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Unicorn Western

Yesterday’s Gone is the serial that started it all, but Unicorn Western is the gonzo project that fueled so much of Sterling & Stone’s early untethered and imaginative growth. 

You might already know some version of this story. It was born live on-air during the first year of our podcast and became a local legend. I was talking about a western I’m still planning to write someday. Dave was mocking me for skirting the research, insisting that any western I’d write would eventually end up with unicorns. 

For now, and until I finally write that other western, Dave is right. But having a few unicorns in my westerns was a small price to pay for the collaborative relationship I’ve had with Johnny ever since that first day we shared a long laugh at our co-host’s expense, yucking it up over his fretting over the color of gun smoke. 

My creative relationships with Dave and Johnny have been equally fluid when it comes to words and ideas, but their personal outlooks are polar opposites. Same for their processes. 

Johnny writes all our rough drafts, then I edit and polish once he’s done. Unicorn Western was our first time writing together, so we didn’t have a system like the one we developed over time. 

For our first book in the Unicorn Western series, when we weren’t even sure if there would be any more to follow, though we probably both suspected there would be, Johnny and I each watched the old Gary Cooper western, High Noon, then scheduled a story meeting to figure out what we could pay homage to and what we needed to outline from scratch.

I gave Johnny a skeletal framework and a couple of nutty ideas about the ways this universe would work. He did the rest, nailing the aesthetic immediately. Dharma Kold and a unicorn of a different color were both in the outline, but Joelsongs, Fanta, and dagnit were all Johnny. Our new world was easy to fall in love with. 

Our unicorn was a jerk, and our gunslinger essentially The Man With No Name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Each of the nine books in this unlikely series gets an homage in its title, starting with High Noon. It was only fitting that we named our gunslinger, Clint. 

The basic concept and themes were present in that first 25,000-word novella. Not just the constant clash between dark and light, but the Realm and the Sands. 

The Realm is a majestic kingdom that our trusty gunslinger and his regal unicorn were expelled from. The land where Clint was once a Marshall, before losing his home. He’s spent years looking for this place he cannot find, as the glittering kingdom leaches life from the Sands beyond its walls. 

Realm and Sands became the name of our corner of the studio, and the label we gave all our work together. We both enjoyed the result so much that the first book would never be enough. Eight volumes followed, each one based loosely (and rather stupidly) on individual westerns, from The Searchers (The Wanderers) to 3:10 to Yuma (Shimmer to Yuma) and The Wild Bunch (The Magic Bunch).

It got harder to follow the original frameworks the deeper we got into the series. The story started slipping from its structure around The Man Who Shot Alan Whitney, and was doing its own thing entirely by the time we reached the end. 

Writing Unicorn Western back to back with The Beam that taught me I could write anything with Johnny. 

We wanted to write a sequel, Unicorn Apocalypse, but decided to write a prequel first. Unicorn Genesis, an underappreciated gem in our catalog. We’ll get to writing Unicorn Apocalypse one day, but for right now I’m thrilled to report that our next book together will be the sideways story (taking place in between books 7 and 8), Unicorn Heathens, out some time in 2025. 

The Unicorn Western series is a surprisingly heartfelt fantasy western mashup, perfect for readers who love adventure and surprises, legendary chili, long laughs, and lots of turkey pie.

Have fun reading the Unicorn Western “pilot.”

You can download your copy here, free for the next week!