Saturday, October 23, 2021

What’s It Like Co-Authoring a Book?

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my cousin and he asked about any upcoming books I’ve written. I mentioned “Ghost Town Gambit,” the short story I had in the Six Gun Justice podcast anthology as well as Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, the novel I co-wrote with David Cranmer that teams up our two western heroes, David’s Cash Laramie and my own Calvin Carter. My cousin was intrigued about the book, but more interested in how David and I wrote a book together.

To be honest, it was quite seamless.

The Beginning

Way back in January 2010, David sent me an email about a Cash Laramie story he was working on that drew some of its inspiration from the real-world west of the 1890s but also some steampunk elements. (I’m keeping the nature of the steampunk thing close the vest. You’ll just have to read the story to find out what it is.)

Knowing I had a fondness for steampunk, he suggested we team up our characters for this adventure. Soon thereafter, he sent about 3,000 words of the story. It included a historical note on when the story took place and the opening setup.

It quickly became apparent that his characters would need to get on the hijacked Sundown Express while Carter would already be on it when the outlaws took over the train. From that point forward, I took David’s text and inserted Carter into it, writing Carter’s scenes from scratch and layering in some text on the Cash side of things.

That’s pretty much how it went for a good stretch of 2010 and into 2011. We’d email back and forth, asking and answering questions, and tweaking the story as we went along. With Beat to a Pulp the publisher of record, David kept the main versions of the story while I maintained my copies as backup.

Recruiting Outside Help

The story just fell off our radar for about a decade or so. Every now and then, we’d bring it up, but little new work was done. In the intervening years, I had written more Calvin Carter stories and three novels. His style of story changed from a darker, more grittier version you see in his first short story to a more light-hearted, Maverick-style fun character in the novels.

Then, out of the blue, David emails me in August 2020 asking my opinion about reviving the story and completing it. I jumped at the chance, but let him know about Carter’s style change. I hadn’t thought of Sundown Express in years—although I had Carter reference it in one of the novels—but I remembered him being pretty tough. I would certainly have to re-read the story from scratch.

An invaluable stroke of good fortune was David asking Nik Morton to read the story and offer suggestions. Nik is a fantastic author, and his Write a Western in 30 Days book is a wonderful primer for writing your own western, even if it takes you longer than a month.

Nik had a read and then David sent me the updated file. I had already made a crucial decision: I would not go back and re-read what I had last written in 2011 or so, letting the 2020 draft serve as the new starting point.

I picked up the draft and read the story, with a notepad on the table and Word’s tracked changes turned on. Nik’s edits were good, but what was great for me was a couple of extra scenes featuring Carter I didn’t remember writing. I still have never gone back and re-read the old versions, but I was thrilled that Nik seemed to get Carter’s style. While David’s had multiple authors write about Cash and other characters he created—most recently The Drifter Detective featuring tales of Jack Laramie, Cash’s grandson—this was the first time another author wrote about a character I created.

The Homestretch

I worked on the draft rather slowly last fall, finally turning over my update in early January. From then, David and I went back and forth a time or two. During that time, David created the cover you see. I really like the painted effect he has on it, especially on the back cover of the paperback.

By way of marketing, David suggested we do an in-print “interview” where he and I go back and forth. I also suggested we try to get interviewed together for a podcast. I reached out to Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch of the Six Gun Justice podcast and they agreed. While the interview features just me, I do promote the collaboration, offering more insights than this.

Finally, a short twenty days ago, Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express was published for all the world to read.

I’m not sure if co-authoring a book is this seamless for other writers, but it was for David and I. We’re really proud of the finished story and hope you enjoy it.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Now Available: Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express featuring Calvin Carter

Exciting news! The first Calvin Carter team-up has arrived.

With the publication of Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, Carter steps into a wider western universe, and he does it courtesy of one of my oldest writing friends.

David Cranmer and I emerged on the scene at roughly the same time, around 2008-2009 or so. We would see each other’s comments on the same blogs and we eventually started communicating back and forth. His first major character was Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who starred in a series of short stories. Mine was former actor turned railroad detective, Calvin Carter. In fact, Carter’s first adventure was published on David’s Beat to a Pulp webzine.

We’ve discussed teaming up our two characters and, after a decade in development, the end result is finally available.

And it’s thrilling.

I am immensely proud of this work not only for the story itself but also because it’s the first time I’ve published a story with a co-author.

You can find the print or ebook version at Amazon.

