INTERVIEW: Lucy A. Snyder on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Along the Scenic Route’

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A short interview with author Lucy A. Snyder on her 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?

LUCY A. SNYDER: The short answer is that editor Jonathan Maberry asked me if I wanted to write a story for the anthology. Because I’ve been an X-Files fan since the series premiered, I was very happy to join the project. I first knew Jonathan Maberry from the Horror Writer’s Association; a few years ago, he was co-editing a zombie anthology that unfortunately never found a home. I had submitted a story to that which he had accepted, so he knew my work and figured I’d be able to write the kind of story he wanted to see. (He also contacted me about writing poetry for Scary Out There, a YA anthology that was recently published by Simon & Schuster)

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

LAS: I saw the series premiere back in 1993 and was instantly hooked. I loved the dark, cross-genre nature of the show — it mixed up science fiction, horror, mystery and conspiracy thriller elements. It reminded me of other shows I’d loved, such as The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And I loved the characters, too. As much as I enjoy the genres the show explored, if I hadn’t connected with the characters, I wouldn’t have kept watching.

TX-C: What informed the decision to frame a lot of the story around Susie Rainwater?

LAS: I approached this story as if I were writing an episode in the 3rd season (my favorite season). Episodes of the show often employ multiple viewpoints to reveal story and provide clues to the viewer. Mulder and Scully often know far less than the viewer at the end of any given episode as a result. I normally stick to just one viewpoint character in a short story, but if I wanted the story to have the cinematic feel of an authentic episode, I knew I needed at least viewpoint characters. Obviously, either Mulder or Scully needed to provide the agents’ point of view.

So in planning the story, I had to figure out which other character would best show the reader more about the supernatural mystery than the agents could witness. Who would have the most at stake in the story? Who would be very close to the supernatural events? Who could act as a witness to those events without understanding them in a way that would neatly resolve the mystery for the reader? I quickly realized that young Susie Rainwater was that character, and so a fair bit of the story needed to be shown through her perspective.

TX-C: Native American legends and disrespect toward them is key to the mystery – did you always want to explore these concepts similar to X-Files episodes like ‘Shapes’ or ‘Teso Dos Bichos’?

LAS: I would say that Native American legends are certainly an important element, but whether they’re the key or not is up to the reader’s interpretation of what happens in the tale. When I was brainstorming the story, I did have those legends in mind, and I was thinking of the X-Files episodes that explore them.

TX-C: This is set immediately after Season 3’s ‘The List’, which Mulder & Scully reference – any reason why that episode specifically?

TAS: Since I knew I wanted to write something that would fit with Season 3, my initial bit of homework was to re-watch that whole season. “The List” takes place in Florida, and the episode after is “2Shy”, which is in Cleveland. Mulder and Scully are shown to be traveling by car, and that would be a long road trip of at least a thousand miles. A lot could happen on a trip like that, so wasn’t it likely that they could encounter another mystery along the way? Especially if Mulder chose the scenic route instead of the interstate? That’s the start of my story: they stop for food and then get embroiled in strange events in a small town.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

TAS: I am not a believer, but the paranormal fascinates me nonetheless. It’s entirely plot-worthy.

Many thanks to Lucy for her time. You can follow her on Twitter @LucyASnyder.

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

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

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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’

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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’

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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’

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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.

Reasons X-Philes Should Be Cheerful About 2017

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Carl Sweeney helps us end the year by talking reasons to be cheerful next year… one, two, three!

2016 will be remembered for many reasons, but if you’re reading this then it’s likely that one of the things that affected you this year was the release of new episodes of The X-Files. The year to come may not offer anything quite so exciting on the immediate horizon, but there are still a few things we can look forward to.

We’ll get an update on Season 11, one way or another

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You’ve probably heard the whispers that negotiations for new episodes, which had appeared to be progressing nicely, may have hit some sort of impasse. We don’t know how this issue will be resolved, but at least we are likely to get some clarity. Representatives from Fox may be asked questions about the future of The X-Files at a Television Critic’s Association event in January.

IDW Publishing will continue to impress

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Those of us reading the Joe Harris-penned comics can expect more interesting stuff this year. Upcoming issues are set to include an intriguing tale about the Smoking Man’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, as well as a Skinner-centric story. If you haven’t read the IDW comics before, now’s as good a time as any to start.

Check out our previous X-Cast shows talking to comics editor Denton J. Tipton & artist/writer Matthew Dow Smith, who should–all going to plan–be back on the show during 2017!

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Elsewhere, January will see the publication of two X-Files novels aimed at a younger audience. Jonathan Maberry’s ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and Kami Garcia’s ‘Agent of Chaos’ will shine a light on events in the life of teenage Scully and Mulder, respectively.

Jonathan will be on The X-Cast in January talking about these novels, and we will be doing podcasts discussing the books in detail.

