Where the Monsters Come From
After reading the Matt Archer books, people often ask me where I get the ideas for my monsters. When I set out to write the series, I didn’t want to use much that was recognizable—no vampires, weres, ghouls or goblins. Instead, I wanted to go back to nature and borrow the strange, odd and weird. For the first book, Monster Hunter, I chose animals whose natural habitat matched up to the locations I used—then I freakified them. It was actually pretty fun—a tall, lanky Panda bear that walks on two legs, has fangs and blood like grape jelly? Yes, please!
For the second book, Blade’s Edge, I started down a new path, one that’ll continue throughout the rest of the series. I looked to ancient, lesser known religions in the regions where I staged the story. For Afghanistan, I researched the mythologies and beliefs at the root of Zoroastrianism. They had some pretty interesting characters, and I used that as a springboard to create the fallen god and its Takers. For Africa, the stage for Legend, I studied the beliefs and legends of the San people of the Kalahari. Their creation story is lovely, with a cool dark side. Their god basically abandoned them because they didn’t follow his rules. As a result, he withdrew, leaving them alone with the lord of death. That’s plenty of fodder for a few nightmares, right?
Probably the funniest inspiration for a monster gave birth to the slime creature in Legend. My daughter loves to go get manicures with me, and it’s a special treat for her to get a paraffin dip on her hands. As the manicurist dipped A’s hands in the melted wax, I watched as each layer oozed and dripped from her skin before the next dip. It was kind of gross and it gave me an idea for a slimy, oozing monster. Now when we go for manicures, she always waves her paraffin-hands at me and says, “Ooooh! Scary!”
Inspiration for the various creatures can come from anywhere, but as long as they’re scary, weird and fun, it’s all good!
When Matt Archer was fourteen, he was chosen—by a magic, spirit-inhabited knife—to hunt monsters with a special paranormal division of the Army. When he was fifteen, he was thrown into a global war the rest of the world didn’t know existed.
Now Matt’s sixteen and the war has cost him more than he ever thought it would. He’s also learned that the knife-spirits have an agenda he doesn’t totally agree with. The only problem? The spirits have the upper hand, and they plan to control the fight—and Matt.
Then things get worse: the next lunar eclipse cycle is starting, a prominent physicist has gone missing, and Matt’s best friend is thinking about quitting the team. If he loses Will—after everyone else he’s lost—Matt’s not sure how he’ll fight alone.
As the source of his nightmares starts to creep out of the shadows, Matt knows he’ll need all the help he can get…because being alone could prove deadly
“Ouch! Man, that hurts,” Will whined.
Built like an Abrams tank, six-four and weighing two hundred-thirty pounds, you wouldn’t necessarily think my best friend was a wuss. Especially since he made his high-school football career out of slamming opposing quarterbacks to the turf.
He just hated needles.
“You’re awful big to be scared of a little tat,” the tattoo artist said. He shook his head in disgust. “I’ve inked little old ladies who complained a lot less than you.”
“Well, good for them,” Will said.
“Dude, chill,” I said, trying not to laugh.
He pulled at his hair with his free hand, his face scrunched up. “Chill? I’m getting stabbed with an ink-filled needle, you butthead! You were unconscious when you got yours done. You chill!”
Then I did laugh. I held out my right hand. Just below the wrist joint was a tiny, silver pentagram. It was the symbol for the military unit we served with…and much, much more in my case. Mine had been inked by a Peruvian medicine man and had mystical properties. Will’s was a more mundane copy.
“Seriously, mister, are you trying to engrave this thing onto my arm bone?” Will howled.
I grinned at the tattoo artist. “Sorry, Jimmy, Will’s a pansy.”
Jimmy grunted, his head bent over Will’s meaty forearm as he worked. “You don’t say.” A few buzzes later and the job was done. “Look here, big guy.”
He set down the needle and raised his t-shirt, revealing a scrawny chest covered in a collage of body art from his neckline to his belly button. Will recoiled and I started laughing again.
“See? You don’t gotta be big to be a man,” Jimmy said, a hint of a smile twitching at his mouth. “Now, do you need some ibuprofen for that little boo-boo on your wrist, or can your friend walk you out?”
“I’ll be fine,” Will said, sounding humiliated.
