Westerns and Me, Part Deux

And so the saga continues....

 I wrote a paper at Hollins on the Western as a uniquely American genre, and that was the beginning of my in-depth study of the western genre, films and books.  For fun, I started writing a western using all the classic elements, but making the hero a woman who saved the herd. (Feminism was just starting to become a cause célèbre.) Went to law school, forgot about the book, until my mom (the librarian) gave me the address for a publisher who was starting a western line. Mailed a query letter and three chapters. Forgot about it. A year later, I got a call asking where the rest of the book was, and could I mail it in pronto? The unfinished book…of course, said I, it’ll be there by the end of the week. This is the book that Walker published that went on to final in the Western Writers of America awards for best first Western.  Morgan's Land. Still love that book, and it has some lyrical phrasing now and then, but the main point is, I finished it. Without the help of my friends (Christi and Susan, lifesavers and fast typists and proofers!), it would never have arrived on that editor's desk. Sara Ann Freed, rest in peace.

            Much of my original college research on the Western genre involved history as well as novels, and I found myself fascinated by several real stories.  One involved Sam Bass, who was a black federal marshal working for Hanging Judge Parker in Indian Territory. Sam always got his man. Thus was born On the Terror Trail, about a federal marshal on the trail of Indians being sold into slavery in Mexico. (really happened!) For a second time, I wanted a hero I hadn’t seen in the many westerns I’d read – a black man.  I’ll never forget when Avon (then the biggest name in publishing westerns in the early 80s, now a part of HarperCollins) told my agent they wanted to buy it, but I’d have to make the hero white. My agent said “it’s up to you,” and I said, “no deal.”  He found a hardback publisher specializing in the library market, and thus began a long term relationship with Thomas Bouregy and Co. and their Avalon line.  (Now swallowed up by Amazon.)

        I became fascinated with the story of Olive Oatman, captured by the Mojave. Saw a photo of her in her beautiful satin gown with lace collar, smooth black hair in a neat bun, and tattoos covering her face. Beautiful woman. After she was found and returned to her family, she chose to go back to the Mojave and became a teacher among them. The whole “duck out of water”story fascinated me (still does). Then I found research detailing the Medicine Lodge Treaty and its travesties,and thus was born the Mythmaker series, about a woman who is taken captive by the Kiowa and stays with them until the end. I've started a couple of more westerns, but with the market in the tank (as it has been for years now), if I write them, it'll be for epublication. I'm happy that one of my fav stories, The Last Campaign, about an army officer who must find out if he's still the soldier he once was, is selling on Amazon.