Edward M. Erdelac is the author of fourteen novels including Rainbringer, Andersonville, Monstrumfuhrer and The Merkabah Rider series. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies and periodicals ranging from The Call of Poohthulhu and Tales From Arkham Sanitarium to Star Wars Insider Magazine. Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he resides in California with his family.
His Merkabah Rider series is a unique and intriguing take on the Weird West. A Hasidic gunslinger tracks the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers to the Great Old Ones across the haunted southwest of 1879.
Interview with Edward M. Erdelac
Tell us about yourself – what is something readers would be surprised to find out?
I was born in Indiana, studied film in Chicago, came out to Los Angeles to make movies and write scripts. I did do an indie western in 2009 called Meaner Than Hell (that’s on Amazon Prime for free now), but not having much luck in the film business, turned to writing novels. I wrote stories for Lucasfilm’s Star Wars dot com and Titan’s Star Wars Insider Magazine back before the Disney takeover. Something surprising…I once pulled a guy off of Tom Petty on stage when I was about 19. And I regularly hang out with one of the world’s most famous cartoon characters (or the guy who does his voice, anyway).
What is it about the Weird West genre that draws you to it? What are your favorite aspects or examples of this often-underappreciated genre?
The frontier was the front line for the clash of a variety of cultures and ideologies; Native American, Anglo, African American, Chinese, Mexican, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, ex-Union, ex-Confederate, all with their own totally unique and fascinating folklores and mores crashing together and coming away slightly altered from the exchange. It’s the exploration of that culture collision and that blending of folkloric traditions that most excites me. That, and the wildness and freedom of the period.
What inspired you to write this story?
I lived in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood and would see the guys in their payot curls and rekel coats and black hats walking to temple, wondering what was up with them. Around the same time I started researching that culture I came across an entry for ‘merkabah rider’ in a coffee table book my wife bought called Angels A to Z, which described a dedicated ecstatic who would leave their body to explore the upper reaches of heaven, derived from the Biblical story of the fiery chariot seen by Ezekial. The image of a Hasidim upon a rearing horse made of ethereal fire popped into my head. I was also a huge fan of Robert E. Howard’s weird westerns (Old Garfield’s Heart, The Thunder Rider, etc), Joe Lansdale’s Dead In The West, and the Howard’s fighting, wandering Puritan, Solomon Kane. Finally, the TV series Kung Fu and the Gene Wilder/Harrison Ford movie The Frisco Kid. Those were the ingredients that led to Merkabah Rider.
If you were living in the Weird West, what kind of character would you be?
I imagine I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing now, but with a magical edge. Maybe I’d be like that guy Saul Rubinek played in Unforgiven, the dime novel writer following the gunslinger around…but the words I write would be magical…able to turn a nothing of a bandit into a legendary gunslinger or vice versa….say, I might write that one. Nobody swipe it.
Are there any other writing projects you’re working on?
I’m currently writing the second book in my John Conquer series, about an occult detective in 1970’s Harlem uncovering a plot by a white supremacy cult to prevent the birth of hip hop. It’s like SHAFT meets HELLBLAZER (or BROTHER VOODOO if you’re hip). I’m also doing a short prequel piece to Merkabah Rider called Sixty Bands of Fire, which will lead into a series of weird civil war stories, Menasseh: Alias Merkabah Rider.
What are you reading right now?
The Thirteen Gun Salute, book thirteen of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, on which the movie Master And Commander was based. Napoleonic sea warfare, thrilling and clever, at times very funny, with two of the most likable characters in literature.
What is your Favorite weird west movie/book/comic/ETC. and why?
My all-time favorite is Joe Lansdale’s Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, where a snake oil peddler pits an undead Wild Bill Hickock against DC’s scarred ex-Confederate gunslinger. Just a wild ride from the king of weird westerns. I had first encountered the pair of horror and the west via Robert E. Howard, but I definitely read this concurrently and it really got my neurons firing with story possibilities. Lansdale’s implementation of diverse cultures (and their various folklores) clashing in particular left a huge impression on me. Favorite book would probably be McCarthy’s apocalyptic Blood Meridian or, An Evening’s Redness In The West for its hypnotic, otherworldly prose, and stark, shocking violence. Favorite weird western movie? Ravenous. Snowbound frontier misfits and empowering cannibalism with a grim, humorous edge. Plus that great Alban and Nyman score.