Saturday, January 11, 2014

Traditional Westerns--and Classic Romance

Romance in Traditional Westerns

Most Western Romance Historical (WHR) fans also love anything that has to do with the Old West. Lately, I've been reading lots of Traditional Westerns and so far, there's been at least some romance in every single one.  Dwight V. Swain emphasized that readers read for emotion.  Love fills the bill.  Whether male or female, nearly all of us have or had romance in our lives.

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 a minor tiff, 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  


  1. Jacquie,

    Yes, liked the part about romance being a big part of most traditional WESTERNS. Yup. It's what makes it clean and decent and traditional. Hopefully clean enough for an eight year old or 99 year old to read.

    That's what TRADITIONAL means to me. All those old ICONIC, traditional authors we read and all those old movies we saw!

    Every time I write a story or book for the last 45 years I thought about a kid, eight years old, getting into the family library. So every word written I have that in mind.

    To me Jacquie, the word Traditional means (you and many others may not agree) a western anyone from any age can read.


  2. Jacquie,

    I forgot! To add a little humor to my comment---my 91 year old mother reads every word I write and makes comments and suggestions. If I published something she didn't approve of, I'd get a spanking!


  3. Charlie, I think you're talking about sex. I'm talking about romance.

    But, if you want to talk about sex, there are all different heat levels in both genres. Mine are what's called sensual--certainly not in the hot or erotic camps, but not sweet, either. The same could be said for Adult Westerns.

    And I've never seen where age, at least in the upper end of the spectrum, has much to do with what heat level they like. That comes more from background. And there are a lot of elderly closet readers, too, who enjoy spicy books.

    As for romance, that's a part of our emotions, a part that can rule us at times, which makes it intriguing to writers. Romance isn't just that first spark--it's holding hands after 50 years of marriage. It's a specific kind of love for the one and only life partner. It's rubbing your spouse's back after a hard day of work or an illness. It's seeing that special someone in a light that no one else does.

  4. Jacquie,

    I'm with you on romance!


  5. Human interaction is the heart of all stories. I think most folks forget that women are in a number of those 'classic' westerns.

    Nice excerpt and most interesting post. Doris

  6. Jacquie, this is just an excellent post. You have the most interesting insights, and I always come away from reading your posts with something to think about. I agree with you wholeheartedly about romance. That is what makes the world go 'round in any society--and to ignore it is to deny our humanity. You're right--there are all levels of it to be found in any kind of writing--westerns included. I remember the "love" scene in Hondo where she brings a blanket down to the creek and they lie down together on it, and "everything got quiet". But it was what happened before that showed their interaction and we knew what was going to become of their relationship--there was no going back for either of them.

  7. Great post, Jacquie. I think romance in a story always raises the level. I try to weave it into my stories, but wish I could do it better.

    As for sex I only ever lead up to it then change scene, leaving it to the reader's imagination.

  8. Doris, yes--someone on another forum pointed out that Zane Grey often used the woman's point of view, and the stories had the requisite HEA. I haven't read his books since high school so that had slipped my mind.

  9. Cheryl, that scene in Hondo is a good example of our imagination making the scene a whole lot hotter than what was on the page, which is exactly what he intended. But more than that, we knew Hondo was in love with her, and that he'd do anything to make sure she was safe. It's what made him human.

  10. Keith, I think you do pretty well. ☺

    The Apple Dumpling Gang and several more movies that are called Westerns are actually Western Historical Romance. That one just happens to be funny, too, so I remember it. Otherwise, I'm woefully deficient when it comes to remembering titles--but still, a good share of the western movies have strong romantic elements. Some definitely step over the line to WHR.