Writing Resources for Western Fiction Writers
Welcome fiction writers! You've arrived at the page of Western writing resources from my personal library of research books.
There are so many great books about the American West, that I had a hard time deciding which ones to read as research for my novel writing – much less which ones to buy for my personal library.
The books that I describe, below, figured heavily in my research as I wrote my Western and Americana Romance novels, circa 1875 to 1886. These titles also made the “cut” when I had to clean out my book shelves to make room for Fantasy and Science Fiction reference books. I hope you enjoy these Western references as much as I do!
My plan is to continue updating this page with new writing resources for novel writing. If you know of a must-have reference book for Western and Pioneer Fiction Writers, please email me. I’ll add your suggestions to the list.
In the meantime, if you're a Western Romance writer, I have great news! You can learn how to start a Romance novel here, and you can get private coaching for your Romance writing, here.
This Dog’ll Really Hunt:
An Entertaining and Informative Texas Dictionary
By Wallace O. Chariton
This book is full of outrageous bluster and idiomatic expressions, such as “He’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” and “He’s got the IQ of hanging beef.” Great tool for crafting the Texan’s penchant for exaggeration in every day speech.
Unfortunately, my favorite Texas exaggeration didn’t make the book:
“It’s SO DANG HOT, that a fella bit into a jalapeno pepper and got hisself a brain freeze!” *
* (Overheard in Austin, TX, November 2011.)
An Entertaining Country Dictionary
By Wallace O. Chariton
Another hilarious book that translates homespun wit so “the rest of us” have a clue what the conversation is about! Great tool for developing dialogue for cagey gamblers and “dumb as a doorknob” Rednecks.
The Prairie Traveler:
The Best-Selling Handbook for America’s Pioneers
By Randolph B. Marcy, Captain, U.S. Army
Originally published in 1859, this book is a handbook of stories and accounts that are meant to advise pioneers. Marcy rode with and protected the wagon trains, and his insights are modern-era, not memoirs written years later. Chapters include: Routes, First Aid, Recommended Clothing, Shelter Provisions, Wagon Maintenance, the Selection and Care of Horses, Hunting, and Information Concerning the Habits of Indians.
Dictionary of the American West:
5,000 Terms and Expressions from
“a-going and a-coming” to Zuni
By Winifred Blevins
I relied heavily on this book to give flavorful dialogue to my Texas characters. It's a more “formal” treatment of Western language than This Dog’ll Really Hunt and That Cat Won’t Flush, described above, but a good companion to round out the set.
Historic Dress of the Old West
By Ernest Lisle Reedstrom
Reedstrom excels in his research. I highly recommend any of his books on Western culture.
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West
By Candy Moulton
I highly recommend any book in the “Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life” series. (See Writing Resources for Historical Fiction Writers).
While writing my first five novels (including Texas Outlaw, Texas Lover, and Texas Wildcat), I relied heavily upon Moulton’s book and the companion book in the series, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s.
Cowgirls: The Women of the Wild West
By Elizabeth Clair Flood
A real eye-opener. Talks about females in occupations that don’t often reach the Silver Screen: Wild West Show performers, trick riders, and ranchers. Pays tribute to the spirited, pioneer women who worked alongside the cowboy. Filled with inspiring stories and beautiful photos.
The True Life Wild West Memoir of a
Bush-Popping Cow Waddy
By Charley Hester
This book is a hoot!
It describes the colorful, real life adventures of 16-year-old Hester, after he ran away from his home in Illinois (1869), and started wandering through the western territories.
Hester tells about meeting such notorious personalities as Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Also described are his surprise encounters with Indians, sandstorms, raging rivers, cyclones, blizzards, and prairie fires. Hester’s adventures were so entertaining, that Warner Brothers relied heavily upon his accounts of the Western era to write the screenplay for the classic movie, Dodge City.
A must-read for Wild West writers who are looking for inspirations to write larger-than-life characters and true-to-life adventures.
Cowboys, Mountain Men, and Grizzly Bears:
Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West
By Matthew P. Mayo
Read heart-pounding shootouts between famous gunslingers, harrowing escapes from Indians, a “6-week crawl” to civilization after a grizzly attack, Custer’s final moments, and terrifying river crossings. Non-stop action. Great ideas for the adventure scenes in your novel.