The Hundredth Meridian

Writing the West

The Northwest strikes me as a better place than the Southwest to live in—fewer people, better hunting, plenty of invigorating Arctic air and the cold dry snow—but the Southwest, probably, offers greater advantages for the Western writer. The presence of the Spanish and Mexicans, the more developed Indian populations, and the clashes between these and the Yankee pioneers and soldiers in the region give its history a more dense and interesting texture than that of the north; the winning of the Southwest was contemporaneous with the rise of the popular culture industry, which was quick to exploit tales of gunfighters and Indian wars; while the populational shift to the Sunbelt in the last 30 years has given Americans a familiarity with the Southwestern culture and landscape that they do not have with the cold and remote Northwest, which for them means grizzly bears and bison, Yellowstone Park, and snow-blocked highways in June. I published three books set in Wyoming before the unpleasant truth dawned that it was probably easier to sell one with a Southwestern milieu, and I headed south with the new book almost finished to find inspiration on location for completing the last few chapters.

In good Western writing the landscape, besides serving as backdrop, is both the third-person narrator and the hidden central character as well. But just as novelists (unlike painters) rarely work with the living models for their representations...

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