In the first book in Cadwell Turnbull’s Convergence Saga, No Gods, No Monsters (Blackstone, out now), werewolves, shapeshifters, and ghosts walk among humans and fight among themselves in the shadows. The novel, which PW called a “powerhouse contemporary fantasy” in its starred review, opens when a woman named Laina learns that her troubled brother, Lincoln, has been shot by the Boston police. A too-common act of police brutality, she thinks—until she receives a video, sender unknown, showing Lincoln changing into a werewolf at the moment of his death. Turnbull talked with PW about building a reality that reflects our own, and how that requires imagining, as a character in the book puts it, “a world beneath this one.”
No Gods, No Monsters opens with a police shooting of an unarmed man. How did the issue of police violence inform your writing?
We all know how this country is with police violence. When I saw these events on TV or watched videos online, I’d get into really deep discussions about them—and it was frustrating how limited the conversations became, so quickly. That frustration really informed the book. Lincoln’s shooting is the tip of an iceberg. These events have deep roots. We need to look at the context and history behind them.
One of your characters, Ridley, is an asexual trans man, which is an identity we don’t see much in speculative fiction. How did he develop?
I knew that I wanted diverse points of view in the story, not just people within my own context. I talked to a lot of people about their experiences, and Ridley grew out of those conversations into someone who was crystal-clear for me. I wasn’t going to treat this part of his identity as the big deal about him, so I tried to give him a lot of things for the reader to latch onto: his interest in wood carving, his activism, his hopes and fears. I discovered more about him as I wrote the story, and I hope I did him justice.
How did the book evolve as you were working on it?
I outlined the story before I started working on the book because I was worried about being able to pull it off—I wanted an anchor and a starting point. I discovered who a lot of these characters were as I was working on them. I didn’t always know how they were related to each other, and when they finally got on-screen, I’d be surprised by their interactions. It was a real joy to see.
Your book suggests that monsters, literal and metaphorical, have always been with us. What do you hope to achieve with that idea?
One of the things I wanted to do with this book was capture the feeling I get when I look at the world. There is so much that’s outside of my control and understanding. I try to maintain an open mind, and don’t assume I understand something because I can name it. The history of institutional racism, aspects of capitalism—these are all behemoths. I was trying to capture the feeling of looking at the world and seeing things I don’t understand.