New Haxan Story “The Weight of Memory”

While I was attending Lone Star Con last week someone asked me if I wrote the Haxan stories in chronological order.

I had to admit I did not. I write the stories as they come to me. Sometimes they might be in order, often not. I usually have some idea, however, where they fit along the timeline. Though not always.

This brand new story which has been published by The Western Online is a story which appears at the beginning of the that timeline. It presages the appearance of Marwood, and gives some idea of the ancient lineage of the Eternals and those who are chosen to stand.

A nice dark fantasy to get your morning started. What better way to start the day? Just click the link below and read for free. Hope you like it.

“The Weight of Memory” by Kenneth Mark Hoover

 

Dark Secrets of Blood and Mythical Power in the Streets of Haxan

When I wrote “Alpenglow’ I knew I was going to be pushing a boundary or two. Which is fine because that’s how I write anyway and that sort of viewpoint always works well in Haxan.

I’ve had several readers remark how this story creeped them out. I can see why and I’d be less than honest if I said I wasn’t going for that effect. This was a deliberate attempt on my part to show what the Old West was really like (at least from a cultural point of view) and how people reacted to those pressures. Naturally, being Haxan there is a dark undercurrent of fantasy and horror running throughout the story. Well, what else can you expect when a lone mountain man comes down out of Taos into Haxan carrying scalps….?

I am really glad this story is being offered by Argo Navis Publishing. I hope you enjoy reading it and being shaken by it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have fun!

 

Alpenglow: when the last rays of a setting sun illuminate the snowy peaks...and remind you of your own mortality.

Product Description: A brand new Haxan story! An ancient trapper named Cesar Coffin comes unannounced out of Taos, New Mexico into the grinding maelstrom of Haxan. He has fresh scalps hanging on saddle pommel…and an even darker secret hidden in the fragments of his soul as he seeks to destroy the demon who rules Haxan: Marshal John T. Marwood.

“The Haxan universe is rich with character, history and mythology. Every story is a joy to read.” —Jennifer Brozek, editor and author

In Search of Bold Story Ideas…and settling on the warm safety of cliche.

I guess one of the things that surprises me most is how easy it is to come up with ideas for stories.

I wrote about this before. I used to be worried I would never have enough story ideas when I began to write. Now I have too many. I suppose that’s growth of a sort. Or being wised up to reality. Or something.

But what I want to talk about today isn’t how easy it is to come up with story ideas. It’s how hard it is to determine which stories deserve to be written and which stories don’t. That’s not always easy for me to do. But over the years, and with I admit some confidence, I have reached a point where I think I can look at a story idea and say, “No, I’ll let someone else write that one.”

I think this decision making process operates simultaneously on many different levels. Not surprising since writing itself is an organic process. Part of it is genre related. No, I don’t want to write a SF story today. Or, no, I don’t currently see I have anything new to say with that story idea; it’s been done to death already. Or, again, no, I’ll pass on this story idea because…let’s face facts…I’ve moved beyond that point and am now engaged in saying different things than what that story calls for.

Because, you see, the story comes first. You can’t make it into something it’s not. That never works no matter how hard you try.

I suppose it’s a cold-hearted culling process that goes on here, and a learned one. I am not saying these story ideas have no worth. I am saying I have so many other story ideas to explore I’d rather see them developed first. Okay, I guess when you get down to it I am saying certain story ideas have no worth to me. There is some definite snobbery at work here. That doesn’t mean another writer can’t, or shouldn’t, develop them into something stellar. They can, and they probably should, do so.

They just aren’t for me.

I suspect you know where this is going. I am currently working in the western genre. No secret there. It’s also no secret I have railed, and will continue to rail, about the cliches and stilted story lines I continue to see in this field from writers who should know better. But, you know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe they never will. But I am not complaining. Because they stick to their field and what obviously works for them, it leaves me with a lot of running room. And, to be fair, the stories they write are popular and people do like them and do buy them. So they must be doing something right.

But they are not for me and they never will be because while science fiction is twelve (and by extension all other genres) I am no longer twelve.

I mean, seriously. Do we have to see another story about the Noble Savage? The Virgin Schoolmarm? The Laconic Cowboy? I am on record I want to see other voices, new interpretations, different perspectives.

