In November of 2015 I started writing a western. The original goal was to finish it as a project for National Novel Writing Month, but my professional and family commitments forced me to take a more measured pace. So here we are some six months later and the work is finally complete and the finished product should be available in the coming weeks. I wrote in a previous post that I had several goals for the project; write in an unfamiliar genre, write with careful attention to establishing tone, and finish on a deadline. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.
Blood at Sunrise is the name of the book and it is not what you would consider a typical western. There are several genre tropes present but the style of the writing and the elements of greatest concern within the narrative do not seem to fit with my, admittedly somewhat limited, understanding of the literary form of the genre. If anything, it reads like a pulpier Blood Meridian. This is somewhat expected as most of my work is a pulpier version of something. In case you missed it, I tend to wear my affinity for genre fiction like a badge of honor.
The truth is that this narrative could very easily have been set in the seventies after Vietnam, or in 1991 following the first gulf war, or even in a post 9/11 world. So the question remains; why a western? I think a good deal of it has to do with the archetypes of the characters that you find in a western meshing well with the story I wanted to tell.
In Blood at Sunrise, we follow Jefferson Crowe, a southern soldier who ran off to enlist in the Confederate army because he felt he had something to prove, as he returns after the war looking to put violence behind him. Unfortunately for Jefferson, on his journey home violence finds him and events are set into motion that place him in a position of authority; a position that necessitates violence and the willingness to use it.
The western genre, in film at least, which is the way I always absorbed it, seems to divide its heroes into white hat, dyed in the wool good-guys or individuals who straddle a line of constant inner conflict. The classic John Wayne v. Clint Eastwood dichotomy. I had hoped to play with those archetypes a bit, in that Jefferson longs to be a John Wayne character when he has a whole lot more in common with the Eastwood types. He wants to be a good man but he knows he is so very, very good at doing bad things.
His primary antagonist, the Reverend Benjamin Bane, is an embodiment of an idea as well. An idea that devotion to principles, when pushed to an extreme, leads to dangerous places. Our villain’s motivation, in his mind, is rooted in altruism and discipline. Jefferson’s own narrative arc is centered around his adherence to an internal code. The conflict of the story is built into the characters’ DNA.
That is why it had to be a western. The western as a genre is built on archetypes. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most well-known western films; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time In The West, The Searchers, Unforgiven. The archetypes are right there in the titles. They are hard-wired into essence of the material. Blood at Sunrise is very much a story that plays with archetypes and convention while simultaneously subverting them for the sake of telling a different type of story than is usually found in traditional examples of the genre.
There is something largely operatic about Blood at Sunrise. While the setting is definitely a western, the spirit feels, to me at least, like something new. I truly hope that readers enjoy the experience.