While many writers of fiction just want to tell a good story, some want to make a point, to effect change. Which is what Dr. Munish K. Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido are hoping to do with Animal (paperback, Kindle), the animal rights revenge / horror story they’ve co-written (which will be out January 5th). In the following email interview, DeCandido discusses how this book came about, as well as how he and the good doctor worked together.
Keith R.A. DeCandido
To start, what is Animal about, and when and where is it set?
It’s about a serial killer who targets people who harm animals. He’s been working on and off for twenty years all over the world. His first victim was a man in China who killed dogs for food, but his victims have included people who run dog fights in Atlanta, elephant poachers in Africa, big-game hunters of endangered animals in South Africa, ivory merchants in China, gorilla hunters in the Congo, waterpark owners who abuse orcas in California, duck breeders who overfeed them to make pâté in Europe, etc. The main action of the story takes place in California as two detectives join forces with an Interpol agent who has been after this killer for two decades to try to finally capture him. But there are flashbacks to all the above-listed places as well.
Where did you get the idea for Animal?
Credit for the idea must go to my collaborator, Dr. Munish K. Batra. He has been interested in the abuse of animals ever since one of his children decided to be a vegetarian, and his many humanitarian endeavors have shown him the unbelievable cruelty that some people have toward members of the animal kingdom. He and I worked very closely together on this. I’d say the primary way the story evolved from the original conception was in the different people’s reactions to the killer’s actions. It’s a complex issue, and one that doesn’t have easy answers.
Did you start out wanting to write an animal rights thriller or did you start writing a story and then realized this was an interesting way to go with it?
Munish’s original concept was always about shining a light on the horrible things people do to animals. The social bent was always the heart and soul of the story.
Animal is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a bit influence on Animal but not on any of your previous writings?
Honestly, I wouldn’t say there were many works of fiction that influenced this work that didn’t influence my other work. In truth, the main thing that was different in the writing of this book as opposed to the other dozens of novels I’ve done is the animal cruelty aspect. I did a lot of really horrifying research for this book. Every instance of animal cruelty in the book is based on real-world events, more’s the pity. It was actually very sobering, and it was important to me to make this as real and as true to life (and death) as possible. I want people to read this and be as disgusted as I was researching it.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of them have a big influence on Animal?
I would say the procedural aspects of Animal were very much influenced by such TV shows as The Wire, Homicide: Life On The Street, Hill Street Blues, The Shield, and Bosch — the more realistic procedurals that emphasize how much of law-enforcement is driven by politics and economics.
As we’ve been discussing, Animal was co-written by you and Dr. Munish K. Batra, M.D. FACS, who is a plastic surgeon. How was the work on Animal divided between you?
The story was entirely Munish’s, and then I wrote the book based on his extremely detailed outline. There are entire segments of the outline that I wound up using almost verbatim in the book, actually. Then he went over it with a fine-tooth comb. It’s very much an equal partnership, with Munish providing the inspiration and me providing the perspiration.
Dr. Munish K. Batra
Given that he’s a medical professional, how often did you have to get him to dial back on the realism, either because it slowed things down or was just too gross?
That wasn’t really an issue. For one thing, we were kinda going for gross in a lot of instances. And Munish’s experience as a doctor was particularly useful for accurately describing several of the methods of murder and torture, as well as actual medical procedures.
Now, along with Animal, you also have two novels in your Precinct series in the works: Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct. For people who haven’t read any of those books, what is this series about?
The Precinct series is a mix of epic fantasy and police procedure. Think Law & Order meets Lord Of The Rings. One reviewer called it “Dungeons and Dragnet.” It takes place in your classic high fantasy, sword-and-sorcery setting, with humans and elves and dwarves and wizards and such living in a crowded, busy port town. But the main characters are the detectives of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard, who are tasked with solving crimes in the city-state.
And what are the new books going to be about?
Phoenix Precinct will be about a district of Cliff’s End that has had a huge influx of refugees, and Manticore Precinct will be a prison-break story.
So when are Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct going to be out?
I had originally intended to have Phoenix Precinct out for 2020, but then 2020 happened. Now the goal is to have it out by the end of 2021. Manticore should follow in 2022, if all goes well.
Were either of those written after you wrote Animal? I’m curious if working with Dr. Batra influenced your writing.
No, I haven’t written Phoenix Precinct yet, though I have plotted it. Right now another one of my fantasy series is ahead of it: I’m working on Feat Of Clay, which is the second in my urban fantasy series about a guy from New York who hunts monsters for a living. The first book came out in 2019 and was titled A Furnace Sealed.
I’m not sure how working with Munish has influenced my writing — that’s a better question for my readers…
Going back to Animal, you’ve already said that you and the good doctor have other books in the works. Is Animal II: Electric Boogaloo one of those? Because you might not want to use that suffix…
WHO TOLD YOU OUR TITLE?????
Ahem. Yes, one of the projects we’re talking about doing together is a sequel to Animal. We also just finished a manuscript for a medical thriller, which has the working title of Pigman. It’s about xenotransplants, and it’s currently with our agent.
Finally, if someone enjoys Animal, and it’s the first book of yours they’ve read, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
That’s a tough choice. I’ve written so much stuff. Maybe Dragon Precinct, the first book in the Precinct series, or maybe A Furnace Sealed. I don’t know, Animal is much different from most of my other work — that was part of the fun — so it’s hard to say. It also depends on what the readers themselves like.
I’ve also written in a bunch of media universes — Star Trek, Supernatural, World Of Warcraft, Resident Evil, Alien, etc. — that one of them might work, too. It all really depends on what else you like to read. Chances are, though, that whatever genre you like, I’ve probably written something in that genre that you’d like…