Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interesting Question About the Old West

Are Western Heroes Always The Sheriff?

 (Question from Jannine Corti Petska)

            The field of occupations in the 19th century American West was wide open, yet heroes in historical romance books are either a sheriff, a marshal, a cowboy, a desperado (with heart), or a gambler. But what about other jobs that shaped the West?
            I’ve been reading historical western romances for over 30 years. There were heroes of all kinds, but my favorite was (and still is) the ex-gunslinger. What exactly is a gunslinger, you ask? He can be for hire, seemingly on the wrong side of the law. In today’s terms, he’d have been a bad ass. Or he can shoot-‘em-up to survive the evil men chasing after him. He’s either made a mistake or was falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Beneath his dark past lurks a good guy, even though he was a hardened man who was a crack shot with a rifle or gun. The kind of man you’d love to see transformed by the end of the book all because of a determined yet caring heroine.
Below are a few occupations that aren’t new to the western romance genre, but neither are they the norm. A writer’s imagination can romanticize about the hero who is a trapper or miner. Sure, the sheriff hero seems stronger, more appealing, the upstanding citizen, but I’m willing to read a romance with any hero who has a job outside the norm. It’s all about the author’s vision.  

Mountain Men, Trappers, Fur Traders: Who wouldn’t want to see a tall, solidly muscled hero in buckskins? These men lived off nature and usually preferred making their home in the mountains. They mingled with the Indians, traded, and sold their goods to anyone with money. But the life these men led was lonely and dangerous. Accidents and illness killed many, especially those high up in the mountains who had no way of getting help.
The Hawken rifle was their constant companion. They owned metal traps large and small, bearskin gloves, sharp knives for scraping hides, utility knives, ash-frame snowshoes, and so much more, all of it practical and useful. In reality, trappers, et. al, were filthy with little regard to personal hygiene. Of course, in a romance novel, this hero—while attractively grubby—prefers to be clean, or as clean as possible.  
            Now take a heroine, add a trapper in trouble—maybe she stumbled upon him injured—and throw in a believable conflict. A romance writer’s imagination can run with just that bit of an idea. At least, that’s all it takes for me to realize there’s story material in there waiting to jump onto the pages.

            Miners: The hero needs money. He pans for gold. But is he the miner? Of course not! I have a story simmering on the back burner with a heroine who is a miner. This is the American West, so that’s not an impossibility. Women back then were made sturdy and had a strong constitution. What if your hero and heroine are both miners? What if they stake a claim on the exact same spot?
            Wherever gold was found, towns shot up almost overnight. Of course, when the gold was depleted, a town disappeared rather quickly. Is there something in this new town that has drawn your hero or heroine? Again, are they after the same thing? When these “gold” towns sprang up, laws were set by vigilante miners’ courts. They didn’t mess around. Justice came swift. A-ha! Is your miner hero about to be hanged?

            With a little research (the era of the internet is a God-send to writers; but always double-check your facts), a writer can find an occupation seldom written about for her hero. Or heroine. You’ll make your readers happy because you’ll give them a refreshing look at the Old West. I don’t recall reading any westerns with a hero who was a doctor or lawyer. I tend to go after the rough and ready guy with a stubbly chin and jaw (a perennial 5:00 shadow). You never know who might pick up your book to read. You could be responsible for turning a reader, who never cared for the American West, on to historical western romances. Whatever the case, let your imagination spread as far and wide as the West. You’d be surprised by what you’ll find.

Writers, what are some of the different types of jobs you’ve given your hero. Readers, what jobs for a hero would you like to see? (Jump in with thoughts about jobs for heroines, too!)

Now that your mind is thinking about about checking out Rebel Heart:

When the woman he's sworn to protect finds herself in the middle of a range war,
Beau Hamilton fights against losing his heart while defending Courtney Danning against the unscrupulous man fixing to run her out of town.

But when their passion turns as hot as the Santa Fe sun, will their love in the untamed West prevail? Or will Beau's dark past tear them apart?

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Alison H. said...

Hi Jannine!
Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I write western historicals and so far my heroes have been a stage coach security agent and an ex-outlaw. Right now I'm working on a novella about an would-be silver rush miner who learns to be a paleontologist. I love the idea of looking a little wider for occupations for our heroes.

Jannine Gallant said...

Hi Jannine,

Saw your title and had to read this post. I have a western historical coming out in February, and the sheriff isn't the hero. He's the other man, the macho newcomer who tries to steal the heroine's heart! The hero is a farmer, beta instead of alpha, a different type of hero. Surprisingly, he became my favorite hero of all the ones I've ever created.

Calisa Rhose said...

Love cowboys, strong heroes and stronger women to subdue them. Jobs don't come easy for me so I have to think long and hard. One of my current heroes is a fireman-turned-cabinet maker. One of historical author Michelle Willingham's heroines is a glass blower.

Jannine said...

My western heroes have been an ex-gunslinger, gambler, army deserter (with a good reason), and yes, the sheriff, a horse ranch owner, and a rancher.

Your miner turned paleontologist is quite different...and interesting!

Thanks for commenting.

Jannine said...

Hi Jannine:
Nothing wrong with a beta farmer hero. It's all in how you write him. The bad-guy sheriff and the farmer vying for the same woman is a great conflict!

Thanks for coming by.

Jannine said...

Hi Calisa:
A glass blower? Now THAT is different and definitely thinking outside the box. So is your fireman turned cabinet maker. I'll be he's good with his hands, lol.

Thanks for being here.

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