Ladies Love Cowboys: Romance, August 2012

Life in the American West has long been popular fiction fodder. From James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s iconic The Virginian, and Zane Grey’s adventurous tales to the more recent offerings of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy, the lure of the West continues to draw in readers. But this attraction is not limited to the official “Western.” Over the years, the Western influence has drifted across genre lines, infecting a number of them with its adventurous spirit. Each genre has assimilated the Western influence in its own way and as Mystery columnist Teresa Jacobsen and I discovered, the cowboy of romance is not the cowboy of mystery/suspense!

Some key elements that would make it a romance (see Terry’s take):

• Setting: On a ranch, in a small town, in wide open spaces
• Heroes: Cowboys, ranchers, wranglers, ranch hands, rodeo riders, lawmen, gunslingers, drifters, veterinarians. Must be honest, honorable, intelligent, fearless, cool under pressure. Usually bruising riders and crack shots
• Heroines: Ranchers, horsewomen, teachers, librarians, cooks, city women (occasionally). Almost always smart, brave, determined, fiercely protective of their land, animals, and children; excellent riders and handy with a gun
• Plots: Saving/restoring/making a success of the ranch and finding and bringing the bad guys to justice. Requisite happy ending!
• Authors: Writers like Linda Lael Miller, Georgina Gentry, Leigh Greenwood, and Jodi Thomas are only a few who have claimed the Western romance as their own.

About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)