The western novel has long been the purview of the male author. Women were thought to be too frilly, too genteel to write these tales of what it took to settle the Wild West when America was still a young country. How could a woman understand showing the reader a gun battle, a fight for a town to win out over evil, or the thinking of those men who would do wrong? It was simply inconceivable.
One of the biggest myths that abounds in western fiction was that women and girls weren’t strong enough to tackle the frontier without a man protecting them. This can’t be further from the truth. The women who rode covered wagons west were among the strongest of the fair species. They were leaving home and hearth, often walking away from close family connections in order to break ground in an unsettled territory and get away from the crowded eastern cities. They had to ensure their family was fed along the journey that could take months to accomplish. If their man died, they didn’t curl up their toes and quit; they move forward, keeping the dream alive.
Women have been writing about the west since it was settled. Some used a male pseudonym, much like Andre Norton did, because their work wouldn’t have been accepted for publication. Among the most notable early western writers were Mary Austin, Willa Cather, and Mari Sandoz.
Still, until the twenty-first century, the myth that women couldn’t write westerns persisted. Then along came the internet and these female authors broke through a glass ceiling that had once proved impenetrable. Today, there are many, many women writing western tales and they aren’t about simpering women dependent on their men. These stories are as strong as the women who rode west with their men to build a new life.
The elements of a good western don’t rely on the gender of the author. They rely on having a darned good tale with lots of action, a bit of gunfire, and a satisfying ending. Women have proven themselves capable of doing that and winning prizes for their work.
The list of female western writers is far too long to mention here, but I’d like to give a shout out to two women who have encouraged me to pen my western tales and have them published. Elle Marlow with her wonderful westerns based on her Native American heritage and Donna Alice Patton with her stories for children who grew up on the tough frontier. May all of us see continued success in this wonderful genre.
About K.C. Sprayberry
Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.
She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.
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