I was never a western guy. Just not into ‘em. The closest thing I came to a western was reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I did watch Tombstone. But seriously, Kurt Russell, Bill Paxton and Val Kilmer (before he got shockingly fat) all in one movie? It could’ve been mimes-meet-gay-circus-porn and I would be glued to the TV.
So, on Halloween, 2012, at 11:15 AM, Ron Earl Philips of Shotgun Honey sent me a message on Facebook. He wrote, “You're going to be an editor for The Big Adios.” TBA was a western fiction website he was planning on launching in early 2013, and I happened to read a comment he made about and told him I thought it was a good idea. Then he did that.
I said no. I’ve heard working with Ron is like fisting yourself; in the end there’s no payoff because you can’t sit down and all you have to show for it are dookie-covered hands. (That'll make sense later.) But then he sent me a picture of his titties and I immediately changed my mind.
The website fired up and I started reading westerns. Chris Leek submitted his story Seeds and in all honesty, I was blown away. We got others that made me want to write westerns (Gareth Spark’s Demon’s Road, Nik Korpon’s A Hundred For The Crows and Chris Deal’s Goat Sucker Blues come to mind) but there was something about Leek’s impact.
I sat down and wrote a western scene where an outlaw named Obsidian spoke to a deputy named Hornsby whom he’d just shot. I liked Obsidian. Sometimes an author will delight in writing a character, much the same way that an ignored child will grow up and delight in the fact they've become their parents' legal guardian. Let the payback begin! I was that way with him. He was evil, but I enjoyed his headspace. I wanted to write him as aloof but lethal. Like that snake dangling from a tree branch in the jungle, you can walk underneath it a thousand times and it acts like you were never born. But that one time it feels like it, it just snaps down and bites. It’s not even hungry or mad. It just wants to kill something. That was Obsidian.
I followed that scene with one about Hornsby’s partner, a man named Buford, who was the opposite side of the same coin as Obsidian. I wanted a sense of morality to guide Buford, while id (not a typo) drove Obsidian.
The name Obsidian was from Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son surviving a devastated world. McCarthy mentions the wife/mother character in passing. She gave birth and made the decision to kill herself rather than live through the apocalypse. The husband/father character gave her a piece of obsidian stone and sent her off to slit her wrists somewhere besides around their child. He said obsidian stone would do the trick. Yup. That’s all the reason I need to name a bad guy that.
Buford Pusser was the real-life character the movie Walking Tall was based on. I remember my dad talking about Pusser as one serious bad ass. I think the popular “Buford Pusser Stick” is a Hollywood fabrication, but even if it is, oh well. When a sheriff shows up with a table leg to beat the piss out of a bunch of bad guys, well, that’s all the reason I need to name a good guy that.
The problem was, I wrote those two scenes and that’s all I had. No direction at all. Nothing else came. So, like the wuss that I am, I sat it aside and said I’d come back to it.
Fast forward to the days preceding the release of Hey! That Robot Ate My Baby! Just days before it launched, we were beginning to plan for our next issue, which was going to be zombies volume II. Leek had the idea that we needed more space between the first and second zombie issue, and threw out the idea of a western. Brian immediately piped up and said yes. From there everybody got excited and so, it was time to write a western.
I revisited Obsidian and, for some reason I can’t pinpoint, I got the idea to give him the head of Medusa. Yeah, that’d be cool. An Old West outlaw running around with the head of Medusa. Where I went wrong was I started adding to the myth, tweaking details until they were unrecognizable, trying to explain how the myth was recorded incorrectly in history, et cetera. I even had plans to make Obsidian into Perseus. In the end it was more confusing than illuminating to have the severed head still be Medusa.
I made it a curse that Obsidian wished to pass off, and after all those years of wandering aimlessly with a Gorgon noggin in his lunch pail, he happens across a deputy with whom he thinks he can do the old switcheroo. Things don’t work out the way he wants.
Boom. End of story.
Enter Chuck Regan and his ultra-hot red pen laser scalpel. Needless to say (or write, or whatever), my tears flowed for weeks on end. As it was with my story from Robots, I went back to the drawing board. Chuck is a bully when it comes to writing, but I don't fault him. He has a tiny penis.
However, Chuck is also a Godsend and the final draft of my story was ten times better than what I could have had without him. It’s encouraging when a fellow writer adds a note in the manuscript that simply reads EPIC. Chuck knows how to make a Ryan blush. All right, I’m tired.
Oh, and Obsidian and Buford will be back. One day. I got more of them in me. And not in the way that sounds.