Good urban fantasy usually starts with a good, “what if?” For just one example, what if an average joe who wanted to be a detective happened to be a werewolf? That’s a pretty simple one. Other stories are more ambitious: what if all the evil characters–Lucifer, witches and demons had to band together to save the world? That’s the kind of thing that goes on in the head of Leslie Swartz, and her newSeventh Day series.
Leslie, who are you and what’s your deal?
I tell people I’m a poet-turned-novelist which sounds pretentious but I think it’s important if they want to get a sense of how I write. My style has been described as blunt, honest, and evocative. I don’t write beautiful prose for the most part. I don’t spend too much time describing things like what characters are wearing or what color walls are painted. I write to inspire emotion. I want the reader to feel something.
As for who I am outside of my work, I’m a 41-year-old woman in Indianapolis homeschooling three kids during a pandemic. I’m tired. I get maybe an hour or two of free time a day that I usually spend watching easy TV to calm my brain down. My favorite show right now is The Challenge. Team CT for life!
What’s the big idea behind the first book in your series, Seraphim?
The Seventh Day Series is seven books of rowdy angels, vampires, witches, and Lucifer fighting monsters and preventing one Apocalypse after another. Really, though, it’s a story of found-family, complex relationships, trauma, and redemption. It’s character-driven, dark, funny, and chock-full of twists.
That’s a lot going on. Where did the idea come from?
“Wyatt” came to me in a vision when I was sixteen. I can’t explain it so I won’t try but he was very clear to me; steely eyes, dark hair falling in his face, angry and depressed but like, resigned to it. I didn’t create him so much as I just kind of became aware of who he was. So, I spent years researching religious lore and different mythologies. I’d have an idea and start writing but inevitably, I’d throw it out. No story was ever good enough for the character. So, one day I was watching Guiding Light and this actor, Tom Pelphrey came on the screen and he looked exactly like the character in my head. It was uncanny. Obviously, I became a fan and watched other things he was in.
Over the years, his facial expressions and his very precise way of speaking became part of “Wyatt”. Years later, I was watching an episode of Iron Fist and Tom Pelphrey did this scene that broke me in half. I lost it. Complete meltdown, hysterically sobbing on my couch for forty-five minutes. When I got myself together, I had all this renewed gumption to get these books started. I had a ton of plot ideas but none of them made sense if “God” was who I said he was. So, I was going over everything with my husband and he looked at me with this how-have-you-not-thought-of-this-before face and said, “What if ‘God’ was asleep?” Mind. Blown. Everything else fell into place. It all worked. That day, I wrote character bios, a few scenes, and outlines for the first four books.
Inspiration is a funny thing, ain’t it? What do you read?
I love Shakespeare, Poe, and Dickens, as we all do, right? Anne Rice and Stephen King are, of course, huge inspirations for me. I remember being in the fourth grade and relating so hard to “Gordie” from The Body. I started writing stories when I was four, so that character was everything. My favorite newer authors are Evelyn Chartres and J. Edward Neill. I love anything creepy with lots of twists and they deliver in those departments in spades.
Full disclosure- zombies aren’t my favorite monster, horror or fantasy trope. (Train to Busan is an exception.) Still, the ability to manipulate the dead with a little necromancy does offer great potential for storytelling. So I took this chance to check out MG Gallows first novel, Death Dealers.
I also asked some questions of the Red Deer, Alberta author. If you’ve never been to Red Deer, picture putting Waco , Texas exactly halfway between Edmonton and Calgary and you come pretty close.
M. G, tell everyone what your deal is.
I am a lifelong nerd, non-practicing edgelord, semi-retired resurrectionist, olympic-level procrastinator, and a recovering anatidaephobic. I love my homeland of Canada, because the deadly chill prevents Australia’s giant spiders and drop bears from touching my feet while I sleep. My friends all have real jobs, to which I secretly envy and resent their success (they won’t read this, will they?). I’m kidding about the Australia part. A very good Aussie friend is the reason I’ve even made it this far. Since 2016 I’ve cut my teeth writing freelance fiction for Wyrd Miniatures, and their awesome Malifaux gameline. I love writing stories, I think I’m pretty good at it. Death Dealers is my first novel.
What’s Death Dealers all about?
Death Dealers is about Alex Fossor, a necromancer trying to pull his life together after a bad breakup. He settled in the Pacific Northwest after discovering a community of wights – your garden variety ‘thinking’ undead – living in self-imposed exile underground. Compelled to help them deal with their condition, Alex sells his services as a crime scene cleaner to the city’s crooks, ‘disappearing’ bodies so the wights have a steady supply of the human flesh they crave.
