by A.M. Burns
Let me start off with saying thanks to Kathy (Kathy: you’re very welcome 🙂 ) for opening her blog to me today as I spread the word about my latest book “Native Wind”, book one of the Native Ingenuity series. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. As we look over the books available today there are very few that simply fall into one genre, although as readers we like to try and pigeonhole things. We’ve got science fiction romances. We’ve got fantasy heist books. We’ve got western mysteries, and the list goes on. I actually think this great diversity of books makes it an exciting time to be both a reader and a writer.
For the Native Ingenuity series, I’ve taken three genres, mashed them together and added a bit of gay spice to the mix. The story is set in the Old West, so we’ve got cowboys, Indians, railroads, and outlaws. I decided to throw in a bit of fantasy. There’s dragons, mages, and shifters. And for a steampunk angle, I added men made of copper who are powered by magic…along with a few things like horseless carriages, gears and goggles in an era before there should’ve been horseless carriages…(the copper men are in the first book, there are even more interesting steampunk ideas in the rest of the series) And into this creative stew, I added our main characters, Trey McAlister and Gray Talon. Who are the gay couple at the center of all the action.
This is a really fun series to work on since I could take a lot of the Western frontier themes that are so prevalent here in Colorado, where I currently live, as well as Texas, where I grew up, and mix in some of the things I really enjoy, like steampunk and magic. There are a few other books out there that merge these ideas, but so far I haven’t run into one with gay characters. I really think the Old West is just ripe for steampunk, beyond what we’ve seen in things like “The Wild Wild West”.
One of the more unusual ideas that came around when I first started this series was the Native Americans being shifters. A lot of folks really love the idea of spirit animals. I thought about that and decided that my Native Americans would have an animal shape they could change into and it would be very similar to spirit animals. But I also liked the idea of folks shifting into more than one form, so one of our main characters, Gray Talon, has the rare, but not unheard of, gift of shifting into anything he’s seen. This actually leads to one of the funnier scenes in “Native Wind” as he explores that talent.
Overall, I think being able to mix genres up is a great thing for writers to do. It leads to a greater creativity and when done well there’s a lot readers can enjoy in the works. I think we should all try many different things both in our reading and our writing. Maybe when we stop trying to pigeonhole things and expand our reading, our minds will go along and we’ll find great and wonderful things out there to enjoy.
Title: Native Wind by A.M. Burns
Native Ingenuity|First Chronicle
Publisher: DSP Publications
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Science Fiction
Length: 216 pages/Word Count: 75,784
After his family is killed by thieves, sole survivor Trey McAlister is taken in by a nearby Comanche clan. Trey has a gift for magic and the clan’s shaman, Singing Crow, makes him an apprentice. While learning to control his powers, Trey bonds with a young warrior and shape shifter, Gray Talon. When they are sent out on a quest to find the missing daughter of a dragon, they encounter the same bandits who murdered Trey’s family, as well as a man made of copper who drives Trey to dig deeper into the magics that created him.
It doesn’t take them long to discover a rancher near Cheyenne, Wyoming is plotting to build a workforce of copper men—and has captured the dragon’s daughter they’ve been searching for. Trey and Gray Talon must draw on all their knowledge and skills to complete their quest—one that grows more complicated, and more dangerous, with each passing day.
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“We’re in another part of the country up here,” Gray Talon said, still watching the show. The girls were doing a series of kicks in perfect time to the music, and the piano player’s fingers still flashed in the light. “Did you notice the piano player?” He dropped his voice to change the subject. They’d had the discussion a couple of times on their ride from Arapaho lands, in what the whites called Kansas.
Trey turned toward the stage. “What about him?”
“His mask and gloves appear to be metal.”
“Look at the detail,” his lover whispered. “There are even curls under the edge of the top hat. What kind of metal artist could accomplish that? And how uncomfortable must that be to wear? I wonder who or what is hiding under the mask.”
“I don’t know,” Gray Talon said. “But the workmanship must be incredible if he can play the piano with those gloves on.” Trey’s mother had a piano that had been a family heirloom. She’d played it for them when they were boys. The brigands who killed her had smashed it, rendering its voice silent.
The bartender appeared at the table with two bowls of stew, some bread, and a couple of glasses. “Sorry, sir,” he said to Trey, ignoring Gray Talon altogether. “It is the last of the stew. It may be short on a few things.” He placed the meal down for them.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Better than eating our own cooking.” Trey reached for the spoon that leaned in the stew. “What’s up with your piano player over there?” He gestured with the spoon toward the stage. “Does he always wear such an intricate mask when he works?”
“That’s no mask—” The barkeep snorted. “—and he’s no man. Haven’t you seen a construct before?”
“A construct?” Trey asked.
“He’s a clockwork piece. I won him off old Rockwall McNair himself. The man might be the best earth mage this side of the Mississippi, but he’s not very good at cards. I beat him fair and square and took old Copperpot off his hands. Turns out he’s a really good piano player and dishwasher. I think I’d actually pay money for him if I had to.”