Is that asking too much? Sometimes I wonder.

I will give you a personal example. Maybe it will help you understand what I am trying to say here. Several years back when I was running a western community on Live Journal someone actually confronted me and argued homosexuals had nothing to do with settling the West.  Absolutely nothing. Now I want you to think about that a moment. This individual might well have said women had nothing to do with settling the Old West, or Native Americans, or African Americans, or Latinos, or…well, you get the idea.

In this person’s worldview the stereotypes we have been fed for decades was the only truth.

Long story short, I want to change that. I don’t mean I want to change that person’s mind. Nothing is ever going to accomplish that. I want to change the underlying idea of what makes a western a western because I want the genre to thrive and grow. I want it to thrive and grow because I am working in this genre and it does me no good to be in a genre that’s spinning its wheels and calling that progress.

Fortunately, all this is changing. Although, I admit, not fast enough to suit me. There are a lot of new, good writers out there who are challenging the Old Guard. I call them Cactus Turks because they tend to be young, prickly, obstinate, and they openly challenge authority. Thank goodness for that!

Because otherwise we’d be stuck with the same old story about a handsome sun-tanned cowboy on a palomino who safeguards a widow and her blond-haired son from the evil robber baron who owns the deed to her ranch. Hoo boy. Like  we haven’t seen that one before, right?

Let someone else write that story. It’s not for me. And it’s not for the new guard of writers in this genre who are doing better work than I am and pushing the boundaries far wider than I could ever hope to imagine.

So. My advice? Be bold. Take chances. Run risks. Piss people off with your fiction. I see a lot of safe fiction out there in many different genres. They’re all guilty of it, not only westerns. Let’s get out of that rut. Get off the well-lighted roads and strike off into the dark woods and see what you can find. You’re a writer. Be bold.

Trust yourself.

So that’s my point about why I am so careful about choosing story ideas. There are a lot of story ideas out there. As a writer you always have to make a decision for yourself, your reader, and, yes, the health of the genre, whether or not you are going to pursue it. You may not always get it right. In fact, since this is writing we are talking about, you will probably get it wrong more often than not. I know I do. But I keep trying. I don’t give up. I have seen it in my own fiction. The stories I first started to write in this genre are very different from what I see now. I take more risks now, challenge more beliefs.

Once again I am only speaking for myself, but I feel if I am not doing that then I am nothing more than a stenographer. A stenographer  looks at the surface features. I am a writer. I try to dive deeper.

But, come what may, these are the headwinds we are faced with today and they are fierce and unrelenting. Believe it or not there were millions of people other than the traditional White Christian Male who worked and lived and died in the west. No, really. It’s true. Just open a history book.

Better yet, open your mind and write.

Gepetto’s Orphans: The Emergence of the Lost People Comes to Haxan

My new Haxan story “Gepetto’s Orphans” has a long lineage. You might say it’s as old as the story of Pinocchio himself. Now, truth be told, many stories have been written about a wooden boy who becomes real. But being a dark fantasy writer it’s my job to look beyond the ordinary and seek the extraordinary.

That’s why I wanted to write a story not about Pinocchio, but about his creator. And what better setting than Haxan, that grinding maelstrom of space and time in the Old West?

I wrote this story for one reason. A very good friend of mine, M.G. Ellington, loves the story of Pinocchio. Which got me to thinking  how I could write a story that incorporated the themes she liked but set in Haxan. “Gepetto’s Orphans” was the frightening result, and I dedicate it to her.

“Gepetto’s Orphans” is now available from Argo Navis Publishing on Kindle. This is a special story to my heart, and one in which you will, I hope, see Marshal Marwood in a different light. Magra Snowberry also plays a pivotal role. Enjoy! 🙂

 

The story of Piniocchio comes to Haxan...and wooden simulacra will never be the same again!

Product Description: In the quiet streets of Haxan, New Mexico, circa 1874, strange enigmatic statues of wooden Native Americans appear. Beautifully carved, with exquisite attention to detail, the statues rest on massive pedestals and cannot be moved. They are harbingers of The Emergence, a time when the Lost People will spill from the dark bowels of the earth and bring with them the end of the physical world.

