The epic saga of Threads West begins in 1855 with the first of four richly-textured, complex generations of unforgettable characters. The separate lives of these driven men and independent women are drawn to a common destiny that beckons seductively from the wild and remote flanks of the American West. They are swept into the dangerous currents of the far-distant frontier by the mysterious rivers of fate, the power of the land and the American spirit.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Westerns, History, And Steamy Sizzle! by Reid Lance Rosenthal
Mary has kindly asked me to share some pointers, ideas, and “how to’s” of writing Historical Western Romance. I’m flattered, particularly since in the general scheme of things,I am a newbie author. First, some background on why and what I write.
Perhaps what drives my pen is my love of land, perhaps a genealogy that goes back almost two-hundred years in land and cattle—including a goodly portion of that time by my ancestors in Europe. Perhaps it is the cowboy hat, the special feel and touch of a woman you care for, or the smell of horse leather and sweat. I love America and the West. I am enamored with romance, history, fiction, and all things western. They epitomize universal energies. So it makes sense that I love Historical Western Romance as a genre: the power of the land, the all-encompassing flow of steamy passion, heartfelt romance, and the intrigue of differing personalities.
Combine these forces of land and love (or lust), mix in detailed historical fact, the West, the American spirit, and the interplay of strong, conflicted male and female impassioned personalities, and we have historical western romances! It is not an oft written genre, and I am the only rancher/cowboy writing heated tales of the multi-cultural West.
The key, though—this newbie author believes—is to be able to write equally compelling versions of the same act from both the male and female POV! How do I insert myself in the skin of a woman and write from her vantage? A great female editor helps immensely, but most important is the accurate tap of direct and indirect empirical experience. Fiction is but the shadow of real life.
I am penning the Threads West: An American Saga, eight-novel series, not only because I want to write and keep the promise a nine-year-old (me) made to himself many years ago, but because the series is our story. It is the ongoing story of us. I hope the story entertains, and serves as a touchstone for troubled times, perhaps a guidepost moving us forward into the future.
The best way to approach this rather broad subject isto find its basic elements. First, the setting; second, the characters; third, the arc of the story—including the simmer and sizzle—and last, but certainly not least, the historical context.
I have an advantage when it comes to setting. Being a rancher and a cowboy affords me great familiarity with the varying landscapes of the West, many of which I’ve walked or ridden across. The setting, the physical environment and specific era, of a western is all-important. I do quite a bit of photography and would equate a western landscape photo to the initial setting of a chapter. When a moment speaks to me—that that peculiar angle of the sun, sky prisms following rain, shadows creeping with the ever-changing angle of light—I’m compelled to capture, perhaps even catalog, the image. Many times, due simply to the wild and remote places where I spend many of my waking hours, I’ve been fortunate to record the vivid, mesmerizing power of the land.These are the scenes, and never to be repeated moments, that provide the visual underpinning in my writing. Mood.Setting.A snapshot of the earth. It’s all there visually, deep in the creative part of my soul. The pen becomes merely the shutter, and the paper the film. For aspiring writers of western romance I would say,know your locations. Go there. Breathe it, smell it, see it, feel it, let the energy of the place speak to you, and then translate that energy intothe written word.
Characters, of course, are key ingredients in any tale,any genre, whether true, half true, or pure fiction. When one is writing historical fiction, the characters must be true to their period. The writer needs to step into a portal and catapult themselves backwards in time. The characters must be authentic, and in my humble opinion, their inner and external conflicts, ambitions, passions and interactions, have to engender every possible emotion.
Though some adamantly disagree, men and women are very different creatures. A woman is a woman, and a man is a man. In a novel, as in life, the personalities of both sexes project a certain individual aura and mystique. Mystique is projected through dress, looks, speech, activities, interplay with the opposite sex, and lifestyle. Aura is something deeper. It is the power of presence, the inner energy of the soul, the core primeval pulse, the promise of passion and torrid romance. We all know people of either gender whose simple entry into a room changes the atmosphere. One can almost palpably feel their life energy, enthusiasm, emotion, innate strength and sexual halo. I strive to ensure all of my characters, male and female, possess these qualities. Some have a dark energy—others light. But all are strong and vulnerable, each in a unique, gender-driven way.
Romance is popular because it is a universal energy. Who reading this has not had a love? Obviously there are many shades of romance, the dastardly and forced, the purely physical and somewhat cold, the heart hot, sparking passionate—though temporary, and the true love—deeply sensual and long-lasting. Who of us has not experienced one or more of these? And, as we all know, real-life romantic involvement is complex. There are highs, lows, intrigues, diversions, happy endings, and not so cheerful conclusions. I believe various characters need to experience all these if the romantic spine of the book is to have texture and authenticity.
In a Western, particularly a Historical Western, the land shapes personalities and destinies. It is the enduring stage upon which the characters act out their interactions, ambitions, greed, duplicity, loves, loyalties, and opportunities. The tapestry of western relationships is always the land. The intertwined twists are fascinating threads that the bind the conflicted men and women of the West. Back then, and now. I try to make the foundation of my stories that reality. There is intrigue, adversity, vicious duplicity, and triumphs that few know of, but which are always at play beneath the idyllic mosaics of inviting canyons and sundrenched plains.
