Friday, January 10, 2014

Showdowns and Shootouts in Western Fiction by @JacquieRogers

Romance in Traditional Westerns

Most Cowboy Kisses readers are dedicated Western Romance Historical (WHR) fans, as am I and the other CK contributors. But we also love anything that has to do with the Old West. Lately, I've been reading Traditional Westerns just to get a taste outside our subgenre.

Guess what? Nearly all the traditional westerns I've read contain a significant amount of romance even though there's no way these novels could be confused with a WHR.

Or is that true? If you've read Hondo by Louis L'Amour, you know that the spine of the story is the relationship of Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe. Hondo happens onto a homestead looking for a place to light. Mrs. Lane and her son soon worm their way into his heart, and everything he does from there on out has to do with her in some way. All this leads up to the classic romance happily ever after ending.

Robbers Roost by James Reasoner features a protagonist who’s so full of himself that you wouldn't think any author could make him likable. Preston Fox is out for glory and to prove himself the best army officer ever, even though he's been busted. His thought processes are warped at best. He’s egotistical, misguided, impulsive, and vain. Nevertheless, once his heart is captured by a young Chinese woman who just happens to be a prostitute, we actually start rooting for the guy. I read this book a year ago and still, after reading many books in the meantime, this character is still vivid in my mind. Now that’s good writing.

I just finished a book written by Monty McCord, Mundy's Law. This is a very traditional western where the entire book leads up to the final shootout, yet Marshal Joe Mundy is smitten with the previous marshal’s widow, who’s now a prostitute. This relationship is the spark for several events and the book and is not just window dressing.

This sort of relationship is nothing new in the western genre—look at Gunsmoke’s Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty. While their relationship was never spelled out (except in one episode late in the series), we always knew that that the marshal was Miss Kitty's special man. Marshal Dillon never seriously messed around with any other woman and in our hearts, we knew that the two of them were made for each other.

Maverick and Paladin were both womanizers and most of the female viewing audience wouldn't have minded either of them putting their boots under their beds. And these shows, the romantic relationships—even though temporary—was either the inciting incident or a major turning point to get to the big showdown.

The major difference between traditional western and western historical romance is that in the latter, women are equals and half or more of the scenes are told using the heroine’s point of view, whereas the heroine’s viewpoint is often (not always) ignored in traditional westerns. In a WHR, the hero and heroine are both strong and the little woman doesn't sit around twiddling her thumbs as she waits for the big rescue.

None of that precludes the Big Shootout. Some WHR’s have one and some don’t. Mine nearly always do just because that’s the way the stories come to me, and often that scene flashes in my mind right after the initial story concept. My books generally have other showdowns and minor scrapes as well. The excerpt below is borne of the hero’s frustration with the heroine. Kade and Iris had kissed in the previous scene, and worse, one of her friends saw them.

Much Ado About Miners
Hearts of Owyhee  #4
By Jacquie Rogers

Kade ordered drinks for Phineas and himself. The hotel bar was noisy, and no one paid them any mind, which was good considering how his business partner was carrying on.

“I told the ladies not to go up there until you was done firing. Guess I’d better tell ’em what kind of firing.” Phineas laughed at his own joke.
Much Ado About Miners
by Jacquie Rogers

Kade didn’t.

“I’m telling you,” his old friend continued, “were it me up on that hill with a beautiful woman, I would’ve been kissing her, too. And whatever else she let me do.”

“This ain’t Lollie.”

“It’d be a lot easier on you if it was.”

Kade couldn’t argue with that.

“Might we ought to find you a woman, get some of that vinegar out of your veins.”


Harold poured their whiskeys. “Leave the bottle?”

Kade threw out some coins and waved the barkeep off. His head was scrambled enough without the sauce.

Phineas grabbed his glass and saluted Kade with it. “Then again, it’s hard on a man—thinking of one woman and pokin’ another.” He downed the whiskey in two gulps and slammed the glass on the counter. “ ‘We should be woo’d and were not made to woo.’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1.”

Kade pulled his hat low over his forehead and pushed himself away from the bar. “Phineas, you are a trial of a man’s patience. Think I’ll head over to the sheriff’s office.”

