Postmortem: “Dust”

Yesterday, I’d posted an old bit of orphaned writing that was never finished, written back in 2006, called Dust, An Introduction. I had stated in the forward that, while I acknowledged my debt as a writer to The Gunslinger, by Stephen King, the first in an epic series about Roland (a gunslinger) seeking the Dark Tower, I hadn’t at the time considered it a direct influence on Dust.

A little mouse I know posted the following comment:

This is good, but it is very close to the gunslinger. The last law like figure chasing a mystical nemesis across an open unforgiving desert.

Original Comment Link

Honestly, without having the context that I have for the story, it is a fair criticism. It certainly looks like a bit of fanboi writing, an ode to Stephen King, on the surface. I certainly won’t deny that the Dark Tower series hasn’t left it’s mark on my own writing — it is perhaps my favorite set of books by King, although I lean more towards the first three or four than I do the latter books. And, as much as I like Wolves of the Calla, even King will admit that it is basically a rip-off of the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven themes. He did his own bit of borrowing for that one. To go back, however to the original point that Dust is a bit too similar for comfort, I feel a valid point was made and it is up to me to defend my original statement that the influence is less than it might seem. As life would have it, I have additional information that I didn’t present in the forward that might modify such criticisms.

But first — let’s go in depth as to the similarities.

  • A gunslinger, and a masterful one at that, with a “Man with no name” vibe. Not much to add to that.
  • An apparent nemesis being hunted by the protagonist. That seems to be the case with Dust. Harney is quite possibly on the run from the protagonist, very likely knows the protagonists progress thanks to consorting with outre and eldritch means to garner such details. Sounds pretty close to the abilities of the Man in Black (Marten, Flagg, Walter O’Dimm, other aliases).
  • Foreshadowing of a bloody battle in a small town. Not so much foreshadowed in Gunslinger, but the suggestion of the same kind of event occurring draws a similarity.
  • An endless desert wasteland. Both describe a large desert meant to be covered in order to meet similar quarries.
  • Magic. Magic is mentioned several times (although not directly by name) and both tales conflate magic with the wild west themes.

There may be a few others, but you can see why it is a fair criticism to make. And I am grateful for those kinds of criticisms, as it is easy to be blind to our own biases as writers. I also am not super-defensive about my writing — I spent two hours a day for two years in high school either writing or receiving criticism from other student writers. As long as it was constructive criticism, and fair, it was allowed. And I heard plenty of it during those years. I also was hardened by running a poetry night at a cafe and I received private criticisms of my own pieces that were not entirely fair or constructive. Additionally, I received some harsh criticisms of my writing at several workshops that were balanced between fair and constructive, and downright trolling elitism from people who had no business being unfair in the criticism they gave out. What the mouse said was useful, not of the latter variety, which was worse than useless.

Be aware, dear readers, I am my harshest critic.

But now, I have the difficult job of justifying my statement that the Gunslinger was not the conscious influence on Dust that it may seem to be…

I’ll go into spoilers and “writer’s notes” for the unfinished and unshared part of the story.

  • I never intended for this to be an epic story. I was going to have the protagonist actually capture the antagonist and shoot the mofo dead within 20-40 pages and the tale was always going to be a short story. McCoy is the kind of character that I can see doing some episodic fiction that is not directly threaded into a larger tale, but I don’t know if he is a likable enough character to make a protagonist for a novel. Secret writer’s knowledge — he’s a bad man himself, just slightly less bad than Harney — and he lives with the self-hate for it.
  • There is no parley. Harney is dead dead dead in the end. There is no tarot reading. There was no specified quest. McCoy would ride back to his cabin and try to deal with his ghosts of those he murdered.
  • Harney is not that great of a necromancer. He uses spirits and daemons to glean information, but his control of them is limited. I make him sound in the early stages like he’s supernatural in his skills, but McCoy was going to discover that his bounty was more of an accidental necromancer and used it, as well as other things, to his advantage to seem more powerful than he really was. He is definitely not a Walter, but more of a Trump.
  • McCoy has a horse. Seemingly minor detail, but it was going to play a role. Roland didn’t have a horse and I can guess part of the reasons why, the least of which being that writing about horses is harder than I ever imagined.
  • McCoy is a talented gunslinger, but largely evenly matched with Harney. Harney is only resilient because he has zero remorse for killing people and McCoy is loath to do it, though he will if he has to.
  • McCoy was familiar with the territory, had traversed it several times (stated). Roland was too single-minded to know where he was. His focus was on the Man in Black.
  • McCoy was going to get his own mojo before confronting Harney. He knew he couldn’t match Harney on his own, so he was going to consult the Sisters Wyrd to get a talisman or other assist.

Other details that you may not be privy to:

  • Fields of the Nephilim were a weird-west inspired goth band. The first album reflected this better than later albums, but they went so far as to include Ennio Morricone’s music in the intro and outro of the album. A number of songs from the first album, Dawnrazor, were about western themes and gunslingers. They dressed like gunslingers and outlaws. I mentioned that “Dust” was the inspiration for the story, and looking at their image below, you might see those similarities as well.
  • I also saw the tale as being more inspired by post-apocalyptic versions of Wild Wild West (the television show, not the godawful movies), but with magic instead of the steampunk elements. It was also intended to be an unspecified future and wouldn’t have had the multiverse elements that King used. It was a dying world due to humankind’s mistakes causing an unspecified disaster. McCoy is close enough to recall when “this place was still green”.
  • There was no intention of adding a “Jake”. Or “Oy”. Or anything else resembling a ka-tet.
  • McCoy has a job that he has to do, and he might be the only one who can do it. Unlike Roland, I specify that he’s actually reluctant to take the bounty on Harney — he’s seen enough killing and just wants to drink his past away. But it sounds like someone has something on him and he has no choice but to hunt another bad man.

In summation:

  • The critiques are valid about the similarities with The Gunslinger
  • I think if I had finished the tale with the additional knowledge, those similarities would still be present, but not quite so glaringly present.

Now that I’ve pulled out the memory files for this one, it is another “I regret I didn’t finish” tale. I think it might have worked out nicely. Poo!

2 thoughts on “Postmortem: “Dust””

  1. That’s a whole lotta back story.
    I based my comments on a few pages worth of story. I’m sure your story would have diverged soon enough.
    You initially stated there were similarities with the gunslinger. The fact that you made note of it prior cleared you of any obliviousness or plagiarism.
    It could be considered borderline fan fiction or homage and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love the Dark Tower series.
    Glad King finished it after he got mowed down by that car.

    Liked by 1 person

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