The following is an interview with Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray, co-authors of the upcoming novel, Teeth of the Wolf. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Rabarts and Murray about the inspiration behind the novel, their shared creative process, how the novel fits into their ongoing series of books, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your novel, Teeth of the Wolf! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Dan Rabarts: Teeth of the Wolf picks up where our novel, Hounds of the Underworld, left off, with brother-sister team Penny and Matiu Yee drawn deeper into a world of occult murder, fine dining, and talking fridges.
Lee Murray: It’s a blend of procedural police forensics and the supernatural, told with a dry black humor and a whole lot of affectionate squabbling from our intrepid brother-sister duo. It’s all great fun, just as long as my co-author can be persuaded to stick to the outline!
DR: Outline. Who needs outlines, right? *makes a note to blow some more stuff up in Book 3 so Lee has to find a way to explain it scientifically*
DR: What inspired us? After collaborating on a couple of other projects – editing some charity anthologies and working on a national conference together ‒ Lee approached me about the possibility of working on a collaborative writing project. At that point, we’d already established that we could work together, and that we shared a gleeful fascination with the macabre and the quirky, so I didn’t have to think too hard before saying yes. We talked about writing some collaborative novellas ‒ tight word counts and fast turnaround for the ebook market ‒ brainstormed a couple of characters and a premise, and then got down to writing. As the first draft passed the 60k mark, we realised we were no longer writing a novella, and that they weren’t going to be quick to turn around at all.
LM: It was only meant to be for fun, and because this was my first time in a writing collaboration, we decided to make it easy on ourselves. Since my writing is predominantly speculative with settings that adhere to real-world logic, and Dan’s work tends to focus on dark supernatural themes, we set out to incorporate those two aspects in cross-genre crime drama. So rather than being inspired to write the story, we took the easy way out by seizing on a narrative which would play to our individual strengths. We also elected to draw on our differing cultural backgrounds and weave these into a narrative. This led to the complex family arrangements that appear in the story, and the tension (and affection) that exists between our two protagonists. And then, we splattered the narrative with blood and ichor because in our hearts we like to think we’re as dark and gritty as West Coast sand.
DR: Come on! Who doesn’t want to read about a fictional dystopian Auckland on the brink of environmental and economic collapse?
BD: What can you share with us about your shared creative process in co-authoring the book?
LM: The Path of Ra series uses a he-said, she-said approach where Dan and I write a chapter about, with me taking ownership of one protagonist, uptight and logical scientist Penny, and Dan being responsible for bad boy Matiu with his shadowy connections and even shadier heritage. You’d think with two of us writing it, the book should take half the time to complete, but anyone who writes in a collaborative team will tell you that isn’t how it works. It takes even longer than writing a novel on your own, since both of us have to be satisfied with the outcome, and when Dan’s involved that can be problematic since he has a tendency to write us off into the beyond. Please, no one mention aliens. On the other hand, it’s hugely exciting to get a chapter back from Dan and see where he’s taken the narrative ‒ usually to some seedy backstreet for a car chase!
DR: When you say outline, I like to think of it as more like… guidelines. Arrr. We know loosely where we’re going, but I often find it’s the characters driving the narrative from the inside, rather than them being driven by pesky plot points and story arcs. So, Lee and I always cross-edit each other’s sections, but we keep that editing very light, to maintain the distinct voices of the two characters, and the unexpected twists they bring to the page. Yes, that’s me blaming imaginary people for my not following instructions, and I’m not going to apologise for it.
BD: As this is the second book in your Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series, do you feel that Teeth of the Wolf would serve as a solid jumping-on point for new readers?
LM: I’m a binge reader, so when I hit on a series I love, I want to read it from start to finish. It’s soooo frustrating to watch characters dangle above the jaws of death while waiting two years for the sequel (cough, cough ‒ apologies to my Into the Mist readers). Anyway, we didn’t want that for our Path of Ra readers, so we made sure that each episode has its own internal story, with a longer story arc connecting the three books. Our beta readers have assured us that Teeth of the Wolf reads well as a stand-alone but is also a satisfying continuation of Hounds of the Underworld.
