Happy Halloween! Well, almost. Today’s guest is Edward Erdelac, author of the Merkabah Rider series. He is the unchallenged champion in the category of ‘Weird Westerns’ and whose short stories are in three anthologies currently being reviewed for nomination for a 2013 Bram Stoker Award. He is a fantastic author, among the best I’ve read. Here is a link to my review on Goodreads.
JE- Hi Edward, thanks for taking the time for being interviewed.
EE- Thanks inviting me.
1) I just finished the first of the Merkabah Rider books. Would you tell us a little about it?
Merkabah Rider is a weird western series about a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers (merkabah riders) to the Great Old Ones of the Lovecraftian Mythos. The Rider is a hero in the spaghetti western vein, though not nearly as invulnerable. Members of his sect assume titles to hide their names from malevolent entities, and the Rider clinks around (because under his clothes he’s covered in dozens of talismans and wards) in Hasidic garb with a pair of blue glass spectacles mystically embossed with the Solomonic seals that allow him to see into the Yenne Velt, or spirit world. He employs a silver and gold chased Volcanic pistol likewise covered in sigils and bodyguards against demons and dybbukim. People I tell the concept to usually think it’s gonna be some smarmy pun-ridden satire, but nope, it’s all played completely straight.
There are three books in the series, Tales Of A High Planes Drifter, The Mensch With No Name, and Have Glyphs Will Travel, with a fourth and final installment, Once Upon A Time In The Weird West, in the works. Although they are novels, they’re presented as collections of novella length episodes, meant to evoke the old Lancer/Zebra paperback collections of Robert E. Howard pulp stories.
While there’s plenty of weirdness, bordellos of succubi, half-demon outlaws, a monstrous animated windmill, I think the best weird westerns don’t let the weirdness outdo the western, so in the course of the series the Rider meets up with real personages from history, like Doc Holliday, Dave Mather, Josephine Marcus, Geronimo, etc. Although the Rider’s personal outlook is Judeo-centric, drawing on a lot of Jewish folklore and Midrashic/Kabbalistic beliefs, I throw in stuff from all over the map. Chinese folklore, Christian, Native American, African, Haitian, Mexican, and other works of fiction I enjoy, all wrapped up with a writhing, nameless Lovecraftian bow. I like to read about culture clashes, the way (especially on the frontier) that people that were worlds apart related to each other (or didn’t), and I try to bring that to Merkabah Rider.
2) What about Star Wars and your part in that galaxy?
If there’s a bright center to the Star Wars universe, my part is the one that it’s furthest from. Back in 2008 StarWars.com ran a spectacular feature called What’s The Story? Every month they would post an image of an obscure character from a frame of one of the Star Wars films. Sometimes these were blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em characters who literally walked or rolled past the camera for a half a second, sometimes they were crowd scene characters, or characters from spin-off media. The contest was open to absolutely anybody. You basically submitted a backstory, which they then posted and entered into the Lucas archives as canon, in Leland Chee’s ultra-comprehensive internal Holocron database. I wound up writing the winning entries for three months, including the last one, for a drug addicted bounty hunter named Bane Malar (who became a nifty action figure).
This led to me landing my first professional writing job. I did a story for the official website called Fists of Ion. It was about an up and coming alien (a Calian, a race not seen since the Marvel Comics run of Star Wars if you want to know) prizefighter named Lobar Aybock (a tuckerization of Rocky Balboa) who gets recruited by New Republic Intelligence to help bring down a corrupt Imperial governor on a bleak, acid rain washed industrial world. It was basically a chance to write two of my favorite genres – Star Wars and pulpy fight stories. So it’s everything you’d ever want to know about (shock) boxing in a Galaxy Far Far Away. You can actually still read it here, for free -
3) Who are your favorite authors and/or books?
