They Just Keep Coming Back

A new book, just out Undead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming Back

Book description from Amazon:

The undead are back! In Undead in the West: Vampires, Zombies, Mummies, and Ghosts on the Cinematic Frontier, Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper assembled a collection of essays that explored the unique intersection of two seemingly distinct genres in cinema: the western and the horror film.

In this new volume, Undead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming, Miller and Van Riper expand their examination of undead Westerns to include not only film, but literature, sequential art, gaming, and fan culture (fan fiction, blogging, fan editing, and zombie walks). These essays run the gamut from comics and graphic novels such as American Vampire, Preacher, and Priest, and games like Darkwatch and Red Dead Redemption, to novels and short stories by celebrated writers including Robert E. Howard, Joe R. Lansdale, and Stephen King.

Featuring a foreword by renowned science fiction author William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) and an afterword by acclaimed game designer Paul O’Connor (Darkwatch), this collection will appeal to scholars of literature, gaming, and popular culture, as well as to fans of this unique hybrid.

Sons of Anarchy: Sweet and Vaded

What is remarkable about Sons of Anarchy is its tendency to go toward extremes of both violence and sentimentality. “Sweet and Vaded” offers examples of both—and tosses in a John Waters-esque tale of transgender vengeance against Venus Van Dame’s evil mother just for good measure.

The sentimentality: the opening montage of the club members cleaning up the damage caused by the explosion at the club house while uplifting music plays (sample lyric, the chorus: “Love is my religion,” particularly sentimental after the previous episode’s multiple declarations of love and brotherhood). This is an old TV cliché, and the sad but resolute faces of the boys as they shift through the wreckage to find significant items to save pushes the limits of sentiment—leavened by intercut scenes of Walton Goggins’ Venus Van Dam adjusting/admiring her breasts in a mirror as she dresses (or perhaps this is a scene of actor Walton Goggins admiring the remarkable craftsmanship of the prosthetic and make-up artists in preparing him for his role as a woman).

Of course, the moments of sentiment also provide a counterpoint to the violence, and perhaps the series could not go as far as it does with depictions of violence without the moments of sentiment. And vice versa.

All is not lost for the M/C as they set up in a new space, formerly Scoops and Sweets, an old ice cream shop. The juxtaposition of the reaper table and the ice cream shop also leavens the sentimentality of the sequence. At the first meeting in the new place, the three recruits Bobby brought to the table are patched in, and the club also votes to elevate Ratboy from prospect to full membership. There are man hugs all around to celebrate, and combined with a half-hug between Jax and Bobby (elevated to the status of man hug by the two sharp shoulder taps that accompany the hug), the man hug drought officially comes to an end: 4 man hugs before the opening credits. A fifth man hug comes in later when Gemma gives Bobby a hug. Granted, this is a man-woman hug, not a man-man hug, but Gemma and Bobby hugs are always man hugs in style–as they give each other two loud shoulder taps to end the hug (and Gemma does not man hug with everybody; Bobby is special).

After the sentimental opening sequence, the plot turns quickly toward a complete change in tone as the episode centers around Venus Van Dam and her efforts to protect her nephew (actually, her son, because–well, it’s complicated) from the teenager’s grandmother–Venus’s (formerly Vincent’s) own evil child-pornography-producing mother. Played, of course, by Adrienne Barbeau, because, really, who else could you cast as the mother of Venus? To say this episode goes over the top is a considerable understatement, and it’s not necessarily a criticism. At times, I find myself thinking that Sons of Anarchy provides some of the best of what television has to offer, and at times I think it provides some of the worst, and it’s probably a product of SoA‘s unique sensibilities that I often find myself thinking both at the same time. And that brings me back to John Waters (I often have the same feeling when watching his early films). This episode seems to pay in a kind of odd way homage to Pink Flamingos. Something about Divine with a gun on the Pink Flamingos poster and Venus when she can’t resist the compulsion to pick up a gun and start firing. But, compared to Pink Flamingos, perhaps “Sweet and Vaded” seems less over the top after all.

I suspect Walton Goggins is having the time of his life playing Venus.

The Episode By the Numbers:

Man Hugs: 5 (Man Hug Count Season Total: 15)

More on Season Six of Sons of Anarchy

Well, the Irish really are not very happy about the Sons wanting to get out of the illegal guns trade. In “The Mad King,” they are hoping to get rid of Jax and set Clay back up in business—not as the head of the M/C but exclusively as a gun trader. They inform Clay of their offer by sneakingit  into prison via a copy of the book The Mad King (by Edgar Rice Burroughs?). The “mad King” might also be a King Lear reference, as SoA does love those Shakespeare references.

