I was enthralled. So enthralled as a matter of fact, that for almost a year, I read every Zane Gray novel and short story the bookmobile librarian could find for me. Then I found Louis L'Amour! That was it. The spark to write western fiction took hold, but not for adults--for kids. Why?
The old west is a symbol of the pioneer spirit that drove my ancestors from the east to the west. They came on covered wagons on the Oregon Trail and by boat on the Upper Missouri River. The land was hard, but it was beautiful, and it was full of stories. It was a time of quiet courage, determination, hope, faith, and yes . . . gunslingers, bandits, cowboys, Native Americans, and danger. In other words, it's the stuff kids in my generation couldn't get enough of.
I think that's why I want to share it with kids. It's one thing to learn history, but it's another to experience it through the eyes of a character who lives in the old west (1865-1895 is usually considered the Wild West or the Old West). So if you are like me and want to write western fiction, here are three things that I've learned are a must.
- Research your time period and location--clothes, weapons, travel. There is a big difference between what was available in 1865 and thirty years later. In Search for the Red Ghost set in 1883, Jake carried a 1873 Winchester rifle, but if it was 1865, he might have carried a muzzle loader.
- Choose a main character with a problem that only he can solve. For kids, many of the problems faced today were also faced in the Old West. Jake felt isolated from his father and alone after his mother was killed. Many kids today feel that same way even if they have both parents.
- Write a gripping story that carries all the emotion and action you can imagine you character going through to achieve his/her goal or to solve the problem.