Sirens Call Publications recently released the debut collection from Maynard Blackoak titled Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West. In an effort to learn a little more about Maynard and his writing, we sat down with him and asked him a few probing questions…
Sirens Call Publications: Welcome Maynard! What made you decide to become a writer?
Maynard Blackoak: It goes back to honors English class my junior year in high school. Creative writing was one area I seemed to excel. In fact, my teacher encouraged me to pursue writing for a living. I laughed it off as a pipe dream and didn’t write at all for twenty years. Then one day, when I was feeling burned out and tired of my career path, I picked up writing as a creative outlet. I had a few things published here and there. About twelve years later, I decided to attempt to get paid for my writing. My first endeavor, Under the Black Oak Tree, was accepted as part of The Endlands Volume 2. It took a few more years before I sold another story, but I stuck with it.
SCP: What is Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West about?
Maynard: Eerie Trails is my attempt to combine two genres I’ve always enjoyed—westerns and horror. It’s a collection of stories I hope gives the reader a taste of the Wild West with a side of ghosts, demons, demigods and monsters. To give it a more unique flair, I used many actual people from that period of time.
SCP: What is the one thing you’d like readers to know about Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West before they read it?
Maynard: Like I said before, there are many actual people used as characters in the stories. For instance, Dynamite Dan Clifton was an outlaw with a hefty price on his head. The bounty was so high, it influenced several people to make false claims about killing him. That’s how he earned the reputation of The Most Killed Man in the West. Another aspect of these stories, I used character names from old television westerns as minor characters in my stories to pay homage to those shows.
SCP: What is your writing process? Do you consider yourself to be a planner or a pantser?
Maynard: My process is that I have no real process. I just let the story tell itself as I write it. I come up with a general idea and let the story go where it goes. Sometimes even I am surprised by the ending.
SCP: If you could cast your favourite story in the collection, who would you choose to play your main characters?
Maynard: How about me playing the main characters? I’d like to think there’s a little of me in all of them. Well, maybe just in the scoundrels. Seriously, we’d have to raise the dead to allow me my choice of actors. Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Maureen O’Hara, Yvonne De Carlo, Ida Lupino, and Jane Russell would be my first choices. Come to think of it, Sam Elliot and Kurt Russell and the rest of the cast of Tombstone wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all.
SCP: What is the hardest challenge that you have faced as a writer?
Maynard: Writing stories that would appeal to a large audience. I know what I like, but that style seems to have gone out of favor in today’s world. I’m something of a dinosaur. I like to be challenged as much as entertained when I read, but not so much as I write.
SCP: In your opinion, what sets Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West apart from other books of the same genre?
Maynard: I don’t believe there are many books out there that combine actual elements of the old west with the supernatural. Plus, having had a little experience many years ago working cattle and a couple of times wrangling buffalo (something I hope to never do again), it gives me a something of a perspective into cowboying.
SCP: Are you reading anything right now, or have you read anything recently that is worth mentioning?
Maynard: I recently reread, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and 1984 by Orwell. Given the current political environment, I think both stories still have merit today.
SCP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite novels?
Maynard: I love the darkness of Poe and his use of obscure words, the way in which Dickens painted pictures with his words, the intellectual nature of Conan Doyle, and the way in which Hemmingway turned a phrase. Frankenstein, Dracula, War of the Worlds would be a few of my favorite novels. My favorite tales though, were the Sherlock Holmes short stores. I began reading them at ten years of age with a dictionary handy. I have loved them since.
SCP: How do you define success as a writer? Have you been successful?
Maynard: Success as a writer to me means having many people enjoy your tales. Nothing would please me more than to see groups of diverse people talking about my writing. I’d love to see thousands of likes on my Facebook author page or subscribers to my blog page. I still get excited when someone likes my page or messages me out of the blue to talk about my writing. I’d love to hear and read reviews, whether good or bad, about my work. So far, I cannot call myself a success. Maybe someday, success as I define it will come my way. Either way, I will always be excited and humbled by every person who enjoys my work.
SCP: Do you have words of wisdom about writing that you want to pass on to novelists and writers out there who are just starting out?
Maynard: Be persistent. Be thick skinned. Take the good words and the criticisms with the same enthusiasm. After all, someone took the time to read your story and was considerate enough to give you feedback.
