Monsters and Mythology: a chat with Cait Reynolds and Susana Imaginário

Hello and welcome to the final day of Monster Week. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a few monsters over the last 6 days and hopefully added a few things to your TBR list too!

There’s still a giveaway draw later today, as well as another few giveaways announced relating to this week to come in the next few days. If you want to continue the fun, The Witcher Readalong starts next week, so you can get your monster fix for months to come.

Today, I present a different sort of post I’m excited to share. I got together two authors of mythology and we just had a big old chat – or rather I gave some prompts for the two authors to talk about! Enjoy the transcript, where you can learn about monsters, mythology, the author’s books and a nice dose of fun. Thanks for reading!


About the Authors

Cait Reynolds

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Long Beach, California with her husband and two insane puppies. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, astronomy, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t researching something that is bound to get her on the FBI’s radar, she writes.


Susana Imaginário

Susana Imaginário lives in Ireland with her husband and their extremely spoiled dog.

Her hobbies include reading, playing board games, hanging upside down, poking around ancient ruins, talking to trees and being tired.

Her debut novel, Wyrd Gods, combines mythological fantasy with science fiction and psychology in a strange way.


Our Chat!

A= Alex
C= Cait
S= Susana

A: Hi Cait and Susana, welcome to Monster Week! To begin with, could you both tell us a little about your books and what sort of monsters we can expect?

S: Hello!

Timelessness combines slipstream fantasy with elements and characters from different mythologies.

The story is set in Niflheim but the exact location doesn’t exist in Norse mythology. Described as a ‘mockery of Elysium’, Aegea is a realm where old mythologies blend in with the fantastical.
The cast includes well known characters such as Odin, Loki, Hel, Hades, Zeus, Artemis and Chiron alongside races and personalities not found in any pantheon, like Ideth, Iosh, the Dharkan or the Narrum. It’s this factor, more than just the combination of different mythologies that makes Timelessness unique.

There are plenty of monsters, of course. Griffins, big rodents, enormous snakes, and little hound hogs are part of the ‘normal’ fauna of Aegea. Then we have the mythological monsters, such as Wyverns, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, Typhon, the Kraken, and the Hydra lurking (mostly) off page (for now ;). But everyone and anything can be a monster depending on perspective. The Dharkan are monsters to dryads, the gods are monsters to mortals, the Nephilim are monsters to gods, and so on. However, the greatest monsters are not fantastical or imaginary beasts; they live inside each character. And the worst of them all is… well, I can’t reveal it now, you’ll need to read at least up to Nephilim’s Hex to find out!

There’s not much actual fighting monsters in this series. Not with weapons or armies, anyway. The monsters are either real characters or personifications of the darkest aspects of our minds, so the conflict is personal and often manifests as a battle of wills, leaving physical combat as a last and often pointless resort.

I always found that, with Greek mythology especially, the real monsters were not the Titans, Scylla, nor even Typhon but the gods themselves because they represent human nature with near unlimited power.

Through time, myths and fairy tales have lived on as cautionary tales about humanity and the perils of our own egos. Instead of retelling them, I adapted them to create a new type of fantasy. More introspective and psychological than usual while making sure some of the more dreamlike and humorous elements remained part of the story.

C: OMG, sounds like Chronodéndron (Susana) totally has a ‘wicked pissah’ of a party going (as we would say in Boston…and yes, my Boston still slips out even though I live in LA now, LOL).

My book is Downcast, which takes place in a location that is actually off the mythological charts in terms of terror, despair, and torment…aka high school.

Here’s the blurb:

What if you had to believe the impossible…then fall in love with him?
Stephanie Starr thinks her senior year of high school is going to be like every other: an ordinary kind of awful stuck between a group of mean girls and her mother’s overprotective mania.

Everything changes when gorgeous Haley Smith walks into her life. She doesn’t understand why he wants her so badly and pushes him away. But, Haley won’t give up. He can’t give up. There’s a shadow running through his blood tied to a curse in hers, and time is running out for them both.

Faced with rogue gods and deadly prophesies, Stephanie must survive the ultimate test in order to uncover the truth and save her mother, her friends, and her town. Nothing can prepare her for what she discovers, and no one can save her from her fate.

Except Haley.

***I’m retelling the myth of Hades and Persephone, only Persephone doesn’t realize she’s trapped in a mortal high school senior’s body…for reasons.

I’m on the fence about who actually wins as the worst monster in the book. It’s definitely not Cerberus (good boi), the Furies are just doing their thing, maybe Demeter (who has kinda lost the plot), or maybe it’s the two most popular senior girls, Jordan and Kara.