Marshal John Marwood is charged with protecting Haxan. The woman he loves, Magra Snowberry, holds the key to understanding what The Emergence is all about. But this time Marwood’s bone-handled Colt is useless against a foe made of living wood. And if he does somehow defeat these orphans from Gepetto…how can he find the man who is carving them, and bringing them to life?

“Combines dark fantasy and Gothic influences while avoiding sentimentality and myth.” –Michael Merriam, award winning author of Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep

Little Big Man: A Classic Novel of Lies and Counter-Lies in the Old West

My review of the novel Little Big Man by Thomas Berger has been published by The Western Online. Here’s the link, and I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say about this classic work. I tried to approach the review from the orientation of both an armchair historian and a writer working in the western genre. Thanks, guys! 🙂

 

Little Big Man: A Classic Novel of Lies
and Counter-Lies in the Old West

Lambshead and Daws Crossing on the Clear Fork Comanche Reservation (1855-1859)

This is Lambshead, one of the oldest ranches in the area. It was first built by J.A. Matthews. It lies south of the old Butterfield Stage Route. You could get from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA in 25 days using this route.

This is Daws Crossing where Robert E. Lee signed a peace treaty with the Comanche…for as long as that lasted. It was the site of the main Comanche village at that time. Unfortunately, nothing of the old village is left. This is also where cattle crossed going north on the Western Cattle Trail up to Dodge City. We had a picnic lunch right here on the banks of the river and as we ate we thought about the long violent history of this place.

Part of the Comanche Reservation and Lambshead. The main reservation was mostly north of Lambshead but encompassed Daws Corssing.

The country side is very different today than it was back then and a western writer has to be aware of that. At one time all this was open prairie with an occasional mesquite tree grove. But as the land become “civilized” all the prairie dogs were killed. They used to eat the green mesquite shoots before they became trees. Also, farmers and ranchers started to put out prairie fires. Fire was  a renewing force which kept the prairie open. Now you are hard pressed to find good open prairie anywhere in the vicinity of Fort Griffin or Lambshead.

On Magra Snowberry: Carried by the wings of blood and dust

I.

     Magra’s braided hair shone like the wings of a raven in the morning light.  Her face was like a sword.

I am rarely surprised by a story. When I write I always feel I am in total control, sifting and judging words and sentences and actions as I move through it. I hold the strings. The story and characters therein move but with my purpose and desire.

I always feel I am in control when I write. But in the story “Vengeance is Mine,” published in the anthology Beauty Has Her Way edited by Jennifer Brozek,  Magra definitely surprised me. She revealed hidden layers to her personality I didn’t know existed.

I think Magra came into her own in this story in a very big way. Haxan is about many things. I reject all simplistic definitions that try to pigeonhole Haxan. On the other hand, Magra, and what she stands for, is very prominent, and the more I think about it the more convinced I am that at its core the series is about her.

II.

MARSHAL JOHN MARWOOD MURDERED TONIGHT STOP BELIEVE CLETE STRIDE RESPONSIBLE STOP REQUEST IMMEDIATE HELP I AM ALONE STOP

Magra, not Marwood, is the foundation of the series. I found that out when I wrote “Vengeance is Mine”. Go figure, right?

Marwood, for all his complexities, is understood by me. I know everything there is to know about him. I know exactly what he thinks and how he feels and what he wants in every imaginable situation. There are no hidden corners to his personality, and I doubt they are much hidden from readers as well. He’s not simplistic but he is understandable.

Magra Snowberry, on the other hand, is a total cipher to me. Therein lies her deep power, and for me, seductive mystery.

Oh, there are some things I do know about her. She was born Margarethe Louise Snowberry.  She’s the daughter of “Shiner” Larsen and Black Sky. Magra was born in late spring with snow on the ground, uncommon for that season. It was interpreted as a sign of great power.

Hers is the first name to registered in Haxan birth records. The county official, a notorious drunk, misspelled it as “Maghra”. The birth certificate survives. It is part of a private collection in modern day Las Cruces.

