Diversity or Die

Mysteries have  thrived, author Richard Wheeler says, because the
authors, editors, and packagers have embraced diversity and allowed the genre to evolve in new directions. But westerns are dying because editors and packagers refuse to let the genre evolve…even if it means deceiving readers.

subgenres were allowed to flourish nor were any unorthodox stories
packaged truthfully. The packaging was often a lie, intended to deceive
the buyer. The novel might be a mining camp story about a gambler, but
the cover would be a cowboy with a gun. The novel might feature an
Indian warrior opposing western expansion, but the cover would likely
be a cowboy with a gun.

It’s a shame, because I think a lot of people who enjoy dark, gritty, mysteries would also embrace westerns if they could see past the cowboy covers (and they can’t). The westerns I’ve been reading lately are as noir as it gets (like Ed Gorman’s WOLF MOON and H.A. DeRosso’s GUN TRAIL). Scott Phillips’ COTTONWOOD, if it had been creatively and aggressively marketed, could have drawn noir lovers into the western fold…but, sadly, that didn’t happen.

I think the answer is to scrap the cowboy covers altogether. Aggressively market westerns not as westerns, but as novels. Forget they are westerns altogether. Banish the cover cliches of the genre…and reach for something different,  images and designs that reflect the tone of the book and the unique story being told. 


3 thoughts on “Diversity or Die”

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out what happened to the Western.
    Thirty years ago, there were men’s cheap, trashy novels, and there were women’s cheap, trashy novels.
    Novels aimed primarily at men were either westerns or spy stories, and they featured violence and sex, and the genres have largely disappeared.
    Women’s novels featured (as I understand it, I’ve never actually managed to get past the first fifty pages of one) relationships and sex, and they are still with us in a big way.
    Why did traditional women’s fiction survive, and traditional men’s fiction die?
    It’s too bad, really: more than other forms of quick n’ cheap storytelling, the western was about myth. Perhaps that is what happened to it: the desire for mythic storytelling was driven into something less overtly male-oriented: sci-fi and fantasy.
    In any event, I’ve written a couple of experimental stories in the western genre, although they stray widely from the traditional material in much the same was as the books you describe (at least as you describe them: I haven’t read them). I think the genre is a rich source of cultural myth, and it wouldn’t surprise me if undeclared sub-genres were to start to appear.

  2. I think every American male writer, deep in his heart, wants to write a Western. It is the American genre. (Scott Phillips and I talked about this a lot while he was writing COTTONWOOD.)
    Maybe we should be looking to Frank Norris instead of Louis L’Amour as our prototype.


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