Tara continues to advance her plans to defeat the Queen (Gemma) and escape from the whole mess with her two sons (and one on the way). The two plots—Tara’s escape scheme, Jax’s efforts to extricate the Sons from doing business with the Irish—continue forward in “The Mad King,” and I guess we will see if the two schemers (Jax and Tara) eventually come into conflict. Currently, though, the two plot lines are pretty much taking place separately.

There continues to be a drought of man hugs. The only hug in this episode was a perfunctory hug between Jax and Nero: yes they clasped hands and embraced each other with their other hands, but it seemed half-hearted. There wasn’t even a shoulder-tap or back-slap to accompany the hug! Still, a man hug is a man hug, even if disappointingly unenthusiastic.

The Episode By the Numbers:

Man Hugs: 1 (season total: 6)

Truly Disturbing and Possibly Nightmare Inducing Conjugal Prison Visit: 1

Masturbating Guards Watching And Making Sure that Conjugal Visit is Really Conjugal: 2

Massive Clubhouse Destroying Episode Ending Explosions: 1.


If you want to know about the psychological state of the Sons of Anarchy, just pay attention to the man hugs. Through most of season six, the hugging has been in decline, as has the club, the members dwindling, dead, imprisoned, or, like Bobby, off elsewhere. With “Salvage,” after reaching a low point with the destruction of the club via a beer keg packed with plastic explosives, the club seems to be on a bit of an uptick. Chibbs pulls the ceremonial gavel out of the rubble and hands it back to Jax, and by the end of the episode we see Jax, gavel in hand, making an inspiring speech at a gathering of the various SoA charters, convincing them to join with him in getting out of the gun trade. Bobby reveals that he has been working to recruit new members, not to his own club, but to bring them back with him to Charming.

We even get the return of Walton Goggins as Venus Van Dam.

By the end of the episode, we even see Jax smiling.

And with the return of positive feelings about the future of the club comes the return of man hugs—we see four hugs at the gathering of the charters. “I love this club,” Bobby says to Jax, “and I love you.” An enthusiastic man hug follows, and all seems right with the world.

The Episode By the Numbers:

Man Hug Count: 4 (season total 10)

Scenes of CCH Pounder Taking Off Her Wig And Letting Her Braids Fly Free: 1

Sons of Anarchy, season 6 continued

The first time I can recall ever seeing CCH Pounder in a television series, she was a guest star on The X-Files, where she played an agent in charge overseeing a hostage negotiations. The Sons of Anarchy episode “Wolfsangel” was actually a bit of an X-Files reunion. Donal Logue, who plays the rogue ex-Federal Marshal Lee Toric (the Feds in SoA always tend toward the psychopathic), also had a guest starring role early in The X-Files, in the episode “Squeeze,” where he played (I think) a former student of Scully’s in charge of investigating his first major crime (lucky him, he gets the preternaturally limber Eugene Tooms). Those two have been on the series all season thus far, but this episode adds to the mix, Mitch Pileggi (Assistant Director Skinner) as (reformed) white racist gang member Darby (and it’s been awhile since his last SoA appearance), and Robert Patrick (John Dogget) as the head of the San Bernardino chapter of the SoA (who arrives to give Jax bad news about the Irish gun trade—his chapter is not interested). I may have to watch the episode again to make sure there isn’t a Lone Gunman tossed into the cast somewhere.

Other than providing the awesomeness of seeing some X-Files actors again, “Wolfsangel” could be summed up in one phrase: “Oh, shit.” As that phrase (or just “Shit!”) appears in the dialogue at least half a dozen times, usually after one character or another is informed about yet something else going wrong. The Irish arrive with the guns they supposedly weren’t going to deliver. Unser walks in on a meeting he isn’t supposed to see (or, more to the point, that Gemma isn’t supposed to know about), etc.

There continues to be a general lack of man hugs this season. We more often get a kind of half-hug, half-pat on the back, greeting, or, dear lord, sometimes people simply shake hands. We do have an example of the relatively rare shirtless man hug, as Tiggs surprises Jax (who actually thinks Tiggs is dead) still in his jammies, and a shirtless Jax ends up giving Tiggs a man hug with two sharp taps on the back of his leather jacket. I’m not sure if this is Jax’s way of saying, I’m glad you’re not dead, or if he’s just keeping up appearances while wishing that Tiggs was dead. Given the way the members of the M/C are dropping like flies, Jax better hope that Tiggs hangs around for awhile. Otherwise, who is he going have left to join him on a (completely gratuitous?) raid on a white power group’s enclave?

