X-Files Origins: Author Jonathan Maberry on Young Dana Scully’s Path To Belief
We go inside the head of The X-Files young skeptic Dana Scully in our interview with X-Files Origins writer Jonathan Maberry.
Jonathan Maberry got into The X-Files like most people. Word of mouth.
“I hadn’t seen the pilot, and a friend of mine said ‘Dude you missed the best show,’” says Maberry, who pulled over on the side of the road to collect his thoughts for this interview. “He brought it over and we watched it the next week. From then on it was a crowd, The X Party. Every week was The X-Files week.”
His X-Files obsession took him into rare territory for a die-hard fan. The multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author edited three X-Files anthology books for IDW and worked with Chris Carter and Fox to create the official prequel books for The X-Files. The series, titled The X-Files Origins, contains his book Devil’s Advocate, a story about 15-year-old Dana Scully who is haunted by visions of a recently deceased classmate. It compels her to pursue an evil truth and sets on her the path to the Scully we know today.
The other book in the series, Agent of Chaos, is the story of a 17-year-old pre-MIT Fox Mulder and was written by Maberry’s close friend, author Kami Garcia (you can read more about that novel in our interview with Garcia).
We spoke with Maberry about Scully coming full circle, getting the blessing of Fox and Chris Carter, and why X-Files fandom endures almost 25 years after the pilot.
Den of Geek: I know you worked on The X-Files anthologies series from IDW, but how did this specific project, young Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, come about?
Jonathan Maberry: This kind of grew out of that. I’ve done The X-Files anthologies for IDW, and I was talking to Ted Adams, the CEO. We were talking about how I’d like to do more with young Fox Mulder. We had Kami write a young Fox Mulder story for the second volume, and he was interested, but IDW, even though they do prose and anthologies, doesn’t do novels.
So he said he was cool with me shopping it elsewhere, and so Chris Carter and FOX and Kami and I teamed up. We took it to Imprint, which is a division of MacMillan, and they were all about it because Erin Stein, the editor/publisher there, is as big of an X-File geek as we are, possible bigger. And so we hashed it out. We decided since Kami has already done a young Fox Mulder story, that she continue with that character, and I jump in and do the young Dana Scully story. And it just moved from there. It was like wildfire. Once we all had this idea, it happened really fast. And we went from talking about it in the Spring of 2016 to actually the books being done and out now. You know, it’s less than a year from discussion to print, which is extraordinarily fast for publishing.
Is that one of the fastest novels you’ve ever written?
Jonathan: Yeah, I actually wrote Devil’s Advocate in five weeks. I write between four and five novels a year in different genre. And most often, it takes me two and half months to write a novel, just one. And every day, I could not wait to get back to work. I really loved the story that much. And I banged it out in five weeks and had a blast doing it. So it was the fastest thing I’ve ever written, and probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book.
Impressive! How did the idea for Dana’s story hit you?
Well, there are a couple different elements that coalesce to make that happen. One, her story was set in 1979. I graduated high school in ’76, so I knew that world pretty well. I came in at the very end of the Hippie era, and I was there for the beginning of what was known as the New Age era. Even though I wasn’t a full-blown believer, I kept a pretty open mind about things and knew a lot of folks who were in that world, and know about that world. Dana’s character… First of all, her sister is a very much a New Age person, very much a believer. Dana’s character, as was alluded to in the show, used to believe and somehow stopped.
And I looked for evidence in the show of when they touched on that, and the fact that she had visions of dead people. She even saw her dad on the sea when he died. Because I’m an open-minded skeptic, you know, I do want to believe, but I do want proof and so I resonated with her character really strongly. So we went back to looking up what would’ve taken someone who had visions and turned her into someone who doubts even her own experience. And the book started around that idea. I think I came up with the entire plot outline in 24 hours. I mean, from start to finish, I knew what I wanted to write.
It’s funny you said that you’re kind of an open-minded skeptic because Kami [Garcia] said she identified more with Fox as a believer, which is a really cool partnership between you guys as a jumping off point for these twin novels.
Sure, it explains a lot why we were great to write these novels, even though it’s kind of a gender-swap in terms of the author and characters.
What were some of the big moments in The X-Files for Dana that you look to to flesh out who young Dana Scully is?
In the later seasons, especially after Fox was gone for a while, Dana actually moves towards belief. She actually starts believing. So I wanted that to become a full circle thing where as much as she resists it, she does the empirical evidence to say, “Okay this is happening.” And it fits with the trajectory as someone who’ve been struggling with skepticism and belief her whole life.
