This novel is a tough challenge, but that’s why I want to write it

One of the things I have to keep reminding myself is writing a novel is a marathon. Another thing I have to keep in mind while working on this new project is “Don’t hold back.”

As I write this I keep coming up against a mental block that makes me stop, and I have to switch mental gears and tell myself “No, this is a different kind of story, don’t hold back.”

There is no doubt this new novel is a big challenge which is why I wanted to tackle it in the first place. If I were writing yet another Haxan novel it wouldn’t be this difficult. I already know the voice for those stories. But I am attempting to do something different here. I may be unsuccessful. The novel may be unpublishable. But I am confident it needs to be written, if that makes any sense.

I admit I am having fun shattering cliches with this project. Every time I feel “Hollywood” coming on I peel in the other direction. But it’s tough, it’s tough.

The novel may even anger a lot of people. I don’t care about that, either. It has to be written — at least for my sanity if for no other reason. I’m a writer. I’m not out to be liked and loved. I’m out to tell the truth and that’s what I’m attempting to do with this new western.

Meh, we’ll see if I can even write it. It’s a challenge, that’s for sure, but I am enjoying the new ways I am thinking about the west and how to bring it to light. The mental aspect if that exercise is fun, the rest is donkey work.


My Challenge of Writing a New Haxan Novel

I was struggling with how to begin the new Haxan novel and got through that hurdle this morning. I see the opening now and I think I know how it should start. It’s not going to be easy to write, though, but I have to be truthful to the story and at least give it the opening it demands. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, and I will have to think of a new way to begin the book.

I told my writing buddy about the main outline for the story and she liked it. She also said I sounded excited about this project. Another friend said the same thing when I told her the idea. I guess that is true. I am looking forward to writing this book because it’s going to be such a challenge. I guess that’s what has me excited the most: the challenge.

It will not be an easy book to write. It’s certainly not like anything I have done to date. So it’s that challenge which has me excited, I think. I want to see if I will measure up, if I have what it takes to write this novel. I think I do or I would not attempt it.

I still have research and stuff to do, but I am now thinking I can do that as I start writing and working on the thing. I never write by schedule. I know that works for some writers but it doesn’t work for me. I write when I am ready to write.

I think I am ready to start work on this book very soon, perhaps within a day or two. All the rest of the story and plot lines are falling into place now. I’m about ready to pull the trigger on this thing.

Yes, I’m excited about this project. I haven’t been excited about a story in a long, long time. It will be interesting to see how long this feeling lasts. But I think if I do a good job this might be a very good story indeed.

I guess we will have to wait and see what the final product looks like and how it all shakes out. Which is about all you can say for any story you start to write, really.

I guess if I have any deep misgivings it’s that I don’t have a title yet. I’m notoriously lousy at titles anyway. Maybe one will come to me later. Hope so.

The Sunset of Destruction, the Ashes of the West: A Retrospective from Caprock Canyon

I got a lot of work done on my trip to Caprock Canyon. I wanted to dovetail the preliminary stages of working on the new novel with the trip in the hope of synergy. It worked, better than I hoped. I came up with a lot of ideas and thoughts about the novel, characters, tone and imagery.

Coming upon scenes like this helped:

Caprock Canyon the morning after a rainstorm. Bright desert, dark sky.

I liked the solitude and the time away. I’m not going to get mawkish and say I felt a connection or anything, but I do admit it helped me seeing this land and understanding how it can be written about in a story. I came to a lot of conclusions about the novel when I was in Caprock. One of them is I am not going to back down or run away from language. I am going to present the characters the way they really talked and acted, not some Hollywood version of a scrubbed Hays Code idea of how they spoke. Anything less would be skirting the issue, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve spoken about what I think is wrong with the western genre and what can be done to correct it in another venue. I don’t want this post to be about that. But it’s difficult to talk about writing this novel I have in mind without bringing up some parts of what I believe is wrong with the genre, and why we need to correct some aspects of it.

Simply put, I think we have seen enough idealized John Wayne memes in westerns. It’s reaching the point where when I see something like that either in print or film I want to projectile vomit. I’m almost of the mind to approach the novel from the George Costanza viewpoint of “If I come close to a Hollywood trope, make sure I do the opposite instead.” I don’t know if I will go that far because then it would be full-blown author intervention, and I’m more inclined to let a story develop organically than try and steer it into an idealized direction. I don’t like that artificiality, either. That’s how I write. Other people do it differently, though. But writing is like that. Pick a 100 writers and they all do it differently. No one way is best, and if someone says it is, I advise you to ignore them.

