What got you into werewolves and how old were you when you discovered them?
I was six years old when I first discovered werewolves. It was the mid-80s, and a VHS copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video had fallen into the hands of a friend, probably via parents who were less concerned about what their kid watched than my own.
We watched that video dozens of times in his rec room, mimicking the dance moves, smashing down stacked couch cushions like the walls of the house under attack from zombies and freaking out whenever the ending scene arrived, with MJ’s yellow eyes and that Vincent Price laugh. It was fun, and scary enough to feel dangerous to a six-year-old. What really captured me, though, was the werewolf/werecat.
Of course I was fascinated by the transformation scene and the creature design, and years later I would get even more obsessed with the prototypical work Rick Baker did in “An American Werewolf in London”. What truly hooked me, and what still keeps me interested 30 years later, is the idea that a normal-seeming person could suddenly undergo a metamorphosis like that. A change that physically turned a person into a monster, and – even more dangerous in a way I could feel but not explain at that age – erased all human connections between the monster (who was also a victim, in a way) and the people he was close to.
I wanted to understand that monster, befriend that monster and BE that monster all at the same time. Not much has changed since then, except I can’t really do the Thriller dance anymore.
Do you share the same love of other types of shapeshifters?
Not really. I like the idea of shape-shifting in general and were-creatures specifically, but werewolves are on a whole other level. Without the folkloric rules or some other system to govern the process, the rules of shapeshifting can get kind of fast and loose. The closer the shape-shifting gets to a superpower, the less interested I am. If whole-body metamorphosis can happen on a whim, with no cost to the subject in terms of energy, pain, loss of agency, or, like, the problems that come with “suddenly being a dinosaur in a mall”, I find it unbalanced and dull. Give me a story where shapeshifting is a problem, or a flawed tool used to solve a different problem, and you have my attention!
What do you think it is that attracts you to werewolves?
Animals! Nature! Wow! Some folks are captivated by the powerful majesty of the eagle, the grace of the deer, or the rich and complicated social structure of pack animals. I like those things just fine, but what I like even more is 230lbs of twitchy lean muscle with claws and fangs, draped in shredded clothes and a pelt like greasy grey shag carpet. Werewolves are monstrous, often grotesque amalgamations of human and animal characteristics, and I find that fascinating on many levels.
Much of what got me into werewolves when I was six years old still holds true today. Central to that is the concept of creature A becoming creature B, or better still, some combination of A and B that expresses characteristics of both. That applies to physical form and cognition. To me, the only thing more dull than a werewolf that’s just a “regular wolf” when transformed is a human-wolf hybrid with a 100% human brain. That’s a costume, or a superpower – such a creature is not interesting to me because there’s no challenge. No trade-off to temper the sudden acquisition of strength, agility and animal prowess.
Hybridization of the body and mind provides a fascinating context for testing and playing with the variables that make up a subject’s inherent self-ness. How much of what you think of as you would remain if the mental and physical signifiers you unconsciously used to guide yourself turned out to be flexible, instead of set in stone – or even scarier, manipulatable by outside forces as arbitrary and remote as the shape of the moon?
Are you still you if your hands are a different shape? If the scar you got at 14 by sliding into third base wrong is obscured by fur, or erased entirely by new skin? What if the temperament that informs your personality was merely a function of hormones that are now completely out of whack because the brain controlling their production decides that “eat ten pounds of living flesh ASAP” is more important than “re-write this buggy code so I can get a promotion”?
On a simpler, more eager-to-be-gratified level, I think werewolves are ugly and I love that they’re ugly. And mean. And that when they’re portrayed at their best, they embody human and animal in a way that showcases the worst of both worlds. In my view, when he or she is infected, even the most carefully-groomed human should turn into something conventionally described as a “monster”. No perfect white fangs or blow-dried pelt!
Much can (and should) be made of the werewolf’s metaphorical power. They’ve been used to great effect to explore topics like dysphoria.dysmorphia, beauty standards and the juxtaposition of humankind and nature… but there’s also a brutal, simple wholesomeness in the idea of a monstrous-looking creature doing monstrous things.
Do you prefer a gory werewolf tale or a more modernised, romanticised version?
