When is a Western a Western?

Well, this cover leaves no doubt, right? Aya caramba!

This is one of those conundrum questions with no right answer.

Does a Western need cowboys?


But cowboys are always welcome here! 🙂

Does a Western need six-shooters or guns or shoot-outs?

Nope, but they want you to respect the 2nd Amendment and their right to carry.

Where are Westerns located?

Oh, gadzooks, this is a tough one! Typically west of the Mississippi, but would you set a Western in California? Probably not. Oregon? Yes, in parts, away from the coast especially. How about Washington state?

Yep, Central Washington is cowboy territory, with or without traditional cowboy dress or western garb.  Texas, yes… Arizona? Not so much, maybe, even though there are ranches in Arizona, the spiking temps and lack of water don’t lend themselves to a lot of Western settings. But like anything else, there can be exceptions to the rule.

Part of this is researching your area. We all understand western expansion, the purchases that netted America from “sea to shining sea” which is pretty amazing in and of itself, right? And that gives us a whole scope of locations and settings, and then the author’s job is to be true to the setting. It’s amazing how differently school calendars and sports and systems are run from the east vs. the west. Or even within certain states. Learning the flora and fauna so you don’t plug sagebrush into Indiana or Missouri… or Live Oaks in New York or Ohio when they love, need and want a warmer climate.

We authors think long and hard about setting. We want it to balance the book and fit the situation and often to tax the characters whether it’s my blizzard-like snows in “Back in the Saddle” in Central Washington (Double S Series) or the hard, craggy landscape surrounding Pine Ridge Ranch in my Shepherd’s Crossing series set in Western Idaho.

And of course living in Western New York gives me every right to write westerns, right? 🙂 Laughing here, because an author’s love of genre or setting or style isn’t about where they’re from–

It’s where they’re willing to go and research and explore! To that end, I loved creating my historical western series set in Second Chance, South Dakota, smack dab in Laura Ingalls Wilder country. It’s so much fun to mix two favorite genres: Western & Historical and come up with absolutely delightful stories.

What’s your favorite kind of Western? Contemporary? Historical? Or is it the location that makes it sing to you?


I’ve got a copy of my Sewing Sisters’ Society novella collection for one commenter today… a fun look at settling the west, one romance at a time!


+ posts

30 thoughts on “When is a Western a Western?”

  1. I enjoy both historical and contemporary Westerns. A lot has to do with the story and I have favorite authors in both types of books. Location is important, but mostly because it will drive the type of story. The stories set in the Northwest, the Rockies, the Southwest will be influenced by their different terrains and weather.

    • Patricia, absolutely. I love both, too. And I tend to love Northern locations because when I watch things like “The Last American Cowboy”, the ruggedness of cattle or sheep and winter isn’t lost on me. Winter is tough! So I like using that as a point of conflict. Something about blizzards, and wind, and storms and wet snow or pouring rain…. mud….

      Cowboy up! 🙂

  2. Happy October Ruth- I love both the historical and contemporary westerns. I’ll have to say sometime where the book is set draws me to reading it. It’s funny I’m from Texas, but live in Kansas, so you would think books with Texas location draws me more, Right? Nope! I really love books set in Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, and yes even my current residence, Kansas.
    I loved your Back In The Saddle, Now I need to read Home On The Range.
    Have a great October and happy pumpkin selling!!!

    • Oh, you will love Home on the Range, Tonya. It’s such a great story of new beginnings and second chances for the son that stayed home and had to eat some humble pie when the prodigal comes waltzing back…. I loved telling Nick’s story!!!!

      I’m drawn to those northern locales, too.

      And Kansas gets it’s share of rough, rough weather, girl!!!

  3. I love both historical and contemporary westerns but historical is my favorite of the two. There is something about the old west that gets me and draws me more into the book.

    • I’m so glad you stopped by today, Lori! I love the old west, too…. the pioneer spirit is a huge draw to me. That drive and ambition and faith…

      Oh my stars, we are so weak by comparison sometimes!!!

