Brennan LaFaro (BL): Hey Alan, thank you for gifting the world with this brilliant story, and for taking the time to answer a few questions. Anyone who has picked up the book, or frequents Twitter, may already be familiar with how this story came to be, but for the uninitiated, can you give us the short version?
Alan Baxter (AB): There was a news article going around with the headline: ‘Australian Town Terrorised By Muscular Kangaroo Attacking People And Eating Gardens’. Charles R Rutledge tweeted that it sounded “like something Zebra Books would have published back in the day”, then Kealan Patrick Burke (superb author and excellent cover designer) mocked up a brilliant old school horror novel cover in response. Several of us started joking about how a cover that cool really should be on an actual book. One thing led to another, and as I was the Aussie in the conversation, people started saying I should be the one to write it. The timing was good because I’d just hit a period where I was planning to take a month off from other projects and write a couple of short stories – so I thought I could write this instead. And people kept hassling me to write it. I even got a few private messages along the lines of, “Dude, please, you have to do this!” Terrible enablers, all of them. They were actually fucking serious. And I’m easily led astray, it would seem. So I wrote it.
BL: Speaking as someone that has already had a chance to read it, I’m glad you gave in to peer pressure. Was this your first experience writing friends and acquaintances into a story in such a direct fashion? What brought that notion about?
AB: I’ve tuckerised a few people before. When I was writing the Alex Caine trilogy, I needed names for the bad couple in the first book. I’d just been to a BBQ at some friends’ house, so I used their names as placeholders. By the end of the book I really liked the names for those characters and asked my mates if I could use them and they said yes! But this is the first time I’ve tuckerised a whole slew of people. I did it mainly because they were all the ones badgering me to write the story, so I thought I’d kill them all in horrible ways. Although some survived!
BL: It was certainly an honor to be deemed worthy of being tuckerised. Did you have a general idea about what you wanted to do with the story before you announced you’d take it on or did you pigeonhole yourself in hopes of inspiring creativity?
AB: A bit of both. I’d had an idea in mind for a short story involving a kind of supernatural monster in the outback, and I was going to use that story to look at themes of domestic violence, isolation, alcohol abuse, stuff like that. So I realised I could substitute a killer roo and make that the story. And then I thought it would actually make a great longer story, so I developed it out into a novella hoping the story would hold up. It did, thankfully.
BL: It certainly did, and it had such a unique quality to it with the Australian dialect. That addition was so much fun, and such a necessary ingredient for this story. How much of the Australian terminology has made its way into your day-to-day vocabulary? Did you have to research it at all or just listen to the locals speak?
AB: Some of it is my vocabulary anyway, or stuff I hear regularly. I live in the country, so it’s common around here. But I also put the call out on Facebook and got my friends to hit me up with their favourite Aussie slang. That thread went bananas and was truly hilarious. I used loads of their suggestions too.
BL: Could you pick a favorite Aussie slang? Is it fucken?
AB: I love that Aussies can’t even be bothered to say fucking and it comes out fucken. Sometimes even fuggen. I think my favourite is “we’re not here to fuck spiders!” (BL: Basically, we’re not here to waste time.)
BL: That one definitely caught my attention in the book. I’m glad you got it in there.Were there any books, movies, or any other form of media you took inspiration from, whether it be in content or style, to write The Roo?
AB: Not so much. It’s a classic creature feature, so there are all those established tropes – anything from JAWS to ALIEN to RAZORBACK, so all those things were inspirations to some degree.
BL: I loved the classic creature feature approach, but you still managed to work an important message into it. Any readers who habitually skip Afterwords should stick around for this one. What prompted you to put a focus on, and use this novella as a platform to take a stand against, domestic abuse?
AB: It’s something I’ve been looking at for a long time. As I mentioned before, I had a short story in mind where I was planning to address those themes, then The Roo came along and turned out to be the perfect vehicle for it. There’s a massive problem with domestic violence and violence against women all over the world, but especially in Australia, it seems, and particularly in country Australia. Men need to be better at dealing with their emotions, we need to seek help and learn that it’s okay to cry. And we need to bring our sons up knowing these things – the sooner they learn that emotions are okay, asking for help is okay, that they’re not entitled to women or sex, and so on, the better. I have a 6 year old son, so this stuff is important to me.
BL: As the father of two boys, I can certainly get behind a message like that. Raising them to be good human beings is our responsibility.