As you might guess from my answers to previous questions, I don’t have much use for stories, movies or comics where the werewolves are gentle, misunderstood pack animals or dark, brooding heart-throbs. I’m not adverse to romance and I’m not a gorehound, but if I have to choose between the two options, I’ll take the gory tale every time. The kind(s) of werewolf(ves) I like lend themselves to mayhem and terror, since they tend to be monsters, and monsters don’t generally resolve conflicts through constructive dialogues or high-drama love triangles.
Modern werewolf stories don’t have to be romantic, and romantic werewolf stories don’t have to be insipid or hackneyed. I haven’t done as much reading lately as I would like to, so I’m probably missing some really excellent modern werewolf tales. Penningtonbeast and Tah the Trickster are two people whose werewolf book recommendations instantly get added to my “must read” list, regardless of how romantically modernized the stories are. “Love on the Mind”, a short story by Quebecoiswolf in issue 2 of WEREWOLVES VERSUS, the werewolf anthology I edit, is literally a romance set in the present time, and it’s one of my favourite reads of the last few years.
What does the ideal werewolf look like in your opinion?
I don’t have one single “ideal” vision. I’m a werewolf gourmand. Give me the buffet. Grey fur, black fur, the weird scraggly non-fur of the Underworld lycans. Yellow nails like a stiletto manicure or those big thick nails that grow right out of the ends of their fingers. Human posture, crouched-over all-fours posture. Part of what makes werewolves so interesting to me is the variety of combinations.Having said that, if someone forced me to pick just one screen-based werewolf to cite as the “ideal”, I’d have to go with the werewolves in the BBC version of “Being Human”. Werewolf-mode George and the others (no spoilers!) are depicted with practical suits and makeup, which means their bodies have a humanoid shape, but the execution of the monstrous lupine features is nearly perfect. Great claws, wonderful wolf-like heads, and the suit performers always kill it (and their victims). Plus, no tails!
What should a werewolf NOT look like in your opinion
As with any buffet, there’s some stuff I just don’t want on my plate. Any werewolf I design will almost certainly never have
the appearance of an actual, literal wolf
a wolf’s head on a human body
a regular human face but with big eyebrows and an underbite
The first two are tropes that seem to have been absorbed into modern-day werewolf canon, despite not making a lot of physiological sense (although, yeah, werewolves aren’t real, so I’ll accept any charges of pedantry against me). The latter three, taken at face value, are outlawed for no deeper reason than they’re just boring.Having said all this, I believe strongly in diversity, lycanthropic and otherwise. It’s a big buffet. Just because I don’t personally like something doesn’t mean it’s not good or fun or powerful to someone else.
Give a cinematic example of a werewolf that didn’t quite meet your expectations.
I’m going to have to pick on Professor Lupin from the film adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. I think initially they were intending to film him as a distinctive-looking practical effect – a person in a suit that resembled a more ferocious and lupine (no pun intended) version of what ended up in the final cut. For some reason they elected to go with a purely CG creation, and the design didn’t translate well. He looked scrawny and ratty and not very dangerous.
Stepping away from the cinema side of things, what is your favourite werewolf novel and why?
It’s a tie between something you can read right now (M.D. Lachlan’s “Fenrir”, which I reviewed on my site in 2013) and something you can’t (Michael Roukas’s in-progress novel “Wolf and Iron”, a partial draft of which he shared with me).
“Fenrir” is the second book in a four-book series. Reading it is like hiking up the side of a beautiful mountain that can kill you with one wrong step. It’s brilliant storytelling wrapped around the most brutal and simultaneously sympathetic depiction of a werewolf I’ve ever read. I go into much more detail in my review, but suffice it to say, “Fenrir” contains everything that I love about werewolves – the body horror, the giddy violence, the psychological struggle – and it also tells a story I’d read over and over even without the werewolf content.“Wolf and Iron” isn’t out yet and I don’t even know if that’s going to be the official title. Out of respect for Roukas I won’t go into detail, other than to say that in terms of narrative finesse, world-building and character development, it already supersedes the material it’s paying homage to. In my werewolf canon, anyway.
Back to Cinema, what is your favourite werewolf film?
“Silver Bullet”. I’m ready to take some heat on this answer, but you did ask about my “favourite” werewolf movie, and not which one I think is “the best”.
