It’s Nevada, 1869, and 15-year-old Jim and his injured horse, Promise, are struggling to make it across the 40-Mile Desert. They’re rescued by Mutt, Golgotha’s Native American deputy, who encourages Jim to settle in his town. And it’s a good thing he agrees, because along with the sheriff and a few other key residents, they are about to fight a great battle to save the Earth, heaven, and hell—one whose seeds were planted when the world was first created.
Rod Belcher has written a completely entertaining (and teen-friendly) genre-blending combination of Western, horror, fantasy, and good old coming-of-age (not to mention a nice dose of humor).
And it seems we haven’t heard the last of Golgotha.
Why did you use 15-year-old Jim as the entry-point for your novel?
The original idea was to use the sheriff as my main character and have him cross the 40-Mile on his way to Golgotha—it was kind of his origin story and his introduction to Golgotha. The chapters I tried like that really didn’t work out well and didn’t flow. So I scrapped that idea. When I began working on the novel again, I came up with the idea of Jim Negrey and his father’s eye and how that related to the bigger story. Jim started off as much less of a developed character and ended up becoming the kind of glue that helps make all these disparate characters and plots come together. I have a 16-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, and I see a lot of them both in Jim Negrey—they are amazing people and I see so many great life-affirming qualities in them, and I tried to give those youthful eyes to Jim. Jim sees the world with fresh eyes, and he is basically the kind of person I think most of us would like to be like—trusting, kind, loyal, and brave. When I see those qualities in my children, I am so very proud of them.
In this novel, you combine many different creation myths, as well as religious and folklore traditions—Chinese, Native American, Mormon, Lilith, and Biblical among them. Why creation mythology?
The Big Bad in Golgotha has an origin that is intrinsically connected with creation mythology. I think it’s strange that I’ve had a few folks seemingly hung up on me using Christian imagery. Each mythology that is explored in Six-Gun has its own take on what the Wurm is, where it comes from, and what it represents.Death and cessation of being are universal concepts—all things tend to entropy. I think it’s fascinating to see how similar the fundamental principles of human existence are, regardless of the trappings or the cultural bias. It is the unique variations on the same universal stories (creation, end of the world, the great flood myths, etc.) that make them so vibrant and fascinating.
One of the things about this novel that will appeal to teens is the clever combination of genres. What inspired this mash-up? What do you count as some of your most important influences, or favorite titles or authors?
I love Grant Morrison, a Scottish author who does a lot with comics. He has a massive imagination full of amazing ideas. He is a huge influence on me. I enjoy Roger Zelazny very much—I’d LOVE to play in his Amber universe. By the way, The Chronicles of Amber would make an amazing film series, and I have had an idea for years of how to do a YA version of Amber. I’d say a few other influences on Six-Gun include Robert Parker, Ambrose Bierce (who may make an appearance in a future Golgotha novel), Larry McMurtry, Tony Hillerman, Mary Shelley, Stephen King, and Alan Moore.
The mash-up is really just kind of how I think and write. I write what I think of as fun or cool. If I get an idea and it comes from two very different places, I see no problem with putting those things side by side, regardless of their genre. I guess I’m just lucky that style seems to work for me! I think humor is a natural offshoot of horror, a natural defense against it. What happens in any scary movie after the moment of shock or terror? Laughter rolls through the theater. Humor is mankind’s greatest defense against the terrors the universe shows us.
Why did you set the story in the Wild West?
I loved cowboys as a kid. I used to play at being them all the time. I wanted to be Jim West on The Wild, Wild West, and I wanted to be the Rifleman. I think the Western embodies the human desire for freedom and self-determination, to shake off the yoke of oppressive society and rules and regulations. We secretly yearn for a little barbarism—just a little, not anarchy and the terror it embraces, but just a way of life where you control your own destiny and you don’t always have someone looking over your shoulder. I chose the Wild West because I loved the idea of the incongruity of all this insane stuff happening in this kind of cliché-filled traditional Western setting. It makes for humor, and it also makes for seeing something old in a new way, and that is at the heart of good writing, in my opinion.
I found the way you managed the large battle scenes in the last quarter of the book particularly interesting, with the action shifting abruptly from character to character or confrontation to confrontation.
I tend to “see” things very visually as I write. I try to convey what I see to my readers. I have heard that I produce very vivid pictures for the reader, and I’m very glad I can do that for some folks. I see the action like a movie or a play. The real challenge is to not get too bogged down in the details of the description, because I am not working in a visual medium—I’m working with telepathy, of a sort, and I need to balance my view of what I see with the pacing and rhythm of the words to make it accurate, vivid, and exciting to the reader. It helps to try to see the story as music and be mindful of the beat, the pacing, and the emotional impact the ‘song’ you are writing has on the listener (reader).
You once ran a comics bookstore. Have you considered featuring Golgotha and its inhabitants in a graphic novel format? Or are you considering a sequel to The Six-Gun Tarot?
I have had a few people tell me they could see the novel as a graphic novel. That gets back to the level of description I try to provide, I think. I’d love to see that happen—I‘d love to write comics. If I had my choice of artists for The Six-Gun Tarot, it would be Ben Templesmith. I love his work.
I am at work on a sequel to The Six-Gun Tarot. I have a lot of tales I could still write in the Golgotha universe, and I hope I get chance to tell them. The working title of the new Golgotha book I’m working on is The 32 Killers of Golgotha. It is full of the weird and the cool.
See the SLJ review at Adult Books 4 Teens.
This article was featured in School Library Journal's SLJTeen enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month for free.