Thursday, February 20, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Alan M Clark

Being a reader is kind of awesome. No matter what your particular tastes, no matter what your particular mood, you can always find the perfect book to whisk you away. Sometimes you want to get lost in a far away future. Other times, you want to be swept off your feet by a romance. Maybe you want a good ole horror story to scare the bejesus outta you. Or, maybe you just want to be pulled back into simpler days...

And if it's the past that's calling your name, well, author Alan M Clark has a guest post that'll be right up your alley. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West is an "early western" that takes place right at the turn of the 19th century. Today, he shares an essay that breaks down the differences between Westerns and his novel. Check it out and then check out his novel... (oh, and by the way, he is also an illustrator, look at those weapons he whipped up!)

an early western

Because most Westerns take place in the mid-to late 1800s, I have described my new novel, The Door that Faced West, as an Early Western since the majority of the story takes place in the years 1799 and 1800, when most of the continent of North America had yet to be explored and the western frontier was in the new states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia.

Besides the obvious geographical dissimilarity, here are some differences between most Westerns and what Im referring to as an Early Western:

1) Instead of the trusty 6-shooter or repeating rifle of most Westerns, in an Early Western all firearms are single-shot weapons. Loading these pistols and rifles, mostly flintlocks, takes a minimum of 15 seconds. As a result, much of the violence in an Early Western occurs hand to hand.
2) While most gunmen in Westerns carry only 1 pistol and a few carry 2, in an Early Western its not unlikely for a dangerous man to carry 4 pistols or more.
3) Most of the characters in Westerns have an American accent of some sort, whereas many of the characters in an Early Western have accents more like those of their European forbears.
4) In Westerns, the common mode of travel is horseback riding. In an Early Western, because most of the territory is heavily forested, folks get about on the poorly maintained trails faster on foot and horses are reserved for carrying supplies.
5) In most Westerns, the Indians are Plains Indians or from tribes further west, and they ride horses, but in an early western, the Indians are of the woodland variety and mostly get about on foot or by floating waterways.

Here are some similarities between Westerns and Early Westerns:

1) In both Westerns and Early Westerns, law an order is loosely established in frontier territories, and adjacent vast wilderness areas have no law and order, communication between isolated settlements is poor, and large criminal fraternities spring up along well-used trails and waterways to prey upon those using the avenues for commerce.
2) In both Westerns and Early Westerns, the inhabitants of frontier towns are those seeking a new start for either good or bad reasons.  Some are taking the opportunity to build a new home, carving a life out of the virgin wilderness that they can claim as their own, while others are escaping prosecution for crimes they committed in the East. The latter are often in hiding, having assumed new identities or at least new persona, and some of them maintain ties with criminal fraternities. Therefore the former, generally law-abiding folks, frequently are unaware of the rogue character of their neighbors.
3) Both Westerns and Early Westerns present wild settings and clumsy, young, and growing societies that are ripe with possibilities for drama.

The images of pistols with this post helps illustrate the difference 51 years can make in the development of firearms.  The one on the left is a typical flintlock pistol that might have been used in the period in which The Door that Faced West takes place. The one on the right is a pistol from 1851, such as might be used in a Western. The tomahawk in the middle is the preferred weapon of the deadliest character in The Door that Faced West, Micajah Harpe.

Other examples of what I would consider Early Western novels are the Leatherstocking tales, including Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper.


Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. His illustrations have appeared in books of fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, young adult fiction and children's books. Awards for his illustration work include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of thirteen books, including seven novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West, is an Early Western that takes place in Tennessee and Kentucky in 1799-1800.

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