“You are too blasted grumpy these days. I might just go back to the hotel and see if Lollie needs some entertaining.”

“Do that.” Kade tromped past the banker and his cronies, shoved past the bat wing doors, and took off to see if Sheriff Adler had anything interesting going on. He needed to forget all about the kiss, that woman, and her breasts pressed against his chest. And he was tired of being Phineas’s source of amusement.

Two roostered-up young men, doubtful they were over eighteen years old, walked down the boardwalk toward him. They evidently thought they required the entire boardwalk. In no mood to coddle big-headed whippersnappers who hadn’t learned to hold their liquor, Kade determined to stay his course. Not surprisingly, they tried to shoulder him off.

He leaned into the taller one and knocked him on his can. The other one pulled his pistol, cocked, and jammed the barrel in Kade’s side. Kade slammed his elbow into the kid’s solar plexus, grabbed the weapon, then kicked the upstart’s feet out from under him.

“You need to learn to respect your elders.” He waved the pistol at them. “Now get your sorry carcass up and come with me. It’s time for you to explain to the sheriff why you think you own that piece of boardwalk.”

With a little luck, they’d put up a fuss and he’d get a chance to work off some of his frustration. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on his side, and they meekly walked to the sheriff’s office just as he had told them to.

When they got to the jail, Adler wasn’t there so Kade locked them in separate jail cells. The taller one, with a hang-dog expression, stood at the front of his cell with his hands wrapped around the bars. The other one headed straight to his cot and flopped down on his back, groaning. Kade gave them each a bucket of water.

“What are we supposed to do with that?” asked the taller one.

“You can drink it, wash in it, or piss in it—your choice.” He woke up Wilfred, the other deputy, who slept in the sheriff’s chair. “You have prisoners.”

Wilfred snorted and slid his feet off the desk, sat up, then took a swig of cold coffee. “Foul-tasting crap. Who made this?”

Kade tossed the jail cell keys on the desk. “You did.”
♥ ♥ ♥

♥ Hearts of Owyhee  


Margaret Tanner said...

Great Post. You explained the difference between the two genres very well.



Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks for stopping by, Margaret. It's been fun reading these traditional westerns. I've dabbled a bit with writing them, too.

Unknown said...

Very cool. Shared on Facebook and Twitter.

James Reasoner said...

I have to give credit to the late Barbara Puechner, who created the Powell's Army series and the characters. Those books were a lot of fun to write, if a bit of a challenge. ROBBER'S ROOST, for example, was written in 12 days with a newborn baby in the house. Needless to say, I was a lot younger then. Couldn't do that now.

Paty Jager said...

Fun information and excerpt. You just can't have a western without some romance. Even if it's the cowboy kissin' his horse. ;)

Kathleen O said...

Loved the explanation. I especially like that part about woman being equals...

Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks, Simone! Best of luck with your new book. :)

Jacquie Rogers said...

James, I think Robbers Roost is one of the best westerns I've ever read. Amazing that it was written in such a hurry and under trying conditions. You don't give the rest of us much leeway for whining, do you? LOL.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Paty, that's a fact. Romance is emotion and a character without emotion isn't at all interesting.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Kathleen, female characters have definitely strengthened over the years--certainly an improvement, IMHO.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I never noticed the rather consistant pairing of lawmen with prostitutes until now. I love you Much Ado series. I haven't read The Miners one yet, but I already know it's going to be a mighty good read.
I've read a few westerns without romance, or with romance as a very small part of the plot and I liked them. There's just something about westerns that lifts us up. Great post, Jacquie.

Rain Trueax said...

Interesting article, Jacquie. Zane Grey was an exception to sometimes having the story told through the heroine's viewpoint. Most though, no matter how important the woman is, it will be how he sees it. Grey always had happy endings too.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Sarah, I'm glad you enjoyed the first three book in the Hearts of Owyhee series. ☺ I think the lawman/prostitute pairing stem from the lack of single women in the Old West. Most women who migrated west were married, so oftentimes prostitutes were the only single women available.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Rain, I haven't read Zane Grey since I was in high school, but now that you mention it, he did use the female point of view a lot more often than most western writers do now.