Normally, we’re happy for someone when they get a new job. But you might want to hold off congratulating Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby — a witch in writer James J. Butcher’s urban fantasy series, The Unorthodox Chronicles — who, in the new book, Long Past Dues (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) has a new job working for “The Man.”
In the following email interview, Butcher talks about Grimsby’s second work-related adventure, as well as his plan for the government witch moving forward.
Photo Credit: Weneals Photography
For people who haven’t read the first book, Dead Man’s Hand, what is The Unorthodox Chronicles series about, and when and where did that first novel take place?
The Unorthodox Chronicles is an urban fantasy series centered in Boston around a young man and witch named Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby and The Department Of Unorthodox Affairs, a group tasked with handling and overseeing the inhuman and supernatural aspects of society.
Dead Man’s Hand begins with Grimsby, the witch equivalent of a dropout, becoming the Department’s foremost suspect of the murder of his mentor: a powerful witch named Mansgraf. Together with Mansgraf’s former partner, a grizzled monster-hunter known as the Huntsman, Grimsby must prove his innocence while also discovering the truth behind Mansgraf’s murder. Together, they will deal with corrupt witches, necromantic constructs, and many other threats while trying to figure out how to remain decent, and sane, through it all.
And then what is Long Past Dues about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Dead Man’s Hand?
Long Past Dues is about Grimsby’s first case as an Auditor: a Department-appointed witch, tasked with handling threats that Usuals aren’t up to dealing with. It takes place a few short months after the end of the first novel, and focuses on Grimsby adapting to the realities of his new profession versus his own lifelong and day-dreamt expectations.
As you said, Grimshaw has become an Auditor for Boston’s Department Of Unorthodox Affairs. Is there a D.U.A. office in most major cities, is there just the one, or is Boston the main HQ but there’s satellite offices elsewhere?
The second book touches briefly on this topic, but the Boston branch of the Department is the oldest and most venerated, though not necessarily the largest or best funded. Most major cities have a branch that fills a similar role, though the details of such arrangements I’ve left intentionally vague.
Is that why you set this series in Boston as opposed to, say, Denver, where you live?
Part of the reason the Department, and more importantly this story, is focused in Boston is because of its history and proximity to Salem. There’s an element of alternative history to the Unorthodox Chronicles, and an important event in that history is related to the Salem Witch Trials.
Also, how often have people asked if the Department Of Unorthodox Affairs is similar to The Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense from the Hellboy comics?
I’ve yet to be asked that exact question, but there are certainly some parallels. My own knowledge of Hellboy is limited to the movies, but a major difference between the two is that in the Unorthodox Chronicles, the public knows that monsters are real, and that it is the Department that largely handles them. However, this book begins to explore just how limited public knowledge of the Unorthodox truly is.
When in relation to writing Dead Man’s Hand did you come up with the idea for Long Past Dues, and what inspired the plot of this second story?
Because of Grimsby’s young age, I found it difficult to find strong and thematic stories for him that don’t feel arbitrary or contrived, especially since our own experience alongside him is so limited. He has his own history that I will explore, but it didn’t quite feel like the time. Fortunately, his partner has a long and grim history to pull from and exploit, and that became the primary thread for this particular story — unfinished business from the past coming back to haunt the Huntsman, as well as those around him.
As you said, the books in The Unorthodox Chronicles series are urban fantasy stories. But are there other genres at work in this story as well?
The entirety of the series will be urban fantasy, though the subgenres and elements will likely shift from book to book based on the kind of story I’m aiming to tell. For example, there was a fairly strong horror element in the first book because, for Grimsby, there was a lot of horrifying things going on. In this second book, that element is pulled back a bit, and there’s a stronger element of wonder and exploration as Grimsby discovers more about not only the Department, but about the world beyond what the public is aware of.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Long Past Dues but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Dead Man’s Hand?
To be honest, I haven’t had much time to read between writing the first and second book. The portion of my head that oversees writing also handles reading, and it has been busy creating rather than consuming.
What about non-literary influences; was Long Past Dues influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I always find the monsters of the SCP community fascinating. Their creative, strongly logic-based creations feel like modern folklore, and alongside other urban legends like Slenderman or Siren Head, make for excellent inspiration.
As we’ve been discussing, Dead Man’s Hand and Long Past Dues are the first two books of The Unorthodox Chronicles series. What can you tell us about this series? Is it an ongoing thing, or a set number of books…?
There will be at least three books. Beyond that, it will be based on both the performance of the books, from the publisher’s perspective, and my own interest. I know how Grimsby’s story ends, and I have a rough idea of how many books it would be to tell it in full, it would be a good deal more than three, but I’ll keep that to myself for the time being. At the moment, I have several titles in mind that serve as rough concepts for a story, but those are always shifting as well.
Earlier I asked if Long Past Dues had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Dues and the rest of The Unorthodox Chronicles could work as a series of movies, or a TV show, or a game?
Personally, I don’t think a movie or three would be sufficient to comfortably tell the same story I intend to tell, though perhaps the setting could be adapted and a different story in it explored. At the moment, however, I think it’s too early to really adapt this particular series to another format. Although, in a perfect world, I’d love to see Grimsby on a Magic The Gathering card.
That said, if someone did want to adapt Dead Man’s Hand and Long Past Dues into a series of movies or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Grimsby and the other main characters?
The most obvious and notable choice for Grimsby, to me, would be Tom Holland [Spider-Man: No Way Home]. He’s got the range to play both the awkward and determined aspects of Grimsby that few others could match. Mayflower would be tougher, solely because there’s so many fantastic actors who could portray a grizzled, broken bad-asses. Keanu Reeves [John Wick], J.K. Simmons [Whiplash], Idris Elba [Luther], and of course Liam Neeson [Taken] would all make excellent choices, and there’s many more besides.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Long Past Dues and The Unorthodox Chronicles?
Just that I really hope you all enjoy it and that it brings you some entertainment and perhaps peace for a short while.
Finally, if someone enjoys Long Past Dues, and they’ve already read Dead Man’s Hand, what urban fantasy novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they check out? Oh, and extra points if there’s a bureaucracy or oversight organization involved.
I would recommend folks take a look at the Grave Report series by R.R. Virdi. It’s an interesting story by a great writer in a similar genre to the Unorthodox Chronicles, and a concept I wish I had thought of first.