The story picks up when a client is murdered, and Alex is framed for the deed. This leads to a confrontation with the Rimbault Society, a centuries-old organization of mages who quietly run the world. Alex barely avoids an execution, but the clock is ticking..To clear his name, he’ll have to deal with intrepid detectives, silver-tongued femme fatales, undead frat boys, foul-mouthed Irish Loa, and expose the true culprit before a hex on his heart burns him to ash.
“Undead frat boys” feels both creepy and redundant, but that’s my issue. Where did this story sprout from?
Alex’s beginnings stretch back decades, to my earliest experiences with vampires, zombies, and all things necromancy. I’ve always been fascinated by undeath, from Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, to George Romero’s zombie plague that has become such a mainstay of our culture. Getting to play a necromancer in tabletop or video games was always an easy sell for me. But there’s a huge stigma against necromancy in most fantasy settings, one I feel is largely hypocritical. A wizard can magically burn someone to death, and nobody panics. But then he reanimates the body to fight for him, and everyone loses their minds. I wanted to write a protagonist that walked that narrow shade of gray. Alex is someone you can relate to and even cheer for, but his methods are those classically given to a villain. He’s the slasher-killer stalking victims at a summer camp, the coldly pragmatic mastermind using every resource – even the recently dead – to help him win, and occasionally he dips his toes into the stereotype of the cackling and sadistic necromancer. And he does it to serve his idea of justice, and protect the people he cares about.
Who do you read that folks should know about?
I discovered my love of fantasy with writers like RA Salvatore, Elaine Cunningham, and Paul S. Kemp. It was Elaine who introduced me to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Harry Dresden’s colorful, cosmopolitan world of modern-day monsters has been a huge inspiration for many authors, including myself, but I would be remiss not to mention Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie/Angel Crawford series. Punk rock and flesh-eating zombies go as far back as Return of the Living Dead, and I’m proud to carry that tradition forward in my novel.
Where can we learn more about you and your book(s) Goodreads, Amazon links, twitter, Facebook author page, website etc.
Mashing up mysteries with fantasy is a time-honored tradition. Patient Zero, of course is Harry Dresden, but also includes others like Nate Temple and (ahem) Johnny Lycan. A new addition to this crew is Alix Deveraux, the creation of this week’s interviewee, Chelsea Callahan.
Chelsea, what’s your story?
I am a hermit. I spend most of my time writing, because that is where I’m happiest. I’ve always loved stories, in any form I can find them. I’m that rare bird, who’s always watching something, or listening to something. Silence, even when I’m writing, just puts me to sleep, or if it’s late at night, silence just creeps me out.
I didn’t start out writing stories. I’m an extremely visual person so when I learned in 5th grade that you could take beautiful words and create this thing called poetry with it, I started there. Poem after poem I wrote, and then as I got older, those poems became short stories. Things that felt so long at the time they had to be novels….little did I know I’d get to college and write papers twice as long. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school though, that I began writing a story with the intention of getting it published. I’d finally gotten to the point of wanting to write my own story. My head was so full of all the movies, and television I’d devoured, I had to make a story of my own. I had to play with characters swimming around inside my head.
One problem. I’ve always struggled when it comes to writing. Looking at me now, you’d never guess I used to hate writing and hate reading. My dyslexia, made both of those things a major problem while I was growing up. I still have problems with them. It’s hard to feel confident about anything you produce when your brain tells you what you’re seeing is correct, and the person reading it sees something entirely different. I can edit a thousand times, read and reread every word on the page, and still miss the most obvious of errors. I’ve gotten better thanks to the support of my mother, and my friends. It is possible to get better, to improve, but I know I’ll struggle with it all my life.
I just won’t let it stop me from telling the stories I know I was meant to tell.
Good on you. So what’s the deal with Alix Deveraux?
My most recent release is called Wicked Raven. It’s the first book in my Alix Devereaux series.
The main character Alix, has been away from home for three years. She’s been traveling the human world and the fae world desperately hunting for the thing that killed her fiancé and nearly burned her alive inside their New York City brownstone. But after three years she’s tired of the chase, and has decided to come home, and pay her respects to her fiancé on what would’ve been his thirtieth birthday. What she soon discovers through a dead body left for her on Rhys’s grave is that The Raven has returned and she might just be his next victim.
