Home again, home. I’m back from the WWA (Western Writers of America) convention in Springfield, Missouri. It was a long trip with a few stops along the way. We spent the evening with fellow western writer Lou Turner and her husband, Brian, otherwise known as Squeak, in St. Charles, and talked long into the night about writing. Squeak grills a mean steak and Lou cooks a mean breakfast—thanks to both of you for your hospitality. From there it was on to Lake of the Ozarks for a few days of R&R. I can’t tell you how much that was needed after finishing a proposal for a new novel and indexing nearly 30 books since the first of the year—two days of peace and quiet on the shores of the lake with some pampering thrown in for good measure does the body and soul some good.
And then it was convention time.
A few things about WWA. They don’t just schedule panels for 4 days. We took a tour of Wilson’s Creek Battlefield where the first general of the Civil War was killed—and the chiggers still believe the war is raging. We had a BBQ at a farm out in the country, and the highlight for me was a ride in a wagon led by a mule team. To help sustain the Homestead Foundation, an offshoot of the WWA to help promote the literature of the west, there is the annual auction of items donated by members. It’s a grand time with the venerable Dusty Richards serving as auctioneer. Figure in the period dress contest, the Spur award banquet, black-tie cowboy-style, and you get the picture. Of course there are panels—great panels that you won’t get anywhere else. Hearing Elmer Kelton talk about his fifty some years of experience in the publishing business is worth the price of admission alone And then there’s the bar. Wherever there’s a writer’s conference there’s the bar… Needless to say we had a lot of late nights and a lot of fun.
But the best part of the convention is seeing people we only get to see once a year. Robert J. Conley. Donnie Birchfield. Bill Markley. Marcus Galloway. Terry Del Bene. Loren Estleman and Deb Morgan. Johnny D. Boggs…the list goes on. And meeting new acquaintances like Russell Davis and Kim Lyonetti. I could fill this page with a list of names—WWA is a friendly organization, but more importantly, a vital one.
With all of the doom and gloom in the publishing industry these days, most people consider the western a dead genre. I don’t believe it. There is good work being done. No—great work. You just have seek it out. If you haven’t read The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton or any of the Page Murdock novels by Loren Estleman then you’re missing out on some fine writing. If you’d like a list of recommended westerns, shoot me an email and I’ll be glad to reply.
I don’t know who said it, but I heard this once and I think it applies: “Genres never die. They just go through cycles.” I believe that. The West is a deep part of consciousness of our country. The western writers of today honor the spirit of the pioneers and settlers by not giving up, by abiding by tradition, and reaching for new shores. Westerns and the literature of the west is more than shoot-em-ups and six-guns. They are tales of courage and redemption and passion. If you don’t believe me check them out for yourself—and you’ll see what I see, a rising tide, not a genre to be mocked or denigrated.
Now I’m home, east of the Mississippi, my cowboy boots in the closet, a trove of new books sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read. The dogs are glad to be back in their routine. I’m writing, indexing, once again faced with deadlines—and looking forward to next June to the convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was finding the western genre. I am a better writer, and a better person because of it.