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Continuing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal week, I'm pleased to present New York Times-bestselling author Rob Thurman, who likes to take mythology and turn it completely on its flea-bitten ear.  I offered her Cal Leandros series up in the webinar as an example of how you can take something established and completely make it your own.

Myth-information by Rob Thurman

I’m often asked where I get my particular take on mythology. The majority of my readers recognize that I’m intentionally twisting existing myths and a few enjoy pointing out my ‘errors.’

Yeahhh, they’re not errors.

While I do love shoving myths into a wood-chipper to see what comes out the other side, enjoy putting my own stamp on tradition, what I’m actually doing is bringing mythology up-to-date.  If you’re old enough to remember the trash rag, the National Enquirer, then you remember if two celebrities passed in the street, they were instantly emblazoned on the front page as having a torrid (hey, that is the only time I’ve used the word torrid) affair, cheating on their spouses, and destroying their children’s lives. It wasn’t true of course, but that’s what gossip is all about and if your ‘prey’ won’t talk to you, gossip is all you have to go on. Now we have TV trash shows for that, but the practice is the same.

Mythology is the gossip of the ancient world.

Think of the mermaid. One day a horny sailor saw his first manatee. And you’d have to be an extremely horny sailor to envision a gorgeous mermaid out of a wallowing sea cow. But apparently he was and that was the seed of the mermaid legend.

And it wouldn’t stop with mermaids. Every myth, mythological creature, mythological god would be far different than the humans of those times managed to put down on paper or pass along. If your world is inhabited by vamps, weres, fey, and a thousand monsters, do you think that, say, a lycanthrope sat down about 25,000 BC to tell their furry story to any human who came along? That’s not in their best interest to survive. If your vampires existed (as mine did), before the time of Christ, why would they fear a cross, be burned by holy water, sleep in coffins before there were coffins? They probably sat around at the weekly vamp meeting and concocted all sorts of crazy fake legendary weapons to pretend to cower from right before they ate you. Good joke for them, eh? No doubt they’d swill blood from their cups and snort blood out of their nose when the Italian vamp added garlic to the list. Hell, he probably drank his blood with ground garlic around the edge of his chalice of blood—like salt on a margarita glass.

In my universe of the Cal Leandros Novels and Trickster Novels, Puck, Pan, Robin Goodfellow is now a used car salesman (what better job for a charismatic, arrogant, slick and slippery con artist of a trickster?)  And he never had goat legs. They were fur chaps long before they came into fashion. Goodfellow didn't follow the trends, he set them.


Elves are worse monsters than demons from the deepest depths of Hell. They are the bogeymen even to other monsters. Their ‘seed’ to elven legend is long white hair and pointed ears—history left out the hundreds of metallic teeth, lava-red eyes, and the insatiable desire to kill. They were the first predators—the first murderers to walk the earth.

Werewolves aren’t werewolves at all. They were once in the same evolutionary line of prehistoric wolf and split off into a species that could turn human if they wished—all the better to infiltrate their prey and gobble them up with those great big teeth, Grandma. They didn’t start out as people who can turn into wolves, they started out as wolves that can turn into people—they are were-people.


And it goes on and on. It’s your world, your universe, your rules….different, strange, mythology turned upside down is good. No, hell, it’s great. Your only limits are the ones you set on yourself.

Me? I never liked rules. 


Wanna hear more?  You can visit Rob Thurman on her blog or listen to her at Binwalla Radio right here (her portion starts at about 33.45).

You can also check out her very cool book videos and get her Cal Leandros widget here.

