Cowboy on the Couch: Leverett Butts’ Gary Wayne

Howdy, y’all! I was going to say that this week’s installment of Cowboy Month Characters on the Couch is a break from romance, but considering Leverett Butt’s Guns of the Wasteland series is a Western retelling of the King Arthur legend, I’m not so sure. Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is one of the oldest and best known love triangles in literature, after all. But rather than focusing on sword-crossed lovers (see what I did there?), we’re going to meet Gary Wayne. If you’re familiar with the Arthurian legends, you’ve probably guessed this is the corresponding to Sir Gawain, and you’d be right. One of the fun things about this series, which is really one story broken into four novellas (and the last two are coming out soon, right, Lev? :-)), is figuring out which cowboy, minister, teacher, or other townperson matches the original characters in the legend. So, without further ado, I give you Gary Wayne (and Lev, of course).

Guns of the Waste Land is an epic retelling of Arthurian Legend in an American Western setting.

In late 1800s just outside the Texas town of Bretton, four men wander the American desert. Percy Murratt seeks Sheriff Ardiss Drake to learn the fate of his late father. Meanwhile, Ardiss’ deputies, Gary Wayne Orkney and Boris Bennick, are in the pursuit of the outlaw Lancaster O’Loch flees, who has seduced and stolen Ardiss’ wife, Guernica. Featuring a host of familiar characters reminiscent of Gawain, the Green Knight, Lancelot, Merlin and, of course, King Arthur, Guns of the Waste Land is a timeless adventure of chivalry, revenge and honour. Now, in Book Two: Diversion, follow Percy and co. on their epic quest as they traverse the frontier of the American Waste Land, in pursuit of their own Holy Grail…

Gary Wayne Orkney is one of the major protagonists in the Guns of the Waste Land series, a series of four novellas retelling the legend of King Arthur as an American Western. He is based, obviously, on Sir Gawain, and much of his part of the series adapts Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Gawain sections of Le Morte d’Arthur.

If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.

Gary Wayne would probably have to be brought in kicking and swearing. So I’m guessing a court order would be it. Probably stemming from his susceptibility to bar fights, street brawls, and high noon show-downs whenever he feels his honor or (more importantly) the honor of his kith and kin have been besmirched.

He has anger and impulse control issues is what I’m saying.

Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?

It is both: For Gary Wayne, his willingness to fly off the handle with little provocation gets himself in hot water frequently, so in that way it’s an internal conflict he is going to have to overcome if he hopes to walk out of the story (and I honestly have no idea yet if he’s walking out of the story).

However, since his actions affect the rest of the town and his social circle, I’d say his presenting problem is also an external conflict. After all, his insistence on black-and-white rules and honor are what drive a major wedge between Sheriff Ardiss Drake (Arthur Pendragon) and Lancaster O’Loch (Lancelot du Lac). Since his browbeating Ardiss to take revenge on his wife’s lover removes the town’s best deputy from play, much (though by no means all) of what happens in the final novel may laid at Gary Wayne’s feet.

It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?

He’d look for your whiskey stash and pour himself and you a drink.

CD says: Note to self: get whiskey stash. I’m not usually a whiskey drinker, but my throat has been sore since yesterday, so that sounds good right now.

Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?

He talks, but he’s dismissive of the process. He reveals reams of information but thinks he’s an enigma wrapped in obfuscation:

“Looky here, sister. I do not know what in God’s great fuck the judge was thinking he would accomplish having me come talk to you, but you ain’t getting a gnat’s turd of nothing out of me. You think I’m going to reveal some kind of secret, hidden knowledge to you just by talking; well, you are a bigger fool and a larger ass than that foppy Lancaster.

“I know what you quacks do: You set there and listen to folks like me tell you about our childhoods and wet dreams and what all else, and then you figure you know all about our adulthoods. And that, ma’am, is a load of horse biscuits. Where’s the whiskey? You want some?

“I mean just because my ma’s sister’s kid was a bastard that grew up to be sheriff and my pa thinks I’m selling myself short by being what he calls ‘the lick-spittle of a by-blow whelp’ does not mean that I have some kind of unconscious drive to both please my daddy and prove the bitter sonuvabitch wrong.

“I mean I do have those drives, but they ain’t because of that.”

Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?

He orders a bottle of whiskey (hold the glass) then picks a fight with the first person he thinks is looking at him funny. If it’s around noontime, he has a pretty good chance of winning. After noon, though, he’s probably crawling out the door.

When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)?

I imagine them in conversations with other characters and get a feel for their personalities that way. I also generally have particular people in mind “playing” them. Sometimes these are famous people (not always actors) sometimes they are people I know.

Gary Wayne’s appearance, for instance, is based heavily on one of my oldest friends, the poet Joe Milford. Gary’s riding partner, Boris (Sir Bors) looks very much like myself, and while neither character alone acts entirely like Joe or me, their interactions with each other are almost totally based on my interactions with Joe.

Much of my character building, though, happens while I write the story as opposed to before. Their personalities and traits arise out of the necessities of the plot more than anything else.

On a related note, one reader asked me once how I made compelling villains, and I think my answer is relevant here: I told her that I always imagined my bad guys and the good guys of their own stories. The same holds true of all my characters. When I get in the minds of my characters, one of the things I think about to decide their reactions to people and events is that each character, from Ardiss Drake to Gary Wayne to the stable boy with no name watching events on the sidelines, is the hero of their own story.

You can find both volumes for $2.99 or free in Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.

Leverett Butts teaches composition and literature at the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Eclectic and The Georgia State University Review. He is the recipient of several fiction prizes offered by the University of West Georgia and TAG Publishing. His first collection of short fiction, Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, was nominated for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Short Fiction, and Guns of the Waste Land, his Western retelling of the Arthurian myths, was nominated for the 2016 Georgia Author of the Year Award in First Novel. He lives in Temple, Georgia, with his wife, son, their Jack Russell terrier, and a couple of antisocial cats.

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