Crypotozoology: Nonfiction to Fiction?

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on March 3rd, 2015


Interview with cryptozoologist Matt Bille, author of The Dolmen.

What’s the background to your novel-writing?

I’ve written two well-researched and -reviewed books on zoology and cryptozoology, Rumors of Existence (1995) and Shadows of Existence (2006). I have a third in work, and I ran a newsletter (Exotic Zoology) back in the 1990s. I’m also a science writer and historian in a number of other areas. Since I’ve been working at being a novelist for a long time, it was natural to meld cryptozoology into novels. I’m a defense/space consultant by day: that job teaches you to get every last detail right, and my space history The First Space Race had 499 endnotes and got top reviews from the best space historians. So I keep that approach with cryptozoology, in fact and in fiction.

What was the genesis of The Dolmen?

I actually wrote another cryptozoology novel first but haven’t had success with it yet (I’m still holding out for a big-name publisher for that one, at least for now). I started The Dolmen as a purely commercial horror effort with lots of violence, but as I worked on it, it morphed into something else. As a science writer, I couldn’t resist asking all the questions about where the “monsters” come from and how they’ve survived and how their metabolism works. So the novel morphed into something that’s still an adventure with fast-moving action and lots of death (though not as detailed as in the works of someone like Edward Lee) but also offers what I think are great characters and some thoughtful bits on biology, folklore, and other topics.

How did you pick your publisher?

I got into this game when the Big Six New York publishers were pretty much the whole deal. As I said, I still hope they’ll pick up my novel Apex Predator, but it’s more about the challenge at this point: can I climb Mount Everest as a novelist? (I need a new agent for that, if you know a good one.) I had a verbal agreement with my friend Carol Hightshoe, who basically IS Wolfsinger Publications, that if I didn’t land a big publisher for The Dolmen in two years, she would bring it out, and it happened that way. My agent at the time – wonderful woman, just not the right agent for me – thought I was crazy, but I’d made the agreement and it turned out to be a great deal. I don’t have big-publisher marketing support, but who does these days? And Carol (and her husband, a firearms expert) had a lot of good suggestions and no bad ones.

That cover art looks familiar to a cryptozoologist.

The cover is the work of the best-known artist in cryptozoology, Bill Rebsamen. Bill likes the challenge of creating creatures with no specimens or photographs to work from. I had the “korrigans” clearly in my head, and it only took a few iterations to get them exactly right. I asked him to meld in the Los Angeles City Hall building and make it foreboding. The result is a cover that will stack up to anything they put on Stephen King’s books.

What about the police procedural aspect of the novel?

I like procedurals, and I liked the idea of dedicated cops who do everything right but can’t catch the killer because he’s not human. I talked to the LAPD, read a lot of books, articles, and websites, and (I’ll admit this) cribbed a couple of details like a favorite sandwich shop from the brilliant novels of Michael Connelly. I went to college in LA and have seen the locations I describe, but it’s been a while. I actually had a chance to ask Colorado’s Attorney General what cops would really do if they had a killing where a human being couldn’t have done it. He said, “Well, we never close a murder, but all we could do is keep the file open.” The last note is that cops will like The Dolmen. I know there are bad cops in the LAPD and everywhere else, but everyone writes about the bad cops. I wrote about good people who can’t believe what’s happening but try their damndest to protect their city.

Were there any special challenges that make you laugh now?

Remember the iconic LAPD headquarters building, Parker Center? I’ve been in that building and I wrote the details in, and then the cops moved to the new Police Administration Building near City Hall. I watched TV shows that included the new building, downloaded a lot of PR stuff and news articles, and so on. It took a lot of work, and I still don’t like it because the PAB just doesn’t have the character Parker Center did.

Will you be doing anything else with The Dolmen?

The beginnings of a sequel are in my head (I left a door open in the story), but I’ll have to have some financial success with The Dolmen to make that worth the effort. It would make a good movie, and it wouldn’t cost much – there’s a small core cast and a limited number of locations – and hopefully I can find an agent who can open those doors. Big studios want big sales, but, as I said, this could be done on an indie budget if you can just pay enough to get the “creature” effects right.

What other cryptozoologists have written novels?

None of the big names in writing cryptozoology books have tried their hands at fiction. It lets you explore a lot of things. There are “working” cryptozoologists who write fiction: J.M. Bailey, who wrote the Eve series about sasquatch, is a dedicated squatch-hunter in real life. People like Loren Coleman and Karl Shuker have just never had the inclination, though I think they’d be good at it. Tim Dinsdale’s nonfiction writing was pretty good – with all his adventures, think of the Loch Ness novel he might have written. I wish Ivan Sanderson had tried novels, too. I hate it when people throw a monster into a novel and hand-wave the science. The scientifically-minded cryptozoologists know a lot of good details.

