kill farm boy

Exclusive: Delilah Dawson and Kevin Hearne on their new twisted fairy tale novel, Kill The Farm Boy

Contributed by
Jul 18, 2018

Traditional fairy tale territory, with its gilded towers, damsels in distress, anointed persons of destiny, talking creatures, and magical mentors is naturally ripe for parody and reinvention after centuries of honorable fables, ballads, books, paintings, cartoons, and feature films.

But nowhere is this literary kingdom so lovingly lampooned as in the irreverent new fantasy novel from Del Rey, Kill The Farm Boy.

The hilarious parody novel by New York Times best-selling authors Delilah Dawson (Star Wars: Phasma, The Blud Series) and Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles) is one of the brightest reading selections of the summer, and its deliriously fun tone and satirical embrace will have you laughing out loud until strangers begin to look at you oddly.

Kill the Farm Boy - cover

Venturing into familiar storybook lands explored in The Princess Bride and the Shrek Quadrilogy, Kill The Farm Boy chronicles the unlikely rise to fame of a dung-stained peasant boy named Worstley and his chatty family goat, Gustave, as they embark on an epic quest to fulfill his destiny, awaken a sleeping princess, and defeat the cheese-and-cracker-loving Dark Lord of the Magical Kingdom of Pell.

Check out SYFY WIRE's exclusive chapter excerpt from Del Rey to set the mood and tickle your funny bone, and then be sure to stick around for our interviews with the creators!

In a Squalid Barnyard in Borix, Redolent of Feces and Angst

The very worst part about drudgery, Worstley thought, was all the blasted drudging one had to do. Nothing joyful or fun or frolicsome around the corner for a lowly farm boy like him to look forward to. Just more drudgery of a mind-sapping, soul-sucking nature—and on a good day, no cause for involuntary upchuckery.

At least he’d become somewhat accustomed to cleaning up the barnyard after his older brother, Bestley, had been stabbed in the heart by Lord Ergot for being too handsome. Some said barnyard duties were a step up from scrubbing the chimney, but Worstley wasn’t so sure. It had been almost nine months since he’d last vomited at the smell of assorted animal dung, but it was a constant struggle. It was still his least favorite chore, and he had to do it every other day: walk out there with a shovel and a sack among the goats and the pigs and the chickens and those dratted geese that goosed him whenever they could and scoop up whatever foul turds they had excreted since the last time he’d cleaned up. And after that, the stables awaited the same routine. Only then could he have a sad waffle with no syrup on it for breakfast. He didn’t think his mother made them properly: rumor in the village had it that waffles weren’t supposed to be gray.

Like most cheerless days in Borix, the sky was the color of his mother’s waffles. Worstley sighed at the clouds, exasperated. “Would it kill you to let the sun shine through every once in a while?” he said.

The demon geese honked at the sound of his voice and waddled his way, hissing, wings extended in a threat display. Worstley raised his shovel in front of him protectively. “Go on, now. Shoo!” he said.

As he fenced with their snapping beaks for a few seconds, he couldn’t help muttering, “There’s got to be a better way to live than this.” 

Had he been in a musical, he thought, right then would have been the perfect time to sing a sad song about his woeful lot in life while emphasizing his eternal optimism and plucky heart. Although he’d been born in this very barnyard—right there by the bucket of lumpy slop—he’d always felt that he was meant for greater things, for some important purpose in the larger world. But there wasn’t so much as a gap-toothed troubadour around to strike an obliging opening chord rhapsodizing about his shining future. Lord Ergot had hanged them all for singing a little ditty about his poky short sword on his wedding day.

The geese fended off, Worstley checked the position of the black billy goat that occasionally found it amusing to ram him from the blind side and bleat a laugh as he clutched his back and winced. So far the goat was staying still—Gus was his name—but he was watching Worstley carefully from the other side of the barnyard near the fence. Or at least Worstley thought Gus was watching him; it was hard to tell. The goat’s eyes never seemed to point in the same direction.

“Don’t even think it, Gus,” Worstley called.

Gus bleated, lifted his tail, and ejected a fresh pile of pellets out his backside.

“Oh, great. Why do people think animals are cute?” Worstley wondered aloud. “They’re just nasty.”

