William Wellman’s Westward the Women

This post is part of The William Wellman Blogathon, hosted by Liz at Now Voyaging. Find the rest of the posts for this event HERE!

Since I was a little girl, I have loved Westerns. But even back then, I couldn’t help noticing one thing:

The general lack of women in most Western movies.

Sure, there would be the rancher’s wife, or the schoolmarm, or the dance hall girl (when I got older, I would learn they were actually prostitutes). But . . . it was pretty rare that women got a substantial role in a Western, which really bummed me out.

Over time, I was happy to find some exceptions to the rule. Recently, I reviewed one of my favorites: The Furies, directed by Anthony Mann, which stars Barbara Stanwyck. Three more of my favorites just happen to be helmed by William Wellman: Yellow Sky, The Great Man’s Lady, and Westward the Women.

Continue reading “William Wellman’s Westward the Women”

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The Furies: The Anti-Damsel with a Daddy Fixation

This post is part of the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies, Silently and Jo at The Last Drive In. Read the rest of the posts HERE!

When I was in college, I had a wonderful professor named Dr. Taylor. He taught several film classes, mostly about film noir. He was adept at pointing out the sexual subtext of films made during the Hays Code era in Hollywood, especially those made during the late 40s/50s with the Freudian subtext that was all the rage then. In fact, there were times when it seemed as though he read a tad too much into the films.

He loved to pick out incestuous or other perverse subtext in a film. I, and many of my classmates, found this funny. We would snicker during scenes in films shown in his class that had the kind of subtext he loved to point out.

We soon coined the term “a Dr. Taylor film.”

The 1950 Western The Furies is a perfect example of what we meant by a Dr. Taylor film.

Let me put it another way: if director Anthony Mann and Douglas Sirk had had a love child, it would be this film.

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The Furies doesn’t go quite so far as having star Barbara Stanwyck caress phallic shaped objects when thinking of her daddy, the way Dorothy Malone does in Written on the Wind–but it comes close to having that same kind of sexual subtext that Dr. Taylor loved.

Is there any character that Barbara Stanwyck played that COULDN’T be classified as an anti-damsel? I’m having a hard time thinking of one. It was more likely someone needed rescuing from Stanwyck than the other way around. In this movie, her character Vance is plenty feisty, as you would expect of a Stanwyck anti-damsel, but she is also spoiled, daddy-fixated, and has very questionable taste in men–which gives the character a fantastic complexity.

Daddy is T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston, in his final film role), who has a habit of calling his children “Son” and “Daughter” as if he can’t quite remember their names. T.C. is a cattle baron frequently skating on the edge of financial disaster. Instead of dealing with money, he gives out “T.C.” notes, practically daring people not to accept them.

T.C. also has a habit of asking Vance to scratch the scar on his 6th lumbar vertebrae (wink-wink, Dr. Taylor!). He promises to settle $50,000 dollars on her if she chooses a suitable husband.

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Vance has a friend named Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) who squats on her father’s land. In spite of an interesting kissing ritual they share every time they part, Juan is permanently exiled in the friend zone. He knows it and accepts it with a surprising amount of graciousness. Her father keeps threatening to burn out all the squatters to please the bankers giving him loans, but Vance makes him promise he will never touch the Herreras.

At her brother’s wedding, Vance meets saloon-owner Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) and falls in love with him at first sight. Rip resents her father because he took a bit of land called The Darrow Strip that he believes belongs to him. T.C. disapproves of Rip because he would probably disapprove of any suitor for Vance.

(Aside: nothing against Mr. Corey, and I know he and Stanwyck were paired on screen a few times, but if the choice is:

Gilbert Roland or Wendell Corey…

…Wendell Corey or Gilbert Roland

Let me think, let me think: Uuuuuuummmm—yeah, I think I would go with Roland.

But maybe that’s just me.)

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So Rip (dontcha love that name?) and Vance take off in a buggy and start sparking each other. She invites him to call on her and promises to bake him a cake. (YES, anti-damsels can bake, IF they want to!) Rip reveals himself as utterly irresistible when he tells her they can’t get involved because her father would destroy his business. She still expects him to show up.

He doesn’t.

She finds and confronts him. Then they start slapping each other.

Oh, yes. This is a very slappy relationship.

Not exactly “50 Shades” slappy, but it seems that this couple can’t kiss until one or the other has administered a slap.

