David Mark Brown's debut novel, Fistful of Reefer, is the first in his Reeferpunk series. Part spaghetti-Western, part dieselpunk, Fistful of Reefer refries history and explores the ramifications of an industrial revolution sans cheap oil.
Set along the Texas/Mexico border during the waning years of the Mexican revolution, Fistful of Reefer focuses on a group of unlikely heroes and their unlikely foe as they stumble upon the fringes of a cabal bent on world domination. In spirit, Fistful of Reefer lives somewhere between No Country for Old Men and The Three Amigos.
We had some time to talk with David about this new series, the dieselpunk universe he's building around it, and his advice on self-publishing in today's corporate-owned environment.
We've heard a little bit about Fistful of Reefer through the newsfeeds, but what can you really tell us about it?
The year is 1918. Chancho Villarreal and his Native American friends, Muddy and Nena, live a quiet life on their goat ranch and marijuana farm north of Del Rio, Texas. But when ghosts from Chancho's revolutionary past combine with local panic over stories of the demon El Chupacabra, the three friends inadvertently draw the attention of Texas Ranger, T.J. McCutchen.
McCutchen has made it his personal crusade to prevent the little known intoxicant, marijuana, from corrupting his borderlands, despite the dark secret that he depends on it to control his seizures. When he discovers the remains of a marijuana field, his worst fears are confirmed — the drug is being grown in Texas soil.
To stay ahead of McCutchen's brutal brand of justice, Chancho, Muddy and Nena are forced to pack up all their worldly possessions, including their marijuana harvest and herd of goats. What follows is an action-packed ride across the wilds of a weird-west Texas where rumors tell of El Chupacabras behind every bush.
That sounds wild. Where did the roots of the idea grow from?
Who hasn't spent an evening lying on the living room floor in their underwear watching a classic spaghetti-Western surrounded by equally unclad family members?
Growing up on a Texas ranch during the eighties, I learned to ride and round up cattle while wearing sneakers and a cap, and listening to Depeche Mode via Walkman. So it seemed only natural that once I found my rhythm as a writer I would end up creating dieselpunk, weird-Western pulps. (It's obvious, right?)
A wasted youth eating Spaghetti-Westerns tinged with 1980s Texas? I'm surprised you're still alive, let alone writing. What really gave you the push to start Fistful of Reefer?
Everything from The Pale Rider and Django, to Elmer Kelton, to El Bitcho (musical group), to a great history professor I had in college. The final pieces to fall in place were the literary genres/aesthetics of both steam and dieselpunk.
The final "aha moment" came one evening in a friend's back yard while finishing off a really nice Spanish Red. Traditional publishing just wasn't going to ever recover. The guard had been switched out while I refilled my glass. The time had come to swallow the pride and fear and self-publish. To go native. That single, radical thought changed everything.
Instead of dancing around marketability and agents, I just let the creative juices rip. Over the next few weeks, the concept for Reeferpunk sloughed from the brain-womb and began to wobble about on unstable feet. That was last summer. Since then it's all I've worked on.
Self-publishing still sparks thoughts of little fish jumping into corporate shark tanks for me. How's the water these days?
The writing and publishing waters? I think it's perfect. These next few years will continue to be the ripest for entrepreneurial self-publishing types. If all you want to do is sit in a darkened room and write, then you'll have to wait, maybe forever. But if you can get over the hump of having to become a small business owner, and are willing to learn how to publish and market as well as write, then I believe the ceiling is the limit.
As long as major publishers try to charge $10+ plus for eBooks, there is going to be a gapping whole in the market for Indie folk like me. The self-publishing tarnish is gradually being worn off and brave bloggers are stepping in to fill the gate keeping/recommendation role, helping readers find the self-published books they want.
Do you have any tips for the self-publisher who wants to get out on their own?
Two personal mindsets have to be overcome to make it work. The first I alluded to already: Traditional Publishers no longer guard the gates and establish those who are credible. If a writer can't get over the need to be validated by traditional publishing they obviously won't flourish in the self-publishing waters. And personally I don't think they have a shot in hell with traditional publishers either (sources I trust are claiming traditional publishers aren't signing new outsiders).
