My reading preferences have changed over the decades. When I first began checking books out from my elementary school library, it was all Cowboy Sam, which evolved to explorers and pioneers like Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Kit Carson.

As a Baby Boomer, my tastes changed when I discovered science fiction and the Gemini Space Program. Then it was Heinlein, Andre Norton, and a host of authors who sent me in search of the stars and worlds beyond our own.

The years passed, and I discovered Texas authors, more old west by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and Clay Fischer, then mysteries and thrillers. During college I laid down my change for apocalyptic paperbacks, horror (I’m embarrassed to say I read a lot of John Saul), and fantasy (sword and sorcery).

Suffice it to say, I read what I wanted, and what appealed to me at any particular time in my evolution as a reader. When I finally decided to write that first novel, I honestly didn’t know what it was until three quarters of the way through when I realized it was a historical mystery.

Historical in the sense that the first one took place when I was a kid, back in 1964, which I reckon is history. That reminds me of when I asked the Old Man what it was like back in the Olden Days and the War, and he’d grin and tell me about growing up in the 1930s and fighting in the Pacific Theater, which was then only twenty years in the past.

How’s that for perspective.

So as a published author, I wrote mysteries for a while, before moving on contemporary thrillers set in the west, and now I’m dabbling in westerns. Why?

Well, there was that period in high school when I devoured a host of western authors who reinforced my interest in those old black and white television shows from the late 1950s and well into the 1960s.

But I’ve attempted something different after writing a couple of traditional westerns. I spun off and blended genres, reinforcing that old saw that you don’t chase what’s hot. You write what you want.

I wrote a Weird Western.

What the heck is that!!!???

Thanks for asking.

It’s a throwback to my comic book days, when I absorbed The Rawhide Kid, Weird Western Tales, Weird War, and Western Thrillers. And no, I wasn’t one of those kids that haunted comic book stores, because they didn’t exist as such when I was a kid.

Those comics I collected came off wire racks in the drugstore, or shelves in the grocery store. There was one little bookstore that popped up in our neighborhood around 1968, full of paperbacks by Mickey Spillane and Donald Hamilton, and other authors who would eventually rule the world of hardbacks, like Donald E. Westlake, Joseph Heller, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Back in the corner were the comics and a couple of cast-off chairs that I homesteaded for hours, before finally deciding to plunk down my hard-earned 12 cents for those brightly colored pages that were destined to be mine.

When I got the idea for that weird western, it came in a flash and I hammered it out in six weeks. But now I have this creative, fun, oddball of a manuscript that has yet to find a home.

Oh, I know it will, because I never, ever give up, but publishers are cautious these days, and they work closely with algorithms that reflect sales and public interest. If Idea Number 12493 works, why not publish Idea 12494?

But let’s face it, not every manuscript will see publication. All authors have those first drafts buried deep in a drawer somewhere. I have three secreted away, though one still has potential and some day I’ll dust it off, make the changes that will elevate it above a Drawer Book, and it’ll get out there.

I’m confident there’s a publisher out there who will read my weird western manuscript, leap to his or her feet and shout in appreciation. They’ll likely run around the office, hands in the air bellowing, “Thank you for this innovative work!”

But until then, I’ll keep bringing up this story of a Texas Ranger who dies at the hand of a demented medicine man and is cursed to walk the earth forever with a bit of the Comanche’s dead son lodged in the lawman’s chest.

So with that, here’s an interesting article from the Western Writers of America’s Roundup Magazine about this cross-genre idea. Happy reading!

aug20-weirdwesterns.pdf (

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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

12 thoughts on “Weirdness

  1. Rev, thanks for the introduction to this new-to-me genre. Sounds fascinating. In your capable hands, the Weird Western will find a publishing home.

  2. Interesting post, Rev. Thanks for the link to the article. I didn’t realize that westerns were getting weird. Sorry, I mean that westerns were blending in other genres. But I guess that’s happening in many other genres, too.

    If I would have known you were writing on this topic today, I would have asked you to join me yesterday in hosting a discussion on comic book inspiration. Good luck with finding a publishing home for your weird western.

    • It would have been my honor to join. Honestly, I didn’t k or I was going to write that piece until about thirty seconds after input my fingers on the keyboard.

      Thanks for your comments and encouragement!

    • Some say we should stick with one genre. But I can’t. There’s too much going on inside my busy imagination to lock myself down. Sounds like you feel the same way, too.

  3. Love this story of you reading passion into a weird western novel. I’ve read at the edges of the genre myself, after reading a number of Westerns. Weird westerns inspired my first published short story, “Dead Wife Waiting,” and two sequels, “Skinning the Sorcerer” and “Last Hex Standing.” These are actually secondary world six-guns and sorcery stories.

