Tom Lucas has concocted an interesting new compound in the laboratory of his imagination. Research Randy and The Mystery of Grandma’s Half-eaten Pie of Despair (Beating Winward, October, 2023) mixes a teen sleuth with dashes of humor and a touch of cosmic horror.
In the book, longtime mystery-solver Randy and his supernaturally sensitive sister, Charlie, find themselves transported to the “creepy hamlet of Effingmouth,” as the official description puts it. Dark events follow, twisting familiar young adult fiction tropes and Cthulhu Mythos elements as well. The publisher describes it as a “meta love letter to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.”
The Bold Mom horror blog commented on the meta quality this way: “You’re literally reading the account of an author of a popular YA series lose [sic] his mind in the most Lovecraftian manner, while his characters fall prey to a deeper madness, not necessarily of the author’s doing.”
The blend shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read other Lucas work. He served up satiric madness in Leather to the Corinthians, which skewered pop culture and more. He also dealt science fiction readers a little something different in Pax Titanus, an Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Author title, about an intergalactic gladiator possessing the ability to increase the size and length of any body part.
Lucas has also twisted a few fairy tales and delivered dark fantasy with some special Southern flavoring in short fiction.
A native of Detroit, he now makes his home in Florida. He recently fielded a few questions about the new book from Wicked Horror contributor Sidney Williams, a former teaching colleague.
WICKED HORROR: Many genres including comedy and horror benefit from putting two things together that don’t usually go together. A teen detective and the Cthulhu Mythos are truly a unique blend. How did that juxtaposition come about?
TOM LUCAS: As a writer who loves to mix genres whenever I can, I suppose the overall premise came from the usual place – while doing yardwork or jogging, some activity that allows my mind to wander. It took rough form as I was preparing a handful of one-page pitches for a workshop at BizarroCon 2015. I was trying to generate off-beat concepts. Originally, I didn’t think of it so much as a comedy, but more twist on the kid detective story with my love for the Mythos blended in. It was very dark. It was my attempt at Bizarro Fiction, a genre of writing that I am more a neighbor of than an actual practitioner. In the workshop, it was received favorably, but that was just the concept they liked. I had to write the thing to truly see it. The book still has its dark, awful moments, but as it turns out, I have a great inability to write something straight for long stretches. Something comedic always has a way of making it in. In unrelated news, I have never won a staring contest.
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WICKED HORROR: Perhaps important because of a whiff that’s coming not so much from the pie as some early reviews is this question. How meta is Research Randy?
TOM LUCAS: Oh, it’s very meta, although it starts innocently and ramps up. If a reader is a Lovecraft fan, I drop plenty of easter eggs to hunt for. But because I like to make things difficult for myself, there is plenty of authorial insertion, some fourth wall breaking, and eventually the reality within the narrative is challenged.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that readers never actually get to meet “grandma”…at least this time around.
WICKED HORROR: Were you an avid reader of YA mystery books? Those sometimes do blend weird elements with young investigators, though often à la Scooby Doo there’s a logical explanation for ghosts and/or strange phenomenon.
Tom Lucas: Oh, very much so! I was a reader at an early age, and I loved a good mystery that I could sometimes solve. When I was in elementary school, they repurposed a classroom for a library annex for all of their paperbacks. It was stocked with Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown. They also had the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and some clones. I truly loved the interactive nature of those books even if they often telegraphed the solution. Scooby Doo went even further. I remember watching episodes that left out clues completely and being frustrated that I couldn’t solve the case with the gang!
That feeling of nostalgia informed the narrator’s voice quite a bit. Probably why, as I mentioned earlier, the book ended up not as dark as I originally thought.
WICKED HORROR: Who will readers meet in Research Randy? Tell us a little about Randy, and fill us in on who his friends and others in his sphere are? Who’s important in his world?
TOM LUCAS: Randy is a smart but somewhat annoyingly confident kid who doesn’t know how to be diplomatic. This behavior is only encouraged by his high success in solving cases, along with his parents constant and over the top praise. Still, he has his charm.
And although Randy is our titular character, he’s only a part of a mystery solving duo – his sister Charlie is the muscle as Randy’s matter of fact approach, uh, creates some friction with folks. She’s also sensitive to the paranormal but not a fully-fledged medium. Randy comes at mysteries with science and logic, Charlie comes at things from another angle.
