Friday, 4 March 2011

Guest article: researching a Western horror detective novel

Today we have a guest post from fellow midlist author Lincoln Crisler. Crisler’s debut novella, WILD, has just come out from Damnation Books. He has also authored two short story collections, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia, with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at

WILD is my third published book, but my first long-form story. Of course, I couldn’t pick something easy. No, I had to write a Western-style horror/detective novella based on a real missing-persons case from the Old West, and set it in the actual geographic location. While deployed to the Middle East. Granted, this was the easiest I’ve ever had it of my three deployments, but beer is easier to get than a fully-stocked reference library!

Obviously, the Internet was my friend. Wikipedia in particular saved my ass; it was, in fact, how I discovered the story of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain. When the idea of writing a detective-horror-western popped into my head, that’s all I started with. Only after my friends and readers selected it from a pair of options did I search for historical inspiration. I found the information on Mexican mythology and ritual spellcraft on a couple of other sites. I also had to look for a few Spanish words (such as tesquino, a period-specific form of local beer, and several swear words).

The rest of my research consisted entirely of making sure I had my geography in order. This should have been a little more difficult than it was, but luckily the real-life story I fell in love with just happened to take place in the El Paso, Texas area. I’d been living in El Paso since 2007 and was, in fact, deployed from Fort Bliss when I wrote WILD. I still had to get a feel for Mesilla and Las Cruces, and particularly for that exact time period, but the Internet helped again, and my own knowledge informed my descriptions of the landscape. I had originally envisioned the magician’s lair in El Paso’s Franklin Mountains, but after research and consideration, the Organ Mountains were a better choice, for instance (even though only about ten miles separate the two ranges!).

The only part of my research not to bear fruit was my attempt to procure an intern from a local college; someone interested in writing and/or history, whose professor would be willing to give them extra credit for a couple hours of work. A little fact-checking and fine-tuning of my Spanish, more or less. I tried putting this together when I got home from Qatar (I finished drafting WILD a week before coming home) and I honestly don’t remember why it fell through, but I just don’t have much luck with the academic types. Phooey. Even then, the Force was with me. When the manuscript was accepted, I was able to have the book copy-edited by a fellow author and El Paso resident, Tim Marquitz.

Researching the history and culture behind WILD was easily as enjoyable an experience as writing the book itself, and probably consumed at least as much time by itself. I read a long time ago that more work goes into a book than the reader ever knows, and I’m glad I got a chance to share some of that with you today. Working within a historical framework can definitely be as satisfying as making everything up from scratch!

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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