Robert E. Howard is my all-time favorite writer, followed by Richard Matheson and Joe R. Lansdale, but funny enough, the first two non-comic books I ever read that convinced me reading (and writing) was amazing was Jack London’s Call Of The Wild (Sister Marie read it to the class – and the ending, which I won’t spoil, just floored me) and Simon Hawke’s adaptation of Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. I read the latter in one sitting and was absolutely mesmerized by its brutality and realness (well, for a novelization about an indestructible hockey mask wearing maniac anyway). I’m not even particularly fond of the movies, and have no idea if it would read as well as it did when I was in seventh grade, but I cannot tell a lie. I was blown away by those books. Since then, I would rate Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Howard’s Hour Of The Dragon, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany as my all-time favorites. Outside of the aforementioned, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Mickey Spillane, Patrick O’Brian, Forrest Carter, Alan Moore, H.P Lovecraft, E.R. Burroughs, Ambrose Bierce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and William Blake are the guys whose work I return to again and again.
4) I know what scares me; what scares you?
Well I don’t know what scares you! Tell me!
For me, firstly, it’s my kids. Not that they in themselves terrify me (although being bit in the calf by a toddler when you’re not expecting it is pretty startling), but as they grow older, the thought that anything untoward might happen to them. This ties directly into the other big one, death. The (to me) slight possibility of oblivion, or total non-existence. I never once gave it a thought until I had kids. I was always assured I would continue in some way, and I still mostly am, but every once in awhile I stay up nights thinking about it. Dying before I see my kids grow up, or at least before I know they’ll be OK. Great White Sharks are the only critter on earth that gives me pause, but I haven’t yet had to face that one. Demonic possession movies still creep me out – mainly when they do that weird non-diagetic voice thing. Little girls who sound like Barry White. Maybe tight spaces. I’m not scared of being trapped in an elevator or a closet, but lock me in a trunk where I can’t push the seat down and get out, I start to sweat. And that brings me full circle to death again. Poe’s The Premature Burial terrified me as a kid.
This scares me. It is why my wife and I don’t have kids.
5) Where is the coolest place (either temperature-wise, or in terms of hipness) you’ve ever been here on Earth? Anyplace off Earth? (You never know unless you ask.)
On earth, I spent two weeks in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. It was heavenly. The ocean was clear and the temperature of bathwater, the women were beautiful, of every type and shade, and friendly, the liquor was blinding (and laced, mysteriously, with tortoise balls), the food was amazing, and I was introduced to a variety of Spanish language bands I never would’ve given a chance otherwise – Plastalina Mosh chief among them. They’re like the Beastie Boys if they came from Monterrey, Mexico. Even experienced a rain shower in a tropical forest. Amazing. Close runner up is StarvedRockState Park in Illinois, where I was married in a blizzard.
Off the earth – If, like the painter in Leaf By Niggle (or the people in Matheson’s Summerland), you get to exist in a place of your own imagining once you shuffle off your mortal coil, I might choose to spend my cosmic retirement in Middle Earth. Probably in Mithlond or maybe The Shire. But I’d vacation all over the place –Barsoom, Tatooine, maybe Narnia and definitely that sexy planet from Star Trek. You know the one. I haven’t yet found a place in my own imagination I’d go to (there’s always horrible stuff going down in those places), so I hope the rent isn’t prohibitive in any of these alternate realms. But all these places are dear to me, and they’re vivid enough to make me feel like I’ve been to them.
6) This is a slippery question, be careful. Tell us one thing about yourself that no one would guess by just meeting you.
My author buddy and sometime editor Tim Marquitz, whom you should call The Exquisite Marquis as I do, has told me it’s that I like classic hip hop and gangsta (I hate spelling it that way, but it’s a two edged sword. You either come off as a jerk or a poser if you do it one way or the other, and I won’t say ‘G-style.’ Ah crap. I just said it.) rap music. He says it’s odd, considering I’m one of the whitest, squarest looking dudes he knows. I wrote, directed, and produced an indie western movie back in 2009, Meaner Than Hell, and I kept one of the character’s saddlebags. So when I go to a convention I usually have those over my shoulder Jack Burton style, to carry my purchases and submission packets and stuff. So yeah, Tim says I look like a dork. But anyway, I came of age when hip hop was actually good (A Tribe Called Quest, GangStarr, Scarface, Eric B. And Rakim, etc), so I’m a fan, though I don’t wear sports caps with the little secret sticker on the underside of the brim, or baggy pants or any of that b-boy stuff. Whew, that IS a slippery slope…
7) The final Rider book is coming out soon, are there any new ‘Weird Westerns’ planned or is this where the sun sets?
