Please welcome guest author Andrea Downing to the Cafe!
I like to think I came into this world to the sound of Gene Autry (‘50-‘56) yodeling, but the likelihood is not great, knowing my mother. We lived in the suburbs of New York, and the West was about as exotic as one could imagine. Eventually, I could imagine. Gene’s mount, Champion the Wonder Horse, was certainly a wonder to me, and it was probably he who started my life-long love affair with horses. That said, it was surely the beautiful Trigger, Roy Roger’s ( ’51-’57) magnificent palomino, who caused me to daydream about being left by the side of the parkway to gallop away into the wild west.
It’s strange now to think that the Emmy Awards actually had a category of ‘Best Western or Adventure series,’ so important was this genre. The Lone Ranger (’49-’57) had been riding with Tonto for some time now, shouting, “Hi Ho Silver, Awayyyy” or at least that’s what I thought I heard. I definitely heard Tonto’s “Keemosabe,” an expression that has stayed with generations of fans as the characters have passed into film. It may have been my affinity for the faithful Tonto that prompted me to do a school project on the Reckawacky Indians, the tribe that had once held the land where I lived.
Those were innocent years. In Gunsmoke (’55-’75!) the good marshal ‘never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place’ as Toby Keith sings in “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” I can still hear my father’s voice imitating Dennis Weaver as Chester, limping along and whining out, “Marshal Dillllllon”. Gunsmoke was probably the last of the westerns that made the transition from radio to TV, and the westerns slowly became more complex in their storylines. There were Wagon Train (’57-’65), and Maverick (’57-’62) with a favorite of mine, James Garner. Rawhide (’59-’65) gave the world Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates. Looking back, I note that the hairdo I wore to my ‘Sweet Sixteen’ party was eerily similar to the ladies’ hairdos in some of these series: an up-do sprayed to plastic perfection!
But while Clint and Jim certainly had me interested, no one made my heart flutter quite so much as James Drury in The Virginian (’62-’71) Television was maturing now and The Virginian, based on the Owen Wister book, was the first western to run a full 90- minutes. Sheer Bliss! While Henry Darrow as Manolito in The High Chaparral and Robert Conrad as James T. West in The Wild Wild West were contenders against Drury, The Virginian had the benefit of its Wyoming setting. My love affair with that state had begun. I wanted to find Medicine Bow and live there.
However, that was not to be. Unsure of what to do after college graduation, I headed off to England to do an M.A. I’d say I made the mistake of getting married there, but I have the most wonderful daughter as a result. “Back at the ranch,” the westerns were fading from popularity. Alias Smith and Jones (’71-’73) had great appeal but was cancelled after the death of Pete Duel, one of its two main leads. Westerns were giving way to police and medical dramas, and while mini-series like Centennial (’78-’79) and Lonesome Dove (’89) made appearances, it wasn’t until Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman (’93-’98) came along that my daughter and I sat down to religiously watch each week. Whether it was that or just a feeling to return to my “roots” that prompted it, I don’t know, but years of vacations on western ranches began. To date, we’ve clocked up more than 24 in states throughout the West.
When Deadwood (2004-2006) came out, I thought perhaps the western was making a come-back. But it’s gritty reality—you could almost smell the body odor off the men—didn’t appeal to me. By the time I returned to live in the US in 2008, my daughter already graduated from college and ensconced in NYC, the West was beginning to have its pull again, and I began writing western romance. Hell on Wheels (2011-) took a bit of getting used to, as did living in New York, but Longmire (2012-), possibly the first contemporary western I’ve watched since Sky King (’51-’59), balances that out. And it is set in my beloved Wyoming.
If you think westerns have only American appeal, I can tell you that one evening I was out to dinner in Bogota with my daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. They are Colombian, and Daniel’s father, Hernando, does not speak English. But when I started talking about what I write and my love for TV westerns, it transpired Hernando had watched them all as well. Just the mention of Palladin on Have Gun Will Travel (’57-’63) had him twirling his imaginary moustache.
The rest of that evening I had the theme song playing endlessly in my head. As with so many of the others, the melodies if not all the words have stayed with me over the years.
I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned your favorite western. Others that I’ve watched and enjoyed were Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (’51-‘58), Death Valley Days (’52-’70), Cheyenne (’55-’63), The Rifleman (’58-’63), The Big Valley (’65-’69), King Fu (’72-’75) and, of course, Little House on the Prairie (’74-’83).
 All dates are years of the television program
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Dances of the Heart
Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.
Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.
On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.
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Andrea Downing likes to say that when she decided to do a Masters Degree, she made the mistake of turning left out of New York, where she was born, instead of right to the west, and ended up in the UK. She eventually married there, raising a beautiful daughter and staying for longer than she cares to admit. Teaching, editing a poetry magazine, writing travel articles, and a short stint in Nigeria filled those years until in 2008 she returned to NYC. She now divides her time between the city and the shore, and often trades the canyons of New York for the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Family vacations are often out west and, to date, she and her daughter have been to some 24 ranches throughout the west.
Loveland, Andrea’s first book, was a finalist for Best American Historical at the 2013 RONE Awards. Lawless Love, a short story, part of The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series, was a finalist for Best Historical Novella at the RONE Awards and placed in the 2014 International Digital Awards Historical Short contest. Dearest Darling, a novella, is part of The Wild Rose Press Love Letters series, and came out Oct. 8th, 2014. It won ‘Favorite Hero’ along with Honorable Mentions for Favorite Heroine, Short Story and Novel in the Maple Leaf Awards. Dances of the Heart, her first contemporary novel, came out in February, 2015.
Links to Social Media: WEBSITE AND BLOG: http://andreadowning.com
Twitter: @andidowning https://twitter.com/AndiDowning
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Andrea-Downing/e/B008MQ0NXS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
ABOUT ME: http://about.me/Andi1948