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( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
Is this thing working or not? Lesse...
Jun. 21st, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Hello??
It's probably also useful to remember that even those myths we hold most 'sacred' - the immutable laws of the Greeks -were subject to change and alteration even 'in their time'. The Prometheus myth, for example, has at least two substantial variations dating from Ancient Greece. If they muck around their own mythistory, then I think it's okay to make the vampire something entirely subjective. I mean, that's basically what it represents, an intensely personal threat.
John Polidori's vampire - one of our earliest literary ones - is one that perverts the trust of friendship. And who has the definitive word on these things anyway, nobody owns the vampire.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
Where do we draw the line, though, if at all? When does updating/adapting become simply changing? If a vampire walks in the sun, doesn't require blood, didn't rise from death and doesn't have fangs, can it realistically be called a vampire?
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
That's the fun thing, we're limited only by our imagination. Sure, the farther you get away from the source, the more some people will have issues. (I'm actually doing my own blog post later this week about how bendy mythology can be.) However, just as many, if not more, people will applaud the originality of your creations.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
But there has to be a point, surely, where something just *isn't* what it is meant to be anymore. In which case, congratulations -- your imagination has come up with something new. Why not call it something new? The "names" of things can be limiting, and some definitions/aspect *should* be defining. And therefore not subject to total metamorphosis.
Jun. 21st, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
If you were that love-starved sailor, would you have made out with that manatee?
Jun. 21st, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
Not if there were other love-starved sailors around ;)
Jun. 21st, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
I think, that as far as my enjoyment as a reader goes, there probably is a point where I'd go bzhuh? However, I personally give a bunch of slack when it comes to suspending judgement.

Like a vampire, at the heart of it (no pun intended) it's like a parasite right? So, if that part's true, if they need something from someone else to live I'd let the other cliches like the coffins, stakes, sunlight, and etc go quite willingly. The sky's the limit as far as I'm concerned.

But that's just me. I enjoy the old and the new. : )

Jun. 21st, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm with you there, I've never been a fan of vampire stories where they take away everything that makes them a vampire. It doesn't have to be traditional, I don't mind when authors play around a little bit with the mythology, but there has to be some significant differences than set them apart from humans. If not I really don't see the point and why call them a vampires at all? The whole fun of paranormals is the differences between human and other.
Jun. 21st, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
Millions of teens are ecstatic that vamps can sparkle in the sunlight. Do I like that? Nope. But I have to respect an author's right to stretch their imagination.

Jun. 21st, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
I try to ignore sparkly vamps, partially because I don't think they'll have that much impact on the things I read. Fast zombies, on the other hand, bother me. I think them being slow, mindless, and everywhere is what's scary, but some folks like them thoughtful and fast.
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
Actually...not a zombie fan period...but it's only the fast zombies that engage me mildly. Slow zombies-if you can trot or speed walk and still get eaten, you deserve it you slow bastard. But the first time I saw fast, running zombies, I thought HOLY SHIT! And, again, as zombies aren't a thing for me, that HOLY SHIT was a true kudos to those who came up with the concept.

Jun. 21st, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)
sparkling vampires
Yeah sparkling is weird.I read a lot of vampire books tho and many have different takes on vampires.One of my fave is Lyndsey Sands vampire series.Her vampires CAN eat food if they want,can go out in sunlight(Need extra blood for that) can have baby vampires(lol).Id like to be that kind of vampire.I could still have CHOCOLATE!!
Jun. 21st, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
One of the things I love about Rob's writing is that she takes mythology, twists it up, and hands me something unexpected. I still recognize the source (or look it up), so that lizard-brain thing that feels the need to categorize is satisfied, but doesn't hamper my enjoyment of the new, inevitably scary, thing she's presented. And I think that's the trick - to find the recognizable aspect and yet not let that be limiting.
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks you, ms melenka!

Jun. 21st, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
I started reading Nightlife and then one thing came up after another and I never finished it. Though now, I have the joy of beginning it over from scratch again. : )

I enjoy twisty or rebooted mythology, and I don't even mind so much when the result gets very far away from the source material as long as it's coherent. I'm not the target audience for Twilight, and I didn't particularly enjoy the story, but I didn't object to the sparkly vampires. I was even kinda curious about their creation myth. Monsters made from stone isn't even a new idea, but put together with vampires it's kinda unique.

Thanks for the links!
Jun. 21st, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
I had one of my greatest geek moments reading Rob's Madhouse when I realized that the big bad of the book was a Redcap. Obscure mythological monsters for $1,000 please! And best of all, Rob takes these nightmares of ancient times, these creatures used to explain all the horrible things that happened in the night, these shadows populating parables to scare children into behaving, and manages to make them even MORE frightening.

THAT I think is the difference in what makes 'changing' mythology good or bad. Can you alter the myth and make it MORE... more otherworldly, more terrifying, more magical, more awe-inspiring, and can you do it in a way that makes sense?