It’s a thrilling ride full of emotional trauma, murder mystery, magic, romance, and general mayhem. Out of everything I’ve written it’s my favorite so far, but it’s also not my only Devereaux novel. The first book I published, Eyes of the Grave, is the first book in The Rebekah Devereaux series. Which centers around one of Alix’s many cousins. This one in particular living down in New Orleans. Rebekah is a P.I. with a unique talent. With one touch she can solve a murder or prevent one. The problem is that when she touches this latest body, her visions say she herself is the killer. Trying to figure out what exactly happened to the dead girl in the cemetery, Rebekah has to balance keeping her potential involvement a secret from the cops, and repairing the rocky relationship between her and her husband. I mean honestly though how do you tell the man you love, all you can think about when he touches you is killing him?
Then of course there are five short stories out that bridge the gaps between the novels and provide some fun side adventures to expand the world.
What is it about the magic system or the story that inspired you?
I fell in love with Urban Fantasy when I heard someone describe it as magic in the real world. An idea that just fascinates me. On a deep level I’d love to discover that the world I see around me every day is hiding a much weirder magical world right beneath the surface. I mean who doesn’t reach for something across the room and just wish for a second that their magic powers would kick in and the object would just zoom right over into their hand?
After watching things like The Magicians, Harry Potter, and Buffy. Then reading books by Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs I found myself asking, what if all of that was possible? What if witches could be all of these things, do all these things? What if all the stories were true on some level? How do you control a world like that? Those questions proved to be extremely thought-provoking for me, and my books were born from the answers.
The magic system that exists in the universe of the Devereaux witches is largely a person to person design. It all comes from inside the witch, and burns calories, because what better way is there to explain the thin beautiful people in the world that seem to be completely unreal when you look at them. But beyond that, each witch, or mage expresses their power in their own way. The weaker the witch is the more standard their power becomes, but for witches like my characters Alix and Rebekah things start to get a bit varied.
For example: Rebekah’s powers manifest heavily in telekinesis, and through her touch. If you surprise her, and brush any bit of your skin against hers she’s overtaken by a vision of your death. Or at least how you will die based on the decisions you’ve made up to that exact point in time. Alix’s powers rely more heavily on spell work and sheer force of will. Then there’s a third cousin Shado that appears in Eyes of the Grave who’s power leans more heavily on healing energy, or healing auras. They’re all part of the same family, by blood, but each one has their own spin on their power.
I love this type of magic, because it truly means you never know what to expect. Each person has their own identity, their own power. Which is also why the manifestation of that power comes with color, gestures, and words, or some combination of those things. People use spells in different languages. It’s all up to the user. Just as it’s up to each person in the real world how they handle themselves. Magic or not, we all have power, and we all use it a little differently than the person next to us.
Who do you read, that people should know about?
Cassandra Thompson and Halo are two Indie authors I encountered through Twitter, who are not only wonderful writers, they’re also fantastic people. Julia Quinn I’ve gotten hooked on thanks to the new Netflix show Bridgeton. Jacka I discovered randomly on the shelf one day when Barnes & Noble didn’t have the Dresden Files book I needed, and I wasn’t able to put the series down until I ran out of new books. Sarah J. Maas is a true master at having her characters deal with emotional trauma. No matter how far from “Human” they are I’m always amazed at how real her creations feel. It’s inspiring. Holly Black is a fae queen in disguise I’m almost positive. Then of course, Anne Rice is a classic gothic horror, and supernatural powerhouse. How can you not love her work? Deborah Harkness and the All Souls Trilogy are brilliant. There’s so much history, and romance, and mysterious magical adventure. I can’t get enough.
But it was Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs that really inspired me the most to get into writing Urban Fantasy books. Their work truly defines the genre.
How can people find out more about you and your work?
Well, I am The Writing Druid on most social media platforms. You can find me in order of most active to least active on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tiktok, Facebook, and tumblr.
You can also catch some reviews of my favorite tv shows or movies on my website, as well as any news about my upcoming books! That link is http://www.thewritingdruid.com
One of the trends in Urban Fantasy that fascinates me (and makes me insanely jealous) is the number of authors cranking out series after series of fun reads. While they might not be great art, they’re fun. It’s kind of the Kindle version of the old pulp novels (and I mean that in the best way.) Ultimately, it’s what I envisioned for the Lucca stories and for Johnny Lycan, but you know… day job, life and stuff.
