No Gods, No Monsters is a literary urban fantasy novel that’s a banger and a wild ride from start to finish. There’s several types of grief, there’s community building, cults, werewolf shifters, families falling apart, and much, much more. Heart-wrenching as it is poignant, this book is a treat for lovers of monster fiction and pointed social commentary alike.
I’m so thrilled to have author Cadwell Turnbull on this release day to talk about how he put the book together, from the various perspectives to the themes, and to talk about his publishing journey so far.
Crafting No Gods, No Monsters
What came to you first: individual characters, the cohort, the world-building, or something else entirely?
It is sort of a hard question to answer.
While I was wrapping up work on my first novel, I’d already decided I wanted to work on an urban fantasy novel. So, from that perspective, the genre and general concept came to me first. I’ve always loved urban fantasy and had been reading a lot of it over the past few years.
But when I started thinking about how I’d approach the novel, I knew it was going to be both very political and very metaphysical. The political aspects came with the book, but much of the metaphysical stuff had been in my head for several years, and it was just a bit of serendipity that those ideas hadn’t found good homes until I applied it to this novel. Something just clicked into place.
Individual characters came into the mix after that. Laina is a central character to the book, so she came pretty early. She’s dealing with the loss of her brother, a werewolf killed in an officer involved shooting, and her emotional arc becomes an important thread. There’s some other characters in the background, however, that are older, showing up to tie important elements together. The story kept expanding from there. I knew I’d need more than one book to do it justice.
How did you go about deciding the POV sections?
I wanted the POVs to be mostly from people with limited knowledge of the larger conflicts happening behind the scenes. There’s a tension in the novel between what people think they know about the world and what they’re coming to understand about the world. I was interested in how people navigate that shift, especially when it comes in such a terrifying package. I know at various points in my life I’ve felt genuinely bewildered and horrified by reality. The questions I had, I couldn’t seem to find good answers to. Our institutions of power tend to be pretty opaque from the outside. And I think a lot of marginalized people feel like they’re kept outside, trying to understand the machinations of a world that excludes them. POV seemed like a good way to explore some of this.
From there, it was a logic puzzle. Which characters would offer the best window into different aspects of the story. Which characters had strong personal stories worth giving weight.
Are you a planner, a pantser (flying by the seat of your pants), or somewhere in between?
I’ve been planning recently. Deadlines, you know.
Left to my own devices, I’m a bit of both. I plan sections, but tend to jump around within the story, doing the parts that are vivid in my mind. I also plot this way, starting with what I can see. Then I interrogate those points of understanding until I can see patterns and connections. Feels like digging as I’m doing it. I know I’ve unearthed an important piece when I get a certain feeling.
What kind of research (if any) did you do for this novel?
A lot of research at different times. I did research on the Many Worlds Principle, secret societies, and cooperatives. I interviewed people about swimming competitions, bees, and wood carving. I read academic papers about social organization. I didn’t always know what would be relevant, so I kept writing as I read. Some things didn’t end up fitting, but a lot of things did.
Did you have a favorite scene or moment to write?
I think it is the barn scene near the middle of the book. Multiple layers of the story show up in that scene and it was exciting to try to find the right balance for it. It is a disorienting scene for the characters. I leaned on that, seeing how far I could push it. Hard for me to tell if it was too much, but I love what the scene is doing.
Another scene that I love that is a lot quieter is the barbershop scene from the same section of the book. That scene has a lot of layers, too. But it is all human-level stuff and the way it plays out is pretty subdued. I like how it came together.
As No Gods, No Monsters is your second published novel, is it the second book you’ve written? How much did you know about it during the crafting and publishing of The Lesson?
It is the second book I’ve finished. I started a book a long time ago, before The Lesson, that I abandoned. Maybe one day I might return to that one, but it’ll have to be a very different book.
I didn’t know a whole lot about No Gods, No Monsters until The Lesson was in its run up to publication. I knew much more by the time The Lesson was published. The two books are definitely in conversation with each other, which may have a little to do with that moment in time when they were both happening at once.
Is there anything you know now that you would want to share with Past!Cadwell?
I’d just remind him that empathy isn’t just for other people. I just found out that I have ADHD, but I spent a long time being hard on myself for things I’m learning now weren’t entirely in my control. Giving myself grace now makes me wish it was a practice I’d implemented sooner.
I’d also tell him to think about the career stuff. Before I got an agent, I didn’t spend time thinking about what sort of career I wanted. It felt so abstract and distant. Like most writers, I had no confidence I’d get books published. But thinking about the business of writing is super important, and the business of a career happens whether or not you’re prepared for it. I’d tell him to prepare. Just in case.
What are you working on next that we can look forward to?
I am working on the second book in the Convergence Saga: We Are the Crisis. And a sprinkling of short story projects and collaborative projects that I’ll be sharing as they get a little closer to publication. That’s all for now. The book and teaching is taking up the bulk of my time.
Once the dust settles from that ending, what do you recommend we read next? Which books are you looking forward to?
Recent books I’ve loved that I recommend: Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap. A Master of Djinn by P. Djéli Clark. A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine. Anything Murder Bot but add to that Martha Wells Raksura series.
Upcoming books I want to get my hands on: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn. The last book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.
Cadwell Turnbull is the author of The Lesson and No Gods, No Monsters. His short fiction has appeared in The Verge, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and several anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019. His novel The Lesson was the winner of the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Award in the debut category. The novel was also short-listed for the VCU Cabell Award and long-listed for the Massachusetts Book Award. Turnbull lives in Raleigh and teaches at North Carolina State University.