Thursday, February 28, 2013


Yesterday on Facebook I mentioned that the subjects that most interest me are: books, music, movies, history, philosophy and science. It's very likely that, if we aren't discussing one of those things, I'll get pretty bored within a few minutes.

That's not to say other things aren't interesting, to some degree. I often enjoy other people's personal anecdotes, depending on their story-telling skill level. One of the greatest story-tellers I ever knew was a girl named Dallas Browning-- one of my best friends, really, back when I lived in Memphis. Man, that girl could tell a story. A simple incident in her life would turn into a crazy, Faulkner-ian saga, complete with supporting characters, subplots, and subtext.

But let's face it, most of us don't have that kind of skill in oral story-telling, and very often the tales we spout grow tedious pretty quickly.

Most subjects do.

Here are some things I NEVER really want to talk about:

-Cars, dirt bikes, mopeds, and anything with an engine.
-Sports. Sorry, sports fans.
-Water heaters. And, you know, related.
-Computers. Glad I have one, don't wanna talk about them.
-Celebrities. As much as I love movies, I don't give a single fuck about the people who star in them.
-Your physical ailments. Sorry if you're feeling poorly, but unless it's life-threatening, please just say, "Fine," when I ask how you're doing.
-Reality TV.
-Your spirituality. Yes, your personal relationship with the Divine is boring as fuck.
-Your alcohol consumption and/or drug usage. Growned-up people bragging about how wasted they got last night is not only boring, it's kinda pathetic.

So there's my list. What bores you to death? And if you say "Heath Lowrance", I will hunt you down.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weird Westerns

I wrote the original version of this piece for Katy O'Dowd's blog, about a year or so ago. Here's an edited, expanded version.

You know who Robert E. Howard is, right? That crazy Texan who wrote the Conan stories, back in the ‘20’s and early ‘30’s? Yeah, of course you do. What the hell kind of fantasy/speculative fiction fan would you be if you didn’t know that? A damn poor one, that’s what kind. I really love REH. Always have. But you know, he wrote a LOT more than just Conan stories. In about a 10 year span (before he put a bullet in his own head) he wrote about 800 stories, for a wide variety of genre magazines of the time. Heroic fantasy like Conan or Solomon Kane, historical adventure, humor, boxing stories, horror… and westerns. REH’s westerns were phenomenal. Some of his best work. And they generally fall into three different catagories: comic westerns (like the crazy tall tales of Breckinridge Elkins) straight westerns (like the grimly unforgettable Vultures of Whapeton) and the occasional Weird Western, like Horror from the Mound.  Ah, Horror from the Mound… what a story.

It’s set in the American Southwest that REH knew so well, but it’s infused with such an unsettling mood, shot through with raw fear and strangeness and the supernatural. With that story, REH more or less invented the weird western. Not that it was called ‘weird western’ at the time. When some new genetic variation on genre first appears, it doesn’t usually have a name. That happens years, sometimes decades later. To the reading public, Horror from the Mound was simply a highly effective horror story that happened to take place in the American West. But it was a weird western, make no mistake, and probably the very first one.

I’m using the term ‘weird western’ in a very specific sense here, mind you. Technically, any story that takes place in the Old West of mythology but also includes an element of terror, oddness, sci-fi, or speculative fiction could be called a weird western. Using a broader definition, you could call Ambrose Bierce’s Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge a weird western. And why not? It’s a decidedly strange story. But for my purposes, a weird western is a western with not just an odd element, but specifically a horror element. That leaves out Bierce. It also leaves out the Western sci-fi serial starring Gene Autrey called  The Phantom Empire (although just barely). …and leaves us with… not much.

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of many weird westerns after that, until Joe R. Lansdale wrote Dead in the West, a terrific novella about an itinerant gun-slinging preacher who faces down a horde of zombies in a small Western town, and more or less re-invented the weird western. Dead in the West will be available again soon in an edition called Deadman’s Road, packaged with its follow-up story, so keep an eye open for it.

