For the latest installment of their Systema Paradoxa series of novellas about cryptids, the good people of eSpec Books have enlisted Mary Fan…who used this opportunity to reminisce about her childhood. At least that’s the impression I got from the following email interview about her installment, Found Footage (paperback, Kindle).
To start, what is Found Footage about, what cryptid is it about, and when and where is it set?
Found Footage is about two high schoolers who are in the woods shooting a movie for filmmaking class when they accidentally capture a cryptid on film…except no one believes them. The cryptid featured is Mantis Man, who is essentially an enormous praying mantis with unknown abilities (some accounts claim he has invisibility, some say he’s psychic…). While reading up on him, I noticed that a lot of contemporary accounts took place in the mid 2000s near Hackettstown, New Jersey. I decided to set my story in 2003 to align with that. Though I chose Princeton instead of Hackettstown as the central setting. Why? Well, I’ll confess, it’s because I happened to be a high schooler in 2003 in Princeton, and I thought it’d be fun to write what I knew. I took filmmaking in high school, so I know what it’s like to run around the woods near town with your parents’ camcorder, pretending you’re Spielberg or something. Hey, why make things up or do research when you can just mine your own nostalgia?
Where did you get the idea for Found Footage, and how, if at all, did the plot change as you wrote it?
I came up with the idea while doing some background research into cryptids in general. I noticed that a lot of the footage out there of cryptids came from young YouTubers who were out filming videos for their channels when they happened to catch something odd on film. That sounded like a fun idea to toy with. I mostly write young adult stories, so having a teenaged protagonist seemed natural. Of course, with the setting being 2003 (pre-YouTube) I had to change the circumstances slightly.
The main thing that changed while writing were the characters’ personalities; I didn’t have a good idea of who they were until I started writing, and then their personalities emerged.
It sounds like Found Footage is a horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
There’s perhaps an element of horror, in that it’s about something mysterious in the dark, though I see it as more sci-fi. I guess it’s horror in the way The X-Files can be considered horror.
Prior to writing Found Footage you wrote multiple books, including the Jane Colt series and the Flynn Nightsider series. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Footage but not on anything else you’ve written?
Found Footage is quite different from those books in that it’s the only young adult story I’ve published that takes place in the “real” world — that is, not a second world fantasy realm or a sci-fi galaxy or something. I could name one major literary reference, but I think that would be a spoiler, so I won’t. If you’ve read it, though, you probably know what I’m talking about.
How about non-literary influences; was Found Footage influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned The X-Files…
I think there’s an element of The X-Files in there…can’t say for sure because I haven’t watched that show in years, but I watched it every day after school as a teen (the reruns were always on), and I’m sure that seeped into my writing brain.
Along with your novels, you’ve also co-edited the sci-fi short story anthology series Brave New Girls with Paige Daniels. How do you think your work on those collections influenced how you wrote Found Footage?
Brave New Girls are, of course, collections of girls’ adventures, and having edited these stories for so long, I think that’s influenced the “default” in my writing brain. Now, when I sit down to write a story, I automatically assume my main character will be a girl, and that she’ll be clever and independent, solving her own problems when the bumbling adults fail to. Jenny certainly fits that mold.
Now, Found Footage is the latest novella in eSpec Book’s Systema Paradoxa series. How familiar with this series before you started writing Found Footage?
Not at all. eSpec Books approached me when the series was still a concept; they had a plan but hadn’t published any volumes yet. I’d never written about a cryptid before… I’ll confess, I didn’t even know the term “cryptid.” But I decided to sign on because it seemed like a fun challenge.
And then, after you signed on to write Found Footage, did you talk to any of the previous Systema Paradoxa writers for any tips or to make sure you weren’t contradicting anything they’d written?
Nope! These novellas are all stand-alone stories about different cryptids, so there’s no crossover. And as far as I’m aware, no one else was doing anything similar to Found Footage.
Not even to see if you could convince the owners of eSpec to have the cryptids team up, Avengers style?
Now that would be interesting! I think it would have to involve some multiverse and time travel shenanigans to work though, given that our cryptids are all over the place, but the Avengers have dealt in both those things, so never say never…
Earlier I asked if Found Footage had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask you if you think Found Footage could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think Found Footage could work as a short film, or an episode in an anthology show. It was designed to be a quick read, so it wouldn’t really work as a full 2-hour movie. But maybe because of The X-Files influence I always saw it as being adapted into a 45-minute episode of something.
And if someone wanted to do that, who would you want them to cast as Jenny and the other main characters?
I’d want an open casting call for both Jenny and her best friend / classmate Stacey, who’s with her for most of the book’s adventures. There’s something special about introducing a fresh face to the screen, especially for young roles. And I’d want a cameo as Jenny’s mom, because sadly, after 10+ years of writing YA, I’m now closer to the parents’ age than the characters’…
So, is there anything else you think someone interested in Found Footage should know before deciding to buy it or not?
Apparently, Y2K nostalgia is in right now, and you’ll find plenty of that in Found Footage.
Finally, if someone enjoys Found Footage, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I’d recommend the Flynn Nightsider series to someone who enjoyed Found Footage. While it’s quite different in that it takes place in a fantasy world (it’s a future Earth that’s been overrun by monsters), it’s also about teens who encounter mysterious things in the dark.