Death Wind, by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto is a paranormal western, also known as weird western, that makes the reader believe in legends, if only for a short time. In a time of war between the white man and the Indians, there comes a foe of unspeakable power and cruelty only known through the stories of the native American people.
There is a great evil on the horizon, bearing down upon White Pine and the Lakota Souix reservation following the Wounded Knee Creek Massacre in 1891. The evil is hungry and it feasts on anyone in its path, threatening to consume them all, no matter the color of their skin. The only hope of survival lies in the ancient legends of the native peoples of the land and will unite white and Indian in a common goal.
Carefully crafted to produce graphic imagery and a captivating story line, Death Wind kept me reading until the last page. I give it five quills.
I wanted the 2020 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest to be a challenge, to motivate authors and writers to reach outside their comfort zones and write a short story in a genre they maybe hadn’t tried yet. But, from the low number of entries received thus far, I’m wondering if I didn’t scare a lot of writers off when I named the genre as paranormal western.
It’s one of those combination genres that have risen up in recent times, also called weird westerns, that has both elements of western and elements of paranormal. I presented it as western ghost stories, because the old west has plenty of potential for ghosts. (Mark and Kym Todd’s Wild West Ghosts is filled with the stories of many real life characters whose ghosts are said to haunt the west today, if you’re looking for inspiration.) However, I fear our friends abroad may be shying away because they just don’t know a whole lot about the American western frontiers.
While westerns usually take place in the American west, they don’t have to. The movie Quiggly Down Under, with Tom Sellak comes to mind, taking place in the Australian Outback, but with plenty of western elements. Every country has its own frontier history that helped to shape it, some may be still developing their frontiers. So, let me re-itterate, a western does not need to be set on the American frontier, but it does need to have some of the elements of the western genre. Man (or woman) against the elements, man (or woman) fighting for justice in an untamed landscape where the only law may be what he (or she) can manage to dole out. Western characters lead nomadic lifestyles, carry guns, ride horses, drink whiskey and face their own mortality, sometimes on a daily basis.
Weird westerns tend to use these elements, but they add elements of the paranormal or speculative fiction. I’ve reviewed a few and found their authors to be quite creative in combining the two genres. Chris Barili’s Hell’s Butcherseries features a gun toting Marshall who is tasked with keeping all the outlaws in hell and tracking down any who happen to escape into the realm of the living. In DeAnna Knippling’sChance Damnation is a paranormal western fantasy, where hell breaks through and wreaks havoc on the western frontier. And a book that I’m reviewing this month is Death Wind, by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto, tells a tale of ancient Indian legends come to life. (You can catch my review of this book on Friday, March 20th).
So, with this in mind, I’m asking each of you to re-consider entering your own paranormal western short in the 2020 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest. It’s only $5 to enter, and the winner will be featured in the resulting anthology and receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Other entries may also be included in the anthology by invitation, so get those entries in to me by April 30. There’s still time, and you can find the complete submission guidelines here: https://wp.me/pVw40-49e
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When I began seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, back in 2012, I would have said that the western was a dying breed. Even as I tried my hand at writing a western novel, with Delilah, I didn’t think the book would get very far. I figured publishers didn’t want to put out westerns anymore, because they were looking for books that would sell. I thought the only readers westerns had were old men who’d grown up on Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. I didn’t believe there was an audience for western any longer.
Today, I have to say that I was wrong, since there seem to be new western authors popping up all the time and a good portion of them are female. In fact, the genre seems to be expanding, rather than dying out. I’ve made the acquaintence of several who I did not previously know as a result of my research for this month’s genre theme. That first assignment eventually grew into the first book I was able to get published, but when I began to write Delilah, I looked at westerns as a male realm where a female author might find difficulty being accepted. Now, I’m seeing a lot more female authors of the genre than was previously the case and I am pleasantly surprised.
But I don’t think this is because publishers are eagarly scooping up western novels. A majority of western authors with books in the marketplace are self-published authors. I think western authors must self-publish first and prove themselves before publishers are willing to take a chance on the genre these days.
For a look at a new twist on classic historic western fiction, you can check out my review of Not Just Any Man, by Loretta Miles Tollefson. Like all good things, the western genre has had to change with the times to survive. Many authors are finding a selling point by combining western with other more popular genres, like romance. If you look, you’ll find that a good portion of today’s westerns fall into the category of western romance, although romance isn’t the only genre authors have combined with western. I’ve read a few paranormal westerns, as well. For an example, you can read my review of Joanne Sundell’s, A Slip on Golden Stairs. There are even a few science fiction westerns out there, as well as western dark fantasy, such as Chance Damnation, by DeAnna Knippling, which I reviewed earlier in the month, or check out my 2016 review of Chris Barili’s Hell’s Butcherseries, which both feature supernatural elements.
I’d also venture to say that the number of westerns featuring tough female protagonists would tip the scales if measured against those featuring male heros in today’s westerns. It seems the cowgirl is determined to take her place in history, even though old cowboys never really die. But, all western heroines are not cowgirls. Western heroines may take the form of pioneer women tough enough to brave the western frontier and win, or a homesteading wife who loses her husband to one of the many threats that come with living in a harsh landscape and must survive in a brutal landsacpe and fend for herself, or prostitutes who lived lives of servitude and put up with indignities not spoken about in polite company in order to survive an isolated existence, or young girls full of dreams to see the world who are looking to escape and determined to do whatever it takes to achieve them. They aren’t all Calamity Jane, but they are each tough and bold and gritty in their own ways.
But don’t take my word for it. Maybe the western genre hasn’t changed as much as I think. You can find out what other western authors think by checking out this month’s interviews. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest was western adventure author Scott Harris, and I also interviewed Christian western romance author Patricia PacJac Carroll, and western author Juliette Douglas. And if you’re interested in further discovery, you can check out my January interview with western author Loretta Miles Tollefson.
As for myself, I’m working on the rewrite of the first 45,000 pages in the second book in my frontier western saga, Delilah: The Homecoming. I know you’re not supposed to edit until you’ve finished the first draft, but that’s what happens sometimes. Your character walks up and smacks you and says, “Where the heck are you taking me?”, and you realize the story has taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. But I’m getting her back on track now. While Lois L’Amour is the reason I love reading westerns, Delilah and the other colorful characters featured in these books are the reason that I love writing them.
It’s been a great western round-up and I hope you’ll all join me in June, when will be riding the thriller train and looking at ways to give readers the thrills and chills they crave. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest will be thriller author John Nicholls, and I’ll be interviewing author Dan Alatorre and reviewing his new thriller, “The Gamma Sequence”. My second thriller review is yet to be determined, so it will be a surprise. I hope you’ll drop in and see what’s in store.
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Chance Damnation, by DeAnna Knippling is a western turned inside out. It draws you in with a strange opening scene, jumping right into the thick of the action, where multi-horned demons attack a small ranching community in Buffalo County, South Dakota, and then carries you away into the depths of the story as things get even stranger.
There is definitely something out of the ordinary going on, and young Celeste Marie seems to be at the center of it. Jerome is determined not to let the demons have her, but the adults won’t listen to him because he’s just a kid. When Celeste Marie is kidnapped by the demons and Jerome goes after her into the demon realm below, community members who died in the demon rampage return as demons and Jeromes older brothers and other family members fight against the demons, but it seems as if they might be fighting a losing battle. This paranormal western fantasy is filled with surprises.
Stranger and stranger. But, it is strange in a good way. It captured my interest and kept the pages turning. It is strange in a good way. The story is well written and well paced, as is with most of the books I’ve read by DeAnna Knippling. It is a weird western, but a good story. I give Chance Damnation four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.