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Friday, 14 August 2015

Gunsmoke and grave-mist

The Kickstarter campaign for all-new gamebook The Good, the Bad and the Undead is painting the town red at the moment. If you don't know anything about it, take a look at Ashton Saylor in the video. I asked him and Jamie Thomson, who was originally slated to write GBU, where they got their ideas from:

Dave Morris: There are so many Wild Wests to choose from. The character dramas of Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle, psychological epics from directors like Mann, Ford and Hawks, and then there’s the whole down-n-dirty, morally complex European tradition of the spaghetti western. I’m just wondering which are your personal favourite western movies?

Jamie Thomson: Pretty much anything with Clint involved. Unforgiven is probably my favourite western of all time. Followed by all the spaghetti stuff. Oh, and also Ulzana’s Raid - a real classic.

DM: Talking of different aspects of the Old West as a story environment, what is it about the setting that appeals to you?

JT: Its semi-feral frontier lawlessness (relatively speaking compared to the east coast cities) allows for greater opportunities in story telling and characterization. Historically, you get a lot of larger than life characters knocking around as well. Plus six guns. They look so cool. And Apaches. And those hats.

DM: What are the themes you were interested in exploring?

JT: Not sure about that... it’s cowboys versus vampires after all. I suppose it touches on fear and the psychology of fear, mortality, death, moral questions about the price of survival, the breakdown of civilization and whether you can remain true to yourself in the face of it and so on. But mostly for me it’s six guns vs fangs in the night

DM: It’s often said that fantasy works when it brings out something in the story that couldn’t be told in a conventional setting. Does that apply to The Good, The Bad, and The Undead?

JT: There are interesting questions about the price you are prepared to pay to keep your own sense of what is right and wrong intact and other issues to explore. But I’m not sure there’s anything you couldn’t do in another setting. I think you can pretty much explore any theme in any setting, just in different ways. With the western horror setting you can push things to the max but at the end of the day I think it’s exploring old themes in new ways, which can sometimes give you an unusual perspective on it.

DM: It’s not a traditional good guys versus bad guys story. I’d be interested to hear what inspired you to take the narrative off in those unexpected moral and emotional directions. Is that coming from the movie idea of the western, or does it owe more to the fact that this is a literary work?

JT: It’s the thing that puts an interesting twist on the tale – the relationship between Walter and the Marshal. What do you do when the good and the bad are faced with an even greater evil? What is it like when you are forced to work with something or someone that you know to be morally unsound (to put it mildly.

DM: Whenever vampires are in a story, there’s the question of whether they should conform to the usual tropes (crosses, holy water, garlic, etc) or whether you’re free to reboot them in a new image. What did you decide?

JT: We’ve got our own take on it from Aztec mythology. They’re not your run of the mill Transylvanian vampires by any means. But I won’t say more in case it spoils the fun.

DM: I see that you’re talking about this as an interactive novel rather than a 'gamebook'. That’s how I describe my retelling of Frankenstein. In GBU’s case, is it simply to alert readers that the story isn’t a game to be won or a puzzle to be solved, or are you getting at something deeper?

JT: There are no dice or skills or any ‘game’ stuff really, so I think it’s just so people don’t get confused, expecting some kind of rule system etc. But Ashton might have a different take on where the story goes!


  1. It's easy to do vampires badly. Look at Twilight.

    There was a recent TV adaptation of the Quentin Tarantino film, From Dusk Till Dawn, stretched out over ten hours rather than two. The vampires in the series had a distinct Aztec flavour to them - more closely related to snakes than to bats or wolves. It was nicely done. Even the bits that were shot-for-shot copies of the film.

    Looking forward to seeing what brand of vampire Jamie and Ashton have come up with.

    1. Good lord, are we to see a spate of TV adaptations than turn a story that barely stretched to two hours expanded to 10 or more? While I long agreed with Von Stroheim's assertion that the ideal length of a movie should be 10 hours, and when done well (House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Shield) that does hold true, I rather fear that the trend for binge-viewing might be driving drama that way.