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An interview with J. M. McDermott, author of We Leave Together

Recently, Sean M. Thompson had a chance to talk with J. M. McDermott about his Dogsland novel, We Leave Together.

For the readers who might not be aware, tell us about your fantasy series, the third book of which in the series is We Leave Together?

I lost an uncle many, many years ago to HIV. He was gay. As an adult, years later, right around 2005, 2006, I was living in Euless, TX. The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Metroplex was not exactly always a place that was very friendly to people who were not part of the mainstream religious right of our culture, in the places where I often found myself among the bookstores and bars and coffee shops. Creationism was openly contested and scoffed upon. Megachurches that spouted hate from the pulpit and contested science grew and grew, with evangelists all over trying to pull more people in.

When dating someone, I’d casually bring up Creationism in conversation as a form of self-protection against destructive anti-Science ideologies.

At the time, I imagined what it must be like to be gay in a world openly hostile to that way of being, and having to stay sort of hidden about it. Going to work, going to the store, going home, and always with the specter of the revelation containing an edge of potential violence: verbal abuse or even genuine, physical danger — and God save the transgendered person discovered in parts of that town!

I imagined back into history, and across history, where for so long so many people didn’t even have the word to express what they felt about other people, knowing only the fear of being discovered. I imagined the police officers going around and raiding gay bars, beating up homeless gay and lesbian people who had been kicked out of their homes — rendered homeless — for just being themselves. People around me at the time — not my friends, mind, just people — talked openly with such pride in their voice about the poison of homosexuality and all sorts of awful, spitefulness. And, they talked this way while the very people they openly reviled were probably just a few tables down in the coffee shops, going to a different, more tolerant church around the corner, and/or sitting at the edge of the bar. Hatred is such an awful thing. I hate hatred.

So, I can go on at length about this, because this subject can piss me off something fierce, and I carried that anger quietly for a long time. My uncle was a good person, and he didn’t deserve to be called all kinds of poison, and he didn’t deserve to die of such a poison as that awful disease, and to be separated from his family and community because of their hatred of him. He passed in ‘93, when I was just 13, and I was only just learning the meaning of the word that people called him in my cloistered childhood. Again, as an adult and an author, that was in the neighborhood of 2005, 2006, gay marriage was not even something the average person would know about, much less consider viable to become a law of this land. Tolerance was just not the way things were done, then, for a large portion of our country. It wasn’t even imagined. The only thing that was imagined was the evil and sin of the orientation.

I figured with fantasy I could make this imaginary poison real. I could invent a world where there were people who actually had this poison in them as infectious as others seem to think the gay is, in its way. And, as I would reveal in the books, it wouldn’t matter if the demon stain was real, because they’d still be humans. As well, treating people like monsters has a great way of creating monsters out of people. I thought about the larger message of tolerance, and injustice, and how cities and communities eat themselves, and how it is all connected in cycles of misery and suffering.

I thought that if I wrote about two gay men in love, the people who most need to read about the humanity of the other would assume the book wasn’t for them. So, I wrote a heterosexual love story, instead, with Jona, the disgraced lord of a noble house fallen into poverty and ruin, and a Rachel Nolander, a mystic woman who never believes that she will find peace, much less love. Both carry a stain that makes the very blood and sweat and tears of them a toxin to everyone around them. I wrote about the city that eats their poor, as the large cities of Texas do. I wrote about a lot of things that angered me that I saw in the world around me. I wrote about nature and the city and the relationship between what is natural and what is cultural.


What do you think the role of genre is in fiction?

I don’t know in the slightest, and the older I get, the less I know.

Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

Whenever I take D&D personality tests, and I’ve taken a few, I actually test as a True Neutral Druid nine out of ten, and a True Neutral Monk, for that lingering one.

Beyond that, I will say only ‘Yes’.

How long did it take you to write We Leave Together? Have you ever had a faster turn around on a book you’ve written?

I don’t remember.

I prefer to forget as much as possible about the books that I have written, because it makes it more likely that I will write another one. It is like going to the dentist. If I think about the procedures too much, I’ll never go back.

