Barbary Etymology

Whilst combing the internets, I happened upon this kind review of my story, “Barbary:”

Despite some odd word choices (geezer), Kuhl vividly evokes a dissipated waterfront atmosphere… And, as a pipe-smoker myself, I raise my Peterson to the author who has written an authentic horror story which works through artifacts rather than artifice, and which delights and surprises throughout. This is the first Jackson Kuhl story I’ve had the pleasure to read and, I hope, not the last. Well worth investing in a copy of this issue of Black Static to read Barbary alone.

Much of the language used in “Barbary” was researched to prevent anachronism but apparently I didn’t dig deep enough. While “geezer” does hail from the early 1880s — the same decade in which the story is set — it derives from the word “guiser,” slang for someone who dressed eccentrically. Only later did it become a pejorative for senior citizen, which is how it’s used in the story. Mr. McEvoy is correct to bean me for it. Now somebody get me rewrite!


The current issue of Black Static opens with my historical fantasy, “Barbary.”

I began to smoke mummies on the advice of a pharmacist off Pacific Avenue. His was an almost derelict alley-way shop, the sign faded, the bills in the window brown and curling. Several times I had to step like a Lipizzaner in the lane over inebriates or dragon-chasers, and I couldn’t imagine how such a frail old geezer passed daily to and from his business unmolested. For all I knew he never left and slept under the floor, subsisting on unguent and rose water. And for me — well, the risk of a blackjack or a knife between the ribs was a lesser injury than my chronic disorder.

One reviewer at Tangent said the story is “very well-done, spooky and disturbing … The prose is realistically archaic without being awkward or stiff,” while another wrote that it “twists to a perfect ending.” Author and fellow cider-swiller Matthew Dent noted, “it was the peculiar and slightly archaic way in which it was written — fitting the plot like a glove — which fascinated me … An excellent piece of fiction.”

I’m grateful for the kind praise! Artist Ben Baldwin created an amazing accompaniment to the story, seen above. Thanks to him as well.

Alas, while Black Static is available at the Waterstones in every burgh’s High Street, I have no idea how you buy it outside of the UK. You can wait for the Kindle version — though I don’t know when that will be available — or purchase a hard copy off the publisher’s Back Issues page once the next issue is out.

The Weird Western Front

Hey nerds! Two of my weird Westerns are now available in new anthologies.

Befitting the theme, editor Eric Guignard assembled an international table of contents for Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (Amazon | B&N). My favorites include Gitte Christensen’s future vision in which humanity has divided into voluntary yet contract-based subcultures (in this case, a group of ocean-exploring steampunks); and a very smooth ghost story by Joe Lansdale. Besides my own contribution (which Eric touted, “Out of the submissions I received, few struck me as unique and colorful”), there are a couple other weird Westerns in the book too. The publisher is staggering the release of e-pub editions but not by long, so if you prefer to read it on Kindle or Nook, you should only have to wait a few months.

Also out is Low Noon (Amazon | Kindle) from Science Fiction Trails editor David Riley. David mentioned being a fan of ghost stories and so I sent him an idea that had been simmering awhile. I like suspense, not horror; I refuse to watch contemporary horror films because of the sadism and gore, yet I love me some H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, and decades later I’m still traumatized by The Changeling and The Fog and The Shining. One of the items on my weird-West checklist was to write a story about property rights in an abandoned mining town — and so it all came together in “Realgar.”

As always, thanks for reading my stuff, whether it’s here or somewhere on the trail.

Wild Wild Alt-West

This past May, with the manuscript and revisions for Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer delivered and my eyes burning from months of reading the faded handwriting of countless 18th-century letters and receipts, I went on a fiction binge. Reading fiction — Jeffrey Barlough’s Anchorwick, Tim Powers’s On Stranger Tides, Brian McNaughton’s absolutely incredible The Throne of Bones — but also writing it.

I scribbled a lot of short fiction back in the 90s before abandoning it for nonfiction, which truly is the stranger of the two. Yet recently I’ve returned to it as a counterpoise to features and inverted pyramids, as an approach to those questions and issues raised but elided by factual accounts. Ever try to discuss the existence of God or the meaning of life on the Internet? Good luck with that. Fiction, meanwhile, allows a metaphorical dialogue that is otherwise culturally inexpressible.

And so — because after writing a book, I like to unwind with a little writing — this summer I banged out a series of stories in a genre I love but had never before attempted myself: alternate history. Specifically, alternate-history Westerns.

Now you’re probably thinking, Jackson! Are there really enough publications out there willing to buy short stories set in an ahistorical North America west of the Mississippi River between the years of 1850 and 1900? Isn’t that a fairly niche audience?

You’d be surprised. Some of the market abundance is due, I think, to the general mainstreaming of science fiction — even though there is nothing scientific about history or historical speculation. Writing history, like journalism, is more of a work ethic, a way of doing things.

I suppose alt-hist is lumped into science fiction because it is the inverse of traditional sci-fi: an imagining of what could have happened rather than what could happen. Yet more specifically the growing acceptance of weird Westerns owes a lot to the popularity of steampunk. The number of markets open to speculative Westerns, if not dedicated to an explicit Western theme, is an American co-opting of steampunk, of moving it from English Victorianism into a uniquely American embrace.

Oddly enough I’m not a fan of the literary Western beyond the shorts and novels of Elmore Leonard. I am, however, a huge fan of the cinematic Western, particularly those of Sergio Leone and other spaghetti directors. Geography is such a vital part of the genre that the analogy is perhaps more strongly communicated visually than it can be on paper — existence is a wilderness and a man or a woman is alone in it — but regardless it’s precisely that loneliness and uncertainty I attempt to bring to the page.

“Glorieta Pass” appears in Science Fiction Trails 7, available in hardcopy or for Kindle.

“Galveston” appears in Another Wild West, out now for Kindle and Nook, and available in paperback December 2011 from Amazon and B&N.

“Quivira” will appear in Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, spring 2012.

This is just the first batch I sold. More to come, let’s hope, behind the setting sun. Happy Thanksgiving!