I saw “Silver Bullet” on TV sometime in the late 80’s, and it was much easier for a young AQ to understand than “An American Werewolf in London”, which had many interminable non-werewolf scenes and a part in a movie theatre during which the adults would shoo me out of the room. “Silver Bullet” had a kid protagonist, a junior crime-solver angle, the coolest wheelchair ever, lots of werewolf scenes (including that amazing nightmare sequence in the church), a connection to that King guy who wrote those big horror novels I wasn’t allowed to read yet, and a mysterious force of nature called “Gary Busey”. The werewolf lives until the end, and gets killed not because he’s a werewolf, but because he’s a dumb asshole. There was a lot there for an 80’s kid to love, and 30 years later, it still has a place in my heart.
Do you have any werewolf related songs to recommend?
Cat Power’s cover of “Werewolf”, and “Furr” by Blitzen Trapper are two favourites that explicitly mention werewolves. “Demon Seed” by Nine Inch Nails is a little more abstract, but the lyrics are about something dark and dangerous growing inside the narrator, so it’s easy to lay a werewolf template over it, and sonically it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to the anxiety I imagine a werewolf might feel in the minutes between moonrise and transformation. Lastly, “As the Sun Sets” by Colin Janz is sort of the opposite of “Demon Seed”. It was written specifically for WEREWOLVES VERSUS: MUSIC as the aural equivalent of bookends to a werewolf transformation. The last half evokes the feeling of waking up in the woods, staring into the trees above you, hearing birdsong and trying to stay wrapped in the amnesia that’s preventing you from remembering what you did just hours ago.
Do you have a particular favourite werewolf artist? What is it about their work that you love?
I’m actually married to my favourite werewolf artist, Tandye Rowe. We met online in 2004 when I left a comment on one of her werewolf drawings – which I rarely did – and she replied – which she rarely did. After twelve years her style has evolved, but she’s still drawing the werewolves that I love best. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about them. The morphology of her lycanthropes changes a lot, intentionally, which keeps them interesting to me. She draws them short, tall, curvy, scrawny, muscle-bound, wearing fancy outfits or just the blood of the last person they ate. The variety of shapes and features feeds that craving for werewolf novelty that I mentioned earlier. And regardless of how they look, they always have a kinetic energy in their pose that makes them leap (or slink, or stalk, or crawl) off the page.
What do you think of the way representation of werewolves has changed over the years? (In both literature and cinema.)
I’m fine with it. I’m enthusiastically ambivalent, let’s say. I don’t like Monet’s paintings or Skrillex’s music, but I also don’t believe Impressionism or dubstep represent nadirs in the evolution of the arts.
Many of the more recent urban fantasy and paranormal romance portrayals don’t interest me, but they weren’t made to interest me, and despite any moaning I may do on my site or on Twitter, I don’t really begrudge the relative popularity of those representations. Like other fantasy creatures who can’t be treated like intellectual property and locked into a specific portrayal, werewolves will evolve into whatever current storytellers (and their financiers) feel is required. The recent explosion of indie filmmaking and self-publishing means there’s more media to choose from than ever, and if you can’t find something that represents werewolves in exactly the way that you want, you can (and should!) go make something yourself.
Tell me something that makes the werewolves in your works unique, what makes them special?
I (very slowly) write fiction, often involving werewolves. The werewolf aspects of the characters aren’t special, I don’t think. They don’t represent “unique spins” on the werewolf mythos because creations of that sort tend to be clever, and I’d rather read (and write) things that are entertaining first, and clever second.
To that end, I try to make the werewolves in my writing interesting enough that you’d still care about them if they weren’t werewolves. Obviously that would make their stories very different, but if the most interesting thing about my werewolf character is that she or he is a werewolf, I’ve screwed up.
What are your other passions? Vampires, zombies? Body horror? Etc etc.
I like monsters and creatures in general, but most of my other interests are unrelated to horror. I’m actually a big wuss. I don’t get into much horror stuff outside the Werewolf Zone, other than Stephen King novels and anything Kris Straub recommends.
In the past year I’ve developed a real love of running, and went from barely being able to finish a 3-mile jog to completing my first full marathon. At first it was a fitness thing, but now I need to run – literally need, I get cranky if I get less than three runs in a week – because the ritualistic, primal aspect of using my body in that way is addictive. So are the health and fitness benefits. I may not have fur or claws, but I’ve learned that it’s possible to transform myself!
Tell us about your most recent werewolf related work.
