eSpec Books interviews Wendy N. Wagner, contributor to The Weird Wild West edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw.
eSB: What is your favorite western movie and why?
WNW: I love True Grit, the 2010 film by the Coen Brothers. Every character in that story is engaging and unique, and I love the tough-minded teenaged girl at the heart of the film. It’s a movie that’s full of trouble and humor and, well, grit. I could watch it a dozen more times!
eSB: What does the wild frontier mean to you?
WNW: The wild frontier means self-sufficiency. The people who came out west had no infrastructure to depend on—they were alone, their communities stretched thin in an environment with no safety nets. To survive, they had to depend on their own wits and what they had brought with them from more developed regions. I have the utmost respect for the settlers of the American West. Even a teenager on the frontier probably had more skills than I do!
eSB: Who would you say is your Wild West role model and why?
WNW: Abigail Scott Duniway. Most people outside of Oregon have never heard of her, but she’s one of my heroes. She came to Oregon on a wagon train, got married, took charge of her family when her husband was permanently disabled in an accident, ran her own business, and started her own newspaper devoted to women’s rights and suffrage. She wrote the first novel published in Oregon, and produced twenty-one more, all the while campaigning for women’s right to vote. She is a great example of the pioneer spirit!
eSB: What is your favorite spec fic/western mash-up?
WNW: I love the story “Last Bloom on the Sage,” by Andrew Penn Romine (from the anthology Fungi). It’s filled with weird magic, a fungus that turns people into zombies, and a thrilling train robbery. Is there anything more Wild West than a train robbery?
eSB: Can you tell us anything about your story for The Weird Wild West?
WNW: Many generations of my family have been ranchers and farmers in Eastern Washington—the setting of my story. It’s a harsh landscape that calls for tough people, and the place itself was a big inspiration. I wanted to tell a ghost story with a strong sense of that area, and once I got the idea, “Blood Tellings” practically wrote itself.
eSB: How do you research to capture that western feel?
WNW: My husband likes to joke that I grew up a hundred years before he did! My parents lived in a very remote town in rural Oregon while I was in my elementary school years, and it was a place that really encouraged self-sufficient, homesteading-type behavior. We canned our own fruits and vegetables; my dad went hunting and took me fishing; we got our water from a spring behind our house. Once a storm knocked out electricity and closed the roads for almost two weeks! We kept warm using our wood stove and we played card games by the light of oil lamps. My parents both came from farm families and lived for periods of time without electricity or indoor plumbing and shared their stories with us, so the flavor of those old times comes very naturally to me.
I also love doing research. I read a lot of historical material about the Pacific Northwest because I enjoy it so much, and I like to visit historic sites and local museums. While working on this piece, I visited The Big Bend Historical Society Museum in Wilbur, Washington, to study photos and artifacts from the era (some of which, weirdly enough, were of my own great-grandparents and from my great-great-grandparents’ house). It really helped me visualize what these farms looked like a hundred and fifty years ago.
eSB: Which Wild West archetype (Gambler, Outlaw, Saloon Girl, School Marm, Railroad Man, Pioneer, Cowboy, Lawman or Indian) would you chose to be and why?
WNW: I’d probably be a School Marm. It might not be the most exciting role in Western life, but it usually came with a roof and a wood stove with a good supply of wood! Also, I really enjoy teaching and working with young people. I’ve taught writing classes for middle schoolers, and I worked in a children’s museum for seven years. As long as my students didn’t need to learn calculus, they’d probably be in pretty good hands.
eSB: Have you written/created anything else in a weird western vein? Please tell us about it.
WNW: I’ve worked on several short pieces set in Oregon’s early years, although most are set in Portland. There’s a lot less dust and dirt and cattle drives in my work and more mud and river traffic. I’ve been working (very slowly) on a novel set in the late 1800s in a Portland that’s filled with ghosts and opium dens and wicked magic. It was a very wild time in the region, and writing about it is thrilling. Just researching the book is a blast!
eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?
WNW: My first novel, Skinwalkers, is the story of former pirate who has returned to her Viking-inspired homeland to raise her son, but finds her new community threatened by shape-shifting cannibals. It’s written in the world of the Pathfinder role-playing game, but you don’t need to know anything the game to enjoy all the excitement.
If you like action tales, I also have two of my short pieces to recommend: “Hind and Horn,” a story of a Victorian-era British Museum scholar at a dig for a bog mummy in rural Ireland (in the anthology Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places); and “Words of Power,” the story of a soldier who repairs golems in a magical version of World War I (from the anthology Shattered Shields).
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
WNW: I’m very excited about my novel Starspawn, due out August 2016. It’s about the same heroine featured in my first novel, but she and her crew have landed on treasure-filled island inhabited by one steadily awakening Great Old One. If you like Lovecraft and treasure hunts, you’ll like this book.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
WNW: They should visit my website, www.winniewoohoo.com, or even follow me on Twitter, where I’m @wnwagner.
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!