A few years ago, I took a stab at creating a series character. It worked out, ultimately, but in the most twisted, non-linear way imaginable.
I’d been reading a lot of Robert E. Howard (which is something I’m wont to do) as well as some H.G. Wells, and thought it would be fun to sort of mix up those worlds a little. So I came up with an idea for a series of long short stories featuring a Victorian/Edwardian era hero facing off against REH-style supernatural forces.
The hero evolved into a stoic, brave Mississippi gentlemen, globe-trotting around the world in pursuit of an arch-enemy I never got around to introducing. The hero’s name, initially, was Gray Morrow—a name I really liked, until I discovered that there was a very popular illustrator with that name. It must have been in my subconscious or something; it’s a pretty unusual name, and what are the odds I would just come up with it out of the blue? In any case, I changed his name first to CLAY Morrow, then ultimately Grey Hawthorne.
Grey Hawthorne, with his burning sense of duty and his impeccable manners, was pretty fun to write about at first. I did two stories featuring him—“The Nine Pale Men” and “The Bones of the Conquerers”, both of which were published at The Nautilus Engine, and started a third before the concept started running out of steam for me.
The character, while interesting in the short term, wasn’t suitable for a series. He just didn’t have that much meat on his bones and the back-story I hinted at over the course of the two published stories wasn’t as fresh or intriguing as it could’ve been.
Don’t get me wrong—I think both of them are pretty solid supernatural adventure stories, but Grey Hawthorne was a bit of a dead end. I dropped him and moved on.
But the desire to write a series character involved in supernatural high adventure kept nagging at me.
When I was asked last year to write a long short story for a small publisher, I came up with a weird western tale called “That Damned Coyote Hill”. It was one of those stories that you just make up on the spot, with only a vague idea, and fortunately it turned out to be a pretty good story that readers seemed to respond to.
The protagonist was/is a mysterious gunslinger with a jagged cross scar on his forehead, on a mission to seek out and destroy evil wherever he finds it. Why? I didn’t know at the time, but it didn’t really matter.
I named him Hawthorne, just like the other guy. No first name, though.
The two Hawthorne’s are not the same guy. They just have the same name. What can I tell you? I like the name Hawthorne.
But this second Hawthorne proved to be much, much more fun to write about, and the reader response prompted me to consider more stories about him. Unlike the first Hawthorne, this one wasn’t conceived initially as a series character. That changed for me pretty quickly.
After a couple of false starts, I wrote a second Hawthorne story, “The Long Black Train”, which should see publication within a couple of weeks, from Beat to a Pulp Press.
I also finished a third one, “The Spider Tribe”, which—I’m almost ashamed to admit—was salvaged and cannibalized from the remains of “The Nine Pale Men”, the first adventure featuring Grey Hawthorne. If you’ve read that one, you’ll see many similarities between the two stories (am I the only one who has cannibalized his old work for a new story?)
The fact that there are three completed stories about gunslinger Hawthorne means that he’s already out-done his gentlemanly predecessor. And I’m halfway through a fourth story about him right now.
Still not sick of writing about him. That’s a good sign, I think.
“That Damned Coyote Hill” will be released this week on e-readers from David Cranmer’s fantastic Beat to a Pulp, to be followed shortly by “The Long Black Train”. “The Spider Tribe” will be along later, and, hopefully, even more horror/western stories of Hawthorne II.