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Rethinking Westerns February 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, ghost towns, ideas, science fiction, steampunk, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Declining readership is a problem for all genre fiction, but there might be an added problem with the western. Readership is aging and newer readers are slow to move into those thrilling days of yesteryear…

Why? The way the western is written has something to do with this. Like the mystery, westerns have benefited from everyone “knowing” the background. A hard-boiled PI walks into a Holiday Inn room and there’s no need to describe what it looks like. Readers know. What is more important are the blood spatters and other clues. Western writers have been similarly blessed with this real-world familiarity–but modern readers have less direct knowledge of horses, farms, herds and even six-guns. These are alien elements and not as accessible to urban readers (and face it, the rural reader is a vanishing breed along with small family farms. The new reality is the UU Bar Express Ranch–a multi-million, multi-state, hi-tech, global business)

To recapture readers, western writers will increasingly have to adopt the techniques of the science fiction writer. I am not necessarily referring to steampunk (love it! Love to write it! Check out the anthology Steampunk’d with my short story “Transmogrification Ray”). What is necessary is treating the western setting as a character. You’re on another planet–how is it different? You’re in 1880s Tombstone. How is it different? Not only characters and plot will need to be developed but also the setting. Horses, saloons and railroads are only a part of this cultural description.

The credo of the west needs to be described also. Rugged individualism is not well thought of today. “The nail that sticks up farthest is hammered down first.” How different when Tom Horn and Juoaquin Murrieta and John Wesley Hardin rode the trails. How does the XIT differ from Express Ranch? The background is a new character and has to be developed. So do the courage and spirit of the “lonesome cowboy”west. These have to be woven specifically into a story so modern readers can get into “alien” heads and ride “alien” lands.

It’s a new world. The Wild West deserves the science fiction writers’ loving attention to building a world readers have never shared before.

As Jackson Lowry, I have just published Sonora Noose.

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