Today I'm interviewing Andrew Leon Hudson, one of my fellow Darkside Codex writers who is self-publishing a series of stories and novellas this year.
So say I'm a somewhat skeptical reader, interested but not quite sure about buying into this series. What do you say to hook me in?
I'd say that revenge is a powerful motivator. There are some scores you'd kill to settle, some wrongs you'd defy death to right, and End Trails has both—but one of them isn't what it seems at the start, and the other proves very different come the end.
But that's just book one! Book two, Given Names, is a single, novella-length coming-of-age story, in which a Native American youth sees his future snatched horribly away and has to come to terms with how he perceives himself and how other people see him.
I'd also point out that my blog explains how you can get a copy of Given Names at half-price if you act fast...
End Trails is labelled as a Weird Western. What led you to write in that vein?
Two words: Cormac McCarthy. I've long been a big fan of his Gothic western Blood Meridian, but my first attempt was actually inspired by a minor line from All the Pretty Horses. Originally I tried to emulate his style, but now I know my limits! The other story in End Trails benefited from that: to contrast with a contemplative chiller, I just aimed for a pulpy, all-action adventure style of western—but my first core interests have always been science fiction and horror, so also I went with an homage to one of the classic combinations of those two genres (and I'll say no more for risk of spoiling!).
In the new book, the weirdness is more subtle. Native American culture is often given a trivial supernatural makeover—dream-catchers that really catch dreams, ancient burial grounds that bring your pets back to life, etc.—and I didn't want to do the same. But the way each individual sees the world and their place in it can be pretty weird all by itself.
Sometimes steampunk can crossover into a sort of weird West vibe, and there's definitely been a Wild West influence on the clothing and style of a good deal of steampunk. As someone who's written steampunk yourself, did you find yourself writing in a similar way with these stories? Or how has it been different?
I keep an eye on cosplay and maker activities just because they're so inventive and fun—but more so with steampunk, where the overtly weird is second nature. Writing The Glass Sealing (book three in Musa Publishing's Darkside Codex series) I was dipping into Tumblr on a daily basis, browsing through countless pictures of costumes and retro-modded devices. One maker, Alexander "Steampunker" Schlesier, even allowed me to use some of his images in promoting my novel—I'd kill for a PC that looked like his!
By contrast, my take on the weird western is to try and treat the period exactly as it was, but with a horror twist, so there is no technological extravagance going on here. Part of the thrill as I see it would be struggling for your life with the tools of the past, only against the kind of horrors for which even the tools of the present might not prove all that helpful.
However, in one story I do hint at the anachronistic in the background, with throwaway lines that suggest quantum mechanics was a topic of layman debate in the 1800s. At the moment it's only there for flavour, but it's something I mean to develop in later stories.
As I am someone who lives in the West (but isn't originally from it...which many consider an important distinction), I have to ask what you've done to capture the feel of the West? It's a far cry from Madrid... Will we be seeing Sancho Panza and Spanish windmills transplanted into our high plains? (Though come to think of it, not a bad mash-up idea... “In some place in Kansas, whose name I don't wish to recall, there lived not so long ago a gentleman, one of those who kept a gun and holster on the shelf and an old nag...” Paging Charles Portis.)
It's a far cry from Madrid, but even further from the North-West of England! Here at least I'm near the setting of all those Paella Westerns everyone loved so much. As for my outsider status (which is, I should mention, a classic trope of the western itself), I don't worry about how much or how little my own background differs from the characters or situations I write about. I want to the stories to ring true, of course, but the western genre has been speaking loud and clear to people from all around the world for a long time. This is simply me replying.
I've long loved classic westerns of the silver screen—Once Upon a Time in the West is my favourite, Eagle's Wing another—but there are recent examples up there now too, like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the Coen Brothers' True Grit. These are films that really luxuriate in the landscapes and personalities as much as they entertain with action, and this is the kind of thing in my head when I'm visualising the world of my western stories.
To a degree, I consider America of the past, present and future to be a public domain work—your nation is a large part of my mental sandbox, a place the imagination easily goes to see how ideas play out, for good or ill. I feel absolutely no shame in using it however I see fit, because America so often presents such stunning extremes it feels impossible to put your foot wrong and create something too implausible to be!
I remember coming across the idea of Weird Westerns years ago and was intrigued by the image, but I have to admit I haven't read much that falls into that category. Any titles you recommend as core works in the sub-genre?
I have to say, more of my reading experiences are of traditional western fiction—but the iconic nature of even the pure western genre lends itself to strangeness anyway. I'm a big fan of McCarthy, as I said, Blood Meridian was my favourite book for several years and they don't get a lot weirder than that... apart from his Outer Dark, which, well, frankly that was too weird for my tastes. My actual favourite western novel is Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident, and that isn't weird at all. It's just amazingly good, which counts for quite a bit, really.
I guess the most well-known Weird Western is Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, which I was an urgent fan of, at least for a while (cards on the table: its ending is perfect, but I didn't like the last four books even half as much as the first three). And I recently read Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente, which is a re-telling of... well, you can probably guess. I enjoyed it a lot, it has a great voice, great story-telling.
As for movies, most attempts at the Weird Western haven't worked for me—Wild Wild West, Cowboys Versus Aliens—even if stylistically they can be stunning. However, the exception has to be Grim Prairie Tales: James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif telling each other horror stories over the camp-fire? It doesn't get any better than that.
How has the learning process gone as you've dived into self-publishing? Any advice you care to give?
There's plenty of good information out there that will tell you how to format an ebook well—or, at least how to format your data file so the likes of Amazon and Smashwords will process it for you with a minimum of fuss. I started with the author Rudy Rucker's advice here, and it took much less trial and error than I expected to create a workable template.
There are some things that are harder to manage single-handed though. I have editing experience, but checking your own work is a notoriously unreliable way to catch every error. I'm lucky to have some beta-readers who are writers and some who aren't, and between them I get a very useful mix of feedback, as well as fresh eyes looking for my mistakes. Maybe a professional editorial eye waits in my future, but that will depend on me selling enough copies that I can afford to hire one!
The other trick is cover art, maybe more make-or-break than either poor formatting or a text full of errors. I collaborated on the cover for The Glass Sealing and found it a stressful experience, but it taught me a lot. For my own series, I've created a basic design into which I can slot artwork to make each book distinctive. End Trails uses an early 20th Century painting that was out of copyright, and the image for Given Names is by a Flickr user who shares his work via Creative Commons licenses. There's some really talented photographers out there, and their generosity is a massive help.
And last, you have an ambitious schedule set for the coming months. Tell us something of what you have planned. Will they all be Weird Westerns? A mix of styles?
I'm taking a break from Weird Westerns after February, but later in the year I hope to add at least another two books to the End Trails series. Starting in March, I'm going to release a sister series of oppressive scifi, fantasy and horror stories called Dark Matters. If all goes well I should have four more books out by the summer, and I'm also editing my first anthology, a collection of writing inspired by the city I live in, Madrid, Spain.
Looking forward to it!
Andrew Leon Hudson is an English author with a diverse employment history that ranges from selling gift baskets for the end of the year to helping old computers survive the end of the world. You can find out more about his writing at his pseudonymous blog, and you can read his thoughts on books, films and other people at The Cartesian Theatre. You can find him on Goodreads, and he occasionally tweets as @AndLeoHud
Travel the End Trails - paths that lead into dark places, taking you toward the unknown and from which return is far from certain. These are stories for the camp-fire, to unsettle the mind before you settle down to sleep... The new End Trails novella Given Names is available at half-price all month – see here for details!