The Sunset of Destruction, the Ashes of the West: A Retrospective from Caprock Canyon

I got a lot of work done on my trip to Caprock Canyon. I wanted to dovetail the preliminary stages of working on the new novel with the trip in the hope of synergy. It worked, better than I hoped. I came up with a lot of ideas and thoughts about the novel, characters, tone and imagery.

Coming upon scenes like this helped:

Caprock Canyon the morning after a rainstorm. Bright desert, dark sky.

I liked the solitude and the time away. I’m not going to get mawkish and say I felt a connection or anything, but I do admit it helped me seeing this land and understanding how it can be written about in a story. I came to a lot of conclusions about the novel when I was in Caprock. One of them is I am not going to back down or run away from language. I am going to present the characters the way they really talked and acted, not some Hollywood version of a scrubbed Hays Code idea of how they spoke. Anything less would be skirting the issue, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve spoken about what I think is wrong with the western genre and what can be done to correct it in another venue. I don’t want this post to be about that. But it’s difficult to talk about writing this novel I have in mind without bringing up some parts of what I believe is wrong with the genre, and why we need to correct some aspects of it.

Simply put, I think we have seen enough idealized John Wayne memes in westerns. It’s reaching the point where when I see something like that either in print or film I want to projectile vomit. I’m almost of the mind to approach the novel from the George Costanza viewpoint of “If I come close to a Hollywood trope, make sure I do the opposite instead.” I don’t know if I will go that far because then it would be full-blown author intervention, and I’m more inclined to let a story develop organically than try and steer it into an idealized direction. I don’t like that artificiality, either. That’s how I write. Other people do it differently, though. But writing is like that. Pick a 100 writers and they all do it differently. No one way is best, and if someone says it is, I advise you to ignore them.

I’m just laying down a marker that some things will be off limits in this novel. On the other hand, some things that have hitherto been off limits in the western genre, either due to historical ignorance of their existence, or some misguided perpetuation of a sanitized ideal that never existed…well, those previously hidden and ignored truths are going to be elevated first and foremost in this novel.

That perception of the novel, of its underlying philosophy, came to me while I was sitting on the eastern rim of the canyon one morning looking at this sight:

Looking west across Caprock Canyon

You get an indelible sense of not only the fragility of the west in a place like this, but of how much blood was spilled. The west is full of blood. Sometimes I think it’s nothing but blood. Then again the same can be said of the world.

I came up with a lot of ideas while I was out in Caprock Canyon. I think some of them are good ones and might be usable in a story. Others might fall by the wayside. But I think some elements and images will remain and be used as structure for the novel: the raw violence of the west, the once limitless expanse being torn asunder, the deep sunset of destruction and blood being drawn across the stage like a curtain, the ashes of the west.

In very broad philosophical terms this is what I want the novel to be about. I don’t know if I will be able to write it. Could be these themes are beyond my ability to describe them or bring them to light. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.

I’m just saying I think this story needs to be told.I’m not the first to do it. I’m only saying I want to be one of the ones who also tell this story.

The ashes of the west

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