When does novel research cross into the surreal? Author Kami Garcia once received an email from the Illuminati, or so she thought. The note failed to materialize a formal invite into the elite society of social and political influencers, but the digging was part of extensive research for her New York Times bestseller Unbreakable, the first book in her Legion series.
“It didn’t have like a very official-looking seal in the e-mail, which I don’t think the Illuminati email invitations,” Garcia says. “I’m pretty sure it was fake, but I’d like to believe it was real.”
So Garcia, the twice Bram Stoker Award nominated writer, doesn’t yet rub elbows with Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jay Z and Beyonce, and the rest of the Illuminati, but as a consolation prize, her latest project is a deep dive into another secretive organization and into the young mind of television’s iconic boogeyman-hunting FBI agent.
January 3rd marked the release of The X-Files Origins series from Imprint and MacMillan, recognized as the official prequels by show creator Chris Carter’s team. The series consists of two books, Devil’s Advocate, the story of a 15-year old Dana Scully written by Jonathan Maberry, and Agent of Chaos, which follows the 17-year old pre-Oxford Fox Mulder written by Garcia.
In the past research phases, Garcia has tore through science fiction and fantasy novels, read source documents from 1950s prisons, and poured over minor details and analysis to help flesh out her novels. To take Mulder’s story in Agent of Chaos to a higher state of realism, she enlisted the help of former Hopkins clinical psychologists, who trained people at the FBI, to consult on the serial killer and the behavioral science unit procedures.
“I believe that in order to suspend disbelief, everything has to be true except for the piece that I make up. Like in this case, it’s the Mulder syndicate element,” Garcia says. “So I wanted everything else to feel like it could 100 percent happen.”
In Agent of Chaos, Mulder is still reeling from the disappearance of his sister Samantha. After a local boy turns up dead, the future FBI agent goes on the hunt for the truth, trailing a serial killer, and looking for a link to his sister’s case. The novel also ties in a Syndicate storyline sure to excite myth arc fans around the globe.
After writing a new Fox Mulder entry in Maberry’s X-Files: The Truth Is Out There anthology book, Maberry asked Garcia to connect the dots from a young man forever changed by his sister’s disappearance to the Agent Mulder fans grew to adore on The X-Files. With 10 seasons, two films, countless comics, anthology books, and plenty of shipping fan fiction out there, X-Philes know Fox Mulder’s story inside and out. The challenge for Garcia, a long-time X-Files fan, was to pepper easter eggs around a new, larger backstory.
“I want Mulder to feel real,” Garcia says. “I don’t want people to be like, ‘Oh I’m reading a book about a character in a television show.’ To true fans, the characters you love almost feel like real people, and I especially don’t want fans to come back and be like, “Ugh, this is a disappointing read.”
The Mulder in Agent of Chaos is driven by emotion, someone who feels responsible for the the abduction of his sister, but is also the intuitive and analytical agent of the long-running series. Garcia looked to reverse-engineer Mulder, looking at who he was in the show, and as an older agent in the revival episodes.
“I had to create a scenario where it would be clear and believable to the fans that this is what sets him on that path,” Garcia says. “This is why he would want to join the FBI, you know? My assumption was, logically, if you’re a kid, and your sister disappears and the door’s open, you’re going to think someone took her, kidnapped her. And so, in DC, at the beginning of the book, we find out that children start to go missing in DC, and that’s kind of how it ties back to Samantha and that ghost that haunt him that’s like ‘What happened to my sister?’ And it sends him on this kind of, investigation of what’s really going on.”
Garcia was careful to tie it into X-Files lore. Of the major tentpole episodes, you can trace the novel’s DNA to “Little Green Men,” the season two premiere and first flashback to the night Samantha went missing. Garcia says that was the catalyst for the novel: “That moment, that night haunts him.”
Another key episode in the Samantha storyline, “Paper Hearts,” follows a pedophile named John Lee Roche who abducts and murders children and cuts a heart out of their clothes. In a dream, Mulder envisions Samantha’s murder at the hands of the killer and begins to question whether Roche was involved in Samantha’s disappearance. Though it’s a dead end, Garcia was influenced by the characterization of Mulder in the episode.
“[Roche] brings up Samantha and he plays on Mulder’s guilt. Someone who knew how to push the right buttons could set him on that path of “I have find what happened to her,” she says.
“If you’re a teen, amplify that by a hundred. Like if you have no idea and you’re almost 18, and there’s any shot you might be able to find out, you’re going to go after it. It showed me how much that affected him as an adult and it really helped me create a trajectory,” she says.
Writing the novel was a treat for Garcia, who has more fandoms than can fit into this article. She says she’s more into “guy stuff than girl stuff,” which fits perfect into a prequel for a television series that went as far as any to blur the lines of genre and mainstream and turn a crossover audience, guys and gals alike, into believers. The young Mulder of the novel is ahead of his time, too.
“At the core, this is a kid who wants to be an astronaut. He’s like a cool geek ahead of his time. But this is the thing that makes him the Fox Mulder that we know, the guy who won’t give up. Tenacious, obsessive. The disappearance and the need to know what happened to Samantha through all of that,” she says.
The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos and Devil’s Advocate are on bookshelves now.