These are questions I’ve received from time to time about the work I’ve done with Black Mask & Pale Rider (Tales of Six Gun & Sorcery). Some I’ve received as messages in different social media platforms, others have been direct face to face questions.
Why the mix of fantasy and western? Those two genres are so far apart.
Not really, they aren’t that different at all. The only real differences is the setting and the manner of speech that we come to think with either genre. Both are epic tales of heroes who are confronted with an epic problem and set about to over come it. We often think that each genre is different thanks in part to where they take place or what technology is involved. We often see a novel series like the Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks as being a fantasy series that takes place in a completely different universe. Read the book though, and it’s a story that’s about our future. Westerns and fantasy have been easily mixed in the past. One of the best portrayals of this is Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series, beginning with the first book, The Gunslinger, with that ominous opening line “the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”.
You’re main characters are female. Wouldn’t it be more relatable if they were male?
To whom? We live in the 21st Century, where men and women consume media at a relatively even pace. Women like fantasy, action, comic books, and other things that were always considered male. Even if women weren’t an option for a reading audience, there have been successful properties that have had women as the main character in the past. Look at the Tomb Raider series, Witchblade, Xena: Warrior Princess, and even Wonder Woman (though, we’re still waiting on a movie). There’s a really awful thing that happens whenever a movie or book does not do well. Those in charge believe it didn’t do well because it was showcasing a woman. Because a woman was the lead, the movie was a bomb (Halle Berry’s Catwoman as example), when in fact the movie failed because the writing or directing was terrible (Halle Berry’s Catwoman as example). But no one ever points to movies or books with male leads when they do terrible and say “that movie was lead by a male action hero so it was bound to fail”.
If Shani and Pania were a pair of men (even as elves), the story, while being different, would still be the same as everything else out there.
So, you’ve got two women as the leads. Is this a Thelma and Louise type book?
On the one hand, Thelma and Louise was a great movie, it pushed boundaries and had a decent story. The idea was great. On the other hand, not every book or movie or television series that comes out with two women in the lead role is a Thelma and Louise clone.
One of your characters is a lesbian. I don’t think that’s appropriate for younger readers?
I don’t think conservatives are very appropriate to Christianity. Yes, Pania is a lesbian. No, there is not any sex scenes. There is implied and hinted sex, but nothing in your face. Which, if I had any talent at writing erotica I might do, but I don’t, so I leave it as implied. There’s also a lot of violence in the book. People getting shot and killed, beaten up, skewered with a rapier, stabbed with daggers. Yet, there’s not a complaint about that, just that Pania happens to be a lesbian.
There really weren’t any female gunslingers during the era of the Civil War. That’s not really historically accurate.
This is a fantasy western. With elves, and magic, and a U.S. Marshal who happens to be a centuries old werewolf, there’s a vampire, and a lich, and undead. And even with the historical accuracies, there were women who were gun fighters. Annie Oakley is one of the more famous, and just because she could do what a man could do, she was branded a trick shooter. Even Calamity Jane, who was a professional scout and frontierswoman, was called a trick shooter. Historical accuracies would deem that the majority of the gunslingers in the book should be Native American and African American. Even some of the lawmen should be African American. The bottom line, this is a work of fiction, and fantasy fiction at that. Historical accuracy isn’t something I’m too worried about, though I do want to make sure when I mention a town’s name that it did indeed exist in 1863.
You’ve mentioned your changing things up in the rewrite. Why?
Diversity. Diversity matters. Shani was never identified as being Metis, or half Mohawk, but pointing that out is important. Making Clayton an escaped slave and a gunslinger brings about something different as opposed to generic stubbly white guy. Mixing things up, adding people of different backgrounds, makes for a unique story. But it still has to be done well, and you have to try and steer clear of some of the obvious tropes and stereotypes. You’ll never get away from every single trope, but you can make an effort to avoid the obviously offensive ones.
You’re adding two characters to the rewrite?
Yes. Shani’s sister, Wren, and later on, Abisayo, who is a Yoruba elf. Wren is obviously Metis, or half Mohawk. First, it’s to add diversity. I remember reading an article about why people of colour are never cast for the elves in a movie like Lord of the Rings, but they sure get cast as the orcs. Elves aren’t a Eurocentric idea, the Iroquois and Mohawk have their own folklore about elves. Every culture has folklore which is similar. As Africa is so close to Europe as it is, there was a very good chance that stories of elves migrated south and were changed to seem more familiar to an audience in Northern African nations. After all, dragons are a very ubiquitous notion as there are folktales in Europe and Eastern Asia about dragons. Why is it so hard to conceive that maybe, some of the fairy tale creatures that we assume are European, were also told in some form in Africa or Asia or North America.
There’s also another reason for adding the two characters. I really wanted to show case good relationships between women. Strong friendships, good family ties, sisterly love, and, shamelessly I wanted to give Pania a love interest.
Will this mean the book is getting longer?
Most definitely. It means it’ll probably be more than one book.
Do you ever think that this would be a cool movie?
Sure! I even have given a list of actors and actresses I’d love for the roles. But for now, I’d love it if people read the book, and hopefully enjoy it. I’ve received several good comments about the premise and I’m pleased with that. Obviously I can do much more to improve it.
Are you afraid it’ll get banned?
No, not really. If it gets banned in certain locations, it’ll happen. Lots of books have been banned for absolutely silly reasons. I’d be impressed if the book was banned because there’s violence in it, but realistically it’ll be banned because there’s a lesbian character. That’s pretty sad, when you stop and think about it.
Have you always liked female characters?
I have. I’ve felt drawn to them for different reasons in my life. They just felt more alive and very different than what was seen as the norm. It’s hard for a male writer (which I am) to write a female character than a male character. I know what it’s like to be a dude, so I’m pretty confident in writing dudes.
What’s your biggest inspiration for this book?
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King, along with Dungeons & Dragons (especially 2nd Edition, Combat and Tactics, Skills and Powers, and the Neverwinter Nights video game).