What Makes a Western a Western?

 

Tracy Garrett

Last month, while attending the Romantic Times BookLovers Convention to promote my latest release, TOUCHED BY LOVE, I had the pleasure of participating as part of a panel on “Historical Romance Through the Ages.” The writers, five in all, covered the gamut of settings, from 1100s Scotland, through Georgian, Regency and Victorian England, and across “the pond” to the American West.

Our discussion concerned what set apart a romance in our chosen time period. In my case, what makes a western a western.

Victorian HatsI enjoyed listening as those who wrote European-set stories discussed social mores, etiquette, keeping Mama happy, and buying just the right hat at the right store for that party that all the right people will attend.

In a western, in my opinion, the environment has more influence on stories than most other factors. Think pioneers, survival, and hardship; taking care of yourself and looking out for your neighbors because that’s what a good person does. Hats and parties were important, especially to young ladies of a “certain age,” but, for the most part, people concerned about survival don’t care if their clothes are the latest fashion – they’re just glad to have clothes to wear.

As to social etiquette, the proprieties were certainly observed, but I imagine they were often tossed off the wagon in deference to survival. Of course, the backlash of ignoring them makes for great conflict in our stories.

Covered Wagon

When a family moved west, they took what they could carry and left everything and everyone else behind. Letters moved slowly, if at all, leaving these westward pioneers isolated from everything familiar. They had to suck it up and create their own “familiar”, their own new lives, friends and routines. They even had to build their own surroundings. Young men suddenly had to provide for their families. Women learned to create a home wherever they decided to put down roots. It took real grit to make it when nothing was familiar. And if the crops failed, or a fire destroyed the house, or their livestock were rustled, they brushed themselves off and started over.

Westerns are about hope and opportunity. That’s a big part of why I love writing them. There was a chance for those who had “fallen” to redeem themselves or turn their backs on the past and begin again. No matter the hardships, they had an opportunity to make a happy-ever-after for themselves and the generations to follow.

 

How about you? What makes a western a western for you?

 

Pardon Me – What Did That Say?

tracy-garrett-tile

Right out of the chute, let me say how thrilled I am to be joining Petticoats & Pistols as a new Fillie! I’ve loved this site since the day it opened and now I get to be here among these fabulous western writers on a regular basis.

I love history. That’s no surprise, of course, to anyone who knows me. I not only enjoy writing about the past, but researching those bits and pieces that make the historical story I’m writing realistic, interesting and accurate.

Research comes in many forms. I can spend hours in a library, hunting through books. Or online, looking for one particular fact. But my favorite type of research is the kind I didn’t plan. 

salt-war-markerIn my trips to research a story, I’ve come across some fun facts. Did you know there was a salt war in Texas? Neither did I was researching for this blog. Bonus: I discovered the Texas Historic Sites Atlas while looking for a picture of the marker.

Were you aware there was a Revolutionary War battle in St. Louis, Missouri? That’s right, halfway up the mighty Mississippi. The Battle of Fort San Carlos wastl-arch1s fought when British-led Sioux, Sac, Fox and Winnebago warriors attacked a newly built French entrenchment in May of 1780. That historical fact came from a local newspaper article my mother forwarded.

Ever heard of Crash, Texas? It’s a town that was built for the express purpose of allowing spectators to witness a train crash up close and personal. A fripony-express-statueend sent me that news story.

Then there’s the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race, begun in 1848 and revived in 1977. I found out about it when researching the coach stops along the Santa Fe Trail after visiting the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Do you read the footnotes and attributions at the end of a historical research article? You might take a stroll through the archived blogs right here at Petticoats & Pistols –the Fillies have shared some wonderful research.I love running across obscure information while I’m researching something else. And you can find some of the most interesting—and mostly useless—tidbits in some unlikely places. ebay® is one place that surprised me. I found some cool info on china and crystal and Texas artifacts there while researching my latest release, Touched by Love.

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Now, you’ll have to excuse me. There’s a museum website I just heard someone mention.

What’s the most unusual fact you discovered in the most unlikely place?