No judgement on my part. Whatever turns people on, and there seems to be a fairly equally distributed number of slaps. I mean, Vance IS an ANTI-damsel. She can take it and dole it out at the same time.

(Though I do have a problem with Rip dunking her face in a basin of water. Jerk.)

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We all know what’s really going on here, right? Vance has fallen in love with a man who is practically a carbon copy of her daddy. Just because Dr. Taylor saw Freudian/Jungian subtext everywhere doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

Vance keeps reminding Rip that she has a $50,000 dowry. When he sees T.C. about marrying Vance, T.C. offers him the money to dump her. Which he does, immediately.

(Seriously, Vance, any chance at all that I can persuade you to reconsider your relationship with Juan?)

T.C. gets his lumbar vertebrae scratcher back and Rip opens a bank with the money. Vance starts running the ranch and worries it’s running out of money. Once again, the bank pressures the Jeffords to evict the squatters.

About this time T.C. has a visit from a lady named Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson) who quickly earns Vance’s enmity by taking over the lumbar vertebrae scratching and talking about Vance taking a tour of Europe.

Vance runs into Rip at the Darrow Strip one night and notices he has a “dainty little derringer.” She takes it from him and shoots it at him, threatening to kill him if he ever shows up at The Furies again.

(Dammit, Vance, you missed your chance to get rid of him! What do you need him for? You’re more like your daddy than he is! Dainty little derringer, indeed.)

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When T.C. and Flo announce their marriage plans (as well as plans to evict the Herreras and boot Vance from the ranch) Vance grabs a pair of scissors and throws them at Flo, permanently scarring her. In retaliation, T.C. finally has the Herreras evicted. At the last moment, he decides to hang Juan.

Juan, who is almost too decent a human being for this story, tells Vance not to humiliate herself by begging for his life, because T.C. will hang him anyway. He is right. Vance vows vengeance on her father.

Vance travels around, buying up T.C. dollars for five cents on the dollar, planning to ruin T.C. and take over the ranch. She gets Rip to finance her endeavor, promising him the Darrow Strip as payment. They start working together, resuming their slapping/kissing routine.

Vance manages to get the bank to agree to extend T.C’s loan so he will round up the cattle. For some reason this is crucial to the plot. (Don’t expect me to explain the plan. I’ve watched Trading Places at least 50 times and to this day can’t tell you how they made a fortune. Financial stuff whizzes right over my head.)

ANYHOO, T.C. knows he has almost no chance to make the money he needs in time, even with the extension, so he asks Flo to give him back the money he settled on her before Vance’s assault with the scissors.

Using very polite language, Flo tells T.C. to jump up his own ass.

(One thing I noticed about this movie this viewing–nearly EVERY female character in it is an anti-damsel. Very cool.)

However, salvation is at hand (i.e. Vance and Rip set T.C. up big-time). Word comes that there is a buyer for the cattle. T.C. and his hands round up the herd. When they’re done, T.C. proves what a manly man he still is by wrestling a bull.

Vance and Rip celebrate the imminent success of their plan and take a buggy ride back to the spot they first fell in love. Vance proposes a business-type marriage. Rip reveals he’s still a crumb bum by telling her if they marry, he will tell her when she’s wrong, and if he’s ever wrong, she’ll keep her pretty little mouth shut.

(VANCE, WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO ME ABOUT JUAN?!)

Then Stanwyck utters a line of dialogue that would have had Dr. Taylor’s entire class flat out on the floor:

“Mister, I hope you can chew what you just bit off.”

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They succeed in ruining T.C., who takes it pretty well, complimenting Vance on how well she “rode the bull.” (There goes Dr. Taylor’s class again.)

He even seems pleased that Vance and Rip plan to marry and have a son. Rip realizes Vance wants her father to become a partner in their venture. As they set out to celebrate, Juan’s mother appears and shoots T.C. dead.

(Told ya. Lots of anti-damsels in this movie.)

Vance and Rip take T.C. back to The Furies and plan to name their son after the man they spent the better part of the movie hating.

O.K., O.K., I’ve been tweaking the heck out of this movie, but I love it to pieces, especially Stanwyck’s Vance. I love that she is headstrong and clever, yet at times mistaken and misguided. Anti-damsels aren’t perfect–which is why they are so great.