There is no one who has not stood on the beach, their feet in briny froth, looking at the sea, on a hill overlooking a vista, or peered far down a river to where it bends out of sight, that has not felt the tug. It is this universal energy which should be wound throughout. This “essence of the Earth” brings readers back to their very roots as a human being. Better yet, these universal truths remain constant in any historical era, though unfortunately less realized today than at any other time in man’s history.
The story an author wants to tell it is determined by an author’s goals. Perhaps the objective is simply to tell a great tale. Perhaps there is personal penchant towards a certain point in history the writer feels pivotal. Maybe the writer has messages which interweave subtly within the story-line. Or, it just might be they simply want to write a book and sell as many copies as possible. Each novelistcan answer this question for themselves.
Each author also has his, or her, own distinctive style. I write in the very old style of “converging threads” because I like it, and it has always intrigued me. It is,perhaps, one of the more difficult styles to employ because in reality you have stories within stories, as disparate characters meet, and their life threads intertwine. Their rendezvous must be realistic, believable, and not contrived. It can be a daunting task.
Other authors write more linear – a single story, more or less, with a singular set of characters. Manyseriesuse basically the same characters in different time periods and situations. A single novel has,simply, a beginning, and an end. An epic historical saga might be the most difficult. Not only does the writer have a multitude of characters (especially in the converging threads style), but there are generational offshoots of those characters, and new personalities which enter the fray which with each successive installment of the tale.
Picking and choosing the history, the macro historical dialogue, and the miniscule but important nuggets of personalized history, are all important. Mess up here, and you’ve undermined all your hard work.
I have several messages in my novels which I try to relate seamlessly within the context of simply a good read and enjoyable story. I want readers to consider the disintegration of the values of the old West and of our revolutionary forefathers. These are traitsthat appear to be slipping away, replaced by an entitlement mentality and the crutch of government, rather than the tried-and-true values of self-reliance, individualism, family and community which are undeniably the foundation of the Old West.
The Threads West series begins in 1855. It is the tale of disparate threads of lives, from many locations around the globe, different social origins, ethnicity and creeds, that weave together into the tapestry of an emerging nation; a country on the cusp of greatness, offering opportunity and freedom.
The last book of the series will be set in the real-time, contemporary West. The historical novels in the Threads West series accurately portray what transpired in our history, in the evolution of our lands, our thought processes, morals and freedoms. So, too, will the contemporary novel portray in vivid reality—couched in sizzling romance and nonstop adventure—the current state of affairs in the West, and the United States. The fictional series is, in essence, an historical anthology of true life. If the series evokes every imaginable emotion, inspires passions, and delights readers, that’s great. But, if by chance, the tale reacquaints folks with the basic principles that form the foundation of this enthralling experiment we call the United States of America, then I will be truly satisfied.
Historical research is a must. In some ways it ties in with getting your feet, your mind, body and soul to the location to experience it before you write. Research is both fascinating and tedious, exhilarating and surprising, mandatory and time-consuming. It was a far bigger task than I anticipated. I have researchers now that work with me on many facets of those specific points of history I want to touch on in delivering the story, creating the interaction between the characters, and describing the universal energies which drive them. I pay special attention to historical facts and details which move the plot along, and act as catalysts to the convergence of life threads but at the same time help me convey my message.
I did virtually all the story-line research on the first novel, Threads West, by myself. I had important help from several researchers on details of dress, circumstances and some great historical tidbits, and gave them credit in the book. But, I wanted to learn what was entailed. I thought I was familiar with this special moment in American history. I was mistaken. 1855 maybe one of the most pivotal years in the history of this country, certainly of the West. The great westward migration was in its infancy. The breach of the 1854 Kansas/Nebraska Act, and the Compact of 1850 between the states were stirring the winds of war. The later turmoil between the northern and southern states, (part of the Book TwoMaps of Fate plot) was beginning to darken the rhetoric of both sides. Native Americans had rightfully lost trust in the promises of the white man and the broken treaties of the years prior. Gold would soon be discovered in Colorado, becoming the real precipitator of the tidal wave of westward migration that began in 1858.
The Singer sewing machine had just been invented, foreshadowing the Industrial Revolution.The repeating rifle, other than the 1855 Colt cylinder model,had not yet been released. It was this point in time that American and the world breathed in, held their collective breath, and exhaled with a rush toward the Great Plains and the Rockies.
My research sources are many and varied. They include print, web, nonfiction and historical memoir, and interviews. I often travel to specific geographic locations where my wandering feet have, for some reason, not yet trod. I’m extremely proud of—and humbled by—the eight national awards the series earned in the last year, including four in Romance, one in Western and, perhaps the most difficult, a Best in Historical Fiction from the Independent Book Publishers Association. It was a surprising pat on the back for extraordinary amounts of hours invested in research.
