Thursday, July 30, 2015

Abbreviated Thoughts

Tom Pitts raised an interesting point on his blog the other day. (Go ahead. Read it now. What I have to say will make more sense if you have, and it’s probably better than whatever I’ll come up with.) The gist of Tom’s piece is that writing an alternate history may not be as daunting as he’d thought. Just take actual history and tell it however you want.

(A brief digression. I read Tom's novella Knuckleball over the weekend. I'll have more to say about it when i have some time, but, if you haven't read it, you really ought to.)

This grabbed my attention, as I’m playing with the idea of a Western that will, in essence, be an alternative history. Deadwood is the obvious inspiration, as I plan to set the story where the stagecoaches used to change horses on the run from Cheyenne. There’s a town there—Lusk—named after the rancher who donated the land and laid out the streets.

That was to have been the point of this blog, to show how Tom got me thinking about blending reality and fiction into a Western that would capture some of the spirit of Deadwood without either becoming ensnared by its scope, or ripping it off. (Unsuccessfully, of course. Deadwood will always stand as a unique artistic accomplishment.) I’ve been pushing these ideas around in my mind for weeks now as The Beloved Spouse and I watch all three seasons back-to-back, twice through. I thought a blog post would be a good way to work some things out, and Tom had me inspired.

What happened was less serendipitous. The blog post rambled, taking in more unsettled ground with each paragraph. I’ve had a long couple of weeks and a trying weekend lies ahead. So it goes. In life you have to do a lot of things you don’t fucking want to do. Many times, that’s what the fuck life is: one vile fucking task after another. So this is all I got. Read Tom’s post. It’s better than anything I have in me right now. I’ll be ready to go after scratching a couple of things off my list. Pain or damage don’t end the world, you know. Or despair, or fuckin’ beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man — and give some back.

I’ll do better next week.


John McFetridge said...

Although I try to stick close to actual history in the books I'm writing now, that's just one choice, I think. Because really, everything is material. Actual historical events or shit you make up, it all just serves the story you're telling.

A buddy of mine wrote a novel set in Leadville in the 1880s. He did a lot of research:

Dana King said...

Ordering CLOUD CITY now. Looks like just the kind of thing I'm looking for as I ponder writing a Western myself.

Unknown said...

Alternative histories are, I think, not huge challenges. Like all fiction, we are simply engaging in the great "What IF" experiment. What if he says this. What if she does that? What if they are up shit creek without a paddle, boat, lifejackets, swimming abilities, and -- egads! -- cellphones! And so it goes. Just dig into the MAGIC IF bag of tricks and see what comes out. Enjoy the dusty trails of the old west when men were men, horses were horses, and -- well, enough about that "what IF" experiment. But I am have rambled long enough. Now I must return to thinking about what happens next at my blog -- Crimes in the Library -- and then I have to think about where to go for lunch. Have a great day. (This message has come to you from an up the Mon River / Pittsburgh expatriate.)

tom pitts said...

Didn't see this the other day, but as I read it now I started thinking, westerns are especially good for the alt history thing. There's lots of elbow room. Blood Meridian is supposed to have been based on real events. I guess Deadwood, too, is an extreme example of the alt history. A mash of characters that never really crossed paths. The legends of the west give us a rotating cast of characters. Names and stories familiar to the most readers, but not too familiar. Like Shakespearean actors have their own unique spin on an Othello or a King Lear, so writers can try their hand at standing in John Ford's or Wyatt Earp's boots.