Why My First Novel Was a Western

I was raised in a household that was heavily immersed in the Western genre, including action figures (who remembers Johnny West and General Custer?), movies, paperback
novels, and television shows. I still recall my mother telling me “when I married your father, there were almost 30 western shows on TV.” I was too young to remember most of them as they quickly began to fade from the small screen.
However, I still fondly recall Cheyenne, Cowboy in Africa (My favorite lunchbox ever!), and The Wild Wild West. I consider Jake Slater, the hero in my first
novel, Hot on His Trail (Alyson Books, 2006), to be an amalgam of Chuck Connors, Clint Walker, and Robert Conrad.

John Wayne was a legend in our house, and as kids my older brother and I saw many of his early movies at our local drive-in with our parents. It was great Saturday-
night, family fare. Truth be told, a complete library of John Wayne VHS tapes
still happily resides at my parent’s house (although each Christmas and for
Dad’s birthday we slide in a few DVD versions), and I still watch one or two
during my annual trip home. I still count The Cowboys and True Grit as among my
favorites.

And the books, ah the books. All the members of my family were avid readers, although here’s where my mother parted company with the rest of us. While a fervent watcher of movies and television shows, she read strictly romance, a la Barbara Cartland and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. My father seemed to literally consume the works of Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and Zane Grey; often reading two or more paperbacks in the course of a weekend. My brother, while less voracious, did manage to read every
Louis L’Amour book in print at that time. While I favored mainstream Sci-Fi, I
still enjoyed reading the adventures of Louis L’Amour’s Sackett family.

Although there was a smattering of Western pictures in the 1980s: Urban Cowboy, Heaven’s Gate, and Silverado, to name a few, the field saw its biggest resurgence since my childhood, in the 1990s. As modern life became increasingly fast-paced and complex, people were yearning for a time when life was less complicated, values were more clearly defined, and the concept of right vs. wrong didn’t contain so many shades of gray. This is evidenced by the miniseries Lonesome Dove and Return to Lonesome Dove; television movies including Buffalo Girls, Children of the Dust and Streets of Loredo; independent Western cable productions Monte Walsh, The Rough Riders, and You Know My Name; big-screen pictures like Dances With Wolves, Open Range, and Tombstone; even an Encore channel devoted solely to Westerns, which is still alive and kicking today.

Westerns continue to enjoy a rollercoaster of popularity, and I firmly believe that they
will always be in our blood. Proof positive being the remake of True Grit, with Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges stepping in as Rooster Cogburn to gallantly try to fill John Wayne’s boots.

A funny anecdote: My father, who is now 76, drove 50 miles to the local mall (he lives
in upstate NY) to visit the bookstore and purchase some Westerns. Upon entering
the bookstore, he was disgruntled, even amazed, to discover the store didn’t carry
Westerns anymore; I am currently buying him the complete works of Zane Grey,
which are largely out-of-print and available only through out-of-print
distributors.

So why, you may have asked yourself, was my first novel a Western? The answer is simple: It was my homage to a resilient, beloved genre, as well as a loving nod to growing up in a “Western” family.

All my best,

Zavo  

3 Responses to “Why My First Novel Was a Western”


  1. 1 djacksonleigh July 29, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    I love westerns. I also grew up watching John Wayne with my dad. I currently have a DVD of The Cowboys in my house, but that’s the only one.

    Of course, I like them because everybody rides around on horses.🙂

    Like

  2. 2 Kate July 30, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    I grew up watching westerns with my father, too. He loved them all. While I was a little pickier in what I enjoyed, John Wayne will always be one of my heroes. McClintock and Angel and the Bad Man were always my favorites. I love reading romances set in the Old West, as well. Can’t get enough of them, in fact. I haven’t read yours yet, but now I’ll have to check it out. Thank you for the post…it brought back good memories.

    Like

  3. 3 sharon August 6, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    What a great tribute to your family…thanks for sharing & you bet I will read your books “Zavo”!

    Like


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