Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Weston Ochse

One of your characters is Lamont Cranston, which is the same name as the famous pulp hero, The Shadow. Was that done as an homage to that character, or was it just coincidence?

Seamus, nothing is a coincidence. I intentionally named the antagonist after Lamont Cranston. One reason is that he has been a shadow to the protagonist’s existence throughout his life. He’s always been there and often was able to change the course of events. He also represents humanity. So while the protagonist struggles between two worlds, it is Cranston who resides firmly in the inexorable.

Minerals and mining feature heavily in this story. Are they a hobby of yours, or did you have to research them?

Not really, but I spent many summers in the Black Hills, and mining and minerals are big there. I remember once as a child going with my grandfather and sitting in a bar while this old miner brought my grandfather two small ingots of gold. It was illegal to own gold back then in that form, but they were payment to my grandfather for the old miner mining on my grandfather’s family property over by Nemo. Such things are part of the culture there.

Are the mica people based on Native American mythology, or are they your creation?

They are an invention. I wanted a fairy people of some sort, brought forth from the Old Country to this one. I hesitated to use the term fairies, though, because it has so much baggage. I decided that these fairy people couldn’t survive on the land of the New World. It killed them. So mica is what allows them to survive on foreign soil. Mica is magic. At least I thought so when I was a kid. Back in the 1970s you could drive through the Black Hills and it was laying everywhere. Seriously. When the sunlight hit them it was as if the entire place was glowing. Is it any wonder why the Sioux believed the Paha Sapa to be magical? Sadly, there’s very little mica left. You really have to look for it now, if you can find it at all.

Why does Dave decide to destroy the mica people when they come to him once again?

It was the memory of what he’d done. Their existence made it real. Made it so he was a murderer by proxy. They also symbolized a tie to the belief system brought from the old world. It’s funny. We came to America and wanted something new, a new start, but we brought all of our old beliefs with us, and killed those who believed any differently. By killing them, Dave killed that part of himself that was still tied to the old beliefs.

Is Dave’s final transformation an indication of punishment for his crimes, or of absolution?

I didn’t write it as a punishment at all. Absolution is a closer term, but that brings with it the idea that he did something wrong from which to be absolved. That’s a very Judeo Christian word. No, I wrote it as a transmogrification. Buddhism has a belief that you change after death, and based on your behavior, you progress or regress through lives. But what if one was allowed to change during life? What if they are able to realize an absolute truth and the universe rewards them by allowing them to transform into something perfect, evolve into something more pure? This is what I thought about his catharsis, so I made it a physical event. And for me, there is something pure, and gigantic, and ancient, and divine about buffalo. If you’ve never seen one in person, you’ll never see what I see.

What is the significance of Cranston’s final act in the story?

Now you’ve hit upon the toughest part I had to write. This is definitely a little old man behind the curtain moment. I have my own ideas and they might not match with any of the readers, so bear with me and I apologize if I get overdramatic.

I originally stopped at the end of the preceding section. But it bothered me to do so. I thought about it for a good long while, and then I brought Cranston back. Remember how I said he represented humanity, and its inexorable push to civilize things? That shot is who we are. It’s what we do. It’s how we define our universe. But the result isn’t so much. The herd continues. One is lost, but the rest are there. The purity of nature and the land is still there.

The human race will be around for a while. But the Earth will be around for much longer. As much as we try and kill it, as much as we try and smother its spirit, we’ll only succeed to the point where we cause ourselves to cease existing. Then, whether it’s a millennium or two, or ten, or a hundred, the scars and the wounds will heal, and the Earth will remain.

This is very much a Man versus Nature story, written in the great tradition of man versus nature authors, but with my touch. Like Ahab trying to defeat something so much more grand than himself, or the inexorable march of humanity and all that is terrible with it in Blood Meridian, Dave and Lamont dance around the idea that they are nothing in the face of the true majesty of what truly exists in nature.

“Gravitas” means serious or sober, according to Webster. But it has always meant so much more to me than that. If something has gravitas, it has a weight to it, it has a heft; it has an importance that might be spiritual or universal or both. In the battle of man versus nature, this eternal conflict, gravitas is the word that explains it best for me, thus, its use in the title.

One last thing: This story began as a story about a friend of mine who actually did the events in the first few pages. It began as truth, and in the catharsis of the main character, I discovered this particular Gravitas. In real life, the friend of mine returns to life, gets married, has a family, and lives happily ever after. But this is fiction. His story became my story and I made it my own.

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Sean Patrick Kelley

Seamus BayneNightmare editorial assistant Sean Patrick Kelley  is  the co-founder of the Paradise Lost writing retreat held annually in Texas. You can learn more about him, and his writing at his home on the web, Mythlife. He tweets as @Endiron