REVIEW – The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Along the Scenic Route’

Tony Black looks at the fourteenth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘Along the Scenic Route’…

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Written by Lucy A. Snyder

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

The penultimate story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas is more of an aside from Lucy A. Snyder than a full-on case itself, as ‘Along the Scenic Route’ which Mulder & Scully take on their way back from events of the episode, ‘The List’ (placing this roughly around early Season Three), sees them stumbling in on problems in a small-town possessed it appears by strange visions with fatalistic results. Snyder from the outset presents this more as a consequence of Mulder & Scully constantly being drawn to the paranormal and has some fun playing up on the idea for once they’re not actually desperate to hang around and investigate.

Events spiral mostly around Susie Rainwater, a young girl suffering intense headaches, as the townsfolk in Tilton are seeing strange angels or devils or snakes across town, which could be hallucinogenic manifestations based on mold spores harvested from the Rainwater farm, but which could also connect back to Native American legends of sacred ground. Snyder’s story to an extent shares some DNA with ‘Teso Dos Bichos’ (don’t worry, it’s better!) or in some ways ‘Shapes’, that idea of the ignorant white man looking to stamp all over ancient tradition and culture. That lies at the heart of the story and while the pantomime thuggery of said white man is a little on the nose for The X-Files, the ambiguity behind what could be causing this is welcome.

It’s really Scully who cooks up most of the theory in this one, the scientific theory, for what may be going on, while Mulder doesn’t particularly leap to too many conclusions; Snyder just leaves dangling a few possibilities as to what the cause might be, and it’s not the kind of story which has a Mulder theory that ties everything up in a little bow. It becomes clear that Susie may be the primary catalyst for the weirdness but, again, the specific reasons are left open to debate. Snyder characterizes well along the way – she captures Scully’s scientific rigor & Mulder’s louche wit well, while Susie’s childlike approach, when written in her POV, helps alleviate some of the cliched elements of the story.

A simple, well-told and decently written tale, ‘Along the Scenic Route’, wedging itself within X-Files continuity without falling into the trap of needing too heavily to connect back to the overarching mythos or tap into the lead characters psychology. Lucy A. Snyder simply tells a solid, interesting and open-ended short story effectively, and that makes it a welcome addition to Secret Agendas.

Look out for an exclusive interview this week with Lucy A. Snyder about her story.

Rating: 7/10

You can follow Tony @Mr_AJ_Black on Twitter.

REVIEW – The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘All Choked Up’

Tony Black looks at the thirteenth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘All Choked Up’…

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Written by Lois H. Gresh

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

Sometimes you get an X-Files story that just doesn’t feel like The X-Files, and Secret Agendas serves one up here in ‘All Choked Up’ from Lois H. Gresh. There’s just something as a bit too pulpy and on the nose about Gresh’s story that feels off in terms of Chris Carter’s series, and while it’s nice to see Scully once again get the focus (indeed in first person as well), her inner monologue didn’t always sound like you’d imagine Scully would; moreover, certain interactions between our leads with characters such as Skinner (who feels too wily & playful) and the Cigarette Smoking Man (who comes across too cartoonish) just don’t track. Dare I say it, the whole story feels very much like an X-File written by someone who hasn’t seen much of The X-Files.

Whether or not that’s true, it’s hard to judge, and I wouldn’t serve to presume. Gresh writes straight up, pulls no punches, and there’s nothing especially wrong with her prose, it’s her story that for me was full of problems. For example, Mulder & Scully talk throughout about the ‘Syndicate’ as if it’s common knowledge as a name like they’re talking about ‘SPECTRE’, say – they just didn’t do that in the show, it wasn’t a reference point. Also, a sub-basement for secret, clandestine experiments… right under FBI headquarters? Accessible only by secret codes? Really? Even for this show, that’s a silly stretch. It also leads to a really cartoonish fight with the Smoking Man which is entirely out of a different

It also leads to a really cartoonish fight with the Smoking Man which is entirely out of a different series and didn’t sit well at all. What’s a shame is that the central mystery–involving a piece of AI technology which may be crushing people inside clothing they wear–is quite clever and unique, but it’s dealt with in a jarring manner. Ironically, it doesn’t have enough time to breathe.