Rob certainly does that. Trolls were slow, stupid, and more silly than frightening, until I read Nightlife for the first time, and Abby still scares the tar out of me. Mummies were dusty and cliche, until Wahanket and his creepy ability to be MORE true to the idea of an undead mummified Egyptian than all of the old movies. After Goodfellow, pucks seem more mischievous, horny, and *tragic* than they have been since Shakespeare.

Think about the difference between a vampire who doesn't go into sunlight because they sparkle, and one from a race that has evolved to tolerate indirect sunlight because it was a matter of survival. Why, in the name of all things Darwinian, would a vampire sparkle? What purpose does it serve? There isn't one, except that it makes that particular type stand out from the millions of other vampires out there on the shelves. Frankly I'm of the opinion that that's not a good enough reason. Vampires who take massive doses of iron instead of drinking blood on the other hand? THAT makes sense to me.
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
Nicely done. You summed things up better than I did.
Jun. 22nd, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
I'm just a *little* obsessed with mythology and fantasy (and Rob's books)so I've put a truly embarrassing amount of thought into mythological creatures and why some authors can pull them off and others can't. Partly because I'd like to be as good at it as Rob is someday, and partly to explain to myself why I am really luke-warm on some books and completely enamored with others.

I understand what you're saying about the idea of creating a new creature if it's so different from the legends, but my take on it is that if a creature is terrifying/amazing/etc... to justify writing about in the first place, it can't have come from nowhere. SOMEONE would have noticed it sometime in the past, especially when people were more open to that kind of thing before. So unless it's something that's brand new in the world of the book, it would most likely be attached to some sort of myth, even if the myth has been drastically distorted and muddled through time. (Honestly, the original myths about vampires and werewolves are *nothing* like the ones we have now, which is a whole other soapbox for me.)

That being said I DO think that if you come to a point where you can't justify all of the changes and why that critter is called XYZ, then you need to rethink WHY you're calling it XYZ instead of something else and maybe consider the merits of coming up with a new name/legend for it altogether if you can't find something that fits better. (And if you can't you probably aren't looking hard enough, there are legends about monsters that are flying heads with evil trailing guts hanging out of their necks for the love of Goodfellow's fine rear-end, you can't be THAT creative, and if you are we're going to read your books anyway because clearly you're a genius.) Anyway, that's just my two cents, and as I said, I've put WAY too much thought into this so it's entirely possible I'm just talking nonsense at this point. (Also I spent a lot of time in the very hot sun harvesting vines for no practical reason so there's the distinct possibility that sunstroke is talking here.)
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
I am humbled. That was an amazing comment. It truly was. You summed up what I have tried to accomplish. Plus, your icon sums up how I feel most of the time. :>

Jun. 22nd, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
I'm in college, that icon sums up how *I* feel most of the time too! The rest of the time this icon is sadly appropriate...

Anyway, I DEEPLY appreciate all of the amazing thought you have to put into your books and all your assorted, utterly terrifying, monsters so I'm just glad I did justice in explaining how I feel about them!
Jun. 21st, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
I've loved reading the mythology in your books. In some ways it reminds me of the telephone game. I can easily see a manatee turning into a mermaid through many re-tellings :)

One of the previous posters said why don't you call them a new name if they're that different. It's been a while since I've re-read, but I recall you doing that with the Auphie. Our wonderful narrator Cal just gives us the tidbit that these were the creatures that spawned the elf lore.
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
Auphe is actually an Old Medieval English word for elf. But wait until you see what I come up with in Cal 7 DOUBLETAKE for a new race (sort of) villains.

Jun. 21st, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
i've been reading Rob since Nightlife first came out and i was hooked from the beginning. she has an amazing ability to tell a story and make it so interesting. i have a hard time putting her books down.

i've never had problems with her playing about with mythology. i mean, it is called mythology for a reason, right? how many of the creatures that she's written about have been softened and gentled for children's stories? trolls, gnomes, elves... all of them were altered so they could be used in children's stories. hell, even the original Grimm Brother's fairy tales were altered to be less bloody.

personally, i love Rob's books as they are. it is my personal mission now to see to it that all of my friends buy and read her books. yes. i love them that much.

Jun. 21st, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
Ah, I saw Tangled last week and was reminded of the original Grimm's brother's tale where the prince fell from the tower, had his eyes torn and blinded by thorns, wandered the wilderness for years until Rapunzel found him and restored his sight by crying into his hollow eye sockets. Didn't see that s*** in Tangled, did you??