I’m just laying down a marker that some things will be off limits in this novel. On the other hand, some things that have hitherto been off limits in the western genre, either due to historical ignorance of their existence, or some misguided perpetuation of a sanitized ideal that never existed…well, those previously hidden and ignored truths are going to be elevated first and foremost in this novel.

That perception of the novel, of its underlying philosophy, came to me while I was sitting on the eastern rim of the canyon one morning looking at this sight:

Looking west across Caprock Canyon

You get an indelible sense of not only the fragility of the west in a place like this, but of how much blood was spilled. The west is full of blood. Sometimes I think it’s nothing but blood. Then again the same can be said of the world.

I came up with a lot of ideas while I was out in Caprock Canyon. I think some of them are good ones and might be usable in a story. Others might fall by the wayside. But I think some elements and images will remain and be used as structure for the novel: the raw violence of the west, the once limitless expanse being torn asunder, the deep sunset of destruction and blood being drawn across the stage like a curtain, the ashes of the west.

In very broad philosophical terms this is what I want the novel to be about. I don’t know if I will be able to write it. Could be these themes are beyond my ability to describe them or bring them to light. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.

I’m just saying I think this story needs to be told.I’m not the first to do it. I’m only saying I want to be one of the ones who also tell this story.

The ashes of the west

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

Leaving for Caprock Canyon with a Very Dark Haxan Novel in Mind

Headed to Caprock Canyon this morning. Looking forward to the relaxation and working on some notes for the new novel. Kind of eager to see if this idea will hold up. I think it has promise…but you never know until you actually start mapping out the story and ideas.

 I have an idea for a dark Haxan novel....
One thing. The more I think about the novel, the darker it gets. The story is beginning to crystallize, albeit slowly. That’s better than before when all I had was an idea and no story.
I’m looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out, to be honest with you. I don’t want to put too much pressure on this one trip, but I’m excited to see if I can start blocking out some general movement and revelations for the novel.
It’s still a Haxan prequel. About Marwood discovering who he is before he goes to Haxan. Looks to be dark, very dark in tone.

And gettin’ darker....and it's getting darker all the time.
Gotta be careful, though. I don’t want to lose the story in the darkness. That’s not what this novel is about. I would be more specific…but I don’t have specifics. That’s where I am right now.

I will say this. I fully intend to overturn some western stereotypes and cliches that have wormed their way into the American consciousness. Gonna flip that applecart.

See you guys on Friday if I”m not too tired. I’m on Twitter, but reception in the canyon is spotty at best.




Planning another camping trip…with writing a novel on the side!

Thinking about going camping this weekend. A couple of reasons. It’s getting late in the year and if I wait much longer it’s going to get cold. I don’t like the cold. I can deal with the heat much better. Just me. 😛

There are also the buffalo. I’d like to follow them around for a day and watch ’em interact with one another and the environment and see what makes them tick. I also like the solitude and quiet, of course.

But I think the major reason is I am very close to pulling the trigger on this new Haxan prequel novel. The story is coming into shape in my mind and I am getting close to the “start making notes and doing research” phase. Since that is the case I’d like to tie that in with some other act, like going camping.

Right now the changes are 50/50 I will go. I don’t need to go camping, either, to start preliminary work on a new novel. I just thought it would make a nice start with a camping trip. I’m going to start the notes and stuff next week whether I’m at Caprock Canyon or not. Maybe I can meet my writing buddy if I’m not going camping; that would be nice.

As you can see I have a lot to think about, haha. But I am looking forward to writing/working on a new project. Oh, and I have some more news on the “publishing my backlog of stories” thing going on in the background. I found someone who can do covers for me via barter, so that works out. He can’t do all my stuff, but it should give me a lead in while I try and learn how to use PhotoShop with my limited brain.

Other than that everything is fine here. I’m starting to get excited about Halloween and it’s not even October yet! 😀

New Haxan Page Added to My WordPress Blog. Hooray!

Just letting my readers know I added a Haxan web page to this blog. You can link to it from the side under “Pages” or click on the badge below, haha. It includes stuff like how I created the series, inspiration, and some character biographies. Hope you enjoy the extra content.

Thanks, guys. 🙂

Click here to see the new Haxan page on WordPress. Hooray!

