AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Alan Dean Foster

What was the process in writing this tale in the universe of Mad Amos Malone and how much consideration to previous stories — or autonomy — did you come into the narrative with?

I prefer that each Mad Amos story stand alone, so that a reader coming to the character and situation can read any of the stories without having to have read any of the others.  This one came about, as many of the Mad Amos stories have, from my encountering a real piece of the Old West.  Many of the Mad Amos tales utilize actual occurrences from American history.  It’s up to the reader to discover what is real and what is invented.  This is true of “Holy Jingle”.

Could you delve into how you approached dialect for “Holy Jingle”? What were the challenges of a story in which most characters — if not all — spoke in a strong dialect?  

It’s not often you get to do research for a fantasy story, as opposed to science-fiction.  I know how Mad Amos talks because he’s appeared in so many tales.  For other characters, I try to get the accents for their heritage and time correct from reading period accounts.  Irishmen of the late 19th-century, to use an example from another Mad Amos tale, would likely speak somewhat differently from an Irishman of today.  But I don’t go overboard with it: the story has to be easily comprehensible to the contemporary reader.

There is a strong blend of tongue in cheek humor and a serious theme in “Holy Jingle.” How did you blend the two so effectively, and ensure that the persona of Mad Amos remained true to form across all other variations?  

When you have a character like Mad Amos, whom one is never quite sure about, and who is drunk and stinking like old bear grease one minute and then acting as if he could be Gandalf’s old school chum the next, it’s very easy to inject humor into the story.  A good deal of this comes from the fact that while Amos deals with serious matters, he never takes himself or much else too seriously. MOBY DICK is a serious book, but it’s also full of humor.  That’s something I’ve often tried to do in much of my writing.

Mad Amos Malone has seen an amazing response. Why do you think a hero such as Mad Amos — along with the likes of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill — resonates so well with an audience?

Again, the element of humor in all three characters is important.  It humanizes them.  The trouble with too many superheroes is that they have no sense of humor.  They’re imposing, but grim.  American folklore contains a good deal more integral humor than what was imported from Europe, and that makes it more accessible to the audience.  You want your hero to protect you from evil, but it’s even better if you think you can share a beer with them afterward.

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

There is a familiarity to the subgenre that is almost automatic, since everyone has grown up conversant with the Old West.  It doesn’t require study to understand the background or tropes.  You don’t have to explain what a six-gun or a stagecoach is anymore than you have to explain to a reader of SF what a blaster or an extraterrestrial are.

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

There is much disagreement over whether it qualifies, but I happen to be very fond of the Clint Eastwood picture PALE RIDER.  You’re never quite sure if it’s a weird western or not, which is one of its pleasures.