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Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Interview with

John M. Whalen


Writer John M. Whalen granted an interview to The Western Online. His recently released book, Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto, a Horror Western is available on Amazon.

The Western Online: Tell us a little about your book, Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. What inspired it?

John M. Whalen: There were several inspirations for this novel. First is my love of the westerns of Howard Hawks, especially the three westerns he did with John Wayne in the 1960s, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, and Rio Lobo, all written by Leigh Brackett. I wanted to add another "Rio" to the list. Originally the title of my novel was going to be Rio Muerto, but then I thought it was important to make sure readers knew this wasn't a traditional western novel. Red River, another Hawks western was also an influence. In fact, one of the characters, "Taos" Pat Leary, is loosely based on Cherry Valance in Red River.

The second main inspiration for the book was the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Corbucci directed Django with Franco Nero as a strange gunslinger who tramps across the west dragging a coffin behind him. In Django's case, there was a machine gun in the coffin. In Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto, Monster Hunter Mordecai Slate travels with a coffin as well. He doesn't drag it. He's carrying it in a wagon and there isn't a machine gun inside it. What's inside it is something else entirely. And I don't want to give too much of the plot away by telling what it is at this point.

A third influence was John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and Prince of Darkness. Carpenter acknowledges his love of Hawk's films and builds upon the Hawks idea of a hero well-suited to meet the challenge presented by the villain and characters trapped in an isolated location.

TWO: Who is Mordecai Slate and what is his motivation in the story? Is there anyone that he resembles and why?

JMW: Mordecai Slate is a bounty killer, or more specifically a monster hunter who at the time of this story has been plying his trade for some number of years. He hunts down and kills whatever monster-- whatever dark creature of the night-- somebody is willing to pay bounty on. In this story he's hunting a vampire in the New Mexico Territory in 1888. He's been hired by Don Pedro Sanchez, a wealthy land owner to track down the vampire who ravished his daughter. But this job is unusual because Don Pedro wants Slate to take him alive and bring him back so he can do the killing himself.

As for Slate's motivation, we're told that Slate's only purpose is to earn the bounty placed on the heads of the creatures he hunts. "Hunting monsters is my business," he tells Don Pedro. He tells the don he doesn't think it's such a good idea for him to do the killing. "You're too full of hate," he tells him. He says there's no room for emotion in this business. Too much hate can get you killed.

I wanted to differentiate Slate from all the other monster hunters out there, and there are quite a few these days. Nearly all of them follow the same pattern. Their motivation is usually revenge. Some trauma happened to them earlier in life that set them out on a path of hate and vengeance. Even Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter followed that idea-- the vampire killed his mother. I thought it would be interesting to create a character that doesn't follow that pattern. I based him more on the type of character in the Leone Westerns, particularly Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and Lee Van Cleef's Col. Mortimer, and Sartana. The motivation is, at least on the surface, purely mercenary. He's a professional and he prides himself on maintaining a certain code of professionalism. Of course, as the story progresses, you get the idea that there is actually something deeper that's driving him. But again, I didn't want to write a "somebody took my rubber ducky away when I was a kid" scene, so it's deliberately left a little vague. The attitude is more hard-boiled, more in line with pulp fiction of the past. Heroes weren't such crybabies back then.

And speaking of Lee Van Cleef, more than one person who has read the book and seen the cover, has remarked that Slate bears a striking resemblance to Van Cleef. That was deliberate. I worked with artist Laura Givens to give him that appearance, although in some respects I think he also resembles Richard Boone as Paladin in Have Gun Will Travel, which is fine with me. I did this because when I was in Europe a few years ago I noticed how popular westerns are over there. You find racks with pulp-style magazine containing complete novels and on the covers are artists renderings of characters who bear striking resemblances to Clint Walker, Hugh O'Brien, Eastwood, Jason Robards (from Once Upon a Time in the West) and many others. I thought it would be cool to follow that tradition.

TWO: What kind of weapons does Slate favor in his line of work?

JMW: Slate is a walking arsenal. His primary weapon is a modified Colt 1855 Revolver Rifle. A rifle with a cylinder instead of a bolt or lever. It fired like a six gun. This gun was not one of Sam Colt's great successes, in that the paper cartridges it used leaked power, causing chain fire. Slate came across it during his service in the Union Army as a young man during the Civil War. He liked the guns rapid-fire ability. When he returned home to his uncle's ranch near Ft. Collins, Colo., after the war he worked with a local gunsmith, Amos Nelson, and modified it, replacing the cylinder with one from a Colt Peacemaker, and made it capable of shooting steel jacketed .45s. As time went on he got Nelson to rebuild the gun so it could hold a 12-round cylinder. Instead of lead bullets, of course, the gun fires silver cartridges, hand-rubbed with garlic. He always carries pre-loaded cylinders that snap in and out easily, so that he can quickly reload. In addition to the carbine he's got a Colt Peacemaker .45, a double-barreled Remington Derringer, and a silver plated stiletto that he carries in his boot.


