Old West Historical Romance
Romance novels are a genre that has deluged the nation in the past few years. Millions of novels are sold each year, all revolving around a romantic theme. I’ve written a couple western fiction novels and in each of them, I had a romantic element to it. While I’d not have branded them as true “romance novels,” nevertheless, they were in fact, historical romance novels because they revolved around the love of a man and a woman, and some of the hardships they endured in the Old West setting.
My novel, Bloody Wes Teague is a historical romance novel. It’s a story that begins with the courtship by a Wyoming rancher, Weston Teague. He travels to New York City to propose marriage to a rich socialite whose father is a railroad magnate, and who happens to own a Colorado ranch. Abitha was visiting the ranch when Teague met her on a cattle buying trip.
The romance between the two begins with a casual flirtation on her part, followed by a dare she makes to Teague, to come visit her in New York some day. She never dreamed he’d take her up on it, but she was hopeful.
Setting of historical romance novels in the Old West
One of the problems with a historical romance novel is that the reader expects a realistic historical setting. This means that if you describe the female character, you have to have her dressed in the attire befitting the period of time in which the story takes place. Another issue has to do with the kind of life a woman had in that setting. In the Old West, there were not a lot of amenities, and luxury was rare. While a novelist has a lot of latitude, sometimes the story settings can be so far removed from reality as to be completely “unhistorical.” Thus, instead of a historical romance novel, you end up with a “historical romance revision of history novel.”
In the novel, Bloody Wes Teague, when Abitha moves to the ranch with her husband, he finds that she is so overwhelmed with the work that he employed a maid, Maria, to help her. Abitha came from a very wealthy family and was used to being waited on, but in the West, she discovered life on a ranch was very difficult and she was expected to do some hard tasks. It was too much for her. It would have been wrong to depict Abitha as living the same luxurious life she had in New York.
Keeping the reality of the historical romance character’s sensibilities
One mistake often made in writing any fiction story, but especially the historical romance novel, is to ignore the sensibilities of the female character. A woman raised in a genteel fashion is going to react differently to so many things in the historical Old West, than one raised on a farm, or one raised in a cow town. For instance, in the Teague novel, Abitha is completely unnerved when she sees a fight going on in the street. She’d just arrived in town with her husband and he’d left her in the local restaurant while he went to take care of some business. Here’s the scene:
Abitha had exited the hotel just as the fight had begun. She saw the men on the ground, and said to one man standing there watching the fight, “Sir, why do you watch such wretched behavior? Can’t you have the police drive ruffians like those out? It is a disgusting sight, sir.”
The man turned to her, recognized her and said, with just a trace of mirth, “Ma’m, I wouldn’t be too hasty in judging all them boys. The man on the bottom of that pile is your husband.”
Abitha looked at the men on the ground, then back to the man who’d spoken. “You jest, sir. My husband is Weston Teague.”
The man grinned. “I know Wes ’bout as well as any man, and I can tell you for sure, he’s the one on the bottom.” The man looked back at the fight, then said, “Them boys better not ever let him get up, though. I seen Wes Teague in a stand-up fight before. They’re in trouble if they let him up.”
Suddenly, Abitha recognized her husband as the men rolled around. She screamed, “Wes!” Then she turned to the man who’d talked to her. “Sir! Do something! You must help him! They’ll kill him!”
The man shook his head. “Ma’m, I don’t mix into no trouble like that. I’m too old. Besides, all the men are gathering and if it looks real bad for Wes, why they’ll see to it he don’t get hurt bad.”
Abitha stared at the man with unbelief, then suddenly she heard one of the men on her husband cry out and roll aside, grasping at his throat. Men standing around watching gave a cry of encouragement and then a cheer as the man on the bottom staggered to his feet, his face bloody and battered. With horrified fascination, she saw her husband rise, then get bowled over again by one of the men. But, she knew the man that had knocked him over was hurt badly for she d heard the loud noise of a fist she knew was hard as a rock slam into the man’ s face. Involuntarily, she winced at the sound and at the sudden gush of blood from the what had to be a broken nose.
Abitha gave a little cry as the other man rushed at her husband who was just regaining his footing. She started forward, but a hand grabbed her shoulder and a voice said, “Ma’m, you stay here. Wes is going to do just fine. Those boys should never have let him up.” Abitha turned to see a tall, thin man.
He said, “I’m Mayor Luke Murrin and I can assure you that your husband is all right.” He smiled, then asked, “You are that pretty wife of his, aren’t you?”