So, without any further words from me, I present the description and the Prologue (things folks on my mailing list (sign up at my author website) received over two weeks ago--hint, hint).

Book Description:


Cash Laramie, The Outlaw Marshal, faces his wildest adventure yet when the Sundown Express, billed as the fastest train in the west, is seized by a ruthless gang.

The desperadoes run the train back and forth on the same stretch of open ground, eliminating any chance for lawmen to board and retake the locomotive. They deliver their demands with a corpse: Give us $100,000 before dusk or we will kill more passengers every hour until the ransom is met.

Cash has faced miscreants before and knows he can beat these guys, but how can he get on the Express hurtling down the tracks at seventy miles per hour?

Aboard the train, things are grim. Famed actress Lillie Langtry and the other captives sit frightened, wondering if they’ll be next. But not disguised railroad detective Calvin Carter. He reckons the train’s speed thwarts any chance for a boarding party to save the day, so the former actor makes sure he’s in the marauders’ spotlight, even if it means his final curtain call.

With a rescue plan that feels like a suicide mission, Cash and fellow marshal Gideon Miles must board the speeding train and take down the gang before any more innocent lives are lost.

 

 

1899

WYOMING

  

PROLOGUE

Special Delivery

 

 

 

Ashdale, Wyoming: Mid-morning

 

The sound arrived first. The distinctive rumble of an iron horse roaring over steel rails, carried on the wind to the ears of the people gathered at the Ashdale Station. Sheriff Roy Tanner frowned. Something was wrong. He knew it, and, based on the faces of the others lingering on the platform, they knew it, too.

A train was coming, but it was coming from the wrong direction.

Like many of the citizens of the town, Sheriff Tanner had turned out to watch the inaugural run of the trailblazing-in-design train dubbed the Sundown Express, capable of a speed topping seventy miles an hour. The crowd had stuck around, braving the sweltering August heat, to prattle on over the sight of the mighty locomotive as it sped through their small community, destined for Sioux Falls. Tanner had even taken pity on Edwin Curtis, a swarthy prisoner whose penchant for robbing trains earned him a trial date as soon as the judge returned to Ashdale. Handcuffed together, wrist to wrist, Tanner could tell Curtis also sensed something.

“I thought the paper said the track was gonna be cleared for the Express,” Curtis said.

“That’s right,” the sheriff replied. The lawman reached into a trouser pocket, removed a bandana, and began wiping the sweat from his forehead and neck.

The sound grew louder. From a distance, through the shimmering heat waves rising from the flat land, a dark shape moved.

A handful of people stepped forward to the edge of the platform, curious. Without warning, Curtis stepped forward, too, craning his neck over the heads of the onlookers and yanking on Tanner’s arm, but the lawman didn’t much care. He wanted to see as well. He recognized the distinctive outline of a train approaching. The plume of smoke rose from the stack and caromed into the wind.

Tanner glanced over his shoulder at the ticket clerk. The scrawny, short man frowned and squinted his eyes behind a pair of spectacles, absently scratching his head as he checked the schedule from his seat inside the tiny ticket booth.

“Neville,” Tanner called to the clerk, “what train is this?”

“I don’t know. There can’t be another train due from the east until the Express crosses into Dakota Territory. That’ll be hours from now.”

Curtis hmphed. “Schedule or not, that train’s almost here. And it ain’t slowing down.” He gestured with his chin. “It’s the Express again.”

Tanner gawked at the outlaw. “How do you know?”

“The speed. I ain’t never heard anything move that fast.”

“There ain’t a turnaround for at least a hundred miles,” the sheriff scoffed. “Only way for it to be the Express was if it was going backwards.”

Neville let out a panicked laugh, masking a deepening alarm. “But why would it be coming back here, going in reverse no less?”

Moments later, the caboose rocketed in, its gold-and-red paint confirming Curtis’s assertion, followed quickly by the passenger cars with “Sundown Express” emblazoned on the sides. Unlike its first pass, the train didn’t slow down this time, and, from the open doors of a boxcar, a bundle was tossed through the air. Tanner didn’t need but a glance to recognize the shape as a bound and gagged man.

Startled bystanders bounded across the platform boards in chaos, rushing out of harm’s way. When the body hit the planks, it rolled several times before smashing into the wooden ticket booth and dislodging the shocked clerk from his seat.

As the train steamed onward to Cheyenne, a stunned silence briefly fell in its wake, only to be broken when a few folks began murmuring about what they had just witnessed. Tanner, hardened by the Great Unpleasantness, stood speechless until the moaning of the victim roused him from his stupor.

