Talk of the Muse: I Flippin’ Love Westerns

I’ve been writing a lot of genre fiction for my weekly flash fiction challenges. When I started out on this crazy writing journey, I really thought that Lit Fic was going to be my region of choice. I love to read genre fiction, but I just don’t know if I’m up to writing genre fiction. I don’t necessarily love world/culture/language building. It doesn’t turn me on creatively.

But I was reminded this week about a genre that I really do love: Westerns. I love westerns.

Now, don’t freak out, I’m not saying that all of my books and short stories are going to be set on the dusty trail…I’m just saying that there is something about Westerns that make me happy, and I’ve been spending the day thinking about it.

The thing that is cool about the “Wild West” setting, for me, is the following:

1) The newness and potential of life. Every person in these little towns is contributing to a brand new society, with new rules and traditions, and that is very potent.

2) Trampling on something ancient: These towns were created on land that was traditionally used by tribes that had been there for eons. The encroachment and disrespect of the many, many newcomers is palpable, and makes for interesting conflict (and strange bedfellows)

3) The solitude of the cowboy is something I’m jealous of. Maybe it’s because I have two babies and I can’t even take a crap alone right now, but I love the idea of waking up alone (but for a horse, maybe) and going to bed alone and being pretty much alone in between.

4) The land is unspoiled. It’s dusty and bare, but it’s unspoiled. No pollution, no trash, not urban sprawl. It’s you, the sky, the land. That is beautiful, even sexy.

5) There is no ocean, either. I’ve never in my life lived more than 100 miles away from the Atlantic ocean. It is my anchor. It is a bit of a muse for me (next week’s post!). The thought of being landlocked, no water in sight, no roaring ocean nearby, is unsettling to me…and that feeling gets me creative.

6) Lawlessness is sexy. I love law and order. I was a political science major in college–policy and law are hobbies of mine (as I write this, I’m watching analysis on today’s SCOTUS rulings…). The thought of pieces of land where law, real law, has little influence is incredible to me. The Wild West is the State of Nature…and that is fun for me.

7) It’s freaking dirty, grimy, gross… dust everywhere, no one takes a regular bath, no one is really washing their clothes, there is barely any teeth brushing…I mean, come on…

8) It’s quite integrated: I mean, yeah, we know that there were a lot of White people in the west, but there were also Chinese immigrants, Black former slaves (and Buffalo Soldiers, and cowboys), immigrants from Germany and Ireland, Mexican citizens (who were technically still in their land until after the Mexican-American war), and other folks who wandered into that area (like some French folk…and others). What a rare mixing bowl! Must have made for interesting conversations over poker.

I could sit and watch a Western at any time. They are just entertaining to me. I don’t necessarily want to write westerns, but if I could distill these elements that make up westerns into something else, something in my voice, something in worlds that I create (in any genre…maybe even lit fic), then something powerful may come out of it.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to see if I can add one of these elements to my flash fic, due Friday. Be there or be square!

What genres do you love? Do you write them or do you use them for inspiration? If you could distill a genre that you love to read but don’t love to write, what elements would you get?

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4 thoughts on “Talk of the Muse: I Flippin’ Love Westerns

  1. This was an incredible blog entry of yours. I love your perspective on the western novel. I recommend Cormac Mccarthy. Just a warning: he’s confusing at times, and he doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue, so you just gotta get used to it. but his stories are amazing. Here are threeto look at, maybe in order of appearance:

    1) all the pretty horses (delightful read)
    2) not a ‘western’, but “No Country for Old Men” is very accessible for a new
    3) Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (very, very dark story about the lawless west, and amazing)Mccarthy reader.

    genres I like: SF/fantasy, crime fiction, the odd western. I’m writing ‘crime’ fiction at the moment.
    Distilling a genre: I believe all fiction has to trigger our survival sense, or it won’t be interesting. “survival” is a very shifty term though. For romance readers, survival could be the protagonist marrying the hunk at the end (or whatever). For crime fiction, it might be the main character trying not to get caught and/or risking everything on a big score. If we stayed home and watched a soccer ball all day, that’d be boring. But put that same soccer ball on a field and have people fight over it, and suddenly it’s interesting. I believe in that last case it’s because competition triggers our survival sense and we’re wired to find that interesting.

    Best I have 🙂

    • Thanks, Jeff!

      Your thoughts about survival are very interesting to me. That’s something to think about–especially because “survival” has so many iterations now adays. Discovery just came up with that crazy “naked and afraid” survivalist thing and it was ALL my husband and I could do to not watch it!! But then there are also extreme bunkers for crazy folk. Or people who have elaborate home kitchen gardens. But then there are also women who choose to surgically remove their breasts to avoid breast cancer. “Survival” is deep and pervasive and personal. Very, very interesting. I’m going to think about this more.

      I’ve tried to read Cormac Mccarthy before, and I could him to be a bit abstract for me. I tried all the pretty horses and I don’t think I got through the first chapter. I love reading and I love difficult reading (The Sound and the Fury is one of my favorites. Another is Cloud Atlas, which I REALLY enjoyed), but I feel like McCarthy was trying too hard… maybe not? Maybe I’ll try again… He might be “winter reading”–when you have time and inclination to really cozy up and concentrate…

  2. Pingback: Talk of the Muse: The Atlantic Ocean | Writing While Black-

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