History’s Mysteries

Historical fiction, it’s what I do.

A special part of that has been cameos, often rather extensive ones, by actual historical figures … whether it’s literary light Langston Hughes, actor Basil Rathbone, artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, connoisseur of the weird Charles Fort, or recording engineer Ralph Peer.

But I’m about to try something different.

My steampunk/weird west novella “The Clash at Crush” will appear in the upcoming anthology Absolute War, from 18th Wall Productions, an anthology of stories set against the backdrop of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

In real life 1896, an enterprising railroad executive named William George Crush organized an event smashing two locomotives into each other as a publicity stunt for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad. The event, dubbed “The Crash at Crush” by journalists on the lookout for a clever turn of phrase, drew 40,000 people to a lonely spot just north of Waco, Texas. If you’re curious about what actually happened,  check out the short video below…

“The Clash at Crush” imagines what might have happened if you grafted a caper story AND a Martian attack onto the Crash at Crush.

So, that’s the setup, and it’s a fairly typical Jon Black one. What’s different is the approach…

Instead of cameos, the historical figures are getting significant screen time. Three of the five members of the caper crew are drawn from history’s pages. More distinctively, I am not using the names by which they are generally known, at least not at their introduction.

The one which never gets properly named will, paradoxically, probably be the easiest to identify. For anyone with a cursory knowledge of American musical history, the name by which he is known in “The Clash at Crush” stops just short of a dead giveaway (much as if I said “Country Hank” or “Rockin’ Presley,” no one would have any doubts as to their identity). If that weren’t enough, the entertainer is commonly described using an epithet which happens to be the title of his best known composition.

While there are frequent hints dropped as to the identity of the other two, and they are most commonly thought of as a pair, those clues will likely only be useful to those with in-depth knowledge of the Wild West. With that in mind, I do reveal their identity in the novel’s final scene.

One reason I think this approach works is that, in 1896, none of the three were yet famous. Nobody interacting with them would have reacted with “Oh my god, it’s [X]” or “Be careful, that’s [Y and Z].”

I will be curious if readers enjoy this approach as much as I have.

(And, yes, maybe a couple of hints dropped in this page as well…)

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