The term “cryptid” refers to a creature that people believe are real, even though there’s no proof that they do. But while Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster are two of the more famous cryptids, they’re not the only ones. In John L. French’s new novella When The Moon Shines (paperback, Kindle), he tells a horror-flavored crime story that involves the snallygaster, a cryptid from Maryland. In the following email interview, French not only discusses what inspired and influenced this story, but also how the book is the first in a series of cryptid-centric stories called System Paradoxa that will be initially (but not exclusively) be available in The Cryptid Crate, a new monthly subscription box that, on a quarterly basis (January, April, July, October), will feature exclusive items made just for that box.
To begin, what is When The Moon Shines about?
It takes place a few years into the Prohibition Era. The setting is just outside Harbor City, which was the setting for one of my first books, The Devil Of Harbor City. Harbor City is somewhere in southern Maryland / Northern Virginia. It’s a mix of Baltimore and Gotham City, and is a town ruled by crime gangs.
As for When The Moon Shines, it is about an escalating conflict between two rival gangs over which one is going to run the roadhouses outside of Harbor City. Law enforcement gets involved and soon the cryptids are drawn into it.
Is there a reason you set this story during Prohibition — i.e., between 1920 and 1933 — as opposed to during the 1890s or 1700s or in modern times?
The legend of one of the cryptids involved, the snallygaster, specifically mentions that it made appearances in Frederick County, Maryland during the prohibition era. In fact, when I was looking things up I saw a cartoon with the snallygaster flying over a town screaming out “End Prohibition.”
Plus, the Prohibition Era was a time of lawlessness when gangs flourished. And when I was growing up I watched The Untouchables and, for all its historical inaccuracies, I still enjoy the show. I also enjoy reading nonfiction and fiction about that era.
Now, while When The Moon Shines will be available wherever books are sold, it will initially be available as part of the Cryptid Crate [click here to read an interview with the people behind it]. How did you get When The Moon Shines in the Cryptid Crate?
You can thank Danielle Ackley-McPhail. She’s one of the owner / publishers of eSpec Books. She was contacted by Box Mountain [the makers of the Cryptid Crate], who asked if eSpec had any cryptid themes books that they could include in the Cryptid Crate. Smart publisher that she is, Danielle said, “No, but we could.” The initial idea was a single cryptid anthology featuring three short novelettes. But after some discussion between her and Box Mountain, the anthology turned into a series of books. Danielle had invited me into the anthology, and so asked me to turn my idea into a novella. And once Box Mountain heard what cryptids I wanted to include, they asked if When The Moon Shines could be the first book. Which meant that I had a lot of writing to do to meet the deadline. Good thing I’m retired.
And who actually came up with the specific idea for When The Moon Shines? Was it you, was it Danielle, was is someone at Box Mountain…
I came up with the idea. I didn’t want to do the usual cryptids, and I wanted to write about something local, so I reached for my copy of Matt Lake’s Weird Maryland and read about snallygasters and dwayyo. I did some research and found out that they were mortal enemies and that both were active during Prohibition. My pitch was essentially “Snallygaster vs. Dwayyo vs. bootleggers.” The title is a pun based on the word “moonshine.”
When The Moon Shines sounds like it’s a dark fantasy story. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s more of a crime story with horror overtones. Think of the TV show Fargo but with cryptids. You might call it “Horror Noir.”
When The Moon Shines is not your first published book. Are there any writers, or perhaps specific stories, that had a big influence on this story but not on anything else you’ve written?
The late C. J. Henderson wrote a series of cryptid stories, and he and I collaborated on one, “The Monster Of Sheltonville” for his collection Challenge Of The Unknown. So this influenced me. Plus old pulp writers like Carroll John Daly influenced the crime elements.
What about movies, TV shows, and other non-literary influences; did any of those things have a big influence on When The Moon Shines? You mention The Untouchables and Fargo….
Yes, as I said, The Untouchables TV series was an influence, as were the old gangster movies.
Now, along with When The Moon Shines, you and Danielle have co-edited an upcoming anthology called Horns & Halos. What is that collection about?
Horns & Halos is a collection of stories, each of which will have either an angel or a demon as its central character. The stories feature not only the traditional Judeo / Christian concepts of angels and demons, but draw from other cultures and belief systems as well. I came up with the idea for the anthology after completing a collection called The Magic Of Simon Tombs in which a fallen angel who is seeking redemption plays a big part. I pitched it to Danielle, and she liked the idea so much that she became the co-editor.
And is it short stories, novelettes, novellas, poems, dirty limericks, a book in which you call out people who are jerks when they play the video game Halo…?
It’s a collection of short stories, although the dirty limericks idea isn’t a bad one. “A demon came down from Nantucket…”
Going back to When The Moon Shines, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies or TV shows. Do you think When The Moon Shines could work as the basis for a movie or show?
I think I would like to see When The Moon Shines done as a season of a show like Fargo or American Horror Story or some show like that. It has everything: crime, horror, violence, betrayal, and love. And the special effects would be great.
Finally, if someone enjoys When The Moon Shines, which of your other books would you suggest they check out next?