My friend Paul Jessup is a speculative fiction author who also happens to be quite the geek. Aside from pondering tales about talking swords and sentient space-ships, he loves tabletop RPGs, adores Supernatural, and draws inspiration from his own kids… even in some unlikely situations.
Just in time for Halloween, his newest book, Werewolves, tells the story of Alice, a young woman who finds herself turning into a werewolf. Paul was kind enough to share a bit of his experience writing the book, as well as his inspirations.
My latest book I’ve got out right now is called Werewolves. It’s an illustrated journal published by Chronicle Books, with awesome art by Allyson Haller. The art is what really makes this book stand out in the crowd, each page has amazing artwork that is absolutely stunning. It’s somewhat of a YA book, geared mostly towards teens/early twenty somethings. But it’s got appeal to horror and Werewolf fans of all ages.
As a dad of a little girl, I’m very conscious of gender stereotypes in fiction, and also the lack of strong female characters in movies, books and video games. I see her pain whenever she tries finding a video game where she can play a female character that’s not weaker or less fun to play than the male characters. Or the fact that she has to struggle with finding a character to identify with in most movies. This was especially painful when we took her to see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the only character she liked was the villainess. So when I write, I’m thinking primarily about her, and about creating characters that she could (one day) see and read and enjoy without any problem.
Sure, this book and my other books are not for little girls. But in a few scant years, she’ll be old enough to read it and I wanted to make sure she would find them enjoyable.
Some may say it’s sexist or discrimination against boys. But I have a son. And you know what? He doesn’t have this problem. Almost all form of media is practically targeted at him and his gender.
When I wrote Werewolves one of the key ideas was that I wanted a female character. And one that was strong as well. Someone who wasn’t weak, someone who wasn’t just around to fall in love or be rescued. I kept all forms of romance out of this story for that reason. That, and it would feel out of place. The tone of the story is about fear, isolation and survival. It’s hard to shoehorn love into that with sacrificing the tone.
So Alice, the main character, is a survivor. I also wanted to explore how the drastic changes of becoming a werewolf would affect someone psychologically. So I had her be a vegetarian, so that when she craved raw meat, there was a lot of internal conflict.
I also wanted to talk about pack politics, the Alpha, the Omega, without making Alice a part of either. Even as part of the pack she’s sort of an outsider. So I had her brother be the Omega wolf (which means he’s picked on and abused by the pack). This way I could have her dealing with these politics (which are very human, even though they are disguised as wolf politics) and have her dealing with the emotional problems of being a werewolf without being targeted herself. I could also explore the bond between brother and sister, without hinging on the classic brother saves sister stereotype in every book in existence.
I’ve got two younger sisters. And they definitely don’t need protection or saving. So I wanted to explore a brother/sister bond you don’t normally see in fiction as well.
Another thing I wanted to cover was a reaction to books like Twilight. Where the main character basically exists to be saved or to be lusted after and nothing else. Alice, the main character of Werewolves, is a strong, capable character. She’s also very resourceful. And finds her own ways out of problems, relying on only herself and her wits in the end.
One part of this project that was a lot of fun was the fact that it was supposed to be “found” in the woods. Like it was a real journal someone had lost. I love these sorts of things- almost Blair Witch in the way it goes. It makes the world of the book feel more real, more honest. Like it’s trying to break into our reality and take shape here.