“Aw, you got it easy, kid,” a voice called from the fence to the right of the billy goat. Worstley’s eyes slid in that direction and spied a diminutive form perched on a post. “Goats ain’t nothing. You want a dangerous pile of poop, wait until you get a load of dragon dump. It’s hot and sulfurous and will burn the hairs right out of your nose.”

“Who are you?” Worstley asked. “Better yet, what are you?”

“C’mere, kid. We gotta talk.”

Keeping a wary eye out for attacks from geese and goat, Worstley drew closer to the fence to get a better look at the speaker.

Whoever she was, she had a set of double wings like a dragonfly’s branching from her back, thin and translucent and veined with iridescent colors. They were the most beautiful things Worstley had ever seen. But the owner of said wings wasn’t precisely the image of a proper fairy. A rather large mole with three stiff and proud hairs sprouting from it was rooted on the side of her left nostril. She had two black holes where teeth should’ve been, and the three remaining molars were capped with gold. A single eyebrow not unlike a furry caterpillar wriggled about on her forehead.

Worstley would’ve expected a glittering dress, dainty as a flower, but such was not in the offing. She wore a shirt that looked more like a used handkerchief, possibly swiped from someone with the plague. Her dull red pants ballooned over the thighs with the right leg bunched at the knee, revealing one blue threadbare sock. Her left pants leg fell to her ankle, but that foot was sadly sockless. Dirt rimmed her toenails, and she radiated a powerful funk that might’ve been fungal in origin.

In short, she resembled a fairy about as much as Worstley looked like a prince.

“Are you all right?” Worstley said.

“Of course I am. I mean, apart from it being too blasted early, I’m fine.” She belched robustly. “Ah, that’s better.”

Worstley blinked. “Right. It’s just that you don’t look—”

“Like what? You’d better not say a fairy, kid,” she said, pointing a warning finger at him. The finger appeared to have a booger affixed to the tip. “I’m a pixie. Name’s Staph.”

“Staph?”

“That’s what I said. I’m here to change your life, so we should probably get on with it so I can do something more productive with my day than talking to some scrawny cheesehole.”

Worstley took a step back and looked around, suspicious. He’d always dreamed of seeing a fairy, but never one that smelled quite so terrible. “Is this a joke? You can’t be a pixie.”

Staph blanched and looked over her shoulder to make sure she still had wings. The motion made her wobble unsteadily on the fence post. “Wings are still there. I’m a pixie. What the puck else would I be? A bogie?” She waggled her booger-tipped finger threateningly at him and cackled.

“Are you drunk?”

“Not as much as I’d like to be. Now look, kid, I’m here to tell you something important. The good news and the bad news is that you’re the Chosen One. You have a destiny, and I’m here to bless you with it. Or curse you, whatever. Anoint you, let’s say.”

“This has definitely got to be a joke. Who put you up to this?”

The pixie rolled her eyes. “Gahh, enough with that, all right? Nobody cares enough to play a joke on you, farm boy. This is destiny, all gen-u-wine and bona fide. What’s so hard to believe?”

“I thought pixies were supposed to be named Butterblossom or something, and they’re, like, I don’t know . . . ​clean.”

Staph’s eyes bulged, and she held up her boogery index finger to scold Worstley. “First, Butterblossom is a no-talent harpy who invades homes at night and eats little kids’ pet hamsters.” She held up another finger. “Second, clean people have no fun and they only bathe because they can’t think of anything better to do. But me, I’ve seen some right bloody business and I know things.”

Worstley shrugged and sighed and shouldered his shovel as if to say that if he had to deal with someone else’s crap in the barnyard, it should at least be the physical rather than the metaphorical kind.

“Don’t believe me? Okay, I’ll prove it to you.” The pixie hawked up a loogie and spat it at his feet. “I’ve got more magic juice than a poisoned apple orchard in Chumpspittle. That’s an ordinary goat over there, right?” Staph pointed at Gus.

“He’s kind of annoying, but otherwise, yeah.”