Yes, her relationship Rip is very problematic, and I don’t see a happily-ever-after for these two. But something tells me Vance found ways to keep her anti-damsel status throughout their marriage. The woman carries a loaded pair scissors and isn’t afraid to use it, after all.

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Miriam Hopkins as the Anti-Scarlett: Virginia City (1940)

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This post is part of the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and A Small Press Life/Font & Fock. Click HERE for a list of all participants.

SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR VIRGINIA CITY.

When this blogathon was announced, people jumped in right away and grabbed up Miriam Hopkins’ best-known films. Even though the rules of the event said duplicates were O.K., I wanted to pick a film a bit outside the box.

When I looked up the 1940 Western Virginia City, I found out Miriam’s co-stars were Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott, and the movie was directed by Michael Curtiz. As a huge fan of Westerns all my life, I couldn’t believe this one had never found its way onto my radar. So I chose it as my topic.

I was a little concerned, though. With two power-house male stars, I was afraid Miriam was consigned to the role of The Girl the Men Fight Over, with a minimal impact on the film’s story.

I’m happy to report that’s not the case at all.

Continue reading “Miriam Hopkins as the Anti-Scarlett: Virginia City (1940)”

O Canada Blogathon: The Grey Fox (1982)

greyfoxposterThis post is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy.

When Kristina and Ruth first announced a blogathon devoted to Canadian film, my initial thought was “The Grey Fox.” This revisionist Western, starring Richard Farnsworth and based on the real-life outlaw Bill Miner, is one of my favorites of the genre.

Continue reading “O Canada Blogathon: The Grey Fox (1982)”

8 Reasons Why Hollywood Should Have Shelved The Lone Ranger Movie

lonerangertonto(SIDENOTE: This week is my one-year Blogversary! WordPress informed me on July 1 that I have had this blog for one year, but that was the day I signed up for a blog. My first blog post appeared on July 8, 2012. Thanks to all who have stopped by over the past year!)

What does it mean to “shelve” a movie? That’s Hollywood-speak for a project that’s put aside, usually for good, at some point in the development stage. The Lone Ranger, which opened this week, was almost shelved because of its projected $250 million budget. The studio was convinced to keep it in development, with a much, much, much (cough!) tinier budget of $225 million. The movie is now tanking, in fact, it is being steamrollered by the animated flick Despicable Me 2.

The sad part of this? There were SO many indications that this was a mega-flop waiting to happen. For instance:

1. Westerns do not do well outside of the U.S. I love Westerns, but the hard, cold fact is they are currently only somewhat popular here in the U.S. and not at all popular outside the U.S. International box office is the bread and butter of expensive blockbuster movies. Even movies that flop in the U.S., like last year’s John Carter, can manage to make money overseas. A recent Western that did excellent business in the U.S., 2010’s True Grit, only made about 30% of its money overseas. Non-Western domestic flops like Battleship and John Carter made around 75 – 80% of their money overseas.

2. So in order to make a profitable Western, the budget has to fit the potential audience. True Grit only cost $38 million to make. Of course, you have to add on marketing costs. The general rule of thumb is a movie costs twice its production budget. So True Grit theoretically cost $76 million to produce and market. It made around $250 million world-wide—excellent profitability. But in the case of The Lone Ranger, it would have to gross $450 million world-wide. Even if it pulls in a Battleship/John Carter-type $200-240 million overseas gross, it will probably still end up in the red.

3. On what planet is it a good idea to cast your STAR as the supporting character? I’ll get to the inappropriate whitewashing of the character of Tonto in a minute, but I, and about a bazillion other movie fans, were completely stunned by the news that Johnny Depp—one of the most reliable box-office draws in the world right now—was going to play the sidekick. Unless Robert Downey, Jr. is playing the Lone Ranger, this makes absolutely no sense. (Of course, then the movie would have cost $275 million to make, so it still doesn’t really make sense.)

4. About that whitewashing thing. Yes, I know—he’s an actor playing a role. Yes, he claims he has Cherokee or Creek blood or some such thing. Whatever. The truth is, there are several Native American actors (hello, Adam Beach?) who could have played Tonto in support of an actor with proven box-office draw as the Lone Ranger. THAT would have made sense.

A Native American actor could have also told them the whole dead bird on the head/constantly wearing war paint makeup thing has nothing to do with any of the many Native American cultures of this continent. Or any of the cultures of any continent.

