Writers in the Storm

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November 22, 2013

It’s All About the Boots: Why We Love Westerns

Today we welcome Anne Cleeland, who gives us some insight on why we can’t seem to get enough of those rugged cowboy heroes.  Anne will give away a copy of her latest book, Daughter of the God-King, to three lucky commenters. 

Anne Cleeland

Anne Cleeland

by Anne Cleeland

There’s no hero like a western hero.  Who can forget Kane in High Noon, who has to abandon his bride so as to save the town from the bad guys?  Or Lonesome Dove’s Gus McCrae, who is still devoted to his long-lost love, despite time, distance, and the pesky little detail that she’s married to someone else?  Linda Lael Miller gave us the brawling McKettrick brothers, Diana Palmer gave us her long, tall Texans, and our own Laura Drake gave us rough and tumble Max Jameson; all larger-than-life and all cut from the same iconic cowboy cloth.

The men in these stories are unabashedly men, doing manly things and wearing tall leather boots. They break horses, save the family ranch, outfox cattle rustlers and are generally too busy building a life with their bare hands to even think about matrimony, until they meet the heroine, and then—while we all smile in anticipation—their unbridled manliness is suddenly tamed.  For some reason this is immensely appealing to the female heart—the idea that she can tame the untameable—and it seems that every western romance has this premise as its basic plot.

I write historical romance, and there is a fundamental difference between the two genres; instead of plucky heroines taming the untamable, the historical heroine is usually re-enacting the Cinderella story; she is a damsel in distress waiting to be swept off her feet by the handsome prince.

Each of these genres has its own appeal, but is there any doubt that the western is uniquely American?  The heroines are hardy pioneers rather than demure gentlewomen, and their setting is rugged, endless frontier—the perfect backdrop for the manly heroes that are so in need of taming.

Can an urban romance give you that same feeling?  Not really; there aren’t a lot of untamed men lurking around the local Starbucks, and there’s nothing rugged about an upscale office building.  Instead, let’s appreciate the code of the West; where men are men, doing what men need to do while the women who love them don’t wait by the hearth, but are busy building their own lives right beside them.

Who are your favorite western heroes, and why?

dkg good coverAbout Anne

Anne Cleeland holds a degree in English from UCLA as well as a degree in law from Pepperdine University, and is a member of the California State Bar.  She writes a contemporary mystery series set in New Scotland Yard as well as a historical fiction series set in the Regency period.  A member of Mystery Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society, she lives in California and has four children.  Her website is www.annecleeland.com.

19 comments on “It’s All About the Boots: Why We Love Westerns”

  1. Anne, oh my gosh, what a thrill to open WITS this morning and see a mention of my cowboy - and in such legendary company, thank you!

    You know I'm Sweet on a Cowboy, and love the genre!

    Can't wait to read this book!

  2. I'll admit it...I'd never read a western romance until recently (Jesse Hayworth's Summer at Musket Ridge). I agree that the cowboy is the kind of alpha guy I like...rough and manly but with "manners" and respect (and grounded). Very different from the popular contemporary alphas who seem to fall in two main categories: abusively domineering billionaire, or playboy athlete.

    I like an "understated alpha"...and I love the romance of the west...I think I'm going to have to try a few more westerns.

  3. Great post!! I feel in love with Zeke from Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones. And I fell in love with JB from The Sweet Spot and I'm looking forward to Max in Nothing Sweeter.

    1. Aw, thanks, Carol! And for the awesome review. I love a conficted Alpha...maybe that explains Alpha Dog! Never thought of it that way before! Luckily his conflict was resolved eventually though... they're a lot of work!

  4. Anne, I too love the cowboy bigger than life legend only we Americans can claim as ours. The heroes in my western historical romances are, as you say, untamed MEN waiting for the right woman to tame their hearts. Thank you for shining a bright light on this genre I have loved for decades and will continue to love even when it's not "in fashion."

    1. Very true, Anne. We have so much more freedom these day to write what we like, and it's nice to know we can reach readers without going through gate keepers.

  5. I follow Linda Lael Miller's series the McKettricks. All through the series you see the fierce loyalty of the family. If something needs to get done, you know they're the men for the job. I love the character development she shows in each book. Also, the relationships in the family are very dynamic, never boring.


  6. Anne, I just got back from a long, frustrating day battling computer "stuff" and found this wonderful post. I am a first generation Italian, born and raised in Brooklyn ... but my dad ... a naturalized citizen was such a cowboy fan that once we had TV, he watched every single TV show with a cowboy ... from Maverick and Sugarfoot to Wagon Train and Paladin. He also listened to them on radio and his fav cowboy was Hopalong Cassidy.

    I'm truly dating myself, but what is amazing is that almost twenty years later, my "city" boy (first born son) went to a ranch camp and fell in love with a real cowboy ... Billy ... the real deal ... and he learned how to ride, rope and care for horses and from that learned about responsibility and how to treasure what we love. When a kid messed up and was being sent home, Billy sang the old Gene Autry song ... Happy Trails to them while they packed 🙂

    We can learn a lot from the old world world ethic of the cowboy and don't look for that love to die off any time in the next hundred years. Folks love the sounds, the feel and the spirit of the old west ... heck we had a country radio station in Brooklyn I listened to in grade school 🙂

    Back in this century, I am enjoying that Laura and a few others are reviving that love for me ... thanks guys !!!

    1. Thanks, Florence! We love it for the same well-put thoughts you wrote above. America loves their heroes, and I think cowboys were their first, and the story of your son is why.

      I've had the honor of meeting some of today's cowboys, and I can tell you, that spirit and old-old manner is still alive in the country parts of America.

      They give me hope for the future.

  7. I love, love both the contemporary and historical cowboy. Dating myself as well, but I watched every western TV show I could back in the day. If only they had recording back then. My favorite was Cheyenne played by Clint Walker. Sigh! My favorite paperback cowboys are flawed and hurting, like Laura's JB. Heroes to die for. Thanks for posting, Anne. It brought back fond memories.

  8. My favorite western heroes would have to be Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch who "star" in Robert B. Parker's Appaloosa, Brimstone, and Resolution books. I think what appeals to me is their upstanding moral character and bravery. They won't hesitate to interrupt their own plans to save a widow and her children--or a whole town--from evildoers, even when greatly outnumbered.

    The books you mentioned seem more like romance novels set in the West (which I also love), rather than the true Western genre. The difference I see is that Westerns tend to be more "man against the elements" or "man against forces of evil," often combined with a "bromance," rather than the story of a man and a woman. And the protagonist is male.

    As for the evolution of Westerns, I think the modern ones take place in outer space, for example - some kind of futuristic battle where the hero's mettle is tested. There may be a side romance to satisfy female readers/viewers (especially if it is made into a movie), but the main storyline is the guy in the white hat battling forces of evil.

    1. Abby,

      You're right - Romance has a Western genre as well.

      Did you ever see Cowboys and Aliens? A movie that shouldn't have worked, but SO did!
      Check it out if you haven't seen it.

    2. Hi Abby,
      I agree--I should have clarified that I was thinking about western romances. In fact, I write a mystery series that has a strong romantic plotline---which is a deviation from the standard mystery genre---so I know exactly what you are talking about.
      I guess I'm just a romantic!

  9. Do movies count? I've always enjoyed the Tom Cruise character, Joseph Donnelly, in Far and Away. "This proves to be a difficult murder." My favorite line of dialogue in the movie.

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