Today is not a good day.
Today, his so-called “partner” – that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has ridden off west for the border, hell-bent on making a name for himself in native territory. And Elim, whose place is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home again without him.
The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day, but Elim’s heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.
If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.
1. Don’t Leave Home With Horse Nuts.
No, really, y’all. Snip-snip before the road trip. This was something I never even considered. Sixes starts with two guys herding a dozen-odd yearling horses down to sell at the fair. Simple enough, right? And obviously you’re going to get more money for your horses if they’re intact, right? And they’re barely more than a year old, so surely –
“Nope,” my all-knowing equestrian beta-mistress said. “You leave them like that, they’re going to start getting horny and feisty and getting in fights and mounting their sisters, and pretty soon that whole pen is going to be nastier than aLannister game of spin-the-bottle.”
Okay, she didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get the point – and so did I. As I picked up my red pen, two dozen thoroughbred testicles cried out in terror, and were silenced.
2. Nothing Says Fashionable Femininity Like Wearing a Dead Mouse.
Well, it’s like this. I’ve been describing this book as “cowboys and fishmen fantasy” – and the thing is that the fishmen (who are actually more like frog men, but shhh) are actually sort of like changelings: with a little surgical alteration and some good makeup, they can disguise themselves as human beings. Still, they aren’t mammals, so they don’t have body hair – which makes trying to pass for an earthling slightly more complicated. Wearing a wig is easy enough, but then what do you do for eyebrows?
Why, you get yourself a fresh mouse pelt and cut yourself a pair, that’s what! As I learned, this was not only common in 17th and 18th century Europe, but practically de rigeur, as the lead-based cosmetics that fine ladies wore had the unfortunate side effect of making their hair fall out. And you don’t even want to know how they replaced their teeth.
3. Cowboy Lingo Is the Nickel-Plated Dickens…
Seriously, you guys. I’ve had so much fun wallowing in antique frontier vocabulary – which as near as I can tell is the bastard love-child of Charles Dickens, Dr. Seuss, and a meth-addled Latin student. The dialect says so much, not only about what kinds of objects and activities 19th-century working-class folks needed words for, but also about the humor and creativity that went into the terms. Here are a few of my favorites (ones that actually made it into the book!)
absquatulate – to flee, leave in a hurry
calf slobbers – meringue (the kind you’d used to top a pie)
knocked acock – stunned, blindsided
necktie sociable – a hanging
sucking hind tit – being last, getting the least
(You can find these and about a million more over at Legends of America, by the way.)
4. …But Native Slang Will Blow Your Mind.
Exhibits A through E, from Countryboy79’s Archive of Navajo Slang:
Burger King – ‘Áh Bikiin – “just enough food to get strength from”
Dr. Mario – Azee‘ handéhé – “falling medicine”
Girlfriend – Bich’áayaa íí’áhí – “the one that sticks up from under his armpit”
Microwave – Bee na’niildóhó – “you warm things up with it”
To watch a movie – bináá na’alkid – “it is showing in front of him/her”
Do you feel that? Those little pop-rock explosions in your brain? I’m not a professional mentologist, but I’m pretty sure that’s the sound of internalized pop-culture bullshit withering like the Wicked Witch of the East’s ruby-slipperedcankles.
Like, these days I think most of us realize that the Apache Chief / Tonto / Tigerlily stuff is a load of eagle-feathered horse-apples. But then you see a little list like this – and you think about how Dr. Mario is pretty frigging great – and you start noticing how a lot of these nouns are actually being translated into descriptive actions – and then you click over to Wikipedia and start reading about how yeah, the Navajo language is basically the supreme linguistic god-emperor of verbs – and you realize that your whole life has been a hideous lie.
Or maybe that’s just me.
tl;dr: if you really want to get to know somebody, start with their words.
5. You’re a Writer. If You’re Not Crying, You’re Not Trying.
I don’t mean that literally, of course. I realize that not everyone manifests anxiety and distress as episodes of acute facial incontinence. Maybe you Hulk out, or binge-eat gas station hamdogs, or sing down the eldritch fury that ends the earth.
Personally, what I like to do is get real excited about something like #4 above, and think about how to work those elements into my fictional indigenous cultures – then worry about becoming the Great White Culturally-Appropriating Satan – then worry about NOT doing that, and remaining Part of the Ignorant Anglocentric Whitewashing Problem – then collapse in a pile of wet kleenex and artisanal despair. It’s a hell of a system, let me tell you.
My point is this: after literally years of intermittent stomach-churning horror, I’m starting to realize that that’s a feature, not a bug. It’s not fun to live in mortal terror of screwing up. It’s even less fun to actually screw up. (I expect it’s absolutely ZERO fun for the people we hurt when we do screw up.) But my God, that fear is SUCH a great motivator. When you’re afraid of doing it wrong – whatever “it” is! – you take extra time and trouble to get it right. So the goal is not to stop being scared. The goal is to USE your scared to get shit done.
So basically… if you’re ever like “man, I’m really nervous about writing X” and your friend comes back with, “ahhh, don’t worry; you got this” – you punch them. You punch them right in their big friendly face. You go find a new friend, one who says, “ooh, yeah, you don’t wanna mess that up. Want help making a game plan?”
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then be awesome.
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a home-grown Texas success story. A relentless fantasy enthusiast dual-wielding a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, Tex has since channeled her interests into an epic fantasy Western series, set to kick off in July 2014 with the release of ONE NIGHT IN SIXES. An active member of SFWA, Codex, and the DFW Writers Workshop, and currently serving as editor for the DFW Writers Conference, Tex has made it her mission to help other writers achieve their goals: with relentless enthusiasm and the fastest red pen this side of the Pecos River, she is out to change the world – one misplaced modifier at a time.