Jun. 22nd, 2011 01:25 am (UTC)
True. Grimm's tales have been reworked and rewritten so many times that we now envision Cinderella as a perfectly petite blonde whose evil step-sisters are punished by their suggested spinster future, instead of getting their eyes pecked out by birds.

I guess what it comes down to is audience. Many writers say that they don't necessarily have their audience in mind when shaping characters and creating plot. However, subconsciously, the audience is lurking in those dark corners of the brain.

Disney's audience is children, hence the appropriate changes to the storyline and characters. Likewise, you write for an audience that "gets it" and appreciates the craftiness.

We can only hope that people who are so enthralled by the mythological creatures in these novels are intrigued enough to do some additional reading and research. Modifying or updating the creatures of myths can only open up dialogue.

Though I am generally a classicist or a purist, I can appreciate the value of the work you do by looking at the passion it ignites within your readers.

And as a high school English teacher of students who vehemently refuse to accept the idea that reading is fun...ANYTHING that gets people to read voraciously is okay by me!

Jillian Dee

Reviewer for www.bookshelfbombshells.com -- launching July 2011!
Jun. 22nd, 2011 03:03 am (UTC)
This comment has convinced me
If the rest of the post didn't do it, this comment alone would have convinced me to buy one of your books! I agree completely.
Linda George
Jun. 21st, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
I really like Rob's take on the old myths.
One of the reason I enjoy Rob's books so much is that very different take on mythology. To me, that is what the whole Urban Fantasy genre is about. It is this take along with the great personalities that make her books so unique and enjoyable. I stumbled across Nightlife as mentioned in a blog and couldn't wait to get it in my hands. It was so worth it and I have enjoyed the ride so very much. Stay Snarkey and Gritty! I love these books.
Jun. 22nd, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
Rob Thurman was my first introduction into Urban Fantasy. When Nightlife crossed my desk at the library, I was immediately captured by the idea of Cal, half-monster, half-human, and Niko, his ninja-esque brother. I was hooked. I've been recommending the hell out of her books to my fellow librarians, and customers who like Urban Fantasy. Waiting for the next book is nerve-wracking!

I also love how she has taken the Trickster mythology and used it in her Trixa series. She has a gift for writing characters who are both real and fey, and still making you care about them.

She's a keeper. One of the authors who I will buy even though I have access to her books at the library.
Jun. 22nd, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
I never liked rules either.
Jun. 22nd, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
I've really enjoyed this look at the thoughts behind the building of the Cal Leandros world. Almost as much as I've enjoyed the series itself!

Although I love our dearly held myths and I've spent far too much of my time on Earth studying it in school and of my own accord, I will cut a great deal of slack to an author who can put an original spin on it all. I'll take the same old spin too, if it's at least well-written. (The thing I love about Rob Thurman is that it's both!)
Jun. 22nd, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
This is a really cool interview. I'm a huge fan, and one of the things I love the most about Robs books, is that the mythology is so different.
Jun. 22nd, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
Listened to the Binwalla podcast today...great interview!
Jun. 22nd, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
Mythology is interesting to begin with, but originality is always a good thing.

That way the story hasn't been done before.

But that's what I like about Rob, there's some basis in "reality" (haha) when it comes to past myths but she twists them all up without being too over the the top.

I love her books and for someone who reads, eats and breathes nothing but fantasy/sci-fi, she has a different take on them than most authors and she's gritty without being too dirty. (;

There's always hope at the end. No matter how bleak.

Loved the interview, and the pictures of course.
Jun. 23rd, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
Personally, I love the twisty turns Rob takes with mythology. I quite enjoy how Ilona Andrews took vampires and made them gross again, and I *really* enjoy what Rob's idea of elves are -- take that, Legolas fans. *snicker*

And fur chaps, hee.
Jun. 23rd, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
LOVE your books!
Jun. 25th, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
I think honestly my favorite part of the mythology that Thurman created was the part about werewolves. I don't remember ever reading anything when someone said that they were in fact wolves that changed into people, not people who changed into wolves. Probably one of the most original things I've ever seen done to the werewolf legend, and actually made me like them.
( 37 comments — Leave a comment )

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