It’s not easy approaching a popular property — be it a book series, TV show, or movie — and creating original work within the original universe. That’s just one of the challenges authors Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin) and Kami Garcia (The Lovely Reckless) had to consider when writing The X-Files: Origins books.
Fortunately, both writers are big fans of the TV series, having watched it during its original run on Fox in the early ‘90s.
“Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were brilliantly crafted characters,” says Garcia of why the show spoke to her. “They were both flawed and made mistakes. They felt like real people.” As for what drew Maberry in, he says, “There was a mythology that covered the entire season, and eventually the entire show. It was more like the way a novel is written. I found it absolutely compelling.”
However, there are a few obstacles both authors had to face. First, not only are the beloved characters still teenagers — and therefore not the people audiences know and love yet — but they’re also not the dynamic duo synonymous with the series, as their iconic meeting won’t take place until they’re a bit older.
As a result, both authors approached their books as origin stories, chronicling what it was that set Mulder and Scully on the path to becoming the believer and skeptic we already know.
In Devil’s Advocate, Dana Scully is faced with visions of a recently deceased classmate when a killer who considers himself an “angel” kills teens in the town where she’s recently moved. As the teen investigates (with some help from her older, more believing sister), she finds herself reevaluating what her own beliefs might be — not unlike how she will as an adult.
“They mention a couple of times in the series that she had visions. I always wondered why they never explored why she went from believer to skeptic,” explains Maberry of what he wanted to delve into in terms of Scully’s backstory. “Scully is always willing to believe, but she really does need that proof. It’s never a comfortable acceptance.”
Agent of Chaos follows Fox Mulder as he attempts to find the person responsible for the death of a local teen, as well as the disappearance of another, with the help of two best friends. Much like his older self, Mulder’s tenacious side rises to the occasion as he tries to piece together what happened.
“He doesn’t have an inkling there [might be] a paranormal explanation, but as a teen you’re willing to make leaps that adults are more hesitant to make,” says Garcia of Mulder’s mindset when her book kicks off — some of which establishes the younger character’s interest in space and becoming an astronaut. “At the core, Mulder is incredibly loyal and earnest, but also very stubborn and impulsive. There were always seeds of that in him, but this is the story of what cemented that and put him on the path to Oxford, the FBI, and ultimately working on the X-Files.”
But what neither teen knows is that they’re going up against the Syndicate, the shadowy government organization they will encounter later, in their adult lives. It’s a balancing act that sees each adventure provide the characters with their first brush with the paranormal, despite neither being truly aware of what truths lie out there.
“It’s fascinating how closely their planets orbited each other without them being aware of one another,” says Maberry of Mulder and Scully never running into one another over the course of either book, despite being in the same town at one point. “The Syndicate was always at work in their lives in one way or another, which allowed us to add a level of creepy paranoia and to know that the stuff that they would eventually investigate was not something new. They were just new to it.”
But while the books are rife with parallels and nods to the show, both Maberry and Garcia were concerned with audiences being able to read them without being familiar with the TV series.
“These books had to function on two levels. They had to be an amazing read for X-Files fans of any age, but they also had to be strong thrillers that someone who’s never watched an episode could pick up,” explains Garcia. “We hope it would lead them to The X-Files, but even if it didn’t, they could read and enjoy these as thrillers.”
One way to do that was to base both mysteries in reality. For Garcia, that meant intensive research into the locations and time period — including tracking down ticket stubs to a baseball game Mulder is watching to confirm the time — while Maberry dug into the science of the ‘70s and found himself in familiar territory.
“There was a thing called ‘MKUltra,’ or the Monarch Project. It’s not proven, but a lot of people believe that a lot of psychic research is being done for the military and espionage. They used it as part of the backstory for Stranger Things,” explains Maberry. “That’s in my book and the TV show as that’s what the Syndicate was using to develop super soldiers and spies.”
In the end, all the work they put into writing their respective books has paid off, as Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files himself, deemed them “canon,” or rather, the “official” backstories of both Mulder and Scully, the ultimate reward for two fans of the series.
Says Garcia of the news, “To have a show that you love so much and have some of your work become officially part of that mythology, especially an origin story, it’s such an honor.”