In September, 2009, a Young Adult horror novel was published to great acclaim and a few awards. The title was The Monstrumologist , and we LOVED it! This is not your everyday YA novel – plenty of gore and gruesomeness for everyone. Now, Rick Yancey, author of The Monstrumologist, is back with his second novel about the adventures of Dr. Pellinore Warthrop and his young assistant, William James Henry, and their search for more monsters among us. This time it’s the dreaded and dreadful Wendigo.
Dread Central recently had a chat with author Rick Yancey about monsters, reincarnation, and what horrors await in future Warthrop/Henry books.
DC: Hello, Rick, and thank you for taking time to talk monsters with Dread Central. Your second YA novel, The Curse of the Wendigo, has just been published to rave reviews as was your first novel, The Monstrumologist (review here). Did you see all of this acclaim coming? Do you think both young adult AND adult readers have grown tired of “sparkly” vampire stories and hunger for more substantial fare such as you offer?
RY: I can’t speak for all readers, but I’ve certainly grown tired of “sparklies.” Or tired of being bombarded with books about them. Frankly, the whole Twilight phenomenon is a puzzle to me because of my intolerance for mediocre writing and the inanity of beautiful, vapid people doing incredibly stupid, inexplicable things. The cult of Twilight is not different in this regard to the cult of celebrity in our society. We never tire, it seems, of shallow people as long as their shallowness is wrapped in an attractive package.
I absolutely did not expect the Printz Honor (Editor’s Note: The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in YA Literature) for the first book. Maybe the American Library Association was looking for just the right horror book to recognize and mine came the closest; I don’t know. Maybe the committee members were out of their collective minds.
DC: How about a brief bio on Rick Yancey? The biography on the book’s flap made you sound that much more interesting. Memoirs of a Tax Collector named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books on taxes ever written? And now you are winning awards for writing horror fiction. Quite a leap there…or maybe not.
RY: Born: Miami, Florida to an unwed college student. Adopted and raised in central Florida by the son of a sharecropper turned attorney. Middle child. Crammed four years of college into a mere seven years. Waited until I found the right person fifteen years ago and then married her before she realized what she was getting herself into. Proud father of three sons. Took a job for the government and wrote at night until somebody noticed. Enjoys crime shows and football and worries constantly.
DC: For those not in the know, tell us a bit about your first book and how it fits in with The Curse of the Wendigo.
RY: The first book, The Monstrumologist, supposes the existence of a natural science devoted to the pursuit and study of creatures whose defining characteristic is their malevolence toward human beings. Set in the late nineteenth century, the book is told through a series of journals composed by a very old man looking back at his apprenticeship to the title character as they unravel a mystery and hunt down a pod of terrifying man-eaters called Anthropophagi. The second book of the series is concerned with the hunt for the “mythical” Wendigo, a vampiric monster from Native American folklore that starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh.
DC: Did you have any inspiration for Dr. Pellinore Warthrop and Will Henry? They are both such “real” characters (and colorful too).
RY: I hesitate to admit this, but my fourteen-year-old son constantly calls me out for “talking like Dr. Warthrop.” Warthrop can be quite cantankerous. Will Henry may be a shard of my twelve-year-old self: shy, inquisitive, longing for a connection to an emotionally constipated father-figure. I never purposely base my characters on real people unless they happen to be real people; there are several cameos of actual people in the stories, particularly in Wendigo.
DC: After writing about the gruesome Anthropophagus in The Monstrumologist, why did you choose to tackle the Wendigo next?
RY: One of my goals with the series was to avoid monsters which defied the laws of the physical universe. The Anthropophagus certainly fit the bill, and I initially rejected the Wendigo because, like the vampire, it possessed certain attributes that simply are impossible (e.g., the ability to fly). No natural scientist – and Warthrop was the best in the game back then – would dream of “studying” such a creature because it couldn’t exist! Then I thought, what if some of his colleagues wanted to or there was evidence that the Wendigo actually might exist? How would my character react? What were the dramatic possibilities, and what could they reveal about Warthrop and Will Henry? That got the creative juices flowing.
DC: Your take on the Wendigo legend is a bit different than several that I have heard (in movies like Wendigo and Ravenous). Where did you come up with this version of the legend?
RY: I modified the Anthropophagi to fit the needs of my story, too. That’s my right as a storyteller. I read Algernon Blackwood’s story, of course, and researched the original tales from the Algonquin and other northern tribes. It was the insatiable appetite of the creature that I decided to focus upon because it reflected so perfectly the major theme of the book, our longing for human connection.
DC: As with The Monstrumologist, your latest book is not for the faint of heart. Have you had any criticism from parents about the books’ contents?
RY: Not directed toward me but remarked upon online in forums and social networking sites and the like. Most go something like this: “Can’t believe this is marketed as YA.” What I find striking is no kid ever complains. Come to think of it, maybe that’s not so striking after all.
DC: As The Curse of the Wendigo is set in the nineteenth century in both desolate Canada as well as New York City, how much research did you have to do to get the right “feel” and correctness for the book?
RY: I’m beginning to think I may be reincarnated from that period. I researched to get certain facts straight, but the idiom comes naturally. There were only a couple of places where I had to research to avoid anachronisms. For example, in the first draft of Wendigo, Will Henry says, “That’s as easy as pie.” You have to be careful of sayings like these. So I looked it up and found this was a modification of an earlier saying, in common usage in Will Henry’s day, so I changed it to the original: “That’s like eating pie.”
DC: What can your fans look forward to next in the adventures of Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry?
RY: Being scared out of their minds.
DC: Has Hollywood expressed any interest in bringing The Monstrumologist to the big screen?
RY: Interest, yes. Putting its money where its mouth is, no. The producer of Dark Knight expressed some interest when the first book came out, but I haven’t heard anything since. Hey, his people need to call my people!
DC: Who are some writers who inspire you? And have you read any horror fiction lately that really impressed you?
RY: I haven’t read horror fiction since my King phase in my twenties. I am a wuss. And there are so many writers who inspire me. I admire anyone who knows how to put a sentence together or creates imagery that sears itself into your imagination.
DC: As this is a horror film and literature website, I have to ask what are some of your favorite horror films?
RY: Number one by far: The Exorcist. Classy, literate, and scary as hell. Silence of the Lambs is very well done. The last one I saw was Paranormal Activity, which caused some insomnia and had me accusing my wife of getting up in the middle of the night and staring at me for hours as I slept.
DC: Is there anything you care to add that I have not asked you?
RY: Thanks for the opportunity! And I would like adult readers to know this is not your normal YA series. R.L. Stine it is not.
DC: I ask everyone this question so go for it: What is one thing no one knows about Rick Yancey that you think they should?
RY: I’m just a normal guy with a fascination for abnormal things.
Our thanks to Rick for taking the time to speak with us. For more information on him and his works, be sure to check out the official Rick Yancey website.
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