Jem Clayton is the orphaned son of a highly decorated and well-respected sheriff. He went astray and ended up on the opposite side of the law. In doing so, Jem developed a reputation of being a courteous bandit that never let harm come to a woman, and he was content to live that lifestyle. Unbeknownst to him, a more virtuous path awaited him.
Jem’s home town of Seneca 6 is a small, prosperous mining community that had existed peacefully for many years. After becoming entangled with a dangerous group of intergalactic outlaws known as The Harpe Gang, Jem puts Seneca 6 in a direct line of fire when they come looking for him.
The Harpe Gang is unlike any force the universe had ever seen. Little Willy Harpe is a nasty human being with a penchant for cannibalism. He becomes even more deadly after taking possession of a “holy weapon”—a parasitic alien life form that bestows him with unprecedented power.
Guns of Seneca 6 tells the tale of a man who fled from his past and now fights to reclaim it. Jem has plenty of help along the way as he battles a most formidable foe and uncovers a shocking secret that fills in the blanks regarding the demise of his father.
Outlaws, savages, aliens, and a town under martial law: This is not the Wild West as you know it, and author Bernard Schaffer wouldn’t have it any other way. While the inevitable comparisons to Firefly would be impossible to avoid, by time I closed the book, I found them to be two very different experiences.
What they do share in common is a cast of strong characters that are so distinguishable and well-crafted that you could almost label any of them as the “main” character. Such an accomplishment has become Schaffer’s signature. If you were to ask five different readers who their favorite character was, you’re likely to get five different answers. For me, as much as I liked Jem Clayton, my favorite character was Doc Halladay.
I have read all of Schaffer’s books, and while each of them are fantastic reads, Guns of Seneca 6 stands out as my clear favorite. Answering why is a bit tough to explain. Guns possesses all of the trademark characteristics that comprise Schaffer’s style, but the book feels more relaxed than his previous work. I didn’t catch it until I was already a few chapters in, but it eventually dawned on me that there was a new rhythm to Schaffer’s writing that I’d never noticed before. The flow of his sentence structure is cleaner and simpler to read.
As much as I enjoyed Schaffer’s last book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, it was an exhausting read. It read more like a technical writing manual and took me about two weeks to finish. Guns will enable readers of any level to feel entertained and less challenged. It’s structured in a way that allows you to just enjoy the story while subliminally giving you a lesson in how to write effectively.
Even as I was rounding the corner near the end of Guns, I was already envisioning where Schaffer may take the story next. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s got a list of notes for a sequel, and I’m anxious to reach the day when I can enjoy that one too. For now, if you’re not already a fan of Schaffer, you should be. I can’t think of a better introduction to what makes his work great than Guns of Seneca 6.
First of all, congratulations on your new book! One of my favorite qualities of yours is the relentless research you put into your projects. What all did you to prepare for this book?
My mom worked as a hairdresser at the Village Mall in Horsham Township when I was a little kid. There was a movie theater in the mall that showed second-run features, and I have clear memories of being around five years old and walking through the mall by myself to go watch Star Wars. I believe I saw it in that theater twenty-one times. The research definitely began then.
Actually, it began even earlier. Before I was born, my father conspired with my uncle to name me Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp. There was an election held by putting names into a hat, and whatever name was drawn would be the winner. Uncle Billy distracted the people in attendance while my dad rigged the hat so that every name inside read Wyatt. My mom was horrified at the result, but eventually uncovered their ruse.
The research was really just me referring to things I already knew from the life I’ve lived. You either hear the music of the open range and a man with two six-shooters or you don’t. You either look out at the stars and wonder what lies beyond them or…I don’t know what you are…someone who loves Nicholas Sparks books.
What would you say were your biggest influences when creating this story?
I thank Ron Hansen in the book because as soon as I finished THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and DESPERADOES I knew I wanted to write a western.
After the meticulous research and anachronistic confinement of writing WHITECHAPEL: THE FINAL STAND OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, I needed something that allowed me to run wild.
Were there any clichés in the Sci-Fi/Western genre that you specifically wanted to avoid?
I think it would be hard to write either one and not have at least some of the standard themes. Both genres have been mined so deeply already that to do something truly original would be impossible. I tend to focus more on characterization and depth. If the characters are real to me, and real to you, it’s okay if something familiar happens.
You’ve recently said that you already miss the characters. Let’s talk long term potential of this series. Where do you want to go from here?
I’m in the middle of a different book called SUPERBIA which is probably going to end my police career. The trouble is, I can’t stop hearing that music I talked about. Seneca calls to me. Maybe I just don’t want to write about what it’s really like to be a police officer, because it’s too depressing. It’s funny, but also very depressing.
The sequel to GUNS is tentatively titled THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6. I have a decent, if rough, idea of what the book will be about and it will definitely be the next project I focus on after SUPERBIA.
I’ve never trusted people who want to write a “series.” When I see a book that says, “The First Book of the Whatever Series” I always shy away because it makes me feel like the author isn’t telling a complete story with that book. He is just setting you up for his next five volumes.
All right, Colt Defeater to your head, are you more interested in creating the next Jem Clayton story or the next Agent Price story?
