Thursday, April 5, 2018

Guest Post: America Needs Westerns by Mike Torreano, Author of The Renewal

Please join me in welcoming Mike Torreano to Let Them Read Books! Mike is touring the blogosphere with his new novel, The Renewal, sequel to his debut novel, The Reckoning! I had the privilege of offering Mike some developmental editorial assistance, and I'm thrilled to have him here today with a guest post about the continuing relevance of Westerns and why we need more of them!

Ike McAlister has finally put the ghosts of his past to rest. He’s found new joy with a spirited wife, a young daughter, and a mountain valley ranch where a man can make something of himself. But a coming railroad through the South Park valley threatens to take his land and tear his hard-won peace apart. 

Discovering that the railroad could easily bypass his ranch, he organizes opposition and earns the animus of the formidable foreman. When Ike’s brother Rob, the sheriff, is bushwhacked, Ike sets out on a high stakes quest to get the killer before the killer gets him. 

America Needs Westerns

My western mystery, The Reckoning, was recently released by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers; a search which takes him to the high plains of Colorado. The sequel, called The Renewal, was just released and also takes place in Colorado four years later.

I’ve heard some people say the traditional American western is dead—all of which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write a western?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns have been released.

Are they’re coming back? I don’t know, but I hope so. Why would they be mounting a return? Perhaps because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values, places where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but you get the idea. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.

Code of the West

There was a code of the West, even among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim; you just played the hand you were dealt.

If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, I guess you’re right.

The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. Our culture is filled with victims. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.

While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.

In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy EthicsWhat Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West:

1. Live each day with courage.
2. Take pride in your work.
3. Always finish what you start.
4. Do what has to be done.
5. Be tough, but fair.
6. Keep your promises.
7. Ride for the brand.
8. Talk less and say more.
9. Some things aren’t for sale.
10.    Know where to draw the line.

Let’s look at three of these.

How about number seven—Ride for the Brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. It’s the idea when you’re involved with someone, you should be loyal to them.

Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with something else.

Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do. So, if that’s true, then nineteenth century America is still relevant to today’s America.

The good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished, but more often than not they seem to have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and too often disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, sometimes even talking with each other. A novel concept. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts. These principles were captured by Arthur Chapman in a poem he wrote in 1917.

“Out Where The West Begins”
Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying—
That's where the West begins.

So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s, my main characters, simple, straightforward lives look pretty appealing. Especially now.

Westerns serve to remind us of our solid roots, and that’s why they will never die.

About the Author:

Mike Torreano has a military background and is a student of history and the American West. He fell in love with Zane Grey’s novels about the Painted Desert in the fifth grade, when his teacher made her students read a book and write a report every week. Mike recently had a short story set during the Yukon gold rush days published in an anthology, and he’s written for magazines and small newspapers. An experienced editor, he’s taught University English and Journalism. He’s a member of Colorado Springs Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, The Historical Novel Society, and Western Writers of America. He brings his readers back in time with him as he recreates American life and times in the late 19th century. He lives in Colorado Springs Colorado with his wife, Anne.

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