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Interview With an Author: Daryl Gregory

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Grant Farley and his latest novel, The Album of Dr. Moreau
Author Daryl Gregory and his latest novel, The Album of Dr. Moreau. Photo credit: Liza Trombi

Daryl Gregory was the 2009 winner of IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for his first novel Pandemonium. His novella, We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards, and his stories and novels have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Philip K. Dick awards. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Year’s Best SF. He has also written comics for BOOM! Studios and IDW. His new novella is The Album of Dr. Moreau and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Album of Dr. Moreau?

This was one of those books where I was inspired by 15 different things and threw them into a Mixmaster. The premise obviously comes from H.G. Wells’s novel, but then I added copious amounts of Murder on the Orient Express, The Backstreet Boys, This is Spinal Tap, Gorillaz, Bojack Horseman, The Beach Boys…and every episode of Behind the Music.

Are Detectives Lucia Delgado and/or Mickey Banks, Kat, the WyldBoyz, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Creating a story about human-animal hybrids gives you great license to disguise all the real-world people you’re stealing from. The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, for example, were managed by the same guy, a con man who ripped off his clients and went to jail for fraud. But of course, he’s not the same person as Dr. M, the terrible manager who’s brutally murdered in chapter one. For the likable characters, I’m always stealing bits and pieces of people I know, but in such small amounts that they don’t notice. Like building a voodoo doll, or a Frankenstein monster, or a metaphor that’s gotten out of control.

How did you choose the animals from which the band members would be created?

Once each person popped into my head, they seemed like they needed to be there, but I can see in retrospect how the decisions were guided by a couple of things. One, did that animal make me laugh? Pangolins are ridiculously entertaining, plus they’d been unfairly shamed by the Covid conspiracy complex. Same with bats. Bonobos have a fabulous name for comedy, and I’m a fan of any species that employs genital rubbing as an icebreaker. Bobby is an ocelot purely because of key episodes of Archer. But Tusk is my Brian Wilson, an awkward genius, and the soul of the group. He showed me where the boyz’ pain came from, and of course, pain is the root of comedy.

So one, I chose them for their comedic value, and two…there is no two.

How did the novella evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

In the early planning stages, there were almost too many ways to go. I toyed with it being a retrospective of the WyldboyZ career. At one point it would be structured like the Serial podcast. I had many scenes sketched out about their life on tour, the recording process, the press junkets, the scandals, the fan obsessions…But the tight form of the novella forced me to choose the most efficient way to tell their story, and there’s a counter-intuitive freedom to that. I could merely suggest all the scenes I’d been thinking of, but not have to spell them all out.

Do you have a favorite adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau and its ideas (television, motion picture, or theatre production)? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)?

A friend of mine hosts themed movie nights, and one night, knowing I was thinking of writing this novella, we went after all the big Moreau adaptations. We started with Island of Lost Souls. Charles Laughton is exactly how I pictured the doctor, and Kathleen Burke is beautiful. Then it was on to the Burt Lancaster and Michael York version (very Lancaster).

But it’s the Marlon Brando/ Val Kilmer adaptation that’s my favorite because it’s such a beautiful train wreck. Brando is in Prime Weird, and Kilmer’s abs are oiled up and he seems to be competing with Brando in a scenery-chewing contest. At one point Kilmer’s character says, “Well, that didn’t go well.” No, no it didn’t.

Are you a fan of H.G. Wells and his work? Is The Island of Dr. Moreau your favorite? If not, do you have a favorite work?

I think about that fish joke. One fish says, How’s the water? And the other fish says, What’s water? Wells is just what we’ve been breathing for more than a hundred years. His science fiction novels created a big chunk of the field and spawned thousands of stories. I’m not sure if Fan is the right word when I’m talking about a writer that I absorbed on the molecular level. The Island of Dr. Moreau isn’t my favorite Wells novel—I’d have to give that to The Time Machine, with War of the Worlds in second. I’ve never read The Invisible Man, but it feels like I have, because of the water thing I mentioned. Think about the impact of just those four books, how much groundwork they laid for the field. It’s intimidating.