5. Hollywood has just turned Armie Hammer into this year’s Taylor Kitsch. You bastards. I like Armie. He has a lot of potential and could be nursed into a big star with the right roles. He was one of the top choices of Hunger Games fans to play Finnick in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. He was interested in the role, in fact, his wife even encouraged him to consider it.

The reason he couldn’t do it? HE WAS MAKING THE LONE RANGER. I’m certain Sam Claflin, who was ultimately cast as Finnick, will do a stellar job. But there will always be an element of “what might have been” because Armie was making an almost guaranteed flop instead of an almost guaranteed blockbuster hit.

Good going, guys.

6. It’s not like a Lone Ranger project ever flopped before. Oh, wait a minute—yes it has. The 1981 version, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was such a notorious flop the actor cast as the Lone Ranger sank into total obscurity about five minutes after the movie debuted. Klinton Spilsbury—remember that name? Yeah, nobody else does, either.

Hey, Hollywood—I have a sure-fire success for you! Make a Flash Gordon movie! Like the incredibly unsuccessful one you made back in the 1980s!

Not a good idea, you say?

That’s my point.

(Silly me–while I was adding the above link to the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, I discovered on the IMDB that there is a Flash Gordon movie currently in development. Oh, Hollywood, you slay me!)

7. Apparently, it’s not just on concept and casting that the movie stumbled. I haven’t seen the movie, but Charlie Jane Anders at i09 did a great take-down of the movie’s mishandling of the Lone Ranger’s origin story. I also want to give Charlie Jane a lot of credit for NOT blaming the failure of the movie solely on the fact that it’s a Western. (I took exception to an article she wrote a while back about the supposed death of the genre.)

8. Demographics were always against this movie. The Holy Grail of summer blockbusters is what is known as the “four quadrant” movie. This means that it attracts people from all four demographic quadrants: young, old, male and female. Predictably, The Lone Ranger attracted mostly older males. Parents were probably repelled because of warnings by critics about the violence, so they didn’t take their older kids, in spite of the PG-13 rating. Without kids, young adult males (who are often repeat viewers) and females (who are needed to put blockbusters in the mega-successful range) the movie had little chance of recouping its budget.

Is it possible to make a successful blockbuster Western? Maybe. The same team who worked on The Lone Ranger (director Gore Verbinski, writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio) made the mega-successful Pirates of the Caribbean movies. So with that behind-the-scene talent and the star of those movies, Johnny Depp, there was probably a belief that lightning would strike again, and a not-very-popular genre would again turn into box office gold. But they’re not an infallible group, and there were so many glaring missteps it’s hard to see how this could have succeeded.

Many (myself included) want to see Hollywood take more risks, but the next time there are so many neon signs flashing “FLOP FLOP FLOP” maybe they should pay attention. They could have made a really good—and profitable—Western with a fraction of that money, and still had plenty left over for a good summer blockbuster.

The Western Is Not Dead–It’s Just Asleep

firefly-nathan-fillionOver on one of my favorite web sites, io9, there was a recent article by Charlie Jane Anders about the failure of many sci-fi-fantasy/Western genre mash-ups to gain large audiences. She argued that the reason is the Western is a “moribund” genre—i.e., basically dead.

Well, them’s fightin’ words where I come from, pardner—er, I mean, I disagree with that.

First of all, there is no such thing as a dead genre—things go in cycles. Westerns were so popular for such a long time that it was inevitable that they would, well, kind of go to sleep for a while. The same has happened with the musical.

But genres do return to popularity, and sometimes in a big way. Pirate movies, for instance—no one would have imagined the insane popularity of The Pirates of the Caribbean movies a little over a decade ago. It wasn’t that long ago when writers were told the vampire genre was never going to sell again, ever, ever.

While Ms. Anders makes an accurate observation that most blatant Western genre mash-ups don’t attract a mass audience, we are now in a time where not everything needs to attract a large audience in order to become part of the cultural zeitgeist. She points to the failure of Firefly, but it’s very easy to imagine the series attaining success today on SyFy or AMC or one of the premium cable channels, that it couldn’t on a major network. (Also, she skips over the broadcast history of Firefly, which almost guaranteed it would fail, regardless of its genre(s).)

