Romance novels are all about suspending belief and creating characters (especially men) who look, act, smell, move, react and think the way we wished real men did. This is particularly true in the bedroom-or as is so often depicted in Western romances-on the back of a horse.
I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but that just can’t happen, not unless the characters were circus folk. And even then, it would require a catatonically calm horse, a man so gifted at multi-tasking (is there such a thing?) that he can simultaneously hold the reins, maintain his balance on a moving horse, and enjoy a carnal interlude with a woman, who-let’s be honest here–would have to be as limber as a gymnast, tough enough to rise above (so to speak) belt buckles, holstered pistols and that nasty saddle horn, and not suffer motion sickness when facing backwards. It could happen, I suppose. But wouldn’t their heads crash together with every stride the horse took?
…that whole hygiene thing. Let’s face it. Real cowboys didn’t roam the range with a trunk of clean clothes, laundry detergent, shaving gel, a loofah, or (dare I say it?) toilet paper (which they called personal papers). And what “personal papers” they might have were not quilted or scented or stamped with pretty flowers. They were rough, scratchy, barely processed sheets of paper with splinters. Ewe.
And you know that old saying about what bears do in the woods? Well, cowboys not only did that, but they also relieved themselves onto their campfires (hopefully not while they were cooking). They even had an expression for it-“Pissing out the fire and calling in the dogs.” I know. Disgusting. And yet even today-and I’m not kidding here-men will happily do this when the opportunity presents itself. I swear. Supposedly, they do it to douse the flames so an errant spark won’t start a forest fire. Maybe. But I suspect they also like the sound it makes, and pride themselves on doing something no right-thinking woman would even attempt. But I could be wrong.
And as long as we’re talking about disgusting things that are too realistic to be included in a Western Romance, what about tobacco? Sure, sometimes cowboys fed it to their horses as a cure for worms, but mostly they chewed the stuff. Which requires spitting. Which is why it’s rarely mentioned, because really, how sexy can a hero be with a bulging cheek and a mouthful of brown spit? I’m starting to make myself sick, so we’ll move on to actual smoking, which created its own set of problems in the Old West. With no ashtrays handy, a fellow didn’t dare flick a lit match or hot cigarillo into the tender-dry brush. So what did he do with the butt? He put it out in his palm…AFTER dampening that palm with…you guessed it…spit.
But don’t expect to see that happen in a western romance. Why? Because we western romance authors have class. And even though we might know what REALLY happened in the Old West, we also know how to dance that thin line between fantasy and reality. That’s what we do, and we’re good at it.
But just for research purposes, what would a hero have to do to cross the line? What is too gritty, and what is OK?
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