I whacked him on the back. “Sure you will. Thanks, Jimmy.”
“Don’t mention it. Let me know if you blokes come back to Ottawa. Maybe I can stencil a few more items for you, eh?” He turned to clean his equipment, missing Will’s blanched face.
I led Will outside and we headed across the long parking lot. We’d told the team we were going to dinner, but took the bus here after a Google search described Jimmy as one of the best tattoo artists in Ottawa. As soon as Captain Parker saw Will’s wrist, we’d be in for some trouble but I doubted he’d come down hard on us. All five blade-wielders had the special pentagram tattoo, and several of the guys on our team had gone to get one, too. Will wasn’t the only one who wanted to fit in.
The mid-October night was cold and the wind had a bite to it. Nothing a couple of Montana boys weren’t used to, but I turned up the collar of my jacket anyway, glad I’d worn my hiking boots.
“Some fall break. Not in Canada eight hours and I’ve got a tat,” Will said, air puffing in little white clouds from his mouth. “Millicent’s gonna be pissed. If it wasn’t football season, I’d be looking to run away from home before she finds out.”
“You know, it sucks that I have to go back to school at all,” I said. “Mom’s being way too stubborn about that. So what if there isn’t much activity right now? I could be at the Pentagon, helping Aunt Julie research or something. School’s a waste of time.”
He snorted. “Can you blame her? You lied to her for a year before she found out what we were up to. Keeping you in school when you’re between ops is her way of punishing us and the Army for keeping her in the dark.”
“Look who’s talking.” I stopped and crossed my arms. “You ever planning to tell your parents that we travel the world, hunting monsters on school breaks? Or do you think they’ll keep buying all that crap about the gifted and talented program?”
Will looked away, jaw clenched.
“Dude, sorry. I didn’t think—”
“It’s okay.” He wouldn’t look at me. “Millicent knows now, and that’s enough for me. She seems to get why we’re out here. My parents wouldn’t.”
“True story,” I said. “Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.”
“I know, man. It’s just…I’m not a completely necessary part of the team; we both know that. If my parents found out, Colonel Black wouldn’t fight too hard to keep me around.”
I shook my head. “They would if I threatened to quit. You’re my wingman. I can’t do this without you and the Army better keep that in mind. Besides, I’m not willing to let all that training we did at your house the last few months go to waste. We have too many badass tricks to try out in the field next time.” I started walking again. “C’mon. I’m cold, and I’m sure there’s a pizza place still open somewhere in this town.”
“Good. I’m hungry enough to eat a brontosaurus.”
“Isn’t that what Fred Flintstone eats?” I asked.
“Yeah, but he only eats a steak. I’d eat the whole thing, except its tail.”
“You draw the line at eating a giant reptile’s tail? That’s your limit?”
Will shrugged. “I do have some standards, you know.”
“Now you tell me.” I wrapped my arms across my chest; the wind had suddenly gotten colder. Jimmy’s tattoo shop was in an industrial park, deserted this late at night, and a creepy place to be out walking after dark. Thin clouds, light gray in the moonlight, raced across the sky. I started walking faster, trying to cross between the amber circles of light from the streetlamps more quickly to stay out of the dark.
I could see the bus stop in the distance when a blue flash came from my backpack, catching my eye at the same time a voice crossed my mind.
“Here?” I asked the knife-spirit.
Look. She sounded agitated, which usually meant we were about to be in big trouble.
The hair on the back of my neck prickled and I glanced back at the walkway between the metal buildings. Fog oozed from all four directions, tinged a phosphorescent green and stinking of a sewer.
“We got incoming,” I whispered, not like it wasn’t obvious. Monsters were rarely subtle.
Will already had his phone out. “…Yeah, northeast corner of town…No, no idea how many….You picking us up on GPS?…No, we didn’t go to dinner….Look, can I explain that later?”
An other-worldly screech, like ten-thousand metal nails dragging across concrete, filled the air. Will whispered, “Gotta go, Parker. Hurry up, will ya?”
“How long?” I asked.
“Parker said ten minutes.” Will glanced at his watch. “No bus for the next fifteen. Looks like we’re stuck.”
We are not stuck. We fight. Prepare.
Why did I know the knife-spirit would say that?