"...JUST ROLLING WITH A ROLLICKING STORY": AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MOTHMAN MENACE'S CRAIG MCDONALD
Craig McDonald shares his love for Doc Savage, The Shadow, and other pulp heroes with his Zana O'Savin series that focuses on the cousin of Doc Savage who has been brought into our world through manifestation along with Doc and other pulp characters, as real world dopplegangers. After setting up this world, Craig can simply focus on a ripping yarn with the second book, The Mothman Menace. The story ties Zana, Doc and his crew, The Shade, a Shadow doppelganger, and a timeline theory to the true disaster of The Silver Bridge Collapse, and sightings of a strange creature. Craig was kind enough to take some questions about the book and his plans for the series.
SCOTT MONTGOMERY: Blood Ogre was something of an origin story. How did it feel diving into a Zana O’Savin story without having to set up the world and characters as much?
CRAIG MCDONALD: Liberating! The Blood Ogre, as you say, was a kind of epic, world-building exercise, and in some ways, even a kind of stealth history of pulp magazines, the great pulp heroes, and the authors who shaped the original pulp characters of Doc Savage and The Shadow that in turn inspired Superman and Batman, launching the superhero genre that so dominates our popular culture to this day.
If The Blood Ogre was a novel about pulp, The Mothman Menace aspires to be a kind of knowing pulp novel for our time: foot-to-the-firewall, breakneck pace and just rolling with the rollicking story and the characters. In that sense, The Mothman book was very freeing and just a blast to write, to live with, and to inhabit for the several months of its composition.
S.M: How did using The Silver Bridge collapse come about?
C.M.: After watching a Buzzfeed Unsolved episode with Shane Madej (who is namechecked in a winking Easter Egg) and Ryan Begara about the Mothman, my youngest daughter developed a kind of hobby interest in The Mothman cryptid legend and its links to the historical 1967 Silver Bridge disaster. About the time I was wrapping up revisions of The Blood Ogre—which I then regarded as a one-off—and just before my daughter headed to Europe for school, the two of us took a little road trip to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and the Mothman Museum and other related sites. That visit got me thinking about an Ogre sequel centered on The Mothman and really triggered the Zana O’Savin series concept.
S.M.: Will this be part of the series, combining the historical and pulp world?
C.M.: Definitely. The third novel will be set very much in our time and explores what it would be like for a Doc Savage-like character to grapple with malignant AI, unscrupulous longevity-obsessed social media barons, tech tycoons, and the like. Honestly? Just putting my Shadow-homage character in a room with a cowering J. Edgar Hoover was an absolute kick and I looked forward to similar such juxtapositions.
S.M.: You were able to spend more time in this book with Doc O’Savin’s team. Who did you have the most fun writing for?
C.M.: My favorite original Doc Savage character as a kid was Doc’s aide, the big-fisted Civil Engineer John “Renny” Renwick. My pastiche of the Renny character was the perfect guy to really carry this new novel, as it opens with one of the worst civil engineering disasters of all-time, when the Silver Bridge collapses due to horrid design flaws. The ensuing journey “The Colonel” goes on in terms of his relationship with Zana O’Savin was also something I relished exploring, trying to bring real emotional depth and dimension to these mostly one-dimensional 1930s-vintage pulp inspired characters.
S.M.: I loved your take on The Shadow character, The Shade. How did you approach his voice and writing him in general?
C.M.: He’s probably actually the most enjoyable to write, simply because he’s such a force of nature, so consummately self-possessed and arrogantly assured, but at the same time, must remain an enigma and mystery at his core and so must also be used sparingly. My first exposure to the actual Shadow character was Denny O’Neil and Mike Kaluta’s 1970s’ version of The Shadow in D.C. Comics, so I tend to go for that voice mixed with some of the original Walter B. Gibson pulp Shadow attitude. My own addition to all that is just to try to make it clear The Shade really digs being The Shade, and so approaches his role as ultimate masked vigilante with sincere relish…it also explains the maniacal laughter he’s noted for.
S.M.: Even the Hector Lassiter series has that tug between the fictional and the historical. What do you enjoy about that dynamic?
C.M.: I love the idea of reflecting our real world and shared history but through the prism of a compelling fictional protagonist who can be our guide and interpreter. I think it’s important to remember, too, the original Doc Savage and Shadow pulps written respectively by Lester Dent and Walter B. Gibson (under the house names of “Kenneth Robeson” and “Maxwell Grant”) were also using historical materials and ripped-from-the-headlines events to inform their plots back-when. In that sense, what I’m doing now remains in its way faithful to what the original pulp authors were often doing so long ago—using present events to ground and inform these fantastic, pulp-influenced adventures.