“I’m fascinated. When the show is over, would you mind if I examined him?” Trey asked. “I’ve a bit of interest in the magical arts. You say that Rockwall McNair made him?” He took the first taste of the stew.
The bartender seemed to study them with cold, suspicious eyes. “Yup. They say, out there at the ranch, they’ve got several more that ol’ Rockwall’s made.”
“The stew is very good,” Trey said.
“When the set is over, he’ll have a couple of minutes. Since the lunch crowd was fairly small today, there aren’t as many dishes for him to do. I’ll send him over so you can take a look at him.”
Trey flashed the man an innocent smile. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that.”
The barkeep turned and walked back behind the bar, pulling out a rag to wipe his hands as he went. Gray Talon noticed that the man glared toward the piano.
“Interesting, so now the whites are using magic to make slaves,” he said as he took the first bite of stew. Weak gravy and overly soft carrots slid across his tongue, nearly making him gag. “Why did you tell him this stew was good? This swill is worse than horse piss.”
“I want to get a good look at Copperpot,” Trey responded as he dipped the cornbread into his stew. “I’ve never met a magical construct before. It might give me some ideas. I can see where a lot of whites would be willing to use them as labor now that the blacks are freemen and have to be paid for their work.” He scrunched his face up, and Gray Talon couldn’t tell if the unpleasant look was due to the food or something else.
The music and show continued long after they finished their meal. More men from the town poured into the saloon. They made Gray Talon nervous. The shadowed corner gave him an odd sense of security. Even with his shapeshifting abilities, this many people could be a problem if a fight broke out.
A thunder of applause filled the saloon as the show ended. All the ladies came across the stage and took a bow. One of them announced that there’d be another show during dinner, but right now the girls needed to go get some rest. Men hooted and hollered. Several reached up and pulled women off the stage to laughter from both the men and the women. The women disappeared with the men up a curved flight of stairs near the edge of the bar.
“They don’t even treat their women with a modicum of respect around here either,” Gray Talon huffed, not bothering to keep the disdain from his whispered voice. Comanche men knew how to treat their prospective mates, be they female or male.
Trey didn’t respond. His gaze rested on the construct, Copperpot, as it stood from the piano bench and walked toward the bar. The bartender said something and pointed toward their table. The metal man turned and walked across the room to them.
As the construct got closer, the face Gray Talon’d been unable to see before became clear. It was as detailed as the curls of hair beneath the copper hat. The nose was a little long, but otherwise the chin and cheekbones made for a ruggedly handsome face complete with thin lips and slightly too-round eyes. The odd lines running down from the corner of the mouth reminded Gray Talon of a ventriloquist dummy he’d seen one time in Pueblo while his mother had been shopping. A slight clank reverberated through the floorboards as the thing walked toward them.
“Boss said you want to talk to me.” The mouth moved just like the dummy’s had, but the man’s voice that came out was smooth and easily understood. The speech even sounded a bit more refined than most of the local men.
Trey’s eye widened. “Yes, actually I’d like to examine you if possible. The idea of magical constructs is fascinating.”
“I have work to do shortly, but the boss says to take a couple of minutes with you.” The thing stood patiently next to their table. Gray Talon noted that several of the bar patrons were turning their way to watch what unfolded.
“The bar owner says that you were created by Rockwall McNair.” Trey stood up and walked around the metal man.
“That is correct. McNair is my creator.”
“Do you know how he crafted such a detailed outer form for you?” Trey’s delicate fingers slid down along the thing’s arm.
“He is an earth mage.” The reply was very matter-of-fact. “Copper is a metal from the earth. He can easily shape it to his will.”
Trey nodded. “I can see where that would be the case. How are you powered? Do you have to take in anything to keep you going?”
The metal head turned at an odd angle with a slight squeak of metal on metal. It looked a bit like a cat tilting its head. “I do not eat, if that is what you are asking. Otherwise, I do not understand. I just go.”
The purse of Trey’s lips told Gray Talon he was thinking but hadn’t finished the idea yet. Like his mentor Singing Crow, Trey’s thoughts could take a while to come to completion. Gray Talon leaned back in his chair and watched the exchange. He bet the barkeep would call the construct back to work before Trey finished examining Copperpot.
“So what kind of jobs are you capable of?” Trey lifted the thing’s fingers and moved the joints back and forth.
“So far I have not found anything I cannot do.”
“I heard you play the piano. Is that why you were made?” The mage let the hand fall back to the construct’s side.
There was a pause, and the thing tilted its head to the other side. Its round eyes grew larger and then smaller. “I do not know why I was created. McNair, the creator, did not tell me why. He just created me. I play the piano very well. I clean dishes very well. I am made of copper. I do not rust in the water. I never asked why I was created.”
A.M. Burns lives in the Colorado Rockies with his partner, several dogs, cats, horses, and birds. When he’s not writing, he’s often fixing fences, splitting wood, hiking in the mountains, or flying his hawks. He’s enjoyed writing since he was in high school, but it wasn’t until the past few years that he’s begun truly honing his craft. He is the current president of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group: www.csfwg.org. Having lived both in Colorado and Texas, rugged frontier types and independent attitudes often show up in his work.