Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Roots of Western Romance

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Today’s post is a revamped version of an article published on Cowboy Kisses in April 2012, and originally on Lyn Horner’s Corner in 2011.

Sweethearts of the West is dedicated to western romance readers and authors. As such, I thought it might be fun to pass on a little history of the genre, and how I came to love it.

The Flame and the Flower

Historical Romance as we know it was born in 1972 with the 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 far beyond a kiss and a hug. However, she was not the first to write western romances.

Sweet savage Love

Rosemary Rogers claimed that honor with Sweet Savage Love, published in 1974. Whereas Woodiwiss often chose settings in far off lands and time periods, Rogers set SSL and following 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 Love set the stage for authors such as LaVyrle Spenser, Kat Martin, Linda Howard, and many more. But where did modern western romance spring from? What sets it apart from earlier literary genres?

Pride and Prejudice

Early illustration from Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austin

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 notable for commentary about life in their time period. Some of the stories do not end happily, as most modern romances do, but they contain strong romantic themes.

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The other main root of western romance leads back to classic shoot-em-up westerns, but the two genres differ greatly. Westerns are action driven and often focus on male characters; women are sometimes little more than props. Western romances, on the other hand, frequently tell the story from both the woman’s and the man’s point of view. The plots may be action-packed but they are largely character driven.

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.” Riders of the Purple Sage

My love of western romance evolved in the same way from classic westerns. I’ve always loved tales of the Old West thanks to my dad. He was a Texan born only a few decades after the great cowboy era, and I believe he always wished he’d lived in those days. With him, I watched every western he could find on TV. Later, he started me reading western novels, mainly those of Zane Gray. I remember writing book reports on westerns when I was in junior high. The usual girly books bored me to tears.

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 sub-genre, I was hooked.

CreateSpace cover 2013

Some years later, I began writing my own stories, publishing my first book, Darlin’ Irish,  in 2010. A prequel novella and two more novels in the Texas Devlins series followed. In the tradition of western romance, they combine fast-paced action with passionate love stories. h, and a glimmer of psychic magic and Irish charm just for fun.


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Book two, Dashing Irish (Texas Devlins, Tye’s Story) features a cattle drive – a nod to my favorite John Wayne classic, Red River.

In this scene feisty cowgirl Lil Crawford is driving off a troublesome band of wild mustangs, with help from a certain pesky Irishman.New cover for Createspace

She glanced over her shoulder, already knowing it was Tye. He waved and grinned, blue eyes twinkling in the sunlight, much like the bluebonnets spread among the prairie grass and other wild flowers along the trail.

Suddenly lighthearted, Lil smiled and waved back. “We’d better drive them off a ways, or they’re liable to turn and come back,” she shouted above the thunder of hooves.

“Whatever ye say, milady,” he called. Flashing her another impudent grin, he took position on the other side of the horse herd.

They pounded onward for a couple of miles. By then, Lil felt reasonably sure the mustangs wouldn’t return to harass the cattle. Spying a buffalo wallow partly filled with rain water, she waved her arm, catching Tye’s attention and signing for him to pull up.

“Let’s water our horses,” she called, pointing to the wallow.

“Grand idea. I could use a drink myself.” He wiped a dusty shirtsleeve across his forehead. “And a bath wouldn’t hurt.”

Lil glanced at him sharply as they approached the pond. Was he serious? If so, he could forget it. She wasn’t about to strip down in front of him. That would be asking for trouble, maybe more than she could handle.

“That can wait,” she declared. “We’ve got to get back to the herd.”

He looked at her and sighed. “Aye, I know. But a man can wish, no?” His warm gaze said he wished for more than a bath, causing Lil to hastily avert her eyes.

Dismounting, they led their horses to the wallow. While the animals drank their fill, she and Tye knelt nearby to drink. Though tepid and a little murky, the water tasted a lot better than trail dust. Once she’d quenched her thirst, Lil splashed water on her face, washing away some of the grit. She, too, longed for a bath. If her father located a creek where they could bed down tonight, maybe she’d find a hidden spot and clean up proper. For now, she pulled off her grimy bandanna, rinsed it out and swabbed her throat and neck.

Beside her, Tye plunged his head into the water, swished it back and forth vigorously and threw more water over his neck. He came up dripping, shirt half-soaked. Swiping water from his face, he took a breath and slicked back his hair. The wet tendrils immediately sprang back into unruly waves, making Lil long to run her fingers through the glistening black strands.

Tye turned his head and caught her staring. Stunned by the instant leap of desire in his eyes, she gazed into their beckoning depths. Her mouth went dry and her heart pounded wildly.

She still held the wet bandanna pressed to her throat. Shifting to face her, Tye took the wadded up material from her and tossed it aside. She was mesmerized by his caressing gaze, but when he leaned close, panic set in. He mustn’t kiss her again. That would be playing with fire.

“No!” she cried, pushing him away. She jumped up, but before she’d taken two steps, he was on his feet, catching her arms.

“Lily!” he murmured, soft tone imploring her not to run.

This time she couldn’t force herself to stop him as he bent toward her.

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  1. Lyn, great post. I read romance before I knew it was romance. I didn't realize Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Georgette Heyer were romances--I thought they were mysteries. Guess that's why my romances usually include a mystery. ☺

  2. You're talking my language now, Lyn. Oh, yes, those early western romances were wonderful, although I didn't discover them until the 90s. By then, they were in used book stores, which I loved. (Do used book stores even exist anymore?)
    However, I have never read a Georgette Heyer. Someday I will.
    Thanks for the wonderful post.

  3. Caroline, we can have our mysteries and romance too! I love books with both, plus lots of action. You're a whiz at combining all three. thanks for stopping by.

  4. Celia, quite a few of the early romances I read were also from used book stores -- the little mom and pop kind. Sadly, there aren't many of those left.

    Sadly, I haven't read Ms. Heyer's books either. One the things I need to remedy. Thanks for your words of praise!

  5. Great blog Lyn, I was a Zane Grey fan too.



  6. He was the greatest, Margaret. Thanks for popping in.

  7. Kathleen Woodiwiss books took me from my usual sci-fi books into romance. I guess for many of us, she was our introduction into great romantic stories. Amazingly, I did not get into western romances until I read Linda Lael Miller in an anthology I picked up at the library.
    Your Irish stories look like marvelous romances...and, of course, I love the Irish part.
    I liked the graphics you added, too.
    All the best to you, Lyn.

  8. Sarah, Woodiwiss's "Shanna" is one of my favorite books ever. she had the most romantic touch! Some readers consider too flowery nowadays, but not me. Still love her books!

    Thank you for visiting!


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