Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Do You Write Westerns? -- from Penguin.com

This posted on Penguin.com yesterday:

Why Do You Write Westerns? by Larry Sweazy

I get asked that question more than any other when I’m at book signings or speaking at libraries.  Maybe it’s because I don’t live out West.  I live in the Midwest, about three hundred miles east of the Mississippi River.  It’s unusual, here, to see someone wearing a cowboy hat in a bookstore, or anywhere for that matter.   Or maybe it’s because Westerns seem like a thing of the past, not relevant in the fast-paced, hyper-connected world we live in today.  Of course, I disagree with that notion.  Westerns are relevant.  It’s just that we have more choices now, and the social climate is much, much different than it was fifty years ago when Westerns were in their heyday.

For me, part of the answer to the question is simple:  The Western is my foundation, that part of me where I hold the belief that anything is possible.

Being born in the 1960s, theme songs to Western television shows were a huge part of the background music of my childhood.  BonanzaGunsmokeWild, Wild, West.   All of these shows were still in their first runs when I was growing up.  John Wayne and Audie Murphy movies are like watching old family reels of black and white film.  And there were no mountains, no canyons outside my windows, so those movies and TV shows were a great introduction to the emotional and physical landscape of the West.  They gave me a much broader view of the country I lived in, and entertained me at the same time with morality tales and rollicking adventures.  Of course, I learned pretty quickly that the West really wasn’t that far away, because just beyond my backyard was a state park centered around a series of Indian burial mounds.

Later, when I began to read, I discovered writers like Jack London, A.B. Guthrie (who was born in my home state of Indiana), and of course, Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.  All of these writers, and more, added to my foundation as a writer, and to my own sense of adventure.      

The West is all about possibilities, and second chances.  There is no other country in the history of the world that has experienced a westward expansion like the United States has.  The West is unique to all of us, part of the fabric of our national soul, for good and bad.  The literature of the West not only keeps the past alive, but also reflects current day problems from a different angle.  There are still countless stories left to be told about the West, and the triumphs and tragedies experienced there.

The characters in my "Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger" series face problems that we all encounter today; how to pick up and learn to live again after suffering through a tragedy that was no fault of our own, or how to keep our jobs and make a living in troubling times, or keeping our family and loved ones safe in an unpredictable environment.     

So, I think the full answer to the question is simple: I write Westerns because I like to read a good story, and I strive to tell a good story when I write.  It all starts and ends there.  The West opens up the possibilities of my imagination, and hopefully, the reader’s too.
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