BD: What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
DR: A good read, for starters. A look into something different, with the story being set in New Zealand which to many is this mythical island somewhere down the bottom of the world where we have hobbits and moa and your America’s Cup. A taste of Aotearoa in the flavor of the language, the vernacular, the peculiarities of our culture with all its strange diversity, which we don’t think of as strange but everyday. Resonating images in the back of your mind at night when you try to go to sleep, suggestions of someone there but not there, watching you and whispering unheard words in your ear, driving you slowly insane. And stuff like that.
LM: Mostly, Dan and I hope that readers come away entertained, after that everything else is a bonus.
BD: Will the Path of Ra series continue into subsequent novels?
LM: We’re writing the third book in the series now ‒ its name has yet to reveal itself to us ‒ and that should culminate the current long story arc. The as-yet-nameless book is contracted to Raw Dog Screaming Press and will be available late 2019. At this stage we haven’t envisaged any further tales involving Matiu and Penny, although we certainly haven’t ruled it out.
DR: It may very well come down to what the readers want, to be honest. Hounds of the Underworld made it to the long-list for the Bram Stoker Awards for the year it was released, and it won Best Novel at New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards. So, there’s certainly some keen interest; readers like these characters, they’ve enjoyed the story so far and they’ve been asking for more. There’s always the possibility that if enough people beat down our doors and constantly hurl abuse at us for not having continued the series, that we’ll think about it.
LM: For the moment, Penny’s little scientific consultancy is knee-deep in bodies. She’s too busy sifting through the evidence and worrying about what Matiu’s up to, without trying to think ahead to a fourth book!
BD: If given the opportunity to expand your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
LM: I’d love to see the Path of Ra series picked up as a graphic novel, perhaps with Samoan artist Michel Mulipola doing the artwork. I love Michel’s work; it’s vibrant and edgy and has that inner-city street feel of our Path of Ra series, and his images have a dramatic sense of movement, which would marry well with the pacing of our writing. As an artist, Michel also has a deep understanding of Polynesian cultures, another reason to put him at the top of the pile. I met Michel once as part of a workshop we were facilitating for student writers and, having seen the enthusiasm and energy he invested into that group of emerging young talent, I’d think he’d be fabulous to work with. This is his website if anyone wants to check him out.
DR: We’re also on the verge of taking Hounds of the Underworld into audiobook production, so depending on the logistics, the cost, and the quality, we may well end up doing the whole series in audio. If you prefer your fiction in your earbuds, watch this space. There have also been some hints and allegations in the mix about the books finding a home on the screen, but it’s far too early to even speculate on the possible outcome of those discussions yet.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LM: So many projects! Apart from the third book in our Path of Ra series, I’ve been winding up my Taine McKenna military thrillers. The second book, Into the Sounds, was released last month, with Into the Ashes releasing in early 2019. Not long after that, Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse, a middle grade adventure title, will be released by Australian Press IFWG, so as soon as we have wrapped up our Path of Ra, I’ll be getting on with writing the second and third titles in the children’s series. I’m looking forward to the change. I’m also the Programme Director for GeyserCon, 2019, New Zealand’s science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention, so there’ll be some work to do to coordinate that, and I’m still very involved with youngnzwriters, a group offering writing mentorship and publishing opportunities for New Zealand secondary students. I think I’ll have to put the housework on hold. Dan has some exciting projects coming up too…
DR: My big thing for the next couple of years is the Children of Bane series, a grimdark-yet-madcap sword and sorcery series due to kick off in 2019 with the first book, Brothers of the Knife, from specialty small press Omnium Gatherum. Think Joe Abercrombie meets Terry Pratchett, with dismemberment and food puns. It’s a five-book story arc of which the first three books are complete, so I’ve got a fair few words to put down to complete the series!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Teeth of the Wolf?
DR: Teeth of the Wolf is available from October 4, 2018, from Raw Dog Screaming Press, in print and eBook versions. The link for that is here. We’ve probably got an Amazon link somewhere, too. [Lifts the kids’ schoolbags off the chairs]
LM: [Rolls eyes] The US Amazon link is here, but readers can get the books from all of the usual outlets, or just ask for them at the public library.
DR: You can find me on Facebook as Dan Rabarts and Twitter as @rabarts. I also have a website.
LM: And you can find me on Facebook as Lee Murray and Twitter as @leemurraywriter. My website is here.