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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Wild West

John Ringo (of Writ in Blood, by Julie Bozza)

Dear readers, tonight we go to a Queer Weird West, to listen in on a conversation between a gunslinger haunted by a demon and Doc Holliday. They’re talking about murder, Wyatt Earp, and about the strange life in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881.


“The Protagonist Speaks…” John Ringo pondered this, then cast a sharp look at Doc Holliday. “That’s you, I suppose…”

“I am indeed the protagonist of my own life.”

John huffed a laugh. “And I’m my own antagonist?”

“How can that be? Even if you don’t consider yourself… entirely heroic.” Doc reached for the list of questions. An idle afternoon in a darkened saloon in Tombstone was in danger of turning tedious due to the Arizona heat. A distraction was called for. “Let’s make a start on these, anyhow. I have to admit I’m curious.”

What are you best known for?

“Easy,” Doc answered on Johnny’s behalf. “You’re known as a gunslinger, as am I.”

John shook off this thought and slumped further in the chair.

Doc, as he was wont to do, filled the silence. “It’s not that a hard reputation isn’t a convenience from time to time. It adds a certain… weight to one’s words. But I do wonder sometimes if I wouldn’t rather people see the truth beyond it.”

“Such as?” John prompted.

“Aren’t there days when you’d rather not be known as a killer? I know we’ve each earned it, but you could count up all our kills on one hand, and still have a few fingers left over. Add in Wyatt’s count, and you still wouldn’t need a second hand. Yet you and I are seen as desperados, while his lawman’s badge is barely even tarnished.”

Johnny ignored Doc’s chatter about Wyatt Earp with the ease of long practice, and mused, “I used to think… I could earn favors for the souls I freed.”

“Ah, yes. Your demon lover.” It had always been plain that Doc never believed Johnny about that, though he indulged such talk as if it were real. “I’m sure he is both beautiful and bodacious. But that still hasn’t motivated you to really earn your deadly reputation.”

“No, I met him after I’d earned it.” Johnny lowered his head, and rubbed at his face with both hands as if wanting to wrench off a mask. “I only killed the one man… and I thought I had good cause, but it ruined me. Maybe he – the demon, I mean – maybe he just has a taste for ruination.”

“Before that, then. Were you really so different as a youth?”

What was it like where you grew up?

“Ordinary. Indiana, then Missouri. My Pa owned a general store. They were quiet folk. Pious. I had some schooling, but mostly I read. Had the run of his aunt’s library.”

“Sounds idyllic,” Doc remarked – and he probably meant it, despite his sardonic tone.

“My parents decided to emigrate to California when I was fourteen. My Pa… On the way, in Wyoming… my Pa shot himself –”

“The deuce you say!”

“Don’t get all excited. It was an accident. Climbing down from our wagon carrying his rifle.” John sighed. “I saw the whole stupid thing.”

Doc considered him carefully, and then lit a thin cigar and drew in the smoke. “We’re not so different, are we?” he mused before a long exhale. “My mother died when I was fifteen. She was pious, too. My father, then… well, he lost my respect for ever.” Doc livened as another thought struck him. “But I wager you don’t have a saint in the family! My cousin Mattie, I swear it, will be canonized… Not that I’ll be around to see it.”

“No saints,” John confirmed. “But none of ’em were sinners.”

“Now, what’s next?”

Continue reading “John Ringo (of Writ in Blood, by Julie Bozza)”

Mathew Slade (of Gaslight Gunslinger, by Sugar Lee Ryder)

Dear readers, tonight with us is an ex Pinkerton Agent turned detective and gun for hire. He’s here to tell us about the 1870’s Wild West, and of how a gunslinger used to open plains and prairies can deal with the criminal underworld of a crowded metropolis.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I grew up on the prairies of Nevada. It’s a dry, dusty sort of place. My family moved to Virginia City where my father got a job in the mines during the Comstock silver strike. As soon as I was old enough to hold a rifle, I honed my tracking and shooting skills killing varmints around Virginia City. People in those days didn’t care about the pest control, so whatever I bagged went into the pot.

My father was killed in a mine accident. He’d gotten us into debt, and mother and I still needed to eat and a place to rent, so I took a job as a wagon guard for the silver shipments. People who’d fallen on tough times or slid face first into the bottle were everywhere in a mining town. I got more practice with my gun than I care to admit before I left that town behind.

What made you leave Virginia City?

Mother caught the fever and after she died, I had to leave town to avoid payin’ off the rest of my father’s debt and caught the first train out of town. I ended up in Springfield, Illinois and since I needed to keep body and soul together, I lied about my age and I enlisted in the Army.

I looked as green as grass but shooting skills were in demand due to the start of the Civil War. So when I told them I was 18 they believed me.  I ended up 6th Illinois Cavalry under General Nathaniel Banks. I saw combat, I saw ‘the elephant’ as we then called it. Dreadful, just dreadful. I don’t want to talk about what I saw during the war right now.

All right, then. So what brought you to the current place in your life?

After the Civil war I joined the Pinkerton Detective Agency. First job I really liked, so I spent several years becoming the best agent there could be. Until my last assignment, where I was assigned to track two young women heading along the Oregon Trail to San Francisco.  

Turned out that Samantha Williams and Charlotte Hart were two tough young ladies, gave me a hell of time finding them. Hell of a job – I had to bring Samantha back to an abusive father. Idiot only wanted to marry her off like a damned cow.

Wild Bill Hickok was travelin’ with the two. He told me flat out what a lousy job I had. And when a legend of the West tells you that you’re in the wrong, you plain just listen. A year or two later, I quit Pinkerton and decided to head to San Francisco, where I am now.

Continue reading “Mathew Slade (of Gaslight Gunslinger, by Sugar Lee Ryder)”

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