I also try to write a new kind of book every time, to make sure I don’t write the same things over and over. Every new book is starting over brand new, and I learn how to write again every time.

Who are some of the writers that you admire?

Lately, I have been enthralled with Julian Graq, Haldor Laxness, and Zachary Jernigan. I am writing a lot of science fiction, of late, and I have a very difficult time, I feel, escaping the shadow that Maureen McHugh spreads across my imagined futures.

If demons existed, what do you think their end game would be on Earth?

Demons exist on earth, but we don’t call them that. Daemons of pure energy, pure sin, that exist only to consume and corrupt are here. They have no corporeal form, but they pollute the corporeal with their energy and corruption of human will. We call them corporations, and I think the end game is consumption of all things, a sort of uber-monopolistic entity that touches every industry, extracting everything from them, where the system of extraction is more important than the people who live and work inside the system.

I have written about this twice, in fact. In the short story ‘Hestia’ in my collection Women and Monsters, the only way to preserve endangered species and homeless men is to devour them and turn them into shit. In my novel, Straggletaggle, the end game of industry is splayed out, a perfect rule of corporate law and efficiency, devouring everything until nothing is left of man and soul and green grass and birdsong, and it is the most terrible and frightening thing in the world.

Corporations are daemonic. They don’t have to be evil, but self-interest and self-interested actors make them so far too often for my taste and comfort.

What are you working on currently?

I am nearly finished with a deep space colony of quantum clones, and their unillustrious Astral Navigator. It is a novella heavily influenced by The Opposing Shore by Julian Graq, and The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. In my opinion, much of military science fiction details very exciting things, and much of the actual experience of most military personnel is terribly dull and sort of theatrical in nature, pretending to be at war, or pretending to be warriors, so to speak. The vast majority of soldiers never even fire an epithet, much less a gun, in the direction of an enemy. I thought I should write a military science fiction piece about that, for a change.

For the Word Horde!, by Sean M. Thompson


Word Horde

Thousands of them, warriors covered in the blood of fallen subjects, their axes stained crimson from predicates who never knew it was to be their end.

“Sean, this is not just any group of warriors you’re teaming up with, this is the Word Horde!”

Their swords are terrible in the light of a scalding sun, gleaming with the ferocity of verbs, nouns, and adjectives ready for a fight. I too am ready to do battle; to sacrifice my body, (mostly my fingers and hands) to the cause.

“I will join the Word Horde!” I scream, and the din around me is terrifying, but it certainly gets my adrenaline pumping.

The drums thunder with the promise of hand-to-hand combat, page after page of it.

We charge, individuals made strong by a common goal. To whoop these readers upside the head, and go in for the kill. To shake those in search of literary entertainment to the core. None of them have any idea what’s in store, but oh let me tell you, we got a fever inside us. Inside of me, my ancestors are high off wode, and the thrill of Valhalla, cheering in unison.

Lightning cracks the sky, scorching the horizon, and a storm begins in an instant. I grit my teeth, get ready for it. The smile on my face would set a clunky paragraph to crying.
Rain soaks the land, and a qualifier falls beside me: I grab his mace. A terrible spiked metal ball attached to a wooden handle: I slam it into the spine of an adverb as it advances upon me, shrieking onomatopoeic obscenities.

“Great job Sean, I like what you’re doing here!” Ross says, and he’s in a terrifyingly scant amount of armor, his hair underneath a horned helmet.

“I didn’t see you, brother,” I say, knocking a weak noun off of its feet, ducking as one of my Horde looses an arrow, which slams home into the heart of a particularly poor word choice.

“I’ve been here since the beginning!” Ross shouts, and the slash of his mighty golden editor’s sword is a thing to behold.

A beast of war barks by my feet. I see it’s none other than Elinor Phantom, the terrifying battle hound out for blood with our Word Horde. May the gods help whoever crosses her path of vicious bloodthirsty hunger.

