I just finished writing a book that, frankly, I'm not sure how to categorize. It’s set in the early 20th century New Mexico and Mexico (1902-1921) and has supernatural elements (Native American mysticism and fantasy). I started looking for similar books and couldn’t find any – exactly – but I did find a sub-genre of the western called the “Weird West.” Apparently this sub-genre has been around for decades, going back to 1935 with the serial, The Phantom Empire. (There might be some even before that so don’t hold me to that date.) This sub-genre is basically any book with a western setting that contains elements of another genre like horror, fantasy, steampunk, Native American mysticism, paranormal, and science fiction.
I hadn’t heard the term before (okay, you might wonder where I’ve been) but I realized I had published books similar to this sub-genre under another sub-genre called “paranormal western romances.” I wrote about ghosts and cursed treasure in Desire’s Treasure (Arizona, 1884); time travel in The Turquoise Sun (Colorado, 1896); and reincarnation and Native American mysticism in Firelight (Colorado and Arizona, 1896). The beauty of the romance book world is that they welcome sub-genres as long as the romance remains center stage.
If you stop to think about it, the American West is the ideal place for supernatural elements. There have always been ghost tales, hauntings, Native American mysticism, and all manner of strange goings-on. Recently we’ve seen in movie form, Cowboys & Aliens (science fiction), Jonah Hex (fantasy/superhero), Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (horror/fantasy), the Wild Wild West (steampunk), and, some years ago, the fantastic surreal High Plains Drifter (supernatural/superhero). In books, a few that come to mind are Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (fantasy), Louis L’Amour’s Haunted Mesa (Native American mysticism), and Peter Brandvold’s Dust of the Damned (horror). The supernatural even appears in country/western music. Remember “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by the Sons of the Pioneers?
Sub-genres aside, the main key to success in any book is great characterization and a plot that makes the reader transcend belief, whether that’s in the real world, the supernatural world, or a combination thereof.