In a short publishing history that dates back only to 2010, Lee Thompson has amassed a large collection of acceptance letters and heaps of praise from peers like Tom Piccirilli and Brian Keene. He’s also laid the foundation for a massive mythology all his own, the Division Mythos, a huge, expansive story arc that remains tightly focused on character. It’s quite an ambitious undertaking for a “new” writer (Thompson may have only been publishing for two years, but he’s written for far longer than that, collecting “enough rejections to break an elephant’s back”), but Thompson is undaunted. The author was kind enough to take a break from world-building to share a few words with October Country.
OC: You’ve got a lot of stuff on the horizon, so let’s start with the five books coming from publisher Darkfuse/Delirium. What’s the attraction of working so closely with them? What advantages do they give you as an author?
Lee: Thanks for the opportunity, Blu.
The attraction in working with Darkfuse/Delirium is that they have published a bunch of writers I respect, so I get to have some pride in myself, which is rare. (Laughs)
The advantages this publisher gives is that he thinks I’m destined to go really far, which feeds the fire I already have burning. I didn’t want to let myself down to begin with, and now I don’t want to let him or the readers down. And I get to have a hand in everything from jacket blurb to cover concept. I get to see my work in hardcover, paperback and digital. I’m a luddite. I don’t want to sell exclusively digital. I love physical books. They’re comfort food for the senses and soul.
Shane Ryan Staley, the publisher, is always willing to talk on the phone, he keeps me in the loop with what’s going on, he’s professional, delivers beautiful product, sends royalty statements and payments on time, and cares about finding the best work. I’d been writing for eight years before I started selling work. It took me that long to even gather enough skill to be a decent writer. I’m glad I didn’t give up and I’m glad Shane saw something special in the work. He’s incredibly supportive.
Tell us a little about the books themselves, and when we’ll be seeing them.
There are three novel trilogies and a few novellas.
The Red Piccirilli Trilogy (Before Leonora Wakes, Within This Garden Weeping, and Collected Songs of Sonnelion) is set back in the sixties and has to do with this kid who finds out he has incredible power, but with power comes immense responsibility and soul-testing trials.
I’m afraid he’s broken by the end of his trilogy, but he has a chance to redeem himself in the John McDonnell/Michael Johnston trilogy (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children, The Dampness of Mourning, and The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow).
In the second trilogy Red is an old man, has spent his life running a little hardware store and he always wears these black velvet gloves because of what happened when he was a child. But his nephew John needs his help. In the first book of the second trilogy (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children) Red demonstrates a little of the power he has near the end. He grapples with it more and ends up using some of his power in The Dampness of Mourning. And he’s going to let loose, even if it kills him, in the third McDonnell/Johnston novel.
These books are savage in places and tender in others. I think I like the later stories more because the characters are reaching for their destinies and growing despite all they’ve been through and all they’ve barely overcome.
The final trilogy, Ravaged Gods, consists of Proserpine’s Story, Lord of the Damaged, and Violent Races. It’s a take on the antagonists’ journeys, which are very complex and in a world of their own. There is a mixture of Greek and Roman mythology, Voodoo, arcane magic and as many monsters as there are heroes.
The tie-in novellas (Iron Butterflies Rust, Down Here in the Dark, As I Embrace My Jagged Edges, She Collects Grave Nectar) are about Frank Gunn, Boaz, and Michael Johnston, who are all important characters, and chosen, though they won’t know why they’re chosen until the end of the third McDonnell/Johnston novel The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow. And more will be revealed in the Ravaged Gods trilogy where these gods and demons (Proserpine, Legion, Gravesend, Deal, Boom Stick, Death Mask, Jassen, Dream, Wisdom, Death, etc.) tell their side of the story.
As of next month seven of them will be released: Before Leonora Wakes, Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children, Iron Butterflies Rust, As I Embrace My Jagged Edges, Down Here in the Dark, and The Dampness of Mourning, plus the serial novel Collected Songs of Sonnelion. And hopefully we’ll see the second Red Piccirilli book, Within This Garden Weeping, sell soon and that will complete the first 8 books. Then we’re cooking because people can read them right in order!
You’re building up what you call the “Division Mythos,” which you’ve said will consist of 13 books and 12 short stories. Tell us a little about the story you’re trying to tell here.
Well, let’s start with some definitions of division:
An army unit large enough to sustain combat; one of the portions into which something is regarded as divided and which together constitute a whole; the act or process of dividing; an administrative unit in government or business; discord that splits a group; a league ranked by quality; (biology) a group of organisms forming a subdivision of a larger category; (botany) taxonomic unit of plants corresponding to a phylum; a unit of the United States Air Force usually comprising two or more wings; an arithmetic operation that is the inverse of multiplication; the quotient of two numbers is computed; the act of partitioning; separation…
Division is what I see constantly and it’s the meta-theme of every theme. I see division in every precious second.
The characters are divided within themselves. Reality and dreamscape are entwined yet separate.
Each character is torn between what they want to do, what they feel obligated to do, what they think they should do. There’s a healthy dose of reality mixed in. A lot of times the people are the true monsters. And a lot of times they’re not. It depends what they’re fighting for, and why.
Is this something that you’ve planned all along, or has it grown organically through your work? In other words, did you start out to develop this over-arching mythology, or did it just grow out of the stories you were telling?
