In this latest instalment of #WerewolfTalk, I got to hear from author Becca Lynn Mathis. Born and raised in Texas, Becca Lynn Mathis has been writing since she was a little girl, and could often be found sitting among the branches of a tree, reading a book. She even used to get in trouble in high school for writing stories after her work was done.
Today, she is a graduate of Lynn University with her B.S in Psychology. On weekends, she plays Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder) with her friends and trains with the Royal Chessmen stage combat troupe, who perform at renaissance festivals and pirate faires all across Florida. Her debut novel, A Place to Run, is available now. Find her on Twitter @DR34MR.
Werewolf Talk with Becca Lynn Mathis
I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school, and even have a trunked sword and sorcery novel from my high school days. About four years ago, as I was working on some of the worldbuilding for what would eventually become my debut novel, I realized that almost all of the stories I have in my head could fit in the same universe if I worked out the details right. So I did. Last year, I finally became a published author (albeit self-published).
I consider myself a pretty thorough geek, and any look at the walls of our home would support that, as they are covered in swords, wands, house banners, lightsabers, and mythical creatures. I also get to express that geekery with my husband through our stage combat troupe, The Royal Chessmen. We perform a fierce and fun living chess game at our home faire and play at being family-friendly pirates for a number of other faires and festivals across Florida. I’m also SUPER addicted to Beat Saber on the PlayStation VR (think DDR meets Guitar Hero, but with lightsabers).
WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE WEREWOLF IN FICTION/FILM? DO YOU HAVE FAVE WEREWOLF BOOKS/MOVIES?
I have always been fascinated by the duality of man and beast within werewolves, but I’ve always seen werewolves depicted as these hyper-aggressive alpha males (sometimes females too, but those are so rare to find). The thing that always struck me in these films is how UGLY they try to make the werewolves in their wolf form. Twilight moved away from that by making them beautiful big wolves, but they still had the aggressive alpha-male personality to go with it.
The thing that always gets me too, is that anytime werewolves are introduced, there is also something else within the universe that is also keeping themselves hidden from humanity. So I’m never really surprised when something else pops up (like witches or fae or vampires). And honestly, it sort of makes sense to me that there would be other things, or else where would all of our folklore and fairy tales have come from? There is a saying that my muse simply loves to play with: all legends/stories have a hint of truth to them.
My favorite werewolves are actually in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. In that series, the werewolves are very secretive and pack-centric, which really made sense to me as they are running around in our world. I know a lot of my own lore is inspired by concepts first introduced to me through Mercy Thompson. In this series, the werewolves are beautiful big wolves, and while there are female werewolves, all of the ‘wolves are hyper aggressive. I liked the portrayal of pack dynamics and power throughout the books, and how they all react to Mercy, a coyote shapeshifter who doesn’t go by the same rules the ‘wolves do.
I also very much enjoyed a Canadian TV show called Bitten, which I found on Netflix one day a while back and pretty well devoured. It has three seasons and features a female werewolf protagonist who starts out trying to leave her pack life behind. As you can imagine, things go a bit sideways and she ends up embroiled in pack business. I understand there is a book series that the show was based on (called Women of the Otherworld), but have not had a chance to read it yet (though it is on my TBR pile).
I also am a huge fan of the Underworld (2003) movie and the Lycan lore set up there, which is probably where I first got the idea of “if werewolves, then vampires” (because they sort of go hand-in hand, thematically speaking). As a stand-alone movie, I really enjoyed Blood and Chocolate (2007) (which finally features a female werewolf trying to live a more normal human life). There’s also a short in the Love, Death & Robots series from Netflix that features werewolf soldiers, which I also feel is really well done.
Believe it or not, I haven’t actually seen a lot of the classic werewolf movies like An American Werewolf in London (1981) or the original Teen Wolf (1985) (though I did watch the show, which was okay, but was a bit too disjointed and all over the place for my tastes). I also haven’t read a lot of older werewolf fiction, as I prefer my werewolves to be less aggressive (and less ugly) than they have classically been portrayed.
