In “Hellfire on the High Frontier,” we meet a lawman named Morgan Gray who’s a bit down on his luck as he tracks a skinwalker and gets caught up in a mission from a stranger. Did the character or Morgan come to you first, or did you develop him after you knew the story?

This came to me in bits and pieces.  I was a big fan of Zane Grey as a teen (hence the name Morgan Gray), along with Louis L’Amour, but I’m also a fan of Magic Realism.  I live in Utah, and at first I thought about setting this in Southern Utah, but I had written a historical novel set in 1856 back in Wyoming, and I’d done a bit of hiking along the Platte River for it, visited the forts nearby, and so on.  So part of this came from that, too.

Elements of Steampunk blend well with Western fiction, but your airships take us to new heights. Without spoiling too much for readers, can you tell us where the vision for the High Frontier might have originated?

Many years ago, I was at a convention where Orson Scott Card mentioned that he wanted people to write some “Sexy Zeppelin” stories.  I didn’t come up with one at the time, and felt rather left out.  So as I began thinking about the High Frontier, I realized that maybe you had to fly there in a sexy zeppelin. . . .

There are a number of religious overtones in “Hellfire on the High Frontier,” though faith and mysticism seem to be dying out in the world you created. What about this theme of old making way for new appeals to you?

I look at technology, at the possibilities of genetic engineering, or of enhancing intelligence through technology, and I want that future.

I personally suspect that in a hundred years, we’ll have the capability of augmenting our mental capacities through various drugs, or by seeding young brains with extra stem cells.  We may have electronic interfaces that link our minds with vast amounts of information stored “in the cloud.”

When that happens, feral humans like us will be left in the dust.  In short, if everyone has an IQ of 240 or 300, the question becomes, “Will our children really be human anymore?  Or will they have evolved into something new?”  I suspect that Homo Sapiens Sapiens is about to bud off into a new branch, that evolution is about to become self-directed.

I believe that in five hundred years, our descendants won’t see us as being equals, as being human on the same level as they are.

I look forward to that future, even as I mourn what we will lose.

With the previous question in mind, there are also some interesting parallels between the clockwork gambler and a certain other anthology our fearless editor is releasing (cough, Robot Uprisings, cough) where artificial life might someday replace humankind. Do you think in some ways, “Hellfire on the High Frontier” is your steampunk-styled, Old West version of a robot uprising?

I hadn’t heard about that anthology, but it sounds suspiciously similar.

Though I greatly enjoyed Morgan Gray, I found your secondary characters so intriguing that I wonder if there might be a story for Coyote’s Shadow or the shopkeeper squaw or perhaps even the clockwork gambler. Is this the last we’ve seen of the High Frontier or from the impeccable Hellfire?

To tell the truth, I hadn’t though much about it.  The shopkeeper squaw was based upon an old Sioux woman I knew as a child.  Coyote’s Shadow was based upon a huge Indian fellow that I knew as a teen.  I really had fun with this, but I’m so involved with finishing some other novels right now, that I haven’t had time to think about writing more in this world.  But when I have fun with a tale, that usually leads me to write more in that style.

What is the appeal of “weird western” fiction? Why do writers—or you yourself—write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

This kind of story challenges our imaginations as writers, forces us to try to twist our tales into unfamiliar territories, and so the writer and the reader never quite know where the tale will go.  In short, we’re creating a sense of wonder in fields that once seemed tired and worn.

What are some of your favorite examples of weird westerns (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I have to admit that one of my favorites in this genre was Howard Waldrop’s “Night of the Cooters,” a short story which I read years ago, in which a small Texas town has to face a Martian invasion, as in the “War of the Worlds,” with bad results for the Martians.  Loved it!  But you know, those Texas writers know how to do this kind of tale right!  Seriously, though, this story has similarities with Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” too.