The way you blended fantastic and western elements was both rich and abstract—almost poetic in form. What was the initial seed for this story?
The story started with an image—two outlaws fighting to the death—and started building from there. Along the way it took on a very specific feel, especially when I realized who the narrator should be. I wanted it to be a totally sincere western while also critiquing westerns, where everything familiar has become alien. The feel of the dialogue was also important to me. I tried to keep a balance that exaggerates the tendencies of the genre while never becoming parody, even when the characters start angrily calling each other things like “sissy” and “chicken.”
There’s a lot of intimacy (apart from sex) between Wild Bill and the protagonist. The protagonist speculates on why, but doesn’t decide. What drives Wild Bill to share himself this way?
I think Wild Bill represents a very specific kind of harmful, destructive masculinity—one that’s got a very hard surface, but an interior that’s mostly made up of weakness and insecurity. He’s constantly putting pressure on himself, very tired and very alone, and that gives him a strong desire to connect with someone while feeling he shouldn’t. I think this kind of masculinity is damaging both inside and outside: It results in forceful, mostly harmful attempts to control the exterior world, but also an unhealthy denial of normal human emotions. Wild Bill is a bit more likable because I think people like him mostly express themselves through violent denial—violent for themselves and anyone they have power over. But at least he’s able to achieve intimacy some of the time.
Were there any scenes or elements in earlier drafts that got cut?
Surprisingly not. Short fiction is difficult for me, so I usually edit a lot. It’s normal for one of my stories to go through four or five full revisions before I like it—but this one came out all in one sitting. Often my short stories tend to go on too long, so I tried my best to keep it focused on one scene, which is why most of the story takes place during the duel.
Was this story familiar or experimental territory for you? Did anything surprise you during the writing process?
I’ve never written a western before, so the whole tone of the story was new to me—and I’ve especially never had so much fun writing dialogue. It felt great to write certain parts of this story: the description of the saloon, the moments leading up to the duel. The imagery is more familiar, as the main thing connecting most of my stories is a certain kind of grotesque fantasy imagery. A lot of the themes are probably reoccurring as well. But probably the biggest surprise is that, as I wrote it, I could hear the narrator’s accent clearly in my head. I’ve never written a story that felt so much like a specific person speaking, which may be why the story felt so natural to write.
What’s next from you? What can we look forward to?
My main project right now is The Pale City, a dark fantasy RPG for PC. The game has a feel similar to this story, but spread over a much broader canvas and in a fantasy world. There are familiar elements like gods, magic, and maybe even a quest, but my goal was to make those things seem as unfamiliar as the conventions of the western in this story. It’s been in development for six years, but I finally have a full, playable version in the testing phase right now. Currently I’m in the early stages of setting up a Kickstarter to cover the production costs and see if there’s enough interest for an expansion, and I hope to have the game released by mid- to late 2019. This is the biggest, most demanding thing I’ve ever worked on, so I’m incredibly excited to know it will hopefully be in the world soon.
Also, I’m in the process of trying to sell a novel inspired by Japanese mecha anime, particularly Neon Genesis Evangelion. The novel is about an alternate version of Earth under attack by its own gods, who appear as immense, grotesque creatures sort of like the Burning Men in this story—so of course the only way to fight them is in giant robots. The novel has a lot of big battles, but is especially focused on character drama between the pilots. I’m mostly focusing on my video game for now, but I’m also hoping this novel finds its way into the world soon.
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