Thursday, September 29, 2011


Scott Gese has a passion for those old Westerns of the Fifties and writes them himself.  As a high school kid, I used to love them very much.  I’ve speculated in the past that they were “stand-down stories,” meant to suggest that strong men can take charge of situations in tumultuous times like the American frontier (or war) without ALWAYS being violent.  That is, gunmen need to have some kind of internalized guidance about when violence is justified and how to overcome reflexes acquired in war.  Part of their appeal is their concentration on moral issues. particularly when one is the authorized and responsible gunman in question.   (A lot of cop and detective pulps have the same issues.)
One version is “High Noon,” which many take to be about courage but is also (like “The Quiet Man”) about where the line is when defending home and orderly society.  Another version is “Shane,” when the man who restores order is forever forbidden to stay and enjoy that order in a home of his own.  And “The Searchers,” about a man who can’t give up revenge and retribution.  The iconic cowboy series was “Gunsmoke,” but I was also a devotee of “Cheyenne,” “Rawhide,” “Wagon Train,” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  Part of the appeal was that they were about strong men one could depend on, but also there was always that dilemma of means against ends.  

Scott has a website,, where he prints short stories in this mode as well as streaming old movies and offering merchandise and recipes.  There’s even a “friends” feature like Facebook.  Ever the resourceful one, now he’s got a special “imprint” on Amazon.  This is what he sent me:
This is an exclusive invitation asking you to join with Rope and Wire, Lobo Books and many fine western authors as we continue moving the western genre back into the forefront, by offering our newest generation of readers a preview of some of the genres’ finest authors through our newest venue, ePulps.
Rope and Wire has recently listed on Amazon, its first volume in a brand new series of eBooks. We are calling these books, ePulps, as with the first volume, these new ePulps will be an electronic version of the old pulp westerns which were popular in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The series is called “Rope and Wire Western Short Stories”.  Here is a link to give you a good idea of what volume 1, and future ePulps will look like.      Each future volume will include a variety of authors. 
Rope and Wire is currently soliciting, by invitation only, a select group of western authors who may be interested in submitting a short story for one of our upcoming volumes in this series.
In the Sixties and Seventies the children of veterans turned to debunking all that horsefeathers stuff.  They wanted to show that what the frontier was really about was greed and exploitation.  I never did develop a taste for “Deadwood,” which argued for means, the only ends being survival and money. That generation's sympathies were with the Native Americans who were steamrolled and starved out of the way.  This is where I signed on. 

They were also after the taboo of the times against any talk about sex or using the f-word.  In reversing that taboo, they created an anti-Western that was almost exclusively about f-ing and cursing.  (Corman McCarthy gave it a nice historical elocution without giving up his Southern Gothic death sensibility.)  So Scott says NO sex or cussing.  (I’m writing a story for Scott about a guy who is only kissed by his horse.)
I consider it honorable and legitimate to set arbitrary rules.  The difference between Scott Gese and the Manhattan publishers is that Scott is operating on principle, a virtuous goal.  Manhattan publishers want what they think will sell.  (The Deadwood principle -- which has ironically killed them.  It wasn’t just ebooks.)  Maybe Scott’s rules will work, and maybe not.  My suspicion is that his sweet spot will be profitable to the extent that it’s shared by others, a demographic that might be disappearing or might be renewed by immigration from places where sensibilities remain equivalent to American Fifties-think.  Scott is up-front about what he is doing.  I think he is too busy to sit around speculating about it, so I’ll just help him out.
The question is about violence.  Some of the stories are packed with traumas inflicted on the hero that are near impossible for a real person to survive, but he does.  No one grieves for anyone righteously killed.  Righteously doesn’t refer to the method -- only the justification.  The writer who really has the formula down is Tom Sheehan, who is a Bostonian veteran of the Korean War.  The name of the lawman is always colorful:  Cawdy Bellrock, Jonathon Digsby, Chadsey Brenault Cushing, Link Colburn, Burt Hollister.  A town is like a set for a Western “all the way from beautiful and sultry Ma Taylor’s Suitable Emporium of Taste at one end of the town to puckish Noah Cunningham’s Mortuary of the True Stillness at the other end.”  Tom can turn these stories out two and three a day and still manage to include a snapper surprise on the end.
This is very much like the nostalgic BBC serieses about small English villages, say, “Lark Rising to Candleford” or the CBC version, “Anne of Green Gables,” or even “Northern Exposure.”  Stories of small-town known characters who are invaded by strangers threatening to change the status quo.  It’s a story that happens again and again, everywhere.  And the situation often DOES make someone turn violent.   
There are also similarities with Steam Punk, which is Alternative History Sci-Fi in which electronics were never discovered, so that computers are steam-driven and considerable attention is devoted to devices and how they evolved.  The corseted women and other main elements of Victorian society remain.
So how has our understanding of violence evolved?  Let alone our idea of what a woman should be like?  Is a suicide bomber acting on principle a moral agent?  Or is the contract soldier working as a rogue outside the law who identifies and kills that bomber acting with sufficiently virtuous ends to justify his means?  And then the one that stumps us all:  the internet pilot who guides a predator drone into a house in a foreign country where it blows up an entire family.  What would Matt Dillon say?

NOTE:  makes a cogent counterpoint to what I'm trying to say.  

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