‘All Choked Up’ is probably my least favorite tale in Secret Agendas because it simply doesn’t feel personal and befitting to Mulder and Scully, that it could have been ported into various different shows and tweaked a slightly different way. It lacks that focus, that tonal accuracy, the character voices aren’t always there, Scully’s POV doesn’t seem to have much point, and there are one or two plot holes that stood out (why, Skinner, did you care so much about Curlie?). While I admire the attempt, this one falls short.

Rating: 4/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

INTERVIEW: Ryan Cady on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Kanashibari’

A short interview with author Ryan Cady on his contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…

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THE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?

RYAN CADY: I’d known Jonathan Maberry through social media and the Horror Writer’s Association, and one day on the HWA Facebook page he put out an open call for X-Files pitches for the anthology – I guess they had a couple slots left. I pitched him “Kanashibari” off the bat and a month or so later he let me know I was in! I remember being stuck at a red light when I got the email and pulling over to read it, I was so excited.

T-XC: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files?

RC: Definitely. My grandmother and I were the only people in my house growing up who liked horror, so I have a lot of distinct memories of watching it with her. We were always big “Monster of the Week” people, and I think a lot of those episodes informed my approach to horror as a genre over the years.

TX-C: What made you choose the Kanashibari folk myth for your story?

RC: I used to experience sleep paralysis pretty regularly, and back in college I’d done a little reading on the kanashibari myth, and I’d always wanted to tell some kind of story with it, but I’d never really gotten around to putting one to paper. A couple years ago I was watching some Alien Abduction documentary thing, and they mentioned offhand that sleep paralysis could account for the entire phenomenon, and I was just so hooked on that explanation.

It really struck me as something Scully could latch onto and Mulder could look down his nose at, so when Jonathan called for pitches, those ideas just sort of came together.

TX-C: You tap into the heat of Los Angeles from Scully’s less than impressed perspective, and its Japanese community – do you feel these are areas that haven’t much been explored in The X-Files?

RC: I think L.A. in general, doesn’t get a lot of play in horror. It’s newer, it’s bright and sunny – I get it, that’s a tough setting for trying to be spooky. I liked the idea of Scully sort of rolling her eyes at the place, like, what can happen here that’s worse than all the crazy stuff I’ve seen so far?

And community-wise, X-Files was always really good about exploring these little pockets of America, and I’ve always felt like the really diverse and varied communities in Southern California are ripe with stories – and not just horror stuff, even though that’s our cup of tea.

TX-C: There’s a nice ambiguity as to whether either Mulder or Scully’s theories about what’s happening are right – was that intentional throughout?

RC: Absolutely. At the end of the day, two people working in close proximity like that are going to influence each other a lot, as we see in the show, and so I really wanted to dig into the doubt that Mulder’s “need to believe” would bring to a skeptic like Scully.

And as much as I think we all love Mulder, there’s a perverse kind of comfort in proving him wrong, proving that we’re safe and the monster isn’t real.

Although the ending of this story does leave a little room for monsters.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

RC: You know, I’m not sure. I’m certainly something of a skeptic, but I was raised pretty religious, and I haven’t quite let go of some of my philosophical leanings there. The world is so big and so old and so strange, I think there might be some things lurking out there that just defy explanation.

Many thanks to Ryan for his time. You can follow him on Twitter @rycady.

Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow @Mr_AJ_Black.

REVIEW: The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Kanashibari’

Tony Black looks at the twelfth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘Kanashibari’…

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Written by Ryan Cady

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

Now here’s an urban myth I’ve heard of before – the Kanashibari, a terrifying Japanese folk tale of an old hag who haunts the dreams of people in what would be referred to as night terrors. Ryan Cady captures the concept of such a creature well in ‘Kanashibari’, the twelfth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas, clouding the very notion of what reality means in terms of the dream world and how potentially said unconscious can hurt us in the real world. In that sense it beats similarities with Season 2’s ‘Sleepless’, but tonally and in terms of atmosphere shares as much in common with Ringu and other Japanese horror tales. Cady manages to craft a solid tale which remains, to a degree, open to interpretation.