Growing up, my mother curated and guided my whimsical reading tastes, and my father got me curious about science, especially the more mind-blowing aspects of astronomy (though, don’t ask me to !math). This combination became my jam, and in my writing, I’m always trying to figure out ways to connect what we believe with what we know. Given that my dad was also a psychologist, I also grew up peppering him with questions about the human psyche and its limits. That’s why in Downcast, I do a lot of exploration of just what and how much has to happen before you can accept what seems impossible?

S: ah! I totally forgot about Cerberus. He’s in the books, I just never thought of him as a monster rofl

C: Cuz he’s not! He’s the bestest little boi…boiz.

S: Love this idea: I do a lot of exploration of just what and how much has to happen before you can accept what seems impossible?

C: Thank you! I like to think of it this way – 700 years ago, people believed comets were an awe-inspiring sign from God. Today, we understand a lot more scientifically about comets, and it’s generally accepted they’re not exactly the word of God…but they are still awe-inspiring.

So, I love finding the links between science and faith, fact and fantasy, and where the line of tension exists in our brains’ ability to believe.

What inspired you to mix Norse and Greek mythology?

I mean, it sounds like the party of the eon, but who is paying for all that ambrosia? LOL

S: Gaea mostly!

I had an assignment in… 8th grade, I think? for Portuguese class, where we were tasked to write a conversation between two historical or mythological figures. I chose Odin and Zeus.

C: That is a conversation I would pay to eavesdrop on.

S: It wasn’t very successful. Apart from the teacher, few knew who they were, and the tongue in cheek style of the conversation came across as me making fun of religion… anyway.. I was young.

I kept reading and writing about mythology… but it wasn’t until I watched Stargate that the idea of combining different pantheons with sci-fi came along.

I like how you described high school as off the mythological charts in terms of terror, despair, and torment. I refuse to write about any aspect of the real world for that very reason!

C: Right? I find it hard to trust anyone who actually enjoyed high school.

Alex arrives, late… But these two had barely noticed!

A: Love the answers! Would you say you both had an interest in mythology from an early age then? My knowledge lies mostly in Norse Mythology, but it seems to me the majority of the mythological monsters, in the West at least, are from Greek Mythology. Is that part of the appeal or just a coincidence?

S: Oh, yes. I can’t remember why or when it started exactly. (been thinking about it all morning!). I’ve always been fascinated by the old gods and their stories. They were so bizarre and yet relatable. I just loved the dreamlike fantasy elements in mythology. The monsters weren’t part of the appeal. My interest was always in the characters and their monstrous actions. If anything I saw the monsters as victims (many of them were created or imprisoned by the gods), not as evil beings.

C: My mom bought me my first copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology when I was in high school. It has all been downhill (or uphill, depending on your viewpoint lol) since then.

In all seriousness, with my mom being from Croatia and my dad from India, I grew up in an environment rich in storytelling, from personal histories to tales of festivals and superstitions. There was also a lot of discussion about comparative religion and philosophy, which I guess is a no-brainer given that Dad was raised Hindu and Mom was Roman Catholic. Dad was a professor of psychology so he and I spent a lot of time discussing the mechanics of human belief. Mom guided me through understanding the role of religion and mythology through history and literature. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it’s a pity we focus and fight over the ‘window-dressing’ of stories instead of embracing the common moral threads that we all share.

As I like to say in my podcast, Drunk Mythology Gals, “Nothing is new.” Evolutionary impulses drive us to take the path of least resistance, and this definitely applies to religious and mythological syncretism. Why invent a monster when you can just rename it? Why create a whole new religious system when you can just import it? Side-eye…I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ROMANS.

I believe that the physical environment, from extreme weather to dangerous flora and fauna, played the main role in creating mythological monsters. You don’t see Jotun ice giants in Greece, but serpents/reptiles, ocean-based creatures, and large wild cats are all representative of very real threats to the ancient Greek livelihood. Though, personally having visited Greece multiple times, I am convinced the deadliest monster that dwells there is the ill-tempered goat. Trust me on that.

A: The Hydra is a formidable and well known mythological beast from Greek Mythology – why do you think so many of the monsters from mythologies and our imagination have serpent traits, or are a type of serpent? Have we got a natural aversion to anything snake like, or do their traits just make them great adversaries?

S: Ah! I’ve had so many similar conversations about this, both with people who love snakes and those who loathe them, I could probably write a dissertation on this topic.
Personally, I love snakes. I’ve had several as pets back in the day (a story for another time!).
Snakes are amazing creatures and grossly misunderstood. There are many reasons for this, of course: cultural, historical, anthropological, psychological, religious… I’ll just focus on the psychological and mythological (or religious) aspects.
Most people have an innate fear of snakes, same goes for spiders or scorpions. It’s a useful evolutionary trait for sure, since many species can be lethal. And yet that is only a small part of why they are so often portrayed as monsters.

