July 3, 2018

Where Stories Come From: 1950s WESTERN ROUNDUP - Knights of the Silver Cross

(Revised 03/05/2024)

You would think that for a pulp writer, I would work well when writing Westerns. After all, they're merely historical fiction...with a heck of a lot of tropes. Many of which are...well, tricky and possibly problematic. Plus, there's tons of research...and anyone who tells you "too much research can ruin storytelling" hasn't ever really told a story worth telling.

But I managed it once with "Cowboy of the Dakotas" for Pulpternative - creating an alternate history for a well-known historical figure. And much like my last Pro Se story, Hollywood Mystery's "In the Frame", this latest Western tale was at Tommy Hancock's request to help fill out an anthology. The premise of the 1950s Western Roundup anthology was simple: take a well-known Western outlaw and turn him into a hero.

So I embarked on a one-man mission to find several and one of them was Deacon Jim Miller, an infamous hired assassin. He had it all - a dark cloak, a wide-brimmed hat, and a metal chest plate. The story pretty much told itself.

So the next day at Windy City Pulp, my conversation with Tommy goes something like this:
ME: (Gives pitch on the first person I selected)
TOMMY: I think that might be a little too obvious...
ME: How about Deacon Miller as a two-gun avenger?
TOMMY: You mean to give him the Green Hornet treatment?
ME: Precisely!
TOMMY: Write it up, and I'll publish it! 
I wasn't taking notes at the time so I may be exaggerating the details just a bit...

But developing the story was more complicated - I didn't want to do a simple "cowboys and bandits" story but wanted to move towards something a little more complicated. For example, the real Deacon Jim Miller often went to Methodist celebrations on Sunday; I had worked with several Methodist churches in St. Louis and knew about their Social Principles. So giving him a spiritual and moral motivation (with an accompanying Bible quote) felt perfect...especially since I was tired of the "corrupt preacher" trope.

Plotwise, however...well, let me just say this: I was watching a lot of The Wild, Wild West. One of the things that engage me about The Wild, Wild West is how it balances Western and modern (for the 1960s) storytelling tropes - many of the third and fourth season episodes were about corrupt governors taking over territories. However, I opted to mix that with the first season's straightforward pulp pastiches and focused on one man's use of a KKK-like organization to drive people away from...

Well, that would be telling, but suffice it to say, it is historically accurate...and a bit clever. And I based the villain on a man who...well, he was making one particular freelance assignment hell. Gaslighting me to get me to violate my contract. Although the assignment ended (and he was later fired for attempting to undermine the CEO), I had my revenge...that's right, people, mess with me and I will write you into a villain.

(One of my current projects is writing a novella where...um...I'm writing street heroes based on my friends. This means that if you're a Close, Personal Friend of mine, you may be flattered...or insulted).

Writing Westerns is tough, especially since there are so many well-worn clich├ęs and tropes that it's easy to do it wrong. But in every way possible, I think that Knights of the Silver Cross in 1950s Western Roundup does it right. So much so that when Ron Fortier of Airship 27 Productions asked me to expand my short story idea into a novella...

...but that's a story for another time.

And you can find more stories via my Amazon author page

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