Monday, June 20, 2011
How the West was Weird by Ian Rogers!
The Emporium has a new guest columnist, Ian Rogers! He's the writer of a new Weird Western novella called Deadstock, and he'll be popping in every once in a while to comment on all things Weird Western. Whats his book about? Ill let him explain that himself:
For me, Westerns have always been weird.
As a kid, I never understood why people liked them. I didn't play cowboys and Indians. I never had a cowboy hat or one of those plastic six-shooters that fired caps. I always thought the Lone Ranger was a bit of a wimp, and I figured anyone who couldn't tell who he was behind that dinky little mask must be spending too much time under that hot desert sun. Maybe it's a generational thing. Most of the kids I knew didn't play cowboys and Indians, either. We played Star Wars.
Despite that, there was still a Western influence in my house. There were plenty of Louis L'Amour novels on our bookshelves, and I have memories of my father watching movies on TV starring Clint Eastwood and some guy he called "Duke." I always left the room when they were on.
It wasn't until I was a bit older and I happened to catch High Plains Drifter on late-night TV that I became a fan of Westerns.
In the film, a stranger (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed the film) is hired by the people of Lago to defend them against a group of outlaws. Typical Western fare, I thought. But as I watched, the film got progressively darker and more unsettling, culminating in the stranger actually painting the town red to convince the outlaws they were riding into hell itself. The finale, with its unexpected touch of the supernatural, won me over completely.
It's no coincidence that it was this film that made me a fan of Westerns at the same time it introduced me to a genre, or sub-genre if you like, that I never even knew existed: the Weird Western.
High Plains Drifter was released in 1973, but it wasn't the first Weird Western. A year earlier, Jonah Hex made his debut in the DC comics series All-Star Western, and back in the 1960s, there was the TV series The Wild Wild West. There was even a spate of cowboys-and-dinosaurs films including The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Valley of Gwangi. It's clear the Weird Western has been with us for a very long time.
Two of my favourite Weird Western films are Near Dark and From Dusk Till Dawn. These ones in particular proved to me that Weird Westerns can be more than just cowboys & aliens (not to knock that particular film, which looks like it's going to be great), or cowboys & Indian curses, or cowboys & zombies, and so on. Perhaps not coincidentally, Near Dark and From Dusk Till Dawn feature vampires — and not the kind that sparkle — and while both films take place in the present day, they feature bleak, isolated settings that almost make it seem as if they were set in the days of the Wild West.
As for Weird Western books, for my money you can't do any better than Joe R. Lansdale. In addition to writing Jonah Hex comics, Lansdale has written a number of Weird Western tales featuring the monster-hunting Reverend Jebidiah Mercer. All of these stories were recently collected in a must-have book for any Weird Western fan called Deadman's Road. And of course, it goes without saying that if you haven't read Stephen King's seven-volume Dark Tower series, then you're missing out on one the greatest Weird Western epics ever written.
When I first started publishing stories in magazines and anthologies, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at a Western. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of venues around these days looking for Western fiction. In fact, the one market that ended up buying the one Western I've sold to date (a short story called "Buffalo Money") ended up going out of business before the first issue came out. I ended up selling that story again, to an online magazine, but it became clear to me that if I was going to write any more Westerns in the future, I'd better make them Weird.
It wasn't too hard — at least not for me. Maybe it's because Westerns and horror stories actually have a lot in common. They both deal with the exploration of the unknown — horror by way of humankind's encounters with the supernatural, Westerns through the exploration and settlement of the West. It almost makes sense that these two seemingly disparate genres should come together to create a new type of story.
Stonebunny Press recently published my first foray into the Weird West, a novelette called "Deadstock."
No one knows who or what is killing the cattle at Groom ranch, but Sam Dryden, with his supernatural greenwood gun, and Raisy, with her ‘deck’ of knives, are determined to find out. What they discover is more horrifying than either of them ever dreamed, and the secret may be one that takes them to the grave.
While most writers tend to mix horror with their Westerns, I thought I'd go one step further and throw in some science fiction elements as well. I'm not the first person to do this, but I like to think I added my own special twist to the Weird Western. If readers end up enjoying "Deadstock," I may write some more stories about Dryden and Raisy.
The Weird Western fan base may not be as huge as some of the others out there, but they're strong and loyal and they've been around a long time. Weird Westerns have made it onto best-sellers lists, they've broken box-office records, and with the upcoming release of films like Cowboys & Aliens and the reboot of the TV series The Wild Wild West, it's clear that the Weird Western will always be around.
You can find Deadstock HERE and they have a Facebook page HERE. For more Ian Rogers himself, his Personal Site has everything you need to know!