The second mindset to be overcome is the need for strict DRM (Digital Rights Management). I'm no expert, and I don't want to get into a DRM smackdown, but the basic rules I live by are: make it convenient, and make it good. If I produce a product that people want to read and I make it available all over the place for an affordable price (ie. $2.99) then piracy is a non-issue and DRM moot. Of course these are my guiding forces. There are many others, but if a writer is into credibility through established channels and tight control over the ownership of their works, then I think this is a bad time to join the fray.
What made you choose an alt-history setting like dieselpunk instead of something a little more contemporary?
I landed on the time period during and after WWI due to all the innate tremors of tension in the United States and throughout the world. The more I poked around I found tons of creative stories focusing on WWII and a great deal of Westerns of course focused on the last half of the nineteenth century. But what happened to the American West after 1890? It didn't just modernize and transform into Indian Reservations, oil fields and ranches overnight.
So I flipped over every rock I could find and let the slithering things creep out. Prohibition was a no brainer, but then there's also the Wets vs. Dry, Rural vs. Urban, Conservative and Liberal, Emigrants, The Depression, and the dust bowl. One of the most interesting divisions to me due to my personal experience was between pastoral and mineral — Hacienda vs. Boomtown. And finally, the continuation of moral crusading into the Reefer Madness period.
Texas not only turned out to be the place of my birth and upbringing, but also a petri dish for the nation's growing pains. Spindle top burst onto the wild-catting scene in 1901 and stained the entire state with black gold fever. Railroads criss-crossed the state. Venture capital poured in, boomtowns were born, coal mined and bricks made while immigrants flocked. The mixture created a nasty bloom of ranchers, roughnecks, wildcatters, and free money as a wild West slammed into the industrial revolution. How could a writer ask for more?
Did you run across anything fun or weird while you were researching the period?
Between the Mexican revolution and the First World War, it was just too much. Germans were already one of the most powerful immigrant groups in Texas (after the Mexicans, of course). And then the Zimmerman telegram of 1917? Really? Germany actually proposed Mexico go to war with the U.S. after seven years of revolution? Here in Mexico my interest in Reefer only grew.
But what about the "Reefer Madness?"
I'm not sure about the connection between reefer and cannibalism, but anyone who's seen one of the old propaganda/sexploitation films knows how strongly the connection was made between reefer and wanton, bestial sexuality. The idea of which doesn't seem so bad these days.
How does Fistful of Reefer relate to your larger Reeferpunk series?
In Fistful of Reefer, I endeavored to bottle up all of these fears and uncertainties, shake them up, and spew them all over the page.
The fictional/legendary beast of El Chupacabra ended up being the central image representing the paranoia and colliding worlds. He ends up being a scapegoat of sorts giving face to peoples' fear of marijuana, alcohol, emigrants, poverty, urbanization, loss of lifestyle, etc. But he also represents the need for revolution. The early ideals of the Mexican revolution were too convenient to ignore, and thus the tag-line: "Viva this!"
I plan on spending the next couple years doing nothing but Reeferpunk. I'm currently working on the second in the series, Twitch and Die!, a Western plague novel, which I hope to have out by Christmas. It will take place in the Texas boomtown of Thurber, a town that historically was the largest between Ft. Worth and El Paso for several years. As the title indicates, my book will describe a horrible plague that is unleashed from a coal mine and eventually threatens much of the United States (but that comes in a later book). I'm also working on releasing eight short stories a year, all within the Reeferpunk world. The first four are already out as Reeferpunk: Volume One. These dabble with back story and fill in interim gaps between novels.
I really appreciate your time, David, and your help in bringing dieselpunk to the public.
Where can people go to get more details on Reeferpunk, or pick up a copy of Fistful of Reefer?
If you're a fan of Dieselpunks and reading this interview, then you should know that you can download Fistful of Reefer for FREE on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/73376 until the end of July.
After July, you can get a Fistful of Reefer for only $2.99 at these retailers:
For more info on the Reeferpunk universe, head on over to www.Reeferpunk.com
Oh, and the cover artist has an awesome weird West webcomic that is worth checking out: www.nexttownover.net
Any final words for your friends and enemies?
Enemas? Oh, enemies. Nah. I'm chill. Thanks for the chance to speak my peace here at Dieselpunks. And a shout out to all the punks who have already been a major help in getting Reeferpunk off the ground.