SPOTLIGHT + INTERVIEW: Caryn A. Tate’s Red Plains: The Ballad of Double Ott

This week sees the release of Caryn A. Tate’s latest tale of Red Plains. At 66 pages, this violent tale of a black bounty hunter in the wild west, Red Plains: The Ballad of Double Ott packs one hell of a wallop for just $2.99.


Action-packed, bloody, and thrilling, this tale is a landmark in the world of Red Plains! A mysterious bounty hunter appears, bringing with him news of a man who has plagued the town, and Sheriff Doles in particular. It’s the return of one of the most chilling outlaws Red Plains has seen yet: “No Nose” Velasquez! And what will his presence mean for the future of Lupe Escovido? Loaded with bonus content including audio commentary by series creator Caryn A. Tate, swipe effect art extras, and script excerpts, Red Plains is more than a simple “shoot-’em-up.” Influenced by film noir, the classic pulps, true crime, and, most importantly, the authentic Western lifestyle and history as lived and researched by its author, Red Plains is the real deal. “The Ballad of Double Ott” is brought to life by writer and series creator Caryn A. Tate and dynamic artist Mike D. Kim.

We talked to writer Caryn A. Tate about Double Ott and the rest of the Red Plains ensemble as well as the challenges of writing a brutal western epic.

Ott himself

iFanboy:   Now, just who is this Double Ott character? What kind of life has he led to earn himself a ballad?

Caryn A. Tate:   Double Ott is something of a mythical man, a living legend. Of course he wouldn’t say that about himself, but that’s who he is. He’s completely unlike any other character in the Red Plains series because he’s the only one I really take liberties with–he’s an action hero, sort of an homage to my favorite icons, but with my own special twist.

He’s African American–early on as the character revealed himself to me I realized that, and I partly based him off of a real person, Nat Love, who was an African American cowpuncher in the late 1800s who wrote his autobiography and went on to become quite successful and wealthy. I used a famous photo of Nat for reference for Double Ott, as I wanted him to have a similar hairstyle, and just that basic badass look that Mike nailed so well with Double Ott. This isn’t just a man. This is the man other men *want* to be. That was how Mike & I approached his look, and how I approached the character as a whole.

As for his life, well, there are many stories Double Ott has yet to tell in Red Plains, but not to worry, they will be told. But in brief, here are a few things to look out for that we give you hints of in “The Ballad of Double Ott.”

You’ll notice he wears an old Army jacket. That’s not by accident. Double Ott is an ex-Buffalo Soldier, and we’ll explore his Army days and more of his exploits down the road. It’s clear in this story he’s a bounty hunter. Why he chose that road for himself is something we’ll be exploring, but I think it’s pretty clear in the course of this story why he’s so good at what he does. He’s a natural. You’ll also see a lot of insight into his personality in this story, and if you look closely at that and all the scenes with him, you’ll learn a lot about him and you’ll probably start to get a feel for his story & why he’s interesting–just like any character in Red Plains in that regard. They all show us who they are by what they do.

iF:   Speaking of historical figures like Nat Love, can you share a bit of your philosophy on writing about the period, blending real life events and situations with your own fiction? To what extent does historical accuracy figure into storytelling decisions? Has research ever inspired unexpected directions for Red Plains? Alternatively, would research ever dissuade you from venturing down a planned narrative path?

CT:   Accuracy is extremely important to me with Red Plains. Growing up a serious cowgirl on ranches, I really disliked seeing all the fallacies in stereotypical westerns and swore that if I got the chance, I would make sure to portray the West the way it really was, and is. So that’s what I’m doing with Red Plains. No stereotypes, no shortcuts. That’s what it says on the website and I mean it!

I do a ton of research about the time period and other specifics, and those details get weaved into the stories in lots of ways. It can be something relatively minor like the style of a saddle or something that has a big impact in the story itself.

My favorite thing is when I learn something new that sparks ideas for lots of new stories for the world of Red Plains. For example, a couple of years ago I saw an awesome lecture on local TV here in Seattle by Dr. Quintard Taylor, about the history of African Americans in the West. It was fascinating stuff, and a lot of what I learned from his lecture has gone into the series. As I say, the last thing I would want to do is create yet another fake West featuring only white men, the only women in town are prostitutes, and the bad guys are Native Americans or fancy gunslingers in black hats. So the characters in Red Plains are diverse, because that’s how people are—and were—in real life. Specifically African American characters like Rand, the young naïve cowboy on the Devil’s Hed, and of course Double Ott, were partly inspired by what I learned from Dr. Taylor. Not all black folks were slaves, contrary to what we see in mainstream fiction. Certainly not in the West. There were settlements in the West that were primarily black in demographic! There were settlements in Texas where white and Mexican folks inter-married early on, and folks were OK with that. Things were peaceful. Then that peaceful train ran off the tracks when the Mexican-American War came around because tensions were running high in Texas, but regardless, I find it immensely interesting and entertaining to find these little known facts about the West—things that often directly relate to our society today, mind you—and have them come out in explosive ways in Red Plains. It’s great fun.

