Tag: weird western

Weird Western Wednesdays’ Guest, Cynthia Ward

Weird Western Wednesdays
Weird Western Wednesdays

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.

LostTrails: Tales of the Forgotten Weird WestThose 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.


Weird Western Wednesdays’ Guest, Gail Martin

Weird Western Wednesdays
Weird Western Wednesdays

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 Gail Martin to Pulp Reports.

Q: What is weird western? What makes it different from other genres?

A: There are probably a dozen different definitions, but for me a Weird Western is set in the American or Canadian West, conforms to some of the tropes of the Western genre (wide open spaces, lawmen, cowboys, six-guns, for example), may or may not be set in the ‘Old West’ time but should have a strong Western sense of place, and has strong, plot-centric elements of the supernatural. So that could be ‘cowboys and aliens’ or it could be someone encountering ghosts or magic or indigenous spirits. But whatever is encountered needs to be ‘weird’ in the eyes of the person having the encounter, and also be central to the plot/danger/conflict. So it’s different from regular Westerns because of the supernatural element. It’s different from alternative history or urban fantasy or steampunk or sci-fi because of the strong Western setting.

I&B final coverQ: Why do you write weird westerns? What do you enjoy about it? Love about it?

Two of the recurring characters in Iron and Blood, our steampunk novel, have a history with the army in the West during the 1880s, prior to when the novel occurs in 1898. So that was a natural tie-in to the anthology theme. I also grew up with a deep familiarity with the Old West and Native American lore because that was my father’s passion. I think there is a lot of opportunity to use the Weird Western setting to explore the ‘cowboy’ period in ways traditional Westerns have not—i.e. stories that show more of the true diversity of the time, including people of color, women in important roles, people of varying ages and socioeconomic status, First Nations peoples, and people with disabilities. All those people were in the real West, but when we limit our view to the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood stereotype, we overlook all those other rich stories.

Q:If you could be any weird western character, who would it be? Why?

Zoe, from Firefly! Because she can take care of herself.

Q: What’s next in terms of weird western fiction? Where does the genre go from here?

I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface in terms of stories that don’t have a stereotypical male square-jawed protagonist. There’s certainly still room for those kinds of stories (and one of our Department of Supernatural Investigation agents certainly fits that role), but I think we’ll see more stories with different types of protagonists as well, and a more nuanced treatment of Native Americans/First Nations peoples, their history and their beliefs/traditions.

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications
Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

Q: How can readers get in touch with you? Social media shout outs

A: We’re pretty easy to find!

a. Twitter- @GailZMartin and @LNMartinAuthor

b. Facebook- Facebook.com/GailZMartin (profile) and Facebook.com/Winter Kingdoms (fan page)

c. Wattpad—Wattpad.com/Gail Z Martin

d. Pinterest—Pinterest.com/gzmartin

e. Goodreads—Goodreads.com/Gail Z Martin

f. Website-www.AscendantKingdoms.com g. Newsletter— http://bit.ly/1CF12Th or click through on our web page

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine with every post. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: http://www.AscendantKingdoms.com

Part of my Days of the Dead tour includes excerpt links like Trick or Treat goodies! Enjoy an excerpt from my urban fantasy novel DeadlyCuriosities here: http://bit.ly/1obkBAb and an excerpt from our steampunk novel Iron & Blood here: http://bit.ly/1GAvGOc and a link to my friend Laura Anne Gilman’s new weird Western Silver on the Road here: http://www.lauraannegilman.net/whats-in-print/devils-west/silver-road/sotr-preview/

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.

Weird Western Wednesdays’ Guest, K. G. Anderson

Weird Western Wednesdays
Weird Western Wednesdays

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 K.G. Anderson to Pulp Reports.

Why spec fic writers fall in love with the West

by K.G. Anderson

Horror, fantasy, and time-travel set in the American West have been with us since the Golden Age of science fiction.

Imaginative writers are attracted to the West for exactly the same reasons they’re attracted to fantasy kingdoms, outer space, and the supernatural. The West offers wide open spaces where identities can be changed, fortunes can be made (mining, gambling, crime), and the environment favors the sorts of tough, eccentric characters readers find appealing. And there’s always plenty of action: conflict, pursuit, and extraordinarily scenic and challenging travel.

KGAndersonFrom an author’s viewpoint, the West is outer space without the radiation and the need for warp drive; it’s a ready-made fantasy without the need for complicated world building; it’s horror released from the confines of the haunted house or dark basement and set free to roam an environment filled with terrifying wildlife, poisonous plants, harsh environments, and a whole cast of unpleasant characters.

Thus the mash-ups seem endless: Time travel in the West (the Wild Wild West films and the Star Trek episode “A Fistful of Datas”); aliens in the West (Howard Waldrop’s “Night of the Cooters”); supernatural curses in the west; supernatural beings in the West, often drawing on Native American mythology (the chupacabra, the coyote, the crow); and, of course, Jack the Ripper (Savage).

While there are a few writers who take up residence in the Weird West (Joe R. Lansdale and Robert E. Howard did for while) a lot of folks (Emma Bull, Cat Valente, Stephen King) are just passing through town, adding their own indelible touches to the growing bookshelf of Weird West fiction.

But writer beware of the seductions of the Weird West: Just about any subgenre’s strengths can also quickly become its weaknesses.

Like the alternate history subgenre, the Weird West makes fierce demands on writers for procedural credibility. Or at least it should. Any number of promising Weird West stories get spoiled when writers fluff the details about guns, trains, patent medicines, clothes, and more.

Wolfsinger Press editor Cynthia Ward last year pointed out another pitfall of Weird West writing. She’d received a wave of submissions for a Weird West anthology in which the vast majority of the stories featured white, male protagonists. Ward asked writers to look beyond the traditional stereotypes and write about the other people who populated the West. The result of that second call, Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West, will be out later this year. (It was Ward’s post about the submissions that inspired me write “Escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse, following a Jewish mail-order bride and a golem into the West.)

Related to Ward’s call for diversity in Weird West fiction, it’s worth taking a look at what writers from outside the U.S. have done with Weird West tales and characters. Italian cartoonist Benito Jacovitti created the gunslinger Cocco Bill; the classic manga series Cowboy Bebop has a key female character (Faye Valentine in “Honky Tonk Women”) based on the Wild West figure Poker Alice.

The call of the Wild West is far-reaching and enduring. Who can resist?


K.G. Anderson is a Seattle writer whose day job is writing nonfiction for a wide range of technology companies. She has three short stories appearing in 2015, including the Weird West tale “Escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse” in Story Emporium (David B. Riley). Follow her @WriterWay on Twitter.