Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Billy the Kid: Down in the Dark

"The Next Big Thing" is a blog meme making it's way around the interwebz, in which authors are answering ten questions about their newest, upcoming work - ergo, their "Next Big Thing"  - and then tagging five other authors to  do the same,  creating this vast network of authors who are pimping themselves - hopefully to new readers - then tagging other authors, in the hopes of driving new readers to them.  Tim Lebbon tagged  Robert Swartwood, who tagged Kelli Owen, who then tagged me. So, here we go...

1) What is the title of your next book?

Billy the Kid: Down in the Dark

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

To make a long story short, it came out of a pitch to an acquisitions editor at Harper Collins. We spent several weeks/months batting around an idea to retrofit Beowulf for a new audience. It went through several variations, but what I kept coming back to was this: Beowulf is essentially a monster-killer. If I updated that tale to NOW, I'd just have another urban fantasy "monster killer" story. Why not update it only as far as...say, the Wild West? Lots of unknown, unexplored territory back then where monsters could hide. And then, a voice whispered: "Make it Billy the Kid and The Regulators".

The editor loved it.

Her boss, however, less so. Wasn't sure if it'd be marketable, and considering that our original angle was writing something very close to the Beowulf legend and marketing it to teens and English classes and school libraries, he was probably right. But the story was so strong in my head, Billy was whispering into my ear, and with it completely outlined, I decided to dive right in, anyway.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Weird Western. Definitely. Which makes a strange sort of sense, combining a childhood affinity for Cowboys and Indians and Lone Ranger and the Bar X Boys novels with my affinity for the weird.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This has been tough, but I suppose I'd better figure it out, because author Bob Ford insists it'd make a good movie. ANYWAY - I've never liked the Young Guns portrayal of Billy the Kid. Emilio Estevez was just a little too goofy and carefree, for me. In my mind, he needs to be BOTH. Goofy and carefree, and yet a stone-cold killer, at a moment's notice. Anyway - I struggled with Billy, but I'm gonna go with a lesser name, cause I just can't see Matt Damon or Mark Whalberg filling those shoes:


Far left, I'm going to go with Stephen Dorff for Billy. A little old, maybe - Billy died at age 21 - but I think he could pull it off. At the very least, seems like he could do "cold blooded killer" a lot better than Emilio Estevez. And, admittedly, though I've researched, my Billy is probably a lot closer to a pulp-Western-fantasy than the REAL Billy....though no one really knows what he was REALLY like, which makes him so fascinating to write about.

Billy's best friend and constant companion was a tall, gangly - but dead-eye shooter - red-head named Tom Folliard (or O'Folliard, depending on the source). I think steady supporting actor Michael Rappaport could fill those big shoes. He's got the size, red hair, and seems like he could do the loyal-best friend thing pretty convincingly. 

Bob Olinger is the cruel, malicious jailer/deputy infamous for getting blown away by Billy - with his own gun - in Billy's famous first escape from Pat Garrett, and there was also bad blood between Billy and Bob because Billy killed Bob's likewise cruel and malicious friend, Bob Beckwith, in  the Lincoln County War. Seems only natural to put them together in this novel. Anyway, far left - Ray Liotta. He's always done cruel and malicious pretty well.

Unfortunately, I've got no image in my head yet for Pat Garrett and Natchez, displaced, half-breed Apache warrior/mystic/scholar, or Dr. Hoyt, the traveling frontier doctor that the historical Billy actually met up with on three different occasions, in three different places - which is the center framing point for this trilogy. 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

On the run from the law, a demon-possessed Billy The Kid and his band of Regulators – secretly aided by an immortal King Solomon – throw down with a man-eating beast and its zombie progeny in the small mining town of Tascosa, Texas.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Not self-published, because I'm not ready for that leap, yet. I'll be done soon, and will be making pitches to agencies and publishers, so here's hoping....

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Well, when I finish these last few chapters, we're talking almost two years, now (here's a look at my process, on this one). A year and a half, maybe. Of course, this project is on-spec, so it's also been suspended a few times for solicited work, too. AND, it's turned into a Larry McCurty-type, Riders of the Purple Sage - but with monsters - Epic Western, so it's just a big story.  Of course, there's the hope that if/when it lands somewhere, and I receive deadlines to write its  sequels, I'll be motivated to write a lot faster...

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmmmm. This will sound strange, but I've often thought of this as the western-flip-flop of Maurice Broaddus' Knights in Bretton Court trilogy. That's basically Arthurian Legend told through the framework of rival gangs in the ghettos of modern-day Indianapolis (a genius idea), and mine is a reworking of the Beowulf myth in the Old West.  And maybe the movie Cowbies and Aliens? Also, the weird westerns of Robert E. Howard, and though Robert McCammon hasn't ever written a weird western - I don't THINK - this crazy, jam-packed mix seems like something he'd write.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Billy the Kid himself. What an intriguing, mysterious character. Where do you draw the line between myth and fact? Here's a young man, with no father figure, who's been on his own from the age of fifteen, fending for himself in the bad old, dangerous and violent Post-Civil War Wild West, and he's really only good at one thing: killing with a gun. Simply exploring what could make such a character tick - a young man who, by all accounts was kind, empathetic, courteous to a fault, polite; a fun-loving kid who loved to dance, but who could turn on a dime and kill you dead, quick as spit - has been SO very rewarding. 

And, he got a little unhighed at the end. Maybe went off the deep end, a little. What pushed him there? What shaped and molded him? Introduce the speculative/weird west/horror elements, and there was just no doubt. I was going to write this story, publisher or not.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Really, though I've packed monsters and magic and demons and spiritual warfare and freaking KING SOLOMON and the Knights Templar into this thing, I think the answer to #9 serves best: in many ways, I hope this is an interesting, thoughtful character study, an examination of what makes a guy like Billy tick. What pushes a man to that edge? And is he bad, evil, or very conflicted? Because of these questions, this, hands down, has been the most enjoyable thing I've written since Hiram Grange, and I truly hope it finds a home.


So, now: TAG. And, because I think this game is playing itself out, and there are few writers - that I know, anyway - who HAVEN'T been tagged yet, I, unfortunately, only found three writers to tag:

Mike Duran - blogger extraordinarie, provocateur, deep-thinking culture critic - and damn fine writer. The Telling is one of the best novels I read in the past year, and his self-published novella Winterland is a pretty mind-bending fantasy/allegory. 

Phil Tomasso - an excellent suspense/crime novelist you've probably never heard of, which is a shame. He wrote several successful crime/suspense mid-list novels in the nineties, left writing for awhile, returned under the pen name Thomas Phillips with the excellent The Molech Prophecy, and has a new one out: a good, old-fashioned vampires DON'T SPARKLE novel, Pulse of EvilHe's also re-released a lot of his out-of-print work on Kindle. He deserves a bigger readership, so you should check him out.

Dan Keohane - steady, sure-fire short story writer who's work has appeared in Apex, Cemetery Dance and Shroud, Dan's novels Solomon's Grave - nominated for a Stoker Award - and Margaret's Ark are favorites of mine. I have his latest, Destroyer of Worlds, on deck. Also another writer worthy of your time.

And there you have it. Happy Thanksgiving! Eat some turkey. Lots of it. While reading these authors...