Ennio Morricone – Once Upon a Time in the West

Beautiful music about a beautiful genre. God, how I love the west and all its mythic power, along with its ability to define us as human beings,  and help us find our true place in the universe. All good stories do this, but I think westerns have a special ability, and affinity, to tap into the poetic realm of our soul.

Sometimes I can’t believe how powerful this genre can be….and how lucky I am to be able to work in it.

The Importance of History to the Western Genre

I’m still trying to sort this out. I am wondering if certain genres rely more heavily on history and historical interpretations than others. I mean, I guess that’s true to a degree for any genre, right? I’ve read lots of science fiction stories that either A.) took their ideas from history, or B.) were set in historical eras and told their stories from that viewpoint and in that context.

So history, and our view of history, and more importantly our perception of history, has always played a big role in story telling. Even when our perception is skewed and our facts are wrong they still play an important (and sometimes a debilitating) role in a story.  But I wonder if the western genre doesn’t tend to lean a little more heavily upon history as background and context, and if, ultimately, this might not be a mistake?

Now I understand when you’re writing about events that took place in the past you can’t help but have a historical framework there working for you, even if it’s window dressing. If you’re setting your story in the Old West then you are probably going to have the trappings present for the reader to recognize. This does make some sense. It gives the reader a touchstone, something familiar she can draw from. I think all good writers do this in all genres, to be honest. It isn’t specific to westerns. But one of the problems with a western is we are so inundated by its tropes, and they have become such an indelible part of our culture, that I can’t help but wonder if it has become too easy to use them as background. Until we reach the point and just throw them about like disposable stage furniture?

Like I said, I’m not sure any of this makes sense, and I’m still trying to work it all out.

You mention “Old West” and a hundred people will conjure up a hundred different images, thoughts, and ideas as to what the culture was like and the social mores people had to endure. Some of these individual ideas will be right, but almost all of them will have some mental elements that are similar. Whether it’s a feeling we have about the west, or verifiable historical knowledge, there are some tropes and images that have become so universal when you mention them, or allude to them, everyone knows what you are immediately talking about. They see it, and they feel it.

Case in point: a person on a horse. But the west was peopled by hundreds of thousands, and ultimately tens of millions of people. They didn’t all ride horses. But that image endures throughout our culture today. Just that one image. You can extrapolate what you like from that image, expand it however you wish and ultimately tell the story you want that will move people on an emotional level.

But the fact remains most people didn’t ride horses. They walked. Or they rode a horse-drawn buggy. Or,  they just walked some more. But the scene of a man or woman sitting a horse continues to hold power in our collective consciousness. And I’m not so certain that’s always a good thing because it makes it kind of easy. People, old and new, come to the genre thinking they know it pretty well. And, by certain standards, that might be a valid judgment.

I am reminded of Gene Roddenberry and the trouble he had with NBC in trying to create a believable spaceship for Star Trek. Executives kept telling him “put some rocket fins on it and let’s go, baby.”  But Roddenberry knew if you didn’t believe in the starship, the entire premise of the show would unravel.

So here’s my point. (And I confess I am probably making it rather badly.) When we write westerns, or any story, I think we should always be aware of all the other facets that come into play with a particular image we are using. Rather than go for the cliche, we should try and use the western to elevate what we think we know about ourselves today. And yesterday, too, for that matter. Again, I believe all good stories do that on some fundamental level. All good stories let the writer and the reader grow together in some sense and find common ground.

Look, I’m not arguing every short story should be some literary lodestone that elevates the consciousness of humanity. I’m just saying be aware of the world of the genre you are working in, and let your characters move and interact with that world the way they would have done in real life.They way real human beings move around and interact with the world today.

Anyway, those are the kinds of stories I like to read, and those are the kinds of stories I try to write. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. But it’s always something I try to keep in my head when I write.

I am Seriously Considering Writing a Haxan Prequel Novel

I have mentioned this before but I am seriously thinking about writing a Haxan prequel novel. I think this more than anything else will be my next big writing project. This would take place before Marwood goes to Haxan, while he was up in Montana Territory as a U.S. marshal.

We know some things about his life up there, and before. Things that were hinted in previous stories and which I talk about in the novel Haxan which CZP wants to publish. Carlene Minker, Magra’s adversary, may be in this novel. She was in Helena at the time and that whole story with her and her husband was alluded to in “Vengeance is Mine” in the Beauty Has Her Way anthology . Judge Creighton was there, too. When Creighton was transferred to New Mexico Territory he brought Marwood with him. (A not unusual occurence in lawing. When judges found marshals they liked they kept them.) We also know Marwood spent time with the Mandans while in the territory and that’s where he became known as “Long Blood”. So there are revelations I can work with, both for his story and for himself.

