R.S. Belcher Exclusive Interview
Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is R. S. Belcher, the author of ‘Six-Gun Tarot’.
R.S. Belcher: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
JMW: Our pleasure. Okay, you are living the geek dream. You’ve had an award-winning Star Trek story published, you’ve run a comic book store, and now you’ve got a great first novel out from Tor Books, ‘Six-Gun Tarot’. How did you manage it?
R.S. Belcher: Well, the Star Trek story, there was a contest that they – Simon & Schuster Pocket Books did called ‘Strange New Worlds’, which they were looking for amateur writers, they were looking for people who were not pros. And that was the whole sort of premise of the series, it was fiction written by fans for fans. I had never written a genre piece before, so I was kind of intrigued – and I love Star Trek. I’m a huge Star Trekkie. I tried my hand at writing a Star Trek story, and it was a little bit of a mash- up, which seems to be kind of the way I write. Took some things from several different eras of Star Trek and kind of stuck them together and submitted it. I didn’t hear anything back. I thought I hadn’t even placed at all in anything. Got a call from the editor with Simon & Schuster, [Elisa Kassin 01:42] I believe was her name, and she said basically you’ve won the grand prize. So I screamed and danced around a lot. My daughter, who was like 5 or 6 at the time, like looked at me like I’m crazy and said, dad, calm down. So that was my first published piece.
As far as the comic book store stuff goes, I’ve loved comics since I – I mean, I learned to read with comics. And I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get involved with some comic book stores. I actually, at the convention where we’re at now, I did a panel on being a comic book store owner, kind of a cautionary tale. And I’ve enjoyed that. It’s hard work and it’s a business, and like many businesses in our current economic times, they struggle, sometimes they fail.
We closed our last store, the last store I was involved with, in May, which worked out kind of well because I had been working on Six-Gun, the novel, for several years while I was working at one comic store and then opening another one, and sold Six-Gun – literally, I met a very nice editor from Tor Books at Dragoncon in the Tor panel. I pitched the book to her, and I was very fortunate that it was something that Tor was looking for as far as the genre goes. ‘Six-Gun Tarot’ is a fantasy set in 1869 Nevada, so it’s a Western – at it’s heart, it’s a Western. And I sort of, it was really luck. I was very fortunate she was interested in the premise. I sent her some initial pages and a plot summary, didn’t hear anything back for quite a while because they’re really busy people. Got an email that was very encouraging, saying, I like this, the other editors that looked at it like this. We’re going to try to find you someone to work with, if we can’t – this particular editor was nice enough to say she was going to try to help me find a good agent to get this thing moving. I talked to some friends of mine who are writers and they said that this is very unprecedented, this doesn’t usually happen, they’re usually…
JMW: Yeah, yeah, that’s – wow.
R.S. Belcher: …saying, thanks, you know, it doesn’t meet our needs at this time. Thank you so much. But this editor, her name is Stacy Hill, Stacy was kind enough to believe in my work and she was kind enough to kind of help me with it as much as she could. She got my manuscript in front of Greg Cox, who is very well known. He writes a lot of Star Trek fiction, he does a lot of stuff with DC Comics, novelizations for Justice League and Final Crisis and stuff like that. He does just a lot of different kinds of books like that, and he’s also an editor for Tor. Well, Greg read my manuscript and liked it enough to go to bat for me to try to get it purchased. Tor purchased it, and then we underwent about two years of editing and revision and all of that, and it just came out in January. So I’m really lucky. I believe in my work, I think I put out a good manuscript, but I was very fortunate to meet some very kind people who were willing to give me an opportunity. I just got lucky.
JMW: And that’s very cool, because it’s so seldom that people sell books without getting the agent first, especially to a publisher like Tor.
R.S. Belcher: That’s what I’ve been lead to understand. I did not have an agent. I have one now, her name is Lucienne Diver, she’s with the Knight Agency. And she is fabulous. Within a very short period of time of having her representing me, she sold a sequel to the ‘Six-Gun Tarot’ to Tor Books, and she also sold an urban fantasy that I’m working on called, the working title is ‘The Greenway’ and that will probably change. And basically those have just been sold, the ink on the contract is still wet, but I’m working currently on both of those projects, and then hoping to get started on something else before the end of the year.
JMW: What was the genesis of ‘Six-Gun Tarot’?
R.S. Belcher: I write – and this is the same as with the Star Trek story that I did – is I tend to like, if something is fun or interesting to me, I will throw it in. I’m kind of a kitchen sink sort of guy.
R.S. Belcher: And I like – I think, like, well, if this is here, if this is thing A and this is thing B – it’s like chocolate and peanut butter, you know, you put them
together and hey, it’s even better. That doesn’t always work, and for some people, they don’t particularly like that style, but that’s, that seems to be the way I write is kind of mashing stuff up. And with Six-Gun, the original idea was I really liked the idea of this little western town kind of isolated, almost like in ‘High Plains Drifter’
R.S. Belcher: You have this little kind of town that almost has this kind of purgatory sort of vibe to it on the edge of this wasteland, where everyone had some kind of a weird secret or some sort of a bizarre past, sort of ‘Peyton Place’ or ‘Twin Peaks’ kind of vibe to it. And that was really the initial thing. Golgotha really isn’t the main character in the story. I tried really hard to make it an ensemble so you have all these characters kind of bouncing around and everybody has favorites and you get – everybody is kind of the hero in their own story. But I tried to make it so the novel didn’t have a main character. There is sort of a character that’s sort of your ambassador, kind of your eyes going in. But he leaves you after a while.