You see it’s never quite clear whether we’re dealing here with a genuinely supernatural occurrence, a terrifyingly described ‘Old Hag’ with a shock of hair and white face which creeps onto and attacks you while you sleep, or a chemically induced series of hallucinations tapping into that fear response within REM sleep, and Cady does a very good job of letting Scully have as strong an explanation for what’s happening here as Mulder himself does, he quick to leap to the fact a spiritual evil presence is lurking beyond the dream world.

Whether or not the Kanashibari is real, Cady manages to craft some genuinely unsettling moments for Mulder & Scully as they are assailed by terrifying dreams, in strongest written parts of the story; the whole piece is less effective when dabbling in the supporting Japanese father/son difficulties in Los Angeles, though Cady nicely suggests the City of Angels isn’t quite as glorious as it seems, given how Scully reacts to the heat in November. It has nice incidental touches.

What ‘Kanashibari’ also has going for it is, arguably, the best final scene in Secret Agendas, as Ryan Cady weaves a wonderful little stinger at the end, just when you think everything has been relatively wrapped up in a neat little bow. It leaves you going ‘ooooh’ in the best tradition of The X-Files, in a way not every story in this anthology has done. It deserves applause for that and some evocative writing along the way.

Look out for our exclusive interview with Ryan Cady about his story later this week.

Rating: 7/10

You can follow Tony @Mr_AJ_Black on Twitter.

INTERVIEW: George Ivanoff on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘An Eye for an Eye’

A short interview with author George Ivanoff on his contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…

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THE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?

GEORGE IVANOFF: Jonathan Maberry had two slots open up for the anthology and invited members of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers to pitch for them. I submitted two pitches and one of them got through.

TX-C: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files?

GI: Yep! Loved it from the moment it showed up on TV. So getting the chance to write a story for this anthology was a big fan-boy moment for me. It also gave me the excuse to buy it all on DVD as a tax deduction. Research! Research is so important!

TX-C: This is easily the strangest and creepiest story in Secret Agendas – what were your inspirations for the use of eyes?

GI: Thank you for your kind words. My favourite episodes of the series were the stand-alone creature eps rather than the conspiracy mythology based ones. And I love the “is-it-a-monster-or-isn’t-it” approach. So that’s what I wanted to write. As for the eyes… well, eyes are such a sensitive part of the body. And I’m very squeamish about eyes. The best starting points for creepy stories are the things that creep out the author. And the thought of a creature covered in stolen eyes creeped me out in a BIG way.

TX-C: What made you start ‘in media res’, as it were, with Mulder toward the end of the story?

GI: It was simply a case of wanting to start the story at an exciting point. And given that the story falls very much into the “is-the-monster-real-or-isn’t-it?” category, I figured that the first scene should make you think that it is real.

TX-C: There are some definite Biblical & religious overtones with Orvell, not to mention hints of historical abuse – what made these form part of his character?

GI: Once I worked out that the story would be about an optometrist and stolen eyes, the title just popped into my head. “An Eye for an Eye” is a biblical quote, so that led me to finding other biblical references to eyes; and that resulted in me wondering about how to turn the biblical references into a cause. I take a dim view of religious extremism (extremism of any sort, really), which so often is the excuse for all manner of horrible behavior. So I used extremism as the starting point for the historical abuse. And it all came together to form Orvell’s back-story. Even in a fantastical story, there needs to be believable historical motives for a character’s behavior.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

GI: No! I believe in science. 🙂 But the paranormal makes for exciting story telling!

Many thanks to George for his time. You can follow him on Twitter @george_ivanoff.

Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black

X-FILES FANFIC WRITING PROJECT – Writers Wanted

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Fan fiction writers who love The X-Files and its universe – WE NEED YOU!

For 2017, The X-Cast is looking to create a prose anthology inspired by IDW Publishing’s three books over the last two years (though in no way officially connected to or affiliated with them – this is strictly a fan project).