Abitha said weakly, “Yes.”
Murrin said, “Well, the best thing you can do is stand here with me and wait until it is over. He’ll need some nursing when it’s over.” He grinned and added, “Those boys are going to need a lot more nursing than him, though.”
Historical Romance Novels need some tears
Every romance novel, whether a historical romance novel or not, needs some moments of tenderness and tears. And sometimes, the man needs to cry, too. Believe it or not, manly men sometimes cry. History is replete with examples of grown men crying. (Alexander wept because he had no more nations to conquer.) So, in the historical romance novel, it would not be awkward to see, in that story, a grown man weep.
Here’s the scene from Bloody Wes Teague, when he discovers that the wife he’d thought was dead, is in fact, alive. He’s just rescued the unknown occupants of the ranch house, all prisoners. He’s surprised to learn that Abitha’s mother and father are the prisoners.
Teague said, “Sir, are there any of Wood’s men in the house?”
“No, just us, Maria and Abitha. She’s in there.” The man was pointing to her room.
“Abitha? Did you say Abitha? Here? My wife Abitha?” Teague’s voice was trembling with emotion, and he gripped Claymore’s arm tightly as he peered intently at the man.
Claymore, with a perplexed look on his face, replied, “Of course! Isn’t that who you came for?”
Teague looked at him blankly for a moment, then replied absently, “No. I came to kill James Wood.”
His voice drifted off and he said, almost in a whisper, “I thought Abitha was dead.” He turned and headed for the room.
Maria was already awake. She had listened and had turned the lantern up. She smiled as Teague entered, tears brimming in her eyes at the joy she felt seeing the only man besides her father who’d ever treated her kindly and with respect. Teague merely nodded at her, his eyes fixed on the still figure in the bed, pale, and asleep.
“Maria, how is she? Can I wake her?”
Maria replied, “Senor, she is ver’ sick girl, but she get well soon now. You must wake her for she thinks her husband is dead, and she does not want to live without him.” Maria was crying unashamedly now, the tears streaming down her face.
Teague sat beside the bed gently and wiped the hair back from Abitha’s face. Maria left, closing the door softly.
Teague sat there for a long time, the tears running down into his beard as he stared at the woman he thought was dead. He bowed his head and murmured a prayer of thanks to God then leaned down and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. She stirred, then rolled to her back, and Teague kissed her gently on the lips, the cheeks, and her eyes. He straightened, watching as she stirred to consciousness. She opened her eyes and stared for a long minute at Teague, then closed her eyes. After a moment, she opened them again, not believing what she was seeing, not trusting her senses.
“Abitha. Darling. I’m alive, Abitha. It’s me. It’s Wes.”
Abitha looked quickly about her, then back to Teague, her eyes widening as she realized she was not dreaming, that this whiskered, thin man sitting before her was not a vision, but her husband.
“Wes? Wes, is it really you? Oh God, please don’t let my mind do this to me.”
Teague put his arm around her, pulled her close to his chest, then moved her back and kissed her gently, stroking her hair. “Darling, I thought you were dead. Wa-nasay and Juan found your dress on the trail all bloody.” He kissed her again. “I did not think anyone could live with losing that much blood.”
Abitha’s arms were tight around his neck, her face pressed close to his cheek. She leaned back and, with tears choking her, said, “Wes. We lost the baby. I delivered on the trail. It was dead.” She began to weep. “I’m sorry, darling. I am so sorry. I know how much this meant to you.”
Tears rolled down Teague’s cheek and he wiped an arm across his face, taking a deep breath. He said, “Abitha, that’s past, and what counts is that I have you. Believe me darling, you’ll not ever leave me again.”
Abitha kissed him, pulling his head to her breast. “Wes, what about James Wood? Is he still here?”
Teague raised his head. “He’s in town, and that’s where we are going shortly. Don’t worry about Mr. Wood ever again.” He paused and his voice changed as he said softly, but in resolute tones: “Abitha, I don’t want you to even put his name on your lips ever again. Promise me that you wont.” He paused, then added, “Please do that for me.”
Always end the Historical Romance Novel on a happy note
Historical Romance novels are designed primarily to make people feel good. So, if you’re reading one of those novels, at the end, you want to know that things really did work out all right. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to make sure that happens. However, sometimes you may have a “dark” ending of some sort. But, even those kinds of endings need to have some quality of happiness, or goodness, in them. Remember, the term “historical romance” gives credence to the notion to the reader that she is about to read something that will make her feel good, and thus, a happy ending is essential.