You said on Twitter recently that you might like to write a werewolf story. Are there any other monsters/creatures you would like to write about someday?
AB: I like to make up my own monsters, as a rule. In the Alex Caine Series I kind of reinvented a whole bunch of monsters, but otherwise I like the act of creation. But there’s something close to my heart about werewolves, so that’s a classic beast I’d love to tackle one day. I definitely have a werewolf novel in me, but I plan to subvert the tropes a bit with it. I’ll get to it sometime.
BL: I’m very interested to see what you could do with that. Now that you and Kealan have spawned what looks to be a series, next up being Max Booth III’s, The ‘Dillo, will you be taking on a role promoting or overseeing? Maybe just actively reading and enjoying?
AB: No, I’m out now. I’ve done my bit and it’s been huge fun. I’m so pleased by how well The Roo has taken off. I’ll sit back and watch whatever mutant stories it triggers with interest, though. I’m certainly looking forward to reading what other people come up with off the back of this.
BL: There’s potential for each and every one to be a lot of fun, and have the personal, local touches that made The Roo work.
It’s a long shot, but any chance we can expect a Marvel Cinematic Universe-type project of large, aggressive animals at some point?
AB: I think it’s happening naturally to some degree. It’s not something I plan to take on, but I’m happy to have The Roo as a part of a new wave of giant animal creature features. I may write more, who knows. Perhaps there’s another creature feature novella in me somewhere…
BL: I’ve seen so much interest in the book online, and lots of people getting their hands on it. Which of your other works would you recommend to someone who loved The Roo and is looking for their next Baxter read?
AB: Hmm, good question. HIDDEN CITY is full of a similar kind of mayhem, and has a really dark edge. DEVOURING DARK is more of a crime thriller/urban horror, set in London, and MANIFEST RECALL is another novella, sort of supernatural southern gothic. All of those would appeal in different ways. Then there are my short story collections, CROW SHINE and SERVED COLD. If you enjoy THE ROO, you’ll definitely find things to like in those. I’d like to think all my books are Alan Baxter books first and foremost, so hopefully if you’ve enjoyed anything of mine, you’ll find things to like in all my other work.
BL: Are there any of your back catalog that you are especially proud of and would like to see get more love?
AB: The Alex Caine Series is a trilogy and that tells a really big over-arching story across three books, even though each book is also self-contained. I honestly can’t pick a favourite of my work, I’m proud of it all, but perhaps Alex Caine represents the biggest, most complex work to date.
BL: I’ve got that series burning a hole in my kindle, and by my count, this is your third time mentioning something intriguing about it. I may just have to make it a priority. Is there anything you can share with us about what you have coming out soon, or what you’re currently working on?
AB: Well, for anyone who enjoyed Manifest Recall, there’s some good news coming soon on that front. Meanwhile, I have a folk horror novel out on submission with my agent and I’m almost wrapped up on another folk horror/home invasion novel right now. So I’m staying busy.
BL: I loved Manifest Recall, and I wouldn’t mind a follow-up visit to Eli Carver’s world. Served Cold was a fantastic collection of short stories. You mentioned earlier taking time to write a couple of short stories. Is putting out a collection of short fiction every few years something you feel strongly about doing?
AB: I think it’s a valuable way to keep the catalog of work alive. I write short fiction because I love it, and it’s also a decent secondary income stream – you hopefully get paid for the story, maybe get paid once or twice more for reprints, plus they help to get your name out there and find new readers. Then every time enough have been published, it makes sense to collect them together with two or three new, unpublished stories and put another book out. All the time publishers are keen to do that, I’m happy too. I really love short story collections.
I’m actually thinking of self-publishing another small collection soon. I’ve written several stories for the SNAFU anthologies of military horror – guns and monsters and horror mayhem! I thought I might do a mini-collection of my military horror, with an extra, previously unpublished one added in. If people are keen!
BL: Where can readers connect with you online and on social media?
AB: I’m always active on Twitter @AlanBaxter Otherwise, hit up my website at warriorscribe.com and you’ll find a bunch of stuff, free reads and some other social links.
Alan Baxter is a British-Australian multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy. He’s also a martial arts expert, a whisky-soaked swear monkey, and dog lover. He creates dark, weird stories among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, where he lives with his wife, son, and hound. The author of nearly twenty books including novels, novellas, and two short story collections, so far, you can find him online at http://www.warriorscribe.com or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook. Feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.