I’ve got a new book out already from JournalStone Publishing, Terovolas, which is about Abraham Van Helsing’s 1891 sojourn in Texas. Right after the events depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula the professor suffered a mental breakdown stemming from his encounter with the count’s vampire brides. After his release, he volunteered to bear the remains of Quincey Morris back to the Morris family ranch, and had a series of weird encounters involving wolf worshippers there. I’ve been thinking about maybe knocking out a wuxia western fantasy next, as I love old Chang Cheh kung fu movies, and Chinese folklore, like Journey To The West, stuff like that. Somewhere far down the trail I might revisit the Rider’s early years (his career in the War, his adventure with Misquamacus, and his Texas exploits), but only if people are interested or if I run out of other ideas.
Aside from THAT, yeah I think that part of my career might bid a fond farewell. But it’s OK, there are always other stories to tell.
The following is an excerpt from the second in the Merkabah Rider series, Have Glyphs, Will Travel.
“Dirty Dave is a lout, but he won’t shirk from a fight,” Doc warned. “Looking like you do, and going in there with just your pecker in your hand, you might set that bull to charging.”
“I’ve settled a charging bull or two in my time,” the Rider said. “Besides, we need him alive and talking.”
“Your call,” Doc said.
The Rider pushed through the doors and walked into the cigar smoke and chatter.
The bar was polished wood and there was a big mirror behind it. Gaming tables were full about the place.
The Rider went to the bar and laid his right hand flat on it.
Dirty Dave Rudabaugh was belly to the bar, a few feet to his left, wide gun belt sagging with the weight of his pistol, big calloused pig knuckle hands grasping bottle and glass. He had a bulldog face and double chin papered with rough stubble, a single thick fold in the back of his neck. He sported a luxuriant down-swept mustache below a lumpy pear nose. The graying hair on his head was cropped short and his meaty face seemed to squeeze at the bases of his big red ears. He carried a lot of extra weight, but he was solid as a boar, a bully born.
“This glass looks like you wiped it with your dickhead, Tetchy,” he rumbled, though he was the dirtiest one in the place.
He set it down and with a flick of his thick finger, sent it smashing onto the floor behind the bar.
Tetchy the bartender stooped to clean up the mess.
“Bring me another one.”
“You gonna pay to replace that one, Dirty?” Tetchy muttered.
“What?” said Dirty, his pale blue eyes bright in his mean face.
Tetchy rose, busted glass rattling in a dustpan and paled at Dirty’s look.
He dipped slightly and set another glass in front of Dirty, then did the same for the Rider.
“What’ll you have?” he asked.
The Rider closed his fingers around the shot glass.
“I’ll have whatever that fat pig Dave Rudabaugh is having,” the Rider said loud and clear.
The talk in the bar stopped and he heard creaking chairs and leather as bodies turned in their seats.
Dirty turned too, his lips pinched, eyes glaring. There was a confused expression on his face for a half a second as Dirty took in the Rider, then he blinked and straightened, his hand dropping to his side.
The Rider pitched the shot glass at him.
It struck Dirty in the upper lip with such force it exploded, rocking his head back and knocking his hat off, sending blood, glass, and a chip off his eye tooth flying in all directions.
In another minute Doc was there. He smashed Dirty’s groping hand with the barrel of his own .45, then followed up with a knee to his big belly that left the man spluttering and groaning.
Doc looked at the Rider with open admiration.
“I never thought I’d meet a man faster with a whiskey glass than I was.”