We’re looking for fans (or aspiring writers looking for some practice) to help us develop a series of prose stories set in the world of The X-Files which would firstly be released on the blog (and promoted on the podcast) and later collected into a free to download PDF e-book.

There aren’t many conditions on this either, beyond the following:

  • 6000-8000 word count.
  • No slash fiction
  • It has to involve at least one existing X-Files/Millennium/Lone Gunmen character.

To begin with, please respond with an expression of interest and a story pitch (a simple paragraph will suffice). We’ll then ask you to write the first 500 words of your story before we commit to giving it a green light, mainly to ensure you’re definitely committed to writing the story.

Incidentally, just in case you’re unsure about our own background with writing, please check out our fearless leader Tony Black’s own work as a prose writer here via the Fiction Vortex project. Last year one of his stories was published as part of a collection of introductory pieces in paperback, and he has an Amazon author page. So while no experts and certainly nowhere near as good as the IDW writers, we do at least have a *little* experience! 🙂

As an example, please find below the first draft of the first scene in Tony’s story for this anthology, called ‘ChronowerX’.

Please send your story pitch/expression of interest to us via email or via Facebook message on our page or Twitter message.

We look forward to any submissions and creating a really cool fan project!

The stories are out there…

CHRONOWER-X

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON D.C.
OCTOBER 23, 1996

“We’ve been here before, Mulder,” Dana Scully said, warily, as she listened to her partner present yet another case at her feet before she could even get her coat off on this crisp Autumn morning.
“Artificial intelligence. It’s the wave of the future, Scully,” replied Fox Mulder as he got up from his cluttered desk and, sleeves already rolled up on his slightly crumpled shirt, started rifling through a box across from his desk.
Scully placed her coat over the chair opposite where Mulder hatched all of his theories and skimmed through the Los Angeles Police Department file thrown toward her on the desk as he’d hit her with a barrage of theory. Just one day, she thought, a hello and good morning might be a fun change of pace.
“Robert Justman,” she read. “Fifty-seven years of age, no pre-existing medical conditions, married with two grown up children, found dead two days ago in his leased city apartment from a massive electrical discharge.”
“And who also happens to be one of the founding members of Chronowerx Industries,” Mulder said without glancing her way, still rifling.
“Am I supposed to know the name?” Scully asked, aware Mulder’s answer would in his head probably be yes.
“Chronowerx is one of the pioneering computer technology companies in the United States,” he replied. “As far back as 1969, when man was about the walk on the moon, they were building the first isograted circuit, one of the key building blocks of any modern home computer system.”
Mulder finally retrieved what he wanted from the box, an old black VCR tape, which he proceeded to place inside his VCR attached to an old TV on a stand, which he wheeled out from his adjacent research lab.
“So Justman worked for a technology company. It’s a hell of a leap to suggest an artificial intelligence is responsible for his death, even if we have seen technology suspected of as much through Brad Wilczek’s work.”
Scully still wasn’t entirely sure she believed the Central Operating System created by genius scientist Brad Wilczek was the result of an intelligent computer program, but she sensed Mulder was—as usual—saving the coup de grace and didn’t want to derail him.
“This is the same technology company whose CEO and primary founder disappeared three months ago into thin air,” Mulder said, now switching on the tape using his remote control. “And who also happens to be the second member of Chronowerx’s board to die in unusual circumstances in a matter of weeks.”
Closing the file, Scully crossed her arms as static appeared on the TV before them, before giving way to a news report showing hand-held camera footage of a hazy, brown night sky.
“What is this?” she asked.
Mulder nodded at the screen, as a news reader voice overlaid footage of some kind of UFO moving across the same sky.
“Incredible footage was caught just an hour ago by a man using his camcorder to tape a backyard barbecue,”
Scully moved closer to the screen, a little surprised at the crystal clarity she could see the unidentified flying object soaring through the clouds at low altitude. It was long, chrome and gray, with a domed, elongated spherical neck holding two jutting, blue struts at its side. It didn’t look like any kind of UFO footage Mulder had shown her before.
The news reader voice continued. “The massive, unidentifiable object does not appear to be a meteorite, weather-balloon or satellite, and one aviation expert we’ve spoken to has stated it is definitely not any kind of US aircraft currently in use…”
Mulder switched off the screen as Scully turned to him, confused.
“This footage was taken over the Los Angeles skyline just one day before Chronowerx founder Henry Starling disappeared. Every single source I know in video manipulation, including the Gunmen, can find absolutely no evidence this footage was faked. It’s the single most compelling evidence for an unidentified flying object in years, maybe even decades.”
“And you think this UFO is connected to Starling’s disappearance? To the death of Justman and the others?” Scully asked, in an incredulous manner which suggested Mulder was all kinds of crazy for even suggesting it.
“Pack a bag. We’re off to the City of Angels to find out,” Mulder replied, hoisting on his jacket and heading for the door.
With a sigh, Scully grabbed her coat and the Justman file and followed suit. Here we go again, she thought.

