Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old-Time Cowboys: In or Out?

by Ann Leveille, editor

At the 2011 Romanticon©, I had the privilege of helping out with the Bodacious in Boots panel held by Western Romantica authors Regina Carlysle, Desiree Holt, Cerise DeLand and Nicole Austin. They started with a description of what a cowboy is and what a cowboy does (complete with handout!), then discussed movie cowboys and asked attendees for a few cowboy seduction lines. Things got a bit…heated.
As the end of the session neared, this curious group of authors asked their captive group of fellow authors, readers and fans a few questions about their reading preferences. They wanted to know if readers were interested in historical Western stories, or if they only wanted modern Western stars.

The answers they got were enlightening.

Readers were clear that they were interested in historical Western romance but there were some specifics that came up. Current and aspiring authors, take note!

Readers said they want strong historical women – not weak-willed girls rescued by strong men. They want women who could stand up to modern women, women who can rescue themselves. And, one audience member noted, strong women shouldn’t be seen as anachronisms. Women in the Old West may have had different lives but those lives weren’t easy. Women became widows young, lost families, dealt with tragedy and hardship. They weren’t wimps waiting for heroes to come along and save them from their misfortune. (Okay, so there were probably a few of those hanging around but, well, we don’t want to read about that kind of woman!)

The trick is, they don’t just want these women to match their hero – they want them to feel as real and as alive as heroines in contemporary stories, not cardboard “strong women” caricatures slotted into a historical setting.

One audience member called cowboys, and the various trappings that leave readers wanting more (their rough and readiness, their physicality, their heroic qualities, their appreciation for the land and hard work and, of course, their proficiency with ropes and easy access to leather) essentially timeless.

In an interesting twist, some readers commented that the idea of bringing Dominance/submission elements into historical Westerns wasn’t really something of interest to them – but that wasn’t a comment echoed with room-wide agreement. But kudos to those who spoke up and brought the subject to light, as that’s something we do want to know more about!

Discussion turned to the fact that what readers really like, what draws them in and hooks their attention, especially in historical stories where an author has to fit in both a hot, sexy love story and the trappings of a historical world, is a good series.

There were lots of comments about why series were great – because the historical world could be developed over multiple books, and because characters could be introduced and developed and – this seemed key – returned to in future series installments. Some audience members even called out what seemed like wish list read ideas including books with horses, trains or mail-order brides.

Readers were clear though they may not go looking for more “mainstream” Western historical romances, if they could get some hot, sweaty, sexy historical cowboy romances, they’d sit up and take notice.

So, the general consensus was “Go for it!”.

As an editor I loved the panel and I was excited to hear all the comments and questions from the audience during the discussion. I’d also love (and the panel authors likely would too!) to know what Redlines and Deadlines readers think about historical versus modern Western erotica, and cowboys in general. And what about the kinkier stuff? Is that something of interest in your Westerns, be they contemporary, or set in the Old West? Please comment!


Aerinah said...

Sounds like a great discussion! I myself am not a particular fan of the Old West or the cowboy romance, even though I live in a place with contemporary cowboys (Alberta). I would read a cowboy romance - modern or historical - if it was well-written and compelling, though.

I'm afraid I'm not a fan of BDSM-type stuff at all - I won't read that on purpose no matter what setting it's in. (It's not that it's kinky - I have some kinks - I just think the mind control/domination stuff is annoying, silly, and boring.) I can see how whips, ropes, etc. would fit peculiarly well with the cowboy scene, however, for someone who is interested in all that...

What I do love is stories about cops - sexy male uniformed cops! Is this a good place to beg for more of those? Or to beg you to tag stories about cops (or make "cops" a theme) so I can search for them more easily on the EC website...?

Thanks - I hope my opinions help! :)


I am so happy to hear this and love this post

As a huge fan of old and newer westerns I LOVE writing Historical westerns.
I try my best to write as real as possible, just like the things that go on today, everything is not pretty and times back then were worse. Times were hard and to tame a hard land a person had to have grit and that included women.
I agree with the statement that while Dominance could have place in a particular scene in a story, I don’t think an entire theme of it in a book would hold the interest of some people. Having said that, I’ve read a few extremely skilled EC authors who could handle it with the dexterity and heat level people like.

Thanks to EC/Blush my western was put into print I have had three book clubs ask me to come and talk to them with another one coming up in December, I pre ordered over 50 and sold all of them except two I gave away in a contest.

I truly believe in saving a horse and riding a cowboy (until he whinnies like a horse). (was that bad?)

Scooter Carlyle said...

I grew up on a ranch in Montana. Some of my dad's friends were the toughest cowboys I'd ever seen, and most fictional cowboys don't measure up. The women they chose were never submissive. They had to be tough to survive in the early days.

A large number of his friends are Natives, Crow and Gros Ventre, that Dad met when he rodeoed. Natives are cowboys, too. I don't read romance much, but is there ever a Native cowboy as a protagonist? I would think that would be interesting, as they tend to do everything differently.

Anonymous said...

I prefer good historical westerns to contemporary ones, unless there's a strong D/s element (but then, I only like contemporary romances that have either BDSM or a paranormal element--I usually find the vanilla ones dull).

Loved Sarah McCarty's Promises series, would love to read more like those!

Scooter Carlyle: Yes, there is a native hero in a contemporary western. Check the Lorelei James series (Samhain). While many of the books in the series have a degree of D/s, not all of them do.

As far as heroines, I prefer intelligence and depth of character to ass kicking, for the most part--in any romance. Strong? Of course. As long as you can define strong for me :>). Marriage for love is relatively new. So are choices for women. I'm interested in meeting heroines who had the strength to endure, survive and overcome their circumstances (which usually meant submitting to them to some degree).

Anonymous said...

We loved doing the workshop and loved all the reader comments. And we all took copious notes!

Regina Carlysle said...

Admittedly, I was really curious about what readers thought of historical westerns because I've been toying with the idea for years. As a native of the west with ancestors who lived very tough lives here, I can only see those historical women a 'tough cookies'. Thanks to the readers who added their two-cents, I'm dying to write one. We simply loved doing this workshop and meeting so many cowboy fans.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I have written a few westerns (EC hasn't picked any of them up, not quite right for the audience). I prefer to write Weird Westerns or Old West Steampunk, which still requires the period knowledge, but throws in a few of my favorite toys.

I have read most of Louis L'Amour. I can't get into Zane Grey.

I'd really like to write one about Calamity Jane or Stagecoach Mary.

Anonymous said...

Historical v modern western erotica? Both work if they're well written. I wouldn't go out to search for either but I'm happy to read either if they take my fancy. Probably more the historical ones but it's the blurb that will make me decide. The one thing that I won't read is hard core BDSM - so any book with that in it, regardless of where and when it's set - is not for me.

Cerise DeLand said...

I never would have thought of writing a "western" before I moved to Texas. Now, since I live in the land of ranchers with cattleguards, 4 x4s and gambler's hats, I have done 4 to date. What I like about cowboys, Rangers, sheriffs is attempting to draw them with some credibility and I know that is precisely what readers want in ANY story. As a reader, I know I've read a few historical westerns--and a few more of my friends' stories in our critique groups. The grittiness of the Old West somehow doesn't seem like a romance to me and yet, after this workshop and listening to the audience's comments, I wanted to write one!
How to get a romantic plot, though???
ALWAYS the challenge!!!
BUT I will say, I had a bucket-load of fun at this workshop. Give me a reader--or 40--with great ideas for heros and YUMYUMYUM. Made my day.