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Published on Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Interview

with Kenneth Mark Hoover

 

Kenneth Mark Hoover is a science fiction and fantasy writer who writes Westerns set in his fictional town of Haxan, New Mexico. The Western Online owes Mark a debt of gratitude. Three of the first five stories we published were his Haxan stories. A complete background on the Haxan universe can be found on his website.


   

The Western Online: Can you give us some background on the Haxan universe? What inspired it?

    Kenneth Mark Hoover: The Gunsmoke radio series inspired me. I have always loved old time radio and when I discovered Gunsmoke I immediately fell in love. I recognized the main writer, John Meston, was trying to deconstruct the mythology that has taken root in American culture and show the west, and the people who inhabited it, in a serious and adult light.

    Like any writer I am always open to inspiration. I decided I wanted to blend western elements with dark fantasy. Thus, Haxan was born. I like the world because I can literally write any story I want. I can do straight up westerns or blend genres, go straight romance or horror or whatever. The only thing I stay away from is science fiction. That's for other stories, not Haxan. But Haxan gives me an enormous amount of freedom. It's my own little corner of the universe where I can play with matches. What writer wouldn't like that?

TWO: Haxan is a mix of Western and dark fantasy. The Western seems to lend itself well toward blending with other genres. Why do you think that is?

    KMH: I think many new writers are discovering that the western genre is a good template for telling new and different stories. Westerns have long had elements of mystery, romance, horror, etc. But now it's coming in a very big way because writers see this as untapped ground. There's a lot of work to be done here, and an enormous amount of potential.

   

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns with a dark fantasy twist?

    KMH: Too often the west is little more than a backdrop in most stories. Consider what you often see in the Weird West sub-category. These stories have supernatural themes in a western setting, sure. But in WW stories the western background is superfluous. They could just as easily take place during the Renaissance because the horror elements, or whatever, drive the narrative. The west itself, in these stories, is nothing more than a throwaway gesture. I have no interest in that.

    Therefore, I make a conscious effort to approach this problem from a different direction. Yes, I sometimes elevate supernatural or horror elements, but I use them to examine, in a harsh and unforgiving light, what the culture of the west was truly all about.

    The way I structure my stories, they can only take place in the west, because they are ABOUT the west. You can't say that for some cross-genre stories that throw in western trappings as place furniture. In those stories you have the requisite vampire or werewolf or robot or whatever. That's tired and old. You will never see that in Haxan. In Haxan, the monsters are the worst kind of all - they are human.

TWO: For you, what defines the term "Western"?

    KMH: My definition is pretty broad. Any story that takes place west of the Mississippi from the first appearance of Native Americans to the beginning of World War I. I view 1914 as a bifurcating historical event. To me, it signaled, among other things, the death rattle of the Old West. It's hard to get past that barrier. You can write about the west after WWI, but you can't escape modernity. At least, I can't.

TWO: What is your favorite Western (movie or novel)? Why?

    KMH: Once Upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone ranks pretty high with me. I like the feel and scope of that movie. I also lean toward Wyatt Earp because I view Costner's vision as more historically accurate, with less emphasis on Hollywood-inspired mythology and trappings.

    Regarding novels, the best western I have ever read, hands down, is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, followed by Anna Lee Waldo's Sacajawea. The scope of Waldo's book, coupled with the beautiful writing and her exacting research, is nothing short of amazing. The western genre really isn't that deep or broad. If you want to read through it you can exhaust it fairly quick. But there's no doubt in my mind McCarthy's Blood Meridian is head and shoulders above everything else I've read. It's that good.

TWO: What Western movies, television shows or novels influenced you the most? Why and in what ways?

    KMH: Well, first and foremost we go back to the Gunsmoke radio series. I have yet to see Deadwood, though I am looking forward to it. When I first began to write westerns I came upon Ed Gorman's Wolf Moon. That influenced me. Gorman is definitely not interested in perpetuating stereotype. Then again, he never does in any of his fiction, which is why he's such a strong writer.

    As a boy I watched television westerns with my father. None of them had any impact on my growth as a writer. I do like the story-telling potential in Have Gun - Will Travel and Richard Boone's portrayal. For television, that's not a bad western, if you have to pick one. The rest are mostly cartoons, though. They have no true relation to what the Old West was about.

TWO: There have been several new Western movies recently and even a popular video game, Red Dead Redemption. Do you believe the Western is seeing a bit of a resurgence? Why or why not? If yes, what role do you believe sites like The Western Online play in that resurgence.

    KMH: There appears to be something of a resurgence, but it's on life support. I think this will change if the genre keeps welcoming new voices. The Old West as portrayed on Saturday morning television, and historically in Hollywood, has had its run. It has seeped deeply into American culture, but so much of it is just downright wrong. It's time to put those rose-colored spectacles aside and broaden this genre. You can only do that by inviting writers and ideas hitherto not considered "acceptable" by the old guard. They can keep doing their thing. That's fine. But we're not going to be quiet and we're not going away. We're going to channel John Meston and deconstruct the myths and stereotypes, and we're going to continue to show the Old West, warts and all. The Western Online provides a venue for that. You include different voices and broadening perspectives. I can't begin to tell you how important, and how necessary, that is to keep this genre alive.

TWO: What writers have had the biggest impact on you?

    KMH: As far as westerns go, John Meston, without any doubt. His story telling ability and the clarity of his writing is phenomenal. I also like Ed Gorman and Loren D. Estleman. I see them working in the same vein as Meston, and toward much the same purpose. In the cross-genre arena I like Jennifer Brozek as my contemporary. I don't see anyone touching her right now. For someone who is really pushing the envelope and is taking incredible risks and daring, both with sexuality and context, Gemma Files comes to mind.

TWO:Do you think the recent rise of the ebook and self publishing is good for the Western?

    KMH: I think so and here's why. I know I harp on this a lot, but the western genre simply has to grow up. We see signs of that happening. I ding Hollywood, but I must admit it appears the Western has achieved some semblance of adulthood and storytelling power on film. I want to see the same thing happen on the literary end because that's where I work.

TWO:What changes have you noticed in the Western genre in the past decade as opposed to the early days of the Western and where do you see the genre going in the future?

    KMH: The biggest changes are the new voices and new ideas. There is, of course, the expected backlash over that, but this is being ignored, as it should be.

    The Old West was peopled by millions with differing backgrounds, races, cultures and ideologies. The Old West wasn't just one thing. From a writer's perspective it is self-limiting to think only in terms of a handful of voices. A good writer gives voice to the voiceless. He, or she, brings their story forward and weaves it into the tapestry. That is the Old West. The true west. That's what we do as writers, as storytellers. We weave voices into stories and those stories help grow and nurture and perpetuate the genre we love.

    As for the future, I have little patience for people, writers and publishers alike, who think the western genre is dead, or will ever die. It's too deeply ingrained into American culture. But it needs to grow. And venues like The Western Online, and writers who contribute their stories, are here to make sure that happens.

 

    Kenneth Mark Hoover is a professional writer working and living in Dallas. He has sold over 50 short stories and articles. He is a member of SFWA and HWA, and his first novel was published by Five Star Press in 2005. He is currently working on a series of dark fantasy westerns set in the mythical town of Haxan, New Mexico, circa 1874. You can find out more about the world of Haxan and and Mr. Hoover's fiction by visiting kennethmarkhoover.com.

 

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