“How many words did you want me to kill?” I shout over to he of the Locked Heart, and he shouts back “as many as seems appropriate,” before he slices another poor word choice down the middle with his powerful blade.

“FOR THE WORD HORDE!” I scream, and lose myself in the chaos of battle, a berserker in a frenzy.

This battle is just beginning, friends. We need warriors to join up with the Word Horde. Can we count you among our number? Do you long to slay boring sentences in the moonlight? Do you worship the Gods of Story, and plot, and Character? Understand, once you join, you must dedicate your energy to the Word Horde. The only way out of this is in a hole in the dirt.

Our Word Horde has anthologies like Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Giallo Fantastique, the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated The Children of Old Leech, and Tales of Jack the Ripper. Our Word Horde has novels, like Mr. Suicide by Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Nicole Cushing, Vermilion by British Fantasy Award nominee Molly Tanzer, and We Leave Together by J. M. McDermott.

“Tell them about the upcoming warriors joining up with the Word Horde!” Elinor growls at me.

“I didn’t know you could talk!” I shout back, breaking a lazy sentence’s neck with my mace, my word killer.

“Shut up and tell them about the stuff on the way!” she barks out, and proceeds to rip the Achilles tendon of a sad antecedent.

“We have Orrin Grey’s new collection Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts coming in October!” I roar, and snap the forearm of a demonstrative pronoun with my bare hands. This pleases me.

“And ALSO?!” she bellows in a timbre I didn’t think such a small creature could emit.

“Oh, and Livia Llewellyn’s collection Furnace in 2016!”

Before I know it, the Word Horde is alone, our foes seem to have retreated, for the moment. Seeing their comrades rendered into so much spilled ink seems to have put the necessary fear into them they should have had from the start.

“Not bad for a first battle,” Ross says, and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Do you always wear so little armor?” I ask he of the curly man-mane.

“What do you mean ‘so little’? This is a lot of armor for me. Normally I have on way less.”

The adrenaline of the battle having died down, I start to seriously question my decision to become social media manager for Word Horde.

“Come on, I’m gonna order a pizza,” Ross says.

And like that, I’m back on board!


–Sean M. Thompson
Social Media Manager

Strike a blow for the small press by nominating Word Horde authors for a Hugo Award

The nomination period in this year’s Hugo Awards will be closing on March 10, 2015, and while I’m under no illusions that my scrappy, horror-and-fantasy small-press, Word Horde, will be bringing home a rocket, I can dream. And if you share that dream, whether you’re a Social Justice Warrior or a Sad Puppy, and are a voting member of the 2014, 2015, or 2016 Wordcons, I do hope that you’ll consider the following choices as you finalize your ballot.


The Worldcon 2015 ballot is available here: http://sasquan.org/hugo-awards/nominations/

Best Novel:

We Leave Together, by J. M. McDermott

Best Related Work (as there is no Hugo anthology category):

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

Best Novelette:

“Of a Thousand Cuts,” Cody Goodfellow, TCoOL
“Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox” T.E. Grau, TCoOL
“Ymir,” John Langan, TCoOL
“Tenebrionidae,” Scott Nicolay and Jesse James Douthit Nicolay, TCoOL

Best Short Story:

“The Golden Stars at Night,” Allyson Bird, TCoOL
“Learn to Kill,” Michael Cisco, TCoOL
“The Harrow,” Gemma Files, TCoOL
“The Old Pageant,” Richard Gavin, TCoOL
“Pale Apostle,” J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington, TCoOL
“Walpurgisnacht,” Orrin Grey, TCoOL
“Firedancing,” Michael Griffin, TCoOL
“Brushdogs,” Stephen Graham Jones, TCoOL
“The Woman in the Wood,” Daniel Mills, TCoOL
“The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesteryears,” Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., TCoOL
“Good Lord, Show Me the Way,” Molly Tanzer, TCoOL
“Snake Wine,” Jeffrey Thomas, TCoOL
“Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild’,” Paul Tremblay, TCoOL

Best Professional Editor, Short Form:

Ross E. Lockhart

Best Professional Artist:

Julien Alday
Matthew Revert
Dalton Rose

Best Fanzine:

The Arkham Digest

Best Fan Writer:

Justin Steele, “Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers,” TCoOL, The Arkham Digest

Should you be nominating/voting in the Hugo Awards, I would be happy to send you an electronic copy of The Children of Old Leech or We Leave Together by email, provided you drop me a line with proof of membership. And thanks for supporting Word Horde and helping us continue bringing you the best independent fiction out there.

