A short interview with author Lauren A. Forry on her 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?
LAUREN A. FORRY: Total. Blind. Luck. In 2014, I saw a post from Jonathan Maberry about this upcoming series of X-Files anthologies on the Horror Writers Association Facebook page. Two authors had needed to drop out of the project, so to fill their slots he was accepting pitches for stories and the offer was open to anyone. I’d had some short stories published by that point and had signed with my agent, but my first novel hadn’t been accepted anywhere yet, so I really doubted if a pitch from me – a nobody – would make the cut.
I thought about it over the weekend, and I still wasn’t sure if I should submit. When I tried to think of a story idea, I hit a total block. Then that Monday morning, I was walking my dogs before I went to work and the start of a story popped into my head. As I drove to work, the story really quickly began to take shape, and I realized I would be an idiot if I didn’t at least submit a pitch. The worst that would happen is that I’d hear “no,” and, like any writer, I’d already heard that plenty of times.
When I got to work, I sat down at a computer and started typing up my pitch. I teach at a local college and was in the tutoring center that day. I didn’t have any student appointments, so I kept working on the pitch and, after reading through it a few times, I emailed it Jonathan. I thought, well that’s that. At least I tried!
A few weeks later, I was leaving a movie theater and checking my emails. I had just seen Birdman and was in pretty good spirits when I saw an email from Jonathan. I figured it was the rejection. I had to read the email three or four times before my brain registered that he’d chosen my pitch. I literally stood in the middle of the theater, unable to move and with this stupid grin on my face, as all these people swarmed past me on their way out.
I responded, said I could submit the story by the deadline, and that was that. So it turns out, it really would have been a stupid, stupid decision if I hadn’t submitted my pitch.
TX-C: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files?
LAF: Oh, yes. The story of why I’m into The X-Files is actually part of our family lore now. I was eight when the show premiered, and you wouldn’t think it’s a show an eight-year-old should watch (and it probably isn’t). But my dad was a FBI Special Agent. He worked out of the Newark, NJ office and was, before his retirement, the East Coast Aviation Coordinator. FYI – nobody bullies you at school when they know your dad works for the FBI.
So I had grown up loving the FBI, playing with my dad’s badge, fingerprinting my family members, those sorts of things. And my dad loved TV shows and also the supernatural/paranormal. This is a guy who made 8mm short films about aliens when he was in college. So as soon as he heard about The X-Files, he was sold. In 1993, there weren’t as many procedurals on TV as there are now and really none that focused primarily on the FBI so that, too, was really exciting for him.
I very clearly remember standing in our kitchen and my dad saying, “Lauren, there’s this new show on about FBI agents. Do you want to watch with me?” (I was a pretty well-adjusted kid who didn’t scare easily and had a healthy understanding of real versus pretend. I was also writing my own stories about witches and dark blobs by that point and my favorite book was ‘Bunnicula’ by James Howe, so my parents already knew I liked weird, scary stuff.)
Dad and I watched the pilot together and every single episode after that for the next nine seasons. We lined up to see the first movie wearing X-Files pins and hats that my sister’s boyfriend had got for us (he worked at the movie theater). We would tape episodes with our VCR if we were going to miss them and always waited to watch them together. When, for an elementary school class assignment, I had to write to one of my heroes, I wrote a fan letter to Gillian Anderson. My parents helped me tracked down the address to send it to using the TV Guide. I never received a personal reply, but I did get a signed photo of Anderson and David Duchovny. Every time the “parental discretion” warning came on the screen, we’d always laugh because it was at my parent’s discretion that I was watching the show in the first place.
My dad sadly passed away in 2013, so he never knew about my getting to write Stryzga, and watching Season 10 earlier this year was the first time I’d watched new episodes without him. But I feel he may have somewhat had a hand in making sure I submitted my pitch to Jonathan.
TX-C: What made you want to use ‘Darkness Falls’ as a jumping off point for your story?
LAF: For some reason, and I might never know exactly why ‘Darkness Falls’ has always been one of my all-time favorite episodes ever since it first aired. I even have a YA novelization of it lying around my house somewhere that I got when I was a kid. I’ve always been drawn more to the monster-of-the-week episodes than the conspiracy episodes, and there’s just something about Mulder and Scully, still getting to know each other while being stuck in the woods with this mysterious, deadly force around them that always appealed to me. It’s a bit like a horror movie, with the characters getting stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere as they’re picked off one by one.
