On The Weird Wild West
by Ken Schrader
I have always been a fan of the weird western. I grew up walking the Old West with Kwai Chang Caine and, while the original series ended a year before I was born, I caught the TV movies made for The Wild Wild West. I will even admit to enjoying the Will Smith/Kevin Kline movie (A giant, steam-powered, spider? How cool is that!) based on the TV show. And, to this day, I will gladly sit down for an episode of Firefly…or two or three episodes. I can’t help myself once that ball gets rolling.
What is it that makes the weird western so attractive? I think part of it is that it’s set in a place that we’re familiar with. In addition to its familiarity, the stage of the Old West is so large that it can hold anything that the creative mind can throw at it. Say what you will about that giant, steam-powered spider, as a viewer, I had no problem with buying the idea that even something of that size could be walking around out there and you’d never know it until it was too late.
That’s what lets the weird in: the sheer size of the Old West. And, boy, did the weird come in. From on-the-run Shaolin monks to the crew of the Enterprise (both the original series and next-gen) to magical gun slingers, to its own rich landscape of myth and legend. There’s a place out in the Weird, Wild West for all of them.
My story, Haven, in the Weird Wild West anthology occupies a small part of that stage and I had the room to crash a space ship outside a small Texas town.
That wasn’t even the hard part.
I can’t tell you where the idea for the story came from (I don’t know) but I can tell you that how it came to me was new and a little difficult. I’m a visual thinker. Tell me to think about a cat and I’ll see a cat in my head. When a story idea comes to me, it comes in the form of a picture—a still frame stuck on the screen in the cinema of my imagination. From there, it’s up to me to figure out what it’s all about.
Haven wasn’t like that. The first thing that came to me was the opening line. It was a line of dialogue to boot. That never happens. The first line in the story—“Look Pa! A shooting star.”—came from right out of the vast blue sky that is the hallmark of the Old West and I didn’t change a word of it.
This was also my first time working with both a deadline and a maximum word count. For me, it was more difficult to work under a specific word count. 9000 words was the upper limit for submissions.
Submission deadline date approaching? No problem.
Wait. I’ve only got how many words to work with??
The first draft of Haven weighed in at 14,000 words and some change. The first editing pass added (Yes, added.) somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 words. I remember sitting at my desk, thinking, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be going in the opposite direction!!”
The thing was that I had to make the story and the characters believable, despite some pretty unbelievable things happening. I managed it by establishing common ground and by making sure I had smaller details exactly right, but it took up a lot of precious space.
Once I had that, though, all that was left was to go through and remove the pieces of the story that weren’t “The Story.” This took some serious killing of darlings as I ended up shaving more than 7000 words from the finished version of Haven. Even after all that, I remember cutting a few hundred more words (and possibly adding a few) at the suggestion of my editor.
In the end, I ended up with a slice of my own Weird, Wild West. I hope you all enjoy reading Haven as much as I enjoyed writing it.
An excerpt from Haven,
by Ken Schrader, in The Weird Wild West,
edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
“Look Pa! A shooting star.”
Wyatt Porter hit the nail off-center, bending it sideways, and burying it in the roof of his house. He muffled a curse. “It’s daylight, son. There can’t be a shooting star.”
The note in his wife’s voice made him look in her direction. Sarah stepped off the porch and walked to where their son was playing with his puppy. Both of them stared into the sky.
Wyatt turned and looked up. “What the hell?”
In the sky was a shooting star. Only it wasn’t like any shooting star he’d ever seen. It looked like a ball of fire—and it was getting bigger.
Wyatt scrambled down the ladder. There was no mistaking it. Whatever was in the sky was coming closer. Sarah laid a hand on his shoulder. “What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
Sarah turned. “Little Wyatt, you go on inside.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The boy picked up his puppy and trudged into the house.
Smoke was coming off the tail end of the fireball, and there was a sound, like thunder, growing in intensity. Wyatt couldn’t look away. The thought that it might crash down into his house flowed over him like a chill wind. Behind him, the horses in the barn snorted and stamped.
The sound of its passage grew to an ear-splitting roar that Wyatt felt in his chest. It streaked across the sky, something dark at the center of the flames. He covered his ears, shaking his head as if he could clear the sound away. Windows shattered and his horses whinnied in fear, kicking against their stalls.
The fireball headed in the direction of town and crashed down beyond his sight. He heard a hollow boom and a smoky-orange cloud billowed into the sky.
“Haven.” Sarah’s voice was barely a whisper.
Wyatt turned and ran into the house. Inside the door hung his gun belt and vest with his badge. He put them on. Sarah met him on the porch. “I’m not going to try and stop you from going, Wyatt Porter, just you remember to come back to me.”
“I’ll be fine.” Wyatt kissed her, then leaped down the steps. “I’ll see you when I get back.”
“The hell you will. I’m headed to the Wheel. You’ll be wanting a drink later.”
Wyatt smiled, then ran to the barn.
Ken Schrader is a science fiction and fantasy writer. He spends a great deal of his spare time listening to the characters running around in his head. When he’s not doing that, or playing with his dogs, he’s been known to take in the occasional super-hero movie.
The Weird Wild West
edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
The untamed frontier is a challenge, a test of character, a proving ground for the soul. It’s a place where pioneers rewrite their future, or end their days…for better or worse. In the spirit of Bret Maverick, Cat Ballou, Kwai Chang Caine, and James West, The Weird Wild West blends western grit with the magical and mysterious unknown that waits beyond the next horizon.
With thrilling stories by Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, John Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown, Liz Colter, Scott C. Hungerfold, Frances Rowat, Ken Schrader, Bryan C.P. Steele, Wendy N. Wagner, and a bonus story by New York Times bestselling-author Faith Hunter, you’ve hit the Mother Lode!