Guns, cars and gambling: Travis Heermann aims to put the fun back in speculative fiction

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With Cars, Cards and Carbines, author Travis Heermann is aiming to bring some fun back into the world of speculative fiction. The forthcoming anthology -- aiming for a December 2014 release and currently seeking funding via Kickstarter -- is primed to do just that with a series of action-packed stories incorporating those common elements. Heermann's preliminary lineup of authors includes best-selling local writers like Kevin J. Anderson and Mario Acevedo along with a dozen more, working in nearly every genre under the (speculative) sun. We caught up with Heermann to talk about the genesis of the idea, what kind of stories we can expect and why he's using Kickstarter to make it happen.

See also: The werewolf apocalypse kicks off in Travis Heermann's The Wild Boys

Westword: You mention in the Kickstarter pitch that the idea for this compilation came from simply wanting to see more of the type of stories that inspired you as a kid. Can you elaborate on that?

Travis Heermann: Yeah. I had been wanting to do an anthology for about six months. I had all these sort of ideas percolating and some of them sounded kind of cool but I didn't get really excited until I stumbled across this idea. There was a day I was brainstorming and thought, "What if we juxtapose some things that I like and see what happens?" I like cars. I love poker. And guns make great stories. All of the sudden I had that alliteration -- Cars, Cards and Carbines.

That idea made me think about Mad Max meets Maverick and Wild, Wild West. That's where my mind went, if I had this story to write. As I started to think about who to invite to this, I know a ton of authors. Their genres run from urban fantasy to steampunk to cyberpunk to weird Westerns. Then I started thinking of all the different things you could do with those three elements, and that's where the idea took off for me.

Now, despite the mentions of Wild, Wild West and Maverick, this isn't primarily a weird Western or steampunk Western anthology, right? The plan is to cover anything from space opera to fantasy, correct?

Exactly. We've got a couple of straight-up horror authors in there. Norman Partridge, for instance. He sort of describes the story he wants to do as a wild road trip to the dead-end of nowhere, with gunpowder in one hand and brimstone in the other.

The only story we've seen is one from Jay Lake. I don't know if you know what's going on with him, but he's an award-winning science fiction author. He's incredibly prolific. He has like 300 short stories out there, all written since 2004. He's also dying of cancer. He's a personal friend of mine, and his involvement strikes a whole lot of chords for me. I'd love to be able to publish one of his last stories. He's expecting to pass away next summer, that's the ultimate deadline he's been given. At this point, he's too sick to write fiction anymore, so it was important to us to get a story from him as soon as possible. I've read it, and his story is this sort of wild, science-fiction car chase with aliens and ray guns. It's a lot of fun.

Nick Mamatas, he wants to write a straight noir story, without any speculative elements. E.C. Ambrose, she's talking about doing a historical fantasy set in Renaissance Italy, with papal spies and Italian spies... she's working on this idea and it sounded pretty cool. Those are the ones that come to mind.

The combination of elements you've chosen is pretty flexible. Guns are a symbol and driver of conflict. Cars, if you're willing to interpret it, can be taken a lot of interesting places, from the straight noir you mentioned to weird, steam-powered chariots in alternate-history Rome.

Exactly. The flexibility was a lot of the appeal for a lot of the authors. They told me as much. I'm really looking forward to reading the stories.

It sounds like it could be a lot of fun, for sure.

That's an important element. I love science fiction, I love fantasy, but I feel like over the last few years we -- speculative fiction authors -- have been trying so hard to get respect that we've swung so far over to the literary side of things that, in many cases, that we've forgotten or lost the kind of things that attracted us to speculative fiction in the first place. That sense of fun, and awe and wonder. The kind of stuff that inspired us to do what we want to do is an important part of this.

How did you choose the authors that you wanted to participate?

One of the things I decided to do early on was to bring on an experienced editor. That's why I brought John Helfers onto the project. He and I worked together before and he's worked with some of the biggest dogs out there -- bestsellers and award-winners. Between his contacts and mine -- I've been going to the big cons for several years, so I've built up a big list of friends and acquaintances, a lot of whom are award-winners and bestsellers [too] -- we sent out maybe forty or so invitations and we got fifteen solid yeses back and we were really happy with who those folks were, so we ran with it.

What's the reason for funding it via Kickstarter?

I ran a Kickstarter back in January for my second Ronin novel and it was extremely successful. I was really happy with how that project worked out, and that was my first indie pub experience. I was really happy with how the book turned out. Thanks to the Kickstarter, I was able to commission some interior illustrations for the novel, which I thought was really cool. You don't see that anymore.

Having had some bad experiences last year with small press, I was like, "You know what? If I'm going to do all the work, I'm going to keep all the money." So Kickstarter's the natural choice to put something like this together.

I love the idea that people can support artists directly. As long as someone's putting together a professional-level project, that people will see that and recognize the value of it. From the perspective of someone who backs Kickstarters, I get a lot of satisfaction in helping someone create something. If I can support their work directly, and bring something into the world that would not otherwise have been made -- something cool like a movie or book -- I just think that's fun.

Is there a contingency plan if the Kickstarter fails?

I don't have a plan for that at this time, although I have been thinking about it. If it doesn't fund, I will talk to the authors and my co-editor and see what they think. I'm kicking around various ideas. I'm not inclined to just let it die. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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