Monday, April 9, 2012

The Roots of Western Romance

Today's blog is brought to you by Lyn Horner:

This blog site is dedicated to western romance lovers, both readers and authors. As such, I thought it might be fun to pass on a little history of the genre, and how I discovered it.

Historical Romance as we know it was born forty years ago with the 1972 publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. After her death in 2007, Ms. Woodiwiss’s editor, Carrie Feron, called her “the founding mother of the historical romance genre.” She wrote epic adventures with strong plots and character development, and she dared to include sizzling love scenes that went far beyond a kiss and a hug. However, she was not the first to write western romances.

Rosemary Rogers claimed that honor with her first book, Sweet Savage Love, published in 1974. Whereas Woodiwiss often chose settings in far off lands and time periods, Rogers set SSL and several following books in the Old West. Her plots were highly dramatic, her characters’ actions sometimes hard to be believe, but that didn’t matter to her fans. And yes, I’m one of them. Maybe she was queen of the bodice rippers back then, but oh my, her heroes were men with a capital “M.”

Sweet Savage Love set the stage for authors such as LaVyrle Spenser, Kat Martin, Linda Howard, and many more. But where did modern western romance spring from, and what sets it apart from classic westerns?

The taproot of all modern romances, westerns included, traces back to nineteenth century authors of romantic fiction such as Jane Austin and the Brontë sisters. Their books are noted for commentary upon social conditions of their time. Some of their stories do not end happily, as do most modern romances, but they contain strong romantic themes.

The other main root of western romance leads back to classic shoot-’em-up westerns, but the two genres differ greatly. Westerns are action driven and focus mainly on male characters; women are sometimes little more than props. Western romances, on the other hand, often tell the stories from both the woman’s point of view and the man’s. The plots may be action-packed but they are largely character driven.

Quoting Constance Martin from a 1999 piece she wrote for Romantic Times, “Heroes in these novels seek adventure and are forced to conquer the unknown. They are often loners, slightly uncivilized, and ‘earthy.’ Their heroines are often forced to travel to the frontier by events outside their control. These women must learn to survive in a man’s world, and, by the end of the novel, have conquered their fears with love. In many cases the couple must face a level of personal danger, and, upon surmounting their troubles, are able to forge a strong relationship for the future.”

My love of western romance evolved in much the same way as the genre did from classic westerns. I’ve always loved tales of the Old West thanks to my dad. He was a Texan born only a few decades after the great cowboy era, and I believe he always wished he’d lived in those days. With him, I watched every western he could find on TV. Later, he started me reading western novels, mainly those of Zane Gray. I remember writing book reports on westerns when I was in junior high. The usual girly books bored me to tears.

Then, as a young married, I discovered the Romance Revolution – so named by Bertrice Small in a newsletter article she wrote in 2007 for Long Island Romance Writers. She was, of course, talking about the beginning of modern romance, in which she played a part. With this revolution came the birth of western romance, and once I discovered this sub-genre, I was hooked. Eventually I began writing my own stories. I published Darlin’ Druid, in 2010, and have since released Dashing Druid, book two in my Texas Druids trilogy -- western romances with a dash of Irish Druid magic.

Blurb for DashingDruid

Tye Devlin is an empath. Assailed by emotions from everyone around him, Tye has learned to block out most of the “racket”. Yet, when he meets cowgirl Lil Crawford, he has no defense against her hidden pain, for it echoes his own sorrows.

Wounded by love, Lil guards her bruised heart behind a tough shell. When a handsome stranger with an Irish brogue calls her beautiful, she thinks he’s mocking her, but she secretly wishes such a man might truly want her. Feuding families stand between the two and a perilous cattle drive pits them against menacing foes as they fight their personal demons. Is love worth the risks, and will Tye’s gift prove to be a curse or a blessing?