At the age of nine Magra was sent East to be educated. She was beaten and abused. While she was gone her mother, Black Sky, died on The Long Walk to Fort Sumner. Magra returned to New Mexico Territory and lived until adulthood with her bereft father. Her knowledge of the desert is immense and it is believed she adopted her parents’ ability to “night-walk” people under special circumstances.

But these are known things. Facts and evidence supported by canon. I write the Haxan series and I am telling you there is more, much more, to Magra than I ever expected.

III.

I am diving out of the sun.

When I was writing “Vengeance is Mine” that’s how she came to me. She was like a raptor falling out of the sky with folded wings. I had written Haxan stories about Magra before. No, that’s not quite true. I had written stories with Magra in them, but this was the first story about Magra.

She had always been a treasure trove of opportunity and potential. I could use her to explore Native American themes, racism, sexism, violence, and heretofore little explored facets of gritty western life through her eyes. Or at least through Marwood’s eyes as he viewed her dealing with these subjects.

I am embarrassed to admit in some of the earliest stories she was little more than a walk on character. Oh, she had a prominent role in the first Haxan story and the novel which will be published by CZP in late ’13 or early ’14. But in one or two subsequent short stories she was either a background character or just someone Marwood could save from violence and harm.

It wasn’t until I wrote “Vengeance is Mine” that I learned Marwood wasn’t the only one who could do the saving. Magra had power. Real power.  But who was she? I mean, who was she, really?

IV.

I am Magra Snowberry, daughter of Black Sky. 

When push came to shove Magra finally revealed herself. She showed me and the reader how she viewed herself and how she defined herself. She wasn’t only Marwood’s lover. If anything that was secondary to how she actually viewed herself. That surprised me. It shouldn’t have, perhaps, but it did. Boy, how it did.

She was revealing herself to me in ways I never imagined. I don’t know if you are  a writer. But I am and I can tell you that is an amazing experience when hidden avenues are suddenly flooded with light. I still remember the moment and I remember how I felt. But for all this she still remains a cipher to me. She has revealed parts of herself I never thought or imagined existed when I created her. There are deep caverns here that I haven’t begun to plumb and may never fully understand.

From the perspective of a writer that is amazing to me. I know everything about Haxan. I know the streets and what it looks like and it’ history and its purpose. I know all these things as I know myself.

I still do not know Magra. I’m not sure I ever will. I’m not sure I am supposed to, and I write the darn things.

V.

I feel like the world is cracking.

I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is to have a character I do not know, yet am forced to write about. Every time I think about her I am amazed at how she amazed me.

To be sure something unexpected happened at the end of “Vengence is Mine” and that element has not been resolved in any story or novel to date. I know that it will. I know what happens later on to both Marwood and Magra. But I am not yet ready to write that story because there are other Haxan stories that demand attention right now.

I don’t write the Haxan stories in sequence. They come to me out of time and I place them in my head like beads on a string. I have a vague idea where each story belongs in a temporal sense, but I am not beholden to living by it. What I mean is, I might write a story that takes place in 1878 and then write a story that takes place in 1874. They might even be published that way. Major plot points are always kept in mind, but if it doesn’t matter then I don’t worry about whether or not as story takes place before or after one already published.

Vengeance is Mine” is a little different, however. I have not consciously written a story that takes place after the events described in that story. There is too much to explore before those things happen, even though we have already seen what happens in this instance. If that makes sense.

But throughout it all Magra moves like a shadow. She night-walks the entire series. Even when she’s not there, she’s there. She has a presence that goes far beyond anything Marwood portrays.

I love all my characters of Haxan. I respect Magra.

She has power. Real power.

Hell on Wheels – The Great Transcontinental Railroad on a TV Budget and a Slack Script

It’s hard to tell a lot from a single episode of commercial television without becoming dependent upon generalities to describe what you’ve seen with Hell on Wheels. But since the episode was made of generalities then I don’t feel so bad about it.

First off, it looks good. The people look sufficiently grimy, the backgrounds and offices and everything else looks decent and believable. There are artistic touches as well. The grass is extra-green and the sky is ultra-blue to give a sense of unspoiled space. Then here comes the railroad to sully everything and everyone. So far so good.

