Author D. R McElroy spoke recently with Sci-fi Pulse about the spooky circumstances that brig about superstitions, the weird and wonderful world of myths, and fearsome features of folklore. Many of the ideas in her latest book (reviewed by Sci-Fi Pulse) are common tropes and appears throughout the many stories we enjoy. In shows such as Supernatural, the writing of Stephen King and many, countless others. It’s rare to get to talk on someone so knowledgeable on such a wide and varied area. We’re glad we have the chance, and hope you are too. Enjoy!
Ben Cassidy at SF Pulse: Have you always had an interest in myths, folklore and legends, etc? Any early memories of them that stand out (that particularly fascinated you?)
D. R. McElroy: Oh, yes! I always found urban legends fascinating. Weird stuff like The Lady who Found a Rattlesnake in a Fur Coat, or The Hookman were always favorites. My favorite “mysteries” include The Bermuda Triangle, and the Lost City of Atlantis.
SF Pulse: It’s not easy undertaking, a project like this (I mentioned this in my review). How long did it take from initial idea to you holding the final product in your hand?
D. R. McElroy: Because of the way I write books, it only took me 3 months to write the book, 2 weeks to final edits, and about 8 months to final product.
SF Pulse: Talking of the final product, something else I mentioned is how nice a physical product the book is (to look at and hold and handle). How do you feel about that, and how much say do you get when you sign a book deal?
D. R. McElroy: I was delighted with the final product and very happy to read that you were as well. I thought the publisher really went all out with the embossed cover in gold ink and the heavy paper used.
I do get some input into the final product, but not a lot. Basically the publisher says, “This is what we’re doing, what do you think?” Then, unless I have a screaming fit (and I never have!), they’ll do whatever they want to do.
SF Pulse: I’m dying to know if you’ve done much travelling yourself; you certainly write with an impressive knowledge of the regions and geography of various continents.
D. R. McElroy: I have travelled extensively in the US and North America, but not as much as I’d like overseas. I’ve been to France and Germany, both of which I enjoyed. My bucket list trip is to the British Isles! My family come from Ireland.
I research topics intensely before I write about them. I try to achieve as much realism and authenticity as I can, but I know nothing beats actually being there.
SF Pulse: For me, in many ways, the concept of “religion” (in the broad sense) is really the history of story-telling. Would you agree with this, and depending on that, is there a more useful way to understand the sociological aspect of religious narratives and their imagery – complex question, I know. Apologies!
D. R. McElroy: Wow, there’s a can of worms to open! If you take out the entire concept of “faith”, then I would agree that religion (or at least religious mythology) is broadly about stories. Entire books have been written on the idea of religious imagery and myth as it applies to social constructs. I wouldn’t begin to attempt a dive into that swamp!
That said, across multiple religions around the world you find very similar themes such as man vs God, or man AS God in them all. For instance, almost every religion in the world has a flood myth that describes a great inundation of the world and mankind’s survival of it. There are also typically First Man/First Woman stories as well as apocalypse stories.
SF Pulse: Is there any particular myth, piece of folklore or legend that is a particular favourite for you, or any that you are more interested in than others? If so, why?
D. R. McElroy: I love Creation stories. While the majority of them center on some kind of First Man/First Woman theme, as I mentioned, they are nevertheless quite varied in the details. I’m particularly fond of an African myth that describes five men, two women, a leopard, and a dog emerging from beneath the Earth to start civilization. I’m thinking five men and only two women was a real problem!
There’s also a lovely Japanese myth about a brother and sister stirring the Great Sea and creating the many islands of that country.
SF Pulse: Are you a superstitious person, and what are your views on those who are, as well as those who write off such traits as nonsense?
D. R. McElroy: I admit it: I’m VERY superstitious! I’ll toss spilled salt over my shoulder, avoid stepping on cracks, and never open an umbrella indoors. In the book, I’ve actually described HOW the superstition about umbrellas got started–you’ll have to read it to find out!