As I write this, I’m finishing up production on the third issue of the werewolf anthology magazine I publish, WEREWOLVES VERSUS. I’ve mentioned it a few times in this interview, and not because I’m trying to plug anything! I’m just genuinely amazed at the quality of the things people have submitted, and it blows my mind that I probably never would have seen or read or heard some of my favourite werewolf media if I hadn’t looked up from my couch one day in May 2015 and said to Tandye “let’s make a magazine”.
Issue 3 should be available to download by the time this interview runs. The theme for this one is “music”, and all 15 of the entries are incredible. Literally every one has made me laugh out loud, cry a little, or stare at my screen with big dumb round eyes and say “whoah”.
Who is your favourite character within your own work and why?
This is going to be the most boring answer ever: it’s the primary antagonist in “Lilly and Jack”, the novel I’m writing. No one has met this character except my wife and a few of my Patreon supporters, back when I had a Patreon. Her name is Helen Morot, and I can’t really say much about her without spoiling her character arc. Let’s just say that she’s not a werewolf, and if she’d picked a different place on the beach to do yoga, dozens of people (human and otherwise) might not have died horribly in western Canada and America during the summer of 2005.
When I outlined the novel I had her in mind as a purposefully one-dimensional character, more a force of nature than a person, but as I work through writing the chapters, I’m discovering that she’s a surprisingly complex person. I feel some sympathy for her, and hopefully the readers will, too, even as she does deeply terrible things to herself and the people who get in her way.
If we limit the list to characters people can read about right now, well, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Alexis LaPierre. She’s the titular werewolf in “The Librarian”, a short story I wrote for Hic Dragones’ “Wolf-Girls” anthology. She spent many years as a feral creature in the wilds of Canada, living off the land and eating campers and loggers because she could, but something keeps drawing her back to the world of air conditioning, toothpaste and human contact.
Do you have any big upcoming plans relating to werewolves?
There are seven more issues of WEREWOLVES VERSUS, scheduled to come out twice a year until early 2020. I’ll stop when we’ve made ten in total. Those all need planning, editing and producing, and there will be a few Kickstarter campaigns in there too, to help fund two print collections of the issues.I plan to finish the first draft of “Lilly and Jack” before the end of this year. That will be a life milestone when it happens.
Werewolf-wise, the only other thing I want to really commit to in the near future is posting more on Werewolf-News.com. I’m so busy with other things that I only manage a few posts a month, and just as with marathon training or writing a novel, I need get more consistent if I want results I can be proud of.
Where will you be available to meet other werewolf lovers and fans in the near future, if you are doing any outings or signings?
Yes! I will be at HOWL CON in Portland in February 2017. It’s a werewolf convention, and the one in 2015 was the best time I’ve ever had at a gathering. Depending on time, resources and interest, I’ll be there as an attendee, a vendor with Tandye, and/or a panelist. No matter what, though, I’ll be there!
What do you think of the furry movement and do you think it has affected the way people perceive werewolves?
I don’t think furries are a movement with an agenda, they’re a subculture with a goofy, fun and creative vibe. I’m not a part of that particular subculture, although as a collection of interests it does overlap things I’m into, like creature art, costumes and crafting.
I’m not going to generalize about a benign subculture, especially one I’m not part of, but I will say that if you think your status as a furry or a werewolf fan is the most interesting and important thing about you as a person, we’re probably not going to have much to talk about.
I don’t think anyone would draw a connection between furries and werewolves except furries and werewolf fans themselves. Most of the people I’ve met in those two groups either don’t care about the difference, or fight over imaginary boundary lines that no one can agree on. If you’re not part of either group, I imagine the distinction between “werewolf” and “anthro / furry wolf” is easy to make, since one looks like a gross monster that will kill you, and the other looks like a friendly cartoon cereal mascot.
Vampires and zombies have both had some serious popularity in the last few years; what do you think needs to happen to give werewolves that same boost?
I get what you mean, but I disagree with the premise of the question. Werewolves are more prevalent in pop culture than ever before. There are too many books, comics, TV shows and films to keep up with! We just don’t see werewolves represented in popular film and television as often as vampires or zombies because they’re not as easy (or morally comfortable) to turn into sex objects as vampires, and makeup and budgetary constraints make zombies much easier to represent as realistic avatars of horror.