The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

Los Angeles is often seen as a magical city, but it’s never been magical in quite the same way as it is in California Bones, the latest novel by Greg Van Eekhout. Here it’s dark and noirish and sinister in all the good ways — and yes, before you ask, not only did I like the book, I gave it a cover blurb. Here’s Greg to give you a glimpse of how California Bones came to be.


Wizards get their powers from eating the remains of extinct magical creatures, and the La Bra Tar Pits in Los Angeles are a particularly rich source of such remains. There, osteomancers have retrieved the preserved skeletons of mammoths, dire wolves, Colombian dragons, American wyverns, Western griffins, and suchlike. Eat the creatures’ bones, get its power. Eat an osteomancer who’s eaten the creature’s bones, and you get not just the creature’s power, but remnants of whatever the osteomancer has eaten before.

That’s the basic premise of California Bones, the first volume in my osteomancy trilogy, and much like the bones, the idea came right from the tar pits. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think the tar pits were the most amazing things in the universe. Ponds of dark, bubbling, eldritch goop lurk in the middle of town, and concealed by the goop are the bones of some of the most charismatic megafauna that ever walked the face of the Earth. And that’s not even made up. It’s for reals. And it’s awesomely weird. All it took was a bit of a nudge to push it over into fantasy.

I wanted to write about a place where the tar pits were the de facto center of the city, where the Los Angeles that grew up around them matched their weirdness. I drew upon the Venice canals, built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney to replicate Venice, Italy, complete with gondolas and the whole works. In my version of LA, the city’s chief hydromancer, William Mulholland, has grown the canals into a major transportation network and expanded them to form a mandala of churning hydraulic power that generates a magic to rival that of the osteomantic bones. Disney’s theme park pumps an extract of unicorn horn in the air to make visitors feel like they’ve come to the happiest place on earth. Griffith Observatory, the copper-domed landmark building overlooking the Los Angeles basin, is a royal palace. Tito’s Tacos is still Tito’s Tacos. Likewise, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. I wanted readers familiar with LA to take pleasure in how I’ve altered things, and those who aren’t familiar with or don’t particularly care about LA to still find it interestingly strange.

I wanted to tell a heist story, and I wanted to tell a story about living and surviving under an oppressive regime, and I wanted to tell a story about how, in a world where you can trust no one, forming a created family of friends whom you trust with your life can be a powerful, subversive act.

I wanted to write about all these things. So I wrote a short story. Because novels? Novels are hard. Who writes novels? Weirdoes write novels. And when I was forming all these ideas, I wasn’t yet that kind of weirdo. The result was “The Osteomancer’s Son,” which appeared in Asimov’s, and if you want you can listen to a very fine podcast version at the venerable PodCastle. Long after the story was published, ideas and the world and the characters kept scratching at me, and I took that as a sign that maybe I wasn’t done with them yet. I was also encouraged by a non-dismissible number of people who told me they wanted more. There was even a Hollywood nibble that ultimately amounted to nothing but at least made me feel shiny for about a week. So, when I finished the second of two middle-grade novels I was contracted for, and I wanted to spend some time writing stories about adults who use adult language and find themselves in adult situations, the time felt right to step into the tar.

If you decide to give California Bones a try and end up liking it, I can tell you that you won’t have to wait long for the rest of the trilogy. Book 2, Pacific Fire, is scheduled for January 2015, and Book 3 is already in my editor’s hands. Along the way, there’ll be dead seas, evil twins, sabotage missions, scams and heists, catacombs beneath Beverly Hills, a patchwork dragon, scary children, palace intrigue, family legacies, and tacos. These are the things. I had a lot of fun writing about them, and I hope you enjoy some of the same things I do.


California Bones: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the publisher’s California Bones site. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

17 Comments on “The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout”

  1. One of the first places I visited when I (briefly) moved to SoCal was The La Brea Tar Pits.

    I was fascinated. My (then) girlfriend was bored. I should have seen this as a bad sign at the time…

    Anyway, happy release day, Greg!

