A girl without a future. A stranger hiding his past. And the remarkable, supernatural ability to turn bullets away from their targets—walking through a gunfight unscathed. In Joaquin Lowe’s Bullet Catcher, launching as a serial from Serial Box on October 18, elements of coming of age play against a mythological background that questions whether anything is really as simple as good and evil.
And the gun fu? There’s some serious fantasy martial arts going on here as well! Taking the best elements of weird westerns, throwing in some of the mentor-trainee relationship in Old Man Logan, and adding to that some Avatar: The Last Airbender–like stylized combat, Lowe throws readers into the story of Imma, a young woman raised on the fairy tales that pitched the good bullet catchers against the evil gunslingers.
In the stories, the bullet catchers are gone, killed off by the gunslingers. But when a real bullet catcher comes to her town, where Imma is working in a nowhere job that will never take her anywhere, she decides to follow him, taking control of her own destiny.
We chatted with Lowe about the story, and about its transformation into a serial. Like Serial Box’s originals, Bullet Catcher is releasing on a weekly schedule in both prose and audio, with each episode priced at 99 cents. But unlike most Serial Box serials, Lowe’s project didn’t start in a team writers’ room.
In 2016, Bullet Catcher was originally released as a novel in the UK, and it was selected as one of the Telegraph’s best YA novels of the year. “I knew that Serial Box had a format that would require me not only to overhaul the structure of the original chapters, but also to do extensive rewrites and new writing for the new edition,” Lowe explained.
Going back to the original novel and translating it into a new format gave him a chance to reexamine the work, to fix things that he hadn’t liked the first time around. He worked with Serial Box editor Lydia Shamah (also a producer on Silverwood: The Door), who brought some new ideas to the project. “It was such a fantastic experience getting to work with her and I think the best parts of the book are the parts that came out of our collaboration,” Lowe said.
In both its incarnations, as the story begins, Imma is alone in the world with the certain knowledge that her parents are dead, and that the brother who promised to come back for her is dead as well. “In many ways, the story is a classic Hero’s Journey,” Lowe said, comparing her at the start of her quest to Luke Skywalker—or, more appropriately, to Rey, who hadn’t come to the screen yet when Bullet Catcher was first written. “By being orphaned, Imma has been propelled into a world she doesn’t think she’s prepared for, but through bravery, smarts, and fool-heartedness gains wisdom, which she must then bring back to the world.”
Some of that wisdom is hard earned. Imma’s brother, before he left, told her stories of the legendary bullet catchers and gun slingers, giving the world a duality of good and evil. “When I set off to write the story I wanted it to have an anti-gun sub-theme,” Lowe explained about the origins of the mythology.
“But, of course, things aren’t ever as simple as ‘good’ vs. ‘evil.’ What we find as the story progresses is that the lines aren’t drawn between gunslingers and bullet catchers, but between individuals, and by the actions of individuals. And even then, many of these characters aren’t ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ but maybe, misguided, or naïve, or in pain, or in love!”
Imma in particularly learns that things she’d always accepted as true turn out vastly different than she expected, including her understanding of the brother she idolizes. That doesn’t mean the anti-gun theme has vanished, because it’s an issue that’s extremely important to Lowe, but “it’s messy, because the relationships in the book are messy.”
The mythology of the gunslingers and the bullet catchers draws on samurai tales—as well as stories of the Jedi, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
“I was fascinated with the idea of there once being a very large sect of people that is suddenly reduced to a single person, and what that would do to that person and their beliefs,” Lowe said, likening the bullet catcher Imma apprentices to Avatar’s Aang. The story is also inspired by the Japanese film series and comic Lone Wolf and Cub, in which an aged ronin travels through the countryside, bringing his infant son with him. Of course, Imma has an agency that the child in Lone Wolf and Cub, an infant, never develops.
“What I liked is that the younger partner essentially represented the old man’s heart,” Lowe describes. “Without him, he’d have no ties and would be heartless, he’d act heartlessly. That’s where the Bullet Catcher is before Imma comes into his life.”
While Lowe laughs at the idea that an “inside-kid” like him might also be a martial artist, he does admit that he’d rather be a bullet catcher than a gunslinger. The best and most challenging part of a project like this, for Lowe, is the world building.
“It’s so much fun… but it’s also extremely time intensive,” he said. “You have to think about so many things that don’t even have a presence in the book, because those things impact the things that do make it in. The little inconsistencies are really hard to find when you’re building from the ground up because of how easy it is to get lazy in your thinking.”
Luckily, Lowe had a fantastic team to work with: he praised Lydia and the amazing copyediting team for keeping all his internal details consistent. “It adds up to a big difference, because when the world building has been done well readers stop questioning it and let themselves get taken away by the story.”
To experience the world of the bullet catchers first hand, and to follow Imma’s hero’s journey, you can buy the full season or subscribe at Serial Box.
Alana Joli Abbott writes about books for Den of Geek. Read more of her work here.
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