The next Agent Price story is already written. I wrote it for KINDLE ALL-STARS PRESENTS: RESISTANCE FRONT and it is called “Operation: Fuhrerdie!”
I held the story back because it is just too controversial to include in that collection. Laurie asked me if I was thinking like an editor of an anthology or the author of a story when I showed it to her. She’s a smart cookie like that.
Rest assured, that story will see the light of day. And then people who know me will say, “I never liked that dude to begin with.”
Speaking of Colt Defeaters, you worked extensively to create entirely new weapons for Guns of Seneca 6, including working with a graphic designer. Can you talk about that process and why that was so important for you to do?
Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics is the genius behind them. He designed them, named the parts, and had this tremendous vision of what they would be. My initial descriptions to him were humble and simple, and his brilliant mind created these works of art.
For a potential reader, which path is the closest to Guns of Seneca 6 between The Assassination of Jesse James, Firefly, Red Dead Redemption, Deadwood, and Clint Eastwood?
People bring up Firefly and the movie that was made out of it, which fails me at the moment, but honestly, I’ve never seen a single episode. Never saw Deadwood either. And, despite the sacrilege of what I’m about to say, no Clint Eastwood movie is ranked among my favorite Westerns.
Never… seen… Firefly? Well, folks, it’s a shame that Bernard couldn’t stay longer, but…
I’ve seen some early reviews of your book that liken it to Steampunk. What do you think of that comparison? Are you a fan of mangas like Trigun?
I love Lone Wolf and Cub (I have a half-sleeve tattoo of Ogami Itto and Daigoro on my left arm) and Samurai Executioner, but I’m sad to say that is the sum total of my knowledge of manga. As for Steampunk, Cyberpunk, you name it, I love it. If they created Piratepunk, I’d love that too.
After releasing a novel just a few months ago, it’s somewhat surprising to already be seeing another full novel from you. How long had you been working on this book? Did it overlap with some of your previous works?
I tend to work on several various projects all at the same time. GUNS OF SENECA 6 took about a year, all told. In that time, however, I did an enormous amount of other work. If I ever get the opportunity to do this full-time, look out.
Trying to decide how to follow a novel as dark as Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes had to have been a tough decision. What made Guns of Seneca 6 seem like the next logical release?
Whitechapel was an emotionally draining book for me, and written during a really dark time in my life. I wanted to do something fun and enjoy myself.
You’ve been very vocal about the harsh criticism slightly more sensitive readers have been giving Whitechapel. However, you’ve still made the decision to release an edited version of the book that removes a lot of the gore. Talk a little bit about that decision and what exactly you are doing to the tone it down.
The truth is, I would not write WHITECHAPEL today. At the time, I was on the verge of self-destructing and hanging on by the tips of my fingers. As I look back through the book, I see extreme scenes of gore and violence and sex, to the point that they frighten me, but I also see a commitment to tell the truth. I know what Jack the Ripper did, and anyone who reads WHITECHAPEL will know it too.
The struggle of Sherlock Holmes to overcome his own demons and return to fight one last great battle is clearly indicative of my own journey at that time. It’s probably the reason he isn’t in the book much at first. I didn’t have the strength to talk about myself at first.
I edited the book down so that people have an option. Even the edited version is not fit for children, but at least now readers can choose which one to read. And then, if they still complain, I will hunt them down and kill them.
Switching gears, how is the Kindle All-Stars project coming along?
Everything is on target for a Holiday release. I can’t wait. People are going to love this book.
You managed to bring in contributions from some powerful names in literature. Are you going to try and widen the net for the next KAS book and lure in more big names?
I think if the book is as successful as I expect it to be, they will come to us.
With Kindle All-Stars, you did the bulk of the editing yourself. As an author that has had his own work torn to shreds in the past, how did that prepare you to work with other writers in that capacity?
It was incredibly hard. I’m so used to getting my ass kicked by editors that even when I was being nice to people they were still taken aback. I certainly don’t enjoy hurting anyone’s feelings.
The biggest challenge that authors in the digital age face is providing a professional, polished product to readers. We do not have the editing and proofreading resources that come with a big-time publishing contract, so we have to police ourselves. Writers who think their work is too sacred to be scrutinized are amateurish and stupid. They also make the committed professionals look bad and I won’t have it.
As with all of our interviews in the past, I’m going to end this with the same question I always ask: What’s up next for Bernard Schaffer?
More and more work. RESISTANCE FRONT will release before the end of 2011. SUPERBIA and THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6 for 2012. I’ll also be tinkering with my second collection of short-stories called BERNARD J. SCHAFFER’S CODEX LEICESTER and the second KINDLE ALL-STARS Project.
Damn. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? One of these days I’m going to do something completely crazy like take a vacation. Learn how to golf or go sailing.
As always Bernard, thank you so much for your time. You’re an uber-talented guy that deserves all of the acclaim you get. It’s only a matter of time before you hit the big time, but I hope that even when that day comes, you’ll still swing by to chat with me on my site. 🙂
It is my pleasure, David. Working with you on the Kindle All-Stars Project was one of the highlights for me. Thank you for your support, and keep up the great work.
Buy Guns of Seneca 6 for KINDLE, NOOK, or PAPERBACK.