Streator author Angie Barry won’t fault anyone who calls her latest book “weird.”
In fact, she beat everyone to it. It’s right there in the title.
Barry, who publishes under the name Angie Bee, released her dark urban fantasy novel “Weird, USA” on June 18.
The book follows the supernatural road trip of twins Ben and Charlotte “Charlie” Hawthorne and their companion, Olivia Nettles, as they seek out the offbeat, the bizarre and the unexplainable in the lower 48 states.
While the book largely appeals to fans of the supernatural, the 31-year-old author said the book also verges on young adult, or YA, fiction. She said the cast of early 20-something characters and their path to adulthood may appeal to younger readers.
“They’ve just gotten out of college. They’re still trying to figure out what they want from life and how to be adults,” Barry said of the cast during an interview this week at her West Side Streator house, where practically every inch of living room wall space is plastered in Entertainment Weekly covers, Halloween-themed artwork and her handmade, profanity-laced cross stitching.
“So it’s got a bit of a YA vibe, but it more appeals to the supernatural crowd. I think older people would also enjoy it.”
The book contains some mature content, including mild horror and a lot of four-letter profanities.
There are also dozens upon dozens of pop culture references from mutliple eras, ranging from Cary Grant films to Joss Whedon’s science-fiction TV series “Firefly,” from The Beatles to Death Cab for a Cutie.
“I’ve had a couple of friends who read it say, ‘Maybe take out some of the pop culture references,’ ” Barry said with a “sorry-not-sorry” laugh. “At the same time, a lot of the dialogue with the three main characters are reminiscent of conversations I’ve had with my friends.
“We talk with pop culture references. … It’s a millennial story. It’s a millennial group of characters. It’s something I feel is very true of the entire generation.”
The fact and the fiction
Although the story is fictional, much of the content is based on existing American legends.
A key thread throughout the novel is the characters’ encounters with American cryptids, such as the Jersey Devil in New Jersey, a loup garou (essentially a Cajun werewolf) in Louisiana and a Boo Hag (a skinless, man-eating witch) in Texas, among others.
Unfortunately, La Salle County’s own cryptid — the DuPont monster (a sasquatch that supposedly lurks near Seneca) — didn’t make the cut. Barry said space constraints forced her to omit many creatures and locations she wished to include.
Barry invested countless hours of research into the nation’s folklore, legends and mythology — something she’s always been interested in, and wants to believe in.
“I’m a skeptical believer,” she said. “I want to believe that there’s paranormal, creepy stuff out there. It makes the world more interesting.”
Other elements of the novel are neither legend-based nor fictional — they’re real places and events. Barry includes some of the country’s actual oddities, such as the underground inferno in Centralia, Pa., where a coal mine fire has been burning since 1962.
The characters also visit the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, W.V. — an actual festival based on a giant winged cryptid in West Virginia folklore. Descriptions of the festival in the book are based on Barry’s firsthand experience of attending the celebration.
The road trip Barry describes in the novel is rooted in her life goals. It’s a map for her dream road trip.
“I would love to follow in (my characters’) footsteps,” Barry said. “I’d love to go find creepy stuff and prove that it was real.”
During a conversation with Barry about “Weird, USA,” there are bound to be many mentions of “my friend Lizz.”
Barry was in a writing slump in 2009. She was uninspired by her writing projects at the time and halfhearted in returning to them.
“My friend Lizz said, ‘You just need to make a story that’s everything you’re interested in,’ ” Barry said. “Well, I love road trip stories. I love cryptids. I love ‘The X-Files’ and paranormal stuff and ghosts and people who have ESP and telekinesis.”
So she followed Lizz’s advice.
“I’ll just throw it all together in a blender and see what I get,” she said of her writing plan. “That’s how I got ‘Weird, USA.’ “
Lizz gave Barry a writing boost of another sort as well.
Barry shared her work-in-progress with her friend throughout the writing process. Liz loved the characters so much, she asked for permission to use them in fan fiction of her own. She shared her derivative stories with Barry — who in turn loved characters Lizz created so much that they got incorporated into the upcoming sequel, “Weird, World.”
When the sequel is released, Barry said her goal is to include some of Lizz’s stories as bonus material.
“Weird, USA” has bonus content of its own. The first pages of the book feature a casting list in which Barry assigns Hollywood actors to each character, and an appendix at the end includes the main characters’ road trip playlists.
A decade in the making
The novel is Barry’s fifth book — her other works include “The Lito,” a two-volume (so far, with more to come), modernized retelling of Greek gods and goddesses; “Sorry, We’re Dead,” a supernatural noir; and “Sink or Swim: The Search for Aveline,” an LGBTQ+ novel about lady pirates, which she co-authored with Stephanie Rabig.
Although “Weird, USA” is the latest published, it’s one of her longer-term projects, predating earlier published works in terms of when she started writing.
Barry originally started “Weird, USA” for National Novel Writing Month — shorthandedly known as NaNoWriMo, an annual worldwide effort to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. For several years, Barry resumed writing “Weird, USA” for NaNoWriMo, but inevitably other writing projects pulled her away.
Barry estimates she invested 4 1/2 years of writing, then several years more of editing and adding chapters.
“By the time it actually is coming out in print, it’s been about 10 years,” she said.
Because of the extended length of “Weird, USA,” Barry split it into two volumes. She tentatively speculates Vol. 2 will be released within the next year, followed by the two-volume sequel “Weird World.” A release date has not been set for “Weird World.”
A native of Washington, Ill., Barry moved to Streator in June 2017 when she began working as a page designer at The Times. She also writes the weekly pop culture, history and literature column The B-List, which is published Thursdays in The Times.
Buy the book
“Weird, USA” is available exclusively through Blurb at blurb.com/b/8801320-weird-usa.
Keep up with Angie
Stay up to date on Barry’s latest writing projects on her website, theangiebee.tumblr.com.
Embrace the weird
For expanded content on myths, legends, cryptids and other material in the same vein as “Weird, USA,” follow Barry’s website for the novel at ontheweirdroad.tumblr.com.