One such author is Jamie Davis, the author of 40 books including his new series, Extreme Medical Services. Imagine being an EMT and having to pick up an overdosing vampire and you get the idea.
Jamie, what’s your deal, man?
When I get the question “tell us a little about yourself” I’m usually stuck for an answer. I mean, there’s so much to tell. I’m a husband, father, grandfather, nurse, and retired paramedic who has been telling stories in one form or another my whole life. My wife puts it this way: “He embellishes every memory a little more each time. You never know which version you’ll get.”
I think it’s because I see so many possibilities in the world and people around me. “What if” is a way of life for me and that’s where many of my books begin. In fact, my first series, Extreme Medical Services, started in the back of the ambulance late one night when I dropped off a particularly hairy patient. I remarked to my partner, “What if that guy is really a werewolf? It is a full moon.” Thus was born my books about paramedics for supernatural creatures.
Now, I have more than forty books, most of which fall into the category of what I like to call Fun Fantasy Reads. All are family-friendly and suitable for young teens and up, even though they are written for adults. I have heard from several readers who enjoy my books because they can share them with their kids. It gives them something to talk about in a time when we’re always so distracted by our screens.
What’s Extreme Medical Services about?
Extreme Medical Services as I explained earlier is book 1 in a whole series about supernatural paramedics. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What happens if a vampire or a werewolf needs to call 911?” then these are the books for you.
Of course, now you’re curious, aren’t you? That’s okay. There are plenty of stories there to scratch that itch. With 8 books and a prequel in the series already, I’m also currently finishing up book 9. All the books are also available as excellent audiobooks. They’re narrated by the superbly talented Roberto Scarlato and he really brings the stories to life with his amazing voice.
What is it about this world that you enjoy so much?
Dean Flynn, the newbie paramedic in Extreme Medical Servcies is as green as they come. Don’t get me wrong. He’s highly trained, having graduated at the top of his paramedic academy class, he just didn’t exactly know what he’d signed up for when the chief told him he had a special assignment in mind.
He’s thrown into the deep end as he meets patient after patient on his first days on the job, uncovering a whole new world he never knew existed, right there under the surface in the city in which he grew up. Now he’s an ordinary guy, saving lives, and making some unusual friends along the way. That’s a good thing, because there’s something sinister lurking behind the scenes that could endanger the patients he’s sworn to protect.
If this was set in Chicago, it sounds like he might run into Johnny Lupul one night. That would be hilarious. Who did this to you? What do you read?
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about authors who’ve influenced me. I could list off the big ones, Tolkien, Robert Jordan, or Heinlein. Yeah, I read them, but I think there are others who had a bigger impact on me in different ways. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series was probably the first that set up a modern world with a hidden magical realm ordinary humans couldn’t see. The concept intrigued me then and still does today. I still reread those books from time to time. I highly recommend them. They’re not just for kids.
Another writer who impacted me was David Weber. His Honor Harrington Universe (and it is expansive) showed me how really strong characters could draw you into a story, making you care about them and everything they do. I’ve laughed aloud, cheered, and shed a few tears while reading his sci-fi epics.
I’ve read many others and they’ve all impacted my writing in one way or another. In the end, they’ve taught me to write stories about people you can care about, even amidst fantastical or futuristic situations. Who knows, I’ve always said we should all keep our eyes open because there’s magic all around us.
How can people keep up with you and your work?
The best ways to catch up with me and what I’m doing is first at my website, https://jamiedavisbooks.com, where you can get a free book, sign up for my active and fun fantasy newsletter.
Second, you can join the fun in Jamie Davis’ Fun Fantasy Readers group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/funfantasyreaders/). We don’t just talk about my books. It’s a place to talk about great fantasy (and sci-fi) stories on TV, in movies, and other great authors out there. I’m in there all the time and love chatting with everyone.
Nothing makes me happier than a good swashbuckler. Swords are way cooler than guns, and witty remarks while buckling someone’s swash is always amusing. (Remind me some time to tell you about my first-ever fencing tournament when I faced a guy named Free Wind.) My favorite book growing up was always the Three Musketeers, and my all-time favorite movie will always be The Adventures of Robin Hood. So, when I found the first book in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat Series, The Traitor’s Blade, I was intrigued. Here’s my conversation with the Canadian author whose books are like the Musketeers, only with a touch of fantasy magic in them.
Who’s Sebastien de Castell and why do we care?
