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.
Whether it’s waiting in line on a cold day or realizing that a needed item is all sold out at the last minute; whether it’s having different bits of dialogue inserted or taken out of our favorite book scenes when they are translated to film or discovering that one accidentally ordered a chia instead of orange smoothie at Jamba Juice—everybody has something they find irritating or even comic.
For me, it’s when people believe I’ve said something I have not said. Usually, they then correct me about it or help “explain” to me how things should be done. When in fact, if you listened carefully, you’d find I never actually said the statement being corrected. I said something else. But the person had an “understanding” in their minds that I "must" have said that. Their motive, of course, is that they believe they have a great knowledge of people and of what's going on in the world, basically, so they don't have to listen. They know who all the players are and what everyone is bringing to the table and think they "know" what I'm going to say before I even say it, without paying attention to my actual statements. But then there's a huge risk that they might really know nothing about me after all. 😊 With such poor social skills, how could they? They project attitudes and perceptions of their own onto the words of others and don't hear what the person really said.
I didn’t enjoy historical writing as my first language (I always did sci-fi and fantasy growing up) and this was why--I thought historical authors were tiresome because they did one of three things with routine frequency;
We don't actually read about the past era that was chosen for any of these books as the author's wishes and preconceptions come to the forefront. And that's absolutely boring to read and I didn't want to write boring books. These works also tended to be easily found and had lots of downloads, views, or reviews while better researched books were few and hard to find. It appeared to me that historical was largely a low-quality genre. All the fascinating depth of a different culture is lost on people who find out typical baby names for someone born in 1887, but show no respect for the worldview and beliefs of a past society. They simply don't listen and are sure things "must" have been like this, just like they are sure I must have said things I did not say.
For Bellevere House since I knew I'd be writing in a previous era, the first thing I tried to do was to be respectful of the time period. I didn’t want to write a book about the 1930s, but instead write the book as if it had been written in the 1930s. Mansfield Park as an adaptation of it from the 1930s might have appeared. I wrote the book not to praise Jane Austen or to give moral messages I felt were good. I wrote it to celebrate the vintage era--their language, cliches, foibles, and way of speaking and moving. To my surprise since I had always pursued other interests, I found out I was a lover of history. Mansfield Park came out looking irreconcilably different from the original because the book is not easily reconciled to the update period. But I never actually said that keeping many elements of the original was my goal or even that it was a good idea as large parts of the original novel are uninteresting. But a core around the characters and their socializing translated well to another era and separating the good from the unusable in Mansfield Park was a fun intellectual exercise. 😊
A 1930s romantic comedy brought straight from the pages of Jane Austen . . .
Faye Powell is a typical girl from Tennessee during the Depression. Her parents are struggling, her large family isn’t easy to support, and the few people with good fortune are unrelatable objects of envy, similar to the Hollywood stars whose faces appear at the movies each week. Except it's hard to feel that way if you actually live with them and know what they’re like.
Faye’s aunt and uncle live in a lovely house in Illinois, so fine it’s actually been given a name like it's some kind of country estate. Bellevere House. And that’s where Faye is staying. After being semi-adopted by her relatives, she drifts around accompanying her silly, spoiled cousins on their rounds of clueless insulation, irresponsible schemes, romantic entanglements that lead to disaster, and affectations of stardom. It’s hard to be jealous of people when she sees the sometimes painful reality under the surface. And it’s downright impossible when arrogant Ed believes she has a thing for him when she doesn’t.
At least—she doesn’t yet.
You Can’t Take It with You meets Mansfield Park in this sparkling and creative revision of one of Austen’s great novels. Set in a charming, chic 1930s setting, Bellevere House is soaked in vintage Americana.
And there will be more updates.
Then There Was Ed
Edmund Bertram was not the reason I did Mansfield Park. I'd never quite liked him--although I didn't care much and that was a good thing. I actually took Mansfield because its characters annoyed me the least. I preferred some of Austen's other novels as overall stories, but each of them had at least one major character that irritated me to pieces. Writing about those characters would be a problem, so I bypassed those books. Only two of them were options, but I would also have skipped the other three if they had been on the table. Edmund was the one character I didn't completely like in Mansfield Park, but he didn't drive me crazy.
The tricky thing was that he was a primary male character, so I couldn't minimize him. I planned for him to be an obligatory reference at first and early on I wrote more of a trite romance between Ed and Fanny (Faye) than currently appears in Bellevere because I felt he wasn't good for much else. But he sprang up large because he has a quite real, unexpected entertainment factor. In fact, his faults are what I began to enjoy about him. He doesn't have to be perfect or anywhere close to that in order to be a good character. He just has to be real--something that applies to Bellevere House as a whole. Its characters aren't whitewashed role models or even entirely rational, but from being a skeptic who had always had Austen in my face (not that I hated her, but my friends and family were way bigger fans) I've grown into loving her work. Bellevere is now my personal favorite of my books for plot and storyline. Not for characters, because that's Victoria: A Tale of Spain. But for narrative and that of course means I've put it above any of my own creative plots. To paraphrase John Dryden "I hope that in wrecking Jane Austen I have created an above-average self-published novel."
When I was evaluating my books, I began to reconsider Bellevere and Ed. Though he's unattractive at times, his absolute foolishness keeps him from being a boring character. He might even be funny as he drifts around trying to up his market value by being rude to the woman he actually likes and flirting with someone else. After all, what I've always tried to avoid was writing a boring book, not a bad one. And, thanks to Austen's vivid story arcs, this one will be worth reading no matter what I do with it. My first blurbs for the book, which feel almost cute since they were so long ago, said Ed was the one Faye would never admit she was in love with. I've discovered it's the opposite. Faye is the one Ed will never admit he's in love with. But since he is actually quite fond of her, it makes sense that he now spends most of the last chapter apologizing to her.😊
And there will be more updates.
Young Adult Fiction Writer
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