    • Estella, there are huge numbers set in both of those states, and I can see why. Wide open, vast grazing land, rough country, plateaus…. Between storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, oh my stars, there is some rugged stuff going on there. And then you have the west side of Texas where drought spells its middle name.

      So much land.

      So much diversity.

      Great states!

    • Agreed…. although I do love the western prairie romances… with or without the cowboy aspect, they’re still westerns to me. Just different!

  4. I love westerns, doesn’t matter if it’s contemporary or historical, I’ll read them all! It really doesn’t matter where they are set, either, even in California. After all, the Barkley’s were there!! Everyone loved Big Valley!!

    • That’s so funny, because I never think of California as a Western state, despite the geography. You know, historically CA and OR and WA had a lot of Western influence… and Western towns. My research says that lots of that has changed in the last seventy years, and when I’m on the West Coast, there’s little that’s western… but when you go inland in Oregon and Washington (hence my Central Washington settings) you find Western influences all over. I expect that makes for some interesting opposing points of view in politics and government, don’t you? I tried to show some of that in my Double S series without getting too into it… It’s like New York State… The city is nothing like the rest of the state. It’s an entity unto itself. But we’re still one state!

    • Well, Miss Vicki…. what about things like Little House on the Prairie in South Dakota?

      See, I’d consider that a western, not a cowboy western.

      And Janette Oke’s prairie books….

      The age old feud of what makes a farmer or a rancher, right????

  5. I’m definitely partial to cowboys, but I understand a western can be just set in the west or wild west. I like my westerns more historical but will read both. Setting is huge – but not as a specific spot but more as a story line helper. If that makes sense. LOL. I do love most any western – especially if it includes cowboys!

  6. There are cowboys in the east I know I grew up in North New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maine you might have to look a little but they do have cowboys there too. So a cowboy theme book doesn’t just have to be west of the Mississippi.

  7. I truly appreciate all the research and thought an author puts in to making a book authentic. I think for me it’s just a feeling I get when I am immersed in a Western. The surroundings are important but I forget a bit about the place and just enjoy the characters. I do prefer historical Westerns over contemporary, though. So much more history to get woven in there.

  8. Historical Westerns gives me great enjoyment. The setting is important. The Southwest and the West reflect Westerns beautifully.

  9. Cowboys are meaningful characters in Westerns especially historical Westerns as is the locale. We used to watch Westerns which were located as we said out west.

  10. Oh yes, this cover says a lot about who a cowboy ought to be. I personally prefer historical westerns. For both the men and the women. The women were a lot of what the west was made of.

  11. Historical Westerns with cowboys is a requirement and the surroundings are important too. The real West where ranches give me the authenticity of the story.

  12. Hi Ruthy! I love historical westerns! They just wrap around my heart and curiosity. Keep writing them. Contemporary westerns are gradually warming up to me too. By my heart lies with historical westerns. Loved your blog today!

  13. I am a fan of both historical and contemporary westerns as long as the historical stays true to the time period. Cowboys are nice but not necessary because there is so much more to the West than cows and cattle ranches.

    You are so right about NY and Washington being so much more than there urban areas that everyone thinks of. The political, too, is similar. Having grown up on a dairy farm in NY, married and moved to a wheat and livestock farm in Washington I don’t know how many times I have said “state not city” or “state not DC”. And, had to explain that even though it rains a lot in Seattle our area gets less than 10 inches of rain in a year. We definitely get blizzards.too.

  14. I love contemporary best, but I read historical, too.

    Have you ever seen the show with the South Alabama cowboys? I drove through that area once, and it is a huge beef ranch area.

  15. I love any kind of western, as long as it it a good book ! I enjoyed reading this post and like usual learning from it! I Love the cover to your book Home On the Range, it is Beautiful! Thank you so much for this post. God Bless you. Have a Great weekend.

  16. I enjoy all westerns! I love stories about Cowboys, small towns, ranches, contemporary and historical. I think western is really my favorite genre that I read. 🙂

  17. My favorite read is a well researched historical western. It must have the handsome swoon worthy cowboy and a woman that is strong and not always considered beautiful on the outside.

Comments are closed.