Dyin’ or Revivin’?

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Last week I received an email by the good folks running the literary competitions at my local county fair. After notifying me that my story won a prize, they invited me to come out to the fair next weekend to read my story aloud on stage as part of their literary event.

Well I was just pleased as punch to say yes. What a wonderful opportunity.

This past Saturday, I had some time on my hands while I sat in a chair waiting for my hair to turn that color that only my hairdresser knows how to make.

I started thinking about this event next weekend and planning. I need to spend some time practicing reading my story aloud. Practice is everything in a public speaking situation.

I wondered if I’d be asked any questions about the story. I thought I should try to think up what I might be asked so I could be ready with good answers.

One of the first questions I thought of was, “what was your inspiration for this story?”

I had to spend some time thinking that through. It’s a story that’s been rambling around in my mind for a while, and I’ve taken several stabs and getting it out, to both greater and lesser success.

Mainly, I was inspired by the fact that upon reading the guidelines for the competition, I noted that there was a “Western” genre available to compete under. This is not something I often see, so that really got my creative juices rolling.

My absolute author-hero is Larry McMurtry. I adore his way with description and dialogue, and his western novels are a cut above.

I have a collection of short stories that McMurtry edited. It’s western stories written only by writers raised in the west.

When I saw that my county fair offered a Western category, I knew there was no doubt that I had to write a western story.

That said, what I wrote isn’t truly a classical western. Technically, the western genre implies a story set in the 1800’s, the so called “Old West.”

If you read any of the literally thousands of short stories that Louis L’Amour wrote, you’ll find within his formula a common theme. The great conflict in his stories is of man against nature which includes cattle grazing the land, the weather and water. In fact, water rights always seem to play a big role in L’Amour’s short stories.

I guess that the western genre has declined so much because these concepts seem hopelessly old fashioned.

But are they?

Until his untimely death last year, my dear friend who farmed cotton and chile on his family’s farm in La Mesa was fighting with the state of New Mexico over water rights. This problem was such a vital aspect of his life that it was mentioned in his eulogy.

Yesterday I watched a televised show where renowned French chef Eric Ripert spoke passionately about the “farm to table” movement, and visited a Virginia farm where the owner was doing something revolutionary.

He was not overgrazing his land.

He spends time calculating how many head of cattle his land can bear and then actively rotates pastures to be sure that his cattle never overgraze. His land flourishes, his cattle are healthy and he’s seen as an innovator.

This is not innovation. Louis L’Amour wrote stories about this very idea over 70 years ago. This concept is also something they taught me in my collegiate FFA organization**. It’s called “being a good steward of the land.”

And so, to bring this back to my point…

I wanted to write a western story because although I keep hearing that the western fiction genre is dying, I’m seeing that the topics driving most true western stories are still essential and vital to today’s world.

And so maybe Westerns aren’t dying. Maybe, much like the land, if tended to and nourished, the genre can continue to flourish with a modern sensibility.

Writing a western story set in modern times that won an award at my local county fair is so deeply satisfying to me. It’s my affirmation that the Western genre is alive and well inside at least one little girl who was born and raised in the west.

_______________________


Further proof: The Western genre gets back in the saddle





**”I believe in the future of farming…”


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Comments

  • Alan

    It was after living on the east coast for a couple years in my early adulthood that I realized I was a western guy, through and through. I won’t go so far as to say the “west is best,” because, hey, to each his own. But what the west offers suits me just fine. I think it’s rich soil for literature. Of the places I’ve been, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada,Wyoming, Idaho, there is definitely a romantic flavor that ties it all together, and yet a rugged realism to the whole expanse. I still need to get down to New Mexico and up to the Pacific NW.

    Some great people made their way to America over the generations. The best of them kept heading west. ;)

    • Karen Fayeth

      Alan – There is definitely much to recommend every section of our great country. I just happen to be an west of the Mississippi sort of girl. (The Pacific NW is gorgeous, btw)

  • Lynn

    Good luck on your reading! I hope you have a wonderfully receptive audience.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Lynn – Thank you! I’ll carry your good words with me when I read. I’m a bit nervous already!!

  • Sam sanchez

    Read some Elmer Kelton. “THE MAN WHO RODE MIDNIGHT” “THE TIME IT NEVER RAINED” and “THE GOOD OL’ BOYS” Three well written books that really flesh out the characters to the point that if you were raised on a ranch or in a small town, you knew these people.
    Good luck on the reading, you’ll do great!! Make NM proud. Also, congrats on the article, need to pick up a copy of NM Magazine.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Hi Sam! Thanks for the recommendations. I figured you’d know a few good westerns I should read!

      I’ll do my best this weekend for the folks back home! :)

  • Ephraim F. Moya

    Chiquitita,

    This post is a good example of why I keep coming back.

    It’s great!

    Regards,
    El Viejo

    • Karen Fayeth

      Viejo – As the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. So it goes with me…every now and again I get it right. ;)

      Thanks for the kind words!

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