    You mention some landmarks…but is there still a Pink’s? Can I get In N Out in your changed Los Angeles? Inquiring minds want to know! :)

  2. Is there any way to get at “The Osteomancer’s Son”, or at least a summary of it? The title (and parts of the world Greg is describing) rings a bell, but I have no idea if that is really what I remember. Can someone help, please?

  3. Sounds interesting – I’ve added it to my Amazon UK list. The paperback is out here in Jan 2015.

  4. Paul Weimer: Yes, there still is a Pink’s in the world of the book, but it’s not actually mentioned because it’s not the kind of place my characters would hang out. Too visible. I had a scene at Carney’s, my Hollywood hot dog place of preference, but it didn’t make the final cut. Same for In N Out.

    500woerterdiewoche: “The Osteomancer’s Son” is up for free at PodCastle right here:

  5. Since the tar pits are about the only thing I like about LA, I’m into the idea. Add in evil twins and tacos and I’m definitely giving this a read.

  6. Tito’s Tacos?!?! How excellent. What a great choice for your novel!

    There’s definitely something otherworldly about those … things. My descriptive powers fail when it comes to Tito’s Tacos. (Hopefully the author’s powers exceed mine.)

    They bear only a faint resemblance to the Platonic Ideal “taco”. And the taco sauce is certainly not salsa fresca or pico de gallo, as is served at more traditional Mexican food restaurants. If you are looking for authentic LA Mexican food, then Tito’s Tacos is not what you’re looking for.

    But still. When you bite into one of those … things … you’re immediately addicted. You cannot put the … thing … down until you have devoured it and picked up another. There’s no rational explanation as to why this would be the case, but it most certainly is the case. Which is why that place and that food seems to fit so well with the setting.

    Tito’s Tacos must be a node of power because it is definitely channeling something unworldly.

    We used to do lunch runs from El Segundo to Culver City and we would buy maybe $75 or so worth of those .. things. (Which meant the runner could skip the huge line because the boxes and bags would be waiting for pickup. Very important at lunch time.) First timers would order one or maybe two, and then realize they should have ordered three or maybe four. An order of five was frowned upon (on general principles) but we all understood. You had to do what you had to do.

    Sorry for the long post. Bottom-line: Greg had me at Tito’s Tacos.

  7. It’s strangely comforting to think that Tito’s Tacos will never change even while the face of LA undergoes several makeovers. Plus there is a totally weird magic to the city’s design (or lack thereof). I love this concept!

  8. Tito’s- yay!! (Greg- didn’t you have an audio story starring Tito’s?)

    I’m looking forward to this one.

  9. Yeah Roscoe’s! But I lived in L.A. in the 70’s, and I wanna see Tommy’s Burgers, and steak at the Pantry! You’re absolutely right, it doesn’t take a huge leap to make L.A. Very Weird. I suspect this book will make me nostalgic, in some bizarre giving-me-the-willies fashion.

  10. Between these Big Ideas posts and Chuck Wendig’s Five Things I Learned Writing… posts, I am going to go bankrupt. But I will have books to read as I huddle under the bridge.

  11. I’ve been waiting for this novel since I first heard The Osteomancer’s Son on Podcaster. I will buy this NOW.

  12. Reblogged this on MentatJack and commented:
    I went out Friday to support Greg and get a signed copy of California Bones. Saw some friends. Made some new friends. Mourned that this would be the last signing before Mysterious Galaxy closes its Redondo Beach location. Greg gave us the option of 2 readings, a 7 minute and 39 second funny section or a 5 minute serious section. We chose the former. It involved a meeting at a restaurant at Pico and Sawtelle. The martial arts studio that introduced me to Kenny who introduced me to Jenn who introduced me to Greg is also at that intersection. Small, magical world.

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