As far as research inspiring unexpected storytelling direction, it has done that but it’s more because it so often opens my perspective up to the reality of the world at that time. Briefly, the more you learn, the easier it is to tell good stories. The same is true for any genre, any time period, any subject.

I could see research possibly dissuading me from heading in a certain direction storytelling-wise if it would completely contradict reality. If there was a situation where I thought I had a handle on how something might have happened and then learned that I was way off-track, it might disrupt the entire narrative. Thankfully, that hasn’t come up!


iF:   How about the rest of the ensemble? We’re looking at a dangerous romance between a woman called Lupe and one ornery SOB aptly named “No-nose”…

CT:   “The Ballad of Double Ott” features the return of “No Nose” Velasquez, whose story we established in the 6 issue arc “Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up” a couple years back. It’s a huge turn of events for the town, and for Sheriff Doles and Lupe Escovido in particular! But, one of the cool things about this story is I made a concerted effort to make this story new reader friendly. So you don’t need to have read “Nice Place” in order to understand or care about this story. Hopefully you’ll just want to check it out after you read this one.

Velasquez (don’t call him “No Nose” unless you’re prepared to defend yourself!) is indeed sans nose, and I won’t get into how that all went down because you really should check out “Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up” to get all the gory details. A romance between a man like this and the gorgeous, wealthy, classy Lupe Escovido is indeed dangerous, but of course anyone who’s read a few pages of a Red Plains book knows Lupe is drawn to danger. It’s just who she is. In the same vein, I have to admit, writing parts of this story were some of my toughest moments as a writer thus far. There were some things I didn’t want to happen on a personal level, but I had to give in to the story that is being told, not my own wants.

There’s a lot of ensemble interaction in this one for sure. I’ve always said Red Plains is an ensemble series, because I think it’s important to set expectations going in. There’s no “hero sheriff” character (though we do have a sheriff obviously–so put that one together!), or any single person who’s the center of our attention. This is the story of people in this town at this time period. So that involves a lot of different folks who have a lot of different reasons for being here, different motivations, goals, personalities, what have you. It’s ripe for fun stories!

iF:   The Red Plains books feature some brutal and well-choreographed fight scenes. Can you share some of your process in devising these sequences?

CT:   I appreciate that. Writing action & fight scenes is honestly some of the most fun I have as a creator. I really get into the adventure of the situations, and I get excited and pumped up and I think it shows in the finished product. They get pretty detailed sometimes, so it’s also taught me to write more succinctly and clearly so I can make sure the artist understands what I’m looking for.

The way I plan out a fight scene is the same way I plan out any story development actually. I put myself in the character’s situation and contemplate how I might react in their place. So for a fight, I imagine what I would do, objects you could use as weapons in a desperate situation, how a fist might hit the person’s jaw, etc. Depending on the complexity of the fight it can also be useful to physically mimic a blow or a physical reaction to see how that would actually look, so we can be as realistic and hard-hitting as possible.

It also helps that I have a visual arts background, so I normally “see” every scene I am writing about very clearly in my mind as I put it to paper. It’s pretty cinematic as it plays in my head and that helps me to express to the artist how it should look.


iF:   You’ve focused on a number of different characters in the Red Plains world, but perhaps more importantly you’ve centered stories around a diverse set of classes, genders and races. Has switching POV between any of these groups ever presented a distinct challenge? Are there any character types of classes you’ve yet to touch on that you’d like to explore in future stories?

Thanks! Yeah, I’ve always said this series isn’t about a single protagonist and certainly not the typical “hero sheriff” narrative. We have a diverse cast of characters and they all play very important roles in the book.

It’s most important to me to showcase ethnicities and classes that usually get overlooked in most mainstream fiction, especially the western genre. So as you’ve seen we have lots of Latino characters, African American characters, and a wide range of female characters. All of these folks range pretty drastically as far as things like class and education go, and that’s the fun of it. I get tired of seeing the only female characters being prostitutes, or the only Latino characters being bandits. That’s not to suggest that those types of people didn’t exist or play an important part in the West and in Red Plains, of course, but they’re so often portrayed as *only* those types of characters, and are typically one-dimensional and flat, and that’s the last thing I’d ever want.

One ethnicity that we haven’t seen much in Red Plains so far are Native Americans. The reason for that is I decided early on that I wanted to focus on other races and types of folks that are usually ignored in the genre, and in too much fiction in general. We have had brief brushes with Native Americans, like in “The Scurvy” storyline, and there will be more down the road.

I really haven’t found changing points of view between the characters to be a challenging thing. On the contrary, it helps keep things fun and unpredictable! There’s a quote by E.L. Doctorow that says, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” and I completely agree. Switching back and forth between perspectives of people who think differently about everything, or imagining what would happen if this person did this or that, are things that no completely sane person would probably want to do!




  1. Color me interested.