Book Excerpt
Two days later the herd crossed paths with a troop of wild mustangs. Lil knew from experience how these nomads enjoyed cutting and scattering a drove of cattle. Before this bunch could cause trouble, she headed them off, yelling and flapping her hat. She chased them back along the dusty swell of longhorns, aided by Alabama and a hand named Rusty Grayson, who rode at left swing and flank today. Fortunately, the remuda was on the far side of the herd, or their own horses would likely run off with the wild ones.
Lil signaled the two men to turn back when they neared the end of the herd, while she kept up the chase. From the corner of her eye, she saw another horseman angle toward her as she galloped past the last straggling steers. She glanced over her shoulder, already knowing it was Tye. He waved and grinned, blue eyes twinkling in the sunlight, much like the bluebonnets spread among the prairie grass and other wild flowers along the trail.
Suddenly lighthearted, Lil smiled and waved back. “We’d better drive them off a ways, or they’re liable to turn and come back,” she shouted above the thunder of hooves.
“Whatever ye say, milady,” he called. Flashing her another impudent grin, he took position on the other side of the horse herd.
They pounded onward for a couple of miles. By then, Lil felt reasonably sure the mustangs wouldn’t return to harass the cattle. Spying a buffalo wallow partly filled with rain water, she waved her arm, catching Tye’s attention and signing for him to pull up.
“Let’s water our horses,” she called, pointing to the wallow.
“Grand idea. I could use a drink myself.” He wiped a dusty shirtsleeve across his forehead. “And a bath wouldn’t hurt.”
Lil glanced at him sharply as they approached the pond. Was he serious? If so, he could forget it. She wasn’t about to strip down in front of him. That would be asking for trouble, maybe more than she could handle.
“That can wait,” she declared. “We’ve got to get back to the herd.”
He looked at her and sighed. “Aye, I know. But a man can wish, no?” His warm gaze said he wished for more than a bath, causing Lil to hastily avert her eyes.
Dismounting, they led their horses to the wallow. While the animals drank their fill, she and Tye knelt nearby to drink. Though tepid and a little murky, the water tasted a lot better than trail dust. Once she’d quenched her thirst, Lil splashed water on her face, washing away some of the grit. She, too, longed for a bath. If her father located a creek where they could bed down tonight, maybe she’d find a hidden spot and clean up proper. For now, she pulled off her grimy bandanna, rinsed it out and swabbed her throat and neck.
Beside her, Tye plunged his head into the water, swished it back and forth vigorously and threw more water over his neck. He came up dripping, shirt half-soaked. Swiping water from his face, he took a breath and slicked back his hair. The wet tendrils immediately sprang back into unruly waves, making Lil long to run her fingers through the glistening black strands.
Tye turned his head and caught her staring. Stunned by the instant leap of desire in his eyes, she gazed into their beckoning depths. Her mouth went dry and her heart pounded wildly.
She still held the wet bandanna pressed to her throat. Shifting to face her, Tye took the wadded up material from her and tossed it aside. She was mesmerized by his caressing gaze, but when he leaned close, panic set in. He mustn’t kiss her again. That would be playing with fire.
“No!” she cried, pushing him away. She jumped up, but before she’d taken two steps, he was on his feet, catching her arms.
“Lily!” he murmured, soft tone imploring her not to run.
This time she couldn’t force herself to stop him as he bent toward her. His mouth settled on hers, courting her with gentle kisses. When his tongue teased her lips, she parted them with a shudder of longing. A groan rumbled low in his throat as he dipped into her mouth, stroking the tender surfaces within, setting her senses ablaze.
Her hands climbed up his muscular chest to the corded column of his neck. Twining her fingers through his wet hair as she’d longed to do, she slanted her mouth across his, kissing him back. He smelled of horse and honest hard work, and that unnamable something that was only Tye. Glorying in his rugged, manly strength, she pressed closer, fanning the flames.  


Devon Matthews said...

Hi Lyn! I was a late bloomer and didn't find romance until the mid '80's. But before that, I read everything I could find by Zane Grey, Louis Lamour, Elmer Kelton, I always considered Zane Grey to be the forerunner of the western historical romance genre. That man sure was a romantic. Great excerpt! Dashing Druid is in my tbr lineup. :)

Alison E. Bruce said...

I'm with you, Devon... except I've never read anything by Elmer Kelton. Guess I better try him out. I read romances when I was younger, but only Regency Romances. I didn't read a honest to goodness Western Romance until after I wrote one.

Lauri said...

Wonderful post! The Flame and the Flower is still one of those books I re-read on a regular basis, and I still own my original copy of Sweet Savage Love. I take my hat off to those woman who conquered the west, but also created the romance genre. Where would we be today without them?
Great excerpt!

Unknown said...

Very interesting, and loved the excerpt.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great research, Lynn. Loved the excerpt, too. Wishing you continued success with your career. So glad we connected again, as I'm enjoying our renewed friendship.

Lyn Horner said...

Hi ladies, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and book excerpt.

Lauri, I also still have my original copies of SSL and The Flame and The Flower. When I need inspiration for my current project, I go read a little of those old favorites. They never let me down.

Peggy Henderson said...

I've never read any of the mentioned authors. I didn't read romance until the late 90's. I grew up in Germany reading a man named Karl May, who wrote westerns, but certainly no romance in those books. I only know about Sweet Savage Love from a book by Sandra Hill, a spoof on Rosemary Bridge's book, called Sweeter Savage Love.

Cheri Kay Clifton said...

Great Post, Lyn. My love for and interest in western romance developed along much the same roads as yours! Having read Darlin' Druid, will look forward to reading Dashing Druid as well.

Lyn Horner said...

