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Meddling Kids and the Mystery of the Stolen Material

 

Cover detail from Meddling Kids, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Meddling Kids was conceived as a clash of two different genres that shaped my reading and my writing: teen detective fiction, and cosmic horror. This means I have trouble separating which snippets of pop culture caused the novel and which ones the novel simply nods at; it’s hard to differentiate pop reference from influence. In fact, when your influences belong in the pop culture drawer, I doubt there’s a clear distinction between the two. If a pop ref is so subtle that no reader gets it, is it an influence? Is it something original? And what about those the readers spot but I never intended? (No, Andy Rodriguez is neither Velma nor Daphne; what are you talking about?)

Anyway, what follows are a few inspiration sources and wink recipients in Meddling Kids. Some of those I can pinpoint, that is.

The Famous Five

Enid Blyton (1897-1968) was a factory of children’s literature shaped as a British woman. She’s especially remembered for her multiple series of children detectives, among them The Famous Five. Of those five, George is her most memorable character — a girl who explicitly wished to be a boy, aimed to look like a boy, and was most happy when mistaken for a boy. Though her gender non-conformity never played a central role in the Famous Five’s adventures, it made her memorable among all other child sleuths, which usually lack in personality beyond stereotypes. Plus she meant a lot to non-cis readers who for the first time saw a character they could relate to. From the moment I conceived Meddling Kids, I knew my lead had to be an adult George. That’s how Andy Rodriguez came to be.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos

All the magic/paranormal side of Meddling Kids draws heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos — a sort of shared universe created by H.P. Lovecraft and his pen-friends, all of them pouring unpronounceable deities and banned texts into an ever-growing, loosely-assembled cosmogony. They were so good at it, in fact, that the most enjoyable part about their work now is how it’s all made of tropes that sound pleasantly familiar. Some of their ideas have become so widespread that their appearance in MK is anything but original: the city of Arkham and the Necronomicon, for instance. Other ideas I just imitated vaguely: Thtaggoa is my own creation, but too similar to many other entities described in Weird Tales to be of any merit. Others are more specific: for the character of Damian Deboën, I borrowed a lot from Lovecraft’s longest work, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”

Xena the Princess Warrior

My previous novel, The Supernatural Enhancements, featured a sort of pet show: “The X-Files.” It was the show that the characters watched, and that somehow reflected their own adventures. I wanted a pet show for MK too: that’s why Nate and the other patients at the boys’ ward in Arkham Asylum watch “Xira, the Princess Warrior” — a fantasy series with two strong female protagonists in a more than friendly relationship, like Andy and Kerri. I didn’t use the original show, “Xena, The Warrior Princess,” because it didn’t fit chronologically (“Xena” debuted in 1995, whereas Meddling Kids is set in 1990), so I rechristened the show and chalked it up to alternate universes or whatever. In MK’s universe, incidentally, the heroine isn’t played by Lucy Lawless, but Linda Hamilton. This was a last-minute decision; Grace Jones was the runner-up.

007

This is one of those very intricate pop-ref bundles that needs a conspiracy board and threads of yarn to be fully disentangled, because sometimes reality just fits your fiction so well. Anyway — Tim. Tim’s namesake seems to be the original dog in The Famous Five, and that is partly true. But in Meddling Kids, Tim is said to be the great-grandson of the dog that accompanied the Blyton Summer Detective Club as children, Sean. And the two dogs between Sean and Tim were George and Roger. If you figured it out already, skip this paragraph now; it’s just annoying explanation from now on. Apparently, Kerri’s mom, who bred Weimaraners, named her dogs after James Bond actors: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, and Dalton. Furthermore: they don’t all come through the male line; Kerri states that George was a female. This is an allusion to George, the tomboy from The Famous Five again. Oh, and the remaining two 007 actors to date are also referenced: Andy names her pickax Pierce (Brosnan), and a short-tempered patient in Arkham Asylum is called (Daniel) Craig. Daniel Craig played an excitable psychiatric patient in “The Jacket,” one of my favorite movies.

The Horror Trip

At the beginning of part II, the narrative brushes through the BSDC’s trip across the United States, mentioning only a few stops. Let’s go through them: Winter River, CT is from Tim Burton’s “Beetle Juice” — my security blanket of movies. Brahams, WV is mentioned to neighbor the ghost town of “Silent Hill.” Dark Falls, IL is the setting of a book by R.L. Stine (I can’t possibly remember which one, but I know I liked it). And Raccoon City, of course, is from Capcom’s “Resident Evil” games. A saga whose first movie features (I just noticed) Andy — I mean, Michelle Rodriguez, sorry — bonding with red-haired Milla Jovovich. As I said, there is no end to it.

 

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