A new critical look at the show

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Some of you will have read Darren Mooney’s excellent articles at The Movie Blog. Those of you who are unfamiliar with his work would be well advised to spend some time getting acquainted with his careful analysis of all the 1013 series. Darren’s ‘Opening The X-Files: A Critical History of the Original Series’, to be published in June, will doubtless be as impressive as his online work.

Darren will also be discussing the book when he reappears on The X-Cast in 2017.

The X-Cast will continue to go from strength to strength

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The podcast will continue to bring you the same eclectic mix of reviews, interviews and other features. On Twitter, our ongoing Tournament will continue to ruthlessly eliminate episodes until a winner emerges, and we’ll be starting to countdown every week the results of our Episodes Poll we ran at the start of December. We’ve got a lot of exciting things planned for this blog, too, which we’ll reveal as the year progresses.

Remember… trustno1 (except us) 😉

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

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

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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

REVIEW: The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘An Eye for An Eye’

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Tony Black looks at the eleventh story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘An Eye for an Eye’…

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Written by George Ivanoff

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

Hands down, this is the weirdest and creepiest story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas. No question. ‘An Eye for an Eye’ is short, sharp, punchy and really really strange from George Ivanoff, revolving around something we take for granted on a daily basis – our precious two eyes. Set during the first season much like the last story, Ivanoff begins in media res with Mulder right in the middle of an incredibly unnerving situation as some kind of bizarre creature made up of eyes begins sucking his eyeball out of his socket, before snapping us back in time to how the agents came to face such a truly weird creature, amongst the weirdest The X-Files has ever given us.

Ivanoff’s writing is to the point but really engaging throughout, reading fast and fun, and he manages to nail Mulder’s headlong exuberance to believe the weirdest explanation in contrast to Scully’s measured response, as they begin investigating people from wildly different backgrounds who’ve had one of their eyes sucked out of their heads, before forgetting how it happened in the first place.

It’s a quick tale which is more interested in getting us to the climax than dwelling on the investigation, with Ivanoff’s writing being heavily dialogue-based as Mulder & Scully meet the victims (but he does get in a nice homosexual couple, and a welcome touch given this is set mid-90’s) and then find the perp, but it’s the encounter Mulder specifically has when they do come face to face with the monster here that makes the story; it’s disturbing, very weird, and suggests historical child abuse may be a causal factor, plus it’s all tied in with Biblical & religious overtones, which you can imagine given the title. The ending is icky & trippy and would really give you the shivers if you saw it on screen, which any good X-File should do.

Another fine story here from Secret Agendas, which rockets along from George Ivanoff and delivers a supremely creepy and strange villain, good character interactions, sprightly plotting and a memorable climax. ‘An Eye for an Eye’ may also make you wonder if you should ever wear glasses ever again!

Check in later this week for an exclusive interview with George Ivanoff about his story!

Rating: 8/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black

INTERVIEW: Lauren R. Forry on The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Stryzga’

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A short interview with author Lauren A. Forry on her 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?

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.

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

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

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Written by Lauren A. Forry

Edited by Jonathan Maberry

So far in The X-Files: Secret Agendas we’ve had a range of stories that attempt to get under the skin of Mulder & Scully, while both weaving in mytharc elements and more often than not, deliberate connections to X-Files events of the past. ‘Stryzga’, from writer Lauren A. Forry, is the first one to truly get the mixture right for my money, and for all of these tales–most of which have been great thus far–this one feels like an X-File of old we might see on TV the most.

Set during the first season of the show, it takes place just after the bleak ending of ‘Darkness Falls’ where, you’ll remember, Mulder & Scully only just got out of woods alive (literally). Forry intentionally chooses to play on that fact as she weaves a story that sends the duo back into the woods, in a way that feels worthy and un-intrusive.

You have a solid gribbly in the mix for this story too, as the titular Stryzga is a Slavic monster of legend which appears to have killed a Polish national in a former nature reserve, and Mulder delivers one of his classic projector lectures to Scully whilst throughout the story projecting his own concern about whether she should be back on field duty so soon, after she came off the tree bug attack in ‘Darkness Falls’ in a much worse way than he; it didn’t necessarily need any focus, as we took them both being fine for granted come the next episode, but Forry plays this beat naturally enough for it to *be* natural and provide a central level of depth to their burgeoning partnership which gives the story ever so slightly more weight.

Beyond that, it’s a damn fine monster of the week story, essentially, with a few twists and turns along the way in terms of questioning man’s abhorrent treatment of nature and some creepy secrets involving children and bizarre radiation tests. Crucially, Scully always provides a scientific explanation or attempt at one when Mulder is off theorising about two hearted monsters with double teeth, in precisely the way the show would do. It builds to a relatively swift but satisfying conclusion that ends on a comic beat but with the door still open.

It’s among the more traditional stories in this anthology but that really works to its benefit – with fine writing from Lauren A. Forry, who nails characterisation as well as story, it’s not the most out there or inventive of the volume but it could well be among my favorites.

Rating: 8/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black