I had no idea it was part of a bigger story at first. Not until I’d written Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children (the first John McDonnell novel) and Before Leonora Wakes (the first Red Piccirilli novel). I didn’t even realize at first that Red in the McDonnell novel was the same boy from Before Leonora Wakes, and John’s uncle. But once I came to that conclusion, I saw that there was a lot of ground to explore. I knew that Red had sworn off ever using the strange powers he had for his entire adult life, and I wanted to find out why, and I wanted to find out who Proserpine and her brood were, what they wanted.
Then when I wrote the Boaz and Frank Gunn novellas I had dreams of those two there with my other protagonists to face these creatures (Legion, Gravesend and Deal) that none of them stood a chance against by themselves.
And these rich and intricate back stories came to me when brainstorming in a notepad. I said, “Oh Christ, how am I ever going to be able to tackle this?”
Then I said screw it and just tackled it with a lot more note taking to figure out what it “appeared” everybody wanted and what they really wanted. Sometimes some of the characters don’t even know.
By saying it will consist of 13 books and 12 short stories, does that mean there is a concrete beginning and end, or could it bleed over into your other work? Will it eventually tie all your stuff together (like Stephen King’s Dark Tower books) or is it its own, separate entity?
There is definitely a concrete beginning with Before Leonora Wakes and definitely a concrete ending with the last book Violent Races. Here’s a list of the books in order:
#1: Before Leonora Wakes (Novel- out now digitally, coming in paperback later this year)
#2: Within This Garden Weeping (Novella- under consideration)
#3: Collected Songs of Sonnelion (Novel- current project. A chapter going up every week on Darkfuse)
#4: Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children (Novel- out now in hardcover, paperback and digital)
#5: As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Novella- out now digitally, will be out later in a Division story collection)
#6: Iron Butterflies Rust (Novella- out now in hardcover and digital)
#7: The Dampness of Mourning (Novel- out now in hardcover and digital, with paperback forthcoming)
#8: Down Here in the Dark (Novella- coming out mid-April in hardcover and digital)
#9: The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow (Novel- Unwritten, but I have notes on it)
#10: She Collects Grave Nectar (Novella- unwritten, have notes on it too)
#11: Proserpine’s Story (Novel- unwritten, got it all in my head)
#12: Lord of the Damaged (Novel- unwritten, but anxious to write this one)
#13: Violent Races (Novel- unwritten, and I don’t know how I’ll feel when this huge story ends so it’s best not to think about it)
What were your inspirations in building the Division Mythos?
At first I didn’t have any. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. Then I got to thinking it’d be a lot of fun for me and readers. I love John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series and Gary Braunbeck’s Cedar Hills stories. And with this massive story and all of these characters I get to tip my hat to all of my favorite writers with various techniques and themes that I found resonated with me in their work: William Faulkner, Clive Barker, Tom Piccirilli, Douglas Clegg, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Gary Braunbeck, Lee Thomas, Brian Hodge, Peter Straub…
You’re currently publishing a serial novel, Collected Songs of Sonnelion, on the Darkfuse website. Are you simply parceling out parts of a book you’ve already written, or are you posting chapters there as you finish them? If it’s the latter, is it a scary feeling knowing that you’re making public parts of a book that’s not yet finished?
Totally writing this as we go, and I send a chapter to my readers Shaun, Kevin and Jen as soon as I finish them. It’s not a scary feeling though. I’ve written so much stuff in the last two years that I have complete and unshakable confidence the story will come out about 90% of what I envision it, and I have my sights set high. I usually write quickly. Most of the work comes with brainstorming for a couple days on exactly what each scene is about – what the character feels, thinks, hears, sees, wants, doesn’t want. And I look for those areas where a left turn is going to drive them toward a pivotal moment where nothing can ever be the same for them again. That’s it. I write toward the pivotal moments. Huh. I never realized that before.
Well, it’s working great. Of course I know things about the storyline that nobody else knows, like how each book is going to build upon the last until we hit this massive crescendo.
It was definitely a “connecting the dots” thing. Seeing that these characters were at war with themselves and the world around them, then throw in some crazy and mysterious supernatural stuff that mirrors the protagonist’s pain and the whole story kind of blossomed.
I’m a huge note taker though. And I think I’ve trained myself to ignore the first idea that pops in my head and look for the Unique and the True.
Looking back over your bibliography so far, what’s your favorite thing that you’ve written?
Ah! That’s tough, and I know I’m supposed to say I can’t pick between my babies, but I’m weird and I can pick favorites.
Short story: Either “Beneath the Weeping Willow” or “The River,” both of which are Division stories.
Novellas: When We Join Jesus in Hell or Down Here in the Dark.
Novels: The serial novel Collected Songs of Sonnelion, because it’ll actually be early in the Division series (#3 out of 13) and set a ton of ground work, plus it ties in so much with all the other novels.
Are there any of your works that you wish you could take back and take another crack at? If so, why, and what would you do differently?
Yes! There is one. I submitted a Frank Gunn story (“This Final December Day”) to Apex and Jason Sizemore said it wasn’t right for them but he’d love to buy it for their imprint The Zombie Feed. It was a 5,000 word story that should have been a lot longer. I’m going to expand it one day. When I can write better and have less of a crack addiction.