We've still got a couple days of Women in Horror Month left (thankfully we get an extra day this year), so I'm glad I got the chance to catch up with one of the most unique authors in horror and supernatural fiction working today. Robyn Thurman – who writes under the first name Rob – has built a large and loyal fan following for her best-selling Cal Leandros series, which focuses on the bizarre and violent escapades of a trash-talking, monster-hunting antihero (who is half-beast himself) and his zen master sibling. While Thurman has also written two novels focusing on an ass-kicking heroine, the Leandros stories are told from a strictly male perspective, which has enabled the books to break out of the female-dominated paranormal/urban fantasy market and into the domain of horror... plus having plots overflowing with gory action featuring demons, vampires, werewolves and a host of other beastly bad-asses doesn't hurt either. I had a chance to chat with Rob about her work – including Doubletake, the seventh tale in the Leandros saga, which arrives in bookstores next week. Check out the interview after the jump!
FEARnet: Can you sum up the basic premise of The Cal Leandros Novels for our readers?
ROB: It's a fairly common theme: the darkness that can live inside a basically good person... of course Cal (aka Caliban Leandros) isn't actually "basically good." He's a snarky, cynical smart-ass with a sarcastic nature that is as sharp as a switchblade and probably just as illegal. But, aside from that, he's a normal person with an inner darkness. His dark side doesn't come from your generic mis-wired brain (Freud would swallow his tongue if he was Cal's therapist, given the assumption Freud was still alive of course). Cal is half human, half monster (and all attitude). The novels follow his path from despising his difference – the razor edge that can cut those around him when he least expects it – to embracing what he is. There's no way to rip half of his genetic code from his body, so he comes to the conclusion he might as well use it. In his mind, if he does wrong... well, hey, at least it's for the right reason. And blood will come out of almost anything, given the right cleaning solution – which his Sun-Tzu disciplined brother usually has on hand.
What do you think makes this series the most popular with your fans?
When I started the series, I wrote everything I wanted in a novel and nothing that I didn't. I was tired of skimming novels or patiently suffering through endless padding and stoic loners. If you're a loner and you nearly die, you have no comrades-in-arms to care and if no one cares in the book, why should I care? I wanted a soldiers' camaraderie, sarcasm, black humor, constant action... I wanted true reactions from the characters. If it's your friend or some random, innocent stranger... call me ruthless, but I'm saving my friend. He watches my back, I like him alive. And when your life is monsters, both hunting them as a career and fighting a certain race of them who is out to kill you, violence will be present. It's a given. In the spirit of that, I like my characters to say what I would actually say if something was inches from gutting me... I drop F-bombs like crazy. I like to think that if you shoved Pulp Fiction and any Lovecraft story into a woodchipper, what would come out the other end is what I write. Like Tarantino, I don't see any reason that violence and humor cannot exist in the same moment.
You write these stories from Cal's perspective. As a female author, how do you go about getting into character to write him?
Some writers are born with a very distinctive voice. You can write other voices. You can even write with no voice at all, a bland equivalent of the no-accent news anchor (where do they come from, those news anchors? No accent at all. It's bizarre. I think they grow them in an undersea ranch tended for the followers of Cthulhu). I've done four distinct voices now. Two of them are rife with sarcasm, one with a more quirky humor, and one with a grim tone (a Russian mobster). Sarcasm and action, it's not tied to a gender and you don't need a dick to write a male character. In fact no one knew I was a woman until I 'outed' myself as a woman about three books into the series. I even received fanmail saying, "Finally! Thank God a man writes a male POV. Women simply can't do it." Yeah? Think again... BOO-YA! But, I have to say Cal is the easiest to write for me; he is so dark and so very snarky, and I like writing that.
That wicked sense of humor is one of my favorite aspects of the books. It reminds me a lot of the writing of Harlan Ellison. Where do you get your comic inspiration?
Born with it, bay-bee. Either you are a sarcastic SOB or you're not. There is a downside in that people will frequently form mobs and try to burn you at the stake, but, what the hell...it's worth it.
World-building is usually one of the most challenging tasks for a storyteller, and you've fashioned an elaborate mythical mash-up interwoven with human history. How do you go about constructing that world? Did you have it planned out in advance, or did it evolve as the story progressed?
I went straight in with the notion mythology is crap. I love mythology. I was reading Homer when I was ten. I have a huge fondness for Greek and Egyptian mythology. But as one character is mythological (a puck), and a good percentage of the monsters are, I wanted it to be realistic. And the reality is if mythological creatures did exist, humans would've gotten it all wrong. Our documented mythology would be less accurate than your average celebrity trash rag. Let's face it: Loki or werewolves weren't going to sit down thousands of years ago and give a human a detailed and accurate history of their race, themselves, and a nice big list of their weaknesses. That's the least practical thing I could imagine. That put a twist on my world's mythology. There might be a seed of truth in what humans know, but the majority is exaggerated, underestimated, or just flat-out wrong. This makes fighting the creatures the characters run across pretty damn interesting, because, frankly, they don't know shit. No human does.
Doubletake puts more focus on the character of Puck, i.e. Robin Goodfellow, who has a lot more backstory here than Shakespeare ever gave him. What can you tell us about Puck and his kindred, and what makes them so dangerous?
Again, as a twist to mythology, there isn't a puck, there is an entire race of pucks. They're all male, all identical in appearance, all egomaniacs, thieves, liars, sex addicts, true tricksters extraordinaire. Evolution gifted them with pheromones that helped them be more persuasive in all their hobbies... which is all a group of heterosexual Spartans might find themselves thinking that a five-way with a puck sounds like a great idea. But as time passed, Mother Nature caught on and the pheromones began to have a reverse effect. Instead of being persuasive, they caused suspicion and dislike. That is one puck. Three of four pucks together cause panic, hence the origin of the word [from the god Pan], and seventy or so pucks gathered for a reunion to see who is forced to reproduce and keep the race alive... that causes madness. Pucks are dangerous on all levels, but they're so damn entertaining, who cares?
Your book covers for The Cal Leandros and Trickster Novels are done by Chris McGrath, who does Jim Butcher's Dresden Files Series covers. What's it like watching such a celebrated fantasy artist interpret your characters?
It's fantastic. I lucked out years ago as a new author to get Chris. He's my favorite artist and the cover of Doubletake is my favorite cover. It shows the darkness, the danger, and the shadowed ambience is simply kick-ass. If you look closely you can see the most amazing details, such as pigeons that almost blend into the shadows. Everywhere you look, you see something new. Chris is an art god.
It seems like The Cal Leandros and Trickster Novels share the same mythos. If that's true, have you thought of doing a crossover story?
That would be difficult, as angels and demons had their asses steel-toed out of NYC back in the fifties by the monsters/paien. Cal and his brother have no idea angels and demons exist. And no demon or angel is allowed back (except retired angels gone native, and they're known as peris.) So Trixa, Loki/Leo, Zeke and Griffin could go to NYC, but their normal foes, demons, couldn't show up there. However, Robin Goodfellow has made an appearance in the first Trickster Novel (Trick of the Light) and Ishiah made his own appearance in the second Trickster book (The Grimrose Path). Who's to say who might show up in the third Trickster novel? I do love that in Trick of the Light the female protagonist ends up ripping the "tall, dark, mysterious hero" limb from limb. That's my comment on that particular romance cliche. Besides, with Loki around, who would bother lusting after anyone else? There's no better bad boy than a guy who almost destroyed the world for shits and giggles... am I right?
You can check out some choice novel excerpts (and hilarious character bios) at RobThurman.net.