Years ago, the major publishers pretty much stopped publishing western novels because, like many of the nonsensical things they did, they assumed—for some inexplicable reason—that people didn’t want to read Westerns anymore. Some novel genres seemed to go in cycles. When I was just beginning serious writing, it became apparent that the big publishers latched on to trends. Vampire novels are one example. For a while, they were big and everyone was publishing them. Then, for whatever reason, publishers seemed to think that the market was saturated, so they cut back on publishing vampire novels. Until Twilight became a success and they changed their minds again. Historical romances went through similar phases.
The major publishers seem to have little clue about the markets. They seem to have little interest in bringing something new to readers and tend to fall back on what’s worked in the past—until those things show weakened sales. For those not aware, “sales” to the big publishers don’t mean actual sales to readers. Sales are determined by what bookstores order. That’s how it has been for a very long time and it is, in my humble opinion, stupidity incarnate. (In comparison, politicians are Einsteins.) Worse is that publishers consider a book a failure if it doesn’t sell very well in its first couple of months. Their strategy ignores books that sell well in the long term year after year or books whose sales pick up later.
Unfortunately, many authors fell into the same cycle. When a new type of novel hit and sold well, some authors would scramble to write one of those and submit it. This is termed “writing to the market” and is one of the mistakes many authors make. By the time an author could write and submit such a novel, publishers often determined that the market had become saturated, and they’d decline the books.
For a very long time, publishing has been more about making money than about bringing good books to the public. One can always tell the stories of books that were rejected, then won some prestigious prize, at which time a publisher would jump on the book and the money to be made from the publicity.]
What does this have to do with my good friend author RLB Hartmann (who some of us know as LuciBuck)? When she began seeking publication with a novel set mostly in the Southwest, she was met with problems. It wasn’t a “traditional” pulp Western, and that confused both agents and publishers. They didn’t see it as historical. As Hartmann points out, “historical meant Regency England or something similar, out of Europe or a sub-continent. To them it wasn’t fish or fowl, so they declined.”
Publishers have always seemed to have problems with books that didn’t fit into their preconceived, existing categories. If a publisher couldn’t figure out where a bookstore would shelve it, they didn’t want to gamble on it.
I interviewed LuciBuck on the blog back in 2012. Here’s a link to that interview.
My purpose in bringing her back to Write Well is to make more readers aware of her works in what is quickly becoming a deluge of books in which many excellent novels are getting lost.
You can find Westerns on Amazon if you look, but most of them are being self-published or published through small publishers, who mostly lack the promotional budgets to get them before a good audience. In my small way, from time to time I try to make my blog readers aware of some of the stuff out there. A couple of months back, I put out a call for authors to contact me if they wanted to be featured on the blog. LuciBuck was the first to respond, and the offer remains open. How do you contact me? Go to my website (www.ricktaubold.com) and click the EMAIL RICK button at the top of the website. I will respond promptly, I promise.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to RLB Hartmann and her books in her own words. At the end is a link to her Amazon page.
From RLB Hartmann:
When I was in college, I was writing a novel set in England, with a character who was a Frenchman inspired by a local lawyer (who wasn’t French!), and my Very American, Southern roommate was a Spanish major with a boyfriend from some nearby Latin America country, so to keep from having her possibly ridicule me, I took French. I’ve regretted that every day since I landed in Tierra del Oro with characters whose ancestry included French and Spanish and Mexican Indian people, but for the sake of those nine novels, spoke English with a few Spanish words when those seemed necessary for flavor.
Most of my short scripts and stories are contemporary, as is the only contemporary novel I’ve written or expect to write, Strong Coffee, a YA/adult-oriented story. And Floyd and the Traveling Yard Sale, which is semi-contemporary, based on an ex-moonshiner my aunt used to know and displays semi-true anecdotes with a large dose of Southern humor. My first published novel was I RODE WITH CULLEN BAKER, based on a real-life Texas outlaw and set during and after the War Between the States. There are stories behind all those, which I’ll spare you.
Tierra del Oro: the Cordero Saga is a family saga set in Mexico 1870–1920. The spark came when a visiting writer from Oklahoma dropped a phrase into our summer-teacher-renewal creative writing class: “Forty Grains of Black Powder.” That merited a jot in my little green notebook, for it sounded like a great title. It didn’t become that until the following year, when a portly Mexican in a brocade vest and standing in a casa grande in Sonora uttered more prophetic words (in my imagination!)—“Get Trouble.” At that point I had no clue who Trouble was, nor why that man wanted him dead, enough to hire a bounty hunter named Walker. To find answers, I watched Walker find Trouble, and assumed that the bounty hunter would be my American cowboy protagonist.
How wrong I was! When Trouble came into the scene, I sensed an undercurrent that would prove to be inevitable, and watching what came next carried me along through nine books (originally six, three of which had to be divided for publication purposes) over many years and revisions until I got it right. The characters appeared and told their stories, their dreams and fears, trials and triumphs. Trouble (Ramón) grows from a frightened child to a young man with a purpose. His story ends in unexpected consequences that continue throughout the four generations of Corderos: his son Ramón, grandsons Domingo and Sereno, and their conflicts with others and themselves.
One fortuitous event that catapulted the plot into historical and a probing of characters’ motives came the following fall when I taught a high school course that I designed called Literature of the American West. One morning, a student brought an old magazine that contained two unrelated articles which meshed perfectly with each other and the vague plot that had been swirling in my brain. One was about Mexican cowboys who sought shelter from a rainstorm in a cave at a place that became La Nariz (the nose) on the desolate plains of Chihuahua. In that cave they found nineteen sacks of gold coins and six bars of gold bullion. In tracing the actions of my characters, on whom I had come to rely, I discovered what happened to what must have been that twentieth sack. In the SAME magazine, there was a story of a mysterious silver-plated gun with bone handles which became The Mexican Colt. Both those motifs appear throughout the saga in ways that affect lives of many characters. Another recurring motif is the Corderos’ love for horses, prominent in the mustang hunts in the Sierra Madre mountains, and the men who capture them. Horses were a chief element in the 1910 Revolution, along with rail transport of troops.
The historical details augment rather than overwhelm the fictional events that take place among friends, relatives, and lovers. All of those entities give each other pleasure and grief, with yearnings, betrayals, spiritual conflicts, and the fight against oppression in its many forms. Writing their stories—“One story, one family, one continuing adventure” was a privilege and an honor, an exhilarating ride into the Old Mexico of the 19th and early 20th century, a time of conflict, growth, brutality, and gentility.
If that story description intrigues you, be sure to check out her books. If you’re not into the genre, maybe you know someone who is. Pass along RLB Hartmann’s name and help support this fine indie author.
You might also (or instead) want to check out her novella Strong Coffee. Her books are available only in paperback.