Hey, y’all. Got a new lore post up on Patreon today! It talks about Grimluk’s knife, which means it also goes into the history of blade-making for demon hunters! Check it out!
The Merkabah Rider series is about a Hasidic gunslinger (the titular Rider, who assumes a title to hide his true name from malevolent forces) tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers to the Old Ones of the Lovecraftian Mythos across the demon haunted American Southwest of the 1880s.
It’s an amalgam of several things I read and saw up the point in my life that I wrote it in; TV’s Kung Fu, Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane and weird western stories, Joe Lansdale’s Jonah Hex comics, Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, H.P. Lovecraft, a Roman Catholic upbringing, and fourteen years living in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood watching the men walk to Temple on Saturdays in those black rekel coats and wide brimmed hats.
On the surface.
But everything of worth has to be about something else, and I think deep down the appeal in writing Merkabah Rider for me, beyond the culture clashes and the marriage of Judeochristian folklore with the Mythos, is self-reflection.
I’m forty two now, and I’ve been writing for twenty years, ten of them professionally (meaning I’ve been paid, though not always at professional rates). I’ve had a book come out from one of the Big Four/Five, from mid-range indie publishers, and now I’m self-publishing. I’m sitting on two unreleased novels no agent wants to touch. I’ve got four kids, the eldest off in St. Louis making his own way in life, the next on her way to high school. I’m on the cusp of possibly losing my own father to cancer.
And I wonder if the writing is worth it.
I’m not in a place professionally where I can support my family solely by writing. Hollywood is not knocking. Well, to be honest, they did knock once and I had to metaphorically direct them to my landlord’s place, as they were interested in the one book I didn’t have the rights to. That was sorta the equivalent of having God call you on the phone only for Him to realize it’s the wrong number , mutter an apology, and leave you listening to the dial tone. I’m not at a place where if my father departs this world, I can be sure he thinks I’ll be alright, or that I can take care of my mom, or even his grandkids.
I pour my whole heart into what I write. It’s really the thing that gives me the most satisfaction, the most happiness. And as happy as it makes me, that’s how unhappy I am when it goes ignored.
And I wonder if it’s worth it, to keep doing it.
Merkabah Rider is the thing I’ve done that’s garnered the most consistent response from readers over the years. I got emails about it for a long time after it went out of print, up to the day before I re-released it with a new cover by Juri Umagami and interior illustrations by M. Wayne Miller, basically in the format I’ve always wanted to see it in.
And I think the appeal of it, for me anyway, is the conflict of The Rider himself.
Imagine a man who by years of hard work and study, has unlocked the secret of life and death, who has trained himself to be able to leave his body and explore the afterlife. Here is a man for whom death holds no mysteries. The Rider has been trained to look The Devil himself in the eye until the latter blinks. Such a man is a master of his craft. He has no fear of death.
But now imagine that he reaches a point in his life where everything he was previously assured of turns out to be untrue.
Kabbalistic mysticism has a concept called the Olam ha-Tohu, the World of Chaos, which existed prior to the Creation which mankind inhabits. To The Rider, this is an area of study forbidden by his mystic teachers. But his master, Adon, has not only studied the Olam ha-Tohu, he has discovered the existence of entities which swam in that Chaos prior to Creation, unimaginable beings of limitless cosmic power which predate the First Day, which may predate God Himself, and call the very nature of a monotheistic ordered universe into doubt.
When The Rider learns this, it necessarily shatters him. The Merkabah Rider series then becomes more than a story of angels and demons and revenge, it becomes about The Rider’s doubting of his entire reason for existence and all he has ever understood about his life and purpose.
Its central question becomes, if the universe is truly a thing of chaos and entropy and a benevolent god is not the ultimate power, can it still be worth fighting for?
You can find the re-released first book, High Planes Drifter, on Amazon.
In 2010, I was made aware of a new book thanks to an old blog I was following at the time. The Weird West Emporium (which moved to Facebook but is far less active these days) had posted about the release of a book called Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter. The concept hooked me immediately and, since I was really exploring the Weird Western at the time, I bought it and devoured it. That year, I’d also done a double review for the Emporium and decided I wanted to review this for the blog as well. This book was a starting place for several things in my life.
First, Ed saw the review and commented. I bought the second book and devoured it as well. When Ed released the third book, I was a fan-friend, asking him where would get him the most royalties. He offered to send me a signed copy for a little less than what I’d pay retail. When the fourth book came around, Ed was dissatisfied with the publisher, Damnation Books (a company that was later revealed to be utter garbage by a slew of other authors), and self-published it. By then, we were friends. Still are and I’m happy to know Ed. This was the beginning of my shift into the writing world, with a peer group of other writers.
