Lon Williams

Yeehaw! Saddle up and slip on your bolo tie. I’m currently reading ‘Weird Westerns’, a collection of shorts by Lon Williams. Haven’t heard of him? Neither had I. I took a punt and it paid off.

His protagonist, Deputy Marshal Lee Winters encounters all manner of odd characters and ghosts as he goes between towns in search of ‘monkeys’, the outlaws and badmen he’s been tasked with capturing. Six-shooters, stubborn horses, prospectors, coach robbers, stinging dust and an indifferent moon, all the traits of a decent western.

As a pulp writer, Lon Williams stuck to his formula throughout each story and reading them all at once is certainly not what the author had in mind. Indeed, it becomes repetitive, since the plot, characters and even crisis points are all derived from the same spot.

Isn’t that a bit lazy?

I don’t think laziness has anything to do with it. As a pulp writer, he would have a limited number of words he could squeeze into his space on a magazine. He wouldn’t have the run-in time to introduce a whole world with a great cast of characters with deep and complex backgrounds. Over the course of many stories, we do get to see different sides of the two main characters, Winters and Bogannon, and we’re introduced to more of his resourceful wife Myra, but each book can’t spend the time to dwell on that.

Does that ruin the story? No. Not at all. In fact I find it refreshing that the author can give a solid context, along with a sense of suspense, space and loneliness in only a few short lines. From the opening of “The Dancing Trees”:

“Deputy Marshal Lee Winter, nervous and confused from his recent skirmish with death, got caught by darkness in that cliff-bound, ghostly region southeast of Forlorn Gap significantly known and dreaded as Plutonia. A full, late-winter moon – which had risen soon after nightfall – cast weird patterns of light and shadow not at all conducive to peace of mind. Winters rode in hazy, constant dread and started fearfully at every new sound. When reality and fancy merged and became inseparable, he was scared even more, for then imagination alone limited the creation of bogies.”

What’s interesting is that, even though they are short, each book is self contained, detailing everything that needs detailing, and nothing more. What’s even more interesting is that, by sticking to his structure, he’s able to fit more into the limited words he has available. The constants – Bogannon and his Saloon, Winters and his reluctant, almost cowardly attitude, Alkali Flats, Forlorn Gap – are there to prop up the ‘juicy’ bits.

Winters can encounter ghosts on his trek and we don’t have to ask why. Strange men can trick others and lead them to the slaughter and we don’t need to know their background. Barkeep Bogannon does the psychological profiling, Myra does the historical and Winters takes care of the physical – and often metaphysical – side of things.

In many respects, his stories contain elements of Grimm-style fairy tales, of accepting or ignoring advice given by strangers, of outsmarting the bad-guys using their own trickery, of quests in return for rewards. So while the stories often repeat themselves, in the broader sense, they are entertaining and fresh in the details.

Kind of like watching a weekly episode Batman.

Anyway, I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but it got me wondering where the word ‘Weird’ came into things.

Weird?

Exactly. The stories are fanciful, and there are ghosts and stuff, but is that really weird? So I went and had a poke around. I never knew it, but there’s a whole genre of ‘Weird’ fiction and it’s one of which I am a fan.

Of course the question is, what is it? Isn’t it something like Speculative Fiction? No, it’s not, since that’s an umbrella term and it’s what encompasses Weird Fiction. It also encompasses larger groups like Fantasy and Sci Fi and the like, so no, it’s not.

So what is it, then? Hold your horses. I had to do some more poking around to get a clear answer, and here’s what I’ve found, pardner.

Weird Fiction is a style of writing that brings together stark reality – Deputy Marshal Lee Winters, his horse Cannon Ball, Forlorn Gap, the cliffs and ranges – and meta-physical elements – Insanity, prescience, ghosts, vivid hallucinations, gods, myths and legends – and stirs them in a pot and presents them in a ‘just-so’ context.

You find icky bits, gruesome bits, uncomfortable bits, macabre, even horrific bits, but they are secondary to the main article.

So, who else is a ‘Weird’ author? First name off the list of who’s who is none other than Edgar Allen Poe. Death, murder, insanity, meta-physics coupled with science, every-day and reality. He’s not quite horror, and he’s not fantasy, and he’s not murder-mystery.

Next name that has to be mentioned is Lovecraft. His stories, often narrated from the first person, start off naturally enough, with explorations and adventuring, ships and locomotives. Rifles and trees. Normal things. The next thing you find is that there is an underlying, sinister tone that comes from a deity or latent monsters that leave clues as to their nature.

Throw into that mix Franz Kafka, Robert Howard, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and you get a feel for the genre. It’s a hard one to pin down, borrowing elements from here and there, but it certainly is its own thing.

Now, when someone asks me what genre I enjoy, I’m confident to hitch my pants up, drop my thumbs into my belt and say, “Weird”.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Swamp-Beast Egg

Still with the creepy, Halloween theme, we have the Swamp-Beast Egg.

It was going to be Cthulu, but everyone knows that Cthulu has tentacles. If you want to get all Lovecraftian, it could possibly be a Deep-One Egg. I’ve also heard it being called a Dragon-Egg. Whatever.

Preparation

Find a fat, rounded egg, so that Swampy looks like he’s had a healthy fish diet. Get boggly eyes (makes everything cuter) and some impasto medium.

Undercoat as described earlier, let it dry and then paint in a solid green. If you’re after a light-hearted beast, go for a bright, vivid green. A dark green will be decidedly moodier. As for his tummy, settle for a muddy mustard of river-bed brown. Two solid coats of that and let Swampy dry.

Get some white paint and mix it into some impasto. Using a slim paintbrush, scoop and roll it onto the egg about midway to form the teeth. Think goofy, clumsy canines jutting upwards.

Meet 'Swamps', the Deep-One
Meet ‘Swamps’, the Deep-One

Clean your brush out, let it dry, then mix red with the impasto. Scoop and roll a thick slab to form the lower lip, draping it across the teeth. Build it up and sculpt it with a knife or spatula if you need to.

As always, just ask for diagrams if you need them.

While you’ve got a blob of red impasto sitting there doing nothing, dip your paintbrush in and tease to form spikes on the back. Continue all the way down the back. If the spikes fall over, tease them back up again. They’ll hold when they’re dry.

Finishing

Let it dry, then mix some green in the impasto and build the lower portion of the mouth, and some eyebrows above where the eye will be. Thick, heavy eyebrows give an impression of brutishness, so be moderate if you want a goofy, rather than ugly or scary egg.

Stick on the eyes and let it dry: big and close for cute, small and wide for piggy.

When it’s all dry, pick up a fine brush, mix a different shade of green and make a succession of ‘scales’, little U shapes in rows, all the way around. This is the most time consuming part, so make sure you’ve got a coffee handy, especially if you’re doing a batch. You are doing this in batches, right? Everyone is going to want one!

Alright, so keep going around and around, making little U’s, alternative the position on each row. You can afford to get thicker at the back, where his scales would be larger, but as you near his face, scatter the scales and make them finer and smaller.

Mix some lighter tummy colour, and, using a fine brush, make horizontal lines.

Some spikes or fins on the back, plenty of scales.
Some spikes or fins on the back, plenty of scales.

Let it dry. Get some shiny gloss (he’s a swamp beast, he’s wet) and slather it all over him, going for at least two coats. I’m yet to find a proper egg cup for him, but that’s ok: He’s one of those eggs that likes to be picked up and held.Mini Jeztyr Logo