Because of the money needed to mount a sci-fi or fantasy movie, one that melds with the Western genre is undoubtedly a huge risk—as far as we know at this moment. There’s some very understandable doubt that the new version of The Lone Ranger will attract a large enough audience to turn a profit. It certainly could fail. Or it could be the next Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

There was another point Ms. Anders made that I disagree with—that the reason Westerns fail to attract audiences is because it highlights things in our history we don’t like to be reminded of. Well, you could make the same argument about period dramas of ANY era. Mad Men, for instance, reminds us of a time where prejudice and misogyny in the work place were accepted as normal. I could write an article about how mid-20th century dramas almost always fail to attract a large audience, because every attempt by the major networks to cash in on the Mad Men success has failed so far.

She also ignores that Westerns going as far back as the 1950s have actually addressed Western stereotypes and less-than-stellar moments from our history. For instance, John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn tackled the issue of how Native Americans were treated head-on. I watched Little Big Man just last week for the first time in a very long time and was struck by how it managed to tweak the genre with humor while also very seriously depicting the worst parts of its history. More recently, the mini-series Into The West dealt with them in an even more unflinching manner.

It’s also interesting to note that Ms. Anders never mentions Avatar, which director James Cameron himself described as “Dances With Wolves In Space”—clearly inspired by the history of Native Americans after the arrival of the Eupopeans—a movie that was not only financially successful, it was only recently knocked down from its perch as the highest-grossing film of all time.

That most famous icon of the genre, John Wayne, played several characters that went against the stereotypical lone gunman, in movies as diverse as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, True Grit, and The Shootist.

Westerns fascinate me for a reason never brought up by Ms. Anders, and it’s the same thing that attracts me to dystopians and other sci-fi and fantasy subgenres: tabula rasa–the clean slate. The Western is about both individuals AND society reinventing itself from the ground up. To me, that is always a fascinating subject for a story.

Several years ago, I made up a list of my favorite Westerns for a mail list I belonged to, breaking them down by category. (I hate 10 best or 100 best lists. Some things just can’t be compared to other things, and I don’t like arbitrary numerical limits.) I’ve updated it to add some great stuff that either came out in the past few years or that I’ve just recently discovered. Because I’m always watching Westerns and Western-inspired movies and TV shows.

There are a few things that may seem to be missing. (I haven’t seen Django Unchained yet, but have a feeling it could easily belong in either the Spaghetti Western or Revionist Western categories. I also have the first episode of Defiance waiting on my DVR.) If you have suggestions for additions, please let us know in the comments.

THE ESSENTIALS:

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY

STAGECOACH
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN
FORT APACHE
SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON
THE VIRGINIAN
THE OX-BOW INCIDENT
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE
THE SEARCHERS
HIGH NOON
WINCHESTER ’73
SHANE

3:10 TO YUMA (the original)

3:10 TO YUMA (the remake)
RED RIVER
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID
UNFORGIVEN

THE EPICS:

CIMARRON (the original)
HOW THE WEST WAS WON
THE BIG COUNTRY
LITTLE BIG MAN

THE NATIVE AMERICANS:

CHEYENNE AUTUMN
APACHE
GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND
I WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER (TV movie)

THE WOMEN:

WESTWARD, THE WOMEN
THE FURIES
THE GREAT MAN’S LADY
THE BALLAD OF LITTLE JO

THE REVISIONIST WESTERNS:

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY
THE PROFESSIONALS
THE WILD BUNCH
WILL PENNY
NEVADA SMITH
JEREMIAH JOHNSON
MCCABE & MRS. MILLER
THE COWBOYS
TRUE GRIT (the original)
TRUE GRIT (the remake)
THE SHOOTIST
THE GREY FOX
SILVERADO
TOMBSTONE

THE SPAGHETTI WESTERNS:

THE MAN WITH NO NAME TRILOGY: A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

THE COMEDIES:

BLAZING SADDLES
THE PALEFACE
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER
CAT BALLOU
THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB

THE WEIRD STUFF:

JOHNNY GUITAR
DUEL IN THE SUN
FORTY GUNS
RANCHO NOTORIOUS
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
THE HIRED HAND

RANDOM STUFF I JUST HAPPEN TO LIKE:

THE LAST WAGON
THE OUTRIDERS
THE NAKED SPUR
THE COMANCHEROS
THE UNDEFEATED
THE RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (TV movie)

THE TV MINI-SERIES:

LONESOME DOVE

INTO THE WEST
CENTENNIAL
THE AWAKENING LAND

HEAVEN AND HELL
TRUE WOMEN

 

THE CLASSIC TV SERIES:

 

GUNSMOKE

THE RIFLEMAN

HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL

THE BIG VALLEY

THE VIRGINIAN

BONANZA

 

THE REVISIONIST TV SERIES:

 

DEADWOOD

LONESOME DOVE: THE OUTLAW YEARS

ALIAS SMITH & JONES

THE YOUNG RIDERS

HELL ON WHEELS

THE TV GENRE MASHUPS:

 

FIREFLY

WILD, WILD WEST

THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR.