You can find Tony @Mr_AJ_Black on Twitter.

REVIEW – The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia, or The Adventure of the Empty Heart’

Tony Black looks at the ninth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia, or The Adventure of the Empty Heart’…

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Written by Nancy Holder

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

In the ninth story of The X-Files: Secret Agendas, writer Nancy Holder takes a big big risk by bringing back one of the show’s most reviled characters: Inspector Phoebe Green! ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia, or The Adventure of the Empty Heart’ is without doubt not just a curio but one of the most entertaining stories in this anthology, primarily because it really strives to do something different. Holder not only takes Mulder & Scully out of their comfort zone but even out of their country, placing them in England for the kind of tale it’s a shame, if understandable, the TV series never actually did – connect Mulder back with an even greater tether to his 19th century inspiration, Sherlock Holmes, and touch again on his British Oxford education roots. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but Holder’s story stands out in several unique ways.

Firstly, she really nails these characters, perhaps more than any other writer has quite done yet in this anthology. Holder gets that blend of dogged determination mixed with dry sarcasm in Mulder down pat, as she does the continued exasperation of Scully, who serves as the perspective for this story. Holder really plays up on the visible dislike Scully had for Phoebe during ‘Fire’, which this can be considered a semi-sequel to; with the comparison being much more on the nose to Sherlock and Irene Adler, down to the cod-Dr Moreau, 19th century literature title, the myriad of Holmes references, and of course a major chunk of the story taking place on Dartmoor. Phoebe is as slippery and annoying as she was when Amanda Pays played her, but that just means she’s written well, and arguably the first half of the story as Phoebe leads Mulder into a particularly paranormal case is the strongest.

Holder perhaps falls down by trying too hard to connect this back to the mytharc, which oddly enough has been a recurring problem in many of the stories in Secret Agendas. She makes a point of setting this early in Season 3, tethering it pointedly to the ‘Anasazi’ trilogy and trying to connect the thematic element of the story to Mulder’s brush with death in the boxcar and his ‘rebirth’, but it feels enormously forced in many places. The whole discovery Mulder & Scully make smacks of Fight the Future too and, oddly, almost doesn’t seem to fit their Sherlockian surroundings. It’s almost as if Holder had a different kind of story in mind and wanted to wrong foot us, when perhaps the original narrative might have been more rewarding. It’s a shame, as the promise of the story doesn’t quite pay off.

Regardless, ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia’ beyond its narrative problems and fan service is among the strongest penned in the Secret Agendas anthology, and just for the fact she gets away with bringing Phoebe Green back, Nancy Holder deserves a round of applause!

Rating: 7/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black

INTERVIEW – Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Kate Corcino on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Border Time’

A short interview with authors Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Kate Corcino on their contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…

jrvie7q7mlwjbjksTHE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?

BRYAN THOMAS SCHMIDT: Jonathan Maberry invited me and I asked my friend Kate, who was a more knowledgeable fan at the time, to join me.

KATE CORCINO: Bryan Thomas Schmidt first asked if I was a fan of X-Files. After my enthusiastic response he invited me to co-write the story with him. I leapt at the opportunity, as any writer fan would!