The Episode By the Numbers:

Man Hug Count: 1 (Season Total: 5)

Bodily Dismemberments: 2

Dead White Power Thugs: 5

Angry Irishmen: at least 1

Sons of Anarchy (season 6)

Alas, I’ve fallen behind in my Sons of Anarchy watching. However, I’m slowly starting to catch up, having just watched the first three episodes of season 6. Thus far, at least from the perspective of those of us who watch Sons of Anarchy primarily for the spectacle of all the hugging, it’s been a pretty disappointing season.  Once you get beyond the disappointing lack of man hugs, things in Charming have been moving forward in the usual interesting (and bloody) fashion.

A particularly good addition to the cast this season is Kim Dickens, who many of us remember as Joanie Stubbs in Deadwood (and, yes, this is yet another Deadwood actor to make an appearance on SoA). She plays a character named Colette Jane, who, much like Joanie Stubbs, runs a brothel. With Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane of Deadwood) continuing on as the go-to lawyer for the SoA Motorcycle Club, I suppose I have high hopes for a future scene bringing to the two actresses back together.

Peter Weller also joins the cast this season, and it’s always good to see him on screen, especially when he’s in full-on patriarchal good guy-bad guy mode. Weller also directs one of the episodes, and he’s been behind the camera at one point or another in several of the western television series that I’ve followed over the past few years (including In Plain Sight and Longmire).

CCH Pounder (I love CCH Pounder) as an agent in charge of the investigation of a school shooting also looks to be a good addition.

Let the Man Hug Count begin!

Episode 1, “Straw.”

No man hugs at all, a distinct departure from prior season premiere episodes, which have offered a plenitude of manly hugging. The hugging burden in “Straw” falls solely on Gemma, who hugs pretty much everyone at one point or another.

Episode 2, “One One Six.”

Three man hugs:  Chibs greets his fellow Irishman Galen with a hearty hug; Jax greets Nero with a melancholy hug and a couple of soft fist taps on the shoulder; and, in an interesting variation on the man hug, Jax gives Juice a hug, followed by a kiss, which seems less like a show of affection and more of a warning—especially as it’s accompanied by Jax’s suggestion of how Juice can find his way back into the good graces with the club.

Episode 3, “Poenitetia.”

Another episode that is stingy with the man hugs, with the only example being a hug between Jax and Tiggs, which Jax again follows with a kiss. Jax is not exactly sure what Tiggs has done to cause the disappearance of a torture-porn film director that the Sons encounter, but he’s pretty sure that he had something to do with it (despite Tiggs’ expression of innocence). Again, being kissed by Jax during a man hug seems to be just the opposite of affection. Also, regarding “Straw,” the episode involving the torture-porn scenes, the M/C arrives on set after learning that Opie’s ex Lila had been tortured on film against her will (she thought she was just signing up for the usual adult film gig). When we first arrive, the camera lingers on a bathtub filled with what looks like urine. Soon enough, there’s dialogue about the urine-filled tub. There’s an old theatrical maxim: “if you show a bathtub full of urine in the first act, then  someone is going to have to be drowned in it before the end of the play.” Okay, that’s not exactly the maxim, but the principle remains the same, and, I would say spoiler alert, but it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that the urine-filled tub plays a vital role before the end of the episode (not for anyone who knows their theatrical maxims).

Man Hug Count, through three episodes: 4.

Use of Urine as A Deadly Weapon Count: 1.

For more on hugging in Sons of Anarchy (and for an explanation and definition of the “man hug”), see “Sons of Anarchy and the Manly Art of Hugging”

WLA 2014 (CFP)


Victoria, British Columbia

November 5-8, 2014

The 49th Annual Meeting of the Western Literature Association will be
held just south of the 49th parallel, returning to Canada for the first time
since 1998. The conference will take place at the Fairmont Empress Hotel
in downtown Victoria. From our conference hotel, at least on a clear day,
both Canada and the United States are visible.

To highlight this unique conjunction, we have borrowed for the Conference’s
theme the title of Olympia, Washington, writer Jim Lynch’s perceptive and
amusing novel Border Songs.

We hope to present the Distinguished Achievement Award, for the first
time, to a prolific singer-songwriter, Connie Kaldor. In addition, we have
invited her to give a concert.

