not, Lakota Indians. And why should cowboys have all the fun? I have cowgirls - who aren't hookers or the one-dimensional damsels who need to be rescued. They get to do some of the rescuing, too. My cowboys drive trucks. They have cell phones and Internet connections and DVDs of Disney flicks. They have advanced degrees in business, law, and secondary education.

Old stories of revenge and honor, love and loss, all set in a new world. Ours.

The New Western.

1 comment:

lucylucia said...

I can't wait to read it Sally!! I never, ever, thought I would like westerns and then I picked up Lonesome Dove.