In case you missed it, I recently read The Reburialists by J.C. Nelson and LOVED it (you can read my review here). You can also check out the book on Goodreads.
J.C. was kind enough to agree to an interview and let me pick his brain about the book.
Q: Where did the idea for The Reburialists come from?
A: The Reburialists began as a project after I’d completed Wish Bound, the third book in my Grimm Agency series, and the completion of the first trilogy. And in the Grimm Agency series, it’s really all about the women. From Marissa and Ari to Queen Mihail and Isolde, the women are the moves and shakers. But I read widely and have read many books featuring traditional alpha-male heros, and I wanted to try my hand at this.
Q: You mentioned wanting to explore the alpha-hero, did you find you learned anything from writing this story?
A: So the book starts off with an alpha-hero doing alpha-hole things—but almost immediately, it goes off the rails, because, well, that’s not terribly interesting. I wanted to peek into what would make a person behave like this, and in essence, any time you have an addiction, be it drugs (like some characters) or sex (like Brynner) you are dealing with someone self-medicating to avoid their life. So I knew his life wouldn’t be all that shiny.
And then I began wondering – What is it like when the media’s not on him, when the party is over and he’s alone on the road, and these things are still after him. When the expectations of his legacy become more than any human could bear, and yet he feels like it’s his duty? What about when injuries mount and there’s no magic healing, just layers of scars, and an enemy who only grows stronger with the passage of time?
Q: Where did the inspiration for the characters come from?
A: Brynner was definitely modeled on your classic alpha male. He’s a monster of a man (and not as large as his father was) and trained from birth to do what both his parents did. And for him, his faith is a weapon as much as any blades or guns. For him, love and faith are things he just accepts as coming.
Grace, on the other hand, I originally envisioned as a BSI psychic (there’s still two references to them in the book. J), but the more I learned about her, the more I wanted to ask “What happens when you have someone for whom science is a burning passion teamed with someone who lives a life believing in destiny, fate, magic, god?”
Everything grew out from these two and their interactions.
Q: Why did you choose Egyptian mythology?
A: Zombies interested me, but not so much for the gore/horror factor as in the “what would happen?” aspect. Humans, in my opinion, are basically talkative, violent cockroaches. If the dead started rising, we’d figure out how to deal with them so we could get back to the business of killing each other like God intended. And then I kept thinking about mummies, and wondering if those sarcophogai were built to keep something in as much as out. For a while I had all sorts of wild Egyption mythology, but the more I saw the book as a lense onto the world as it would be post zombie invasion, the more I understood it was the dressing put on by primitive humans to try and explain.
Q: How long did it take you to research?
A: I spent about three months reading and thinking while I finished Wish Bound before I dove into The Reburialists. I was so eager to tell the story, but it hadn’t quite gelled. I didn’t know where I was going to take it right up until it started spilling out.
Q: I caught a reference to Van Helsing, can you explain the connection?
A: Heinrich Carson was the infant survivor of a car crash in post-war Germany. His father (a serviceman) and mother (a nurse) were killed. By fortune or providence, Dr. Van Helsing (a descendant) was in the area dealing with an infestation, and recovered the baby while disposing of his re-animated parents.
This was the midst of post war upheaval, and when the family couldn’t be located, he chose to take the baby in. He and his wife had a son who died, and saw this infant as gift from God – a sign that they wouldn’t be the last of their line. Only the parent’s last names were known, so he gave him a fitting first name—and was delighted to see the boy grew to be a hulk of a man. So you have Heinrich taught from his first days that he’s favored. That he’s destined to return to his home country and hunt these re-animus everywhere. And many times, what we believe becomes our truth.
Q: The emotions are so raw with Grace and Brynner, how was that to write?
A: Some times hard, and sometimes easy. You have two damaged, imperfect people. One who has a media image as this icon, and another who’s struggled for years in situations most of us couldn’t dream of. And novels are about the moment of change: That moment when everything tips, and things building for years burst into motion, so we have this extreme pressure on the two, and they don’t always deal well with it.
Q: Brynner is quite the ladies man, but I liked when he mentioned that he only wanted consenting partners, and consent when they were intoxicated didn't count. It was pointed without being preachy. Was that intentional?
A: When we start the novel, Brynner uses sex as a drug—it’s a convenient way to feel good and escape the fact that tomorrow, there’s going to be another murder, another hostage, another trail of bodies, and the clock is ticking inexorably to the moment when his strength fails, he isn’t quite fast enough, and like his grandfather before him, he’s torn to shreds.
But yes, this was intentional. Both the mention of condoms and consent are explicit and intentional – I went through so many iterations to avoid having it be him preaching, because for him, this is just one of those foundational rules – you can’t have sex without consent and protection, and consent must be explicit, affirmative, enthusiastic.
Q: What was it like switching series since this is so different from The Grimm Agency novels?
A: It felt great. I love Marissa and Ari and Grimm, but after three books in that world, one novella and a Christmas short, I wanted to take a breath. It took me time to find Grace’s voice and make sure she wasn’t an echo of Marissa, but as I learned more about her, writing these characters became something that drove me to get up early and go to bed late.
Q: The women you write seem to kick ass as much as the men. Do you plan it that way or does it just happen?
A: I didn’t plan for that in The Reburialists, but I don’t like damsels in distress. That doesn’t mean characters can’t get into situations where they need help – Amy rescues Grace once, he saves them both in one case, and Grace saves him on a couple of occasions. My guiding principal was that it’s fine for a character encountering something they’ve never experienced to need help. It’s not fine for a character to fail just so another character can step in.
Q: When do you find time to write?
A: Early mornings, these days. I get up around five when I’m drafting and write for a roughly an hour before I have to start getting kids ready and preparing for work. And I sneak words in whenever I can.
Q: What is the best part about writing? The hardest?
A: For me, the hardest part is waiting until I’m ready to tell the story. I get the idea and I just want to jump in, but it’s that ripening, maturing time that makes the characters gel and things just pop. My favorite moment, hands down, is when the novel suddenly clicks and you realize everything fits together like a puzzle.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Both – when I’m learning a character’s voice, pantser. I use an outline as an overall goal of where I want to go with a story, but if my gut says we’re taking a left turn at Albuquerque, we are. My current WIP went from one book to a trilogy following this, and I have loved every moment of it.
Q: Do you have any quirky writing habits?
A: When I’m writing, I zone out so badly my wife has been known to throw things at me and still not get my attention. I just get lost in the words and the story spills out.
Q: What are some of your fave books and authors?
A: I loved the first Whisper Hollow book by Yasmine Galenorn. I’ve read and enjoyed Lauren M. Roy’s Night Owls series. I own all the Dresden Files books and read every one voraciously. I loved Planetfall by Emma Newman, the Time and Shadows series by Liana Brooks, and the Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt was all kinds of fun.
To learn more about J.C. Nelson, check out his blog.
You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.