The fact that we got approval from Fox and Chris Carter for these stories to be able to write prequels to The X-Files gave me a little more confidence to write story that fits so well. Now, that said, both Kami and I had to do extensive, extensive research to make sure we didn’t mess with anything that was in The X-Files show. So everything fits the world.
One of the other things that we brought into the book is the Syndicate, the group that from seasons one through seven, they’re the big bad. The group that the Cigarette Man works for. We know that organization was around for decades before Scully and Mulder met. Well, I decided to explore the fact that maybe they were even more actively involved in putting those two together, so the Syndicate is at work in both books in different ways. But one of my favorite characters that Stephen McHattie had played in two episodes is known as the Red-Haired Man. They didn’t actually name him on the show. In the script, however, they gave him a name—Malcolm Gerlach, so I just made him kind of the cigarette-smoking man of my Dana Scully book. He’s the one behind the scenes manipulating what goes on. So again, keeping with the X-Files mythology.
Was there a lot of oversight from FOX and Chris Carter’s team since these are the official prequels? I Imagine they wanted you want to keep them in continuity.
Yeah, everything got vetted. So we sent out our outlines and they got vetted, and we sent in our first drafts and then revisions. Everything’s vetted. Everyone at every level of this were also longtime X-Files fan. So it’s not just the information we can look up. It’s also knowledge. So the guys at Fox actually were very interested to make sure that we got it right. Not only for the license’s sake, but to respect the fanbase that has become so knowledgable of The X-Files world. So yeah, we got that approval from them but also, no matter how diligent you are, you find little tweak. But luckily, we had so many eyes on this, that they say, “Hey, maybe you can make this change. Maybe you can add this little easter egg in there to echo something from the show.” And we did all of that. It was fun, fun doing that, like playing a game.
What do you hope for in the fan response to these books?
Well, one of the things we hope for is the crossover of audiences. The books are technically young adult. But quick frankly, I wrote them for anyone who loves a good mystery and who also loves The X-Files. You don’t have to know every single character to follow along with the book, but if you are an X-Files fan, there’s an added dimension to it. So we’re hoping that the X-Files fanbase enjoys the book as much as we do, but at the same time, a new audience reads the books and then watches the show. I mean, there are a lot of teens who haven’t watched X-Files, and we know they’re missing out. We want them to watch the show and have as much fun as we did.
You wrote these books after season 10 aired, right? Did the new episodes change anything for you?
Yeah, we sold it before we wrote the books, but I think Kami started writing around the time the episodes were being aired and I wrote mine after, but not much that was in season 10 really affected what was in my book because we’re really playing with the stuff from the first nine seasons. Season 10 doesn’t related as well to the earlier character growth.
Maybe in season 11. Who knows?
Right. Well, let’s hope. I really want to see the cliffhanger get resolved. Why do you think The X-Files has endured whether it’s the revival or projects like this? I mean, it’s been almost 25 years since the pilot aired. What is it about this show that still has people excited to do all these kinds of continuations?
Well, so much of it stays relevant, you know, there’s a lot of distrust of the government, no matter what side of the political fence you’re on. There’s a lot of thought that science and technology, as much as it can benefit humanity, is often misused. There are a lot of people, as rational as they are, believe that there’s something out there in the dark. And those things aren’t just tied to 1990s or early 2000s, those things define us as as species. We’ve always had those kinds of thoughts. One of the things I love about this show is, as much as I love other science fiction shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and some of the other things that came on, they were basically one kind of story. They were exploration stories, they were war stories.
But with The X-Files, you never know what the hell you’re going to get each week. Each week, it was— It could be a UFO story. It could be a story about serial killer. It could be a story about a heartbreaking loss story. It could be a funny story about vampires. Every week, it was something else. A mythology, a standalone. And in the heart of it, you had characters that genuinely grew and changed, they evolve like people do over the course of the episodes. In a lot of the TV shows prior to The X-Files, characters in the shows were generally the same week to week as if each episode stood alone. The X-Files was the first shows that really have a character evolve and grow and have the episode be a part of a larger mythology.
I don’t think people realized how influential that was to every popular TV show now where there’s a series long—even season long—story arc. That wasn’t common before The X-Files. And so we loved to know there’s a bigger ongoing world as it genuinely impacts the lives of the characters. That’s as fresh now as it was then. And, uh, The X-Files are highly watchable and re-watchable, and I think they will be for a very long time.
The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos and Devil’s Advocate are on bookshelves now.