An Open and Shut Case of Bad Hair
Sooner or later, every writer must face the western.
Now how is that for an opening line? Got your attention didn’t I? And it’s a sure bet you feel like arguing with me right off the bat. Westerns aren’t that important to every writer. They’re a niche subgenre and honestly old-fashioned into the bargain. A cultural reference, not a pinpoint of one’s career. But I have found it to be otherwise. Let me clarify what I mean by the overwhelming importance of this genre for writers.
One of the ways you can tell a good western from a bad one is the hair. Always for the women, less so for the men, but sometimes for them as well. After a long while, it clicked in my mind that I invariably felt westerns were lesser if the characters had bad hair. This is also a really tricky grading system because a frumpy, grubby, rangy, even unkempt look is native to the genre. So how can you say anyone in it has good hair, exactly? All you have to do is watch some of those 80s westerns like The Shadow Riders and you’ll see men who look like teddy bears, they are so scruffy and bearded. But the women have natural hair for the most part--with a few terrible hairstyles sprinkled in there. Most westerns have female leads with tall cake-like wigs of hair in unnatural colors. Or they have dirty, stringy hair without texture, in little pigtails, or in rickety, noodle-like curls. Always, always, a bad western. Yet, untidy or at least not fashionable hair would be what women in the West really had, right? This was a survival setting, after all. It was a harsh place to live. Having perfect hair was not on everyone’s minds.
The fact is that people view the western in a simplistic way. They believe it is all cowboys and action-adventure, a superficial genre. The reactions that authors and their audiences have towards westerns (including expressing negative opinions; showing theoretical positivity but never actually getting involved; writing, reading, or watching westerns; or declining to comment on the whole conversation) say a lot more about them than they might believe when they make these decisions. It’s strange that with so many of the storylines featuring criminals and outlaws, nobody ever suspects westerns of harboring deceptive elements that don't appear on the surface. Of being an insider thing—you either know exactly how the characters should look or you don’t. Just because the characters have guns, horses, and frumpy hair and clothing does not mean it’s the right frumpy hair. There’s correct bad hair and then there’s just . . . BAD hair. When watching a western or reading one, you should never assume that you know what is going on right away. People are also likely to approach the subject with overconfidence.
The Test of Devotion--which is, by the way, a western--revealed a lot about the disconnect I had with readers. For instance, I wrote this book under a belief it was a market-oriented story and was what readers wanted to see. I needed to make more money at my writing, so I tried a conventional western romance genre. What I understood later, to my great amusement, was that people felt the opposite—that this book was a silly oddity written for no apparent reason. Because I didn't handle the material very well, it was easy to think that I had tried to tell a story that was over my head. Trying to write something for market is pretentious only if the idea of having readers is laughable, which it isn't. I have always had readers. 😊 The book was not inherently out of my league if I had really wanted to write it. The problem was that I didn't enjoy writing it, which ironically led to it being less successful than if I had written whatever I wanted to. I was then stuck with a story that had now really become a drifting oddity (although it had not been intended that way), so I rewrote it into a book I WOULD much rather see in print. There is no point in writing something that bores you if it doesn’t please anybody else either. Besides, trying to please people can backfire. I’ve often found that when I’m more of a jerk, things go better. (Yes, I can actually be one, in a We-Still-Like-Her-Anyway-Mostly kind of way. Just ask my family.) 😊
Gunslingers should take notice. There are job openings available.
Persevering Henry Trevalyn is looking for his fiancé, who ran off with somebody else after he was thrown in jail.
Cold-hearted outlaw Hawk seeks a profit from a greedy local politico with an eye to the Governor’s mansion—and the Governor’s daughter.
Grumpy Tony Forsythe wants boarders for his small, run-down Laredo hotel and he’s willing to accept pretty much anyone—even a very suspicious, very glamorous young woman from the East who has no business being out here in no man’s land.
And Viajero isn’t searching for anything. A bored teenager who lives on the wrong side of the law, he embraces his outlaw background until Henry Trevalyn makes him join the Quest for Arabella.
Riding over miles of arid land to look for someone he’s never seen takes Viajero to a certain hotel—and after that, he and the hotel keeper’s pretty daughter must race to foil a murder in this fast-paced western set in Texas.
And there will be more updates.
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Young Adult Fiction Writer
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