JT: I stayed up much too late last night reading The Diabolist. You’ve crafted a great story – part international thriller, part theology text, part philosophic treatise on good and evil. In addition to the intricate, fast-paced plot, you’ve clearly traveled the world extensively – the settings were as strong as the characters.
So let’s start with setting. You seamlessly continent-hop in this novel, giving us some fabulous insider knowledge of your cities. What’s your favorite place in the world?
LG: Way to start off with a super-tough question! I don’t think I have just one, JT. I have a couple of places I love to return to (Costa Rica, Italy, Zimbabwe), but my favorite country might be the Czech Republic. It’s just so deliciously atmospheric. Prague has the best old town in the world (that I’ve seen), the food is surprisingly good, there are tons of undiscovered gems scattered about the country (try Kutna Hora and Cesky Krumlov), the hiking is spectacular, and the beer even better (trying Budvar, the precursor to Budweiser, will make you wonder what in the world went wrong). Also, the Czechs elected a writer as president . . . so ‘natch, it’s got to be the best.
JT: What’s one you’d never return to?
LG: I think I’ve enjoyed every country I’ve ever been to at least enough to return. I’ll go almost anywhere once, as I have a great time just being in a new place.
JT: I’ve been in countries and cities which seem more spiritual, more magical, even creepy and evil. What do you think is the most Magickal place in the world?
LG: I’m going to go with New Orleans. The architecture alone puts one on a magical frame of mind, and add in the towering oaks and the ghostly Spanish moss and the decaying jungle mystique, and you have one atmospheric city. That aside, there’s just something about New Orleans that feels spiritual. Maybe it’s the sordid history, the fact that is was built on an Indian burial ground, the mixture of voodoo and Catholicism, or the legions of occult practitioners frequenting the French Quarter. Maybe it’s something in the psychogeography (as many will claim). Whatever it is, it’s deliciously magical, in all meanings of the word.
JT: What took you to Bogotá?
LG: I’m researching my next Dominic Grey novel in Bogota.
JT: What gave you the idea for THE DIABOLIST? Was there one lightning bolt moment – I have to tell this story! – or did you build into it in the past two books?
LG: Ever since I started The Dominic Grey series, which I describe as “international religious thrillers,” I knew I would eventually feature a satanic cult or some derivation thereof. This is that novel. The explosion of social media and how it might fuel a global mega-preacher also inspired the plot.
JT: What drew you to cult study?
LG: I knew I wanted to create a suspense/thriller/mystery series based around religion and the quasi-supernatural (think X-Files) in some way, and after I came up with the plot for The Summoner (featuring a cult derivative of the Yoruba religion, which is the forbear of Santeria and a host of other New World syncretisms similar (but different) to Voodoo), I realized using a different cult for each book would be a great basis for a series.
JT: The FBI and other groups no longer use the word cult in favor of the less stigmatic New Religious Movement (NRM) Do you think that’s a misnomer? Are all cults created equal?
LG: Religion is simply veneration of a person, ideal, or thing. A cult is a collection of individuals bound together by a similar veneration. So the actual definition is broad, and, as your question notes, the problem is that the word “cult” has developed a certain stigma. I don’t like NRM because it leaves out the thousands and thousands of older religious movements. Are all cults created equal? That depends, I suppose, on what one believes . . . .
JT: Your characters are larger than life – they absolutely jump off the page and grab you by the throat. Tell us how you developed Dominic Gray and his absinthe-addicted partner Viktor Radek?
LG: Grey and Viktor both started as an amalgamation of a number of ideas and personalities that have made an impact on me, and of course they developed into their own personas. I’ve studied Japanese Jujitsu for half my life, and that’s where that aspect comes from. I won’t deny that I enjoy a bit of absinthe from time to time. Also, I wanted two opposing belief systems: the Believer (Viktor is not really a believer, but he at least searches and is obsessed with finding evidence of the supernatural) and the Doubter (Grey is very much grounded in the realities of the world.)
JT: I fell a bit in love with Grey when he makes this very astute observation – “Grey always felt a bookshelf was the best judge of personality.” I immediately said of course it is. The character in question arranges his bookshelves in order of book size. How do you organize your bookshelves?
LG: By general topic: classics, modern literature, genre fiction (mainly mystery, suspense, thriller, and SF/fantasy), travel, religion/philosophy/theology, book research, and other nonfiction.
JT: I applaud the depth of your research – from the setting to the incredibly complicated topics of this novel – Satanists and Anti-Prophets. Viktor seeks out some rather unorthodox and esoteric tomes – were you able to use any primacy sources for this story?
LG: If by primary you mean classic religious or philosophical texts, I drew on the Bible and Zoroastrian texts (the Avesta), as well a wide range of philosophers and theologians.
JT: Something bizarre always haunts me when I’m writing dark topics. What’s the creepiest thing that happened whilst you were writing this book?
LG: This book was definitely a creepy one to write, exacerbated by the soundtrack I used: the collected works of Teargas and Plateglass. Amazing artists, dark and brooding and highly recommended. To the question: I can’t point to any singular bizarre thing that happened whilst writing, but let’s just say the nights I spent wondering the foggy streets of York, one of the most haunted cities in the world, were conducive to crafting eerie, imaginative scenes.
JT: THE DIABOLIST is the third novel in the Dominic Grey series. Share with us your path to publication.
LG: I had an agent for my first novel (written in a time long, long ago and a galaxy far, far away) and, while it didn’t sell, I spent a decade working with professional editors, polishing it, and generally learning the craft of writing. Down the road I wrote The Summoner, which everyone seemed to love (including acquisition editors), but which no sales committee thought would sell, because of the Zimbabwe setting. So I self-published it, and it sold quite well, as did the second novel, The Egyptian. Though I enjoyed self-publishing, I wanted to reach a wider audience for the series, and sought a publisher for The Diabolist. Luckily, my publisher rereleased the first two as well.
JT: Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
LG: I write in my home office and in coffee shops. When writing, I work on a Toshiba laptop. When traveling and researching, I use Moleskine notebooks.
JT: What was your favorite book as a child?
LG: I particularly loved The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown.
JT: What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
LG: This one:
"At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be--curiosity--to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not."
JT: What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
LG: Drive, jog, or pack my bags and travel.
JT: What would you like to be remembered for?
LG: In terms of my novels: crafting works that simultaneously entertain, educate, and inspire great conversation.
JT: What’s next for Layton Green and Dominic Grey?
LG: Lots, JT, lots. In their immediate future, they’re going south of the border – WAY south. And let’s just say they’ll encounter a number of nasty little surprises, exotic destinations, and unexplainable occurrences along the way . . .
JT: Thanks so much for letting me read The Diabolist – a truly excellent novel. Good luck with it!
This interview is one in an exclusive series of original author interviews arranged by Red Room editors as part of their Author Matchmakers series. Learn more about the series here, and arrange to be an interviewer or interviewee by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.