In a way I guess it’s a story about a man finding himself. Discovering who he really is, along with his past, and coming to terms with that.

I could write this as another Haxan novel. What I mean is, it could be like the other stories we see. I’m not denigrating them at all, but they have a recognizable pattern. And, hey, it works and it sells. Nothing wrong with that at all.

But I want to do something different. I guess what I’m saying is I want to do something more. Raw, brutal, uncompromising. Show the West for what it really was. No more TV ideas or tropes. Trash can all that, upend it all. Dump out the bathwater and scatter the papers of what we think we know about the Old West. It’s been done before. I just want to do it, too.

I think the key to something like this is I cannot hold back on language, structure or style.

I would be lying if I said I was not inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I think Haxan, the entire world and mythos of Haxan, lends itself well to many interpretations. In fact I know that is true because we can read the published stories and see how they are open to different genres and even styles. I have always said I love Haxan because it’s my own little corner of the universe where I can play with matches.

Now I want to play with a forest fire.

This would be doable. I think. Heh. A bit of whistling past the graveyard there, no doubt.  But I am also under no illusion it would be tough. It might even be impossible to write. At least for me. And if I did get it written, it might be unsalable.

Anyway. I’m thinking about doing it. As the days move past and the year draws to a close, I think I am going to pull the trigger on this.

What do you guys think? Advice?

I Sold My Haxan Novel!

OMG! ChiZine Publications wants to publish my Haxan novel! They are thinking about a release date in late 2013 or early 2014. Gemma Files, who writes for CZP, approached them and let them know I had a dark fantasy western they might be interested in. They requested to see it and liked it and now they want to publish it!

This culminates a somewhat long and frustrating year on the writing front for me. I haven’t been exceptionally satisfied with what I have accomplished on the writing front. Although, to be fair, I have no reason to complain, because I’ve sold a few really good pieces. But this is the icing on the cake. I have been working in the Haxan mythos and angling for a move like this for some time.

I am very blessed I have people like Gemma, and Mary-Grace Ellington, and Melissa Lendhardt and other good writers who believe in me and support me, and have always believed in and supported Haxan. It means a lot, more than they can ever know.

Haxan is going to be a novel!   Woot!

Big Haxan News on the Horizon

I hope to have some good news on the publishing front regarding Haxan. Please stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed. Thanks, guys.

Haxan, where the Old West meets Hell

I Will Sail My Ship Alone

Science fiction grew up in the New Wave era. That’s when editors and writers began to push the genre past its pulpish roots and demand better writing, better stories, better literature overall. Readers responded. SF literature will never return to its past of Flash Gordon rockets and bug-eyed monsters in anything other than nostalgic retrospective, or self-parody. And that’s a good thing.

Science fiction grew up. Took it a while, but it did. Mystery has long been mature since Poe. Horror was born mature. Even romance, sometimes nailed for its frivolity, is/was a mature and serious genre.

Not so westerns. I see a lot of bad elements in this genre, a genre I currently work in and love.  It’s like myth and stereotype are considered the norm. Way too many writers seem to be okay with that.

That really bothers me.

I’m not talking about the writing itself. There is bad writing in every genre. I’m talking about the perpetuation of myth and hoary stereotype as the foundation for the genre itself.  That bothers me because it’s a sign of laziness from the writers and no expectation of anything other than sameness on the part of the reader.

Yeah. That’s upsetting to me. These are people who view Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell as iconic, Americanized and Anglo-perfected figures, instead of the flawed characters John Meston intended them to be: A violent psychopath aborning and a two-dollar ragged-out whore with no future. Two lost people marking time with each other as the land and culture change irrevocably around them. That’s what Gunsmoke was about, envisioned by its creator, John Meston. He went out of his way to challenge every stereotype and myth perpetuated by people like Howard Hawkes and John Ford, along with cartoonish icons like Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid, Tom Mix, and the LI will sail my ship Ranger. Kid stuff. Maudlin melodrama. Popcorn.

That took real courage on Meston’s part, his desire to bring a level of adult power to the western genre. I respect that. I respect anyone who is willing to buck the system and challenge trends and expectations.