The Best Books of 2014: Word Horde Edition

Word Horde published two books in 2014, The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron (hardcover, trade paperback), edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele, and We Leave Together (trade paperback), a Dogsland novel by J. M. McDermott. Needless to say, we were quite pleased to see both books recommended in the following critics’ best of the year round-ups.

Paul St. John Mackintosh, who called The Children of Old Leech “both a superb collection of dark tales and a testament to the highly developed, involved, and even self-referential status of the new new wave of American horror and weird fiction” included TCoOL on his top ten list, here:


Count Gore De Vol has plenty of praise for the tales within The Children of Old Leech, calling it a “fine anthology,” and saying “Solid writing, solid anthology. And, if you are unfamiliar with Laird Barron’s fiction, this tribute will send you straight to the bookstore to catch up.” His top ten list can be found here:


The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

Mlle Ghoul (AKA S. Elizabeth) breaks with the top ten tradition to bring a list of 14 things I liked in 2014, including The Children of Old Leech on a list featuring the best dark music, horror films, notions, and books of the year.


Tangent Online cites a quartet of stories from The Children of Old Leech in their 2014 round up, including “Snake Wine,” by Jeffrey Thomas, “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild’,” by Paul Tremblay, “Of a Thousand Cuts,” by Cody Goodfellow, and “The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays,” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.


The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

And J. M. Mcdermott’s We Leave Together was picked as one of the best fantasy/sci-fi books of 2014 by Foreword Reviews. “This heart-wrenching tale follows the final memories of a King’s man whose entire life has been affected by the existence of demons who walk the earth.”



We’ve got some amazing stuff in store for you for 2015, including two debut novels, Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion and Nicole Cushing’s Mr. Suicide, the anthologies Giallo Fantastique and Cthulhu Fhtagn! (both edited by Ross E. Lockhart), and Orrin Grey’s new collection, Painted Monsters. We’ll be announcing how you can preorder these books soon, so stay tuned!

We Leave Together featured at Kirkus

Today at Kirkus, Ana from The Book Smugglers takes a comprehensive look at J. M. McDermott’s Dogsland Trilogy and the newly-published concluding volume, We Leave Together. Here’s what Ana had to say:

“Throughout Books 1 and 2, it was really hard to predict how all the pieces of this puzzle would fit together. But by the time I finished We Leave Together, everything did come together beautifully. Finding out the exact circumstances of Jona’s death and what happened to Rachel (YES! Rachel! You go, girl!) just about broke my heart in the best possible way.”

We Leave Together by J. M. McDermott

Read the full review at Kirkus.

Recent Reviews: We Leave Together and The Children of Old Leech

Brand-new pre-release reviews are in for our two summer books, J. M. McDermott’s concluding Dogsland novel, We Leave Together (June 15, 2014), and tribute anthology The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron (July 15, 2014).

Here’s what the critics have to say about J. M. McDermott’s We Leave Together:

“McDermott’s third novel set in Dogsland brings closure to the saga of the deceased Jona Lord Joni, whose memory-filled skull yields the narrative. […] Readers will still find Dogsland a grittily imagined fantasy world, with a personality as vivid as any of its residents.” —Publishers Weekly

Read the full review at this link.

And here’s the Publishers Weekly review of The Children of Old Leech:

“Lockhart and Steele collect 17 original stories from some of the shining stars of modern horror, constructing a worm-riddled literary playground from elements of the fiction of horror maestro Laird Barron. The results come across with a coherent feeling of dread, without feeling derivative of the source. […] Hopefully Barron will enjoy this tribute; his fans certainly will.” —Publishers Weekly

Read the full review (including mentions of stories by Molly Tanzer, J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington, T.E. Grau, and Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.) at this link.