Randy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dexter, round out the family unit. Dad was the chief of police in picturesque Serenity Bay, but recently lost his job after a headline-grabbing series of murders, forcing the Dexter family to relocate to Effingmouth — an Arkham-like New England village with all kinds of awful around every corner.
The denizens of Effingmouth are furtive, strange people who don’t care for outsiders. They all seem to be engaged in nefarious plots of one kind or another. There are several personalities that Lovecraft fans will recognize, as well as some familiar locations. Randy and Charlie make a few friends, but those kids are as suspect as anyone else in town. Sadly, the Dexter kids are just too trusting.
WICKED HORROR: So how does the setting or the shift in setting affect the meta-narrative?
TOM LUCAS: This is a great follow-up question. The meta-narrative is that this is the final book in long-running series of kid detective books. Up until this final volume, Randy and his sister Charlie have been solving cases in Serenity Bay, an idealized version of an American small town. They are torn away from this picture-perfect place and dropped into Effingmouth, a pastiche of Lovecraft’s New England. Long answer short, Randy finds himself in a dangerous and unknown environment, where his old tricks don’t play nearly as well.
WICKED HORROR: So all things considered, how scary does this book get?
TOM LUCAS: Now that the book has been out to reviewers, the feedback I’m getting is that is much more creepy than scary. I like that. I think creepy has a longer half-life for readers.
WICKED HORROR: How did developing a voice for a YA-style title go? Was it instinctive or did you strive carefully for the style you deployed?
TOM LUCAS: It was so instinctive, that by the time I was done, I was pretty sure in trying to make it sound like a YA book, it became one. I am not sure what to do with that, ha ha! Still, people should know it’s really not YA unless the kid enjoys a lot of horror already. PG-13, use your best judgment, etc.
There are moments in the book that plunge into Lovecraftian style prose and that required very careful planning and pacing in order to maximize the jarring effect. I enjoyed switching styles and voices. It kept the writing process fun even though I did plan every scene carefully.
WICKED HORROR: Tell us about your dive into the mythos. How did you go about researching the territory for this book?
TOM LUCAS:I was introduced to Lovecraft in the late 1980s though the role-playing game, Call of Cthulhu. In playing the game, I learned all the elements of the Lovecraft periodic table. The game pulls heavily from the literature but recombines it in a way. You don’t play out the stories exactly. So, from the start my fascination with the Mythos came more from the individual aspects than a particular narrative. I suppose that comes out in Research Randy as well.
That being said, I spent a lot of time with Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. By the time I made it to the final page, it was a real Post-it party.
WICKED HORROR: Speaking of favorites, do you have a favorite mythos story? If so, what special magic does that tale have for you?
TOM LUCAS: Hard to pick an absolute favorite. I am certainly a fan of his greatest hits, in particular “The Dreams in the Witch House.” The story blends history, memorable characters, the onset of madness, and a rat human – it’s a good time. And I connect with it on a personal level as there was a brief time in my life when I had an attic bedroom, and spending too much time up there caused the mind to wander horribly. It was terribly claustrophobic and my active imagination worked against me. It was not a good time.
WICKED HORROR: Aside from any already mentioned, what authors are influences or who are some favorites?
TOM LUCAS: British humor, satire, irony, and such has been a great influence — the likes of Douglas Adams, Pat Mills, and Garth Ennis. Reading Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson at an early age warped my mind a bit, but I am so glad that happened.
I go through phases with my reading. The past two years, I have gone back to read older science fiction and fantasy that I either missed out on because I was too young, or revisiting books that were important to me at some point in the past. Current favorites are authors like Andre Norton, Jack Vance, Michael Shea, Robert Aspirin, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Alan Dean Foster, Gene Wolfe, Clark Ashton Smith, Poul Anderson. Gotta love a good used bookstore, eh?
WICKED HORROR: Well, most importantly where can readers pre-order Research Randy, and where can people keep up with your work?
TOM LUCAS: Research Randy and the Mystery of Grandma’s Half-eaten Pie of Despair is available for pre-order at all major booksellers. I can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Slasher as TomLucasAuthor. I also have my other books and additional stories on my website, Room1331.com
Research Randy and The Mystery of Grandma’s Half-Eaten Pie of Despair officially releases Oct. 30, 2023.