Western Suspense with Heart
As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, the West fascinated me. When you live in the smallest state, the bigness of the West was fascinating. TV, movies, comic books, novels, toy pistols and holsters all captured my imagination. Favorite subject in school? Yep, history, especially the expansion westward. There’s a story in the family of how I broke a side table pretending it was a horse. Thankfully, there are no pictures.
Fast-forward many years (okay—many, many years) and two things happen. One, the long-suppressed desire to write novel blossoms. Two, my wife and I move to Texas. The Lord’s hand was in both. When things get tough, I look to heaven and pray, “Remember—this was your idea.”
Many of my story ideas come from images. I’ll see something in my mind and the questions start. My first novel, Journey to Riverbend, began with an image of a man standing on a ridge looking down into a valley. Stabbing the sky from among the trees was a church steeple.
The questions came: Why is he there? Who is he? Is the church significant?
I toyed with the idea of making the story science fiction (my other favorite genre) but it needed to be a Western. As I worked through the outline, I saw why. The Western setting would capture elements of soul-searching and physical searching, of time passing slowly, of man against the world in ways science fiction couldn’t.
One of my favorite parts of writing the story was the research, seeking answers to the question how did people do things back then? Things we take for granted now. I explored travel by horseback, train, and stagecoach. Learned new things about the telegraph. Busted myths that had lingered since childhood. Such as there were no twelve-shot pistols despite the fact nobody in the movies ever seemed to run out of bullets.
The most fascinating part was discovering the characters as they came alive on the page. The outline and the character sketches helped create an idea of the person. The writing brought them to life, especially when they didn’t act as I expected.
The man on the ridge was the hero, Michael. A man with a scarred past asked to complete a prodigal’s return by proxy. (I killed the prodigal in the first chapter.) He was there to meet the prodigal’s father to attempt the reconciliation.
The church proved significant. Through it, Michael would meet Rachel and, for the first time, experience the possibility of real love. Even though Rachel was a former prostitute who vowed never to let another man have any sway or control over her or take away her hard-won independence.
Through this first novel, I discovered and explored the themes that flow through all my stories—redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. I’ve written other Westerns, a contemporary novel, and I’m now working on a fantasy series. These themes appear in one form or another in all of them. And the Western is where my heart beats strongest.
Through this first novel, I experienced my first taste of the power of our words. One of my first readers asked me to never delete a scene from an early draft because it brought her closer to God. And, in my spirit, I heard God say, “If this book never gets published, it still served my purpose because it brought her closer to me.”
And that’s why, even when my doubts are the strongest, and I’m ready to give this up and go to the movies, he responds to my reminder this was his idea, “Yes, it is. And I haven’t changed my mind.”
Henry’s novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the Operation First Novel award sponsored by the Christian Writers Guild and was published by Tyndale House in January, 2011.
He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He serves as Associate Director of North Texas Christian Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.
Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys.
Visit him at http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.
Please welcome Henry with your comments and you might even win his book!