Peggy, you poor girl! You missed out on the "classics". Try a couple. They may be a bit over the top by today's standards, but I think you'll find much to like. Be warned, Rosemary Rogers stories frequently include violence and unconsentual sex. Kathleen Woodiwiss is more restrained, although her books are not westerns. Her writing has also been called flowery by some critics, but personally I love it. I especially adore "Shanna". Roarke, the hero, is to die for.

Lyn Horner said...

Cheri, I hope you enjoy Dashing D. as much as you did Darlin' D. My husband finally got around to reading it, and he likes it better than the first book. Probably because of the cattle drive, plus he helped me do some of the on-site research. As in Georgetown and Silver Plume, Colorado, where I desperately want to visit again.

Cheri Kay Clifton said...

Oh my, Lyn, you left that comment wide open ... about your husband hleping you do some of the "on-site" research ... just what scenes were those, pray tell?!LOL

Maggie said...

Very good post Lyn. I enjoyed both Darlin' and Dashing!

Ciara Gold said...

Great post. Read all of your listed books, but I would add a few more to the list like Maggie Osborn, Sandra Brown (her first few were historical westerns), Joan Johnston, Cheryl St. John. These authors and more inspired me to begin writing.

Devon Matthews said...

I'm always hesitant to mention her name but Janet Dailey is the author who turned me to western historical romance back in the mid-80's. I read "This Calder Range" and knew I'd found what I wanted to write. Until then, I was writing traditional westerns with romance as a secondary element.

Ellen O’Connell said...

Great article, Lyn, but I think I might argue a little. One of my mother's favorite books of all time was RAMONA by Helen Hunt Jackson, which was published in the 1880's. You could in turn argue back that it isn't really a Western (set in California, Mexican and NA characters) and isn't really a romance because it doesn't have an HEA, but I read it in my teens and agreed with my mother that it was as romantic as all get out, and to me Spanish California qualified as Western. CODE OF THE WEST by Zane Grey set my young heart pitty patting, and it did have an HEA. It seems to me the "sizzling" sex scenes were the big difference that started in the 70's, and that had to be inevitable after the 60's. :-)

P.S. I sure hope I've figured out a way to make Blogger print the apostrophe in my last name instead of gobbledeygook.

Lyn Horner said...

Cheri, I was referring to the Colorado settings, not the, uh, interior scenes. But if you want to let your imagination take flight, be my guest. :D

Thanks, Maggie. You're a loyal fan and I truly appreciate your support.

Ciara, we owe homage to a host of great western romance authors. Thanks for adding such great names to my list.

Devon, don't hesitate to mention Janet Dailey. She is one of the greats, nevermind her legal troubles. Her novel, Nightway, is one of my favorite contemporary western roms, and the Calder series is wonderful. She made some mistakes. So do we all.

Lyn Horner said...

Ellen, I'm not familiar with RAMONA, but I'll take your word about it being romantic. And California is definitely in the west. No doubt there were quite a few westerns with a measure of romance in them (I read a few) but as you point out they don't include full out love scenes, and I'm afraid I never felt my heart skip a beat while reading them. But then I admit I prefer the sizzling romances. We all have our preferences.

Sharla Rae said...

Loved the blog Lyn. I'm dating myself, but I know most of the books you mentioned and loved them all. I'm glad for writers like you who keep the Western Romance alive and well.

Lyn Horner said...

Sharla, I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. I dated myself, too, by mentioning those old favorites. The way I see it, as long as I enjoy reading and writing hot romance, I'm not ready for a nursing home yet.

Teresa Reasor said...

Excellent blog!! And after reading the excerpt, I think I'm having a hot flash.
I LOVE Western Romance. So glad you ladies are still writing them.
Teresa R.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I'm a late-comer to the Romance genre, too, and read those books you mentioned just a few years ago. Um, I'm happy to report that our heroines have some spine now. IMHO, someone whose romance world started post-1995 might have a hard time with the earlier books.

But what I'm happy about is that Woodiwiss and Rogers did write books that rocked people's worlds, and did change the entire industry. They're the reason we even have a genre today. My sister loves any book by these two authors. The two of them have millions of diehard fans. All of us today owe them and their pioneering sisters a big thank you.

Lyn Horner said...

LOL! Teresa, imagine my hot flashes when I write a love scene The atmosphere gets rather steamy.:D

Jacquie, you are so right. We owe our entire genre to those early authors. They are true heroines.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lyn,
Great blog. I am so impressed with you.
I can't find the atom I was talking about but I will try this one and see if this one will go.
Great book, Lyn.

Lyn Horner said...

Hey Jude,
You made it here! I'm so glad to hear from you, and to know you enjoyed my stories. See you on Amazon.
Big hugs back!