“Watch this.” Staph glared at the goat and thrust out a hand in a clawed gesture. The billy goat rocked back as if struck and began to choke and spit, its yellow eyes rolling back in its head. The pixie produced a tiny wand and added some extra oomph to whatever she was doing, and the goat fell over.

Worstley dropped the shovel. “Hey, what are you doing to Gus? Stop it!”

“Already done,” Staph said as she lowered her hands and put the wand away.

Kneeling by the fallen and unbreathing billy, Worstley was unsure how to give mouth-to-mouth to someone with such thin, filthy lips full of such snuggled yellow teeth. Fortunately, Gus’s round belly puffed up with air, and he rolled over and onto his callused knees, coughing.

“You okay, Gus? C’mon, buddy. If you’re dead, Mom’ll kill me. Or, actually, that might save me a step . . .”

“My name,” said the goat, newly gifted with speech, “is Gustave, not Gus. Get it straight, Pooboy.” His voice was more cultured than Worstley’s and filled the boy with rage that only made him sound more the bumpkin.

“What did you—?”

“That’s your name, genius. Pooboy. As in the boy who scoops up my poo.”

Worstley bristled and said, “That’s so juvenile, you—” but Staph cut him off before he could finish.

“Look, will you forget the goat and listen to me now? He’s not important, but I’m for real, and I’m telling you that you’re the Chosen One. You have a special destiny. You’re going to do great things.”

“Why me?”

“Hey, it wasn’t me that chose you, okay? I just got sent here to do the deed. If I’m gonna choose a hero, you can be darned sure it’s not gonna be some whiny, pathetic punk named Pooboy.”

“That’s not my name! It’s Worstley!”

“Whatever. Like that’s any better. Anyway, you’re hereby anointed, so get to it, will ya?”

“Get to what?”

“Saving the world. Or changing it. Or both. The aura kind of takes care of everything, and it’s not my problem anymore. All’s I need is a drink and the occasional night of debauchery at the local halfling bar and I’m good. But you’re not good, right? You’re a pooboy named Worstley living in the most wretched earldom in Pell. Time to move on, don’t you think? Find your destiny, get some songs written about you. Do something worth singing about.”

Staph turned to go, and Worstley yelped and reached out a hand, although he chickened out of actually touching her. They were short on soap around the farm, after all.

“Wait, that’s it? I mean, what have I been chosen to do?”

“Gadzooks, boy. Or zounds. I don’t know which is more appropriate in this case, and I get them mixed up.”

“Me, too,” Worstley admitted.

“But I do know one thing: you gotta figure out your destiny your own dang self.”

From Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne. Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Hearne and D.S. Dawson. Reprinted by arrangement with Del Rey Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.”

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SYFY WIRE spoke with Dawson and Hearne about this twisted new addition to the fairy tale legacy, the genesis of the hilarious writing project, collaborating between rounds of colorful cocktails, and where their fantastic new series is headed.

What were your inspirations and goals for this fractured fairy tale novel?

Delilah Dawson: The inspirations were Monty Python, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Discworld, The Princess Bride, and drinking fun cocktails with Kevin while eating Spam musubi. The goal was to pay homage to all of those classics... while completely subverting the obvious tropes in a playful but loving way. And drinking fun cocktails with Kevin while eating Spam musubi.

Kevin Hearne: All those things, absolutely! Underneath all the puns and fun, there may have also been a mildly mischievous desire to mess with the sort of “chosen one” narrative that is essentially a white male power fantasy. Current events have shown us that after decades of being told in stories (and elsewhere) that they’re secretly special, some white males get angry when folks in real life don’t treat them as such. 

You both love to dive into the fantasy realm and ransack the furniture. What is it about this corner of the genre that makes for such irreverent re-imaginings?

DD: Well, for me, I'm a woman, which means my place in most of these amazing classic Fantasy stories is to be a sleeping beauty, a female fighter written like dude with boobs, a sexy wench, or a hideous hag. I still remember finding The Mists of Avalon at age 12 and thinking, "Wait, women can be the protagonists of fantasy books?" So I got to look at a genre of books, TV, and film that I've always loved, throw out the bathwater, and keep the baby, all while adding a dose of much-needed humor.

