The ASP: Mormons and Quakers have prominent roles in Silver Bullets. Did you use this book to explore religion in the American Old West?
Laird Ryan: Not deliberately, but a few people have mentioned that they saw a strong element of that in the book.
I was looking for a background for Harry that was as far from his eventual destiny as I could find, and Quaker seemed to fit. I’m not what you’d call a fan of religion, but as far as they go, I find that particular belief system to be kind and decent. The ideals of a religion and how it gets practiced vary, though. I’m sure there are Quaker creeps out there.
As for the Mormons, well, I’m not sure the Mormons in my book are Mormons at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure they aren’t. I can’t say more without spoilers. I couldn’t invent a religion any stranger that 19th century Mormonism if I tried, though, and I’m a little fascinated by them. I’m particularly interested in the journey from where they came from to what they’ve become in the modern era. And that’s a whole thing I’m not getting into. At all.
The ASP: What appeals to you about the West, or the Weird West, as a setting?
Laird Ryan: Until I wrote this book, honestly, it hadn’t.
Harry came to me as a character living in modern times. When I first envisioned him, he was living in the present, but was born and raised in the old west, and it was a huge part of who he was. I wanted to discover his past, and this book was a big part of that.It’s grown on me. I did a fair amount of reading on the time periods, and the little details of frontier life began to engage me.
My dad is, and always was, a huge fan of Westerns, and I’v become more of one myself as a result of looking how to find this story. I feel closer to him as a result. Which, of course, I’ve not told him. For we are men. Maybe he’ll read this.
The weird element particularly came first, as it almost always does for me. I’m pretty much the opposite of a “realistic fiction” writer.
The ASP: Why did you choose to self-publish?
Laird Ryan: Is desperation a good answer?
I don’t want to disparage the publishing industry. It’s full of people doing their best in a new information economy.
I wanted to try it, to see if I liked it, and to see if I could get a readership. I’d love to make money at it, but that’s secondary to wanting to engage with popular culture. I write because I want readers. This is a way to do that.
Would I say no to a traditional publishing deal? Not immediately. I’d have to consider saying yes very carefully too. They aren’t the path to success they used to be either, or so it seems to me.
The ASP: This novel began as a short-listed entry in the International 3 Day Novel Contest. What is it like to write a novella in three days? How did you approach expanding the book to novel length?
Laird Ryan: Writing a novella in three days is sometimes an amazing experience, and other time it rips the guts out of you. There is no margin for getting stuck on a plot point.
This one went well, because I had such a strong idea who the characters were going in. I had to foreshorten the scope of the book to complete it in three days, as it would have spanned a much longer time period originally. Even so, the ending was very weak in the original manuscript
I didn’t so much expand it for publication as make a decision to keep it as a novella. I set the background for Harry, show his first major supernatural exploit, set up a sequel and get out. I decided to make it like a nouveau pulp. It’s written quickly, novella in length, and designed to be serialized.
I’d planned to novelize it, but soon realized I wanted to take more time, meander over the course of several books to tell this story right up to the present and, in fact, beyond.
The ASP: Some characters in your novel are known fictional or historical figures. What guidelines did you have for yourself in writing about real people or characters from other works?
Laird Ryan: Don’t get sued.
I have an ongoing thing in my work, which tends to take place in a single shared world, of replacing historical figures with their fictional creations for fun. When those creations are not in the public domain, I cheat.
Happily, Judge Holden, who many will be familiar with from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, also was a genuine, and completely insane historical figure. as well.
The Asp: If you were to meet your protagonist, Harry Parker, how do you think you would get along?
Laird Ryan: Harry Parker would think I was a fat jerk with a big mouth.
That said, Harry is a kind person in a really deep down way, no matter how hard he tries to get past it.
Me, I like Harry, but he’s dangerous to spend time with. Unlike him, I am entirely mortal. I’d be happy to chat with him time to time, but I’d avoid getting too close.
The ASP: Do you consider Silver Bullets to be modern pulp fiction? What interests you about the pulp era?
Laird Ryan: The pulp era appeals to me because it was a time when, if you were fast, and if you could hold a reader, you could pretty much make a guaranteed living writing. There was a market with millions of readers and it was a huge section of popular entertainment. Those days are past.
The fiction of the era is filled with wild vivid characters, improbable stories and huge doses of fun. Also, sadly formulaic stuff, and the endemic racism and exoticism of the period. I’d like to use the good stuff, and leave as much of the bad stuff behind as I can. I want to play with the tropes and conventions of the form but not slavishly ape them.
I love the kind of writing that is done in a hurry, where it’s so direct and intense, and naked. And yeah, it can be rough, too. They didn’t revise much then, and I do. I find, though, that Silver Bullets was a much stronger book for the time limit I wrote it under. It moves fast.
Also, the internet makes serialized publication feasible in a way magazines aren’t anymore.
You can do modern pulp cheap and fast and easy to distribute. So I thought, what the heck, I’d try it. I’m also working on my other stuff along the way, but I’m going to do at least 2 of these modern pulps a year. They keep my teeth sharp.