Lansdale kept the weird western alive after that with his take on the DC Comics character Jonah Hex. Hex had been around since the early ‘70’s, making his first appearance in a comic called All-Star Western. All-Star became — aptly enough — Weird Western, although to be honest there wasn’t much weird about the stories. Lansdale changed that when he wrote the Jonah Hex mini-series Two-Gun Mojo, which found scarred bounty hunter Hex facing down a maniacal medicine man, a sinister freak show, and the reanimated corpse of Wild Bill Hickok. It was funny, scary, profane, and pure genius.

He followed that mini-series with two more about Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such (which paid homage, sort of, to the Phantom Empire serial mentioned earlier) and Shadows West. A little later, Lansdale would give the same horror treatment to a Lone Ranger story for Topps Comics.
Lansdale opened the floodgates, and in the years since the weird western has existed as a not-so-commercially viable genre. These days, right or wrong, it’s more often considered a sub-genre of the steampunk movement.

Some other Weird Westerns in recent years:

Mad Amos, by Alan Dean Foster
A Book of Tongues, by Gemma Files
Territory, by Emma Bull
Those Who Went Remain There Still, by Cherie Priest
Dead Man’s Hand, by Nancy Collins
The Buntline Special, by Mike Resnick
The Devil Draws Two, by David B. Riley
A Pack of Wolves, by Eric S. Brown
Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of Machines, by Mark Rapacz

I haven’t read all of these, so I can’t attest to the quality, but it’s good to know, at least, that the genre is thriving in its own small way.

There are lots of anthologies, as well, like:

Razored Saddles
Skull Full of Spurs
Fist Full of Dead Guys
How the West was Weird
A Fistful of Horrors

On the big screen, most commercially successful or higher profile stabs at weird western tend to be of the broader definition, anyway. Wild Wild West, for instance. Or Cowboys and Aliens. The majority of horror-oriented Weird Westerns are direct-to-video type fare, like Grim Prairie Stories, The Quick and the Undead, Gallowwalker, Stage Ghost, and the monumentally awful BloodRayne 2. But once in a while, a really good horror-western will pop up, like the criminally under-rated The Burrowers.

My own series of short weird western tales featuring the mysterious gun-slinger Hawthorne is doing much better than I ever would have expected on Amazon and Smashwords. If you’ve never read a weird western before, would I be out of line in suggesting that the Hawthorne stories might be a good place to start? After that, I highly recommend REH. You can find his weird western tales in the collection The Black Stranger, along with many of his other great tales of horror, and his western collection, End of the Trail.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Looking Them in the Eyes

I used to say that my eye injury when I was three years old never had any serious impact on my life. But now I'm not so sure about that. Since my eye surgery, I've had reason to re-consider, and I think maybe it HAS affected my life, in very subtle ways.

All of our interactions with other living creatures-- human and animal-- begin with the eyes, right? Avoid eye contact with an aggressive dog, they say, unless you want your face chewed off. Talking to humans, if you maintain eye contact you take charge of the situation. Looking someone in the eyes gives the impression of confidence and strength, whether you're trying to intimidate or charm.

We think of people who don't look you in the eye as weak or untrustworthy or insecure or shifty. And even though our eyes are just organs connected to our brain, we still use them in gauging a person's attractiveness-- we're captivated by "nice eyes", and even though eyes are (technically) incapable in and of themselves of displaying emotion, we convince ourselves that we can see love there, or anger, or pain.

All of this is probably pretty obvious to most of you, those of you who have always had "normal" eyes. You probably take it for granted. But I've noticed since my surgery, and since the swelling has gone down and the redness has begun to dissipate, people seem to be reacting to me differently, more positively. And I think it's because I'm actually looking them in the eyes, with BOTH of mine.

You can tell yourself differently all you want but you'd be less than honest if you didn't admit that a big part of how you feel about yourself is tied up in how other people react to you. I'm not going to get into a big thing about self-esteem and self-doubt (two states of being that a lot of writers and artists tend to experience in extremes), but I will say that a huge chunk of it depends on how able you are to look them in the eye. It's how you get the job, how you snag the pretty girl (or guy, depending on your preference...), how you win the argument. It's all in the eyes.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

LEE: coming from Crime Factory

The new anthology featuring stories about Man's Man Lee Marvin is coming from Crime Factory Publications on March 3.