The urge to comment on those books is irresistible, though I’m not sure how Wells would feel about me turning his story about the horrors of vivisection into a boy band murder mystery. In his review in Locus Magazine, Gary K. Wolfe said that my book works in part because of “my apparent total lack of concern about recriminations from Wells’s vengeful ghost.” I’m putting that on my tombstone.

In the novella, you mention and poke fun at, a lot of different bands and music. Do you have a favorite band? A favorite song?

I was never a huge fan of bubblegum pop, but my kids were—and are. They’re grown now, and both are musicians, so they understand exactly how sophisticated these “simple” songs are. In fact, my second-born, Ian, wrote Tim the Pangolin’s long rant defending pop music. I basically pasted it into the book.

I have dozens of favorite bands, and dozens of favorite songs, including Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino’s “Favorite Song.” There’s never a bad time to listen to the National’s “Blood Buzz Ohio.” Elvis Costello, and LCD Soundsystem are always in my queue. Bowie’s last album still brings tears to my eyes every time I listen. I could go on!

You also mention and poke fun at, a lot of classic Mystery tropes and authors. Are you a fan of Mysteries? Any favorite authors or books?

I’m a huge fan of mysteries. I went through a long Agatha Christie phase, and then to hard-boiled Hammett and Chandler, and then to lightly boiled Elmore Leonard. Those crime writers are just as wound into my DNA as Arthur C. Clarke and Harlan Ellison. I would love to write more mysteries, but I know I wouldn’t be able to keep the Weird out of them.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

On top is Derek Delgaudio’s memoir, Amoralman. I’ll read any book by a stage magician. I’ll also read any book by Lavie Tidhar, and I’m halfway through his new novel, The Escapement, which defies description.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

When I was in high school, I just wanted to be Harlan Ellison. Then I met him, and as Val Kilmer would say, it didn’t go well. Still, his stories wired a significant portion of my brain. Philip K. Dick began to flavor everything I wrote in college. A few years after college I attended the Clarion writers workshop, where I was taught by Samuel R. Delany. Ever since, the beauty of his sentences have haunted me—in a very judge-y way. How the hell am I supposed to write that well? But someone I’ve never been able to impersonate or steal from is Iain Banks. His books are what I go to for their sheer exuberance. Then there are a dozen other authors tied for fifth place: Octavia Butler, Patricia Anthony, John Crowley

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

The Hardy Boys. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a series, Daryl, but no, they’re all one meta book. The day I realized, at age 12, that every Frank and Joe mystery had the same plot, was both devastating and thrilling.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

All of them, after 9 p.m. I read a lot by flashlight.

What is a book you've faked reading?

Anna Karenina. I understand it involves trains.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

So so many books. When you’re a young nerd, you latch onto anything that seems to promise what you’re craving. I remember stumbling across Algis Budry’s Who? with that robot face on the cover and thinking: I must have this.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I remember reading The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet when I was in third grade and then immediately sitting down to write my first novel…which was eight pages long and whose plot was remarkably similar to The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. That pretty much locked in my career choice: writing my own books by stealing ideas from books I love.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

John Crowley’s Little, Big. Obey me!

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

That’s an excellent question because I especially want to read books without knowing all the tricks I know now. I’d love to read a Doc Savage novel as I first experienced it when I was ten years old.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I was so moved by the film of David Byrne’s Broadway show, American Utopia. Byrne is still making art, still innovating. Talking Heads was the soundtrack to my college years, with Stop Making Sense on repeat in my first apartment, and when watching Utopia I could feel YesterDaryl still inside me.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

It involves a lot of teleportation. A Paris cafe for some breakfast espresso with my partner, then pizza in Florence with our kids, and then we all jaunt together to Spain and Japan and Greece and Turkey, snacking constantly. Right before midnight, I’ll bid my family goodnight, and port over to Ireland to have a whiskey with my pal Jack, and as the clock strikes twelve, I’ll think: How do I get back to my house?

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

“Mr. Gregory, what are you going to do with the second billion dollars?” And my answer will be, “How did you get in my space castle? Guards!”

What are you working on now?

This is like asking a new parent walking out of the hospital with their newborn, When are you going to work on the next one? Can’t you just let me enjoy this one for a damn second? I do have another book coming out this year. Revelator is an Appalachian horror novel, set in the 30s and 40s, that will be out in August 2021 from Knopf.

The Album of Dr. Moreau
Gregory, Daryl