SCP: What should readers walk away from your book knowing? How should they feel?
Maynard: I hope everyone comes away thinking they had just read something unique, well written, and entertaining. I hope they experienced a range of emotions, and maybe a few surprises. Most of all, I hope they could feel the heat of the west Texas sun, taste the dust of the cattle trail on their lips, and imagine themselves in the old west.
Thank you Maynard for taking the time to answer our questions. And now for your enjoyment, here’s an excerpt from Brethren, the first tale in Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West…
The searing heat of the blazing sun bore down on me as I slowly crawled, on my three good limbs, across the seemingly endless prairie. Sweat dripped from my filth covered, haggard face, falling onto the crisp, dry brush. Blood seeped from gunshot wounds in my side and leg. My blood soaked clothes left a trail of crimson smears on the ground behind me.
It had been several hours since my horse, water, provisions and nearly everything I owned was stolen by a trio of ruthless outlaws. The men shot and robbed me, before callously riding off, leaving me to die in a desolate stretch of lonesome prairie.
Pulling myself along the dusty ground, I felt the scythe of the grim reaper gradually ripping life from my exhausted, pain-ridden body. The odds were stacked against me as I struggled to keep moving. I knew my only chance would be to stumble across assistance, before I became just another anonymous pile of bleached bones littering the prairie.
Gazing desperately out over the mile after mile of rolling prairie grasses, there was nothing appearing on the horizon, except the cold, harsh reality of death. A sudden rush of peace came over me, like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. I began to entertain thoughts of simply laying down on the grass, giving in to the utter hopelessness of my plight. In my fractured state of mind, I could not see the dishonor in graciously bowing to defeat before a greater foe.
My decision having been made, I crawled under a large, shady maple tree to spend my final moments basking in its shadow. The slight breeze rattled its leaves, creating a tranquil melody that soothed my aches and pains into distant memory. Peace ruled over me as I leaned my back against the tree, and closed my eyes, waiting to die.
Sleep followed quickly with dreams of many faces standing over me, their sympathetic eyes gazing down on my piteous form. Perhaps it was only a dream. I have yet to determine. For the next thing I recall was awaking in a nice comfortable bed, with the beautiful face of an angel sitting in a chair at my side.
“Welcome back,” she said to me, her broad smile illuminating the room.
“Welcome back?” I inquired, my face wrinkled with confusion.
“We almost lost you several times over the last few days,” she explained, her smile fading slightly. “But Doc Jessup kept pulling you back. How was it you came to be on the prairie without a horse and two bullet holes in you? Mister… uh.”
“The name’s Wesley, Willie Wesley… And I was bushwhacked by two men who stole everything I had ‘cept the clothes on my back,” I quickly replied, wincing at the memory. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but where am I, and how in hell did I get here?”
“You’re in Brethren… in Oklahoma Territory,” she replied.
Just then, a diminutive, elderly man walked into the room. “I see our patient’s awake, Clara. Has he told you his name and what happened to him?” He asked, a grin spreading across his face as he walked over to my bed.
“Yes he has, Doc. This is Willie Wesley. He met up with some bad men out on the prairie. And right now he’s full of questions.”
“Well we’ll just have to see about giving him some answers,” Doc offered in a friendly tone, pulling back the bedding to examine my gunshot wounds.
As Doc changed the dressing on my wounds, he and Clara began revealing the circumstances of my presence there. They told me I had hobbled up to a tree at the edge of town, and collapsed. It was there that I was spotted by a handful of Brethren’s townspeople, semiconscious and babbling about dying. They carted me to Doc Jessup, who, along with Clara, had been caring for me over the last three days.
Though what they told me conflicted with my own hazy recollection of the situation, Doc explained my diminished condition rendered my memories of that day unreliable. Despite an uneasy feeling, and disregarding what my mind recalled as fact; I accepted his explanation along with the new reality of events that had been told to me.
Convalescing over the next several days, Clara and I spent countless hours talking and getting to know one another. As it turned out, we held much in common. We shared similar roots, both having been born and raised in Texas, and then gradually making our way across the Red River. Also like me, she had no living family, only her friends and neighbors in Brethren.
Being a cattle drover by trade, I never established a hometown or friendships. Since the age of fifteen, my life consisted of going from one cattle drive to another with the occasional temporary job as a ranch hand during the winter months. I had never spent sufficient time in any one place to establish ties or feel a sense of belonging. However, the more I absorbed the friendly atmosphere of Brethren, the more I began to feel a longing to be a part of a community, their community.