TX-C: Have you both always been a fan of The X-Files?

BTS: Actually, I became a fan for the story, because I had not related to the whole conspiracy theory thing in the 90s when it was originally on and had been too busy getting my Masters degree to watch much TV anyway. I had started watching a few reruns when the opportunity came along, and thought it would be a good fit, so I asked Maberry, and when he said yes, I then watched all 9 seasons, 2 movies, read all the novels, all the YA books, and the prior anthologies in about 8 weeks before we wrote the story.

KC: Yep, from the very beginning. I’d rave about the show to anyone who’d listen–I even got my mom watching. I think she became an even bigger fan than I was.

TX-C: What inspired your story here? You touch on various elements, including the treatment of Mexican people on the US border – were there any real-life inspirations?

BTS: Kate currently lives in El Paso. I did for two years and for a decade before that spent a lot of time on business down in that region. The real murders of women in Juarez has been an ongoing issue for two decades. It remains unsolved. I thought it would lend itself well to an X-Files spin, tragic as the real story is, and I immediately saw ties to the Mulder-Samantha mythology.

KC: Absolutely. Living on the border, and being a half-Latina woman, allows me to witness the complicated relationships that are woven into the fiber of the people here. There is a very real history here of Las Desaparecidas, more than 150 women and girls who’ve gone missing and whose disappearances have never been solved. Revisiting that horror in our story was a way of keeping the frustration and anguish current and real to an audience who otherwise might not be aware.

TX-C: Can you describe the process of writing the short story in tandem?

BTS: We decided I would write Mulder and she Scully. We outlined it, and I wrote the opening scene of the disappearance of a victim, and all Mulder, she wrote Scully, then we polished for voice.

KC: We tossed ideas back and forth in IMs, outlined together over the phone, then passed the story back and forth for each scene in our assigned POVs. I think this story came together the fastest of any story I’ve ever written. I tend to be a slow, perfectionist writer. Bryan made the process of collaboration easy and fun.

TX-C: Given the myth arc links in the story, did you always set out to make this very personal to Mulder’s search for Samantha?

BTS: I think I answered that above, but the goal was to create a story that felt like an episode of the show. So I wanted to weave in some threads episodes had in common, including the humorous banter of the two leads, their different approaches, and some mythology. The Samantha storyline lent itself best to the main storyline we’d chosen, so it was the obvious choice.

KC: We wanted the story to feel like an episode, including exploration of a larger arc. Mulder’s search for Samantha fit perfectly with the tone and topic of our storyline.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

BTS: I believe there is a spiritual realm and spirit warfare with angels, demons, and other forces. Beyond that, it’s fun to write about, but I don’t know what else I believe. I have encountered real spirit warfare stuff when I was a missionary and traveling in Brazil and Ghana, so I know that’s real. I have never seen a UFO though, but I assume other intelligent life might well exist somewhere in the universe.

KC: *laugh* Even before experiencing “unexplainable events”–stories for another time–I was always a Spooky Mulder fan. So, yes.

Many thanks to Bryan & Kate for their time. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @BryanThomasS and Kate @KateCorcino

Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

REVIEW: The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Love Lost’

Tony Black looks at the sixth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘Love Lost’…

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Written by Yvonne Navarro

Edited by Jonathan Maberry.

An intriguing tale from Yvonne Navarro for the sixth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, as ‘Love Lost’ taps into a piece of mysterious history from Dana Scully’s childhood heretofore unknown. Set during the revival series, taking place roughly late 2015 chronologically, it sees Scully being reminded of a titular lost love in Marcus Damicke, who vanished in 1982 after getting on a flight & leaving Scully for what was considered to be a brief time. It’s an unusual but well-constructed story, which principally gives Scully more focus (which has been admittedly lacking in Secret Agendas so far). Where it falls down is in, oddly, trying hard to find connections to the myth arc and with characters who don’t quite seem to fit the nature of her narrative.