The Children of Old Leech was also recently reviewed by C. M. Muller, Scrivener of Weird Fiction, at his blog Chthonic Matter. Of the anthology, Muller says:

“This multifaceted grimoire, and the talent associated with it, is staggering to behold. Its co-editor, Justin Steele, sets the tone in a highly entertaining introduction, one which pits his fictional self against the very ‘carnivorous cosmos’ he so innocently sought to collect. In many like anthologies that focus on the oeuvre of a specific writer, the works themselves rarely rise above pastiche—but this seems to be exactly what the editors wished to avoid when fashioning their tribute to Laird Barron. Steele brings this to the fore when singling out Ellen Datlow’s excellent Lovecraft Unbound as a source of inspiration. Potential readers who are not familiar with Barron’s work need not worry. The tales, while sometimes recalling certain tropes or characters from his fiction, can be enjoyed in their own right; and, I must say, the range of styles on display is consistently impressive.” –C. M. Muller, Chthonic Matter

Read the full review (including detailed mentions of stories by T.E. Grau, Richard Gavin, Paul Tremblay, Michael Griffin, Daniel Mills, Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, Cody Goodfellow, and Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douhit-Nicolay) at this link.

Press Release: J. M. McDermott Returns to Dogsland in Much-Anticipated Finale

We Leave Together by J. M. McDermottWord Horde announces the June 15, 2014 release of J. M. McDermott’s We Leave Together, the third and final book in the Dogsland trilogy.

PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA—In the decadent city called Dogsland, a desperate search is about to draw to a close. Mystical, wolfskin-clad agents circle their prey, Rachel Nolander, drawn to her by visions captured from her fallen lover’s skull. Rachel’s blood is demon-tainted, burning and sickening those around her as she hides in plain sight, passing as a servant in a strange and savage land.

Completing the saga began in the critically-acclaimed novels Never Knew Another (2010) and When We Were Executioners (2011), We Leave Together provides lush, character-driven, fantasy fiction for readers who revel in the small moments, movements, and truths of life. J. M. McDermott has created a world where mere survival—passing as human in a city filled with potential betrayers—is an ongoing struggle requiring heroic actions.

“I like fiction deeply rooted in characters,” explains McDermott. “If my characters act heroically, it is because people must act heroically sometimes. When you are an outsider to society, heroics are required just to lead something resembling a normal life.”

The long-awaited publication of We Leave Together is sure to satisfy those seeking the resolution of Jona and Rachel’s ill-fated romance and new readers alike. Publisher Ross E. Lockhart says, “Having worked with McDermott extensively on the two prior Dogsland novels, I’m proud to have We Leave Together as Word Horde’s first novel release. This is a book of endings and beginnings, lavishly told and peopled by a master storyteller.”

We Leave Together is distributed by Ingram, and will be available in Trade Paperback and eBook formats through most online retailers and better independent bookstores everywhere in June 2014. For more information about Word Horde or to request a review copy, please email publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com.

Now Available for Pre-Order: We Leave Together, by J. M. McDermott

In a city where the rich stage decadent parties as the poor suffer in squalor, where assassins prowl and king’s men keep order with truncheons and force, where gangs of children run like dogs and addicts die in the streets, a demonic strain has taken hold. The shape shifting priestess and priest of Erin have come to Dogsland stalking a fugitive, half-breed Senta Rachel Nolander, and plot to burn her to cleanse the world of her demon-tainted blood. Led ever onward by Rachel’s corrupted lover’s crying skull, Erin’s agents seek their hapless quarry, a frightened girl guided by one promise, one hope, one prayer… We Leave Together.

We Leave Together

Cover Art by Julien Alday
Cover Design by Scott R. Jones

Pub Date: June 15, 2014

Pre-order today!