In addition to proposals on any aspect of the literatures of the North
American West, we encourage panels and papers that cross disciplines
and/or explore dimensions of the conference theme, singing borders and
bordering on song:

• Border crossings broadly interpreted
• First Nations/Native American song, story, and writing
• Song in western North American writing
• Literature that has been set to music
• The singer/songwriter, the cowgirl/cowboy poet, the storyteller
• Poetry, stories, creative non-fiction with musical accompaniment
We are open to session proposals focused on storytelling, to workshops
and round table discussions, and to other sessions that may cross
traditional academic borders. Deadline: June 15, 2014. Please submit
abstracts, proposals, or questions to Anne Kaufman and Laurie Ricou at
For more information, see

Tweets from WLA 2013

Below are the collected tweets from the Western Literature Association Conference in Berkeley:


Results for #westernlit2013

  1. Had to jump ship & catch a plane after my panel. Wanted to stick around, what with so much more to say—fantastic conference. #westernlit2013

  2. Annette Kolodny is a full-hearted badass. #westernlit2013

    Favorited by rlt2413


  3. WLA blog gets international views. Nifty graphic from Michael Johnson. #westernlit2013

  4. #westernlit2013 silverware being sorted behind the WAL session …hmm

  5. @WesternAmerica1 How can I resist? All my conference tweeting so far has been on a post-panel delay :) #westernlit2013

  6. Also, Vizenor impersonated a crow. 3 times. Just saying. #westernlit2013

  7. Fantastic and moving panel where Gerald Vizenor and others commemorated Louis Owens #westernlit2013 @WesternAmerica1

  8. .@ashleymchamp Wish you’d been at the panel where Gerald Vizenor just summarized the whole NA portion of the R&E list! #westernlit2013

  9. The future of democracy is at the local level. West Coast/Left Coast panel at #westernlit2013

  10. I never realized until Doe Library told me that Berkeley was named for Berkeley for THIS reason. #westernlit2013

  11. Session 12E, future of WAL journal and WLA social media. Come live tweet our discussion of live tweeting at WLA sessions. #westernlit2013

  12. FSD » DEN » SFO » Berkeley » #westernlit2013 » PDX for the weekend!

  13. “You think you get to enjoy dreams of serenity when you’re an old man? No luck.” Poet Robert Hass #westernlit2013

  14. Robert Hass accepting the distinguished achievement award at #westernlit2013

  15. Powerful talks on “the dead & the undead” from Steve Tatum, Bonney MacDonald, and Nat Lewis. #westernlit2013

  16. From her detailed answer individualizing each stream, KSR must have been right about waterways as characters in MG’s work. #westernlit2013

  17. More Green Day than DK, but, still, “Jesus of Suburbia” works well as a conference wake-up call. #westernlit2013

  18. Watched Kim Stanley Robinson and Molly Gloss have a heated debate about rivers vs streams. I’d call the afternoon a success #westernlit2013

  19. Kim Stanley Robinson, 1960s, dressed as Huckleberry Finn among the orange groves. #westernlit2013

  20. Kim Stanley Robinson reads Molly Gloss Molly Gloss reads Kim Stanley Robinson. #westernlit2013

  21. Also, I don’t know Molly Gloss…yet. Eager to hear her. #westernlit2013

  22. Gender, Media, and Textuality in Native Self-Representation at #westernlit2013 

  23. And Kim Stanley Robinson ought to be something to see. #westernlit2013

  24. Excited for Kim Stanley Robinson’s plenary! #westernlit2013 @WesternAmerica1

  25. Re: Postwestern—need “post-” anymore? A “sensibility” vs. a “structure”? What/where is the paradigmatic/old western, really? #westernlit2013

  26. Great advice about creating an “organizing fiction” to pitch diverse work as a scholar on the GS publishing panel #westernlit2013

  27. Never seen so many cowboy boots in academia as at WLA #WesternLit2013 @WesternAmerica1

    Favorited by rlt2413


  28. Mark Twain: The View From Japan at #westernlit2013 @ DoubleTree by Hilton Berkeley Marina 

  29. The fact that there’s another TDOTL paper means I’m guaranteed at least one audience member who’s read the book! Score! #westernlit2013

  30. Best cure for east coast jetlag: 8 am panel on punk rock. Bring on the DKs! #westernlit2013

  31. Nothing new about the Tea Party. Ishmael Reed at #westernlit2013

  32. Natives paid a higher price for service in WWI. Gerald Vizenor. #westernlit2013

  33. Stopping at an authentic old western strip mall en route to #westernlit2013

  34. Thanks to the bus driver who pulled over for me last night b/c she didn’t like the area I was walking in near the Marina #westernlit2013

  35. Peets coffee & nice tea shop & Apple store in case you forgot your iPhone charger also on Fourth St. @WesternAmerica1: #westernlit2013

  36. Veggie deficit eating peanuts on plane to WLA? Great salads, burgers Cafe Rouge on 4th + Pavlovian cocktail shakers #westernlit2013