Stick to Your Guns

“Stick to your guns” is not just fitting for my theme, which is to write from your heart and write what you believe in, but also fitting because “guns” are most certainly a big part of what I write! 

It’s been a long time since I blogged, mainly because of some emotional family problems that have been going on, but also because of the holidays, finishing a new book for Amazon (A WARRIOR’S PROMISE), then packing and driving out here to Las Vegas to get away from Michigan’s snowy winter. It takes a while to get resettled, and I’ve also been working on my new book for Sourcebooks (LOGAN’S LADY), so blogging has been low on my list of “things to do.”

I just finished chapter nine of LOGAN’S LADY, and as I write, I always sit and listen to theme songs from famous westerns. My favorite is always THE BIG COUNTRY, closely followed by Do Not Forsake Me from HIGH NOON, and the theme songs from NEVADA SMITH, OLD GRINGO and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. That one, which starts with a lonesome sounding harmonica, immediately takes me to my own novel DO NOT FORSAKE ME, the second – and my all-time favorite along with its gorgeous cover – in my “Outlaw” series. Everybody who has read those books and who know me understand that I am hopelessly in love with my hero, Jake Harkner. He is a real “man of men” – the ultimate “bad man with a good heart.”

At any rate, when I hear that harmonica from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, I see Jake the U. S. Marshal, riding into Guthrie, Oklahoma with four horses behind him, a dead man draped over one, and three badly-wounded outlaws on the other three. That is my favorite scene from all the books I’ve written, and it’s the first chapter of DO NOT FORSAKE ME. What I love about it is that Jake is the ultimate, dark, moody, “don’t mess with me” U.S. Marshal in that scene, and people back away as he approaches … but … then comes his wife, running down the street toward him, glad to see he’s come back from another dangerous mission alive and unhurt.

I think that is one of the most powerfully romantic scenes I’ve ever written. Jake Harkner instantly changes from a ruthless, mean outlaw/lawman/gunman to a doting husband who is putty in the hands of his beautiful, forgiving, understanding, patient wife, Miranda. You can just “feel” how glad they are to see each other and that they can’t wait to get each other alone.

Listening to my favorite western theme music, and having that lead me to my favorite hero, just reminds me why I write, and why I “stick to my guns” in my belief that a writer should write only what he or she LOVES and not write for the most popular genre of the time. I have very likely hurt my numbers by insisting on sticking with a genre that has not always been terribly popular, certainly not in today’s times. When I started writing in the early 80’s, western and Indian romance was HUGE. But even then, I didn’t get into it for the genre. I was so ignorant of “genre” and what readers wanted that it wouldn’t have mattered. I have always had a passion for American history, mostly the “Old West,” for the western hero and for the magnificent, glorious, unmatched beauty of America’s West, the Rockies, the Bighorns, the Sierras, the high plains, the prairies, the wild rivers … all of it.

For all the hoopla that continues for Regencies, for my part you cannot beat the attraction of the American cowboy, the lawmen, the bounty hunters, the soldiers – (all of which remain hero-types even today) – or the strength and romance of our stalwart pioneer women. Women today talk of independence and “doing their own thing.” It’s true that a lot of pioneer women only went west because they had to follow their husbands there, but those women were so strong and resilient, and many of them lost their husbands along the way and had to survive on their own. But aside from following husbands west, many women went west on their own just to BE independent, many to settle under the Homestead Act. Female independence didn’t start in settled, civilized places. It started in the American West, where Utah and Wyoming were the first states to allow women to vote. Men there recognized the intelligence and integrity and strength of the female species. 

All of that is just part of what makes it so much fun to write about life in America’s Old West, as well as being able to tell the TRUTH about the history of our Native Americans, which bears little resemblance to those old westerns we watched, or to what we were taught in school. My mission has always been to bring forth the gritty reality of life in the West and in historical America.

Right now, I am listening to THEE I LOVE from the movie FRIENDLY PERSUASION. OMG, that beautiful song just takes me again to Jake and Randy. In fact, if I get to write that fifth “Outlaw” book, I think that’s the title I will give it. THE I LOVE. Perfect! And I can’t leave out Zeke Monroe (Lone Eagle) and his beloved Abbie, from my SAVAGE DESTINY 7-book series. Zeke and Jake run neck-and-neck as my most beloved heroes.

I’m sure some think that because I talk about my writing and my genre so much that maybe I’m just somehow bragging or something. It’s not that way at all. It’s just that I love what I write so much that I want to share with other writers how important that is. It might cost you at times because you’re writing something that isn’t terribly popular at the time, but by-God the story will absolutely pour out of you with no effort at all! Why struggle to come up with a good story that fits today's popular genres if it isn’t in your heart to write it? I tried that once – and I went almost ten years without selling a book! It was ONLY WHEN I RETURNED TO THE GOOD-OLD AMERICAN WEST, with my book PARADISE VALLEY, that I sold again and have been selling steadily ever since. I didn’t even know what I was going to do with that story. I just started out with a woman burying her husband somewhere on the western plains and let her character take me on an adventure of finding the men who’d killed him – aided, of course, by a handsome, wealthy outlaw-turned-rancher who became a great hero! I still want to write a sequel to that book, because it ends with the heroine pregnant with the hero’s baby.

I can’t talk enough about how much I love my genre of historical western romance. It has led me to be named by Romantic Times the “Queen of Western Romance” and to be called an “emotional powerhouse” of a writer. And one more reason to “stick to your guns” is that you will end up BUILDING YOUR NAME. You will be “known” for writing a particular genre, and you will grow in that genre because your readers love your writing and know what to expect from you. If you jump around genres, you will never build your name for one particular subject. Most readers have a “favorite” genre, and you will lose those you attracted to, perhaps, contemporary suspense, because that’s what they will be looking for, without knowing your next book was a Regency or a vampire story. My point is, for LONGEVITY in this business, you want to build your name, and sticking with one genre that you’re really good at will help you do that. I’ve been writing for 35 years, with 66 books published to date. I really don’t think that would have happened if I’d had to struggle for months to write books that weren’t really in my heart to write.

Just my opinion, and I’m “sticking to my guns!” 

(Music referred to in this blog comes from the album WAY OUT WEST – The Essential Western Film Music Collection – by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra)


Post a Comment