Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Guest post - Kyra Halland: "Fantasy and Western - Two Genres Made For Each Other"

Out of the dusty desert hills rides the nameless stranger, astride a horse as toughened with hard experience as he is. The wide brim of his hat conceals his eyes and weathered, unshaven face in shade; his long brown coat, much patched and mended, blows open just enough to reveal the six-shooter holstered at his hip. He seems to be just another wandering gunfighter, but that gun can do things no regular gun can do, and, on a silver chain hidden beneath his shirt, a ring set with a blue stone glows with the strength of his magical power.

This is no ordinary gunslinger.

Meet Silas Vendine, the hero of my fantasy-western series Daughter of the Wildings. So what exactly is this genre I'm calling fantasy-western, and how is it different from Weird Western and Western paranormal romance, two increasingly popular genres blending westerns with fantastical elements?

The fantasy half comes from high fantasy, which I define (and I know everyone has their own definition) as fantasy set in another world, with a heroic storyline, where magic is an essential element of the story. This is where fantasy western is different from Weird Western and paranormal Western romance, which are commonly set in our world or an alternate version. Weird Western can also include paranormal (such as vampires), steampunk, horror, and science fiction elements, while in Western paranormal romance, the romance is the main focus of the story.

The western part of fantasy-western comes from the traditions of the classic pulp westerns: the wide-open, lawless frontier, confrontations between good and evil, self-reliance, individual freedom and responsibility, the struggle to survive, and characters who are trying to make a new start in life or find justice, revenge, redemption, or just a ton of riches.

There are so many places where the traditional elements of the two genres can come together to enrich and expand each other that, to me, fantasy and western were made to go together. Desolate and mystical landscapes;  the struggle between good and evil; characters who don’t fit into ordinary society, epic journeys where simply surviving is a victory – you’ll find all of these elements and more in both fantasy and westerns. Silas Vendine, the gunslinger who is also a mage, fits into a long tradition of both fantasy and western heroes: the mysterious man with extraordinary skills and strengths, a loner, who has his own mission in life and his own moral code that doesn’t necessarily fit with the accepted conventions.

But it isn’t just the similarites between the two genres that inspired me to combine them. The contrast between the down and dirty struggle for survival that was life in the Old West and the otherworldly wonder of magic, and between the rough technology of the late 1800s and the traditions of magic and fantasy, are ripe with storytelling possibilities. In the world of Daughter of the Wildings, gamblers play cards in the saloons – but the cards have names like Moon Mage and Star Dragon. The A’ayimat, the indigenous people of the Wildings, have blue-toned skin and golden eyes, and can understand any language that is spoken to them. Clocks with numbered hours, eyeglasses, and guns are the products of foreign science and are forbidden in the civilized, mage-dominated land of Granadaia. Cowboys herd cattle out on the open range while man-eating groviks – think furry alligators with rabbit-ears – roam the mountains. And on the night of the dark of the moon, when the eight gods hide their faces from the world, that mournful howling you hear could just as easily be a coyote, a demon, or lost and lonely spirit.

The landscapes of the West are another inspiration. I was born and raised in the Western U.S., and still live there. I love to set my favorite genre, fantasy, in the wide-open landscapes I grew up with: the snow-covered peaks, evergreen forests, grassy rangelands, and rugged desert hills and dry riverbeds. Mountains and deserts especially play an important role in my writing. Mountains are places where the earth and the heavens meet in a mystical joining, while in the desert, things are hidden, buried, waiting to be revealed by an angle of the light, a rainstorm, or fortuitous digging in the right place. Both mountains and deserts hold deep secrets and power and history, and demand the utmost in skill and courage of those who journey or live there.

While I don't know of any other books in exactly the same fantasy-western style of Daughter of the Wildings, here is a sampling of books, movies/TV shows, and music that come close or that have been an inspiration to me:

The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/89695.The_Haunted_Mesa) - This novel by one of the grand masters of the classic western explores what might have become of the vanished Anasazi people of the southwestern U.S.

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10803121-the-alloy-of-law) - Follow-up to Sanderson's Mistborn series, set in a world similar to the American West of the late 19th century.

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43615.The_Gunslinger) - The first book in the Dark Tower series has a lot of fantasy and western elements, though later parts of the series bring in more science fiction elements and it intersects quite a bit with our world. Wizard and Glass and Wolves of Callas are the other books in King's series that come close to the kind of western fantasy I'm talking about.

The Teutevar Saga, by Derek Alan Siddoway (http://derekalansiddoway.com/series/teutevar-saga/) - styled as "medieval westerns", more traditional medieval-inspired fantasy with a distinctly Old West sensibility.

Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos (http://www.nexttownover.net/) - This web comic combines Western high fantasy with a good dose of steampunk. Follow the mysterious Vane Black as she pursues rogue sorcerer John Henry Hunter across a fictional world based on the Old West.

Firefly - the much-loved and much-missed series combines space opera with a definite Western feeling.

High Plains Drifter - Clint Eastwood spaghetti western about a Man With No Name who comes into a desolate western town, uncovers its dirty secrets, and punishes it for a long-ago crime. Is he just a wandering Stranger, or is he something more?

Trigun - Anime series set on a desert planet where spaceships evacuating humans from a ruined Earth crash-landed. With the destruction of the ships, technology has, for the most part, gone back to the level of the late 19th/early 20th century (with a few things salvaged from the ruined ships and, of course, the Plants that provide the planet with power and water). The society is wild and lawless, and the most wild and lawless of them all is Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon, the outlaw gunslinger with a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head, who is more than the ordinary gunslinger he appears to be. Vash believes in Love and Peace, but a darker destiny hounds him across the planet.

Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys - My Chemical Romance's last album tells a story filled with classic western elements set in the post-apocalyptic California desert.

So there it is – fantasy-western, the meeting of two genres that I think were made for each other. It's been tons of fun to write, and I hope it's just as much fun to read!

About Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of Daughter of the Wildings


Cowboys and gunslingers meet wizards in this high fantasy series inspired by the Old West. Silas Vendine is a mage and bounty hunter, on the hunt for renegade mages. He's also a freedom fighter, sworn to protect the non-magical people of the Wildings from ambitious mages both lawless and lawful. It's a dangerous life and Silas knows it, but when he comes to the town of Bitterbush Springs on the trail of a rogue mage, he finds more danger and excitement than he bargained for...

In Bitterbush Springs, Silas meets Lainie Banfrey, a young woman both drawn to and terrified of her own developing magical powers. Though Lainie has been taught all her life to hate and fear wizards, she and Silas team up to stop the renegade who has brought her hometown to the brink of open warfare. The hunt takes them deep beneath forbidden lands held by the hostile A'ayimat people, where only Silas's skills and Lainie's untamed, untrained power can save them and the town from the rogue mage and the dark magic he has loosed into the world.

Come join Silas Vendine and Lainie Banfrey on an exciting western adventure set in a world of fantasy and magic!

Watch for Bad Hunting, book 2 of Daughter of the Wildings, coming soon!

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About Kyra Halland: 

Kyra Halland lives in southern Arizona. Complicated, honorable heroes; heroines who are strong, smart, and all woman; magic, romance, and adventure; and excursions into the dark corners of life and human nature mixed with a dash of offbeat humor - all of these make up her worlds. She has a very patient husband, two less-patient cats, and two young adult sons. Besides writing, she enjoys scrapbooking and anime, and she wants to be a crazy cat lady when she grows up.

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