Whose crypto-novels do you really like?

The titan today of course is Steve Alten: I wrote VERY rough reviews of the first two Meg novels, but he keeps getting better – The Loch is a terrific novel, and Vostok is a wild ride. Max Hawthorne is a fascinating writer because he did it the independent way and managed to make Kronos Rising a really big hit. I gave him a bad review for the science when it came out, but I’ve drawn it back a bit: novelists should get some freedom to play with their themes, and he’s a champion fisherman – he knew when he was taking liberties. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs centered their last novel, The Island, on a cryptozoological species. Petru Popescu, Eric Penz, Matt Willis, Joseph Wallace (Invasive Species is the scariest thing I ever read) – a lot of good books are out there. Lesser-known names like J.M. Bailey write quality stuff as well. Greig Beck created an enjoyable military-vs-cryptids adventure genre. I should mention Briar Lee Mitchell. When I saw Big Ass Shark (best cryptotitle ever), I dismissed it as a Meg ripoff before I’d read it. That was unfair: it’s a good novel.

What else will we see from you soon?

Well, I’m marketing Apex Predator – “Jaws meets Jurassic Park in Alaska,” but (in my humble opinion) with more character depth than either. I actually got a rejection from a publisher who said it had “more literary merit” than they were looking for. I have a fantasy completed, Raven’s Quest, that I like a lot. I’m working on my next nonfiction, Sharks, Seas, and Serpents, about marine life real and legendary. I have a slew of fiction and nonfiction in various stages of development and completion. Since it takes years (given my day job and my insistence on thorough research and dozens of drafts) to write a book I’m happy with, I actually have to think carefully about what I write. I’m 55 and in good health, but even if I have 30+ years left, there are some books I’ll never write. I have to prioritize.

Any advice for the new writers doing cyptofiction at small presses or self-published?

Two HUGE pieces of advice. One, perfect your English grammar and sentence structure or work with someone who can. The market is flooded with stuff I simply can’t read, and some original ideas go to waste. The other is about covers. So many novels have garish, amateurish, and/or self-made covers. Spend the money – it’s not much – and get someone like Bill to do it right. You’ll stand out. Some other thoughts: for one, study marketing. It doesn’t come naturally to me. My publicist friend Shannon Bohle is trying to teach me, but it’s like teaching my dog to play piano. And listen to advice. A lot of people with different backgrounds read The Dolmen for me, and it’s much better for that. Oh, I can’t forget this one: have a professionally done website. I like If you want to write, do it – just do it right. Put in the hard work. Think how many cryptids are still out there to be explored in fiction.

What non-crypto authors would you recommend to help writers sharpen their skills?

Dana Stabenow is superb at making the land a living character, though she told me she thinks C.J. Box is better. (I told her I agreed Box was good, but she was still the best.) Barbara Kingsolver can do it, too. Her descriptions of nature are matchless. Stabenow is also the master of infusing humor into life-and-death moments. I hadn’t realized that was possible. I hope she writes a crypto novel: putting her Aleut detective Kate Shugak in a novel with Alaska’s Hairy Man would be hilarious. Preston and Childs are the kings of working technical, scientific, and historical detail into their novels. Dean Koontz said you can make people believe one huge improbability if everything else is nailed down in reality. That’s a good idea (so is finding a copy of Koontz’ book How to Write Best-Selling Fiction). And read Stephen King’s On Writing: he cuts through so much crap to the essence of good writing. Anything on writing by agent Donald Maas is good, too. Maas must be smart: I asked him to be my agent and he said no.

So where do we buy The Dolmen?

My favorite question. All the online booksellers have it in hard copy and the major e-formats, as does Wolfsinger Publications. Or contact me directly for a signed copy at $14 – Amazon sells it for $11.96, but it costs me $4 to mail them. If you bought it somewhere and want it inscribed, by all means send it to me, but please include your postage. My contact is

Any last thoughts?

It’s been fun. More fun is ahead, I hope.

2 February 2015, copyright Matt Bille

See also:

The Dolmen
The Road to Loch Ness Reviewed
Matt Bille Reviews Abominable Science
Seeing Sea Serpents
Cryptozoology or Parapsychology?


About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

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