I have this dream of writing a western.
Not really – you know, a whole novel (because hell if I can finsih anything anymore). BUt at least a short story.
In concept, it makes complete sense. My fiction is all tough-guy, man of action, violence, loneliness, and heartbreak. Bikers, cowboiys, private eyes; noir of the old west.
I have it in me, because – well, I can fucking write.
The trouble I’m having though – aside from the never having a fucking minute to myself problem – is that I just can’t find the form. I can’t quite internalize what a western really is, what it should be. I’ve attempted Loius L’amour, larry McMurtry, Zane Gray, Jack Schaefer, Cormac McCarthy. It’s not that I don’t like them – some, anyway. But it’s that I can’t find that onw voice that resonates enough to do it myself.
With Noir and hard-boiled crime fiction, i have it; I’ve read enough Dashiell Hammett, enough Raymon Chandler, enough Ross Macdonald and Dennis Lehane and John MAcDonald, enough James M. Cain and Elmore Leonard. I get it; I speak it. I can write it.
But the western isn’t resonating with me yet; I’m not hearing it in my head.
I’m currently reading Hondo by Loius L’amour. I have a real weakness for Loius L’amour, because my grandfather used to read him, and I’d find the paperbacks around our house, and pick ’em up and read. I like L’amour’s masculine, strong prose. But I struggle with the cliches, the tendancy to tell us over and over, that Our Hero is A Hero; repeated referneces to strength, hardness, squinty eyes.
It’s not my prose, as a reader, or as a writer.
Maybe it’s the mode problem; I am always most comfortable working in first person, and I’ve yet to read a western that’s not third-person. Maybe I can’t find the voice to narrate in the voice of an 1870’s westerner. Sure, I can get around it; I could narrate as the side-kick, or push myself to write third person; but perhaps I just can’t hear the narrative because I have yet to read any in that mode.
I tought myself to write by reading; I have an ear for narrative and dialog, and know when something sounds right; when it’s clean and sharp, when it’s awkward. I know it by feel, not because I learned the rules and follow them. Rules and I have an uneasy relationship. So I need a model, a sound, a structure. Not to follow, but to measure against – Does This Sound Wrong.
So my search continues. Maybe the form is more appealing in concept than in fact; maybe, really, I just do not love the western. But in my head there’s a rough, damaged man in faded denim and worn-down boots; a man who’s fraught and lost, who’s running from his past, or himself. A man who’s got a last battle to fight, before he goes down and dies in the dust, or finds himself in the wild lands and the struggle for some greater good.
I have a character, I can see him. I just have to find a story and a voice.