The Cowboy and the Vampire: The Last Sunset
The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection Book Four
Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall
Genre: Horror, Western, PNR
Publisher: Pumpjack Press,
Date of Publication: June 9, 2016
Number of pages: 357
Word Count: 83,000
Cover Artist: Aaron Perkins
The Cowboy and the Vampire: The Last Sunset is the fourth book in award-winning The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection, a series called everything from cult classic to trailblazer in a new genre: Western Gothic.
Take one long, last look at LonePine, Wyoming, population 438. It’s been two years since the vampires quit the quirky little town and things are mostly back to normal — broken dreams and never enough whiskey. But that’s about to go to hell.
Hold on tight for a midnight showdown when a psychotic religious order takes the entire town hostage — including Tucker's long-lost brother — to lure Lizzie from her frozen exile in Russia. The mad monks know Lizzie’s murder will strand the ruling vampire elite in a disembodied afterlife so the cult can impose their twisted beliefs on the living and undead alike. It’s a rip-roarin’ stampede as a cowboy and a vampire try to round up the shattered pieces of their unusual romance.
With the fate of the world on the line yet again, can Tucker and Lizzie put aside their broken hearts to face one last sunset together?
Slap leather or reach for the sky.
This is the fourth book in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection.
The first few months were anguish. But then she threw herself into bringing order to her inherited chaos. If she was to run this vampire shit show, she would run it right. And she had, intensely, ruthlessly, for the first year.
Now, everyone knew the rules, knew the consequences for breaking the coda, and—if grudgingly—understood the wisdom behind the annual allocation. She kept her word, showing no favoritism. Nine turns picked by the Council, followed by one pick for Lizzie, with nine nights of rest. By the end of the first year, a fragile trust in her leadership was established.
By the beginning of the second year of her self-imposed exile, as the intensity of the work began to wane, she realized something had shifted. The full weight of her future lodged permanently, sadly, in her soul.
Rurik, forever circling like a handsome vulture, sensed the change.
“Finally, you admit to yourself he is not coming for you,” Rurik said.
“I knew he wouldn’t come,” Lizzie said, more sharply than intended.
“I’m not the one who requires persuading on this point,” Rurik said. “But no matter the reason, I am pleased. Stop working so hard. Amuse yourself with the privileges and pleasures your position affords. You can have anything you want, with no punishment.”
“From the society you once valued, or from yourself,” Rurik said. “You are free from guilt, free of all constraints, free to act upon your desires and to assume the glorious existence that awaits only your assent.”
Rurik felt something akin to compassion as he watched Lizzie struggle to control her emotions, mistaking liberation for captivity. He was right in one sense, though; she was coming to the same realization all vampires faced at some point in their long, undead existence, even those whose turning was consensual: there was no going back.
Yes, Lizzie thought, defiantly, as the first year passed into the second. If she was no longer ever to be a human, she might as well have fun. Why the hell not? She submerged herself into her passions and found that although not exactly fulfilling, it was diverting, covering her nightly routines with a shroud of hedonistic numbness that prevented any feelings at all—other than immediate pleasure—from surfacing.
She would never admit it, ever, but Rurik was right on another point. She had waited. She had hoped he would come for her, but why would he? She made it clear by breaking his heart that they would never be together. That he believed her ruse broke her heart.
Such a sad and dusty little tragedy, she thought, clutching the railing. A shadow by the lake’s edge caught her eye—Rurik, out with his dogs.
He felt her gaze and looked up, taking in her nude body and letting his senses wash over it, the closest—it seemed—he would come to possessing her, at least for the time being.
She could feel his heart stuttering, but held her own body in perfect check until he averted his eyes and continued his walk.
Lizzie once again considered whether it was time to move. Rurik’s home was spacious and lonely and safe and remote, and while he had been a good host to her, he enjoyed the power of proximity over the other tribes, and she understood he was motivated by a hope of his own.
“It is inevitable that you and I come together,” he once told her. “You have known this since we first met in that godforsaken American outpost.”
“Nothing is inevitable,” she said. Thwarting his passions had become a habit.
She wondered if Rurik ever missed the man he had once been, the brilliant military strategist who helped turn back the crusaders all those many years ago in a battle for Russia’s soul. “Ironic that you lost your soul in the process,” she said aloud and in his direction.
Her private cell phone buzzed on the bedside table. Lizzie padded back into the room, the wolfhound in tow.
Elita. She picked up the phone.
“My queen,” Elita said, managing to sound both sarcastic and reverential. Was there a difference, Lizzie wondered?
“My loyal subject, my lovely maid-in-waiting,” Lizzie replied. In all this madness, Elita was her only certainty.
“Whatever that means,” Elita said. “How’s the frozen tundra treating you?”
“Still frozen. Have you wrestled the American Royals and the Reptiles into peaceful coexistence?”
“We’re making progress, one corpse at a time.”
“When will you visit?” Lizzie asked.
“I’m on my way now,” Elita said.
Lizzie paused. That was not a good sign. “That’s a welcome, but unexpected surprise.”
