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.