I’m a professional procrastinator who periodically slams his fingers against the keyboard repeatedly until a fantasy novel comes out. Somehow, despite wasting inhuman amounts of time, I’ve had eleven books published in my relatively short career, translated into fifteen languages and with a couple of film & TV option deals (which, for the uninitiated, is not nearly as impressive an accomplishment as it sounds since most option deals go nowhere). At my core, I think of myself as a traveller – not just to different places, but through different careers and vocations. I’ve worked as a touring musician, a fight choreographer for theatre plays, a project manager, actor, teacher, and a half-dozen other careers in between. Oddly, being a novelist has turned out to be the steadiest job I’ve ever had. Oh, and I’m Canadian, but not the good kind who are modest and always apologizing for things – the jerks who sew Canadian flags on their backpacks and travel the world talking about the greatness of Canada. My wife has been slowly but surely breaking me of that habit.
Preach, brother. What’re your newest books about?
Play of Shadows is a swashbuckling fantasy novel set in the theatre. A young actor fleeing a duel finds refuge among a company of actors thanks to an obscure law that prohibits performers in the city’s sacred plays from dueling. However, when he takes the stage for one of their historical performances, he suddenly finds himself channeling the spirit of one of the historical figures he’s supposed to portray – only he’s changing all the lines and revealing secrets that powerful forces would prefer stayed buried. Lots of intrigue, sword fighting, and, of course, the strange magic of the theatre.
Way of the Argosi is a coming-of-age fantasy novel about a young woman on the run from the mages who destroyed her clan. She’s driven to survive any way she can, and tries everything from becoming a knight to a thief to a gambler. When she meets a mysterious card player who calls himself an Argosi, she’s offered a new path, but whether it’s one that will save her life or cost her soul she will have to discover for herself.
I love the blend of old fashioned adventure story and just enough magic. Where did all that come from?
Play of Shadows takes place in the world of the Greatcoats, which is where I tell my swashbuckling tales of intrigue. I’d written four books dealing with sword fighting magistrates, and so wanted to delve into something a little different. In this case, asking how the world of the theatre could be filled with its own magic and intrigue. I started creating these strange traditions like having some actors be such celebrities that they’re believed to actually channel the spirits of the characters they play, thus altering the script in subtle ways, or having constant violent struggles between companies of actors vying for control of the best theatres, all in the backdrop of a city finding itself under siege from within. Those kinds of ingredients always get my mind working, and as a reader, that’s the sort of fantasy to which I’m drawn.
Way of the Argosi came about because I’d wrapped up the six book Spellslinger series and my publishers wanted more books set in that world even as I was getting constant e-mails from readers asking to learn more about the Argosi. For those who haven’t read Spellslinger, the Argosi are a loose-knit order of wandering gamblers who created decks of cards to represent the various civilizations on the continent and seek out what they call “discordances” – people or events that could alter the course of history. What I love about the Argosi – and what I think draws readers to them – is that, in a story world heavily focused on magic, they themselves shun magic entirely. All their skills and tricks and talents are built on very human things like dancing and eloquence and martial arts and swagger. In a sense, they’re sort of like the anti-Jedi, because instead of having to be magically born attuned to “the force”, they have to earn their skills and find their own unique path through the world. Those things always speak to me as a reader, and even more so as a human being who is, alas, bereft of magic spells or a destiny.
Who did this to you? Who did and do you read?
My tastes in authors really change on an almost daily basis. The ones who influenced me the most when I was starting out were Raymond Chandler, Steven Brust, Charles de Lint, and Anne McCaffrey. As I started developing my style as a writer, I often found myself drawing from other mediums, such as Brian Michael Bendis the comic writer for character development and for dialogue my favourite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin.
When reading for pleasure, I tend to read outside of fantasy simply because I can’t stop analyzing fantasy books. I read a couple of Walter Mosley books recently and was blown away by his sense of tone and the weight of his characters. Kate Quinn who wrote The Alice Network, The Huntress, and her most recent novel, The Rose Code, is probably the writer I enjoy the most in recent years. I’m not sure why since she writes about World War II intrigue which has never been my thing, but her style is just so engaging that I’m instantly pulled into the books.
How can we learn more?
I don’t spend a ton of time on social media, though I have all the usual accounts which I’ll list below. When people want to reach out to me, the best method is via my website at www.decastell.com/contact. Same is true if someone wants to find all my books in all their various editions and languages – go to www.decastell.com and there are links to all the buying options in print, audio, and ebook as well as how to get signed copies (something that comes up more and more these days).
