Bring on the Women

 Today’s guest is Anne Schroeder. She lives in Southernschroeder. Oregon with her husband of 45 years.  She writes about the West in short stories, essays and two memoirs. She is President-Elect of Women Writing the West.


Bring on the Ladies

 Many of us grew up reading Westerns—Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and a slew of other grand, free-spirited writers who formed our impressions about the man’s way. Women read them, but the women in these stories were often cardboard characters designed to accessorize their men. The cowboy’s values were so much a part of him that he didn’t need to change. He rode off into the sunset and left the woman (read secondary character) behind.

 The women’s movement challenged the narrow stereotyping of the traditional Western. Women wanted stories that were more realistic and appropriate to the way they knew their grandmothers to be. We wanted Zane Grey to flip the stories and write about the women, but it became obvious that if women were going to enjoy gritty western stories, they were going to have to write them themselves. An organization, Women Writing the West, was born when a few women writers founded an organization to promote the Western experience.

 I am a long-time member and President-Elect of this organization, but more importantly, I write historical novels that seek to portray pioneer women as three-dimensional, historically relevant contributors to the Western experience, whether native, white, colored, Western bred or immigrant.    

 I love creating fringe characters, especially gritty, imperfect women who are dealing with trials in their lives. My appreciation for the richness of a woman’s silent struggles began when I was a little girl watching my great–grandmother, who lived three farms down. I remember wondering, what does she think about—and cry about when no one is around to see? She was, by all accounts, a stoic and hardworking woman. But was her stoicism a matter of good breeding, honor, grit, stubbornness, bitterness or self-sacrifice? Was it an act to cover her jealousy, hurt, frustration, anger at the injustice of her sex? The drunkenness of her husband?

 Was she bitter over the plainness of her face compared to her sister, who managed to marry better because she was prettier? That she was hard working was an understatement for the times. She had four children under the age of seven, including a set of twins. She chipped the ice off the trough, carried in water, stoked the fire and baked the biscuits. She worked in a tiny sweat-shop of a kitchen stoking a fire and cooking for a half-dozen ranch hands. She didn’t talk to other women for days on end. So what did she think about while she worked?

 I consider pioneer women as sisters and friends. They dressed and acted to reflect the times, but their hearts were the same as mine, capable of meanness and possessing the capacity to change.

 Research is key to writing authentic historical Western. Romance is important, but it needs to be appropriate to appeal to male readers, too. At times I’m surprised, tickled and flummoxed by my ladies’ actions. Writing great female characters is like reading the book for myself—they reveal themselves with humor, wit, bravado, grit and romance.  Writing gritty historical Westerns is challenging. A storyteller throws tension into every page. A great heroine takes it on the chin and keeps going. Details of setting, climate, economic and social events create a stage for the characters to emerge and draw us into the scene.

 Schroeder - book coverMy passion for California history has drawn me into an adventure I call the Central Coast Series. Book #1, Cholama Moon was just released in paperback and e-book through Oak Tree Press. The second book, Maria Ines, will be released in late 2014. If you’re interested in learning more, you can read the first few pages at Amazon  . After that you can make up your own mind. Thank you for visiting. And live your life in a way that creates great stories for your grandchildren because that’s what your grandparents did for you. 




25 thoughts on “Bring on the Women

  1. Anne, I enjoyed your article so much. The perspective you’ve shared is very thought provoking (in a good way). I will definitely pick up Cholama Moon and look forward to reading it. Great article.

  2. The West’s a tough place, both in the history books and today. It shows no mercy and to give any would find you six feet under. I’ve met some of these gritty women in the rural areas of Wyoming. They give no quarter in the face of adversity. Their faces are worn from life more than time, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And much beauty exists in the West.
    Thank you for your blog. It reminds me of home.

  3. Our ancestors wouldn’t have survived without their courageous, hardy women and it’s time they were given the credit they deserve. Zane Grey probably came closest to an accurate depiction of one of these brave women in his first novel, Betty Zane, a worthy ancestress. Best of luck with your novel, Ann. Look forward to reading it.

  4. Anne, thank you for such a thought-provoking blog. I’d love to have been inside those pioneer women’s heads. The ton of work put on them back then would’ve broken many women today. But, they endured and most of the time with grace and dignity. This reminds me of the days leading up to my mother’s death when she kept saying that she wasn’t a good person. I never knew my mother to say an unkind thing or treat anyone unfairly so it baffled me. Now, looking back I wonder if she had unkind thoughts in her head about someone. Or maybe it was something she did before I was born. I guess I’ll never know.

    Wishing you much success, Miss Anne. I loved Cholama Moon.

  5. My grandmother was one of those pioneer women. I really enjoyed your comments because I think many of those women would make great characters in novels.

  6. Just finished reading Cholama Moon. Left my thoughts on your Amazon review.
    Enjoyed the story a lot. As I said in the review, “you know your stuff”
    Your sense of place and time, your great characters and the way you weave true incidents and people in and out of your story made for a very enjoyable read.
    I have lived on the central coast since 1970. The time period you write about is of great interest to me (as a writer myself) and your detailed research shows how hard you have worked to get it right.
    Looking forward to the next one and will probably see you at the WWA in June.

    • Thank you, Bonnie, for this comment and for your very helpful review on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m reading your Wild Justice right now and I can see that we share a love of the same things. Your book seems to be a traditional western with a woman’s touch–the best of both worlds. I’ll know more when I finish it this weekend.

  7. Brigid and VIctoria, thank you for your comments. I don’t know about being an inspiration. My theory is that if we all do a little, what a wonderful world this would be, (Oh, wait, that’s a song.) But you’re right–I am passionate about the stuff I write about. I try to write what it feels like to live in the moment, if that makes sense.

  8. I’ve had a private comment about my use of the word, “colored.” By this I meant the Blacks, Chinese, Black Irish so looked down upon, the Indians, Mexicans, destitute Eastern Europeans who arrived in filthy rags and everyone else who didn’t meet the criteria of literate Yankees.

  9. Great blog post Anne. You are really summing up why this genre is your passion. I hope that more women step up and claim the western romance as their own. Just like women are stepping up and claiming sci fi/fantasy. I love your book and I will probably love the sequel. You are an inspiration to many

  10. Hi Anne,
    You always come up with insightful posts that stimulate. Have you followed Ron Scheer’s blog where he has tracked early (1880-1920) western novels written by women? He is from the Central Coast and I suspect you might know him. I just got his book, The Way the West Was Written, and am looking forward to reading it…as I am Cholama Moon in its’ final version!

  11. Thanks for dropping by, Ann. I think all writers were born to write because we notice the B-stories in life. I will be attending the WRA conference this June for the first time. Maybe we can meet there?

  12. Very interesting. I don’t usually think of a woman when I think of westerns, so that’s a breath of fresh air. Anne, you sound like someone who would have great conversations and your insight and questions regarding your grandmother at such an early age, amazes me! Seems you were born to write!!

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