No one needed to tell Sheriff Alec Lawson that thousands of dollars in silver bullion had been stolen from a train on the Northern Colorado Railroad: he was on the train at the time. Now he and his deputies had to search the mountains and mining camps for the thieves.
The more he looked into the robbery, the more Lawson was convinced that it was not just a simple theft. The desire for money was at the root of it all: bribes, bounties, social status and death.
The Sheriff and his men were risking their lives for other people's money, and death seems very close when you're riding on the roof of a runaway train !
If you look at the fan fiction section of my website, you'll see that I've been writing a lot of Star Wars fiction. More specifically, I've been writing not about the superstars of that universe - the Jedi and Han Solo - but about the X-wing pilots. My particular favourites are Wedge Antilles, commander of Rogue Squadron, and his long-standing squadron mates, Tycho, Wes and Hobbie. I love writing those characters, and in fact, was spending more time writing about them, than I was on my western fiction. Having already written three novels using characters from a sci-fi TV series, it seemed obvious to combine the fanfic and the pro-fic by putting Wedge and co. into a Western.
The first job was to take the Star Wars characters - Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson and Hobbie Klivian - and adapt them to a Western setting - a process known in fanfic as 'filing off the serial numbers'.
|Wedge Antilles||Tycho Celchu||Wes Janson||Hobbie Klivian|
With the four main characters borrowed from the Star Wars universe, I decided that I might as well throw in a few more in-jokes and references for SW fans.
Like Tycho, Wedge also has an on-going romance, but a more convoluted one. Wedge has a lengthy on-off relationship with a young widow named Iella Wessiri. Eventually the two of them sort themselves out and get married. I decided to provide Alec with a lovely young widow too, and named her Eileen Wessex. Iella is an intelligence officer - not really a job that Eileen could plausibly have in the Old West. Like Iella, Eileen is an intelligent, educated woman; I wanted her to have a job, as Iella does, and so schoolteacher was the logical choice.
Before Wedge settles down with Iella, he has a romance with a frilly blue alien, frequently referred to by Wedge fans as the 'blue bird-brain'. This romance was so unpopular with fans that Iella was subsequently created by another author to give Wedge an acceptable partner. The author responsible for the frilly blue alien, and making Wedge act like a 14 year old with a crush, was Kevin J Anderson. So I named the villian of my story K J Anderson, much to the amusement of other Wedge fans.
And as George Lucas created the whole Galaxy Far Far Away in the first place, I named the sheriff's town Lucasville, in his honour.
I decided to set the novel in Colorado, though a different part to where Jonah Durrell roams in Two-Gun Trouble. When I visited Colorado, I travelled on the Durango to Silverton Railroad, which is a fabulous trip on a steam train through the beautiful mountains. I was on a coach near the rear of the train and got some terrific photos during my trip.
The front of the train curves around the mountain
Interior of the coach
Abandoned mine railroad near Creede.
The river Animas, seen from the train.
The track runs so close to the river here.
The little platform at the end of the coach.
Tourism was already an established industry in Colorado by 1883, when Silver Express is set. I have a modern reprint of a 'Tourist Guide To Colorado In 1879'. It was very useful for the writing of my book, as it details the towns in the area that Sheriff Lawson works. The fictional Lucasville is in the same place as the real-life Longmont. The other towns mentioned in the book, such as Lyons and Caribou, are real places, though some no longer exist as they did in 1879. The Tourist Guide describes scenic rail trips for the visitor, places of interest, and the hotels and spas that serve the tourist trade. The clear air made Colorado a popular destination for consumptives, and others came to visit the many mineral springs. Other visitors simply came to admire the scenery, just as they do today.
The railroad is an important symbol of the Old West. It features in many movies and was possibly even more important in the real history than it seems in film. It's not something I've dealt with very much in my books so far. The railroad, or rather, the absence of trains, is a feature of the story in Darrow's Word. A series of blizzards isolates the town, preventing the regular trains from getting through, and supplies of food fall dangerously low.
I decided that for Silver Express, (then untitled), I would feature a scene with a train - in fact, I would write a shoot out on top of a moving train. That seemed like a good, dramatic climax to a western.
However, doing some research on the railroad showed that travelling by train was far more dangerous than I'd realized. A lot of the track out west had been laid in a hurry as companies rivalled one another to be the first to new places and to win routes. In some places the rail bed wasn't constructed properly: tracks might be laid on frozen ground that later softened, rails and ties were made of cheap material that distorted and broke, the tracks wasn't graded properly and bridges and trestles were sometimes quickly put up with poor-quality wood. And of course, they were building their railroads over some incredibly challenging terrain.
“Right.” Ethan turned and looked at the boxcars behind them. “Boss, I think there’s a bigger gap between the second and third cars.”
“Godammit !” Alec said fiercely. “She’s broke in two. Brake the second car halfway, and try to alert Karl. You’re not to try jumping the gap at any cost, hear me ? Then brake halfway on the first boxcar, back to the second, and wait for my signal to brake fully. Got that ?”
Once I'd got my research done and sorted the basics of the plot, the book was fairly straightforward to write. There was a pause in the middle, while I was diverted by some Star Wars fanfic I had ideas for and needed to write. It helped that I'd written plenty about the characters before, in their SW personas. There is a warm affection between them, as well as a strong sense of humour, that makes them very enjoyable to spend time with, and to write. As usual, it took me ages to pick a title. I expect to write more about Sheriff Lawson, so I needed a title with some element that could be carried into other books. I didn't want to use Lawson's name, as I already have the Darrow books to find name-based titles for. I eventually settled on Silver Express, as both silver and trains feature in the story, and either word could be used as part of the title of another novel, depending on what the plot is. We shall have to see.
Silver Express was accepted at the beginning of August 2008. The editing was very straightforward; there were a couple of continuity errors but they were sorted out with the minimum of interference to the text. The blurb was accepted without change. Publication was scheduled for the end of September 2009. A few weeks before then, I was sent six copies of the cover, which was the first time I'd seen it. I wasn't thrilled with it, as it's very generic. I had been hoping for something featuring a train and/or mountains. Instead, there's just a bloke with a gun, a corpse and an undistinguished frame building. The man with the gun doesn't even had a law badge, which you might hope for in a book about four lawmen.
I was pleased when Silver Express was taken up by Lindford to be published as one of their large print editions. I was even more pleased when I saw the cover chosen for it. The picture actually has a man standing on top of a train car, firing a gun ! As you can see below, the car depicted is almost exactly the same as the ones in the photos I took of the Durango-Silverton Railroad.
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