Saturday, 16 February 2019

Welcome to the Weird West - and a Kickstarter to explore


Last year, as readers of the blog may know, I had my first Weird West tale published - The Clockwork Cowboy in the Hideous Progeny anthology from Writerpunk Press. It was my first step into a Wild West frontier remade into a world where anything was possible - and it's a world which Diane Morrison has been exploring for some time. She stops by the blog to chat about the genre - just as she is closing in on the finishing line for a Kickstarter for an anthology in the genre, Gunsmoke & Dragonfire. 



Welcome, Diane! So the anthology is a Weird West fistful of tales – so what is Weird West?

Weird West is what you call it when Westerns meet the supernatural. TV Tropes has an excellent definition and explanation on their website, and Cat Rambo and I discussed it in an interview I did for my last Kickstarter. More often than not, this will be a horrific element, like zombie cowboys, or ghosts, or Lovecraftian monsters. But it could also be in the form of traditional high fantasy elements – like, say, replacing horses with unicorns. That’s much less common though; people are surprised when I tell them this is what I write.

What’s the thing you love most about the genre? What is it that fires your imagination when reading through all the stories?

That’s a good question. I don’t think I can answer it in a single paragraph.

I have always loved places where genre boxes break down. Life never fits in boxes; why should fiction?

Westerns tend to be gritty. They’re nasty, violent, depend heavily on unreliable narrators, and are often morally ambiguous. Even when they weren’t intended to be, they nevertheless end up being so in a modern context – nobody thinks “Cowboy and Indian” stories are heroic anymore, and they never were.

Fantasy – at least, classic high fantasy – is often criticized because it tends to be whimsical and hopeful, with clearly-defined paths of right and wrong. I’m not saying any of that is a bad thing, even if it were entirely true (which it isn’t.) What’s wrong with a hopeful tale of people trying to do good in the world once in a while? What’s wrong with a little escapism, where anything might happen and anything is possible?

But the place where the two meet… now, that’s interesting. The Fantasy uplifts the Western, and the Western grounds the Fantasy.

We think we know Westerns. We think we know the rules. But suppose that instead of slinging guns, people sling spells? Or perhaps the menace that controls the town isn’t Black Bart and his gang; it’s something much more ancient and alien? Or maybe the cowboys are herding giant bugs instead of cattle? Now, anything at all can happen, and all the rules go right out the window!

The best stories don’t just contain elements of both genres; they successfully combine thematic elements of both genres. There are natural places where they meld. Tales of wandering gunmen have a lot in common with tales of knights errant or ronin stories. Tales of “taming the wilderness” gain even greater weight when applied to alternate dimensions or other planets. I wrote a bit about that in the Foreword for this book.




Regular blog visitors Ricardo Victoria and Brent A. Harris are both part of the anthology - and you can see their chat with Diane Morrison above.

Is this a new genre or have writers of the past sauntered their way through these valleys before?

Oh no, it’s not new. It’s just uncommon for some reason. Maybe people hear the idea and are skeptical, so they don’t give it a chance? Arguably, Robert E. Howard might be considered the founder of the genre, with his 1932 story “The Horror from the Mound,” although I’m sure ghost stories that took place in Western settings must have predated him. That’s why I chose to include a Howard story in the anthology, although only a few were available to the public domain. I had to settle on a Solomon Kane story, as opposed to one of the more obvious Weird Westerns that he wrote, but it works!



What drew you into writing in the genre?

Okay, true story? I wanted to write about a D&D paladin who wasn’t a traditional knight-in-shining-armour. I thought about how such a character might manifest in different time periods. How would their weapons change with the technology? How would the code that they live and die to defend change?

Then I read Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga, and the first one in which we got to see the protagonist in his youth, when the crumbling mythical kingdom of Gilead still stood. And I thought: What was it like to be a gunslinger in Gilead before it began to crumble? What would have happened if Camelot had survived into the early Industrial Age?

My world is a very different one now, but those were the thoughts that formed the seed of the idea. I didn’t even discover the term “Weird West” until my first story was already out. But the more I read, the more I loved it, and the more I wanted to share the genre and get others interested in it too!


Check out the trailer for the book above! 

Apart from backing the Kickstarter – obviously! – and your own series that there’s a link for below, where’s a great place to start reading?

Thanks for the plug! Also thanks for supporting us!

But okay, seriously: there’s a lot of amazing stuff out there, and you’ve probably already read it or seen it, but you didn’t know what to call it. You asked where to start reading so I’ll limit myself to print. I’ve already mentioned Robert E. Howard’s classic Weird West stories, and many of his Solomon Kane stories also cross into the genre. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series might be the most ambitious Weird Western ever written. H.P. Lovecraft took a stab at it in a ghostwritten story for Zealia Bishop in 1940 called “The Mound.”