Not only did I begin to experience an attachment for the town and people of Brethren, so too did my feelings for Clara grow deeper. Her infectious smile could penetrate and brighten my foulest of moods. Just the simple touches of her hand on mine set my heart aflutter. The sound of her voice set my mind adrift in undreamt fantasies of life with Clara as my bride. Every moment she spent at my bedside became a precious treasure.
Once I was able to walk, Clara and I took short strolls about town. Then, as my leg grew stronger, we began venturing into the countryside, just outside of town. It was during one of those walks to a nearby stream I finally decided to divulge my feelings for her.
“I’ve got something I really need to tell you, Clara,” I stated, staring uneasily into her eyes.
She smiled, asking in a sweet voice, “What’s that, Willie?”
Living the life of a drover offered me few opportunities to meet women. Outside those who worked in the saloons and bordellos in towns along the cattle trails, women were few and far between. To be perfectly frank, the women I had met were not the type of women with whom most cowhands sought to build a lasting relationship. Consequently, professing my feelings to a woman was treading new ground for me. It felt like I was trying to climb a slippery slope with banana peels on the soles of my boots.
The pressure to put those feelings into the perfect words mounted, as I gazed into her big, beautiful, emerald green eyes. The words I sought to speak became jumbled inside my head. No matter how I tried to slog my way through the disarray of my fractured thoughts, I could only stand there in distress, feeling very much like a steer stuck in mud.
“You don’t have to say a word, Willie. I feel the same way about you,” Clara offered with a broad, understanding smile, rescuing me from my own frustration.
A feeling of relief rushed over me. She had spoken the words my bumbling mind failed to send to my paralyzed lips. What’s more, she professed having those same deep feelings for me. I pulled her into me, kissing her sweet lips. With the sound of the flowing waters and birds chirping merrily, she agreed to be my wife.
Hand in hand, we walked back to town, happily ever after sparkling in our eyes. There was an extra bounce to our step, keeping pace with the swaying of our interlocked hands. A crisp newness to the sights and sounds around us made us look upon our surroundings with more profound appreciation. Everything seemed right with the world as we reveled in our recently professed love for one another.
Back in town, we sought out Doc Jessup to tell him of our plans to wed. Clara seemed apprehensive about telling him of our intentions. I overlooked it, thinking it merely a case of her worrying over his response. Still, I confessed to finding it a little bothersome that the gleam in her eye diminished slightly.
“So you two are going to marry,” the old doctor said with a grin, looking at us over the tops of his round lenses as he sat at his desk. “I couldn’t be happier for you.”
“Thanks, Doc. And don’t you worry none. You won’t be losing your nurse. We ain’t talked about it, but I reckon me and Clara’ll be settling down here in Brethren,” I offered, nodding with a smile directed at Clara.
Doc and Clara exchanged dubious glances. Uncomfortable expressions covered their faces. The doctor’s gaze remained fixated on her, while her eyes lowered to the floor. I could tell there was a secret they shared that needed to be revealed. The air in the room became ripe with tension, as their reticent demeanors continued amid an agonizing silence. I felt a sense of dread creeping over me, wondering of the dire mystery they shared.
“Willie needs to be told, Clara,” Doc averred, breaking the uneasy hush.
“Tell me what?” I interjected, worry showing on my brow. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Before… you can be permitted to live in Brethren… so we can be together… You’ll have to complete a task,” Clara answered after a few lengthy pauses, with tears forming in her eyes…
Eerie Trails… of the Wild Weird West
In this collection of fourteen strange tales from the wild west, Cowboys and Indians face down supernatural beings of all varieties – from vampires and werewolves; to ghosts and vengeful spirits; to mythological creatures.
Saddle up cowboys and ladies alike, once the journey begins, Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West will take you down a strange and bizarre path though the old west that you’ve never been on before.
About the Author — Maynard Blackoak is a freelance writer living in the backwoods of Pawnee County, Oklahoma. He draws upon the sights of neglect and unusual sounds around him for inspiration. A bit of a recluse, he can often be found strolling through an old, forgotten cemetery or in the woods among the twisted black oaks and native elms under the light of the moon.