But we do have generalities we have to deal with and it’s a problem. I don’t know if it’s due to this program being aired on commercial TV or what. Maybe the program would have been better served if it had been picked up by HBO or Showtime or something. But AMC is what we have to work with, which means all the constraints of commercial television. So let’s get to it.

Like I said it looks good. But you’ve seen these characters before. There’s the Jonah Hex character (a disillusioned Confederate soldier on a path to vengeance), the rapacious and Machiavellian railroad magnate, the bitter ex-slave, the feminist trapped in a stifling male-dominated culture, the fervent preacher, the saucy whore with a gleam of fun in her eye, and others. Not to say they aren’t characterized well even if they are familiarly drawn. Everyone does a decent job (given their capabilities) and all the characters are likeable (I suppose I mean watchable) as far as it goes. I mean, it’s hard for me to become emotionally invested in anyone after less than one hour of commercial television.

So there’s that.

All in all, nothing came across to me as over the top or maudlin or mawkish even though we are only exploring one facet of this huge enterprise. The creators have determined to focus their attention on a rather narrow aspect of this part of history. I may not agree with it but I can only watch what they give me. The acting wasn’t great, though. But I’m jaded about that. I never expect superb acting from commercial television. Therefore I am rarely disappointed in that regard.

Hell on Wheels refers to an itinerant camp that follows the railroad as it moves across the Old West. I suppose the creators didn’t really want to concentrate on that aspect so much because the series would be derivative of Deadwood and would immediately be judged that way. So all in all there are many good aspects to this series so far. It looks like we have the usual suspects and plot lines to investigate in coming programs.

But there are two main problems so far that, if uncorrected, will at the very least force me to find entertainment elsewhere. First, the writing. Nothing spectacular here at all, I’m afraid. It’s serviceable but that’s all it is. All right, I admit there’s only one David Milch, but I don’t get a sense of any one artistic driving force behind this series. I don’t see a vision here at all. Again, it’s early days and we shouldn’t expect too much from a single program. But I am a writer and good writing will always keep me watching (or reading) no matter what the subject matter. I don’t see that here, and I’m only saying if I don’t see it soon I will bail.

The second problem with the series was no sense of grand scope or panoramic undertaking. If you are going to write a series about a great engineering enterprise like the building of the Transcontinental Railroad then I expect to see that. Now I do admit I liked very much the juxtaposition (or attempt at juxtaposition) between the tiny engineering camp and the open expanse of prairie. But I thought the group of people working on the actual railroad was a little thin. Believe it or not the Transcontinental Railroad was built by more than, like, twenty guys.

I don’t expect TV to show me thousands of laborers working themselves to death. Historically, it is believed one life was given for every sleeper laid on the Transcontinental Railroad. I know television isn’t going to show me that. I know there are budget constraints. But we get no sense of how extraordinarily huge this project truly was. All we ever see is the tiny camp moving across the open prairie and the railroad tycoon passing his fat, pallid hands over maps in a loving manner.

There’s a lot to like in Hell on Wheels if you’re not expecting much to begin with. And a lot to be worried about. I have no problem giving this series another two or three episodes to see what direction they ultimately decide to move into and concentrate on. One thing that interested me was the lone Cheyenne riding after a white woman at the end, tracking her down after she killed a member of his tribe during a massacre. That might be good interpersonal conflict later on. We can only hope.

But I have to be honest. If the writing on this series doesn’t get much better I will hop off at the next train depot and shank’s mare home.

The Long Red Light of the West

One of the things you learn when you research the Old West is how utterly violent it was. It is this long red light, the murderous plain of humanity if you will, that I want to talk about today.

From genocide to rape to murder to shotgun blasts from an alleyway into someone’s back to carving a drunk with a bowie knife until his guts spilled out over your hand in a hot steaming mass — the Old West was one big killing ground. And it never stopped. It was a violent arena of grinding bone, quick death and irrevocable loss. Torture and greed were the raw sinews holding it together.

