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Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Western is dead - well, that's fighting talk.

One of the most eagerly awaited movies of the holiday period is, Django Unchained - a western and recent years have seen several excellent westerns coming from Hollywood - True Grit and Blackthorn to name but two. On the fiction front genre writers such as Larry McMurtry and Cormac MacCarthy have entered the mainstream and brought the genre many new fans and the eBook revolution is seeing a lot of classic western material coming back into print - Check out Piccadilly Publishing - an outfit that are fast becoming my favorite publisher, well apart from Robert Hale but then I'm biased there since it is Hale's Black Horse imprint who publish my own novels. And of course many of the excellent George G. Gilman westerns are now available as eBooks which is reason enough to check out the genre.

That's a lot of activity for a so called dead genre.

 At the grass roots, where the fans hang out, there are scores of western blogs and web sites with new ones springing up all the time. There are some excellent western blogs - Western Fiction Review, Rope and Wire and Black Horse Express are just three of a list that could go on forever. Check out the recommended reads in the sidebar of this blog for some great western websites.

That's a lot of activity for a so called dead is the western entering a revival phase?

To my mind the western has never really gone away nor has it rolled over, turned a sickly green and been in need of reviving. Even during the Eighties when the genre seemed to vanish from bookshops there were still loyal fans.

So why now this surge of interest?

What surge? There is no surge? The only difference these days is that we've got the Internet and booksellers are able to get their books, whatever the genre, to a wider demographic than ever before. It was only the book sellers that claimed the western was dead in the first place but now that fans are able to come together via the Internet or as we call it here, The Wild West Web they can dictate what it is they want. Type in BOOK BLOGS into Google and it soon becomes obvious that genre fiction is still popular and not only westerns but horror, SF, crime, hardboiled. And yet go into any bookshop (if you can find one) and you'd swear only a handful of big name authors were ever read, but westerns are well supported in the electronic book store with new and classic books now available as eBooks.

Genre fiction is formulaic they say. And to some extent it is but then so are the blockbusters that line the bookshop shelves. These blockbusters are of a uniform building brick size and if that's not writing to a formula then I don't know what is. Over the last few years  I've gotten to know a lot of western writers and to a man (or woman, of course) they are all trying to push the envelope of what is acceptable in a western. If you want an example of diversity in the western genre then check out the  anthology A Fistful of Legends from Express Western. The book contains 21 western stories including one from myself.

My own westerns (self promotion warning) Tarnished Star, Arkansas Smith, The Ballad of Delta Rose and Wild Bill Williams  may stick closely to the classic style of western storytelling but I have tried to work in subtexts.

Tarnished Star in many ways questions what it is to be a man and the responsibilities we all share. And whilst Arkansas Smith travels a far darker trail there is, I hope, a story being told on more than one level. The Ballad of Delta Rose is a story of redemption  and Wild Bill Williams is something of a culture shock western. My next Black Horse western,  The Afterlife of Slim McCord pushes the boundaries to breaking point - at least, I hope it does..

That's why I love the western, both as a writer and a reader - the possibilities are endless and far from being straitjacketed into an endless routine of Cowboys and Indians or white hats and black, the genre can go anywhere it wants, can explore both the good and bad sides of human nature.

I can never stray too far from the deserts and plains, the mountains and the rivers - it's the landscape of adventure and great courage. For the past few months I've been working on another cozy crime novel set in my native South Wales - A world away from the Wild West and yet there are still western elements in everything I write; look hard enough and they are there.

Me as a cover star!
The point is that no matter what I do, where and when I set my stories, there will always be something of the western about them.

And recently I was thrilled to find that my image was used as the inspiration for the new cover art for the Ben Bridges western, Hangman's Noose - how cool is that to be immortalized as a character in a western! I do hope the book sells squillions because not only is Ben Bridges a fine western writer but that's such a good looking lead character.

So go on give a western a'll be glad you did.

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