Western Wednesday: Interview with Red Seven author Robert Dean

The Red Seven Robert DeanI want to hear from western writers of a more recent vintage. So I plan on using this space to give them a chance to talk about their work.

First up is Robert Dean, author of The Red Seven, which came out earlier this year. Here’s a quick synopsis:

Violence, regret, money, malice and death – these are the footnotes of a distorted America. A bounty hunter draped in black stalks the American landscape looking for seven men. Seven vicious beasts that took his heart and shattered it. Fueled by a depraved hatred and will only beset by revenge, The Ghost searches for the men who murdered his family in cold blood. One by one, he’ll cross their names off their wanted poster and find closure with each crushing bullet. The Red Seven is the story of a man with nothing to lose, a portrait into a violent mind of a killer of killers who cannot rest until he’s avenged his family. A Southern Gothic western, The Red Seven is a must read for fans of Cormac McCarthy, Quentin Tarantino, Joe Lansdale and William Burroughs.

Brian Lindenmuth: Why a western?

Robert Dean: Really, it was one of those things that dawned on me: why aren’t people writing westerns anymore? There’s so much humanity, so much levity there, that you could frame a narrative from any point of view and still make it resonate.

We’ve exhausted every form of story at this point, and I felt like I could write a story that wasn’t a hat tipping, “howdy, ma’am”, but instead something darker, but not a caricature of the genre. I wanted to tell the story of compromised humanity, but with a sense of purpose. The west felt like a pure place to test your mettle, and with the most basic of principles to achieve that goal. Simply put: context creates content.

Plus, I grew up watching Westerns, Blaxploitation, Kung Fu, Godzilla, Horror, Sc-fi flicks, so these b-movies, or Creature Feature approaches to things are continually in my head ala Del Toro or Tarantino. With writing The Red Seven, I wanted to write a story that felt like Tarantino and Cormac McCarthy had a baby.

What is your favorite western movie?

The Outlaw Josie Wales. Easy.

Second place: Tombstone. Both equal in their own merit and both completely and totally, badass movies.

Runners up: The Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in The West, and The Night of The Hunter.

What is your favorite western novel?

Without a doubt, it’s Blood Meridian. If there’s a starker, darker book about the depravity of humanity, I ain’t read it yet. There’s something sinister in them pages that dares you to relate. But, it also doesn’t play in genre archetypes – instead it uses the landscape as another voice that battles back. Instead of typical good vs. evil, we see a lot of grey. There is no innocent man in McCarthy’s world, which ultimately is a philosophy that’s far more realistic. We’re compromised by so much, or so little; it’s all a crapshoot of idealism.

Who is your favorite western writer?

Cormac McCarthy based on Blood Meridian. But, if you eighty-six that notion, because he’s only written one true western, it’d maybe be Elmore Leonard. Leonard is one of my favorite writers, period. His western stuff is pure like the driven snow, just like everything else that guy did.

Why did this story have to be a western?

The complexity of telling the story of a man who’s lost it all, but needs to fill the hole by virtue of his actions felt compelling. We can tell the story of a bounty hunter today, but it comes off hokey because of assholes like Dog The Bounty Hunter or some whack bullshit reality show. I can’t truck with that nonsense. I wanted to create a world constructed on despair and the west was the perfect landscape to tell that story.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

A story I can dive into, conversations I hear like music, and the feeling of dread when the book is nearing its end. I love finishing a book, and looking around at world, being like, “WHAT THE FUCK, Y’ALL?” and no one feeling my utter sense of panic because they’re blissfully unaware of the journey I just took.

Loving Bukowski ruined me. I love underdogs, folks who don’t have their shit together. Add in some boxing and a few drinks, with a little moral regret and I’m sold like a complete sucker.

But, at its heart, I love sweeping narratives and bold sketches that challenge what heart is. I love a good skeleton – I need backbone and some moments that shake my soul off the tree.

Who is your favorite violent western character?

The Judge from Blood Meridian. He’s so complex and raucous. That character is like an eight-sided dice. He could fall in so many directions, which is why we abhor and love him at the same time. If you could count it as a western, which I do – I absolutely adore Robert Mitchum in The Night of The Hunter. Dude is straight up evil and the knuckle tattoos? Get out of here.

Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?

This is a loaded question. There are some hardcore western folks keeping the genre alive, but it’s all the same, tired shit. When the outsiders dip their toes into the genre, that’s when good stories happen. That ain’t a shout from the mount, being like “all y’all are shit”, but it definitely pushes the genre when it breaks away from the mundane story of good cowboy in white battling bad cowboy in black. Sometimes, the genre gets a pulse when some unknown chick out of Japan writes this badass novel that reimagines the whole thing. And that’s happening, and that’s when it gets super, crazy exciting.

I want to see stories from multi-cultural points of view during the time period. I’d love to see a story from the Chinese point of view, or what it was like to be a black ironworker. Those stories could completely turn the genre on its head. Why does it always have to be about shooting everything up? (Don’t ask me, I wrote a shoot em’ up book.)

When someone romanticizes the whole ride down a hill on the back of a mare, and goes on for three pages with allegory, and then it goes into some bad Tombstone ripoff storyline, I want to die. That shit is the worst.

I think the genre has a stigma, but is also beloved. So many moviemakers are always trying to be the ones to breathe life into the western. Some folks get Cowboys and Aliens, while others get Deadwood. It’s a gamble of substance and style and what stories you’re willing to tell and what narrative you’re willing to break.

Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next?

Last: Fat City by Leonard Gardner
Now: Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner (apparently, I’m on a Gardner kick)
Next: The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?

CT McNeely is making me read Lonesome Dove and Andrew Hilbert is making me read Flint by Louis L’ amour. So, I’m about to dabble into two classics, eventually. I think they’ll likely be the answer I give in the future. I’m currently mired in a different world for my new book, which isn’t a western at all. But, if the demand is there for The Ghost part II – I’ll be back in the saddle on the western front.

BUT, if you want the sickest western music to drink beer to, check out Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial: La Pistola Piadosa – that was the soundtrack to the book as I wrote it. Preach.

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Robert Dean is a New Orleanian living in Austin exile. You can find his books in bookstores and on Amazon. You can find him all over the Internet, bitching about something. Currently, he’s hard at work on a new novel and poetry collection. He also likes ice cream and panda bears.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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