The historical details in “The Man With No Heart” are cleverly woven and add authenticity to the story. The pistol, its caliber bullets, the war. How much research did you do before writing? Or did you write first, fact-check later?

Growing up, my father instilled a love of American history in me. Family vacations were trips to Civil War and Revolutionary battlefields, camping on road trips Out West, exploring Native American ruins. My past has come up in a lot of my stories in surprising ways—I based the new planet in my third novel, Shades of Earth, on the Mesa Verde ruins, my experiences with roughing it have helped me develop a fantasy novel, etc. It was really refreshing to be able to write a story based directly on my experiences and the stuff I learned growing up without translating it into a whole new world!

I loved the blend of steampunk and wild west in your story. Without giving too much away, what made you choose those special spiders as your speculative element?

I have always loved spiders—maybe not in my home, but I have a heathy respect for spiders, and they’ve become sort of serendipitous symbols for me. And, of course, spiders are hugely important characters in mythology all around the world—most famously, perhaps, in the West African Anansi, but the Hopi have a Spider Woman, sometimes depicted as Spider Grandmother, connected with creation and communication between the gods and the people.

Ray is a relatable protagonist on a quest for answers. Where did the inspiration for him come from? Did his concept come to you first, or did he emerge from the story?

I wanted Ray Malcolm (named after my favorite space cowboy, Mal Reynolds) to be an anti-stereotype. In many ways the short man he talks to is what I see often in spaghetti westerns—racist, short-tempered, a total black-hat. Ray’s not exactly a white-hat, and by the end of the story, you find out that he’s far stranger than anyone else, but I wanted him to be the most real and most relatable character, despite of—or perhaps because of—his strange background.

I really enjoyed the location choice for your piece: Arizona, Grand Canyon. Have you seen the site, and did that inspire the piece for you? Or did you create the mythology of the canyon whole cloth?

I have been to the Grand Canyon a couple of times, but the most influential visit was in high school, when I went on a back-packing trip from Western NC to California and back, a giant loop around America. In the Grand Canyon, we hiked about halfway down and then back up, and the experience was, frankly, exhausting. But even though I was the last one out of the canyon (some of my friends beating me by hours!), there was a sort of exhilaration in the experience, a triumph.

While I do have a personal experience with the Grand Canyon, though, the setting came from my research. The Hopi religion says that Spider Grandmother created the world at the sipapu, which happens to be the canyon. I took the idea a little further and in a different direction, but the root of it came from the pre-existing mythology.

The ending leaves open possibilities for more of Ray and his explorations. Do you have other stories in this universe in store for us?

Not yet, but I never say never!

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?

I think people just love exploration and the discovery of new things. We always want to expand, to see what else is out there. That’s why fantasy and sci fi exist, and that’s why the settlers kept going further and further west. There’s a sort of parallel in the fear and excitement of exploring the western frontier that’s mimicked in science fiction that makes it a perfect match. Blending the two genres just doubles the fun.

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

Without question, Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, as well as the expanded worlds in the comics. The influence those works have had on every aspect of my writing is simply immeasurable. They took the best of both worlds and created something entirely new, and they proved to me that the heart of the story will shine through no matter what.

But I do also quite like another steampunk western with mechanical spiders—although it’s totally campy and ridiculous, Wild Wild West starring Will Smith is just so much fun.