“Traditional Western”

I invite you to look over my shoulder while I attempt to convince Western Fictioneers that Every Soul Is Free should be considered in their annual Peacemaker Awards for Best Western.  The contest sets a cut-off date of 1920 and I have suggested this is not an appropriate way to view western stories and values.  Courtney Joiner, the Chair of Judges, has asked in a very gentlemanly way “if you could tell me how much of the book takes place after 1920, which is our period cut-off date. This probably feels arbitrary, but I know the original rule was established to keep the focus of the Fictioneers on what’s considered ‘traditional westerns,’ it was felt that the work should fall into that time span.” Here is my response:

I believe one needs to review three arguments.

First, the specific question you asked: How much of the novel is pre-1920 v. how much is post-1920?  You were kind enough to note that the idea of measuring it is quite arbitrary and, indeed, may be subject to some wide interpretation in how to measure the “how much.”  Without submitting to you the entire outline of the novel under consideration for the Peacemaker Award competition, that outline would show 26% of the pages and 15% of the chapters. It would, however, show 100% of the tension because every bit of the dramatic question arises from events in 1869 and their subsequent evolution between two families.

Second, to the broader time question that you did not ask:  As I mentioned, this is the third in the High Mountain Sheriffs series. That series starts in 1853 and includes two sheriffs, Luke Willford Simms and John Willford Simms, whose stories precede this one of Mark Willford Simms. I have started the second book, John Willford, and we expect Pen-L Publishing to publish it as soon as it is ready. These are of a piece and it makes the story 67% or 75% or 100% prior to 1920, depending on what point of view you take.

Third, the point of view you take is all important: The real argument is that the values of the West where I grew up are timeless. You used the phrase “what’s considered ‘traditional westerns.’ ”  I will assert that every day of my life I was raised with traditional western values and putting a clock to them measures the wrong thing both about the traditional values and about the West. I acknowledge that a film noire type novel about a detective set in Wyoming in the 1950s is different from a Matt Dillon tale, but it is for your judges to determine whether it should win an award, not the rules. Further to my point, one of the reasons for this story and starting where I did is to show that the Old West lived way into the middle of the twentieth century, and nothing demonstrates that more than a posse, a horseback chase in the mountains, and a finale with gunfire.

Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to make this determination.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it comes out. Of course, I hope to win, but first I hope to participate.

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