I'm pleased to have a story in this one, along with Eric Beetner, Scott Phillips, Johnny Shaw, Roger Smith and lots of others besides.

And added bonus: that same day, Crime Factory will be releasing the new novella by the one-of-a-kind Jed Ayres, "Fierce Bitches". So save your pennies.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Update on Getting a Knife to the Eyeball

Making this quick because it's hard to see and my head hurts. But the surgery went off this morning without a hitch. They knocked me out and took the scalpel or laser beam or whatever it was to my eye and fixed that muscle, pulling the eye back over where it belongs.

I've been sleeping most of the day, but a little while ago I finally got up and checked it out in the mirror. It's creepy-looking. All the white of the eye is completely red, and I keep leaking tears of blood, just like a James Bond villain. And if I move with the eye open, the entire world separates in two and I get disoriented. But all that will pass within a couple or three days, they tell me.

Anyway. Going back to bed. Just popped on here to share. Hope everyone is well. I should be back up and around and writing steadily again shortly.

Oh, and thank you, my lovely wife Kim, and thank you Ron, for all your help today. Cheers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Letter to a Jack-Ass

Last year I wrote a very positive review on Amazon of a Kindle short I really enjoyed. Didn't think much about the review after that. But a few days ago I happened to be looking over the stuff I'd written there and came across a comment about my review:

"I find it hard to believe you or anyone can get this fired up over 20 pages of writing... I think we have another paid reviewer here or a publishers pogue, family member etc... this gushy kind of review which sounds like you didnt read the 20 pages to begin with only makes the value of reviews on amazon less and less."

The first emotion I felt upon reading this comment was... rage. Oh, it pissed me off. I thought about responding, but wasn't sure what I wanted to say. Even after I'd formed some words about it in my mind, I realized that responding directly would be a fruitless endeavor. Does the world really need another thread on Amazon with two guys insulting each other? Nah.

And hey, it occurred to me... I have a blog, yeah? I can vent my annoyance there. Right on.

Dear Jack-ass,

I thank you for your unsolicited review of my review. It's gratifying to know that my enjoyment of the short story in question is of such interest to you. I can only assume you didn't like the story? I'm uncertain, because you've left no review yourself, good or bad, only this slightly mealy-mouthed reply to my review.

But I see from looking over the reviews you HAVE done here that you are committed almost exclusively to the old "one-star" approach. I wonder, do you actually hate everything you read THAT much? Or are the one-star reviews meant to illustrate your incorruptibility as a reviewer? Your high, high standards?

I have to wonder why you bother to read anything at all, if 98% of it displeases you so much.

Regardless, I'm sure the publishing world and the writers you sneer and "meh" at so dismissively are glad you exist. After all, the world desperately needs more people whose sole function is to pass uninformed judgement. You perform a valuable service, sir, and don't let anyone else tell you differently. Writers, in particular, need solid evidence that the world is full of assholes ready to savage their work for no very good reason.

I should explain something about the way I do "reviews". Since I'm not a professional reviewer, I'm at liberty to approach them in any way I see fit. So this is my approach: if I don't like a book, I don't mention it. Nope, I don't say a word about it. Why? Because I'm not cool with the idea of tearing down the hard work of a writer (something you clearly have no problem with, despite the fact that your reviews are all uninformative, snarky, and very poorly written; I mean no insult by this, I just thought you should know).

On the other hand, I tend to be highly enthusiastic about books I like. Hence my positive comments on this Kindle short you are so annoyed I liked. I actually get excited about fun stories. This may seem odd to such a cynical and sophisticated mind as yours, I understand that.

Anyway, I suppose I should wrap this missive up. Thank you again for making sure your pompousness and insulting arrogance insinuated its way into my world, if only for a moment. Make no mistake, sir, that I'd very much like to punch you in the teeth.

Fuck you sincerely,
Heath Lowrance