TWO: There are many different aspects of Horror that can be blended with the Western. Why pick vampires?

JMW: Slate is an equal opportunity Monster Hunter. He's been in seven stories, so far, each one in pursuit of a different kind of monster. This time it happens to be vampires.

TWO: Do you consider the vampire theme to be overdone in recent times? How is your book a unique telling of a vampire themed story?

JMW: It is over used, but not as much as zombies, I'd have to say. I personally thought vampires jumped the shark when they started to sparkle, but that's just me. What I wanted to do here was present the old, traditional VAMPIRES ARE EVIL CREATURES idea. And yet even here there's a difference. As the story goes on you get deeper into how and why Dax and Kord Manion, the vampires in this story, became what they are you almost feel a sense of pity for them. You can at least understand why they do what they do. In the end you realize, yeah, vampires are evil, but they may not have a corner on the market.

TWO: The Western has been blended with other genres ever since its earliest days. What classic writers in do you consider to have been the best at that? Are there any that have influenced you?

JMW: I really couldn't tell you. I haven't read any of them. People say you have to read all you can in the genre that you want to write in. I've never done that. I find myself tying to imitate rather than create after reading something that's particularly well-written. I think maybe that's why there's so much similarity and repetition in the books you see on the stands. Everybody's trying to hop on one set of coat tails or another. Not a popular opinion, I know, but that's where I stand.

TWO: You are no stranger to combining the Western with other genres. Why do that as opposed to write a traditional Western?

JMW: Mainly, I just find it more interesting to mix genres. My first book, Jack Brand, was a combination of western and space opera. I know it ticks off lovers of traditional westerns, and maybe someday I'll tackle a straight Jack Schaeffer-type book, not that I could ever write anything that terrific. But at this point I'm having fun mixing things up. The goal is to attract fans from both genres to read the book, thus building a bigger audience. It may be that fans of neither genre will be satisfied, but sales of the book so far indicate that they are.

TWO: How would you encourage a fan of the traditional Western to give Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto a try?

JMW: I'd say if you like any of what I've been talking about here, give it a shot. It's a book with a very strong plot, plenty of action, horror (but not the overly gory kind -- I think even young readers would be able to read it with no problem). But most of all it's about the characters. There are eight main characters in this novel, and if I've done my job right, you're going to care about each and every one of them, and will want to find out how they all come out in the end. Despite the action and the horror, it's essentially a story with a heart. And it goes beyond genre in the sense that it basically questions most of our assumptions about monsters and the people who hunt them.

TWO:Are you planning to write a sequel? What are you currently working on?

JMW: Vampire Siege is a complete stand alone novel, but it's obvious in the way the book ends that there could definitely be more to the story. I'm waiting to see what the reaction is. I have plans for a sequel if there's a demand for it.

TWO:Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JMW: I don't think so, except to say that this book took two years to get into print, or e-print, if that's a word. It went through two publishers who wanted to do it, but there were disagreements with one over how it should end that ended up with it being cancelled. Another was very supportive, but I wanted to get this book out before Halloween this year and his schedule couldn't accommodate that. So I decided to self-publish under the Flying W Press imprimatur. So far it's been a thrilling ride. The book has been the No. 1 Hot New Kindle Release in Horror and Western and No. 3 in the Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers, Horror and Western. If your readers are looking for some reading material appropriate to the season, I encourage them to give it a try. And even after Halloween. Vampires are out there, all year round. There's never a slow season for Mordecai Slate.


John M. Whalen is the author of Jack Brand a spacewestern that was published in 2010. He has penned dozens of short stories that have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. His latest tales include "The Red Heart of Dolfar" in the Artifacts & Relics: Extreme Sorcery anthology from Heathen Oracle Press, and "The Shape of a Cage" in Use Enough Gun," the third volum in the Legends of the Monster Hunter series from Emby Press. This tale is the latest short story featuring Mordecai Slate, the central character of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. For more info check out his blog. The Flying W Press is also on Facebook.


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