In eSpec Books’ Systema Paradoxa series, writers tell stories about cryptids, mysterious creatures like Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, and Mothman. But most cryptids don’t come with a backstory / origin story as intricate as El Cadejo, the one at the center of Robert E. Water’s Systema Paradoxa novella Eyes Of The Wolf (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Waters discusses what influenced both this story and his decision to tell it with El Cadejo.
To start, what is Eyes Of The Wolf about?
Eyes Of The Wolf is about the cryptid creature known as El Cadejo, a wolf-like creature from Central American folklore. It actually comprises two wolves with goat-like features (horns and hooves), one being good (a protector of night travelers and drunks), the other evil (oftentimes associated with Satan). Sometimes the evil wolf is black, sometimes white. Sometimes they wear ghostly chains around their necks and legs, sometimes they don’t. There is a lot of variety in the various local myths about the creatures so, for an author, it’s a kind of pick and choose which elements of the myth to focus upon.
For me, I chose one of the most compelling myths about El Cadejo, the one where history describes them as two brothers cursed by an evil magician for their transgressions. The magician changed them into El Cadejo to forever roam the world in pain and sorrow, warping their young, human bodies into wolf-goat beasts, never to be human again.
The brothers I chose to represent El Cadejo are Miguel and Isai, two young men working in the El Salvadoran gold mines in the mid-1800s. They cross paths with the magician who takes their humanity away forever. The story then jumps to modern times. The brothers have been separated for over thirty years, but that’s about to change.
The other main character in Eyes Of The Wolf is Chimalis Burton, a young Native American of Zuni descent. She works for a branch of the FBI that monitors, tracks, and (if the Fates are kind) thwarts violent paranormal activity. She gets involved in the story because of a terrible mass casualty event along the Texas / Mexican border, the kind of tragedy that happens all too frequently in our world, but one that seems unusual in this particular case. The FBI-VPA sends her to the scene to investigate, and we’re off!
Where did you get the idea for Eyes Of The Wolf?
[eSpec Books co-founder / editor] Danielle Ackley-McPhail invited me to participate in her new Systema Paradoxa series wherein different authors explore various cryptids. Once her invite was received and accepted, I did some investigation on the Internet and found a number of possible cryptids to write about. The one that interested me the most was El Cadejo. Unlike a cryptid like Bigfoot, there hasn’t been a lot written about them, so I figured I’d get in early on the action.
And is there a reason you set it in Texas as opposed to Colorado or Arkansas or California?
Since El Cadejo is a Central American cryptid, it’s quite likely that if they wanted to get across the border into the United States, the Texas border would be the most likely. Indeed, New Mexico, Arizona, and California do share borders with Mexico, but I chose Texas because of its vast, open spaces. As a younger man, I did some traveling in West Texas, and even crossed into New Mexico on a quick junket. So, the size of Texas, with its long interstate road systems, was quite appealing.
It sounds like Eyes Of The Wolf is a horror story….
I would describe it more as horror / suspense. There are horrific elements present throughout, especially as the so-called “bad” El Cadejo moves through Texas, gaining more and more power while causing all kinds of carnage. The suspense part comes into play with Chimalis Burton. She is, in effect, “on the clock.” She doesn’t have infinite time to investigate the strange happenings occurring throughout Texas because people’s lives are at stake. She’s got to solve the mystery of El Cadejo before time, literally, runs out.
Eyes Of The Wolf is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Eyes of the Wolf but not on anything else you’ve written?
Stephen King’s novel Outsider had a big influence on Eyes Of The Wolf. Its narrative structure informed several of my choices in writing this novella. His character Holly Gibney, in Outsider among other tales, was the chief influence for my character Chimalis Burton. Holly is a kind of Tony Shalhoub in Monk style character, a bit odd, eccentric. Chimalis isn’t all that eccentric, but she has the kind of drive for the truth that Holly possesses. They both investigate paranormal activity, although in Holly’s case, it’s sometimes by surprise. Chimalis is different in that she knows exactly the kinds of creatures she’s going after.
How about non-literary influences; was Eyes Of The Wolf influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because it’s giving me some serious X-Files vibes.
The X-Files was certainly one of my influences for it, as was The Night Stalker with good ol’ Carl Kolchak. There was a certain amount of “secret history” going on in both series, where all kinds of evil doings were afoot behind the scenes, and most of the population had little or no knowledge of it. That kind of story has always interested me.
