Writing the range: Top 10 cowboys in literature

cover sketches1Cowboys are enjoying a surge of popularity, particularly in the land of romance. Right now, an explosion of popular books on Amazon feature six-pack ab-adorned cowboys with steely blue (or green) eyes, staring out from the covers seductively and with promise. They all look vaguely related, too.

While these romances are flying off the e-shelves, it’s made us think a lot about the cowboy icon. Why is this myth so persistent? Especially when, by and large, moody, gym-going cowboys without shirts never really existed? And we should know. One of us is a true-blue cowboy, albeit lately lapsed due to love, and he never looked – or acted – anything like these romantic heroes. The other one of us is a born and bred city girl (and the cause of the cowboy lapse), a doe-eyed slightly-lost-in-the frontier just shy of pretty type usually cast as the romantic heroine in the ab-adorned books.

Ever since we met, we’ve been debating these questions: What is a real cowboy and are there any characters in books that capture that essence? The answers don’t come from romances, although they are fun to read. The first thing we agreed to agree on – in order to answer the two questions – was cowboy history.

Cowboys, at least the variety idealized in American culture, occupied a narrow window of history that mostly mirrored the rise and fall of the big cattle ranches. The golden age of the cowboy started sometime after the Civil War, when the useless slaughter drove veterans west to try and escape their PTSD demons, and ended sometime before the dustbowl, when fencing and farming and over-tilling desiccated the once open range and sent it airborne.

That’s 70 years at best – a short amount of time to create such an enduring icon. Sure, the roots of the cowboy myth trace back to Mexico and Spain — giving us the buckaroo (vaquero) and the lariat — and tracked forward to ranchers in the modern west now rattling around in their American-made three quarter ton pickup trucks chasing rodeos and dodging tornadoes. But the archetype, the romanticized cowboy, the man of solitude, the knight of the open range forever looking for a wrong to right and sunset to ride into, came and went pretty fast in history.

And yet, the myth of the cowboy crystallized into something far larger and grander than the brief time cowboys rode across the stage of history. A flawed but good-hearted hero, a stoic man with integrity and ingenuity, a heart buried deep beneath a layer of muscle and grit that hides quietly tragic backstory.

We finally agreed that it’s the flawed part that makes for the most interesting literary characters, and reflects the shred of reality inside the myth, especially in the contemporary west where the means to be a cowboy has now shrunk down from the big-ranch era to one of dude-ranches for tourists, or alternative careers like lawman, alpaca farmer or fracker. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with a Vampire and Cowboy

We sat down with Willenator’s World recently for an interview. Will is one of our newly discovered – and now among our favorite – book blogs. Thoughtful commentary and reviews (and not just because we’re featured on the blog, really). 

Whose idea was it to do a cowboy and a vampire novel?

The idea behind the book has its own creation story. We had a bad break up after a short, fiery romance. We were apart for two years and were both feeling burned, but unable or unwilling to shake free. Finally, we agreed to meet on neutral territory — a truckstop diner in rural Madras, Ore., halfway between our places of residence at the time — to see if we could get things back on track.

We decided a creative project might help us contain and redirect the explosive sexual and intellectual energy that torched us to the ground before. We talked about writing a novel together as a test for a long-term relationship, figuring if we could remain friends and lovers during that process, we had a shot at the long haul. We searched for a concept that brought together our mutual interests — the west, the macabre, religion and neuroscience — and we came up with the idea on the spot, literally sketching it out on the back of a placemat in crayon while we drank endless cups of bitter coffee and chain smoked. (Confession: We’ve since quit smoking).

Read more over at Willenator’s World>>

Something terrible happened here

The detective was talking mostly to himself, because the two patrol officers — fresh-faced rookies barely out of the academy and bursting with professional pride — were staring at the carnage, their mouths hanging open like the swinging doors of an abandoned saloon.

After 20 years on the force, the detective had seen a lot, too much, but this was the worst so far. It was 10 in the morning and he needed a drink. Another drink. He scratched at the salt and pepper stubble on his cheeks and then reached under his rumpled trench coat to adjust the Colt .45 nestled in his shoulder holster. The gun had a name — Brenda — and she was always ready to dance, but this wasn’t a shooting thing. Not yet anyway. But the day was young.

Instead, he pulled out his battered notebook, flipped it open and grabbed the dusty pen jammed into his shirt pocket. He clicked it to life, dotting his tongue to start the ink flowing, and then held it like a club over the sweat-stained paper. He was probably the last cop in America who even used paper, a renegade, a rebel who couldn’t play by the rules, even if those rules made entering, storing and retrieving data so much easier.

All the whiskey and divorces and fights and nights alone came crashing down around his shoulders and he lashed out to avoid even one second of introspection. “What do you see?” he shouted at the youngest of the rookie cops, a boy in the knight blue armor of all the men who came before him, a child who picked up the badge reluctantly and only to appease his father, the cold and distant commissioner.

“I don’t know,” the boy said, shrinking back.

The detective grinned like a wolf over a lamb, revealing a row of even, white teeth — even rebels could practice good oral hygiene — and a deep-seated mean streak. “Useless. How about you toots?”

She bristled at the diminutive hurled at her from the washed-out detective, and raised her chin higher defiantly. She couldn’t know it yet, but they would be lovers before the sun came up again.

Who is dead? Read the rest of this VERY short faux-crime scene story over at OMNI MYSTERY>>

Ask a Cowboy

Dear Cowboy, How do you get a cowboy to like you?

Signed, lonely and looking

Dear LAL,

The laws of attraction are mysterious and poorly understood. I’m pretty sure even scientists don’t know how magnets work – or maybe they do, I missed a lot of classes in high school – but I do know that when it comes to affairs of the heart, things get more complicated even than magnets. Despite my less than stellar academic career, I’ve got a little amateur biologist in me. For pretty much every species in the natural world, it’s mostly up to the males to do all the courtship shenanigans to attract the attention of females. From the elaborate dances and gaudy plumage of sage grouse to the ungainly horns and physical contests of big horn sheep, the guys spend the time and energy proving they are worth the time and energy of the ladies. Humans, on the other hand, with our big old brains and our predilection to make everything harder than it needs to be… Read more of the Cowboy’s answer>>

Feel good in their skin: A 22nd century human rights movement?

Miss-USA-antifur-72I attended a TED Talk recently. Yes, I know, this simple fact may surprise you but my kind like a bit of intellectual stimulation now and again too. I’m kidding; of course, I just occasionally enjoy dining on the intellectually eager.

A room full of humans trying to better themselves has all the appeal of a yoga conference for chickens.

But truth be told, I find the style of TED Talks limiting, mostly boring,  the ultimate benefits short-lived. My own hypothesis is that this in-vogue, quick-hit theatrical approach to the transmission of knowledge can be traced back to Sesame Street’s imprinting on the developing neurons of this now balding boob-drooping boomer generation. Read more from the Undead Bloggess>>