As a child, I had no interest in Westerns. Or in traditional fantasy, for that matter. I was a sci-fi devotee through and through. In retrospect, I’ve always had a few interests and hobbies that would have helped lead me down that particular path: exposure to firearms and their practical uses at an early age, a love for the beauty of nature, a tendency towards being a loner. I remember thinking as far back as high school that I was born in the wrong century, that I would have been happier in the 18th century with a six-shooter in my hand, a horse underneath me, and the open road ahead of me. Given a time machine and one trip (sci-fi devotee, recall,) I didn’t want to see dinosaurs or meet famous folks or use winning lotto numbers to make myself; I wanted to venture back to California before it was settled by Europeans other than the Spaniards.
I suppose that there were two things that happened in college that would help to develop and cement my affection for the genre. First, I was exposed to Western films. Starting with the Man With No Name trilogy, and then branching out into classics like The Searchers, and finally into the modern deconstructions like The Wild Bunch and Unforgiven. Stephen King has said that one of the biggest initial inspirations for the Dark Tower series was seeing Clint Eastwood’s face on a movie screen. In an era where writers were producing Tolkien-inspired fantasy, King saw stubble and grit and cheroots and in them he saw a world as rich and magical as any populated by elves and dwarves. I can’t say I disagree with him.
The second thing was reading Blood Meridian. Holy crap, Blood Meridian.
As a junior in college, I wrote a story called “The Hellequin.” I’m the kind of person that can get lost reading Wikipedia pages, and somehow I came to learn of the hellequin, this bizarre blend of commedia dell’arte stock characters and the Wild Hunt myth, a demon that appeared during thunderstorms to take evil men to Hell. The story I wrote cribbed pretty heavily from Blood Meridian, a fact of which I’m not proud, but I inserted the hellequin into the story as a lone gunslinger kind of character. If you’re familiar with the plot of Blood Merdian, then you know that there’s no shortage of evil actions and evil men fit to be dragged away to Hell.
Years later, the hellequin from my story would become John Quinn. I didn’t want to just rewrite that story, though. I wanted a pulp hero, someone with a background. A well I could draw water from more than once. For a one-off story a mystical avenger is fine, but a recurring character for whom “shoots the bad guys” was the sum total of his personality would run the risk of becoming stale. And besides, I didn’t want a superhero. I wanted a flesh-and-blood man, who would accumulate physical and mental scars as a result of the life he chose to live. So I conceived of a trilogy of stories about the character, an arc spanning the course of three decades. So far, we’ve seen John Quinn as a young man, driven by anger and prone to absolutism and questionable decisions. We’ve seen John Quinn older, jaded by years of hunting the lawless and bringing them to justice (be it his or society’s.) The next story, then, will answer the question of “What is John Quinn like as a middle-aged man?” Heartless? Broken? Driven by mortido? Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.
Finally, a few words on the world that John Quinn inhabits. Attentive readers may have noticed a few hints that these stories aren’t set in the 19th century. There’s references to paved roads, non-functioning technology, and items left behind by an older time. When it came time to pick a setting for the stories about John Quinn, the world of Channa was still fresh in my mind. I imagined that the cataclysm that brought California to ruin in “A Place of Honor” might have had different effects in other parts of the country. In areas where people lived in luxury and were suddenly forced to fend for themselves, things probably fell apart much more quickly than in those places where people had lived more self-sufficient lives, where an ethos of strength and independence was more pronounced. John Quinn, then, inhabits the same America as Channa and her associates. He simply lives in a different time, a different place.