Really, it’s all three.
I actually started describing it as a pulp adventure in the Old West, just to cover those bases. Readers seemed more interested in the adventure part than the Western part!
But I know what you’re thinking. How can a female writer from the cold north east of England possibly write a Western about a male bounty hunter in Arizona?
A Western is pretty much historical fiction.
So the same rules apply. As it happens, I have a bit of a thing about writing historical fiction. Grave robbers, the inmates of Bedlam, ships lost at sea, bullies at the Charterhouse School – I just love setting stories in the past. I’ve loved history since I was little and I enjoy the research just as much as I enjoy the actual writing part.
As it was, I never much cared for Westerns as films, with the exception of Back to the Future III. But then I was recommended Tombstone, and my entire opinion changed. It’s an awful film in terms of acting and structure, but it’s just so damned enjoyable. Many of the early Westerns are far from historically accurate and paint a mythologised picture of the Old West. That said, they’re a good way to get a feel for a period. I actually stuck to later Westerns, such as Pale Rider and the 3:10 to Yuma remake, which at least make more of an effort to be historically accurate.
I kind of wish that Slow West had been around when I’d been writing. Michael Fassbender would have been perfect inspiration.
So where do you start? At the library!
The internet holds many wonders but the library is still the best research tool when you’re dealing with a period so far outside your own lifetime.
While I was researching The Guns of Retribution, I read general histories of the Old West, histories specific to Arizona and the Apaches, and other Western novels. Yes, fiction can still be research.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to read, both primary and secondary sources.
Primary sources for the Old West are a little limited in the UK, since we don’t have the same level of access to contemporary newspapers, diaries or letters etc.. But many are reproduced in secondary sources like history books and biographies. The Old West has been a popular choice for TV documentaries too. There’s always the possibility for the bias of the researchers to colour the information, but the visuals help contextualise the period.
Visit your locations if you can.
I would love to have visited places in Arizona but my budget didn’t stretch far enough! Instead I had to rely on Google Maps! Many of the ghost towns can still be found using the aerial mode, but Google Maps is good for getting a feel for the landscape.
It would be no good me setting a novel in Arizona and then describing lush green fields or subtropical paradises, only to find scrub land and canyons when double-checking the facts. Retribution and Sandwater, the two towns featured in The Guns of Retribution, are entirely made up, but they’re loosely based on actual towns. It might be a pulp novella but I didn’t want people to read it and say it was factually inaccurate!
The sequel, To Kill A Dead Man, is set in Colorado, a silver mine is central to the plot. I spent a lot of time reading up on the history of silver mining, and I spent hours on Google Earth to locate the right spot for the story! The geography had to match the narrative.
So why might you want to read The Guns of Retribution?
Hopefully this post has convinced you that a pulp adventure story can still be a worthwhile read. Besides, there are guns. There are gallows. There’s a femme fatale. There’s a bad guy you’ll want to punch in the face. What’s not to like?
If you want to be convinced of my pulp storytelling credentials, then sign up to my mailing list and get a free copy of my trio of short stories, Dead Man’s Hand, which also includes the first chapter of The Guns of Retribution as a sample!
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