52 Pick-up 2.0, #45, 11/24/2020
“What is it about Longmire that appeals to the French? What is it like to do a book tour in France? What about Henry’s time in France? We need to know more about the French connection. “ – Ann Wilson
If someone had told me that the series of books I was going to write about the sheriff of the least populated county in Wyoming was going to be a runaway success in a foreign country—maybe France wouldn’t have been my first guess?
Of course, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the American West carries an allure for other parts of the world. Once, while walking with my French publisher Oliver Gallmeister in Paris, we passed a patisserie and an elderly woman came out the door who looked as if she’d been sent over from Central Casting–the black dress, sensible shoes, scarf and carrying an armload of baguettes. We made eye-contact and as I always do in such situations, I tipped my hat (yes, I do wear it overseas) and to my horror she burst out crying.
I turned to Oliver and asked him if I’d done something wrong, at which point he and the woman entered into a flurry of French, and then Oliver started laughing. Finally, he turned to me and said that after the war that she used to sit with her father and watch westerns, but she never thought she would have a real cowboy tip his hat to her on a Parisian street.
I’ve got a theory about the attraction of westerns around the world, and it has to do with WWII. After the war, when the majority of countries were in a rebuilding period, the US inundated them with our media, our movies, our books and eventually our TV—and what was the predominant form of that period? At one time there were almost a hundred and fifty westerns on television and all of that content got sent overseas. I think, in a lot of countries, kids grew up watching westerns just the way that we did here.
That having been said, I’m afraid that attraction is fading, just as it is here. In a recent article from Western Writers of America it was noted that the sales of westerns in general but especially overseas has been steadily falling over the last few decades. I think the reason for this is too many writers are content to mimic Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey; the difficulty being that Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey were pretty good at writing Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. No offense, but audiences are a little more sophisticated these days and the standard oater just isn’t going to hold their interest.
However, I think I have an advantage in that my books are contemporary westerns, but another reason is the same as it is here in the US, character. Location, plot, and all those things are important, but if you don’t care about the characters then any book is going to be an uphill battle. When I ask French readers what it is that draws them to the novels, they consistently say the same thing that most American readers say—the characters.
That’s not to say that I don’t have some secret weapons on my side… As I mentioned, my publisher in France, Oliver Gallmeister, is one of the sharpest individuals I’ve ever met, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge and love of the American West; then there’s my translator, Sophie Aslanides. I’ve seen Sophie and Oliver argue for three days over one word… Their attention to detail and their passion for the written word has pretty much put me on the best-seller’s list in France.
I’ve said it before about the TV show, that you’re only as good as the folks you work with, and in France, I’ve had a charmed life.
See you on the trail,