A short interview with best-selling author Andy Mangels on his contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…
THE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?
ANDY MANGELS: I am one of the early members of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW.org), a group of authors from around the world who work on media tie-in books, from film and television to video games and role-playing games and comics.
Occasionally, a member will be working on an anthology — or know of one someone else is working on — and pass word through the group that stories are wanted. Such was the case with Jonathan Maberry, who was recruiting for his trio of X-Files short story collections for IDW Publishing. I pitched him, and he accepted, and then it was off to the darkest reaches of reality to come up with a suitable story!
TX-C: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files? There are lots of winks and in-jokes to this story…
AM: I began watching midway through the first season, and quickly caught up. I became quite an X-Phile by Season Four, so much so that I pitched an unauthorized guidebook to Citadel Press in 1997. There were a ton of authors doing guidebooks, but they all told essentially the same story, with just episode guides and such. I pitched a book that would include interviews and profiles with everybody BUT David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. That book, which came out in February 1998, was ‘Beyond Mulder and Scully: The Mysterious Characters of The X-Files’, and I interviewed 31 different actors from the series, including William B Davis, Jack Black, Terry O’Quinn, and many others!
So, yep, I’m an X-Phile. And when I was figuring out where to set my story, I very deliberately chose a time and era in the series that appealed to me the most. It enabled me to put in Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and X all reflecting on events that had recently happened or presaging events yet-to-come. As a fan, I love it when authors (or filmmakers) reflect on the mythology and history of the characters they’re working with, even in tiny ways, so I made sure to do the same for fans. A casual reader might not get all of the in-jokes and references, but they won’t be bothered by them; a “true fan” will hopefully love the care I took with continuity.
BTW, there is a very specific Twin Peaks reference in the story as well!
TX-C: Where did the idea behind the ‘zombie ant-virus’ come from? Any real life touchstones?
AM: Absolutely, it’s real. And utterly screwed up! I heard a glancing reference to zombie ants on some TV show, and looked it up online. Not two days later, I was at a friend’s apartment, and they had borrowed a National Geographic from a friend, and its cover story was about the zombie ants (November 2014)! The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus really does infect ants, take over their brains and control their bodies, then “fruits” and explodes their heads, spreading more fungus!
Mind and body control are staples of conspiracy theories. Funguses and spores can be terrifying. So the idea that somebody in the X-Files world — Hell, in our own world — could or would be experimenting with this led to the beginnings of my story! And it’s not just the control or infection/infestation that makes it so squicky; it’s that feeling of those infected that there is literally no way to regain control. They are trapped within their own body as something else controls them, and gestates, and eventually “fruits.” I hated the fact that scientists kept using that word, “fruits” to mean a head exploding. Fruits are good things, not exploding heads! That said, the alternate title for my story was “Fruited Plains.”
By the way, I purposely tried to stay away from too many allusions to X-Files season two’s “Firewalker” — which had some glancing similarities to the cordyceps story — but I did acknowledge it through Scully.
TX-C: There’s a nice shade of conspiracy to the story – did you enjoy adding characters like Mr. X?
AM: X was always one of my favorites on the show, and I loved how he, more than perhaps anyone, toyed with Mulder. He really was often trying to help him, but his methods were sometimes the jerkiest possible methods.
In licensed stories for books or comics, we aren’t inhibited by budgets, so we can have a cool guest-cast or cameo appearances. We are restrained by show mythology and continuity. However, with as many different licenses as I’ve written over the years, I’ve ceased thinking of continuity as a restraint. Instead, I view them as an inspiration to explore within their world, rather than break characters out of their world.
TX-C: Were interesting supporting characters like Dewey inspired by people or characters in particular?
AM: Dewey was kind of an amalgamation of some of the redneck guys I’ve known in life, but in prose, one can get inside their heads and thoughts. If he had been onscreen, you mostly would have just had his looks and a tiny bit of dialogue to help you understand them. In prose, I got to explore his thoughts more, whether they were about his dog, his affair, or the weird stuff he encountered. In my mind, he was kind of a Jason from True Blood, or Darryl, pre-Walking Dead.
I’ll tell you what was inspired by reality, other than the plot. The setting! I’ve always tried to realistically reflect real places when I write about them. When I co-wrote three Roswell novels, I got a phone book from Roswell, a bunch of maps, and called the Chamber of Commerce a lot with questions.
For this X-Files story, I extensively used Google map to plot out the trajectories of everything. I knew I wanted the grain silos and elevators in Oklahoma, so I figured out the towns that were kind of somewhere near both a military base and a large body of water. That was Purcell, Oklahoma. I did a bunch of research on Purcell, including calling City Hall and the public library for everything from fishing season dates in Lake Purcell, to train schedules, local traffic patterns, and etc. I researched dust explosions in grain elevators, local Native American tribes, and where the cemetery was. I also called a local Medical Examiner to ask about how they would properly process the body in the story.
Most importantly, in my research, I found the perfect spot for the facility that Mulder explores in the story: the Rhodes Grain silos in Norman. You can look up a video on YouTube that shows what’s left of them. Watch it and you’ll see the exact location I wrote about, though it is a lot worse for wear in that 2010 video than it was in my story.
TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?
AM: If you’re talking extraterrestrial life, absolutely. I think it’s idiotic and presumptuous to think that we’re the only intelligent life in the galaxy or beyond. Whether they are visiting us or watching us or probing us… that doesn’t seem as likely, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they are aware of us.
If you’re talking supernatural elements, to a point. I believe that the soul or spirit within us lives in the energy that courses through our bodies. As energy cannot be created or destroyed, it stands to logic that when we die, our energy goes out into the world. So, everyone and everything that has come before is all around us. Perhaps that energy can sometimes take form, or be seen, or communicate, or affect reality, or even be rehoused in a new form.
If you’re talking governmental conspiracy and experimentation, again, absolutely. In today’s world of leaked government papers and revelations about secrets from the various wars and so forth, only a fool would believe that there aren’t a whole lot of secret agendas (hey, also the subtitle of this X-Files book!) being carried out in facilities and laboratories.
Thanks for the interview guys, and I hope readers will really like The X-Files: Secret Agendas and my story, “Perithecia.” I just learned the other day that it is out in audiobook as well, read by Bronson Pinchot, so I have to rustle up a copy of that to listen to! And if you like this story, please check out some of my other work, including the upcoming Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman series, starting on December 7th from Dynamite and DC Comics!
Many thanks to Andy Mangels for his time. Having a 30-year history in both the comics medium, and in best-selling books and award-winning DVD production work and magazines, a lot of retailers and fans have read his work for decades in various forms. You can find more about him on his webpage, http://www.andymangels.com and on Wikipedia! You can also follow him on Twitter @AndyMangels.
Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.