At first, the story began with The After People, a short story which originally appeared in 2018's An Anvil of Night, A Hammer for Dawn: Poetry and Stories. It was a short story consisting of an injured man traversing a post-apocalyptic landscape. This became the inspiration for the story that would become the novella Mercy. With Mercy, the story centered around Rancid Mahoney, a mysterious, and aged gun-for hire escorting a young boy across the wasteland who's in search of a doctor who can help his pet dog. It was a simple story and was originally only intended as a standalone novella. But shortly after its publication, an idea for a prequel came about... and the world of Rancid Mahoney was soon expanded...
(IMAGE: the background image used for the original novella of Mercy when it was first published)
Leave My Ashes on Blackheart Mountain almost never happened. About a month into the first draft sometime between September and October of 2019, the decision to even write a prequel reversed itself and it wasn't until February of 2020 that Matthes picked up the pages to begin writing again. It was not always titled as such either. When the idea to write a prequel to Mercy first came about, while the final version of the story remained largely the same, it was originally titled Sovereignty, The story takes place twenty-some years before the events of Mercy. The original idea was to provide a deep and heavy background to the relationship connecting the characters Rancid Mahoney and Til Drange, throwing them in the flames of an impending war that neither of them could control, but both of them would have to decide on whether or not to become involved, and on which side to fight for. Eventually, Blackheart Mountain evolved into more than just a prequel, and eventually became a launch pad for an entire saga.
Sometime during the writing of the first draft, another idea to expand upon the story and lore arrived, and soon after, the groundwork was laid into the novel to connect with a potential third and final book of the, at the time, imagined trilogy, which would take place after the events of Mercy. But of course, more ideas exploded forth, and yet again, the world of Rancid Mahoney was about to expand...
(IMAGE: Brunner Island Steam Electric Station in York Haven, Pennsylvania, which became the inspiration for New Canterton, Gunther Ostrander's mining facility; photograph taken by Dave Matthes.
When Leave My Ashes on Blackheart Mountain was released, the writing for a follow-up taking place before Mercy immediately began. Titled Legend of the Horizon Vengeance, the story picks up almost a year following the events of the first book, with Mahoney answering the call of Frank Delmont, his adopted father and former mentor. From here, the world of Mahoney is expanded upon even more than in the previous book, and will lay the foundations for the final three books in the saga: The Dead and the Dying, the as of yet untitled Book 5, an One More Grave to Dig.
Legend of the Horizon Vengeance will release sometime in the year 2021, and the remaining books of the saga are intended to each be released ever one to two years following.
When it was first conceived to turn the books into a trilogy (before it was decided to add more books), the title was known as The Man Who Would Not Be Killed Trilogy. The title, of course, referred to the main character himself, Rancid Mahoney, who in Mercy is first introduced to the reader as a man who is not yet at the end of his years, but has seen so much, and by extension, survived so much that he maybe feels older than he really is. Clearly he is a man who is hard to kill, no matter what the opposition, but the reader doesn't know the extent of this, yet. For one reason or another, back when Blackheart Mountain was originally known as Sovereignty, interest in continuing the series was lost and thus the name for a "series" was no longer needed. But when the hunger for writing returned, and the "trilogy" evolved into a "Saga", the name was changed to The Two Revolvers Saga, which is in reference to Rancid Mahoney's choice weaponry, two revolvers that have a story of their own.
As those who have read Mercy may recall, the way the novella ended was pretty... open-ended. Since I originally had no plans to continue the story of Rancid Mahoney, the way I ended that book was... very much implied as to what happened shortly after the words on the page didn't continue. And now, with an entire saga in mind, I had to come up with a way to keep him going... and furthermore write a story in a way that didn't simply resurrect Mahoney just for the same of writing more books. I didn't want to cheapen his existence or his reason for living. The basis of this was sort of started with the creation of the blackvein mineral, first introduced in Leave My Ashes on Blackheart Mountain. But again, I didn't want to cheapen the story by just saying to the reader: "Hey guys, surprise, guess who's still alive!" So that was a little bit tricky, but I think I came up with a pretty convincing argument for Mahoney's survival, and the idea to tell that story from the perspective of Owl Wing, someone who Mahoney saved the life of, will add weight to that. This fourth book, The Dead and the Dying, will begin around the same time Mercy does, and the first half will tell of events that are happening pretty at the same time Mahoney is escorting young Billy Hargraven and his dog across the wasteland. The main concept, which I won't spoil too much of, is that sometime after the Tuskatawa War, a flaw in the blackvein mineral is discovered, a flaw that is perhaps deadly to anyone who's been inoculated with it. And so, Owl Wing, knowing that Mahoney did at one time receive treatment with this mineral, takes it upon himself to find him and make him aware of this discovery. Whether or not he actually finds him or if he's alive, he'll discover along the way, but it is essentially Owl Wing's desire to do this one last good deed, before he himself succumbs to the effects of the blackvein mineral. There is a lot more to it than that going on in the book, but that is the main plot, and we'll see how things turn out sometime in the coming years.
One of the things vaguely touched upon while writing Mercy, Leave My Ashes on Blackheart Mountain, and Legend of the Horizon Vengeance, is how the world actually came to be in its current ruined state. Back when I was putting together the first pages of the novella Mercy, I had it in my mind a small inkling of what may have taken place, and before finishing the novella, wrote out most of the big beats of what took place. In the story, the people are largely not concerned with the truth as to what happened, because in reality, I've found that while there are many people who love and care about history, there are unfortunately an innumerable amount of people who honestly don't care, and that's their right to. But being a story taking place AFTER the end of civilization was being written, the truth had to be written somewhere. The story of how the world came to be was left untold intentionally, because in the books, most of everyone... really doesn't care what happened. They're more concerned with surviving. And being the story technically begins a couple of centuries after all that world-ending stuff happened, it would make sense for the "truth" to die off.
A review I received for Blackheart Mountain was footnoted by a comment stating the reader would like to have known more about how civilization collapsed. And I thought... maybe in a future book I'll include a few flashback scenes to kind of color in the blank spaces, maybe now is the time to start revealing more of what happened before the days of Rancid Mahoney. A few chapters could suffice. But that wasn't enough for me. I took what I had already written about those events, and decided to make a full novel about them... and eventually, those events will be revealed in Book V, which is as of yet, untitled. In this penultimate volume of the saga, Rancid Mahoney will not only be faced with the ghosts of his own past, but also the past of the world itself. Most of the book will be told from his perspective, but a good chunk of it will be told from someone else, someone he's never met, and never expected to meet. This character will break his world and his perception of it. And how the story unfolds, it will bring together many of the saga's characters from previous entries, forcing them all to their breaking point in various ways.
The plan is to have another small time jump between this book and Book VI: One More Grave to Dig, which will tell of the fallout from the events of the previous book. In this final chapter, the story will focus on how Mahoney decides to deal with these revelations, and if he should apply them to his future, what then would his future hold for him and all those who he's grown close to? I expect something terrible, something beautiful, something bittersweet, something final; all of those, some mixture of those, or none of them at all. The coming years of writing will tell.