AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tobias S. Buckell

Where did the idea for “Sundown” come from?

An offhand comment while watching the TV show Justified. The main character mentions the relatively unknown history of early black US Marshals. I became curious and began to dig around for their stories, and each one was rather fascinating. When John approached me to write a story for this anthology, I knew I wanted to incorporate one of these figures.

Sundown” touches on quite a bit of American history. What research did you do for the story, and did you have an interest in post-Reconstruction Era America before working on this story?

I have some passing familiarity with the era, as I’m interested in the history of race relations in the US, and in particular the mythology versus reality of post-slavery landscape in the South. The textbooks are very flawed in regards to the real historical work that has been done, and pop culture further bends history. For example, did you know that a significant percentage of cowboys in the Old West were Latino or black (a quarter were black, one third Latino, making over fifty percent of cowboys out West non-white)? White cowboys were fewer on the ground than Hollywood and literature would have you believe. The whole cowboy image and role comes from the Mexican vaquero (where we get the word buckaroo from), and predates the Wild West mythos and were there when the white cowboys showed up.

Willie Kennard is a fictitious character, but is he based on anyone you found in your researches?

Willie Kennard is a real character that I borrowed for literature. While the events of my story are made up, everything he talks about in regards to his personal history are real and taken from accounts of rather stunned and eventually begrudgingly admiring people from the town in which he became a Marshal. His story should be known throughout the country, as he’s pretty much a real life, black Clint Eastwood character that rode into town mysteriously, and then cleaned it up via amazing gun play and general bad ass courage despite everyone basically rooting for him to die in the process because he was black. The fact that a movie hasn’t been made about him is a travesty.

When Willie finds himself in a tough spot, he’s assisted by Frederick Douglass. What made you decide to put Frederick Douglass into the story, as opposed to some other historical person?

Frederick Douglass is honored by the US Marshals by being in their museum as the first African American Marshal, appointed by Rutherford B. Hayes. His life story is truly amazing and I’ve always been an admirer. When I realized he’d been a Marshal, I really wanted to have him help Willie out and give Douglass this sort of secret history for the story.

The town of Duffy gets attacked by alien creatures who take over the bodies of the humans living there. I find the combination of Weird West and aliens to be one of limitless entertainment. What are the challenges of giving plausibility (or at least suspension of disbelief) to a story like this?

Plausibility can come from the details of the land, and the historical time that you interject to help readers place it. But ultimately it is a bit of a yarn, so it’s the characters and the conversation that count, so you hope you’re providing enough fun and interesting people that readers come along for the ride. No matter how wild.

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?

The mythology of the Old West, even though I implicitly critiqued it earlier, looms large. Politicians wear cowboy hats to identify themselves as part of the myth. Americans’ obsession with guns probably stems in part from the mythology of the gunfights. So even when working in another genre, which is science fiction and fantasy, the elements of Westerns are still there as things that are interesting to play with: just like dragons and castles are elements in cultural history that many writers want to play with.

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

I really enjoyed Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Taking the mythology and separating it out in time and space allowed him to really poke and prod at the pieces of it and do something very interesting.