In researching gun shops in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1870 I came across this ice cream shop. (It didn’t help in my research but it did make me smile).
Top Google review – “Ice cream and gun shop, what more could you ask for.”
Isn’t America a weird place?
I remember meeting my parents in America once and as we travelled from Boulder City to Las Vegas we drove past a burger restaurant with a sign outside that read, “Enjoy a burger and fire a machine gun.”
I think it was called Burgers and Bullets.
And people think the western is a dead genre. In a place where you can ask for extra pickles and ammo, a scoop of vanilla and a Glock G19, the Wild West is still alive and kicking in the unbridled hearts of a number of its inhabitants.
I’ve been going back and reading the classics of the western genre. The cornerstones of gunslinging pulp.
(The following contains spoilers. So if you just want my reaction, I loved it. I recommend you read it).
Shane by Jack Schaefer was first published in three parts in Argosy magazine in 1946. Pulp to the core. It came out as a novel in 1949 and has never been out of print. Literature with a capital W.
It’s a small book that takes its time. A slow burn. Told from the viewpoint of a boy, Bob Starrett, who watches this mythic rider come into town. The man on the horse stops at his farm house and asks for water for him and his horse. His name is Shane. The boy becomes infatuated with him. His father, Joe Starrett, offers the stranger a bed for the night and he ends up staying for much longer.
They spend time on the land. Shane helps Joe remove a tree stump. It takes a long time and Schaefer keeps with it. Showing each swing of the axe.
Shane doesn’t talk about his past and much speculation is made of him.
Soon that past, or knowledge of who he is, catches up to him. A man flees town upon merely setting eyes on Shane.
Bob and his parents are being run out of town by a rancher who needs their land back. They are homesteaders who staked their land on Luke Fletcher’s ranch. Land Fletcher had never claimed himself.
Shane stands up and defends his new home.
At first I wasn’t sure about the book. You’re spending time with these characters without a lot happening. But the writing won me over. There is something about the farm and the people that pulls you in. I liked spending time with Shane, and Bob, and Joe.
It rewards you for your patience with a great final act.
I would read it again. If you love westerns and haven’t read this one yet it’s well worth it.
Getting up at 5am to write stopped being fun this week. It was hard. The words came out like stone toothpaste.
Next week will be different. I will get up with that same verve that I started with. The excitement of being amongst gunslingers while the house slept.
This week was difficult because the story stopped being a western. It was always meant to start in New York and wind its way west. I’m halfway through and can’t find my way out of the city. Gritting a 6’9″ pissed off lawman and a percheron horse halfway across a country is harder than it sounds, especially when you’re trying to maintain a certain level of pulp action.
I should have picked a city closer the the lawless frontier.
This is Robin Castle’s origin story. He’s a marshal in New York. Something terrible happens to his family and the guy who did it flees. Castle gives up his badge and the rule of the law to take after him.
He finds himself in a dry unforgiving land with vengeance in his heart and a gun on his hip.
I met him on set of his first novel, Hell’s Ridge. A small frontier town near the Colorado River. It was 1875. I found him in a dark corner of the saloon. He had a typewriter on the table with a page loaded. He had stopped mid-sentence. Loose tobacco littered a short stack of typed pages.
He was fishing a tooth out of his whiskey. I took the seat opposite him. He didn’t look up or acknowledge me. He let out a sigh. His shoulders sagged. He stared at the elusive molar.
I knew his temperament. I waited for him to initiate the conversation. I looked around at my surroundings. I felt out of place in my t-shirt. A piano played by the bar. I thought maybe I’d go and get a drink. Then Elwood came to a decision. He put the glass to his lips and drank, tooth and all. He put his fingers back to the keys on the typewriter and noticed me.
“What do you want?”
“It’s time we talked.”
ANDREW: It won’t take long.
He started to type.
ANDREW: What are you writing?
ELWOOD: You know what I’m writing.
I decided to get a drink. When I came back he was smoking a badly rolled cigarette.
ELWOOD: I don’t like your books.
ANDREW: Why not?
ELWOOD: You try too hard.
ANDREW: What do you mean?
ELWOOD: You write “literary” horror. That’s how you describe it.
ELWOOD: Do you know how pretentious it is that you feel the need to include the word “literary”? Carpenters don’t describe a table as being “wooderary”.
ANDREW: We write in different styles. I write long form horror that adheres to literary convention, you write pulp fiction. I spend hours labouring over the language, ensuring there’s no repetition or-
ELWOOD: Repetition? If your “literary sensibilities” are shaken because you had to read the word “gun” twice on the same page you don’t deserve to be entertained by me. I don’t care if you read it three times. All I care about is the story, which, if I’ve done it right, will be dragging you along by the hair so fast you won’t have time to count the words.
