Brian Lindenmuth: Why westerns?
Icy Sedgwick: I think in a lot of ways the western is the closest thing we have to contemporary mythology. The tales of outlaws and crackshot law men have a certain ‘good vs evil’ kind of feel that have overtaken the old medieval ballads. They’re more universal as a result, and there’s something just so cinematic about that glorious scenery! Plus you can read Tolkien and picture Middle Earth, and sure you can visit New Zealand but you can’t literally visit Mordor. However you can actually visit the Grand Canyon, or see Tombstone.
Why did The Guns of Retribution have to be a western?
Well the original publisher, Pulp Press, approached me and asked me to write a tale of retribution and revenge set in one of five genres, the western being one of them. I’d had a particular character in mind for a while, deliberately set in the old West, so it was a logical choice to pick the western as a genre of choice so I could set up the series I wanted to write. Plus I’d been fascinated by the history of the old West for years because we don’t really have anything comparable in Europe, so I was quite excited to see how I could fit my story into that history.
What is your favorite type of western?
I really do love the weird western. I’m a massive horror fan, and I love speculative fiction, so the weird western satisfies my love of both genres. Plus the western plays so nicely with so many other types of genre, and I think it makes a natural bedfellow with horror. I was so pleased to see the third season of Penny Dreadful take a detour into that set up, with the dreadpunk of Victorian London heading to Arizona. It just feels entirely natural to have strange creatures or monsters living in such an unforgiving and often harsh landscape.
What is your favorite western movie?
I’m going to have to say Tombstone. It’s got issues with historical accuracy but it’s so over the top, and Val Kilmer puts in a stunning performance as Doc Holliday. I’d even say he steals the whole film. Tombstone is full of larger than life characters but it balances them all very well.
What is your favorite western novel?
Probably Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser. It’s very silly a lot of the time, but it’s entertaining and it’s definitely got that cinematic feel to it. I love that old-time pulp adventure feel, and Flashman has that in spades. But I also really enjoy Heath Lowrance’s weird Westerns with his Hawthorne character. Heath really captures that gritty pulp feel in his books, and he nails the adventure side of the Western in the books he sets in Edward A. Grainger’s Cash Laramie universe.
Who is your favorite western writer?
I often watch the films rather than read the novels as I’m a film academic (I specialise in horror) but I really do enjoy the westerns of Edward A. Grainger and again, Heath Lowrance. There’s something quite cinematic about their stories anyway and I can ‘watch’ them in my head as I’m reading.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
A plausible plot – yes, you can stretch plausibility to a degree but there has to be some sense that the writer knew where the story was going – and strong characters you can root for or detest. If your villain is weak, or your hero is two-dimensional, then the story just won’t stand up. I quite like heroes to have some kind of moral compass too – they don’t have to be a goody-two-shoes, and they might be an absolute rotter in most senses, but then they might abhor seeing someone be abusive towards an animal. It’s a good way to show they’re not ALL bad.
Who is your favorite violent western character?
I’m going to have to go with Doc Holliday from Tombstone. I know he’s based on a real character, and I’m fascinated by him as well, but I think he shows such loyalty to the Earp brothers, and because he’s slightly unhinged, he makes a more unpredictable character. Unpredictable characters are always more interesting. You don’t know what they’ll do, and even when they do act in a way that you might predict, they rarely do it in the way you thought they would!
Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?
I think it’s doing just fine. I think a lot of people are dismissive of the genre because they have a mental image of John Wayne, but as a form of historical fiction, it seems to be doing pretty well. It’s more of a niche genre than, say, the thriller, but because the western can easily incorporate other genres, it does pop up in genres like romance or horror. And that’s a really good way of getting new readers to give the western a go – once they see how versatile it can be, I think readers are a lot more forgiving. Plus every time Hollywood decides to give the western a shot again, people remember how much they enjoy them when they’re available.
Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next?
The last book I read was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because I wanted to read it before I saw the film. At the moment I’m reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams because I think all writers can learn a lot from the way that King constructs his stories, and particularly the way he writes his characters. Then I bought a weird Western bundle from Story Bundle a few weeks back so I’ll get started on those next!
What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?
Bone Tomahawk. It didn’t get nearly as much attention as it should have done, but I think in the UK at least a lot of that was because it came out at the same time as The Revenant. So Bone Tomahawk was clearly the superior film, but everyone went for The Revenant instead because of Leo’s performance. It’s a shame because Patrick Wilson was absolutely glorious. I’ve said he was a good actor for years, but he just hasn’t always had enough to tackle in a lot of roles.
Icy Sedgwick hails from the frozen north of England, where she currently lives and works. She balances her writing with a PhD in Film Studies and a job teaching graphic design.
Icy has three novellas to her name; the pulp Westerns The Guns of Retribution and To Kill A Dead Man, published by Beat to a Pulp, and a horror fantasy called The Necromancer’s Apprentice, available through Crossroad Press. She also has two self-published titles, a steampunk adventure named The First Tale, and two short story compilations, Checkmate & Other Stories and Harbingers & Other Stories.
Icy prefers to write gothic horror, but she has also dabbled with steampunk, supernatural YA, Westerns, and fantasy.