July 5, 2016

Where Stories Come From: PULPTERNATIVE - Cowboy of the Dakotas

(Revised 03/05/2024)

I'm a sucker for alternative history stories - everything from Harry Turtledove's How Few Remain to What If? series. Maybe it's all the Doctor Who I watched throughout my life, so when the chance came to write my own alternative history story for Pro Se's Pulpternative anthology, well...

...this was during my dark night of the soul in 2013. Any effort I could make to escape my existence - even through writing - would be worth it. (It also helped that this was only the third story I pitched for Pro Se Productions - the first was for Moose & Skwirl and the second was for Tall Pulp - so I felt I had a little something to prove).

So my initial inspiration was to team up with Theodore Roosevelt (who had inspired me as a boy, so much that I was then rereading his collection of essays called The Strenuous Life) with Wyatt Earp (inspired by a recent viewing of BBC's Wild West miniseries) in a mystery set in 1892. However, something curious happened...

...in my research, I discovered that Theodore Roosevelt, after losing his wife and mother on Valentine's Day in 1885, decided to leave his political career and spent time in Medora, North Dakota as a cowboy.

No, I'm not making that up.

Abandoning the first Roosevelt/Earp idea (which is still mine, and which I'm planning to pitch to Airship 27, so don't get any ideas), I decided to go on a different path: what if Roosevelt lost his entire family in 1885, and decided to become a bounty hunter rather than a politician?

Taking a cue from That Wacky Redhead (an alternative history where Lucille Ball chooses not to sell Desilu to Paramount in 1996), I decided that this would "butterfly" Earp's history. Before the Tombstone Incident, Earp led a very....colorful life. (Much of his "heroic" image came from a highly sanitized biography in the 1930s). Earp's past included such activities as trying to enter the Army during the Civil War at age 16, as well as owning several casinos and brothels.

During this time, I was also reading Chris Kyle's American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms, which focused on firearms in American history. (You can read pal Ron's review here; suffice it to say, I agree with him and encourage everyone to read it). Reading about Civil War armaments, another idea occurred to me:

What if Wyatt Earp couldn't be a gunslinger? What kind of person would he be?

Given his colorful past, it made sense that a man like Wyatt Earp - living by his wits - might turn to a life of crime. Possibly....a con artist. And also became a great knife man.

So with those factors in play, I began writing my Pulpternative story in earnest.

There were a few glitches - I had to remove and revise some references to a character's native tribe because I used the wrong tribal designation. (Would anyone else notice? No, but I would. So changing it was a necessity). Working on a second draft, I realized that an ending "tag" was not only unnecessary....but despite sounding too good to be true, would be inadvertently based on real life.

Plus, the story's revised ending packed a wallop.

As I wrote and rewrote the story, something remarkable happened....as cliché as this sounds, I felt I had found my writer's "voice". If Moose and Skwirl provided me the opportunity to write in someone else's sandbox, and Tall Pulp allowed me to "create" a character, then Pulpternative allowed me to mix a little of both into a new creation. For the first time, writing felt more instinctive than intellectual...and it also went very smoothly.

So "Cowboy of the Dakotas" from Pulpternative is a very special story for me - it's not just the weaving together of speculation and fact, or even the willingness to indulge my interests....but it's the first story that made me feel the "flow" and pull of creative writing, perhaps for the first time in a long time.

And much like Dreamers Syndrome: New World Navigation, I'm more than happy - and want - to revisit the world of Theodore Roosevelt, Bounty Hunter.

(Trust me, it's Theodore - Roosevelt never liked being called "Teddy". And I won't argue with him)

Check out this and other works via my Amazon author page!

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