My father shared his love of Westerns with me. Over the last few years I find myself thinking about movies that I barely remember—I know that I watched pretty much everything John Wayne ever did, more than once for some of them, but all of these classics are a blur now. Most of these are available in collections for ten or fifteen dollars, so I find myself making plans to go way back and watch them all.
The time for quality entertainment is now, so I purchased a Clint Eastwood box set and started with a Fist Full of Dollars (directed by Sergio Leone). What I realized, was that I had heard the term “Spaghetti Western” all of my life but never watched one. I can’t count all the cowboy movies I have enjoyed since I was old enough to watch television, and yet I have let this entire sub-genre slide by as a foot note.
My trip down memory lane is thus given direction and specificity. A Fist Full of Dollars was hugely entertaining, despite the obvious overdubs and whatnot. I love the music and found the plot fascinatingly similar to modern action movies (go figure). A little research shows that the genre focused on scenery, action, and not so much dialog so that distributing the films in multiple languages would be easier.
I am not going to rate or review A Fist Full of Dollars because most people who are going to watch it probably already have and could teach me a thing or two about Sergio Leone movies. Suffice to say that I enjoyed it and found the minimal amount of money spent on an evening’s entertainment to be well worth it.
A Fist Full of Dollar was released in Italy (after being filmed in central Spain if I am not mistaken) in 1964 and the United States in 1967. The good news is that I have fifty years or more of movie watching to get caught up on. I also plan to dip into my current collection (Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma, Gettysburg, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Ride with the Devil, and even the Last Samurai). With luck, I will hit the movie theaters to experience Bone Tomahawk, Salvation, and more on the big screen.
The next audio book on my list is Gunsights (by Elmore Leonard).
Why all of this genre immersion? Well, I love these stories. And I am writing my first Western and wondering why I haven’t written here before. My work-in-progress really has me right now. I can’t wait to share it with beta-readers.
What is happening in Cathy's Town?
Last night, at a ridiculously late hour, I read through my work-in-progress, which began as a largely seat-of-the-pants narrative. After about 6,000 words and some research on Nevada, Smith & Wesson revolvers (.44 caliber Russians...thanks for the idea, Elmore Leonard), and the Aleut people and Alaska) , I wrote a new opening scene that sets the entire story of fire!
So far the Characters for Cathy's Town: Piano Players, Gunslingers, and Widows include:
- a woman and a Russian Orthodox Priest priest fleeing from the Northwest to the East Coast with a major problem in Nevada, during 1880 plus or minus a few years,
- her son that must find her, protect her, and admit that his father died in a gun battle with a rival family,
- a piano player with a mysterious Civil War and Reconstruction history,
- a young woman running a frontier empire with only her intelligence, courage, and desire to be the richest widow west of the Mississippi,
- and some bad-ass Cossacks bent on revenge in the American West
I am enjoying the creative process on this project so much that it takes everything I have not to publish the book in blog posts as it is written. Fortunately, I learned the pitfalls of that method once before and will not publish until the story is a great as it can be and I have contracted a professional editor.
Last week I began to write a western and loved every inspired second of the process. There was a mixture of seat-of-the-pants writing and pre-planning stuff (beats, or at least that is what Platt, Truant, and Wright call it), and some research (on-the-fly as I went stuff). The project feels both ambitious and natural.
So what is the problem?
I am in the middle of several projects and awoke with feelings of dread and guilt that I was being irresponsible by constantly starting new things. I set a minimum amount of time that would be spent on the original project, not really expecting to have time for other stories.
Happily, I was able to dig back into my western just before midnight. After a day of banging my head against a project that has tortured me for almost a year, the fresh and exciting story premise of Cathy's Town was like a divine gift. I feel so much better now and happy writers sleep better, I hope. Chances are that in an hour or two I will wake up with some random idea and chew on it until I just get out of bed.
My goal is to keep the first draft clean, and by clean I am in no way referring to sexual content. I have a tendency to move writing platforms. Scrivner's the best! No, move it all into word. Hey, what about Google Docs. All right, let's reformat for Scrivner.
If all goes according to plan, I will write Cathy's Town: Piano Players, Gunslingers, and Widows in Google Docs, with periodic back-up dumps into Scrivner for the next stage of the process. The first draft should be done without starting over twenty times.
Wish me luck.
Last night I found Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West) on Netflix. The opening scene shows the difference between modern action thrillers and even most of the new westerns. There is so much build up to the initial gun battle, which is short. Lots of setting and character visuals. Over the next few months I plan to explore Netflix for all of the old classics. I don't have time to write a long article on this movie, but hope to check in later during the week.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Sergio Donati and Sergio Leone
Staring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Benjamin Walker Colt
Writes westerns driven by suspense, strong characters in bad situations, and the panoramic greatness of the adventurous age.