Louis L’Amour even tried his hand in his novel The Haunted Mesa. David Gemmell wrote one called Wolf in Shadow that has a post-apocalyptic/magical take, and Joe R. Lansdale wrote Dead in the West. There’s also the multi-authored Deadlands series, including a novel called Deadlands: Boneyard by Nebula winner Seanan McGuire. Nebula-nominee & SFWA President Cat Rambo also writes Weird Westerns, Delilah S. Dawson has written several in the popular Shadow series under the pen name Lila Bowen, and Gemma Files’ Hexslinger series is a lot of fun! And in comics you’ve got Jonah Hex, Solomon Kane, Wild Wild West, and so forth. I’m sure there’s many more I’ve forgotten and will regret having done so later, but that’ll keep you busy for a while.

I’d like to add that I’m not the only writer in this anthology who does Weird West on the regular. Zach Chapman’s story is part of his Spellslinger story series, some of which have been published elsewhere; and Milo James Fowler gave us one of his Coyote Cal stories.

Many thanks for visiting, Diane, glad to have you call by. Good luck with the project, I can't wait to read it. 

Listen to regular blog visitor Rob Edwards narrate one of the stories from the anthology, Lonesome, by Carrie Gessner, at his Storycast podcast here

Check out Diane being interviewed by R Daniel Lester about the anthology for more details here.

To back the anthology on Kickstarter, go to its campaign page here.

Authors featured in the anthology

Robert Lee Beers - A hardboiled P.I. and his partner must find their way back to the present from 1906 San Francisco before the Big One hits, dodging gunslingers and the risk of changing history, with only a drunken misanthropic wizard to help them...
James Blakey - A sheriff must question a colourful cast of characters to discover who has stolen a unicorn rancher's herd...
Laurence Raphael Brothers - A barkeep hopes for a chance at revenge against a band of outlaws, but the help he receives may not be natural...
Zach Chapman - A card-cheating Spellslinger must duel a mysterious Green Gunslinger to his damnation or salvation...
Sara Codair - Two Martian sheriffs must stop a gang of outlaws from stealing a settlement's precious water, if they can keep their marriage together long enough to do it...
Eric S. Fomley - A marshal comes to town seeking an outlaw, but neither he nor the outlaw are the ordinary kind...
Milo James Fowler – Heroic Coyote Cal, the witch Donna Jamieson, and his faithful sidekick Big Yap, must stop a monster from ravaging the livestock and people of a town in the western desert...
Ron S. Friedman - A WWI pilot shot down over the Amazon must survive Germans, crazy scientists, the jungle and dinosaurs...
Carrie Gessner - An elven veteran is called back to face her demons when a little girl is snatched to serve the army that destroyed her...
Paul Alex Gray - The heir to the Bourbon Throne must earn coin in America to overthrow the French Republic and reclaim his birthright, so he builds a fantastic contraption to aid him...
Jude-Marie Green - Sorceress Jane Smith knows her partner Donna Quick is quite mad, but she follows her anyway...
Brent A. Harris - Marshal Bass Reeves has been asked for help by a desperate frontier settlement beleaguered by a dragon...
Ethan Hedman - A wandering gunfighter inherits an enchanted weapon, but it's broken...
Joachim Heijndermans - Two outlaws hole up in a quiet town full of terrified townsfolk, but all is not as it seems...
Russell Hemmell - Two investigators must discover why an entire colony in the Kuiper Belt has disappeared, leaving nothing but an anachronistic western frontier town in its place...
Liam Hogan - A young outlaw is hunted by an implacable mechanical foe...
G. Scott Huggins - A blacksmith with ghostly allies receives an unusual, and dangerous, client...
Sean Jones - The last Norse descendant in North America, who swears vengeance on the Comanche for killing his wife and village, is given supernatural aid by the Navajo...
Mackenzie Kincaid - Junior died helping Pa maintain the fence against the Somethings, so now 12-year-old Jane must take his place...
R. Daniel Lester - An old tap-dancing celebrity defaults on the payments for his magical shoes, and a repo agent has come to collect...
Diane Morrison - Two young elven Gunslingers must stop a cannibal spirit before it, or the blizzard it brings, kills everyone they know...
Diana L. Paxson - A painter journeys to the Rockies to paint landscapes, and stumbles upon an ancient mystery...
Claire Ryan - Rollo is going to get her giant slug herd in to market, come hell or high water, monster or no monster...
Ricardo Victoria - An ex-spellslinger has taken up a career as a travelling salesbeing of a newfangled weapon called a "rifle"...
Stanley B. Webb - A U.S. Marshal must stop a notorious outlaw who may or may not be a dragon...




Find out more about Diane's own series, the Wyrd West Chronicles, at her website here.

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