People fear what they don’t understand. What is different, bizarre, what can harm them. Well, snakes are pretty weird. They have no legs, yet they move fine without them. They feel strange to the touch. They shed their skin regularly. They don’t blink. They have no expression other than the one most people perceive as ‘angry’ or ‘evil’. They keep to themselves. They have an appetite (yet they are far from the only creature who swallows their prey whole). It’s very hard to communicate with a snake, to train a snake, or even tame a snake. Most species make no sound and when they do is not a pleasant one. The point is not to antagonize but to warn, like ‘hey giant creature, I’m down here. Don’t step on me!’ seriously… so misunderstood!

The truth is snakes are more afraid of people than people are of them and with reason. They are not ‘evil’. Unlike many other animals they don’t kill for fun or pleasure. Their behaviour is guided by instinct and self preservation alone. So how did they get such a bad reputation? Well, my opinion is that the same instinct that prompts us to avoid snakes also makes us slightly fascinated by them. One way or the other, no one’s indifferent to a snake. And then there’s their phallic shape and slithering motion. Not to get too Freudian about it, but I’ve met people who claimed to be offended by snakes (!).
It is no coincidence beautiful, highly sensual (and therefore ‘evil’) women are often portrayed holding a serpent. I’d like to know who started this trend and give them a piece of my mind… anyway. Snakes bring out the worst in the worst kind of people because, well, if ever there was an animal that it’s ‘ok’ to kill, it’s a snake, right? Killing snakes is allowed, is righteous and heroic. The bigger the snake, the greatest the glory. Snakes represent our greatest fears as well as our deepest desires. It’s human nature to fight both.

C: Our limbic system (lizard brain) definitely comes with a lot of pre-loaded programming that includes an instinctive aversion to things that can hurt us–from perceiving and assessing size, strength, ‘weaponry xp’ (claws, teeth), and things that are ‘V’ shaped (true fact – check out ‘Scream: Adventures in the Science of Fear’ by Margee Kerr for all kinds of cool stuff about what/why/how we fear).

The Hydra has some very up-front horrifying traits, from snakes (though, as a Slytherin, I resemble…I mean resent that), to the prospect of exhaustion and eventual defeat. But, it’s interesting to look behind the front-facing threats to what it would have meant to the ancient Greeks. When you cut off one head of the Hydra, two take its place. If this isn’t a metaphor for Monday, I don’t know what is. Joking aside, haven’t we all started a project only to find it’s twice as hard and three times as we thought it would be? If we apply that to making a living by farming, fishing, and herding, the difficulties posed by the vicissitudes of the weather and predators multiply exponentially. It’s an endless struggle just to survive, constantly complicated by unexpected natural forces. (As an aside, it’s worth noting that the ancient Greeks were clearly familiar with the principle of cauterization as a medical procedure. I freaking love this kind of detail, LOL).

The Hydra, to me, also represents the idea of why we say, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Sure, you take the easy way out to solve one problem, but it’s guaranteed that two more spring up to take its place.

Also, everyone always forgets about the crab who came to help the Hydra and got crushed under the heel of Hercules. Poor crab. What a waste of delicious seafood.

A: Who’s the best boi – Cerberus or Fenrir? And who would win in a fight?

Cerberus

S: Hmmm… Well, Fenrir would win in a fight, no doubt about it. As to who’s the best boi… I have to go with Cerberus. Fenrir is no pet.

C: THEY ARE ALL TEH BEST BOIZ.

Seriously, Fenrir just needs adequate positive training, stimulation, exercise and boundaries. Has anyone thought to try clicker training with him? I mean, my puppies got bored and chewed up an entire arm of our sofa (yeah, it’s a good thing they’re wicked cute). Fenrir is destructive because he’s BORED.

And I think the odds would be in favor of Cerberus in a fight. I mean, it’s three heads vs. one. But, I wouldn’t let it get that far because I have an intercontinental ballistic spray bottle just for situations like that.

Fenrir

A: A tough one – your favourite mythological monster and why?

C: Personally, I’m a fan of the sphinx . She doesn’t care that she’s got some serious freaky Frankenstein ‘ish’ going on, with a lion’s body, the head and torso of a woman, eagle wings, and a serpent’s tail. She was snarky and petty, asking riddles that couldn’t be solved and basically playing with her food. She was also super melodramatic. I mean, just because Oedipus solves the riddle, she throws herself off the side of a mountain. Couldn’t she just come up with another riddle? Or was she just a one-riddle pony…er…lioneaglelady?

S: Definitely Jörmungandr. A serpent… go figure. I just love what it represents, the sheer immensity of it. Personally, I don’t think Thor stands a chance against it when Ragnarok comes.

A: I love these answers! Thanks so much to the both of you for taking part!


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