The actual mystery of Marcus is well told, however, and you genuinely do get the sense that Scully compartmentalized his disappearance as a teenager looking for that connection. It’s also nice, even after so much time working with Mulder, that Scully still feels certain elements of her past & life are private – that’s very Scully, who Navarro captures well across this story as her investigation leads her to old faces, while Mulder attempts to understand how the seeming reappearance of Marcus, having not aged in over 30 years, links to a series of strange power outages at a major airport.

Navarro’s short is strongest when it’s exploring Scully’s character in relation to the mystery, not when Mulder is linking up with Marita Covarrubias of all people; don’t get me wrong, Marita is long overdue some kind of return in The X-Files, but her involvement in this story seems really off – she doesn’t have a personal enough link to either of our leads to really work as anything other than a mysterious antagonist, allowing Navarro to call back to lingering, enigmatic plot points from Season 9 finale ‘The Truth’. It’s even weirder when she suggests a legendary, long-gone X-Files character may also be steering the mystery of Marcus behind the scenes, and it almost feels too much like fan service – the story didn’t need either of them.

Regardless, while ‘Love Lost’ isn’t the strongest story in Secret Agendas, it flows well, doesn’t drag, retains a genuine mystery which Yvonne Navarro doesn’t see the need to tie up in a neat bow or even specifically give explanations for by the end, and crucially it shines a light on Scully’s past as a woman and her emotions connected to a previous, youthful love in her life which allow for some nice interplay with Mulder. A story worth telling.

Rating: 6/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

INTERVIEW: Jim Beard on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Desperately Seeking Mothman’

A short interview with author Jim Beard on his contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…

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THE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?

JIM BEARD: I saw a post on the American Horror Writers Association Facebook page from editor Jonathan Maberry about needing to fill some slots in the book. I admire Jonathan to the nines — he’s a living, breathing action hero himself — and couldn’t believe the opportunity was presenting itself. I wrote a pitch, sent it in, and about a week later got a Private Message from Jonathan asking if I could deliver a finished draft in x amount of time (pun intended). I said, uh, yes? He said “Welcome to the X-Files.”

I found out later I was up against about 680 other pitches. Yow.

TX-C: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files?

JB: Full disclosure: since Second Season. My wife started watching from Episode #1, back in the day, but I came to it later (can’t really remember why). Being a big fan of the Occult Detective genre of fiction, I twigged to it immediately and here we are, all these years later (and yes, I went back and caught up on First Season).

TX-C: The Mothman is a well known American urban legend – what made you want to use that as a jumping off point for your story?

JB: It jumped into my mind, unbidden, for realz. I think it was because it was a subject that hadn’t really been covered on the show before, not really. Or it might be the actual, documented undue influence the Mothman has on people. Regardless, as you say, it became more of a jumping off point because the plot went where it wanted to go. Which is a very cool thing to happen to a writer in my estimation; a story that has a life of its own.

TX-C: You put Mulder through the psychological wringer here – did you enjoy letting Maeve get under his skin?

JB: Ha — I saw what you did there 🙂 Yeah, I did. I write mainly pulp and in pulp the characters tend to receive more physical abuse than anything, so placing Mulder into a twisty-turny, mental labyrinth was a feast for me as a writer. And between you and me, he kind of deserved it. A little.

TX-C: Did you enjoy writing Mulder’s perspective specifically here? Was that a conscious choice from the beginning or did it evolve?

JB: Weird thing is that I’m more of a Scully fan, but Mulder demanded to take the wheel on this one. I think that’s for the best because writers should come out of their comfort zone and tackle characters and subjects they may not have cared much for and see what makes them tick. Mulder’s ordeal here grew organically as I plotted and I’m proud of what transpired, even if it meant that Scully took the backseat this time.

If I get a second chance to write X-Files again, that will be rectified. Oh, yes.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

JB: As in other things, I’m an agnostic on that score. It depends on what day of the week it is. As Mulder might say, “I want to believe,” but common sense sometimes rears its ugly head and shatters the attractive alternatives.

Show me a ghost, though. I’m ready.

Many thanks to Jim Beard for his time. You can follow him on Twitter @writerjimbeard.

Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.