WHAT’S SO INTERESTING TO YOU ABOUT THE WEREWOLF CONCEPT? DO YOU THINK IT HAS AS MUCH POWER TO FRIGHTEN OR HORRIFY AS IT ONCE DID? [WHY/WHY NOT]
I think we’re starting to move away from werewolves as scary horror constructs. I think there are still some pretty horrifying tales to be told about werewolves out there, particularly ones where they completely lose their humanity, but I think that there is a growing number of people who are becoming more conscious of wildlife and the state of the world. As the number of wild wolves dwindles, we seem to be coming around to the idea that wolves are creatures who are as vital to an ecosystem as any other predator, and I think that is feeding into why we are seeing more and more werewolf lore with a positive spin. I think the addition of the wolf pack to Yellowstone National Park has been a great example of this change in the narrative surrounding wolves.
Personally, I really enjoy playing with characters who have animalistic senses, and I like the idea of a built-in sort of found family that a pack would be. I like diving into pack dynamics and, in building out the world and lore for my own series, I was fascinated by the differences in how we used to think wolf packs in the wild worked versus how we have now come to understand things. Namely, that we used to think that there was a strict hierarchy of pack alpha all the way down but now, we know that’s something that is more commonly seen in captive packs of unrelated wolves and that wild wolves actually work more in family groups, with different members taking the lead in different situations.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE MORE MODERN TREND OF MAKING THE WEREWOLF A TRAGIC OR HEROIC FIGURE?
These are kind of my favorite tales – particularly the ones with the werewolf as the hero. I like that we are modernizing the way we talk about werewolves and I really like being a part of diversifying and changing the narrative.
Most of the werewolves in my series are the heroic types. They are actually designed to be protectors of humanity (and were created that way), so most of my werewolves are very friendly and helpful types. They’re likely to stop and help you change a tire on a lonely road, or they’ll tell that guy harassing the girl in the bar to back off. The only exceptions to this are the crazed wolves, which are humans who were turned, but couldn’t make peace with what they are. In my world, normal werewolves have to kill the crazed ones to protect the people that they would otherwise kill.
DO YOU SEE WEREWOLVES AND THE TRANSFORMATION AS A FORM OF BODY HORROR? HOW DO YOU THINK OF TRANSFORMATION IN YOUR OWN WORK?
I see the transformation portrayed so often as body horror (with the “carrot sticks” sound effect of bones breaking and the squelching noises of body parts moving around), and while it makes sense to me that this would be the case, it also made sense to me that werewolves wouldn’t really focus so much on that in between moment as they’re shifting. When you have creatures that could live to be 800 years old or more, it makes sense to me that they wouldn’t even give a second thought to the handful of moments that changing forms is in their lifetime. That is to say, that yes, there is definitely an element of body-horror that I could portray in my stories, but I prefer to focus instead on how being wolf brings these disparate people together – how they find a new family in each other because the rest of the world is now theirs to protect.
In my first book, you get an up close and personal view of how a human becomes a werewolf. In doing this, I’m able to show how yes, there’s a physical transformation, but there’s also a lifestyle transformation as well. If you had a family or a close circle of friends before you became a werewolf, none of them can really know what you are, because if you told them, they wouldn’t believe you, and even if they did, others wouldn’t believe them. I like to play a lot with the blinders of society (along with that quote from Men in Black about how a person is smart, but people are dumb and panicky). People don’t know about werewolves because they don’t want to. So when you become a werewolf, who becomes your new family or circle of friends? Well, your pack would, of course, because they know what you’ve gone through. They know how hard leaving one life behind for another is. Worse, they know what it’s like to outlive everyone you ever cared about in your human life.