If you survived the great vampire boom of the 90s and early 2000s (Twilight, Pure Blood, The Lost Boys) you lived to tell the tale. We seem to be going through a similar thing with werewolves. All the tropes are being reexamined. Lycanthopic romance is a thing (seriously, a lot of women are hot for Lycans. It’s also big in gay erotica), legends are updated to a thoroughly modern world like Steve Morris’ Lycanthrope series (you can read the interview here), and some for a mix of humor, detective noir and horror like Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk. But if you never thought of Northern Ireland as werewolf territory, you need to meet Iain McLachlan.
Iain, what’s you’re story?
Well, I live south of Belfast in Northern Ireland, I was raised here and moved back home three years ago from living in London. I started writing my first book back in 2008, but work kept me away form it so it was 2017 when I went back to it with the decision ‘right, I WILL do this’ and I have not looked back. I love traveling, and apart from one, all the locations in my stories are all real and I try as best as I can, to do them justice. I love it when I get feedback from people who know the locations who tell me that they can picture exactly where the character is standing at the point in the story.
What’s the story behind The Moon Dancing series?
I have looked at the genre of ‘werewolves’ but from a scientific point of view and not a ‘myth and fantasy’ one. I spent eighteen months before I started writing volume one doing research to see if this was possible in nature, and I discovered that theoretically, DNA can change shape, but (very big but) if this was real, what we see in stories and films would take nearly eight months for a person to change into a lycanthrope, not sixty seconds! So, I did take a bit of literally licence
My story in Moon Dancing Volume one is about a pack of werewolves in modern-day Northern Ireland, they have done a very good job at hiding from modern society when (in volume one) a small pack of wolves from a different pack arrive .. and start to cause trouble.
I look at how the pack reacts to more wolves in their territory, how the police would have to investigate a series of brutal murders and the evidence that they gather and how a local journalist reports what she is seeing and discovering through her job.
The story was first going to be a trilogy but I am now looking at at least six books over the story line.
What is it about werewolves that is so fascinating? Belfast doesn’t seem like prime loup-garou territory.
I have always loved the idea of werewolves, but when I look at them in legend, I spotted major differences between central Europe and here in Ireland, for example, the witness descriptions from central Europe, drooling mouth, blood shot eyes, rage … I spotted that these were also the signs and symptoms of the disease RABIES. There has never been rabies in any of the British Isles (Ireland both north and south, and Great Britain) and the descriptions of werewolves in Irish legend were all of tales of ‘protectors’ and good tales. I found several legends that pointed to tales of the old kings of Ireland, that in times of war, would hire the clan of werewolves (or dogmen as they were also called) as bodyguards. They were known as fierce warriors and very loyal, totally different to Central Europe.
I’m always interested in who you read for fun.I get the sense you are kind of old school.
I have always loved reading, my list is varied and includes, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Keri Arthur, Patricia Briggs, Maya Angelou, David Niven, Claire Savage, Ernest Hemingway just to name a few.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
One of my musical heroes announced this week he’s retiring from the stage. Kris Kristofferson is hanging it up at the age of 84. But what does a handsome, successful, talented and (when he was sober) well-loved artist have in common with Johnny Lycan, who is a 30-year-old werewolf?
Kristofferson has been a lot of things: Singer, actor, songwriter, poet, chopper pilot, Army Ranger, West Point Instructor, and Rhodes Scholar. For what it’s worth, Janis Joplin said he was the best sex she ever had. He came from (although he largely rejected) a family with a long traditional military tradition and became a vigorous peace activist. So where’s the similarity to Johnny Lupul and my silly little novel?
Like a lot of artists, Kristofferson has always been more than a little in touch with the darkest part of his soul. He understood all too well the many sins,(Silver Tongued Devil) betrayals (Darby’s Castle), and just plain bad behavior humans indulge in (too many to count but you have to add in Beat the Devil and You Show Me Yours) if left unchecked. He also related more than most to the desire to do better, (Why Me, Lord?) and how isolating it can feel to fail and have no one to blame but yourself. (Sunday Morning Coming Down.)
And for all of that, he frequently lost the battle with his demons. They might not have been lycanthropic with teeth and razor-sharp claws, but they were big and scary and chased him for most of his life. If he’s not completely beaten the Devil, in his own word he drank his beer for free and then stole his song.
