Last month I featured rodeos in my first Sweethearts post and promised to come back with more on what makes contemporary westerns great in November. Again, I have to say the answer lies in the contemporary West itself because this was where country music was born. Though I can't claim to be a western girl myself - more southern belle - I grew up listening to country. I saw Reba McEntire in concert when I was nine years old. We listened to album after album of Reba, Shania, Alan Jackson, and Brooks and Dunn on road trips. (My poor daddy...)
As I grew older, I grew out of my country music fandom. So it was a nice throwback to old car rides and memories when crafting my first western romance, Blackest Heart. Western romance, whether you live in the heart of the west or not, is all about worldbuilding - a term more often attributed to the paranormal, fantasy and sci-fi genres. The world is real, yes, but it's our job as western romance writers to deliver it on the page as a full sensory experience to the reader. With the Texas setting came the landscape, the summer heat, the wind storms, the small town of Wayback, TX, and the culture of the American west. A lot of that culture, I learned, centered around the rodeo arena, the ranches, and - maybe most of all - the honky-tonk.
I'm one of those writers who is influenced by mood-enhancing music when crafting storylines. For this one, you can be sure I broke out all those old country albums as well as a few new ones. It was only natural that music from the likes of Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes are mentioned in the book. Even blues icon Johnny Cash's music makes a cameo thanks to his place on hero Judd's playlist. Bonus points for whoever can guess which one of the Man in Black's songs is featured ;)
When I went back to Wayback to write the sequel, Bluest Heart, the heroine, Josie, was a tonky-tonk singer with plenty of attitude. To help further realize her character, I put together a list of songs Josie would sing onstage. It was a medley of sass featuring Miranda Lambert, the Dixie Chicks, Gretchen Wilson, Dolly Parton, Sugarland, and - of course - that Postcards from the Edge classic "I'm Checking Out." The book itself takes on a more sentimental note as old flame, Casey Ridge, fights for Josie's heart. The medley of the story turns out to be a favorite Kenny Chesney tune. Again, bonus points for anyone who can guess which!
So you see? Country music is part of American culture - specificially western American culture. It's difficult to dive into the contemporary western genre without relying on country music to set the tone in some measure, even when it simply helps you as the writer find the right mood.
Now for some discussion. What is your favorite country music song or artist? Right now, I've got one of my all-time faves from both categories stuck in my head: Reba's "Fancy." And super special brownie points for whoever can tell me the name of Wayback, Texas's honky-tonk!