KUNG FU

JUSTIFIED

5 Ways Writing Fan-Fiction Made Me A Better Writer

Come on, admit it, writers–at one time or another, you’ve written some fan-fiction.

O.K., maybe you haven’t, but I bet you at least thought about it at one time or another

It’s something that’s difficult to confess to. I was actually a bit hesitant about writing this post, until I saw an article by Peter Damian called Testifying For Fan-Fiction. It made me think, why are we so ashamed of it? Especially when, in many ways, I found it a valuable experience.

I never wrote Star Wars or Star Trek fan-fic (though I am a fan of both) or for Buffy or some of the other usual suspects when it comes to fan-fiction. The fan-fic I’ve written was for a fairly obscure weekly series that was based on Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. For a brief time in the mid-90s, there was a weekly show that followed Woodrow Call’s son Newt as he struck out on his own and settled in a little town in Montana. It starred Scott Bairstow as Newt and a pre-Will & Grace (and almost unrecognizable) Eric McCormack as the show’s antagonist. Kelly Rowan was a co-star during Season 2. She currently co-stars with McCormack in the TNT show Perception. (A total thrill for fans of the old show.)

The first season was kind of Little House On The Prairie-esque, with Newt marrying a local girl, starting a ranch and working part-time as a deputy sheriff. The show was not that successful, so they decided to retool it by killing off Newt’s wife and turning him into a bitter bounty hunter in Season 2. They renamed the show Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.

The second season was awesome, very dark and very character-driven. I’m not going to go as far as comparing it to Deadwood–while the character development and dialogue were great, it never achieved Deadwood’s brilliance. It was still pretty damn good, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, almost no one saw it. I only found it because it happened to be playing on my TV as I was cleaning up after a dinner party on New Year’s Eve.

By the end of Season 2 I was an avid member of a Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years mail list. There weren’t a lot of us, but we were devoted fans. We were told that HBO was considering picking it up for the third season. Since Season 2 had ended with a wealth of possibilities for stories, we were hopeful that it would happen.

It didn’t.

Several of us wrote fan-fiction so we could in some fashion experience Season 3. I ended up writing six long stories and a couple of prequel stories before I decided to quit writing fan-fic and concentrate on writing things someone might actually pay for.

Still, I don’t think writing fan-fiction was a waste of time and feel I learned a lot in the process. Such as:

1. The importance of focusing on main characters and not letting secondary characters take over a story.  There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING worse to fan-fic writers and readers than the dreaded Mary Sue and Gary Stu. These are characters created by fan-fic writers that were not in the original material who represent the writer’s wish-fulfillment fantasy and who tend to take over the story. By trying to avoid creating Mary Sues, it taught me a lot about the appropriate use of secondary characters.

2. Research and accuracy matters, even with fan-fiction. Since this was a Western, we not surprisingly had several historical buffs and gun experts on our list. One of them called me out when I wrote a scene with a gun that was inaccurate. If there were anachronisms or other errors with history, you did not get away with it. People were nice about it, but these things were important to them, even with fan-fiction. It’s made me even more careful about details like this since then.

3. Always stay true to character. Interestingly, plot holes were less of an offense than changing characters to suit a plot point. It was while writing fan-fiction that I learned about the symbiotic relationship between character and plot.

4. You’re never going to please everyone. People have such a feeling of ownership over the characters and story to do with their favorite shows that it was inevitable someone was going to be unhappy, no matter how hard I tried to write something that is true to the spirit of the original. And I realized, that’s O.K. No matter what you write, someone’s not going to like it. Maybe lots of someones. It goes with the territory of being a writer.

5. One of the primary reasons you write is for the fun of it. This was one of the things that I valued a great deal about writing fan-fiction. It taught me to enjoy the process of writing. I was writing to please other people, sure, but mostly it was to please myself.

Have you ever written fan-fiction? Let us know in the comments section about your experiences!