Mile 31: Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is located off of the coast of Southern California and is the largest of the eight islands that make up the Channel Islands. It is 22 miles long, and at its widest point, it is 6 miles wide. It is one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park.

And it is the setting for my next Brock Clemons Western book and maybe for the entire third trilogy of Brock books. The name of the next book is “Pirates Attack Smugglers Cove.” My publicist, the brilliant Nick Wales, tells me I may have the first Western with the word “pirates” in the title and one of the very few set on an island.

Neither of those points is why I’m doing it, but they are kind of fun to think about.

So why, then, am I doing it?

The flip answer is, because I can. But flip or not, it’s actually the reason. I would guess that 90 percent of all Westerns take place in the same 10 or so states, starting with Montana at the northern end and dropping down to the now Mexico border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. All of my Westerns to date have done the same thing.

However, I thought it would be fun to try something different. My Brock books are written in trilogies, and looking ahead, I think the fourth trilogy will take place in Montana/Wyoming and the fifth one in Alaska.

But, having some experience with Santa Cruz Island (I’ve been visiting it off and on for 45 years) and its history, I thought it would be a blast to set Brock and his family on this island and have them battle weather, smugglers, thieves and pirates — all of which actually did occur there in the 1860s and 1870s. I’m not sure how this will play with my readers who are used to reading about Brock in the Colorado Rockies and the Grand Canyon, but I think it’s worth a try.

I share this with you because, as you are laying out your first Western, or your second, third or 10th, it’s worth remembering that there was more to the Old West than cowboys, six guns and horses. There were town folks who never fired a gun and couldn’t ride a horse to save their lives. There were women. There were loggers in the Pacific Northwest. There were bankers (even honest ones), barbers, cooks and shopkeepers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Louis L’Amour cowboys as much or more than anyone, and nothing says Old West like John Wayne sittin’ a horse. Heck, most of what I’ve written, whether it’s the Brock books or the Caz books, would be considered fairly traditional.

But there are great stories to be told that took place West of the Mississippi in the 19th century and didn’t involve cowboys, sheriffs or ranchers. I’m not saying you should consider writing a nontraditional Western simply to be writing a nontraditional Western, but I am suggesting that you consider alternatives, the road less traveled, or maybe the trail less ridden? You might be able to put 50,000 words into a story and not fire a single gun. Not that I have, but you might.

All I’m suggesting is that you consider all of your options before committing to a protagonist and to a storyline, and don’t be constrained by, or feel you have to shy away from, the traditional.

Heck, I’m thinking my next series might just be about a lady Pinkerton detective.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!



One Comment on “Mile 31: Santa Cruz Island

Irene Bennett Brown
January 15, 2019 at 7:47 am

I like this. My new novel, MISS ROYAL’S MULES, strays from the traditional western. It is, rather uniquely, about a woman and a herd of mules. Including the myriad changes–some dangerous, others plumb wonderful–those mules bring to her life.


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