My first few books published with Wilde City Press are from my Venom Valley Series, and they land firmly in the paranormal genre. When I was planning the series, I decided I really wanted to place the story in an unusual setting, so even before the movie Cowboys & Aliens came out, I had started writing the first book, now titled Cowboys & Vampires, and set the story in the American Old West. I wanted to explore how a vampire–an old school, evil, blood-thirsty brand of vampire, not the redemption seeking good guys of today–could swoop into a small prairie town and quietly start turning its residents into vampires. I drew from the likes of the original Dracula and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for inspiration. I knew I wanted the classic vampire scenario–three bites to turn a person, holy items, silver, and garlic can wound or ward off, and a stake through the heart and exposure to sunlight can kill–but I also wanted a new way to combat the vampire threat.
That was when Josh Stanton popped into my head. To me Josh is the main character of the series. When Cowboys & Vampires opens we are inside Josh’s head as he’s discovering the body of someone close to him. But he’s reacting to the presence of the body in a physical way that’s much different than grief. Along with his despair over the loss of someone he loves, Josh feels a power thrumming through him, manifested by building heat. And then the body begins to move. It slowly, painfully gets to its feet and lurches toward him, hungry for flesh.
To this end, I took the classic zombie and made it more of tool for a necromancer. Josh is just discovering this power inside him, and he spends a good deal of the first book learning how to use this power to fight the growing vampire threat, for, as he and his best friend since childhood–and, to date, unrequited love interest–Dex Wells discover later on, where lead bullets cannot penetrate vampire skin and bone, zombie teeth and nails can. I had this idea that only another species of the undead, for instance a zombie, can tear into another undead creature, such as a vampire. It’s my personal twist on the “rules” of the paranormal world.
So now I had a witch, Josh Stanton, a vampire, the big bad Balthazar and his evil minions, and a handful of corpses that reanimate when Josh is near. That’s a pretty full plate for any paranormal series. Throw in the hunky, deputy best friend/love interest Dex, and I was good to go.
But then I heard a new voice as I started plotting out the book, one that was–to me, at least–very unique and fascinating. It was a woman, and as Glory whispered her background in my ear, I wrote it down as fast as I could. She was half white and half Native American and she worked in the One-Eyed Rooster, the town saloon. Glory’s father had been pure-bred Apache and fell in love with her mother, a white woman from town. They married the only way possible back then for a mixed race couple, by Native American custom, and lived outside of town where Glory was conceived, born, and raised. When Glory was very young, her father took her out into the woods and called forth a spirit guardian to act as her guardian and protect her from danger. Not long after, Glory’s father was taken by a group of men from town and hung for lying with a white woman.
Now in her early twenties, Glory lays with the men in town for money, the only work she can find. Her one and only love is her spirit guardian, Ohanzee, who can only appear to her when Glory is in danger. Because of this, Glory is quite the risk taker, as she tries to see Ohanzee as often as possible. When the vampire Balthazar begins to prowl the halls of the One-Eyed Rooster at night, hypnotizing the other girls into inviting him into their rooms, Ohanzee’s protection keeps Glory from falling under the vampire’s spell and allows her to escape.
As if things weren’t crowded enough in the town of Belkin’s Pass, I now had a Native American spirit to throw into the mix. But the story grew inside my head to an epic showdown between living men, protective spirits, the risen undead, and the vampire threat. I don’t think it would be as fulfilling if one of these creature types were left out, the story really works because they are all included. The characters themselves have been defined by the paranormal elements around and within them, and, should one or two of these elements suddenly be removed, they may have to learn how to be themselves in a totally different context. It’s interesting times out there in Belkin’s Pass, just on the edge of Venom Valley and not too far from the US Army post of Fort Emmerick. Very interesting times.
And always remember, where there are a few paranormal creatures, another one or two may be lurking in the shadows nearby, eager to tell tales of his own.
Here’s a blurb from the first book of the series, Cowboys & Vampires – Venom Valley Book One, now available at Wilde City Press in all major e-book formats, and at most e-book retailers. Enjoy!
“Josh!” Dex knelt in front of him and grabbed his shoulders. He gave him a rough shake, but Josh could not focus. All he knew, all he could feel, was the heated rush of his blood.
Dex pulled Josh against him, hugging him against his chest. As if through a wall of rushing sound, Josh heard the crack of Dex’s Colt and felt the jump of the man’s shoulder as Dex held off the wolves. Then Dex had his hands under Josh’s arms and was dragging him across the hard packed sand and dirt to the mine entrance. Josh tried to speak, tried to warn Dex not to get any closer, but his tongue was hot and swollen behind his teeth.
Josh felt himself spin around, and then Dex sat him up against the weathered and rotting boards that covered the old mine entrance. Cool, dank air washed over him, bringing with it a hint of things left too long in the damp. The cool air chilled his fevered, sweaty skin and Josh shivered. His senses returned a little, and he watched Dex kneeling before him, protecting him, waving the burning branch at the advancing wolves as he shouted. Dex was saving his bullets, Josh knew, for when the wolves were close enough for them to feel their breath.
Soft, skittering sounds whispered out of the mine. Shuffling, crackling sounds that sent a familiar chill through him. Someone, something, was moving behind the rotting boards that covered the mine entrance. Josh slowly turned his head, the rugged, splintered surface of the board beneath catching in his sweat-damp hair.
A face with skin dry as parchment hovered just on the other side of a gap in the boards. Rotted teeth stuck up from brown gums and a milky white eye rolled to meet Josh’s gaze. The thing let out a rank gasp of air as it moaned and stuck skeletal fingers through the narrow gap, the tips brushing along Josh’s cheek.
He gave a start, the touch of the thing snapping him from his daze even as the heat in his body burned hotter. More fingers from other walking corpses reached out for him. Josh pushed away from the boards that covered the mine, letting out a shout of fear. As he watched, a number of bone thin hands gripped the edges of the boards and pulled them apart, making a path for the walking dead miners to shuffle out toward them.
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