childhood / fiction / reading

Writing Gender

My weekly post at Amazing Stories is up.

Cedar Sanderson

Since I was very young, I have felt most at home alone in the woods.

And, to go along with that exercise in writing manly men, I have to go along with the posts at Mad Genius Club this week, ‘Light and Set, and Inspiration from the Past, both pondering Louis L’Amour, arguably the greatest Western author, and a master at writing vivid, distinctive characters. Men, yes, and rugged, rough men with a sense of honor so deep you couldn’t see the bottom of it. Men that, as a girl, I wanted to know, and later, wanted to model my future mate in that mold. It took me a while to get that part right.

L’Amour’s women, though, are perhaps tougher than their men. The PC police may attack his writing for portraying women who needed a man, but if you read with an open mind, then you see that they didn’t so much need a man as a partner. They needed help, but not because they were weak, because they were lonely. It is the human condition, we truly are not meant to pass through life alone, and company is sometimes the saving grace that keeps us going.

As for strong women… I have lived like that, hauling water, splitting wood, fighting nature for a garden and hunting and fishing… It’s not easy. Your average modern woman has absolutely no idea what it requires, and the idea that L’Amour’s women, left alone for months if not years while their men went yondering, were delicate flowers in need of masculine rescue is absurd. They had families to raise, and homes to keep, and not in the housecleaning sense, but the paying for, maintaining, and managing stock, sense. These are the women I try to emulate, my pioneer ancestresses who were tough old ladies who didn’t give up.

I’ve been reading some of L’Amour’s short stories, as collected in Off the Mangrove Coast, for some of his non-Western work, and rediscovering that his prose could be lyrical to the point of poetry. His characters are each so vividly brought to life, in so few words… I am trying to learn from this master of storytelling. If you haven’t read him, he’s not hard to find, with millions of copies of his books published, and it’s well worth the effort.


3 thoughts on “Writing Gender

  1. I remember reading about one of the early settlers in Natal – where a woman – with I think six kid under 10, was left in an area considered too cold and dangerous (raids by the khoisan hunter-gatherers) by the Zulu (so no servants, staff, workers – whatever) in a wattle and daub shack for upwards of six months while her man and older boy rode about 800 miles to bring a herd of cattle, and back with them. They were away the better part of a year. She saw one other traveller in that time. I wonder how many modern urban women could survive that, let alone build the farm up, teach the kids.


  2. Great going, Cedar. I am proud to be one of your tough old ancestresses. And while the wattle and daub shack in Natal, mentioned by the first responder is a far cry from raising children in an un-insulated shack at 60 or 70 below zero in Alaska, I feel a kinship with that woman. Of course I, also, had some pretty tough old ancestresses.


  3. There are many stories like yours, Grandma, (and when is Alaska Bush Mother coming out?) and Dave’s tale of the African Settler. We know some of them, through letters and journals, and others just went on silently with life, because that is the way it was done. I know I’m pampered with my internet and modern conveniences!

    I was thinking of you again the other day as I registered for classes for fall, Grandma. I keep telling myself I know I can do this, because you could.


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