JMW: Literally, your eye going in.
R.S. Belcher: Ah-hah, that’s very good, yes. But basically, Golgotha is sort of the main character in the story, and she is this very complicated – and on the surface
it looks like almost – and I tried to put a lot of western tropes in it. I wanted you to have the square- jawed sheriff, and I wanted to have sort of the, you know, the crusty deputy, just a lot of the things that you would see traditionally in western mythology, but I really wanted to kind of like twist it a lot, make it so that the reader has this kind of jarring, sort of, whoa, wait a minute, what is this, feel to the story. So the basic premise is Golgotha is this town full of secrets, and it attracts the best and the worst, the blessed and the banned. That was the initial genesis. And that was like in the early 2000s, and I kicked around some chapters and tried a few things and it never felt quite right. After I won the Star Trek contest and had that published, I kind of got a little more wind in my sails after that and I decided I was going to go back and try to work on a novel. And Golgotha had always been sort of the – which was the original name of it, by the way, it was just called ‘Golgotha’. I wanted that to sort of be the thing I wanted to work on. It’s the one that kind of kept poking me in the brain.
So I started working on that again and things started to flow and click, and over the course of about two and a half years, three years, I wrote the manuscript. And things just kind of came to me over the course of – so, you know, really, I started on this thing in 2000, sold it around 2009, it’s come out now in – actually, 2010 is when I sold it, I think – it’s coming out in 2013. So about 13 years worth of stuff has been kind of percolating, and I think people kind of pick up on some of that. I tried to make the town very realistic. I tried to – I sketched out a map of the town. I can kind of see things. I tried to make it so it’s very visually attractive. Basically, people read this and they can kind of picture the town in their mind is what I wanted.
JMW: Did Golgotha derive in any way from your love of comics? Did any of the things
that you love about comic books influence your depiction or the story itself?
R.S. Belcher: I am a huge comic book guy, I always have been. One of my first memories as a child is sitting on my mom’s lap and her reading me an Avengers Annual, and I actually remember that was part of the way of how I learned how to read, because my mom would read comics to me and I would follow along all the little word balloons. I think that ‘Six-Gun Tarot’ has a very graphic novel sort of feel to it. I’ve actually had people tell me they’ve read it and wondered if it wouldn’t – if it could be used, you know, could become a graphic novel or something. I’ve had some people knocking around talking about film rights for it and stuff like that, because it is a very, I think if you read it, it’s very visually driven. I tried to make a lot of descriptive details. So, yeah, I think – and some of the action scenes, some of the action sequences of fights are pretty comic book-y. They’re over the top. I don’t quite have people flying around on wires or anything, but…
JMW: That’s for the sequel?
R.S. Belcher: Yeah, I’ll ratchet it up. We just had the end of the universe in the first one, so I don’t know what I’ll do for the second one. But yeah, I think a lot of my characters are kind of larger than life and they have that sort of Four Color, comic book-y sort of thing to them. I tried to make them very human and realistic on a lot of levels, but when it comes to the action, actually comes to their abilities, I did make them a little larger than life, because it’s the West. It was a land of myths and legends and stuff.
JMW: And people were.
R.S. Belcher: Yeah, larger than life. If you wanted to have a – if you were a kid, you know, back East, you wanted to read little books about Wild Bill Hickok and all this other stuff, you know, all these, you know, Buffalo Bill and all these other guys, and they were larger than life.
JMW: Mm-hmm. What are you working on now?
R.S. Belcher: Right now, I am fast at work on finishing the initial draft for an urban fantasy. The working title of it is ‘The Greenway’. The description I have used to kind of pitch it has been it is basically a little bit of Harry Dresden – Jim Butcher, a lot of Raymond Chandler, throw in some ‘Story of O’, and add in maybe some ‘Pulp Fiction’.
JMW: Another stew?
R.S. Belcher: It really is. It’s a mash-up too, and it is a modern – it’s an urban fantasy, caper, crime, detective novel. It’s very gritty. It is definitely a rated
R.S. Belcher: You have rough-talking, hard-drinking magicians. You can call it Harry Potter, the trainspotting years, if you wanted to. You know, what happens to Harry
after college, after he gets out of college and hits the junk for a while. So it’s a novella that I wrote many years ago and I really got a lot of good feedback on it and decided it was worth turning it into a novel. And the good folks at Tor seemed to be of…
JMW: Similar mind.
R.S. Belcher: …the same opinion, yes. So they purchased that. And once I’m finished with that, which I should be wrapping that up probably in the next month or so, the next thing going is the sequel to Six-Gun.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.