The Liar Of Red Valley: Interview with author Walter Goodwater

In The Liar Of Red Valley, author Walter Goodwater has created a world full of colourful creatures, magic and mysteries. We sat down with him to find out some of the Liar’s secrets…

Set in the small town of Red Valley, California, where you follow the rules if you want to stay alive, The Liar Of Red Valley follows Sadie who has unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets.

In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.

And though the Liar has power — power to remake the world, with just a little blood—what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?

We spoke to The Liar Of Red Valley author Walter Goodwater about genre, magic and monsters…

When did you first get the idea for The Liar Of Red Valley?

My last two books were set in the 1950’s in Germany and Cuba, which required a lot of research. So for this one I wanted to make it a bit easier on myself so I set it in a town very much like the one I grew up in. Once I started imagining what a fantastical rural California town would be like, the idea of the Liar came first, followed by the King, and the rest came together pretty quickly from there.

If any, what were your influences when writing The Liar Of Red Valley?

Influences are always tricky to enumerate; I’ve got decades’ worth of novels, movies, and video games bouncing around up in my head, and it isn’t always clear what inspired what. I do think American Gods by Neil Gaiman had a part in Red Valley, even just in expanding my mind on what fantasy could be when I first read it. There is certainly a sense of menace and decay in the small towns in that book that I tried to emulate in Red Valley,

Can you tell us more about the town of Red Valley and its history?

Red Valley is the kind of place that exists more from inertia than intent. The people who built the town came to California for gold, imagining nuggets under every hill, in every creek. Then they used to float lumber down from the mountains to Red Valley mills, but that was before trucks filled the roads and the River turned mean. There’s always been something unnatural about the place. Newcomers sense it, and usually don’t stay long. Locals know it for what it is, what they’ve been told all their lives: the influence of the King.

It’s the King who keeps the peace, keeps the dark things at bay. It’s the King who gives unusual gifts to the people in town, as long as they promise to use them how he wants. Most people accept this. A few challenge it, mistake the King’s absence for weakness. They don’t last long. No one is bringing lumber through town anymore, and whatever gold the River had it keeps for itself now. But the people stick around, maybe because they feel safe, or maybe because they’d rather face the devil they know than whatever hunts the foothills and long empty highways. Inertia isn’t much of a reason for a town to exist, but sometimes it’s enough.

Where did you get the notion of the Lie and the Liars?

This was the first element to come into place for me for Red Valley. I wanted the magic in this place to feel very grounded in the setting, magic that wouldn’t make much sense elsewhere. In my experience, small towns have a way of creating their own realities through tradition, revisionist history, and prejudice. Some people see this for what it is, but others lean into it. The former often end up moving away, leaving the latter to reinforce this cycle. These realities barely exist outside the city limits, but for those inside, it can be real enough. You can see how it isn’t a hard leap to make from this to what the Liar can do, crafting new petty realities for a price.

The Liar Of Red Valley
Author Walter Goodwater wanted the magic in The Liar Of Red Valley to feel very grounded.

Our main protagonist, Sadie, could be considered slightly morally questionable – well it is her birth right to Lie for a living! What’s it like creating a character that isn’t quite so clean-cut?

I loved writing Sadie, so much so that I often felt bad for what I had to put her through. But she always rose to the challenge, and that was part of what made her so fun. She doesn’t think she has a lot of tools at her disposal: She never made it to college, barely knows how to be the Liar, and doesn’t even have a car. But as her whole world changes, and the town she’s grown up in starts to turn on her, she realises she has more to offer than she ever knew, even if that means breaking a few rules (and laws). And as she figures out how to be the Liar, she also has to decide whether or not she thinks the Liar is a good thing and if her Lies help or hurt the people she tells them for.

The Liar Of Red Valley contains a lot of mysterious creatures, entities, villains and mythical beasts. Do you have a favourite and why?

I love writing monsters, and it is always a fun challenge to invent something a reader hasn’t seen a hundred times before. Adding to that challenge in Red Valley is the fact that these monsters aren’t always hiding in the shadows or hunting in the wilds, but instead integrated into the community. Just part of a normal Red Valley day. I’m particularly fond of the Laughing Boys, addicts who went chasing a better high and ended up with a demon living inside their heads. I think they’re the perfect example of how the monstrous and the mundane live side-by-side in this strange town, plus I love the image of their creepy laughter floating in over the dry grass and oak leaves.

You’ve built an intricate new world in The Liar Of Red Valley – do you have plans to re-visit Sadie and this world? And are there any characters in the novel you’d particularly like to re-visit?

I wrote the book as a stand-alone. As a reader, I’m always looking for stories that say what they have to say, and then end confidently. That said, in writing the book I did fall in love with Red Valley and its weird, unfortunate citizens. I’m certain the trials of this little town are far from over, and would love to see how those unfold for Sadie and her friends. And while I don’t like to play favorites, it would be hard not to want to spend more time with Thomas and Charles, our out-of-time Victorians in the Gray House.

What is it about genre stories that appeal to you as a writer? And what do you think it is about genre that appeals to us as readers?

The line between those two questions is blurry for me, as I write what I’d want to read. I like to think that no matter the genre, the contract between writer and reader going something like this: Following a certain set of rules, captivate me and tell me something true. Genre is just how we define those rules. What I like about writing fantasy is how it expands what options I have to captivate and say something true. The best magic feels real; the best monsters feel familiar. And of course, it is fun! It’s like painting with a broader range of colors.

What are you reading right now?

I just started Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark and it is brilliant so far. It imagines a Jim Crow-era America where the KKK were literal monsters, rather than figurative. I love his ability to blend history and fantasy in a way that always relevant to the present. I’m also listening to A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel. It is an alternate history of the post-WWII rocket/space race. The story unfolds exclusively through dialogue and internal monologue, so it is a perfect choice for the audio format.

What’s next for you?

The publishing journey is always a wild one, and COVID hasn’t helped much with that. For me, it’s been hard to find much energy for creative output with so much else going on, so I’m grateful Liar was finished before this all started. I’ve recently started writing a new novel that blends contemporary fantasy, mystery, and mythology.

The Liar Of Red Valley is out now from Solaris. Read our review here.