When I was trying to wrap my head around a pitch, I didn’t have much time to think about where in the timeline I should set my story because I’d wasted time trying to think if I should submit a pitch in the first place. So I thought, why not relate it to my favorite episode? I’ve watched ‘Darkness Falls’ probably dozens of times over the years, so I knew it well, and I realized that there was a natural break between that episode and the next, ‘Tooms.’ Mulder and Scully were in pretty bad physical shape, and they would have needed some time to recuperate. But ‘Tooms’ doesn’t address anything that happened in ‘Darkness Falls’ – Mulder and Scully are back in the field, in perfect physical condition.
So I thought, well, what happened in between? How long would they have needed to heal? ‘Tooms’ can’t be their first case back since ‘Darkness Falls,’ so what could have been their first field assignment since that fateful trip to the Pacific Northwest? My brain started filling in those gaps and a story started to emerge. The ideas flowed so easily, that’s when I knew I’d chosen the right timeframe for my story.
TX-C: You make a point of Mulder being very protective over Scully a key element of the story – was it interesting to write them so early on in their dynamic?
LAF: I found it fairly easy to slip into the mindset of their early relationship simply because there was less history that I had to worry about. Mulder and Scully have been through so much over the last 20+ years and along with the growth that’s happened during those decades, there is also a lot of emotional baggage to deal with.
So going back to a time where they were still getting to know one another – and know each other’s limits – was a lot of fun. They hadn’t yet dealt with Scully’s disappearance/abduction and coma. Mulder still didn’t know much about what really happened to Samantha and the conspiracy behind it. Heck, even Skinner and CSM don’t show up until ‘Tooms,’ so the characters felt a bit freer without all of that history weighing them down.
Also, because they’ve not yet experienced the worst to come, they’re still learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They don’t fully know, yet, what the other is capable of, and I wanted Mulder to become overprotective because he feels what happened to Scully in ‘Darkness Falls’ is his fault. In the last scene of the episode, when he’s standing over her bed and she’s unconscious, and he says, “I told her it was going to be a nice trip to the forest”? Like the doctor says, two or three more hours and she likely wouldn’t have made it. So here’s Mulder with a partner that he works well with, who understands him, who he’s developing a close bond with, and he almost kills her? He’s suffering from serious guilt right there!
We know now that there is worse to come for them, but at that moment, it was one of the worst experiences they’d had since they’d known each other, and I felt he needed to deal with the repercussions of that, and Scully, too.
TX-C: Where did the inspiration to use the Stryzga come from? Is it a myth you’ve been familiar with for a long time?
LAF: I actually started with the idea of a summer camp and wanted a monster that would fit in well with that setting. There is a camp in the Poconos that I went to for years as a kid and later worked as a counselor at, and I’ve always wanted to immortalize it in a story. Most of my descriptions of the camp in Stryzga, including the abandoned cabin, come directly from my memories of that summer.
So once I had that setting and developed an idea for what I wanted the monster to do, I searched various legends on the internet. The X-Files covered a lot of the major legends, like the Jersey Devil, so I had to find something the show hadn’t already used. I found the Stryzga the most intriguing, and the fact that it attacks night-time travelers and people who’ve wandered into the woods at night fit perfectly with a summer camp set in the woods.
(And I’ve been recently informed on Twitter of a typo I made in the spelling. It should actually be strzyga, so I apologize to lovers of Slavic mythology for screwing that up!)
TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?
LAF: I’m not a hardcore believer, but I’m not a total skeptic, either. I guess I’d say I have a healthy, if realistic, optimism that there might be ghosts and the like out there, but I’m not going to believe everything I hear. For example, I’m convinced my grandparents’ house was haunted, but I don’t think people have captured “real” ghosts on camera or a recording. I once burst out laughing at one of those real-life haunting shows on the Discovery Channel because these people had recorded a “ghost” screaming, and they played the original recording on the show. It wasn’t a ghost. It was a fox. I used to live in the London suburbs where there are a lot of urban foxes. When foxes scream, it sounds like a person being murdered. (Seriously. Search for screaming foxes online. It’s not a pleasant sound to hear at 3am, but it’s not a ghost, either.)
And as for aliens? Mulder would be disappointed in me, but I don’t think aliens have visited Earth. I did some research on the Fermi Paradox (if space is so big, and the possibility for intelligent life so prevalent, where are all the aliens?) for my next novel, and I believe that there has to be life out there somewhere, but it’s not come here. Yet.
Many thanks to Lauren for her time. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenaforry.
Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.