Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gay Westerns done right: Cap Iversen's Dakota trilogy

You'd think the idea of the "gay western" was so obvious, this kind of book would be common, there would be plenty of these novels when you fancied a romp with gay cowboys.
Surprisingly, there's just not that many. The genre is usually traced back to a novel I've never read, but would if I ever found a copy -- Song of the Loon, by Richard Amory, published in 1966. It's been described as an "erotic saga," but how hot it would be, you have to wonder, because not only was it published in '66, but it was also so popular, Amory was either invited or allowed to do two sequels.

But the sluice gates did not exactly swing wide open on gay western novels. I've found it hard to track any more down before the 1990s. Then, you can hunt down books by William H. Henderson, Michael Jensen, Ken Shakin and Cap Iversen.

I'm going to look at Cap Iversen today for several good reasons: he writes a very good novel without getting at all "arty;" his books are the absolute archetype of the Western novel with one exception ... the orientation of the heroes; and he wrote a trilogy about a very good character called Dakota Taylor, so if you're in the mood for a gay western, you've got something to sink your teeth into!

The trilogy started off with Arson! and went on with Silver Saddles and Rattler! I have a copy of the first, read a borrowed copy of the second, and was never able to get my hands on a copy of the third. From a writer's POV I guess it's like the Law of Diminishing Returns. The more you do, the less you get -- the more books you produce, the less you sell, and then the publishers decide not to do any more, and what was billed as a "series" at first, turned into a trilogy. That's fair enough. The publishers know their business...

I'd love to show you the Rattler! cover, but I never did track down the book, as I said. I remember enjoying Silver Saddles a lot, but can't actually review it because it's got to be about twelve years since I read it and the details have slipped my mind!

However, I read Arson! again not long ago, and I'd forgotten what a good book it is. It doesn't attempt to be "arty." It is exactly what it is: a Western. Where the guys fancy each other.

The story is your "right down the middle" Western plot, about sheepmen on one side, cattlemen on the other, the little dusty town, the simmering heatwave, land rights, water rights, the gunfighter, the smoking Colt revolvers ... the works.

And Cap Iversen wove in the gay sub-plotline with a very very subtle hand. This book is NOT erotica. There's a lot of so-called "gay cowboy stories" out there, but when you get right down to it, it's just erotica about very young men getting down to business while wearing Stetson hats and chaps (or at least wearing them till some other young dude rips 'em off; which is cool in its own way). If you want a real, genuine Western, you'll look a long way...

CI's characters are the real thing, too. The central character is obviously Dakota Taylor, who's a big, rough, tough gunslinger with a heart of gold, a lot of courage and a fancy for guys. His best bud is Ryder, who answers to the same description. The two have been in bed together for years, though they're not in love -- the bond is "merely" friendship with sensuality as a side order. Then Dakota meets a lad called Bennie Colsen, who's grown up gay on the ranch and has no idea what to do about it. He's done his reading, knows what and who he is, but in that era, what did you do next? Dakota falls for Bennie like the proverbial load of bricks, and Ryder is skeptical, especially when Dakota gets "suckered" into working for the young man, who's running sheep, and up against the cattlemen. The plot thickens with a drought that's killing huge numbers of cattle ... and everybody knows that sheep can survive twenty times better in drought conditions than cattle ever will.

So, Dakota is working for Bennie while Ryder takes the skeptical high ground, and the cattlemen are losing stock; Dakota has fallen in love with his young boss, and ... suddenly the ranch goes up in flames, and it weren't no act of Nature.

Arson! is a very good read. If the book has a downside at all, it's that most readers today would have liked the love scenes to be more frequent, and a lot more steamy. They're "matter of fact" love scenes, along the lines of, "we made love and then made a fresh pot of coffee." Even so, for gay readers (and gay-friendly readers) it's so nice to have a proper Western with the gay orientation. Like a breath of fresh air.

The book was put out by Alyson Books in 1992 and never reprinted. They also did the two follow-ups that make the Dakota trilogy, and you can get good deals from Amazon.

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 4.5 outta 5 stars, gosh durnit.

Here's a good article on the development of the gay Western:

... ...Amazon does have Song of the Loon, as I have just discovered! The much better look at the cover is a scan from the History of Gay Publishing in America. I must see if I can get this.

Diesel Ebooks has a page of gay Westerns, but I have no idea of the quality, not having read any of these! Worth a look, though, if you're in the mood, but I'm certain some (most?) of what's on this list will be of the erotic variety, and when you're looking for an actual novel...!


yip February 8, 2009 at 1:32 AM  

Wow, what a nice surprise to read review of Dakota series! These are one of the earliest gay novels I got. I'm lucky to have all three: Arson! and Silver Saddles from second-hand handlers, but a friend of mine bought Rattler from UK Amazon as a gift - it seems they re-launched the book 5 years ago. So maybe it'd help you to find a copy? Good luck!

Brit Columbia September 6, 2010 at 7:54 PM  

I've read all three books and wish there were more. It doesn't seem possible to contact the author, either. I wish I could tell him what an absolutely fabulous job I think he did with all three of the books in the Dakota series.

Anonymous,  August 18, 2012 at 12:53 PM  

Cap Iversen is a pseuedonym and He is really a she....I still think the books are great!!