We are long-time fans of Stark’s Nunslinger so we’re thrilled that Stark is publishing another western with an equally punny title: Triggernometry. We asked about the roles of women in westerns, where the genre is going and the experience of self-publishing a novella.
Howdy, Stark! Your new novella Triggernometry is published on April 8th. First things first, we have to ask… do you only write books with pun titles?
Ha, I honestly didn’t mean to, but with both Triggernometry and Nunslinger, the title came first and sparked off the idea. My westerns are on the pulpy side, and while they’re not quite as silly as they sound, I do like the element of fun. I was going to say my current WIP has a proper title, but I’ve just realised it’s actually a play on words too. Sorry!
Triggernometry is self-published. Why did you choose that route?
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my first thought. I actually wrote Triggernometry several years ago, and it did the rounds with a few publishers, who either said it wasn’t genre enough for the market, or that there wasn’t an audience for weird westerns in the UK, which I disagree with entirely. I then had the choice between a) submitting it to one of the (very few) magazines who publish novellas, or b) publishing it myself. I went with the latter, and I’m so glad I did. Not only have I learned a TON about creating and marketing books – albeit on a small scale – I got to produce the novella as I envisaged it. I worked with editor Jon Oliver to get the manuscript into good shape, and commissioned Philip Harris, who designed the original Nunslinger artwork, to create the cover. The genre community have been very supportive too, so all in all it’s been a great experience.
Do you think westerns are seen as a male-dominated genre?
A big question! I’d say yes, especially when it comes to creators. To unpack why would take a whole essay… Maybe it’s because the concept of the frontier has, for so long, been portrayed as a male-dominated space. Historically, women were certainly present and active, but in fiction they’ve more frequently been presented in the context of the homestead, e.g. in a traditional gender role. Delving deeper into this, female characters have also been used in the past as shorthand in the concept of manifest destiny: men deal with threats, often violently, clearing the way for women to bring the “civilising” concept of home and pro-creation to establish the future of a community.
It’s a pattern repeated over and again in many westerns, BUT also one that has been cleverly subverted in the genre. My favourite westerns are almost all revisionist, and that’s where we find some great female leads, from Joan Crawford’s Vienna and Mercedes McCambridge’s Emma in Johnny Guitar (1954), to Millie Perkins’ character of “The Woman” in Monte Hellman’s 1966 The Shooting, to Nia DaCosta’s neo-western, Little Woods (2019). I’d love to see more women and non-binary creators writing westerns though; as a genre I think it’s crying out to be addressed from a host of different perspectives. There are already some great examples, such as Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo and Upright Women Wanted, and Cassandra Khaw and Jonathan L. Howard’s Shooting Iron. I, for one, eagerly await more! Send me your non-traditional westerns!
What common tropes and stereotypes of women would you like to see retired from genre fiction?
The “badass” without reason. I mean, can we just get rid of that word entirely? I know you did an episode on this recently; it’s too often used as lazy shorthand for female characters with no other attributes beyond being a bit fighty. Actually, Charlize Theron has portrayed both good and bad examples of this. The bad in Prometheus, where our first introduction to Vickers is the sight of her doing press-ups in her underwear, straight out of stasis: it’s tragic that the only way the filmmakers could think to show us a physically capable woman is through the male gaze. Whereas Mad Max: Fury Road gives us a much better depiction of a tough, but rounded (within the tight limits of the genre and setting) character in Furiosa. Sure, we don’t get much backstory, but we get enough to understand there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.
What are you writing next, and why should we be reading your books?
My current work-in-progress is a feminist, acid space western set on a desert moon, think Fury Road meets Cowboy Bebop meets Dune! There are common themes in all of my writing though, so if you like high-stakes adventures with cliff-hangers, outlaws, shoot-outs, great female lead characters and vivid settings, then my books will be for you.
Stark Holborn is a novelist, games writer, film reviewer, and the author of Nunslinger and Triggernometry. Stark is represented by Ed Wilson of Johnson & Alcock, who says of Holborn: “It’s not every day a Wild West enigma slams a bottle of Jack down on your desk and starts telling you what happens to the human brain when shot at close range with a shotgun. But when that day comes, you know you’ve got to grab it with both hands.”
Stark ‘Fairweather’ Holborn is believed to reside somewhere near Bristol.
We feel it can’t be fun to have a book published during the current lockdown, particularly if you’re self-publishing, so be sure to go out and pre-order Triggernometry if it sounds like your cup of tea!