In The Beginning by Lyn Horner
My mom was a Minnesota girl. My dad hailed from Texas. I was born in San Francisco, California, where my parents met, but we moved to Minnesota when I was four years old so Mama could be near her family. For many years, I had no contact with my southern relations.
Then, as a young married, I discovered the Romance Revolution – so named by Bertrice Small in a newsletter article she wrote in 2007 for Long Island Romance Writers. She was, of course, talking about the beginning of modern romance, in which she played a part. With this revolution came the birth of western romance, and once I discovered this genre, I was hooked.
Western historical romances aregenerally set west of the Mississippi River, in the wild and wooly Old West. Most take place in the last half of the nineteenth century, although some are staged earlier. A few are now set in the early twentieth century, leading up to World War I. Together, they form a sub-genre of Historical Romance.
Historical Romance as we know it sprang to life thirty-nine years ago with the 1972 publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.After her death in 2007, Ms. Woodiwiss’s editor, Carrie Feron, called her “the founding mother of the historical romance genre.” She wrote epic adventures with strong plots and character development, and she dared to include sizzling love scenes that went beyond a kiss and a hug. However, she was not the first to write western romances.
Rosemary Rogers claimed that honor with her first book, Sweet Savage Love,published in 1974. Whereas Woodiwiss often chose settings in far off lands and time periods, Rogers set SSL and numerous other books in the Old West. Her plots were highly dramatic, her characters’ actions sometimes hard to be believe, but that didn’t matter to her fans. And yes, I’m one of them. Maybe she was queen of the bodice rippers back then, but oh my, her heroes were men with a capital “M.”
Sweet Savage Loveset the stage for many other writers. My next guest blogger, Suzie Grant, will delve deeper into the topic of influential authors. Rather than intrude further into her territory, I sought out the roots of modern western romance, and what sets it apart from earlier literary genres.
The taproot of all modern romances, westerns included, traces back to nineteenth century authors of romantic fiction such as Jane Austin and the Brontë sisters. Their books are noted for commentary upon social conditions of their time. Some of their stories do not end happily, as do most modern romances, but they contain strong romantic themes.
The other main root of WR leads directly back to those shoot-’em-up westerns I read as a kid. That said, there is a great difference between traditional westerns and western romances. Westerns focus mainly on male characters; female characters are often little more than props. Western romances, on the other hand, usually tell the stories from a woman’s point of view, although the men also possess strong voices. The plots may be action-packed (mine are) but they are largely character driven. Both the hero and heroine reveal their inner struggles as the story unfolds.
Quoting Constance Martin from a 1999 piece she wrote for Romantic Times, “Heroes in these novels seek adventure and are forced to conquer the unknown. They are often loners, slightly uncivilized, and ‘earthy.’ Their heroines are often forced to travel to the frontier by events outside their control. These women must learn to survive in a man’s world, and, by the end of the novel, have conquered their fears with love. In many cases the couple must face a level of personal danger, and, upon surmounting their troubles, are able to forge a strong relationship for the future.”
In a western romance the man and woman stand as equal partners by the conclusion of the book. The men don’t dominate the scene as they do in traditional westerns. This is, of course, a very modern outlook, and it may not reflect the reality of late nineteenth century life on the American frontier. But, you know what, when I was a little girl watching those old westerns with my dad, I wasn’t dreaming of being the cowboy hero. I wanted to be the gal riding off into the sunset next to him. The key words there are “next to” – not a horse’s length behind him.
So, if the books I read and write offer a somewhat romanticized view of the Old West, that’s fine with me. After all, we call them western romances, and that’s what we love about them, right ladies?
Okay, that’s my rant for the day. Tune in next time for Suzie’s take on authors, then and now.