“What I must tell you may not be so welcome.”
“Tell me now,” Lizzie said.
“I’ll save the details until I can tell you face to face, but in brief, I’ve heard rumblings, screaming really, that you have a new enemy.”
“Why would that concern me?”
“Keep your guard up until I arrive.”
“My guard is never down,” Lizzie said, breaking the connection.”
About the Authors:
Between the two of them, Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall have worked in writing jobs ranging from cowboy-poet to energy journalist to restaurant reviewer to university press officer. After they met, their writing career took center stage when they wrote the first book in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection as a test for marriage. They passed. Clark and Kathleen now live in Portland, Oregon.
Interview with Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall, authors of The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection
Where are you from?
We call Portland, Oregon home at present — land of ironically large mustaches, far too many good craft beers, hundreds of gourmet food carts and perpetually damp sasquatches.
In terms of writing “terroir,” Kathleen was born and raised in Washington, DC; Clark was born in Texas and raised in Montana. Astute readers can draw their own conclusions about how that unholy union might beget a literary series featuring cowboys from the wide-open spaces and hyper-urban vampires.
Tell us your latest news?
The Last Sunset is the fourth and final book in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection, and we definitely saved our best for last. Or maybe it’s just that we get better with age, like wine (though we’ve never been able to keep wine around long enough to prove that).
We are very proud of the work we did on the series, blending action, paranormal romance, humor, the west and a spiritual inquiry into the self, but we’re closing the coffin on vampires (for now, and remember, they are eternal). We’re moving to a new and exciting mystery series that trades the occult aspects of the undead for something far more terrifying — marriage.
When and why did you begin writing?
Clark started writing in fourth grade when he became addicted to positive feedback for creative writing. That addiction was sorely tested when he detoured into poetry (his rock bottom), then journalism, then professional communications at which point the addiction was broken forever (the corporate world is pretty much cold turkey on positive feedback).
Kathleen got her start writing about science when she worked as a geologist just out of college. She quickly discovered she liked writing about science better than doing science which led to an early career in energy and environmental journalism, which eventually spread out to other topics, and landed her square in the academic world of biomedical research where she wrote about new discoveries and served as a university PIO. Being embedded in the scientific world has given her all kinds cool leads on science-gone-bad fiction, which is a big part one of the books.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Clark says it was fourth grade when he illustrated his own wacky monster stories with crayon; or perhaps it was when his first poem was accepted by a (now long-defunct) journal. Kathleen says she has felt like a writer since a kid when she wrote plays for her friends to act out but felt confident announcing that fact as an adult to people after the first time she got money for doing it from a magazine.
What inspired you to write your first book?
We began writing together almost two decades ago (yikes!), dating back to a fateful meeting in a truck stop in Madras, Oregon, after our fiery relationship exploded and collapsed in on itself. After a two-year forced separation to let the jagged edges of our hearts heal, we met in neutral territory and decided to give it another go, only this time with some ground rules: a shared focus on creative writing. It was the only strategy we could come up with that gave us a fighting chance to harness and refocus some of the destructive energy that burned us down.
And so, The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection was born — sketched out on the back of a placemat in crayon (again with the crayons!) and featuring the travails of romantic protagonists who mirrored our own opposites-attract and gloriously dysfunctional relationship.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Current research suggests that tired brains are the most creative, instinctively taking unexpected shortcuts to arrive at results faster, thus saving precious energy resources. It’s the same basic principle as how just the right amount of alcohol acts as a social lubricant and allows one to ignore their filters and fears. So between exhaustion and cocktails, we have a pretty good plan of attack for staying creative. And just to make sure we focus it in the right direction, we’re shameless plotters and character sketchers (so, in other words, we’re shameless and sketchy). Lastly, we’re hyper competitive with each other, so we never want to let the other get too far ahead or write more soulfully and soaringly (which is not a word, but should be). So, to recap: tired, buzzed, shameless, sketchy and insecure. Is that a style?
How did you come up with the title?
This is going to sound weird, but coming up with the title is usually the most agonizing part of the process. For usually just a handful of words, the title is a critical and load-bearing piece of the process. It has to catch eyes and pique interest, hint at the plot without giving it away, punch people in the heart and the brain simultaneously, stand out in the crowd but not too far out and, of course, exist for all eternity. Here’s a simple truth: the more you expect from fewer words, the more exhausting and tortuous the process of settling on them.
Book one, The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance, came to us fairly easily. The cowboy and vampire part is pretty self-explanatory — truth in advertising and instantly setting off the tension and humor in the books — and the rest was serendipity. While researching vampires at the Library of Congress years ago (remember, our first book came out way before Twilight and True Romance), we saw an old book with “A Very Unusual Romance” in the title. It was one of those vintage beauties that smells a little mildewy (seriously, spellcheck, that’s not a word either?), with a thick green cover and gold leaf on the title. We were smitten.
The universe has been less kind ever since.
Trying to keep a short, powerful title that evokes something of the gothic and western part of our series has been tortuous. For each of the next three books, we came up with the plot and started writing, and kept a separate list of potential titles that we added to on a on a regular basis.
