I learned over a month ago that my “blended genre” novel, a historical western suspense published in August of 2011, Double Crossing, *WON* the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America. SAY WHAT?
Once I verified it wasn’t a joke, I felt very honored and blessed. Like someone said, “You’ll always have the Spur.” Thanks to Jacquie Rogers, I know more about real spurs and how they were used in the Old West. Back when I started promoting my book, I posted this quote on my website from Louis L’Amour. It seemed appropriate in my case.
“If you write a book about a bygone period that lies east of the Mississippi River, then it’s a historical novel. If it’s west of the Mississippi, it’s a western, a different category. There’s no sense to it.”
Did I set out to write a “western” in the typical sense? No. In fact, I didn’t even think about it being a western. Historical, yes. Suspense, yes. Even a hint of romance and inspirational, yes. Oh, and since the “setting” moves across America via the transcontinental railroad from Evanston (north of Chicago) to Sacramento, California, I still didn’t consider it “western” except in the setting and details.
Sure I entered the Spur contest, but I figured my chances equaled a snowball’s chance in H-E-double hockey sticks. Life is full of surprises! Not only has the award fired me up for the sequel, Double or Nothing, I'm thinking I need to write a few more western-style yarns. But I have plenty on my tin plate right now. So in Albuquerque, I’ll mingle and “jingle” Spurs with other finalists and winners at the WWA Convention. And lo and behold, this year Loren Estleman is being honored with the Owen Wister Award for “lifelong contributions to the history and legends of the American West.” Say what?? Another Michigander?
My first thought was, “He wrote westerns?” (Please forgive my being a total igno-ra-moose.) Long ago I read his novel, Billy Gashade, set in Detroit – fabulous in its historical detail. Estleman is prolific in writing about Detroit, with his Amos Walker detective mystery series (among other books.)
You learn something every day. And you bet I've trawled his whole back list. I bought several to get his autograph, too, for myself, family and friends. I also found out one of the “bennies” of winning a Spur was automatically jumping to active status in the Western Writers of America – after joining, of course, which I did. Once I got the “booklet” they sent, I looked through it (being a total greenhorn) and realized as a Spur winner, I’m joining esteemed company. Me?
First, a bit of history. WWA came about in 1953. They started handing out awards right away. The first woman to win the “Medicine Pipe Bearer Award” for best first novel was Charlotte Hinger for Come Spring in 1986. The following year Elaine Long won for Jenny’s Mountain, and Ann Gabriel in 1989 for South Texas. Then came a dry spell (mostly men winning or no winner chosen) until 1996 when Allana Martin won for Death of a Healing Woman. In 1998, LaVerne Harrell Clark won for Keepers of the Earth and in 2003, Debra Magpie Earling won for Perma Red. Except for Clark, all had Big Six publishing houses.
The Medicine Pipe Bearer Award was changed to a Spur for Best First Novel in 2004. Carol Buchanan won for God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana in 2009. Now I’ve joined the ranks of other Best First Novel Spur Ladies. Not to knock the men who’ve deservedly won a Spur for their first novel, but I'm grateful. Seriously.
Now for the mixed Spur Award company—any type of Spur. Imagine my shock when I read names like Louis L’Amour (Down the Long Hills), Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Comanche Moon), Loren Estleman (Aces and Eights, Journey of the Dead, The Alchemist, The Bandit and The Undertaker’s Wife), Tony Hillerman (Skinwalker, The Shape Shifter), Joan Lowery Nixon (The Orphan Train, In the Face of Danger),Stephen Ambrose (Undaunted Courage, a non-fiction historical), Ronald L. Davis (Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne), Michael Landon (a Little House on the Prairie TV script), TV scripts for How the West Was Won, plus a Lancer episode and several for Gunsmoke, and movie scripts such as The Shootist, Dances with Wolves, Sommersby, Wyatt Earp, Comes a Horseman, The Grey Fox, Broken Trail, Unforgiven, Purgatory, Hidalgo and… last but not least, True Grit by the Coen brothers!
No wonder I’m still a bit “cowed” by it all. (Sorry for the pun!) I have seen almost all of these movies and a huge amount of television westerns. As an armchair westerner, I feel very lax for not reading many books in the western genre – and admit that I had the mistaken belief, like many have about romance being for women, that westerns are primarily written for MEN. (Er, hide that horsewhip!) I’m making up for it now. I promise.
And, as my dad would tell me, “Get off your high horse!” No resting on the laurels for the weary, and I’m sure people are heartily sick of hearing about my award. But I must admit that winning has “spurred” me on to write the sequel, Double or Nothing, with a little more hope. Better sales, if nothing else, and I’d like to explore real-life characters in the Old West for future western novels, short stories and blog posts.
Next month, I’ll bring some interesting tidbit of research to match the excellent past posts here (trains, the Nez Perce, western romance books, guns, cowboys, brands and house cleaning) on the blog.
There’s stories in them there hills, so I’ll mosey along and start digging.
You never know when or how the next inspiration will hit.