In the two decades that I lived in New Jersey, I never once saw the Jersey Devil. I saw a pissy turtle, some easily spooked deer, and a lot of hungry mosquitos, but not once did I ever see the namesake of our state’s hockey team. But while he may or may not be real, that doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving of the kind of attention we’ve given Big Foot and Nessie. Which brings me to All The Way House (paperback, Kindle), a new novella about the Jersey’s unofficial state cryptid. In the following email interview, writer Keith R.A. DeCandido discusses this supernatural thriller / urban fantasy mash-up.
To start, what is All-The-Way House about, and when and where does it take place?
It’s about the secret origin of the legends about the Jersey Devil, and the discovery of and background for a cabin in the Pine Barrens that has served as a haven for cryptids for centuries. It takes place in central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, from Atlantic City across to Philadelphia, and in three different time periods: 2020, 1909, and the mid-18th century.
Where did you get the idea for All-The-Way House, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote it?
I wanted to do a take on the Jersey Devil that was a bit more compassionate than the usual stories of a menacing monster, and also come up with a story that would explain the one week of multiple Jersey Devil sightings that gripped central New Jersey in January 1909. Most of the sightings of the Devil that have been reported were in that one-week period, a bizarre concentration.
And is there a reason the cover says this book is “As Accounted By Keith R.A. DeCandido” and not “Written By” or just “By…”?
That’s the house style of the Systema Paradoxa series. They’re being billed that way to give the series an encyclopedic feel, and the impression of a first-hand account of cryptid sightings.
The Jersey Devil is not as famous as some other cryptids, though he does have his own hockey team. How familiar were you with him?
I knew some stories, of course, but I took advantage of this particular storyline to do a deep dive into the legends, which presented some entertaining possibilities. I tried to incorporate as much of the existing lore as was workable.
It sounds like All-The-Way House is supernatural thriller, but more X-Files than a horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
While I’ve written lots of stuff in the horror genre, my work rarely gets deep into the horror elements. I tend to be more of a fantasist, if any label applies. I’d say this novella qualifies as supernatural thriller mixed with urban fantasy.
Now, All-The-Way House is not the first time you’ve written a story about a monster hunter. In 2019 you published A Furnace Sealed, which was the first in a series about a hunter, or “Courser,” named Bram Gold, with a sequel, Feat Of Clay, coming soon. You’ve also written three novels connected to the TV series Supernatural: 2007’s Nevermore, 2008’s Bone Key, and 2010’s Heart Of The Dragon. What is it about hunting monsters that you just like writing about so much?
Mostly I love coming up with new versions of old stories and old legends. Both Supernatural and my various adventures featuring Coursers have new takes on various mythical creatures and how they interact with folks in the modern world.
In addition to the Bram Gold novels, and one short story, and All-The-Way House, I’ve also written two short stories with another Courser, Yolanda Rodriguez, whom I created for the Bad Ass Moms anthology in 2020, and who will also be in eSpec’s Devilish And Divine later this year. Yolanda will also be seen in Feat Of Clay.
Was there ever any discussion between you and the people at eSpec, who are publishing All-The-Way House, about having Bram Gold being the main human character?
Nope, because Bram works in the Bronx, New York, and a story about the Jersey Devil sorta kinda has to take place in New Jersey. Besides, there’s a huge community of Coursers out there, and I didn’t want to contrive a feeble excuse for Bram to go to Atlantic City when it was easier to just create a new one.
Speaking of which, while All-The-Way House mostly takes place in the past, it has a framing device about two modern day Coursers, Val and Sarah. Given that they live near each other, and around the same time, has there been any thought to having Bram meet up with Val and Sarah, maybe for a pizza and a beer and a trading of war stories?
There has, in fact, been some thought, yes.
Now, obviously, All-The-Way House is not your first published book. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you think of as having a big influence on All-The-Way House but not on anything else you’ve written?
Probably the biggest literary influence for this particular novella would be Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books and stories. A big chunk of All-The-Way House takes place in the past, in the early 20th century and the mid-18th century, and it’s a real challenge to re-create a past time period well. King is better than almost anyone at immersing you in a particular time and place, and she’s done a particularly superlative job of it in the Russell tales, which take place between 1915 and 1925 in various locales around the world.
All-The-Way House is the latest book in what eSpec Books are calling their Systema Paradoxa series. Did you have a chance to read any of the previous books, or talk to their authors, about what they were doing?
Many of the other authors in the series are friends of mine, and we’ve exchanged concepts for our own amusement, but there hasn’t been any in-depth discussion, no.
And has there been any talk between you and eSpec about writing more adventures for Val and Sarah? Save for the pizza idea…
Haven’t really thought beyond this novella and the two more books I have under contract with WordFire starring Bram: Feat Of Clay and the as-yet untitled third book. At least not yet…
Unlike other cryptids we could name, the Jersey Devil has not been the star of an animated movie or done an episode of The Bionic Man. But do you think All-The-Way House could work as a movie or TV show?
This could easily be the springboard for a series about this haven for cryptids. The Jersey Devil gives sanctuary to strange creatures who are viewed as monsters, but who have never hurt anyone. (That’s important; if they’ve committed harm to others for any reason other than self-defense, they are turned away.) Or it could be the pilot for adventures of Val and Sarah. Or it could be a movie about the Jersey Devil…
If someone wanted to do that, who would you want them to cast as Val, Sarah, and the other main characters?
Let’s see, for Valentina, maybe Genevieve Cortese Padalecki [Supernatural, Walker], or Lady Gaga, or Lucy DeVito [The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel]. All three of them have the right look, especially DeVito, and any one of them could pull off Val’s sass. For Sarah, I was picturing Tala Ashe [Legends Of Tomorrow] when I was writing the novella. As for Josiah Clevenger, the 1909 Courser, I keep seeing Yannick Bisson [Murdoch Mysteries] in the part. Oh, and Benedict Cumberbatch [The Hobbit] should be the voice of the Jersey Devil.
Finally, if someone enjoys All-The-Way House, it seems obvious that they should read A Furnace Sealed next. But once they’ve done that, which of your other books would you suggest they read and why that one?
I’d recommend my Precinct series, and not just because it’s also published by eSpec. It’s a mix of epic fantasy and police procedure, and I have a wonderful time in that series mixing tropes from both genres. It takes place in your prototypical high fantasy setting — sword-and-sorcery stuff with humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes all living together — but the main characters are detectives in the Cliff’s End Castle Guard who solve crimes. The series starts with Dragon Precinct, and continues with Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and Mermaid Precinct, as well as a short story collection Tales From Dragon Precinct. I’m hoping to have Phoenix Precinct out in early 2022.