Second, it crystallized some concepts I’d been chewing on for a series. In 2007-08, I was reading the Dark Tower. It had a profound effect on me and I knew I wanted to make a weird western story of my own. The first idea started off as a comic that didn’t go anywhere. The comic story shifted and I decided to try my hand with it in novel form. This, too, went nowhere. Reading Ed’s books made me realize what I could really do with a weird western. I’d also gotten into Lovecraft and Howard around that time, so by the time Merkabah Rider came along, I could see the things Ed was doing. I distinctly remembered thinking, “this is like Howard and Lovecraft had a baby.” It’s a description I still use. I’d had inklings from the Dark Tower but flat out injecting Lovecraftian entities into the setting clicked something in my brain.
In the very first Rider story in the first book, the Rider comes up against a demon. Later on, he meets a gaggle of them. He encounters several Lovecraftian entities, and even winds up using the modernish, star version of the Elder Sign to fight one of them. In another story, he comes up against the Crawling Chaos himself, in a scene that seared itself into my brain. It went on like that. And Ed sprinkled in various other references, including one that, to my knowledge, and to Ed’s knowledge, I was the only one to catch. By the end of the Rider’s journey, I had a lot of ideas cooking in the background.
The third thing to come out of all this came as I started working on writing more regularly in 2013. I tapped Ed for advice and he was happy to share. He gave me a bit of advice he got from Joe Lansdale. “One thing [he] told me is to treat your writing as if you’re exercising a muscle. Pick a certain time to do it and stick to that same time everyday, same amount of time, like two hours.” I’ve definitely not written everyday. But I made a schedule. I did my best to stick to it. I started off writing prose about my Skyrim play sessions (something I’ve shared before). In early 2014, I decided I wanted to write a swashbuckling orc story due to all the Skyrim…but there was a nugget of an idea sitting behind that. I talked ideas with a friend of mine, and he loved the swashbuckling idea but when I said I was also thinking about writing a gunslinger orc, he latched on to that. Suddenly Grimluk came into being. An orc who hunts demons with a six-shooter. I seized it and started work. Ed offered more advice, an especially critical piece of which was that when he felt stuck, he’d kind of block out bits of the plot to get going again. This turned out to be an immense help for me in the early days.
With those three things, I can say, without a doubt, that without the Merkabah Rider series, there would be no Grimluk. The ambience, some of the themes and tone, the entities. I took some ideas from my comic-turned-novel notes, and got to work on what would become A Demon in the Desert. I took inspiration from Ed as well. The Rider walks the lands, riding no horse but traveling with a donkey. Grimluk walks the lands, riding no horse unless it’s an absolute life-or-death emergency. One day, I’ll let him explain why. Grimluk, like the Rider, cares about people. True, the Rider seeks vengeance, but he has a heart. I don’t know how well I succeed at it but I’ve been shooting for that Howard/Lovecraft mixture that Ed has in the Rider.
If I hadn’t told him before, I’ll say it here for sure: Ed, thank you for writing what you did. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for humoring my silly ass asking questions and the one or two critique requests. There are others that have helped me get to this point but you were the genesis, man. Thank you.
Some of you may be wondering if this post has anything else besides the word salad above. It does. See, I decided to do this as a means to help Ed. After all the fuckery of Damnation Books, Ed got the rights back to Merkabah Rider, five years after each was published. They’ve long since been out of print, but now? Now Ed has all the rights and is re-releasing them. The first book, retitled as just High Planes Drifter, just saw its return to print. Ed has new cover art, interior illustrations, and an extra short story. He’ll be doing the same for the other three books as well.
This series is a joy to read. If “Hasidic Jewish mystic seeking revenge against his former teacher for betraying their mystic order” doesn’t hook you right away, I don’t know what else to say. If you want some prime weird western action, I’ve yet to find better than this series. I’m fuckin STOKED to be able to hurl this recommendation at people again. Once again, I take up my mantle as unofficial Ed Erdelac Hype Man. And he’ll be guest posting on Friday!
Buy this book, y’all!
This is going to be a bit of a different kind of review for me. Normally, when reading something by someone I know, mentioning that doesn’t matter. I am dedicated to giving honest reviews. It’s an important part of reading and writing. I expect honesty and give it in return. Scott’s a friend. He even sent me a signed copy last year. We both write orcs from different directions. We have similar political views. He was supportive of me in the early days and he’s someone I’m glad to know and call friend.
And that’s why I was utterly terrified I would hate A Gathering of Ravens.
See, this book gets pegged as grimdark. And I don’t really like grimdark. Grim and dark atmospheres are good and very necessary sometimes. I’m sure some folks could tell me my opinion on the grimdark genre is wrong and I don’t get it but I’m deep enough into the Fantasy community as a fan and a writer that I seem the various comments and reviews of grimdark works. I’ve seen reviews of this book that have decried it as a grimdark trash and grimdark gold. I was afraid to read this and hate it and hurt my friend.
But I didn’t.