Of course, you don’t see that often in movies and books or on television. Oh, you see violence. Hollywood is great for splashing buckets of violence across the silver screen. But all too often the violence in novels or film have an underlying meaning or symbolic reference behind it. But the reality of the Old West is the violence didn’t have a poetic framework. It wasn’t a vehicle to portray the warring forces in a man out to wreak vengeance nor was it an exercise in splatterpunk devoid of emotion. History proves this out.  Violence in the Old West existed because Man himself existed. Nor do I mean to rag on the Old West and single it out as a special case.

This is but the history of our species.

We do one thing really well. We kill stuff. Amidst the architecture and mathematics, violence exists because Man exists. The Old West was but one more boiling crucible in the history of our species that showcased dark desires and bright greed.

I don’t mean to say there were not people who wanted to bring law and order to the west. There were voices who wanted equality and fairness for everyone. But how could they be heard above the winds of genocide and destruction?

The longer I work in the western genre the more convinced I am the only way this genre is going to grow and evolve is if we treat its fundamental truths with more respect. Personally, I want to see more voices in this genre. I want to see  voices from people who didn’t historically have their stories told. The west was more than one thing. It was made up of millions of people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. That’s what I want to read, don’t you? We have seen the sanitized picture reflected through American culture in a thousand shards, and they are all the same. I want to look beyond the glittering icons and down into the abyss. I want what some might consider dangerous stories to be elevated into the American consciousness. If that is possible.

I work in this genre. I want to see other voices in this genre. I want to hear their stories. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are many good writers who are doing better work than I could ever hope to do in this area. I am starting to see elements of this in more and more stories. But no matter how good they are their voices are nearly drowned out by American myth perpetuated.The west was many things. I would like to see those differing stories from new voices.

I don’t know. Maybe someday it will happen and we will be able to see the west as something other than simplified romance. There is such great potential in this genre. It lends itself to so  many interpretations. The ground is rich for writers. But the headwinds are great, hurricane strength. And while humans are good at killing they are also good at self-delusion.

It’s safer, and far simpler, to believe in romantic fairy tales than to face the long red light of murder that was the Old West. I’m just saying that needs to be changed. The Old West needs to become dangerous. That’s where the best stories are, I think.

Return from Caprock Canyon

Got back from Caprock Canyon today. Had a good trip and it was very beneficial as far as doing preliminary work and story ideas for the novel, including seeing and walking over the land once inhabited by Native Americans. I’ll talk more about it later, but I’m headed to bed now.

Caprock Canyon after a hard rain

The Vanishing American (1925) movie review

The Vanishing American is a silent film from 1925 that explores the tragic plight of Native Americans trapped by history and fate, and who ultimately become crushed into non-existence by the grinding wheels of racism and modernity. The source material is the novel by the same name written by Zane Grey. The film was good enough I am thinking of maybe running down the novel and giving it a read.

For a film of its time The Vanishing American is uncompromising on all fronts. It pulls no punches whatsoever. If you can look past the fact the main character of Nophaie is played by the white Richard Dix (a not uncommon occurrence, sadly, even today) the film and the story are strong enough to make a real impact.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but the film looks at the Native American down through history up through WWI. We see how Nophaie and his people are abused by government and institutional racism. But the film makes a stand here, too. It does not portray the Native Americans as “strong, silent and noble savages” which itself is diluted racism. No, it shows them as human beings who are oppressed by more human beings. The film doesn’t preach, though to be sure there is a message here — and a strong one.

For me the power of this film, like I said, comes from the harsh light that shines on the institutional racism. At one point an Army sergeant watches Nophaie and his people march off to take part in a war that has gripped the world. He says they are “pitiful and magnificent” for going off to fight a “white man’s war.” Nophaie hopes by taking part in fighting for a country that has usurped his own culture, he will gain political and social favor and win a white woman’s love. When he returns, he must face the ugly truth. Meanwhile, the white woman he has fallen in love with has waited patiently for his return. She loves him in return.  But, since this is a film from 1925 there is no completion of their love. Nophaie dies in a tragic accident during a clash between his people and the Indian agents of the reservation.

The Vanishing American is not a perfect film about racism. Nor is it meant to be. But the voice it lends and the dignity it gives to the story and the human hearts involved in this story cannot be denied. I definitely recommend this film, especially for western writers and people who love a good human story. Its pretty strong, and worth the time.

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