And what about Snow and Ash? What influence did your cats have on Eyes Of The Wolf?
Other than coming into my computer room while I was writing it, jumping onto my desk, nearly knocking the laptop onto the floor, and in general being so cute I’d have to pause to give them good rubs, they had no influence whatsoever.
As you mentioned, Eyes Of The Wolf is the latest novella in eSpec Book’s Systema Paradoxa series. How familiar were you with this series before you started writing Eyes Of The Wolf?
I had very little experience with this new series when I was invited to participate. I had experience with main character Chimalis Burton, however, since I had already written one other story featuring her work as an FBI agent: “A Bluebird From Aspen,” which is in the anthology Devilish & Divine. Plus, I have quite a bit of knowledge of Native American folklore, which crosses into Meso- and Central American folklore as well, so my choice of El Cadejo as my main cryptid for Eyes Of The Wolf was, in the end, an easy choice to make.
And then, once you signed on to write Eyes Of The Wolf, did you get in touch with any of the previous Systema Paradoxa writers for advice or to be sure you didn’t contradict anything they’d written?
eSpec Books required that all participating authors submit their chosen cryptid and story outline before starting, to ensure that there was no overlap in story ideas. So, there were no issues with contradiction for me.
Earlier I asked if Eyes Of The Wolf had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, as kids probably don’t say anymore, do you think Eyes Of The Wolf could work as a movie, show, or game?
Eyes Of The Wolf would work well as a movie. It has the right length and the right mixture of action, conversation, and investigation to easily fill out a Hollywood script. I’ve no doubt about that at all. As a TV show, I certainly think the continued investigations of Chimalis Burton would do well since, as you alluded to earlier, her role in the story has a decidedly X-Files / Night Stalker feel to it. And as we know from experience, that formula works very well as TV drama.
And if someone wanted to turn Eyes Of The Wolf into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Chimalis and the other main characters?
The key to turning this novella into a TV show or movie would be to cast qualified Native American and Latino actors and actresses to play the roles, as they comprise all the major characters in the story. Like [Zombieland: Double Tap‘s] Rosario Dawson for Chimalis Burton. Dawson is part Native American and would be the perfect FBI agent; she’s got the right attitude and style for the role. For Chimalis’ partner Luiz Vasquez, [Rock Of Age‘s] Diego Boneta has the right boyish look. Plus, he’s younger than Rosario by about ten years. For Father Diego de Seña, [Battlestar Galactica‘s] Edward James Olmos — enough said. And as for young Miguel and Isai, any good Latino boy actors would probably work.
So, is there anything else you think someone interested in Eyes Of The Wolf should know before deciding to buy it or not?
Eyes Of The Wolf is a story about the legend of El Cadejo, indeed, but it’s more about the relationship between Miguel and Isai, two brothers who, through their youthful misdeeds and mistakes, have had to endure a cursed life of nearly two centuries. And how have they managed and endured such a life? It’s also a story about Chimalis Burton, a young FBI agent who is thrust into a deadly chase with these two wolf-goat hybrids who, with a mere blink of an eye, can drive people insane. It’s a story about how Chimalis and El Cadejo are brought together under very adverse circumstances. Who will prevail? Who will survive? It’s a question whose answer will change all their lives forever.
Finally, if someone enjoys Eyes Of The Wolf, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
For anyone familiar with Eric Flint’s alternate history series, 1632/Ring Of Fire, I’d recommend 1636: Calabar’s War, a novel in the series I co-authored with Charles E. Gannon.
I’d also recommend is my collection of short stories called Devil Dancers. Seven far-future military science fiction stories wherein the Devil Dancers, a team of Native American Apache fighter pilots, are fighting a war against a wolverine-like alien race known as the Gulo. If you like Native American history and culture, then I definitely recommend this collection. [To read more about this collection, check out this earlier Q&A.]
Lastly, if you like fantasy, I’d recommend The Masks Of Mirada and The Thief Of Cragsport, books 1 and 2 in my Mask Cycle. It’s been described as baroque fantasy, and it’s about the life and times of a young thief and sword master named Sonata Diamante and her trusty bullmastiff companion, Fellfang. Book 3 is in the works.