K.G.: I’m generally inspired by stories powered by well-drawn, intriguing settings. These include Georges Simenon’s mysteries set in Paris; Arthur Upfield’s mysteries set in the Australian outback; Ray Bradbury’s Mars stories; and Charlaine Harris’ contemporary fantasies set in small Southern towns. For “Escape,” I drew inspiration from Isaac Bashevis Singer (who wrote many stories about supernatural elements in Jewish culture) and David Milch, who wrote the TV series Deadwood.
Three! Days! In! A! Row! Are you ready for another Issue 035 author interview?! Today we chat with K.G. Anderson about her story “Escape.”
K.G.: An anthology editor remarked that she was getting too many Weird West stories focused on men — fairly mainstream cowboys and outlaws. I took that remark as a challenge to set a story in the Weird West and to take it in a new direction by telling the story of a woman from my own culture. I’m Jewish and there were many Jewish dry goods merchants in the early West. I’d always wondered how these men found wives, so I did some research and found out about mail-order brides. Women (usually older spinsters or widows) answered marriage ads placed in Jewish community newspapers in New York. So, my character was going to be a Jewish mail-order bride. (The story uses an actual ad from an 1880s paper.)
Golems are well-known magical creatures in Jewish lore, so I decided the bride would have a golem and that it would be the magical (weird) element in my Weird West tale. While researching the Wild West and Jewish New York of the 1880s, I discovered that Billy the Kid (born Henry McCarty) had grown up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There is a historical mystery about Billy the Kid and his final days in New Mexico, so I decided to involve my protagonist, Shulamit, and her golem, in that mystery.
LSQ: Can you tell us a bit about what golems are and their history?
K.G.: A golem is man-shaped creature made of clay that can be brought to life, usually by a rabbi who uses specific Hebrew letters to animate or deactivate the creature. In traditional tales, a golem is brought to life to protect the Jewish community. The most famous story is about a golem created by a late 16th century rabbi in Prague. But often the use of a golem results in tragedy because the creature misinterprets, or takes too literally, human commands.
LSQ: This story feels like it was a lot of fun to write. Where did you get the idea? What was the most challenging aspect about this piece to write and why?
K.G.: The idea came from the editor looking for non-traditional Weird West tales. The biggest challenge for me was getting inside Shulamit’s character. I had to know all the factors — her love for her grandfather, her fear of her step-mother, her shyness about her looks, and her spirit of adventure — that made it possible for her to leave the sheltered community in which she had grown up to move all the way to the New Mexico territory. I had to figure out how someone with her sheltered background (but quick wits) would deal with tough frontier types like Billy the Kid and Kate Flaherty, the New Mexico innkeeper who befriends Shulamit.
LSQ: Can you name a few authors that inspire you? Are there any that particularly inspired you for this story?
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
K.G.: I write short stories in a wide range of fantasy and science fiction subgenres, including alternate history and horror. Recently I’ve been writing near-future dystopian stories for a series of anthologies issued by B Cubed Press. But I’m also writing stories set in modern secondary worlds, including one where master gardeners and master chefs wield magical powers.