A lot of superstition (including my own) comes from religious dogma. I never judge people who are superstitious for that reason. I get it if some people (especially those with scientific or nonreligious backgrounds) think such traditions are “nonsense”. It just means they don’t understand the basis for it.
SF Pulse: Many of the monsters and deities (depicted in the artwork of the book) are considered to be ubiquitous (though forms may differ), and ever-present in the human consciousness (and subconscious), with the likes of Nietzsche and Jung discussing such things. When writing the book did you have any particularly memorable dreams, or were any of the things you wrote about present, as far as you can remember?
D. R. McElroy: I always have very vivid dreams–I’m a writer! I dream in full color and I often have “lucid” dreams where I can control what happens instead of just being an observer. More than once I was pursued by some of the many creatures that appear in the book (I particularly recall an encounter with a sharkman).
When you talk about some of the things being “present”, I assume you mean ghosts or spirits? Yes, I’ve had visits from ghosts. I’ve written elsewhere about how my mother’s ghost visited me the night my father died to tell me he’d passed. Curiously, at the time it didn’t seem at all strange that I was getting a visitation; it seemed perfectly natural and unremarkable. Only upon reflection did I realize that my visitor had been a ghost!
SF Pulse: Your previous book “Signs and Symbols” is an even more ambitious project, in terms of size. Do you have a natural penchant (that you could tap into) for collating information and organising it, or is it something you have had to learn to become super disciplined with?
D. R. McElroy: I am NOT a naturally organized person! That’s something I struggle with a lot, and I continue my search for the perfect “system” that will solve my disorganization issues. I write a lot of lists, indexes, tables of contents, and outlines to try to keep the information correlated and sensible.
I do, however, LOVE research! I could’ve researched Signs & Symbols for two years and never gotten bored. When writing a book, however, I have to keep in mind my natural desire to include absolutely everything I’ve learned; instead, I keep strictly to my topics list to keep my manuscript from running into the thousands of pages. Even at that, my editor still cuts a lot of what I feel is essential information!
SF Pulse: I was fascinated to learn about “slender man”, as a new addition to myth. Given that we now live in an age where less and less is undiscovered, and science can accurately identify things more and more, what do you think the future holds for myth, folklore and legend?
D. R. McElroy: I think Slender Man is a perfect example of why myths and legends will stay relevant. This was a creature who was created by a single writer on the internet which literally took on a life of its own beyond that. It permeated people’s imaginations, spawning comics, books, and even movies. Sadly, the myth was taken too far when violence was done in its name.
In the US, we are currently in the grip of a vocal minority who think nothing of creating their own myths and beliefs from the ground up. In doing so, they’re plowing under the traditions and institutions that this country was founded on–to the detriment of the remaining (very large!) majority. They have proven that creating new myths, new stories, and alternative facts is a powerful weapon in a social war.
SF Pulse: Is there anything you’re working on at the moment, or similar books you’d like to write and have published?
D. R. McElroy: I have a number of new projects underway, including attempting to write my first novel series! It will be fantasy, which lets me use a lot of the research I’ve done for both Superstitions and for Signs & Symbols.
I’d like my next nonfiction book to take a deeper dive into some of the cultural mythology I’ve learned about. For instance, indigenous American peoples fascinate me, as do Celtic peoples. My own Irish heritage makes studying and writing about those stories (in a non-academic style) something I’d really love to do.
SF Pulse: Is there anything you’d like to add?
D. R. McElroy: Yes! Thanks for this opportunity and for the lovely review you wrote of my book. I’m pleased and humbled that you enjoyed my work. Anyone who’d like, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter @Deescribe315.
We’re also hugely grateful for this chance to talk, too. Thanks, Debra, and welcome to our Sci-Fi Pulse Community. If you’re taken by such topics or have any questions of your own, why not do as Debra says and get in touch? We look forward to Debra’s next book and to learning more about what shapes our inner worlds, and the original names and origins of some of the ghosts and ghouls hiding under the bed or hovering around the dark alleys late at night. Treat yourself to a copy of the book (check the review of it here, for title and details etc.) Look out for how many you can spot in the stuff you read and watch. You’ll be surprised!