Thursday, May 15, 2014

birth of a wannabe cowgirl

I'm often asked why I write books set in the West.  It's a logical question, because I come from a long line of Nantucket whalers (on my father's side) and New Orleans French Quarter dancers, bayou doctors and ice peddlers (thank you, Mom).  In deference to my heritage I collect scrimshaw and cook a mean gumbo.

But that's not where my heart is.  Because one day, when I was ten, my father handed me a dusty, smelly, deteriorating hardcover book he declared was one of his favorites.  He'd read it at least fifty times.  My grandfather, whose book it was, agreed.  THE LIGHT OF THE WESTERN STARS, by Zane Grey, was a classic, they said.  And they were passing it on to me.

It would be my first romance.  When bored and restless society beauty, Madeline Hammond, steps off the train in El Cajon, New Mexico, she meets a rough, drunk cowboy who will proudly give his life to protect her.  While this tough, uneducated man knows a lot about honor and love, willful "Majesty" has money, pride and the desire to create the ranch of her dreams.  It is a "conflict of lifestyles" love story, the very kind of romance that inspires me to write about falling in love in Montana and Wyoming and Texas.  The kind of romance with those protective and stubborn Western heroes.

Zane Grey wrote almost ninety books and, though I have read them all, I have only enjoyed a handful of them.  There were very few written in a woman's point of view.  Scholars have speculated that his wife may have been something of a ghost writer.  After all, Zane was shooting and fishing and hunting all over the world.  He'd send descriptions and notes to Dolly (home with the children, of course!), but when did he, a gregarious womanizer, have time to write?

I still read THE LIGHT OF THE WESTERN STARS each year.  The prose is dated  and flowery, but when Gene Stewart puts Majesty on his horse and carries her out of the mountains to avoid danger, and her hair brushes his face, and she realizes uncomfortably that she has never been so close to a man's chest before...well, I confess, I swoon.

I hope I never outgrow it.

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13 comments:

  1. My grandparents had a hutch on their farm filled with Zane Grey books! It was the only thing my farmer grandpop read and I always wanted to give it a try, but I thought it wouldn't appeal to a teen girl like me. After reading your post, I'm convinced. I'm going to give one a try!

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  2. I'm convinced I'll give the one pictured a try. I've never read Zane Gray, but I've been to his sorta cabin. It's in Arizona in Payson. The real cabin burned in a fire so they made a replacement. Who's the other famous western writer. I'm braindead this morning.

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  3. Oh, wow, I loved Zane Gray books. I still have some very much totally read a million times copies in my book case. In my family it's said my grandfather on my dad's side who ran a mail boat down the Rogue River in Oregon collaborated with Zane Gray on Rogue River Feud. I read Western writers for a long time before I read what is considered a romance.

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  4. My father had a leather-bound Zane Grey collection. One of the first 'adult' books I ever read at about age nine or 10 was Riders of the Purple Sage. I didn't know all that about his womanizing and poor Dolly left at home. Do you wear those wonderful peacock boots when you read him?

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  5. I will have to find this one and read it as well:) I'll admit, it might be the first western romance I've read lol:) I live in Cowboy, redneck Alberta, so I guess it's probably long overdue...or maybe the 'cowboys' I've met her just weren't swoon-worthy lol.

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    1. And that's why we call it "fiction"! LOL!!!!!

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  6. I fell in love with westerns when I was a teen and enjoy them still. Your post is taking me back. I've read a few Zane Grey books, but I don't think I've read this one. I will have to hunt it down. And now I am very curious about Mr. Grey's life! Also enjoyed Louis L'Amour...oh, that Sackett family....

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    1. L'Amour, that's who I couldn't remember. I read the Sacketts. But, my favorite was his time travel. I also liked the one about the man who did all the walking.

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    2. Wasn't that The Walking Drum?

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    3. Yes!
      Did you read the time travel, too?

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    4. No, was it great? Tried to look it up and couldn't find a title.

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  7. What a touching post! I think we all have books that linger with us as "unconscious inspirations." I can't remember the title now, but one that I read in one day when I was maybe twelve, was about a woman finding love on a wagon train heading west. I'm sure the realism of the wagon train wasn't there, but so what? The love story about a courageous heroine was.

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  8. I haven't read Zane Grey books, but I loved hearing about this and I love that cover. 'Vintage' covers are so cool.

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