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Looking briefly at the definition of the Western Fiction Genre, it appears on first view to be a novel or collection of stories set in 19th century frontier America with a strong, self-reliant central character; simple plots; full of action; often involves cowboys, cavalrymen, lawmen and outlaws of the Old West.
It has become apparent that the Western enjoyed its Golden Age in the 1930s and 1940s and remained a vibrant genre through the 1950s and 1960s, however my first views now are that most mass-market publishers have abandoned genre westerns, and the majority of the remaining ones seem to concentrate on dead western authors. Having said this, if your heroes are still Cowboys, then there is a positive outlook: Considering that western fiction is no longer a significant part of mainstream publishing, and exists only as a niche market, University presses have to some extent taken up the slack, publishing a little western fiction and Nonfiction.
A good western novel captures the spirit of freedom, individualism and adventure. The appeal of this genre is Worldwide, based in a dream of freedom in a world of unspoiled nature - a world independent of restraining society. The settling of the west was one of the great dramas of all time. People plunged into a wilderness and were on their own, dependent on their own character and courage. The mystery of the vast nothingness draws men, and men answer the calling - some with morals and some without. These knights of the range galloping across the western frontier on their trusty steeds crusading to save the last watering hole, the vanishing herd, and the beleaguered homesteaders.
The Western is multi-faceted and that it contains several sub-genres with films that are essentially about the Indian Wars, the Civil War, the Mexican Wars, range wars, the railroad, wagon trains, cattle drives, prospecting, outlaws, gunfighters, town-tamers, revenge, quests and even romance.
The possible range of sub-genres for Western Fiction could even include:
Western Novels featuring legendary heroes have been popular for a long time and got its start in the penny dreadfuls and later the dime novels. The origins of the dime novel date back to the first half of the nineteenth century. These stories romanticised American history and the settling of the Far West and were important precursors of the dime novel. At the time numerous authors produced works that dramatized the tensions between the wild, untamed frontier and rapidly encroaching civilization. James Butler Hickok aka Wild Bill Hickock was featured in a series of Dime Novels. It was the end of the nineteenth-century that witnessed the full-blown emergence of the western novel.
The Virginian, published 1902, is considered by many to be the ground-breaking literary western novel, containing the central element of a rugged individual who stick to his guns in the face of trouble, neglecting chances to simply walk away. This seeming collection of clichés was innovative and hugely popular in 1902, and elements of this blueprint appear in most Western stories ever since.
Although it seems doubtful that the Western will ever regain its place as the major American genre and possibly doesn't resonate with people the way it used to; It’s nice to know that far from having passed on to that great round-up in the sky, the Western novel is very much alive.
This is a genre that includes a number of talented writers, and as such is a valid means of expression. It is the lure of the far horizon, the quest, the voyage of discovery, and the illusory hope of starting afresh in a new world. It's what drew the pioneers over a century ago, and it draws us today.