I’ve mentioned before about the ugliness of traditional werewolves too, which honestly feeds right into the body horror element. Lets face it, that huge, ultra hairy, two-legged form with a vaguely canid head is the stuff of nightmares. If I wanted werewolves to be agents of good in my stories, then I needed a form for them that wouldn’t be so…. repulsive. So I let the wolves in my books be more like the beautiful big wolves of the Mercy Thompson or Twilight persuasion. (I should note here that the Twilight series was not one that I could finish, and that goes for both the books and the movies. I do, however recognize their popularity, and appreciate that people are looking for a different kind of narrative for our classic horror monsters.) While I do gloss over the transformation sequences in my first book – and will continue the trend in future books – I do have a moment where the main character in my first book is terrified that she will get stuck in a misshapen half form like she’s seen in movies.
FINALLY: WHAT ARE THE BEST TRANSFORMATIONS YOU’VE READ OR THAT ARE DEPICTED IN FILM/OTHER MEDIA?
Oh this is such a hard question for me because I don’t really like a lot of the transformations I’ve seen, though I do like elements of what I’ve seen. For example, I liked that the Mercy Thompson series werewolves had a sort of smooth transition, but I didn’t like that it made them even more grumpy and irritable than they already are. The carrot sticks and squelching from the first Underworld movie was interesting to watch and definitely gave an air of “uh oh” to the scene in question, but I like the way it’s visually portrayed in the Twilight movies better: where in one step they are human, and the next they leap into their wolf form. That said, it’s a little too clean for my liking (I feel like they should at least have to remove their clothes first). They did a similar thing in the movie Blood and Chocolate, but as they leap (with their clothes still on), they glow with moonlight and land as regular wolves. I like that in the Bitten TV show, they had to at least take their clothes off before the carrot sticks and squelching transformation, and I like that the switch from one form to the other didn’t take a protracted amount of time. In the end, I decidedly prefer transformation sequences where they end as quadrupeds over the vaguely canid bipedal form.
WEREWOLF SOCIETY: HOW DOES IT INTERACT WITH HUMAN SOCIETY?
In all of the movies and the books I’ve seen and read, werewolves have had to keep themselves secret from the rest of society lest they be wiped out (even when there is only one). That makes a lot of sense, honestly, since so much of the world has a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality about things that they either fear or don’t understand. So I kept that element when I was writing about werewolves myself. I gave them an origin that links both the werewolves and the vampires to the same historical figure, but put the creation of the werewolves firmly in the hands of the Catholic church. But the church, as ever-present as it is, still doesn’t have the firmest grasp everywhere. So I decided that, as time wore on, some werewolf packs would decide to stop following the church’s orders and kind of go their own way. Still, in my world, werewolves are forces of good, and whether they follow the Catholic church or not doesn’t change that. There’s definitely a pack or two out there that do things like protect families escaping spousal abuse and such. There are even some rehab centers run by either the Catholic church or by a faction of werewolves that take in the humans that vampires have been feeding off of – the ones that survive, at least. And no matter which type of pack you run into, they all have an undeniable instinct to fight vampires.
Now what about the military, though? Or the CDC/ WHO? Since my books are all set in America (write what you know, yes?), it made sense to me that the American government would figure out a way to have their own ‘wolves. So I worked them in as I was worldbuilding. The army has a secretive branch of werewolves based out of the Colorado Springs area, and the CDC is aware of both vampires and werewolves in my stories. It follows, of course, that the WHO would as well, but all of them know that people panic about things they don’t understand, so they don’t make it public (and make any whistle blowers who would try to expose it look crazy and unhinged). Additionally, the creation of the werewolf program in the military was done via executive order by a former president, and then promptly forgotten about and swept under the rug. They keep getting their funding and keep making progress, but their only oversight now is through the werewolf they put in charge when the program started. The army-based werewolves also fight vampires, but they are usually the strike teams for more serious missions (usually related to anti-terrorism measures). The military is actually SUPER close to cracking the code on how to determine whether two werewolves will have viable offspring, but they haven’t quite got it figured out yet (though, it meant that I needed to know, so I worked with a friend of mine who is a biology major to come up with at least a rudimentary genetic explanation for werewolf inheritability).
You can check out werewolves in Mathis’s work in her debut novel, A Place to Run, Book 1 of the six-book TRIALS OF BLOOD series. What do you think about wolves? Join in the discussion using #WerewolfTalk.