Author Interview with J Trevor Robinson
We talk with the author of The Mummy of Monte Cristo, the exciting new undead adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic revenge tale!
When J Trevor was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his upcoming novel THE MUMMY OF MONTE CRISTO.
He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel THE GOOD FIGHT, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology SECRET STAIRS as the sole romance story in the collection.
He lives in Toronto keeping the redhead gene alive with his wife through their newborn daughter, born Friday the 13th.
(From website bio)
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I am really excited to share my thoughts on The Mummy of Monte Cristo with you all! I have already read it thanks to an advance copy and can attest that it is a fantastic accomplishment: Dumas’ classic revenge tale packed with all the undead and horror goodies you could wish for!
So keep an eye out for our positive, long-form review when The Mummy of Monte Cristo is officially released on October 20th, 2020!
In a world where mankind shares the world with monsters and magic, and where the undead roamed Europe until Napoleon conquered the Dead Plague, Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned against the backdrop of the French Revolution and Hundred Days.
Desperate and with nothing left to lose, Edmond turns to a dark power beyond his understanding to reach from beyond the grave and torment his accusers. He will return to Paris with new riches, a new face, and a new weapon – THE MUMMY’S CURSE.
For today, I have a real treat.
I sent author J Trevor Robinson some questions to pick his brain about what went into adapting this classic, and he was good enough to take the time to make some thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy!
How has the original The Count of Monte Cristo impacted you as a reader and as a writer?
I remember I first read The Count of Monte Cristo back in 2009, on a trip to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding. Aside from Lord of the Rings, it was certainly the largest and longest book I’d ever read up to that point, and the scheming in the plot is still some of the most intricate I’ve ever seen.
One of the biggest impressions it’s left on me though, both from when I first read it and now after adapting it, is the amount of historical context and research it can take to really dive into a book like this. In the original, the edition I first read (and still have) was filled with footnotes explaining fascinating things about 19th-century French culture that Dumas’ original readers would have just known. In my adaptation, I took a lot of care to weave that background into the narrative so that the exposition doesn’t take away from the story.
Another reason that’s important is that when you’re adapting a story that’s so dependent on historical events of the period (in this case, the downfall and return of the monarchy and Napoleon’s time in power) you’d better be sure you understand it enough not to make a total mess of it. Of course, I got to exploit the convenient loophole of inventing things like zombie attacks to simplify some of the subtleties of history!
What do you enjoy about the undead adaptation genre?
The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies! Like, to the point that I don’t watch The Walking Dead (or even Shaun of the Dead!) For some reason, zombies just hit some nerve in my head where I become very aware of how badly equipped I’d be to survive in a world where they were real. Give me a vampire or a wolfman to deal with before putting me into a zombie apocalypse; I’m probably still getting eaten, but somehow it just seems less horrible when it’s not walking corpses doing it one puny human bite at a time.
“The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies! . . . I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader!”
I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader! “Write what you know,” you know? There’s a scene where Edmond reminisces about growing up in a world where zombies roamed the Earth where I drill into that fear a little further. Maybe one day I’ll put out a short story set during the Dead Plague, that could be fun.
What about The Count of Monte Cristo lends itself to this kind of adaptation?
When I started this project, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to write a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” kind of mash-up story that injects monsters and horrors into a classic novel. Of course, to do this sort of thing it needs to be old enough that the original book is in public domain, and the most fun and exciting book that I’d ever read which fit that description was Count of Monte Cristo.
Once I’d picked that, it was pretty easy to decide on a monster to use. I briefly toyed with using The Blob, and have it be a running joke that nobody realized the count was just a wad of pink carnivorous jelly wearing a suit, but having him become a mummy instead was the clear winner. After all, mummies in horror stories are often driven to take revenge on the treasure-hunters who disturbed their rest, so it was a natural fit.
On top of that, there’s a theme in the original story that I don’t think Dumas really dove into as much as he could have, which is how all the suffering Edmond goes through is ultimately due to a complete abuse of government power; one could even say, due to a government with far too much power. I feel like that becomes a more important theme to explore with every passing day, and I’ll get into that again a little bit later too.
Where did you draw inspiration from for the horror / undead genre elements?
Since I try to avoid watching any zombie movies or TV, I’m not really as familiar with the zombie tropes as I could be. In lieu of that, I focused on what makes them so scary to me, like how they can multiply so quickly, or how you never know if one could be lying hidden in tall grass or under someone’s porch waiting to bite any convenient ankles that come along.
As for the mummy’s powers, I had a lot of room to play with there too. Mummy movies tend to give the monster whatever magic serves the plot, so I did the same, focusing on what kind of abilities would help Edmond to pursue his goals. And of course, every monster needs weaknesses; I think I did a good job coming up with some to maintain a level of uncertainty and danger in his quest!
Was it difficult to integrate those elements?
Once I’d settled on the mummy as the main monster, I hit a small problem: Edmond’s story was so well-suited to it that I needed more supernatural elements to really make the book stand out from the original. There’s a line in “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, when Lecter is decorating a room, that goes something like “too much would be too much, but far too much was just right.” So instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.
“Instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.”
What were the challenges and/or highlights of writing this adaptation?
One of the big challenges was knowing what from the original to cut to make room for the new elements I was adding in. Some characters from the original and their related subplots are entirely gone.
Another challenge was giving other characters things to do which served the new story. Let’s face it: in the original Max and Valentine are kind of dull, and Eugenie doesn’t do a whole lot either. But some of the changes I made let them get involved in the Mummy’s plans a lot more actively than they used to be, and I think it really helps the flow of the book.
What did you think was important to preserve about the original?
I felt that the root motivations of the main characters really needed to stay the same, partly because they work so well and partly because they’re so relevant to the state of the world today. Fernand is jealous that Mercedes loves Edmond instead of him, and feels entitled to her. Villefort is a fanatic who thinks that the government he serves is the highest moral purpose and can do no wrong. Danglars is just a bitter and twisted man who likes to see people taken down a peg when he thinks they have “too much” success. If fewer people behaved like the three of them in the real world, we’d be in a much better place.
What do you believe makes this classic story timely for today’s audience?
For starters, a story about life in the aftermath of a major plague is definitely fitting for 2020! The final edits were already with my publisher, Immortal Works, when coronavirus happened; it wasn’t even until early summer that I realized how coincidental the timing was.
There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics. The main plot kicks off because the villains exploit the Royalist/Bonapartist political schism to frame Edmond and have him locked away despite his innocence, a clear abuse of state force.
“There’s also a theme…about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers”
One thing I was very careful to do was not to represent either the Royalist or Bonapartist faction as fundamentally better than the other. The only glimpse I even give of their policies is in a brief conversation between two characters who try to defend their own sides, but end up just showcasing the ways that they both were in the wrong. The point isn’t for people to look at the factions and say “Oh, this one is Conservative and that one is Liberal, or this one is Republican and that one is Democrat.” The point is to look at the system those factions are part of and say “This is a mess, both teams are doing things they have no right to do, and a lot of innocent people are getting hurt for nothing.”
(and just like the plague angle, I had no idea just how much more fitting that would be by the time the book released!)