Johnny Lycan is not as smart, certainly not as handsome, and can’t sing to save his soul, but he’s a good man wrestling the werewolf inside him. Kristofferson probably had a name for what was buried in his soul, too. Lord knows he sang about his devils often enough. If you’re not familiar with my own struggling hero, check out Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk. There’s a lot of me in him. That battle to control what’s inside me/him/us is what I think Lycanthrope fiction is all about. But maybe that’s just me.
Growing up when Kris was all over the radio I appreciated him on a surface level. As I got older his music began to mean so much more. Help Me Make it Through the Night was every relationship you know is coming to a bad end. The Pilgrim is my friend Kenny Robinson, and I have my own list of others it could be dedicated to, just as he had Billy Swan and Funky Donnie Fritts.
I saw him in concert once, a night with too much tequila that ended with a public shouting match on a wintry sidewalk between me and a paramour, and I was lucky enough to be an extra on the set of “Amerika,” where he walked past me 14 times until they got the shot they wanted.
I met him one time. He was walking back to his hotel alone, hugging himself in a coat not quite up to the March weather and I was headed to the subway. We both stood at the traffic light, waiting to cross Queen Street. I manned up and told him I’d seen his show the night before. His eyes brightened and he gave me that trademark crooked smile. “Yeah,” he said. “That was a good’un wasn’t it?”
Yes. Yes it was. He wished me a good day, and headed off, alone, seemingly happy.
Rumors of his decline have circulated for years, and he’s made it one year longer (so far) than my father did, and I don’t even know what the odds were of that.
Canada is underrated for scariness. You think everyone’s nice (which is a great cover for a serial killer if you think about it) and it’s all outdoorsy and stuff. But if you’ve ever been alone in the woods at night, there’s a high creep factor. A writer from my home province of British Columbia has it figured out. I came across Katie Berry’s book Clawand figured I should introduce her to you so…
Katie, been years since I spoke to anyone from Castlegar! What should we know about you?
First of all, thank you so much for having me here today. It’s great to have a chance to speak to everyone and let them know a little about myself. Where to start? I am from Ottawa, Ontario, originally. Moved out west in a family migration when I was young. We ended up in the Okanagan in what was then called Westbank. After moving around the province several times over the years, I have settled down finally, and now live and write in the beautiful West Kootenays of British Columbia.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My first story was written in grade three. It was a four-page murder mystery. My teacher wanted the class to write a short story. Mine was the only story with a hand drawn cover. It really stood out, since it was hand-typed (thanks to my dad’s assistance) and had a lovely colourful cover: a large pool of bright-red blood lay on a sidewalk next to a vibrant green lawn surrounded by a white picket fence. I was a regular Rembrandt. 😊 Got an A- on it, too!
Canada has plenty of scary critters, but CLAW goes way above and beyond. Tell us about it.
CLAW is about a small town in BC that has several problems. Right about this time of year, they suffer a major earthquake, the town’s sole mountain pass cut off from the world. The other problem is with the ‘wildlife’ that keeps eating people wandering around in the local forests. Finally, there is a greedy cartel of murderous morons trying to hide a massive gold strike recently discovered in the area. The main protagonists, Austin Murphy and Christine Moon have been well received, with Christine being called a ‘kick-ass conservationist’ by one reader. I have had many people write to me telling me that they know these people, or people just like them in their own communities, and how the novel all seemed very real to them.
I always feel that the more you can ground your story in a realistic world that surrounds the reader, the easier it can be to introduce the more unbelievable elements. I recently heard from a zoologist who teaches at a university in the UK who just loved the book, saying it has everything he looks for in a novel, from story, action and characters, all the way to the title cryptid villain, who is actually not called CLAW, interestingly. It’s nice to have the scientific community at your back, I must say.
As someone who grew up in a hub for Sasquatch sightings (Bigfoot is so American), I love me a good cryptid. Where did the story come from?
The roots of the story. I had a dream. After that dream, I got to wondering about certain things in my area, and it all just sort of fell into place (eventually). It was a four year journey from that dream to reality, but I feel it was worth it. I am truly proud of that novel, and especially so when people tell me they rank it right up there with stories by King, Koontz and Crichton. I truly feel blessed to have done so well. CLAW has been in the top 5,000-10,000 on Amazon.com since just about a month after its release in December 2019. As of yesterday, I have sold just a little over 10,000 copies and counting. And the two new prequel novelettes I have recently released are also doing quite well. Another aspect of the novel was that I wanted to write something like a big-action blockbuster monster movie set here in the mountains of BC. With CLAW and its upcoming sequel and prequel, I think I have achieved that. CLAW is also available in paperback and audiobook (14.5 hours of fun!)