There are good  writers out there working right now to change the genre. Ed Gorman. Loren D. Estleman. Matt Braun to some extent, though he can be iffy. In the weird west category Jennifer Brozek comes directly to mind as one of my contemporaries. But these people are/were good writers to begin with, so it’s no surprise they write westerns that don’t depend on hoary myth as a backdrop, or mawkishness as a foundation.

As a reader I personally enjoy stories that challenge perception and expectation. Stories that elevate the reader’s experience and broadens their emotional horizon always have my respect. All good stories do that on some level. All good writers do that. Popcorn is fun to munch on, but it’s not good for long term sustenance.

I think the one medium where westerns have gone a long way in growing up are, surprisingly, the movies. There are still western cartoons being produced, or aspects of western cartoons. But there have been many fine adult western movies that push the envelope. I see many more examples of that in movies than I do in current literature.

It’s a shame. I don’t know why western literature can’t seem to grow out of its juvenile past. But I refuse to write pulp, or myth, or stereotype. I know it’s the accepted norm in a lot of western literature.  But I will sail my ship alone.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy — a Review

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow.” –Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West might be one of the top five novels of Modern American literature.

I say “might be” because it is probably too soon to make that judgment even though the novel was published in 1985. Moby-Dick did not gain dominance over American literature until after WWII and it was first published in 1851 to mediocre reviews and multiple head-scratching.

Sometimes it takes decades for an American novel to assume its rightful place in the rarefied pantheon of Great American Novels. I know some critics have placed McCarthy’s work there. Personally, I think it is safe to say Blood Meridian is not deserving of that distinction…not yet. But one day it could be, and probably should be.

Nevertheless, Blood Meridian is, without doubt, a definitive western of lasting power. It is, by any metric, a masterpiece of emotion, raw moment, and language:

“When the dogs announced them the sun was already down and the western land red and smoking and they rode singlefile in cameo detailed by the winey light with their dark sides to the river.”

Blood Meridian tells the story of the Glanton Gang (historically accurate) working the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s who murder Native Americans for their scalps. (This was actually quite a lucrative business.) Already animalistic the gang starts scalping anyone who falls across their path and sells the scalps for gold. The novel deconstructs myths and Hollywood-inspired tropes promulgated upon an unsuspecting public.  I say “unsuspecting” because many readers (and, sadly, some writers of the genre) have been nurtured and pampered through the bubblegum influence of pulp magazines, Saturday morning television, and cartoonish movie serials.

This dangerously simplistic notion the Old West was one thing explicit, when we have solid historical proof it was quite another, has taken deep root throughout our Western Culture. Many western writers toil in the overarching shadow of this awful growth and its pervasive, debilitating influence. This becomes evident in the now-infamous line of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence when a newspaperman sagely opines if the legend becomes fact, one should by necessity be forced to print the legend. Thus, the power of myth, and its ability to sometimes usurp and weaken historical evidence.

Blood Meridian breaks those barriers down with grim remorse. At its core are philosophical elements of Gnosticism and Nihilism. However, the violence on every page is in no way symbolic or meaningful. McCarthy doesn’t use violence for shock effect or to elevate character description. Nor does he use it as a cheap literary device to move his readers. In his novels, and Blood Meridian in particular, violence exists for one reason: because man exists.  Only once in the entire novel does a character allow himself to wonder if there is any other being in the universe more terrible than Man. The answer is quite clear: there is not. We are alone on that red plain.

From the pronouncement “war is god” to the line “If god meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?” the terrifying and enigmatic antagonist, Judge Holden, moves with unadulterated power through the entire novel. The Gnostic influences are evident both in his philosophy and his determination to judge not only the men around him but the very world itself. This dovetails with the grim actions of the gang and how they interact and shape the Texas-Mexican border through their own violent actions. It is an amazing novel.

I can’t promise you will like Blood Meridian. One suspects many readers will be turned off by the unremitting (almost uncaring) violence and the cold, enigmatic ending. We have been conditioned to believe violence must mean something, that it must have cause and thereby fit neatly within our dualistic universe. Books, movies and television have conditioned us to believe the world must be righted if canted over, and all will be wrapped in a neat, pretty bow before the credits roll. That simply doesn’t happen in this novel. Because, as Judge Holden argues via his very actions, violence just is.

I definitely recommend this novel. And, if you write westerns of any type, you would do well to read this American masterpiece and perhaps learn something from it about the western genre, and maybe even yourself. It’s that powerful.

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