Interview: C. Robert Cargill | DREAMS AND SHADOWS

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Interview with C. Robert Cargill

Starburst caught up with the very talented C. Robert Cargill, who is best known for his work on Ain't It Cool News under the pseudonym of Massawyrm. His first film, Sinister, (which we quite liked) is now out on DVD and his debut novel, Dreams and Shadows, (which we also quite liked!) comes out at the end of February...

Starburst: Dreams and Shadows comes out at the end of this month. Why should we read it?

C. Robert Cargill: I’m really proud of the book. I tried to do something different but accessible. If you’re a fan of folklore and the old fairy tales; the dark core of what a fairy tale was, that’s what I was going for. I didn’t want to create a magical land of fairy dust where fairies are just awesome and the danger just comes from sword fights, I wanted to get to the root of what these fairy tales were, of our fears. Fairies are monsters and up to the beginning of last century people still believed publically that faries were a real thing.

What inspired you to write it?

I love all these tales and I love folklore. Folklore is a combined universe and nobody plays around with that side of it. If you look at the history of the Djinn, two of the biggest beliefs were that they were Fallen Angels or Middle Eastern fairies. The suggestion was that they were like the European fairies but adapted to that region and given themselves over to Islam, so their practices and powers change. Folklore evolves this way. I wanted to tell a story about a shared world that made sense. I’ve not seen anyone else create a book with a metaphysical reason for everything to exist in the world of that book.

Where do all these monsters come from?

There’s a line early on in the book in which Yashar the Djinn explains to Colby that there is not a beast in the world that has not once walked in the heart of a man. When you look at our fairy tales it’s all about explaining or training certain behaviours.

One of my favourite stories is of the Green Ladies from the UK. They have different names depending on which region you’re from, Green Annie, Green Molly or Green Teeth. They waited at the bottom of ponds to drown children, and the stories existed to scare kids away from getting too close to ponds. You look at the behaviour of angels, fairies and djinn; they’re all things that we attribute to man, both the best behaviour and the very worst.

One of the greatest bits of folklore is the idea that the devil made me do it. When really it’s just a reflection of humanity.  It’s mankind taking the terrible and horrible things that we do and putting it on the devil.

Should we expect to see more?

There’s definitely a second book coming, and the plan is to expand this universe, not just take the stuff you’ve already seen but to spend time with the other mythos scattered over the world. There’s a lot of fascinating folklore in the world and we’ll see how that plays into everything.

Sinister came out on DVD this week. For those of us who haven’t seen it in the cinema, tell us about it.

Sinister is a horror fairy tale, it’s the boogie man that lives in the images and will get you if you dare to watch. It’s another part of the mythology of weird monsters, a sort of pagan deity. The base story is about this writer who moves into the house of murder victims and discovers a box of super-8 footage. Thinking that it’s family films, he watches. Turns out that it’s footage of the family being murdered and no one has seen it before. Then he realises that all the films are of different murders and he’s onto the biggest case of his life. He has to decide between going to the police or using it as research for a book, and he chooses poorly, and he and his family descend into hell as a result.

What was the inspiration for the film?

A nightmare. I had seen The Ring and stayed up all night working, and took a short nap. As soon as my head hits the pillow I’m dreaming of going into my attic and I find a box of 8mm films. I spool it on to the projector and the first image is the opening shot of Sinister. That image haunted me for years, and I thought that there’s got to be a good story in there.

What can you tell us about Deus Ex? What are the challenges in converting a popular videogame franchise?

Oh man I’m so in love with Deus Ex. I’m a huge cyberpunk nerd, I was just the right age, I devoured that stuff in the eighties I may be one of the only people on the planet that still has Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk album that came with a Mac disc that had all sorts of cool little cyberpunky programmes that tied in with the album, so when Deus Ex came along I said hell yes.

Initially Scot came along and said that they wanted us to do a video game movie. I wanted to say no, but when he told me it was Deus Ex, we played through the game to see if there was a story and there is, it is phenomenal. We’ve done the draft script and it went swimmingly, we think there’s a really great movie. Fans of the game should be very happy.

We talked to Jim Swallow recently, the writer who worked on the Deus Ex game, and he seemed very interested in what you guys were doing, can you tell us any more?

Jim Swallow is a brilliant writer in his own right, I like his work a lot. Until I started this project, I had no idea he worked on it, but I was familiar with some of his stuff, especially his work on Warhammer 40K. When he tweeted me to say he was really excited by the movie I checked the credits and it made total sense as to why it was so good. They had so many brilliant guys working on it. I hope we do the Eidos Montreal Team justice, because we really want to introduce people into this world.

Why Cyberpunk?

The greatest thing about Cyberpunk is the social commentary, it’s entirely about our fears of the modern age and how humanity reacts to technology, and how that ties into the economy through corporate take-over, and what that does to our identities. All of this is at the heart of Deus Ex, so much potential for great storytelling.

Is there a particular tie-in franchise that you haven’t been involved in yet that you’d love to write for?

There’s nothing that’s coming to mind right now, because I don’t think I’m that guy, I don’t think anyone will call me on. To quote J.J. Abrams’ lie from a few months ago; “I’d much rather sit in a theatre and watch the new Star Wars movie.” To me, a Star Wars movie is something you watch not something you write.

There’s only one project that I really want, and I can’t tell you about because I’m in talks about it, and it’s responsible for me being a writer. It took me all of three seconds to say yes to it. Hopefully there’ll be an announcement in the next few weeks.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for company, what would that book be?

I’d have to cheat and say The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide. Though it might get edged out by Pride and Prejudice. I get picked on for that but it’s such a great book it has some of my favourite characters ever. I married a woman who is a lot like Elizabeth Bennet, who is a fantastic character, of course.

What other fictional worlds inspire you? What else inspires you (Music, TV, People)?

My biggest inspiration comes from genre film, I devour film constantly. I love the structure of Westerns, and I love the morality tales of westerns and just how dark and flawed the protagonists are allowed to be in that genre over any other genre. In most fantasy your protagonist has to be a really good guy. Audiences of fantasy like to have big shining heroes. That hasn’t always been the case; Robert E Howard wrote one of the greatest fantasy heroes of all time with Conan and he’s not a nice guy at all, and continued that on with Solomon Kane, who had redeemed himself.

I’m drawn to tales of deeply flawed characters who have very rough backgrounds or make very bad choices and then ultimately their heroics come from them redeeming themselves in some way, and you find that in a lot of Westerns. Look at the Leone stuff in the Sixties, or a lot of the Clint Eastwood movies. When I wrote the end of Dreams and Shadows I was listening to a playlist of about a hundred Ennio Morricone that I played on a loop, and that’s what made it work. I draw a lot from Westerns, though I write across the genres, at its root I always come back to the structure of Westerns, that’s the core of where I write from.

The Simpsons or Futurama?

That’s Beatles or Elvis. Futurama is consistently funnier, but not a day goes by where I don’t quote The Simpsons.

Seelie or Unseelie?

Unseelie. Seelie are boring. I’d rather have Seelie over for my tea and in my house, but I’d rather write about Unseelie. They are so much more interesting.

Truth or Beauty?

Truth, always. Beauty is flash, Truth is substance. Give me ugly truth every day of the week.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Neither of the above, Battle Beyond the Stars.

The Imperium of Man or Chaos?

Chaos. I have a Nurgle army.

Clint Eastwood or John Wayne?

Clint Eastwood. John Wayne is great, but Clint Eastwood has so many great movies. Clint Eastwood inspires the hell out of me.

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