ANDREW: So you don’t care about good writing?
He ignored the question.
ELWOOD: You want long descriptive passages? Tough luck. Use your imagination. All you need to know is Robin Castle has a gun and a bad guy is about to die. And I do care about the writing. I just have different opinions about it to you.
ANDREW: Robin Castle is a great character, how did you come up with-
ELWOOD: Don’t brown-nose me. I’ve read that horror book you wrote, Jack’s Game, is that what it was called? You know you don’t need to describe the curtains, right?
ANDREW: I’m sure I didn’t describe the curtains.
ELWOOD: Nobody ever read a Jack Reacher book and said, “Do you remember the curtains in that one scene? They were great curtains.”
ANDREW: I don’t describe curtains in my books.
ELWOOD: You’re stopping me from writing.
ANDREW: Can I ask one more question? He didn’t answer.
ANDREW: Is this where you normally write.
ELWOOD: No. I normally get up at 5am. I write for two hours. And then I go to work.
ANDREW: I write in the evenings, when I get the chance.
ELWOOD: You’re lazy.
ANDREW: I’m you. I guess I’m just grumpier in the mornings. That might explain your attitude.
He pulled a gun on me. It was an old six-shooter.
ELWOOD: I will shoot you if you keep speaking.
ANDREW: This is ridiculous. We’re the same person. I just thought it would be good to get inside your head a bit. Try and understand how you think. Why you write the way you do? What made you decide to pair the language down? To write novellas instead of proper boo-
ELWOOD: Proper books? There’s no such thing as a proper book. Long novels are just indulgent. All I did was get rid of all the boring bits. Rip the curtains down. It’s all about movement and dialogue.
ANDREW: I’m not trying to offend you.
Elwood pulled the hammer back.
ANDREW: You can’t kill me.
He pulled the trigger. I felt the bullet smash through my ribcage and lodge in my lung.
He fired again.
Everything went dark.
END OF INTERVIEW
Join the Elwood Flynn Facebook group for news about his upcoming series of Westerns starring Robin Castle, the 6’9″ lawman turned feared bounty hunter.
It always surprises me how recent events in American history are. In my imagination, fighting between Native Americans and the settlers ended hundreds of years ago.
Black Elk witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn. He toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He was around when 200 Sioux were massacred at Wounded Knee, putting an end to Native American military resistance in the West.
In 1930 he told his story to writer, John Neihardt. Black Elk Speaks was published in 1932.
He died in 1950.
When Black Elk was a twelve year-old boy he and a small band of Sioux set off to meet Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull on the Rosebud River. This is his account of a run-in with some white men.
“We were a small band, and we started in the night and traveled fast. Before we got to War Bonnet Creek, some Shyelas (Cheyenne) joined us, because their hearts were bad like ours and they were going to the same place. Later I learned that many small bands were doing the same thing and coming together from everywhere.
Just after we camped on the War Bonnet, our scouts saw a wagon train of the Wasichus ( white men ) coming up the old road that caused the trouble before. They had oxen hitched to their wagons and they were part of the river of Wasichus that was running into the Black Hills. They shot at our scouts, and we decided we would attack them. When the war party was getting ready, I made up my mind that, small as I was, I might as well die there, and if I did, maybe I’d be known. I told Jumping Horse, a boy about my age, that I was going along to die, and he said he would too. So we went, and so did Crab and some other boys.
When the Wasichus saw us coming, they put their wagons in a circle and got inside with their oxen. We rode around and around them in a wide circle that kept getting narrower. That is the best way to fight, because it is hard to hit ponies running fast in a circle. And sometimes there would be two circles, one inside the other, going fast in opposite directions, which made us still harder to hit. The cavalry of the Wasichus did not know how to fight. They kept together, and when they came on, you could hardly miss them. We kept apart in the circle. While we were riding around the wagons, we were hanging low on the outside of the ponies and shooting under their necks. This was not easy to do, even when your legs were long, and mine were not yet very long. But I stuck tight and shot with the six-shooter my aunt gave me. Before we started the attack I was afraid, but Big Man told us we were brave boys, and I soon got over being frightened. The Wasichus shot fast at us from behind the wagons, and I could hear bullets whizzing, but they did not hit any of us.
I do not know whether we killed any Wasichus or not. We rode around several times, and once we got close, but there were not many of us and we could not get at the Wasichus behind their wagons; so we went away. This was my first fight. When we were going back to camp, some Shyela warriors told us we were very brave boys, and that we were going to have plenty of fighting.”