KH: And so many stories have been erected using the same quest scaffolding since Tolkien that patterns like the ones Delilah mentioned are well established and recognizable, and therefore ripe to be played with. By flipping those patterns around or breaking them entirely we are able to point at them and ask why those patterns exist. Sometimes they exist for a great reason—working together for a common goal (such as a quest) is a crucial ingredient for success in any society. But chain mail bikinis? Uh. The reason that trope exists is pure catering to the male gaze and it should be mocked. 

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What can readers expect as this rollicking story unfolds?

DD: First of all, it's right there in the title: The farm boy has got to die. But we replace him with a mouthy goat, so that seems reasonable. 

Secondly, you can expect puns and laughs. For example, we named the elvish realm The Morningwood, which I assure you is kissed by midnight's dew, and I'm pretty sure there's an elf named Dribblesprig. But the humor comes with a solid plot following what would happen if the side characters of your average fantasy story suddenly became the heroes. There's emotion, failure, light romance, invigorated ham jam, and a trip to childhood fears in the Caverns of Yore. It's a lot like if you and your wackiest friends got drunk and played a game of D&D in which no one was a Paladin. 

KH: You should also expect sextopuses. Well, never mind. Nobody expects the sextopuses. They are unexpected creatures by nature. 

Kill The Farm Boy's chapter titles are hilarious.  Was that part of the plan going in or was it an organic outgrowth of the type of book this was destined to become?

DD: Hey, thanks! We came up with chapter titles as we took turns writing chapters, but our writing and editing process is a very organic back and forth, so we always feel free to embroider and gild what's there. Kevin has a solid formula, and I try to adhere to it, but when I get off course with my adverbs, he fixes them. My favorite title is by Kevin: "Under the Lone Lamppost Where Lurks the Squeaky Marmoset of Side Quests".

KH: Hee! Thank you. We realized that there’s a lot of inherent tension in prepositional phrases that just hang out by themselves, but they’re also an opportunity to have some fun, so that’s a formula we’re going to follow for the entire series. My favorite title of Delilah’s is "By the Bushy Cleft of Mortal Peril". 

How did the collaboration process work and how were the writing duties divided up?

DD: Kevin is one of my bestest friends, and the process is super fun. We plot our stories while bar hopping, hammer out a 30-chapter outline, and take turns writing chapters from front to back. I write a chapter, Kevin edits it and writes a chapter, I edit it and write a chapter, and so on. With lots of, "Tee hee, buddy, that's so funny!" in the comments. Once we have a first draft, we take turns doing revisions until we're both satisfied and the prose is so seamless we can't remember who wrote what. It's a joy.

KH: Collaborating the way Delilah described is so much fun that I wonder why I didn’t try it before. I’m sure it comes down to the fact that we each admire the other’s skills and storytelling strengths. Delilah is wildly creative and hilarious and she pushes me to try things I never would have attempted if I were writing solo. In first drafts we kinda have our individual tics and habits going on, but by the time we revise everything, it’s a smoothly blended hybrid voice and that’s ideal.

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Can you comment on the beautiful cover design by Scott Biel and Craig Phillips?

DD: OMG I LOVE IT SO MUCH! Kevin and I were involved in the cover process, and I couldn't be happier. We recently released the cover for Book 2, No Country for Old Gnomes, and seeing them together makes me incandescent with joy. Our team at Del Rey is phenomenal, and I can't say enough good things about Craig's masterpieces. And his patience in dealing with us, when we're like, "Could the gnome's beard be longer? Could there be more bees? YES MORE BEES!"

KH: I’m in awe of how they capture the magical feel of the books. It’s not the KAPOW-BLAM- BLOODSPRAY aesthetic you get with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, but rather the old-timey classic look of a story that will stick around, so of course my dearest wish is that the stories will prove to be as timeless as the covers. 

What's next in The Tales of Pell series?

DD: Book 2 is No Country for Old Gnomes, and Book 3 is The Princess Beard. The books are all in the same world, but can be read in order or separately. I can tell you that Book 2 has a goth gnome and a flatulent gryphon, but I'd hate to give away too much.

KH: It also has evil halflings and luxurious dwarvelish bath houses and beard magic and semi-sentient clubs of living wood that grow when things get exciting. Good times!