Here’s the thing. Grimnir is an utter bastard. He wears that with pride. Scott wrote Grimnir to be the bastard child of Tolkien’s orcs and Howard’s Conan. He’s bow-legged and long-armed like the orcs, but built of corded muscle and iron like Conan. Grimnir revels in his monstrous nature. He is a reaver, a thief, a slayer. Again, Grimnir is a bastard. But he has honor. The first time we meet him is in a cave, his cave, where he holds to the traditions of Norse hospitality. If Grimnir swears an oath, no force on Earth can make him break it. If he says you’ll live, you’ll live. If he says you have until sunrise, mind your time.
The world Grimnir inhabits is based in history. The 10th and 11th centuries were dark times, yes, but there was good. Etain stands as a beacon in that regard. Especially the farther into the story you get. The more she learns about the real world, the more she grows. And she grows strong and stays true to her ideals. She keeps her hopes, sharing them.
I would even venture to say that the morality in this book is closer to black and white than shades of gray. Grimnir is the gray while Bjarki and Etain are the black and white respectively. And sure, there are sprinkles of gray in any character. If you’re writing people, even if your aim is black and white, you can’t escape some mingling.
Now, through all of that morality and through the historical aspects, Scott weaves in a plethora of folklore and mythology throughout. The “Oathbreaker” in the middle of the book was something of a surprise in that regard. And I loved it. I could’ve read an entire book where our dynamic duo deals with the Oathbreaker. The magical aspects that show up through the book sang to me. Dwarves, traveling the branches of Yggdrasil, the west elves, and the kaunur, Grimnir’s people. They were all wonderfully done and enjoyable. It felt both like a historical fantasy and a secondary world.
To further the aspect of this being a deep review by someone I call friend, I’d like to take a moment to hit some points I’d seen in other reviews. Some folks were put off by Grimnir’s language towards Etain, and women in general, but he’s equally as vulgar towards men. Grimnir is literally a creature kept alive by rage and movement. His behavior is to be expected. I’d also seen comments that Etain should’ve been a gay man. I don’t get that. In fact, Etain’s presence was a beautiful foil to Grimnir. And the fact that this beast would be befriended by a filthy “hymn-singer”, even be shown loyalty and kindness by another woman to boot, was something I felt helped the story quite a bit. That’s not to say a gay man couldn’t have done that, but Etain starts out as a small, fearful person in the way only an abused orphan woman could be. She just fit.
Overall, the book is both pulpy and refined. Scott really does love to ride that line between Tolkien and Howard. It’s grim in places, maybe a touch dark, but there remains cores of hope and good. I didn’t finish the book feeling like an empty husk. I can’t say I’ll particularly want to read the whole thing again but I definitely want to see more of Grimnir. I want to see how else he evolves as he moves through history.
If you’re like me and you looked at this book and wondered, “Will I like it? Will it be a grimdark mess with shocks for shocks’ sake?” The answer is maybe and no in that order. I enjoyed it but everyone’s different. Maybe Grimnir really is too much of a prick for your liking. I can’t say but I will say: give it a chance if you’re on the fence. Otherwise, carry on and find something else. Life’s too short to read something you’re not feeling.
Hey all! The Fantasy Hive was nice enough to let me do my cover reveal with them today! Check it out!
Howdy, folks! I have an wonderful bit of news today. A Demon in the Desert is featured in a multi-author box set, put together by Tyche Books. It features Daniel Arenson, C. Greenwood, Thomas J. Radford, and my friends, K.S. Villoso and Krista D. Ball.
Arenson’s book, Requiem’s Song, is about weredragons. Yes. You read that right. Weredragons.
Greenwood’s book, Mistress of Masks, features three unlikely heroes joining together to save the world.
Radford’s book, Tantamount, features what amounts to the aesthetic of Treasure Planet but starring an unlikely and unwilling hero.
Then there’s my book, A Demon in the Desert, where we first meet Grimluk.
Kay’s book, The Wolf of Oren-yaro, stars a woman known as “The Bitch Queen”, a she-wolf struggling to rule and save her husband.
Finally, Krista’s book, Blaze, stars her immensely popular Bethany, a redheaded, half-elf demi-goddess with a foul mouth, a foul temper, and a wicked sword arm.
Each book is the first in a series or trilogy and you can get them ALL for just 99 cents at the following retailers:
Hey all. Quick update.
If you backed The Demons Within on Kickstarter, there’s a shiny new update waiting on you and should be a bit exciting.
For everyone else, there’s a new post up on Patreon. Since I seem to love series posts so much, and because this one warrants it, I’ve posted the first in a series where I will be detailing what I would do if Konami gave me total control of Castlevania. I’ve also finished outlining a new short story, starring Gwen, Grimluk’s adopted sister, for Patreon. I’ll be getting to work on it in the next week or so. For those who don’t know, the Gwen stories will run semi-concurrently with Grimluk’s and be Patreon exclusives until I have enough to put out a collection. The first one is already up and you can read it for only $1 (or more if you like).
I’m also toying with doing a mailing list. So that may be a thing fairly soon.
That’s all for now!