    I later wrote a novel, The Hardscrabble, which took the husband and wife heroes of the short stories and expanded it into a novel which didn’t quite work, so it rests in the writing trunk. I should go back and reread it now that it’s been several years.

    I know your Weird Western will find its home, sooner or later, and look forward to reading it when it’s been published.

    Thanks for all your fascinating and inspiring posts here at KZB. Hope you have a wonderful Holiday season.

  4. Interesting that you bring up this subject about a week after I watched a Truby webinar where the subject of westerns came up. The purpose of the webinar was talking about 14 genres, and how to transcend them. His notion for ‘transcending’ the western, was to take it to outer space.

    That, of course, is not a new concept, as Gene Roddenberry infamously pitched Star Trek as a wagon train to the stars (I LOVE the original Star Trek, but do not remotely compare it to a western, nor am I into sci-fi).

    I have always loved reading westerns and that’s what I desire to write—but I had a confusing experience on that. I wrote my first manuscript and pitched it as a western—because to me a western is anything set in the American West in the 19th century. But I was told my manuscript was not a ‘western’ because the protag was an Army major, not a cowboy, and that it should be classified as historical.

    Anyway, I find it interesting how different people like to explore outside their initial areas of interest whether as reader or writer. Unlike many readers and writers, I have never strayed far from my childhood reading interests, though in adulthood, I have added some mysteries and thrillers to my reading repertoire, and of course in the hey-day of Star Trek Original series paperbacks, I read a lot of those too. But as a writer, western/historical is still my gig and the farthest astray I’ve gone is to step a toe over into the early days of the 20th century to take a stab at historical mystery.

    That’s the great thing—that we can experiment as we see fit with our writing!

  5. It sounds phenomenally interesting and gave me a whole new path to explore.

    I write in the rural noir-blue collar noir genre and as I read your post it occurred to me that there was an entire collection of western pulp magazines I’d never sampled that are related in some way to the voice I keep hearing inside my head.

    As it happens the internet archive has a large collection of pulps for browsing and downloading, including western oriented stuff. The themes are very close to rural noir and I’ve no doubt that there are ideas to be found within.

    So I guess that second 2tb thumb drive is going to get used.

  6. Weird Westerns actually are a thing. The most recent ones I’ve read were by RS Belcher. My review of first one below. They tend to be dark fantasy set in the Old West. You may want to find those manuscripts.

    Another interesting Western series is “Holmes on the Range” by Steve Hockensmith where a cowboy decides to use Sherlock Holmes’ methods to solve crimes. My review below.

    THE SIX-GUN TAROT, R.S. Belcher. Dark fantasy set in the Old West. A group of people, all drawn to the mining town of Golgotha and its magic, must face a dark force that will not only destroy the town but all of Creation. The book chapters have Tarot card names, and some of the characters represent the Tarot face cards. All the characters are well-drawn with flaws and strengths, and the evil characters and their monster are truly terrifying. A real tour de force.

    HOLMES ON THE RANGE, Steve Hockensmith. Crude language and some violence.

    Brothers Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer are down-on-their luck cowboys forced to take jobs at the Bar VR cattle ranch. The Bar VR has a bad reputation among the local cowboys, and the foreman and his cohorts are bullies with unsavory pasts.

    Big Red is very uncomfortable in this new job, and he’d like to light out, but Old Red feels a mystery is brewing, and he wants to stay and see it out. Old Red has a secret passion–Sherlock Holmes stories, and his secret ambition is to solve cases like his hero Sherlock Holmes.

    Old Red’s instincts are correct, and several murders occur. Big Red decides to stay and like a good brother and a loyal Watson guards Old Red’s back and helps in the detecting. Big Red narrates the novel, and his voice is very true to that period and the harsh realities of a cowboy’s life.

    The brothers Amlingmeyer are wonderful characters with a depth and reality rarely found in books these days, and the mystery and the suspects kept me engrossed in the novel. Several of the plot points harkened back the Conan Doyle’s stories in a playful manner.

    I highly recommend this new series, and since Sherlock Holmes is a real person, not a fictional character in this series, I hope that Old Red and his idol Holmes will be able to share a case or two in the future.

  7. Anyone who watched Firefly back when it was airing weekly on TV in the 90s knows that western CAN successfully meld with sci-fi. At least when it involves Joss Wheadon being allowed to flex his directorial muscles and a stellar cast like that of Fillion, Torres, Tudyk, Glass, Baccarin, Staite, Glau, and Maher. I haven’t seen anything of its calibre since.
    And I would read the heck out of your “weird western manuscript!” That sounds fantastic!

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