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O.F. Cieri #Interview

Today on Sci-Fi & Scary, we have the pleasure of sharing our interview with O.F. Cieri, author of the urban fantasy novel Lord of Thundertown.

O.F. Cieri is a novelist and amateur historian in New York City. Lord of Thundertown, her first novel, was published by Nine Star Press in January of 2020. She collects art, insects and antiques. For further information about her writing, visit her on Twitter: @obfvscate.

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Sci-Fi & Scary: First off, can you tell our readers a little bit more about Lord of Thundertown?

O.F. Cieri: Lord of Thundertown is a dark speculative fiction novel about three punks investigating an influx of missing person reports.

SF&S: Lord of Thundertown was, to me, reminiscent of some of the “first wave” urban fantasy that came out in the 80s. Who were your biggest influences in writing this novel?

OFC: Definitely a lot of comics, most of them from the 80s. I could highlight sections directly inspired from early Hellblazer runs, and I never stopped wondering why there weren’t more youkai in modern Tokyo on Inu-Yasha. Jason Pargin’s John Dies At The End trilogy was incredibly formative to me while I was writing the book. Ir felt like such a game-changer to include all of these elements to create something genuinely new.

SF&S: In Lord of Thundertown, the reader is dropped straight into an alternate universe NYC where humans and fae live in tenuous harmony. Why did you opt to take this immersive approach to your world building?

OFC: I wanted the missing persons plot to center people who would be affected by it, who were products of that world. I had this idea in my first draft that it would star characters who would be nameless henchmen in any other urban fantasy book, somebody a bad ass urban fantasy hero would kick in the chest in the first chapter.

As I was writing the story I realized that meant there was no diegetic way to explain the worldbuilding. I didn’t have a character who would need to be informed about how the world worked, no guide who was describing everything to the characters so the audience could learn with them. I had to work around that.

SF&S: Lord of Thundertown has a very noire feel to it. Are there any books or movies that inspired you to blend those elements into the story?

OFC: Making the story a mystery was my work-around to not having an in-universe way of explaining the world mechanics. It started out as a writing exercise, so the very first thing I wrote down was describing things that could go wrong in this world, and how to communicate that there was a problem through the different channels.  

I was reading a lot of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler around this time as well, so it was easy to use the same techniques they used to flesh out the story a little.

SF&S: Lord of Thundertown is your first novel. What was your writing process like? Did you learn anything from this one that you think will change how you approach future works?

OFC: My writing process was all over the place. I’ve heard that the first book is the hardest, but I never thought about how. The first concept was a completely different story with completely different characters, and Lord of Thundertown was meant to be a writing exercise to flesh out the world. But I just kept writing, and then taking paragraphs out and re-writing, then re-reading what I’d removed and splicing lines back in. The final draft, before sending it out to the editor, was about 300 pages long.

SF&S: What are your drinks of choice while you’re writing?  

OFC: Coffee and water

SF&S: We’ve already touched a bit on your influences, but I’d like to go the other way. Are there any books or authors you read as part of your planning for this novel where you thought “this definitely isn’t the direction I want to take?”

OFC: A lot of the worldbuilding was developed in response to common fantasy conventions I was tired of seeing, especially the Hidden World trope. I was so tired of opening a book and everything is normal, even the main character, until they get set on fire or hit over the head and suddenly realize the world they thought they knew isn’t what it seems. There was so much weird baggage that no one was exploring, like why the magic people chose isolationism, or how that affected them, or why weren’t there ever consequences to that decision, except the occasionally a nationalist demagogue? A lot of these books tried to broaden their worldbuilding by giving their otherworldly characters their own country, with language and culture, and that made me ask even more questions.

SF&S: Your bio mentions you enjoy studying history. Can you tell us about a favourite historical event you’ve found through your research that we may not have heard about? 

OFC: I can’t really think of one! I forget what historical events are well-known and which ones are more obscure. When you get into history you end up talking about the same events forever and always, getting excited over smaller and smaller details because of its connection to the larger event. 

One of my favorite museums in the city is the Merchant House on 7th street, which is a perfectly preserved family home from the 1840s. The family was wealthy, but not very well known. I was so excited to talk to the curators about the last surviving daughter’s bed curtains. The ones that were on her bed when she died disintegrated in the 1980s, but they found a second set perfectly preserved in a trunk in the attic. They’d been untouched since she bought them in her thirties. 

There was a man in the East Village who died in 2014 who was a lifelong heroin addict and antiques collector. My former employers bought his collection after he died. He specialised in opiate paraphernalia, like old medicine bottles, field kits from WWI or WWII and books both praising and condemning drug use. They weren’t perfectly preserved, because he’d broken the morphine ampoules in the field kits to try them, and stamped all his books with his name. I wish I could remember his name. I wish I’d bought one of his books. I thought his collection was beautiful. 

SF&S: Given the blend of genres in Lord of Thundertown and your interest in history, are there any other unconventional genre mashups you’d like to explore in the future?

OFC: Yes! Now that I know how much fun it is to write completely unmarketable books, I want to do it all the time. The book I put on hold to write Lord of Thundertown is going to be more splatterpunk and horror fantasy, and I really want to get a cosmic horror/portal fantasy book published. I feel like that’s a really unexplored avenue with a lot of cool potential– most time-travel books turn into cautionary tales, but portal fantasy is seen as fun escapist fantasy because I guess the portals are seen as a natural and somehow organic. I miss the uncomfortable energy Donnie Darko brought to the table.

SF&S: Finally, what are you working on next? Can we expect to see more works set in Thundertown?

OFC: The next book I’m working on is a historical fiction novel set in New York in the very early ‘60s. The inspiration comes from mid century occult films and stories about Satan’s role in rock’n’roll. The story follows a music producer who has visions of the Goth movement and tries to re-create it using technology and references available to him. Eventually he reaches out to some Occultists and they take the project out of his hands.

SF&S: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us here at Sci-Fi & Scary!

In the movies, Thundertown was depicted like a real town, with boundaries, Folk-run businesses, and a government. In real life, Thundertown was a block here or there, three businesses on the same side of the street, an unconnected sewer main, or a single abandoned building.

When an epidemic of missing person cases is on the rise, the police refuse to act. Instead, Alex Delatorre goes to Thundertown for answers and finds clues leading to a new Lord trying to unite the population.

No one has seen the Lord, and the closer Alex gets to him, the farther Alex gets from his path home.

Lord of Thundertown is out now and available for purchase on Amazon:

Published inInterviews
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