Because of the many little anecdotal twists in the novels, sometimes people ask me, “How could you possibly come up with that idea – how could you imagine that situation?” My answer is typically, “I didn’t have to. It is our history.” For instance, in Threads West, Book One of the series, the details about the captain’s dog, the woman who lost six children, the wild life and antics of the Mayor Ferdinando of New York, are all real, historical tidbits. Oftentimes, the best stories are hidden in thesenuggets of historical details.
I’m astounded by the success of the series and excited about the second book. I think, and hope, that I’ve met my goal of surpassing the high bar set by the first novel. The readers will determine that! Maps of Fate examines slavery, from the viewpoint of the slave—a race yearning to be fully American, totally free and self-determining.This is a theme which will carry over into Book Three,North to Wyoming,releasing in late 2012. So, too, will the story, through the Indians’eyes, of the sad, dark blotch on American history which is the treatment of the First Nations.
The beginnings of the “taming” of the West, and the use, and abuse of its lands is yet another piece of this “tale of us” that germinates in Book Two. And, of course,Maps of Fate follows the evolving life threads, passions, loves, disappointments, tragedies, romances—and in some cases the pathos filled,lethal experiences—of the characters which the readers of Book One seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed. A new generation takes root in Maps of Fate. Their life threads hurtle through American history towards the cloth of their destinies and still subsequent generations of the series.
Advance Reader Copies of Maps of Fate will be released shortly. The book itself will launch in April in print at Barnes & Noble, Hastings, and many fine independent bookstores around the country, plus certain international locations. It will also be available on that date on Nook, Kindle and iTunes, and – with luck –audio.
We are having a great survey/contest with prizes beginning the day before Valentine’s Day.Everyone who has reserved a copy of the book on our sites will receive a free MP3 download of three chapters of Maps of Fate read by yours truly. I will make sure that my voice synthesizer is firmly in place!
Readers will also be able to reserve their copy of the very limited number of Advance Reader Copies, delivered digitally, and printable! I will personally sign and send a cover to each purchaser! The sale on our websites will begin February 28 for a limited 10 day period. This very unique offering willbe coupled with a two dollar gift certificate good toward buying the final print, or digital version, of Maps of Fate on or after its release date in April on Barnes & Noble dot com, or in-store. The ARC copies will only be available for an attenuated period,in very limited amount.
I hope these musings, albeit from a newbie author who freely admits he knows little and has much to learn, have been of some help or stirred some thought.
Thank you, Mary, for this great opportunity to blog here on your site!
The adventure and romance of the West wrapped in a silver bolo of the American spirit. This is our story.
One saga spanning one hundred-seventy years of our history, brim full of adventure and sensuality and history. Eight sizzling reads. This American epic begins with Threads West, winner of seven national awards including Best Western, 2010, Best Romance 2011, and Best Historical Fiction, 2011. This #1 best-selling, first of eight historical western romances, is being compared to Lonesome Dove, Gone with the Wind and Centennial by reviewers, authors and readers alike.
Spanning 170 years and set in authentic locations on three continents and in the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the life threads of four generations of characters—whose personalities are forged by the land, it’s evolution and the promise of America—live, love, struggle, die, fail and succeed. In the beginning, they have neither country nor culture in common. But the threads of the textured and conflicted lives of these strong women and driven men become part of the fabric of the undulating and magnetic landscape of the West, woven into the rich tapestry of an emerging nation.
The universal energies of romance and torrid passions shape relationships and enmities, creating a real and engrossing pattern of intrigue, treachery and deep love. Through the characters’ eyes and senses we experience history, interwoven with little-known highly nuanced true tales. Then brace yourself as the final novel, Summits,set in the contemporary West, pulls us into the tempestuous, real-time lives of the fourth generation.
Threads West, An American Saga is the adventure and romance of the West wrapped in the silver bolo of the American spirit. It is our story. It is the ongoing tale of us.
Leave a comment and the lucky person will win Reid’s print book -1 Threads West.
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At the end of the month, four lucky winners who have commented the most throughout the month will win a pile of books.
So try not to miss a day.
Reid Lance Rosenthal is fourth generation land and cattle. He owns interests in eleven ranches in three western states and Canada. His long-standing devotion to wild and remote places and to the people–both past and present–who leave their legend and footprint upon the American West is the inspiration and descriptive underpinning of all of his writing.
This passion fuels each novel in the widely acclaimed historical romance series,Threads West…An American Saga. The first novel of the eight part saga has been compared to McMurty’s Lonesome Dove. Each ensuing book unfolds the riveting tale of an emerging nation, an evolving west, and the land forged personalities of the driven men and women whose American spirit built a great nation. The western landscape fuses personalities from uncommon origins, and weaves lives into generational tapestries of lust, duplicity, enmity, love and triumph. Threads West is the tale of America and her spirit. “It is your story,” Reid whispers. Then, raising his voice to match his passion, deep tones booming, he reminds us, “This is the ongoing story of us.”