For book four, we tapped into the associations pre-loaded into “sunset” for both cowboys (for ever riding off into them) and vampires (who come to life at them). And it hints at the culminating showdown between them and their love. It fits perfectly, but it took us 57 tries on our list of titles to get there.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Absolutely. The central message in our books is that true love will probably be the end of you, but that it’s the only thing worth living or dying for.
Another central part of the book is that a spiritual dimension — the Meta — surrounds us all; it’s an energy field and a shared external consciousness. It’s where vampires reside when their bodies die, where human meditators and near death experiencers venture into and a source of profound meaning and clarity.
And also, a clear message in our books is don’t get attacked by vampires. Unless it’s Elita. If it’s her, you’re still going to die but you’ll probably have a lot of fun first.
How much of the book is realistic?
Well, clearly, some people think that the mythic creatures at the heart of our books are not real. Yes, their numbers are dwindling, and yes, they are shy and reclusive, and yes, we took some liberties with their habits and natural behaviors, but cowboys are real. They exist. We’ve seen them in their native habitat.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Every character in every book is a compendium of the traits and quirks and characteristics of someone we know. Even the vampire victims, the undead goons that meet untimely ends and the doomed mercenaries were all real people once. Usually people we work with who irritated us the day we wrote their death scenes, laughing maniacally as we made it way more gruesome than necessary.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Clark picked Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, for confirming what he already knew: that it was okay to be a writer just because you enjoy writing. And also Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, by Susana Clarke, for confirming that great contemporary fiction doesn’t have to be pitched to short-form readers to be widely entertaining. And also Nausea, by Jean Paul Sartre. Because Sartre.
Kathleen is a voracious reader and has trouble narrowing this one down to a paragraph, or even a page. As a kid, she consumed the Nancy Drew mysteries which led into every single word Jane Austen ever wrote and then, oddly, into a decades spent on the great Russian novelists, a premature imprinting which probably resulted in the melancholic, dark view of life she still holds but also influenced, in part, the strong female voices combined with elaborate plots that characterize The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Clark would like to say Charles Bukowski, or Hunter S. Thompson, because oh, what a night that would be. But he’d probably pick Rainer Maria Rilke to try and pick up by osmosis the intimate, passionate relationship he had with language. Of course, since he’d have to learn Austrian, he’d most likely pick Dorothy Parker to drink martinis with and belittle irritating people.
Kathleen would choose John LeCarre, Elena Ferrante and Peter Singer. The first for his exceptional dialogue and plotting, along with his ability to convey character with a few choice words; the second for the exquisite way she integrated the personal and historical narrative arcs in the Neapolitan Novels; and Peter Singer because his words are helping to shape a revolution (that’s powerful).
What book are you reading now?
Clark: Violence, by Slavoj Zizek; last great read was Porius by John Cowper Powys.
Kathleen has just finished Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and recommends both highly.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Clark reads mostly nonfiction to avoid the literary tofu effect (picking up the flavors of other authors) while we write. And lots of graphic novels. Kathleen Taylor (Cruelty: Human Evil and The Human Brain) is his second favorite author. Kathleen McFall is his first.
Kathleen reads a ton of new fiction to overwhelm the literary tofu effect. She enjoyed The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields and The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra.
What are your current projects?
We are working on a new mystery series that we’re very excited about. Like our current books, it will focus on a dysfunctional romance but we’re trading the occult and paranormal world for straight up mysteries. There’s an interesting wrinkle that should make these books really stand out though. We hope to have the first out early in 2017.
What would you like my readers to know?
First of all, we want them to know that you take very good care of them! This was a great interview and we enjoyed sharing information about our books, our characters and our writing process.
Another thing we want them to know is that our books have more depth and complexity than one might expect from a cowboy and vampire mash up. And that’s because of the tension between a number of elements.
There’s romance of course — it’s the opposites attract kind that is meaningful to many couples, not just buckaroos and revenants.
There’s a tension between the clash of cultures too — between urban and rural dwellers. We love the west, so there’s a loving but accurate portrayal of the people and small towns they live in, as well as the landscape, along with detours into some pretty big cities: New York and DC, for example.
There’s tension between the humor (we’ve been told they are laugh out loud funny in some places) and plenty of action.
And there’s tension between the spirituality of the Meta, and our vampire queen, Lizzie, who has to wrestle with what it means to be human, and Tucker, the cowboy, who is a man of action of few words who feels so confident and grounded in the Wyoming sagebrush.
We call the genre Western Gothic and, as far as we know, we’re the only ones working in it…for the moment!
About the books:
First published in 1999, The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection is a genre mash-up that helped blaze the trail leading to a re-imagining of the vampire metaphor for a modern audience, contributing to an undead pop-cultural explosion. Critics and readers praise the four books as witty, outstandingly entertaining, authentically western, existential, provocatively sensual, thrilling, and more. Let ‘er buck!
Connect with the authors:
· @cowboyvamp (twitter)
· @cowboyvampire (instragram)
1 set of author-signed copies of the full four-book collection