The discarded man, lying on his back, raised his bloodied head a fraction then lowered it, fixed gray eyes staring upon oblivion.

Needing no prompt, the paling clerk righted himself and backed away from the corpse in an ungainly scramble.

Sheriff Tanner unlocked the handcuff from his wrist and reattached it to a porter’s cart handle. “Stay put,” he told his prisoner.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Curtis said. He stood rooted in place and gazed west at the rapidly disappearing Sundown Express, something akin to respect showing on his face.

Tanner ran to the wrecked ticket stand and lowered himself to one knee beside the portly man dressed in a brown and tan chalk-stripe suit. There was a wide patch of blood on the victim’s vest, a gut shot, which didn’t bode well. Neither did the taut leather cord tied around his throat. Tanner pressed two fingers to the side of the man’s neck.

“Is he, is he dead?” Neville asked as he steadied himself on what remained of the ticket booth.

The lawman nodded solemnly. He pulled at the leather cord, revealing an envelope tucked inside the man’s vest. It read simply: “For Senator Madison.”

“Is that a message?” Neville said.

“No,” Curtis said, his lips curling over his teeth into a wide grin. “It’s a ransom.”

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Challenging Season 1 of Tin Star

It’s probably just me.

The wife and I finished up season 1 of Tin Star, the BBC show, created by Rowan Joffé. All three seasons are now available on Amazon Prime.

Tim Roth stars as James Worth, a former London police detective with some shady ways of doing things, especially when he’s [shocker] he’s drunk. When inebriated, James reverted to his more violent Mr. Hyde-type self, Jack, a personality he used while working under cover.

As the show starts, James is assuming his new job as the Chief of Police of Little Big Bear, a small town in Canada. In tow are his wife, teenaged daughter, and Petey, his five-year-old son. They don’t seem too happy to be moving, but with a mysterious past, it’s a good idea to get away.

Complicating things in the small town are the local deputies. Denise is a First Nation officer trying to navigate her responsibilities to her job, the local populace, and the increasing erratic behavior of the new chief. Deputy Ryan is having none of it and often calls out James for his behavior.

But that’s not all. North Stream Oil is in the area, aiming to take as much resources as possible while simultaneously doing whatever it takes to exercise its control over the town, including the police force. Louis, the head of security, seems always to know what’s going on and which screws to twist to protect the company.

Christina Hendricks plays Elizabeth, a PR specialist, who, over the course of this first season, slowly uncovers some of the company’s more unsavory history.

Then there are the trio of bad dudes who have followed the Worth family all the way from Britain. It is one of them who, in the first episode, pulls the trigger on the fleeing family and sets into motion most of the first season’s events.

The Character Challenges


Let’s start at the top. James Worth is an extremely difficult person to root for. Now, Tim Roth is excellent in his portrayal of the erratic James, but the actions he takes as the ten episodes play out are hard to understand at time. The more decisions he makes, the more I look over to my wife and ask why? One great (?) thing and Roth’s James Worth is his decisive decision making. If he makes up his mind to do something—like find the people who pulled the trigger in episode one—he’s a bulldog. His choices are basically crystal clear, even if you don’t agree with them. They build up over the season, so much so that by the end, you are left wondering will he or won’t he.

A hard man to like. But there are few in this show that garner genuine empathy. The two local deputies I like, and Ryan—who always got the short end of the stick most of the time—became someone with whom I could see myself.

But for all the irritating things these characters do, the actors portraying these character are all working at the top of their game. Late in the season, there’s an extended flashback scene, and what the young actor is called on to do is a heavy lift, but he does so well.

Christopher Heyerdahl as the head of security is super creepy and enigmatic (as the true reasons he does what he does is never truly revealed). Granted, it’s all to protect the company, but as Hendricks’s Elizabeth asks, why does a multi-billion dollar company care what a small town cop says.

Then there’s James’s daughter, Anna. The path her character takes is interesting. Not likable, mind you, but interesting. And it all leads up to the final seconds of the season and the instant cut to credits.

When those credits started rolling on Thursday night, I asked my wife why she made me watch this show. She sort of smiled and said I could have stopped at any time.

True, I didn’t, because the story is compelling enough that I wanted to know what happened next, but it’s so irritating that I’m following and wondering about characters the likes of which I wouldn’t want to invite to my house.

Will I watch season two? Probably. Will I enjoy it? To be determined.

Have you seen Tin Star?