Just the other day, I posted this quote from Winston Churchill: Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Normally, I’d just leave it out there and it would hopefully inspire some other folks the way it inspired me. But I’ve found that over the past few days, I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.
Maybe it’s because I’m at a point where some writers I know have given up: 100 query letters sent, no nibbles. A handful of really nice responses, praising one or more of the elements of my offerings. But no concrete interest to date.
Many people would move on.
It’s not that I thought it would be easy. In today’s anyone-can-publish environment, I knew it would be hard to find an agent or publisher the traditional way, as the bar is set so high. I knew that books set in the Old West aren’t all that popular, particularly when they don’t adhere to the expected story lines. I knew that rape and incest were topics that would be rejected immediately by some agents.
But I also know it’s a subject that needs the light of day to shine on it, and that I’ve handled it with both empathy and sensitivity. I’ve explored the effects of these horrors not only on the abused, but also on those who help others heal, who become the caregivers for the exploited, and who may feel guilt and despair because they think they should have somehow, in some way, been able to intervene and change the path of fate.
So, yes, it’s a hard subject. I often find myself drawn to hard subjects, like intractable physical pain; the plight of Native American children in missionary schools; Irish slavery in the Americas; hatred of those who are not “like us”; the failure of those we trust to defend us; being disabled in an able world; and An Gorta Mor. I have written or am writing on all of these subjects.
Knowing that LET THE CANYONS WEEP was going to be harder to place is something that gives me the ambition to keep going with the query process. The book hasn’t failed because it hasn’t found the right agent, but I will fail if I give up on it.
Or it could just be the hardhead incurable optimist in me…
One of the most difficult things about writing fiction is deciding on a genre, particularly when your work hits several of them tangentially.
For instance, my style is more literary than contemporary. But the Literary genre requires more than a literary style. It identifies character-driven stories that explore the reactions of characters to universal situations, situations often fraught with emotion.
In the broad sense, my novel LET THE CANYONS WEEP does those things, but some would not label it as Literary Fiction because there is too much resolution.
What do I mean by “too much resolution”? Literary Fiction is focused on making the reader do some deep thinking, and usually leaves at least one open question in the reader’s mind. My novels are character-driven and, at the end of the books, the major conflict is resolved. However, there are questions left open pertaining to the future of the characters and how deeply the issues will affect them going forward.
On the other hand, most genre fiction has a definite set of rules to follow. A Western, for instance, is plot-driven, and will usually flow this way: hero cowboy/lawman/rancher fights the bad-guy/rich-guy/land-grabber and saves the girl/ranch/town. A twist on that involves a woman, sometimes posing or dressed as a man, fighting obstacles to win the guy/ranch/revenge.
Now I realize this is very simplistic view of a plot and many variations are possible, but most Westerns will follow this formula. And just as Romance readers expect a happy ending, most Westerns readers will expect the formula to be followed, at least to some degree.
So how is my novel, set in the 1880s Arizona Territory, not a Western? To start with, the bad guy’s death is the opening catalyst for the novel, not the thrilling denouement. The cowboy wins the girl (and the ranch) very early on. However, the repercussions of the dead outlaw’s deeds figure prominently in the story until the very end. And to top it all off, the hero manages to create a situation that threatens both his happiness and that of his woman.
So to sum up, a novel that’s set in the Old West but that deviates from the expected norm is, by definition, not a Western. LET THE CANYONS WEEP is a Literary novel set in a Historical time period and most definitely not a Western.