What is it about this kind of story that appeals to you?
I have always had an affinity for the horrific side of movies and television, and especially things that go bump in the night or with monsters in them. I remember watching the old Universal horror movies with my mom, such as the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, etc. One of the things we also watched were reruns of Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin. It was that show that inspired me to be a writer. I actually wanted to be an investigative journalist like Carl Kolchak and bust monsters each week like he did. Hey, I was only ten at the time.
(WAYNE HAS TO INTERRUPT>>>LOVED Night Stalker! I actually had a dream the other night I got a TV deal to write a reboot of Night Stalker with Randall Park as the reporter. How do we make that happen?)
But that set me up with the writing bug and I never looked back. I actually did study journalism in college for a while along with abnormal psychology. Personally, I like things with the unknown in it. But unknown of the fantastic nature. I know that some people love a good psycho killer novel, but with all the horror in the world these days, I like to escape when I read, or write. Man’s inhumanity against man is something that holds little appeal to me, but nature’s inhumanity to man, or the supernatural’s, well, that’s another thing.
Where can we learn more about you and your work?
For any reader that would like to keep up with my writing, my website is always up to date with links to all of my books at https://katieberry.ca.
I was a fan of werewolves long before Johnny Lycan entered my brain, and have been reading a fair number of Lycanthropic novels lately just to see what’s out there. One of my latest favorites is Wolf Blood: The Werewolf Apocalypse Begins. As you can imagine it’s a very different tale than mine, although it plays with some similar themes: Lycanthrophy as a disease, making conscious choices about what to do with it. That’s about where the similarities end. This is a flat out, badass thriller. I was happy to talk to Steve Morris about his series…
Steve, it’s great to meet another werewolf junkie. Please introduce yourself.
Hi, my name is Steve Morris, and I did several different jobs before becoming a writer. After university I spent ten years working as a nuclear scientist. I then ran my own internet company for a while, before coming up with the crazy and misguided notion that a fresh start as an author would be a smart career move.
I really enjoyed Wolf Blood and look forward to the others. Tell us what it’s about.
Short answer – werewolves taking over the world! A virus originating in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania is brought back to London by scientific researchers. Once established in the city, it begins to spread exponentially. Back in 2017, when I started writing the series, a pandemic felt like an unlikely apocalyptic event rather than something we would all soon experience first-hand.
Long answer – all kinds of things. I’m interested in good and evil, and how it can manifest in each and every one of us, and how the dividing line can sometimes be paper thin. I wanted to explore the theme of diversity, and whether opposing groups of people can find a way to live together, or whether conflict is inevitable. The predator-prey division between werewolves and humans can be viewed as a metaphor for our times.
That’s what I love about werewolf stories, that we all have that inside of us and it’s how we cope that matters. What are the roots of the story?
The title of my series is “Lycanthropic.” The word came to me one day and I thought it would make a cool title for a book. I searched on Amazon, but no one had written a book with that title. So it dawned on me that I would have to write it myself.
I’d enjoyed a lot of zombie apocalypse stories, and so it seemed like an obvious move to write a story about a werewolf apocalypse. Most traditional werewolf stories involve lone werewolves in isolated settings, or else they are coming of age stories where the condition is often regarded as a curse to be overcome. I wondered what it would be like if lycanthropy wasn’t necessarily a curse, and if the werewolves weren’t hunted down and killed at the end of the book. I also wanted to explore what it would be like to be a werewolf.
I know why werewolves fascinate me, and my readers are probably sick about hearing why. But what’s their appeal for you?
I have always loved werewolves. I think that when I was a teenager, I would have liked to be one. The idea that you have this incredible power inside you that can be unleashed, even if you have little or no control over it, can be very seductive. I remember reading about them when I played Dungeons & Dragons, and realising that they didn’t have to be magical, but that lycanthropy might be an actual disease. That made them seem far more real, more plausible, and much more interesting to me.
I’m also very interested in transformation and reinvention, and werewolves and other shapeshifters are the embodiment of these qualities.
Who are you reading people should know about?
I read quite widely. I’ve just finished “Dracul” by Dacre Stoker, which I really enjoyed, and now I’m reading “The Terror” by Dan Simmons, who also wrote the amazing “Hyperion” books. Other authors I have greatly enjoyed include Frank Herbert, George R R Martin, Patrick Ness and Joe Abercrombie.
How can people learn more about you and the Lycanthropic series?