Like many kids growing up in the damp, cloudy (and occasionally sunny) British Isles, I loved westerns. On film and on TV, they were irresistible; the setting for many childhood games. I never read cowboy books, though. By the time I was into literature, I mostly wanted to read about aliens and/or wizards rather than gunslingers. Oh, there were wonderful films like Westworld, combining cowboys and killer robots, but on the whole my interest in the western genre faded.
Then, just recently, I was introduced to the weird western by the writings of Write1Sub1 friend Milo James Fowler. I didn't even know the weird western was a thing, but it is: a glorious mash-up of traditional cowboy tales and fantasy/horror themes and characters. I love the combination of old-school, tough-living, saddle-sore cowboys with the witches and sorcerors and nameless horrors of myth.
Milo's stories are a lot of fun. They work wonderfully well as simple adventure: fast-paced, vivid, engrossing. But there's depth to them, too. I love the way they play with the tension between traditional and weird westerns. Coyote Cal - the famous hero, raised by coyotes - is intent on cleaning up the wild west from the supernatural creatures that threaten it. Cue a variety of adventures and shootouts and horse chases. But his sidekick Big Yap is decidedly old school; a character from a traditional western. All the weirdness leaves him bemused. The wild west didn't used to be like this. It's a great metatextual joke. Cal and Big Yap seem to be constantly half-aware that they're characters in a shifting literary invention. Although if you said any of that to Big Yap he'd look mighty suspicious and probably reach for his sawed-off shotgun...
Milo kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Coyote Cal and the whole weird western thing:
Q. Your love of westerns shines through in the Coyote Cal stories. Did you grow up with them? When did you take to weird westerns?
A. My dad introduced me to westerns at a young age: Shane and Red River were two of his favorites, and we had them on VHS. I probably wore them out. By the time Quigley Down Under came to theaters, I was already hooked. There was also a radio station that played The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy late at night, and I l listened religiously.
When I started submitting my work for publication in 2009, I discovered the "weird western" genre and immediately thought of Coyote Cal and all the stories I'd written as a teen. With some overhauling (adding shape-shifters, witches, zombies, vampires, and other monsters), the Coyote Cal series of short stories was born.
Q. One of the main "jokes" in the stories is that Cal and Big Yap seem to know they're characters in a made-up world. Did I imagine that or was it deliberate?
A. The "fourth wall" sometimes goes missing in these tales. I like to do it for comedic effect and to wink at the readers -- you know, just to remind them that nobody, not even our heroes, should take themselves too seriously.
Q. Any plans for more Coyote Cal stories?
Last year, I started a series of 5 origin tales about Coyote Cal as a boy haunted by an evil force desiring to twist him to its will. So far, Boom Town and Harbinger of Arroyo Seco have been published by Plasma Frequency and Big Pulp, and I hope to have three more "Young Coyote Cal" weird westerns out by the end of the year.
Thanks, Milo! The five original Coyote Cal stories are all available on Amazon: Fool's Gold (originally published in Heroes and Heretics), Coyote Cal's Guide to the Weird, Wild West (originally published by The Red Penny Papers), El Diablo de Paseo Grande (originally published in Arcane), The Black Ace (originally published by eFiction Horror) and The Last Laugh (originally published in The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes).
In addition, all five have recently been collected together into a single volume: Coyote Cal - 5 Tales from the Weird, Wild West, available now from Amazon.
As I say, they're a lot of fun and highly recommended. And I think they would make a great TV series. Gunslingers battling magical creatures. The Lone Ranger meets The X Files. Sounds like irresistible family viewing to me...