We’re heading west, the weird west, every Wednesday. Weird Western Wednesdays are devoted to the wonderful and often wild sub-genre of speculative fiction, weird westerns. Guest authors will contribute a posts discussing weird westerns.
Welcome the amazing and talented, Cynthia Ward to Pulp Reports.
The West That Was and Wasn’t:
Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West
by Cynthia Ward
It may seem strange that a straight white cisgender Easterner (from Maine, no less) would edit the diversity-themed Weird West anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West: Volume One and Volume Two (WolfSinger Publications). For me, it seems reasonable, because I grew up exposed solely to Hollywood and history-book images of the “Old West.” In other words, I knew only the stereotypes: the “savage Indians” unjustly hanging on to land that rightfully belonged to the white newcomers; the brave male sheriffs and outlaws and cowpokes and ranchers and stagecoach drivers and Indian killers; and the white men’s helpless female helpmeets. On the subject of Western American history, I was like Voltaire’s Candide: an utter naïf, primed to notice every gap between image and actuality.
Those gaps appeared soon after I moved to California in 1983. I learned that a third of cowboys were African-American, and that Chinese immigrants participated in the Gold Rush, and that the Californios included cowboys and ranchers. I learned that the indigenous peoples of the western regions were neither “savages” nor culturally uniform, and that the Spanish missionaries were providers not of civilization, but of deadly cultural imperialism. I learned about historical figures who upended the Western myth of manly men and meek damsels in distress, such as bandit-killing “One-Eyed Charley” Parkhurst, the respected stagecoach driver revealed in death to be a cross-dressing woman (http://www.mobileranger.com/losgatos/one-eyed-charlie-the-cross-dressing-stagecoach-driver/), and the “Zuni Man-Woman” We’wha (http://www.amazon.com/The-Zuni-Man-Woman-Will-Roscoe/dp/0826313701), one of the many gender-variant individuals who held respected roles in the Native American nations.
A move to Washington State put further cracks in the hegemonic media and history-book image of the “Old West”: rodeo grandmas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl0-XBRfatc); a cross-dressing female jazz musician (http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20119615,00.html); the exploitation of women of color as prostitutes and the existence of a robust Western logging and timber industry (http://www.americanhistoryusa.com/early-washington-and-logging-timber-industry/); and the rise of a radical worker’s union in the Northwest (https://content.lib.washington.edu/iwwweb/readIWW.html). The story and movie Brokeback Mountain brought awareness of same-sex relationships in the Western past. Vacations in New Mexico revealed a unique cuisine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexican_cuisine) and a unique history (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_New_Mexico) and the presence of Jews and Muslims among the Spanish immigrants to New Spain (https://www.cabq.gov/humanrights/public-information-and-education/diversity-booklets/jewish-american-heritage/conversos-crypto-jews). And I’ve recently learned that stuntwomen were far from unknown in the early days of Hollywood (http://www.npr.org/2015/11/01/453632475/guts-grace-digs-into-the-untold-history-of-stuntwomen).
Meanwhile, in genre fiction, the Twenty-Teens brought a resurgence in the availability and popularity of Weird West prose. Happily, this genre fan devoured several new titles. Unhappily, most of the authors of those titles proved unaware of the rich and diverse realities of life in the historical West. Too many owed their depictions to the narrow old stereotypes, with one significant and undesirable change: the near-disappearance of indigenous peoples as characters. These discoveries frustrated me, not only because I’m a Weird West fan, but because I’m the coauthor, with Tiptree Award winning author Nisi Shawl, of Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct Press, http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Other-Conversation-Pieces-Book-ebook/dp/B0065MZ26O), which is one of several readily available sources of information and instruction on the subject of writing believable characters of diverse backgrounds. Eventually, I voiced my frustration on Facebook, and Publisher Carol Hightshoe offered me the chance to edit a diversity-themed Weird West anthology for WolfSinger Publications (http://wolfsingerpubs.com/). The anthology grew to two volumes, because we received such an abundance of excellent story submissions which fit our theme.
Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West: Volume One is now available in print and eBook formats (September 2015, http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Trails-Forgotten-Tales-Weird-ebook/dp/B014V2H2YO/), and Volume Two is scheduled for release in Winter 2015/2016. The stories in both volumes mix historical Western settings, scenarios, themes, and archetypes with fantasy, science fiction, horror, steampunk, alternate history, and other speculative fiction genres. The stereotype-busting characters include gunslingers and madams, miners and drifters, priests and shamans, boomers and busters, cooks and conquistadores, actresses and revolutionaries, hobos and train-robbers, scientists and homesteaders, sheriffs and outlaws and bounty-hunters, monotheists and polytheists and atheists, pioneers and colonials and indigenes, and more. The contributors to Lost Trails: Volumes One and Two include Saladin Ahmed, Kathleen Alcalá, Steve Berman, Tobias S. Buckell, Milton Davis, Aliette de Bodard, Edward M. Erdelac, Gemma Files, Carol Hightshoe, Ernest Hogan, Naomi Kritzer, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Ken Liu, Carole McDonnell, Misha Nogha, David Lee Summers, Don Webb, and many others. If you enjoy Weird Westerns, or are looking to give the genre a try, I hope you’ll consider Lost Trails.