In case you haven’t been keeping up with current events, some of the best werewolf stories are coming from women these days. None more so than Allison Moon, who began her Tales of the Pack series with Lunatic Fringe in 2011, and launched the second book in the series, Hungry Ghost, on April 9. (You can find more information on both at her website.)
In Lunatic Fringe, Allison introduces us to Lexie, a first-year university student from Wolf Creek, Ore., who moves to nearby Milton to attend school. Not only does she fall in with a strong-minded group of women known as the Pack, she also falls in love with a woman for the first time. In addition to navigating the sometimes tense sexual politics on campus, Lexie is dismayed to discover that she, as well as some others in Milton, are werewolves.
Allison weaves a dense backstory for her werewolf world, in which some wolves, known as Rares, have no human form but viciously prey on people infringing on their territory. There are also full-blooded and half-blooded werewolves with varying degrees of power and control over their lupine selves.
And these aren’t tragic man-monsters cursing the full moon’s power over them, or buffed-up romantic hunks, either. Alison’s wolf-women are sisters, feminists, lesbians, philosophers, hunters, and warriors — and they give a new meaning to the term “female empowerment.”
In Hungry Ghost, Allison further develops her themes of coming to terms with one’s past, with one’s own body, what it means to be a woman, and the consequences of violence. Recently she took the time to answer a few questions about her writing and her plans for Tales of the Pack.
David Jón Fuller: What made you want to write novels in in the first place? What attracted you to writing about werewolves in particular?
Allison Moon: I always loved writing, and I knew I had a knack for it. But, I had a hard time giving myself permission to be a creator — to identify as a capital-w “Writer.” The werewolf story was actually what pushed me over the edge to take on the identity and responsibility of being a Writer. I realized that I had a story that needed to be shared, and I was the only person who could write it. It became a duty that helped me undertake the writing.
DJF: In both Lunatic Fringe and Hungry Ghost, the all-female Pack that Lexie becomes a part of is one that encourages empowerment as women and as wolves. This is in stark contrast to monster-movie tropes, in which the werewolf is typically alone and male (and usually a monster or tortured monster). What inspired you in your take on lycanthropy?
AM: I got into a discussion with a guy who insisted werewolves couldn’t be women, because no one would want to read a book or watch a movie about “hairy, aggressive women.” His opinion incensed me. Women are mammals — we have body hair, we get angry, we get horny.
But even in our society, women are taught we have to hide it all or even deny it exists. I realized that guy’s opinion was pervasive — there are so few books and films that tell stories of female werewolves. I wanted to change this.
Plus, there were so many similarities between my experience of lesbian community and the werewolf myth: We eschew traditional gender roles, we let our body hair grow, we are tapped into our aggression, and we run in tight packs. Plus, who else changes moods with the moon?
DJF: In Hungry Ghost, Lexie wrestles with her own innate power. She seems held back by her own expectations of what she should be, as well as resentment over her mother and father (for different reasons). At one point she wraps her arms around her own body and declares, “Mine.” No one, not the Rares or anyone else, will have power over her body. Do you think women are generally taught to fear their own agency or power? Can Lexie’s journey to coming to terms with her inner wolf be seen as a metaphor for female empowerment?
AM: Absolutely. I wrote Hungry Ghost during the latest insane spewing from politicians about women’s bodies. Every day on the news it was “transvaginal ultrasounds,” “legitimate rape,” and Steubenville apologists. I watched elected officials treat women like noodle-brained uteruses with legs. That it’s 2013 and supposed men of stature are speaking like this infuriates me.
Women are taught that our sexuality is both damaging to men and demanded by them. We learn that just by being ourselves we turn men into insatiable and uncontrollable monsters, and that it’s our job to spurn these advances lest we be labeled a slut. Just as men are treated as animals, women are supposed to be above it: pure, innocent, clean. We’re not allowed to get sweaty and stinky and dirty. This narrative is damaging to men and women. No one deserves to be reduced to their sex organs.
I think women declaring power over our own bodies is the only thing that will change things for the better. Our ability to say “no” and be listened to, our ability to say “yes” and be respected. These are simple but revolutionary acts.
DJF: Hungry Ghost in many ways deals with the aftermath of Lunatic Fringe. The Pack’s continued survival without their former leader, the PTSD suffered by Lexie’s friend Duane, and Lexie’s heartache for her departed lover. How difficult was it to approach writing a sequel as opposed to the first book? What did you look forward to doing with a second novel with some of the same characters?
AM: The hardest part about writing a sequel is injecting enough exposition to get new readers up to speed. I can’t say if I’m successful, but I hope so. I did look forward to digging back into my characters’ lives.
I was particularly interested in giving Duane a bit more page-time, because I love him, and I think it’s important to see the aftermath of violence. So often, violence in art is an unexamined force akin to a natural disaster or a throw-away plot device. I think it’s important to see characters learning how to survive after being victimized.
DJF: In Lunatic Fringe, sexuality is an integral part of the characters and the story, and you explore attitudes towards women and also towards lesbians. In Hungry Ghost, we get to know the male gay community in Milton as well, and the werewolves among them. Do you think werewolves can embody or personify fears we have about our bodies, and if so, does this have any parallels with the way members of the LGBT community are treated by mainstream society?
AM: I think the core of the werewolf mythos is humankind’s discomfort with being animals, and in a strange way, even having bodies. Werewolves, as Renee says early in the book, represent the “pulsing, sweaty, throbbing heart of life.”
I think LGBT people are treated so badly because our society is afraid of sexual bodies. Any deviation from the norm (in this case: hetero, monogamous, adult, married, “vanilla” sex) is treated as a threat. Non-normative gender presentation and sexual choices are as scary as any monster.
LGBT people have to work hard to stake our claim to life and happiness, so we celebrate our struggle with pride and sexual freedom. Mainstream society fears that freedom because it desires it. We all yearn for the primal, to let ourselves go, to ravage our lovers, to strip naked and dive in a river. It’s when we force that part of ourselves into a tight, dark place that it starts to fester and corrode.
LGBT people and werewolves are both familiar with the closet. There’s a public face of normalcy you present, when really you just want to chase down some elk and rut under the full moon.
Right now, with the marriage equality debate [in the United States], many LGBT people are shouting, “We’re just like you!” We need to get mainstream acceptance to get admitted into the Marriage Club. Honestly, many gay folks are just like straight folks, and that’s just fine. But lots of us aren’t. We proudly identify as freaks, perverts, and don’t think that assimilation is the best of all worlds.
DJF: In your two novels, there is a hierarchy or taxonomy of wolves — the Rare wolves, or pure-bloods, who may have no human form but are creatures of immense power; the pure-bloods like Archer or Sage, who do take human form but are predominantly “wild” or non-human in their way of thinking, and the full-bloods and half-bloods who are primarily human but also turn into wolves. The most powerful creatures are clearly the pure-bloods. How does one’s connection to the natural world, in your opinion, affect one’s perspective? Is that connection something modern society has lost, or needs?
AM: Archer the pureblood represents integration to me. She is unified in both her human and her wolf identities, and that gives her strength.
Lexie, as she comes into her own wolf identity finds her own strength. She learns to shed artifices of niceness and placidity and own her rage, to fight for her family and her home. Yet she still questions the ethics of it all. Who owns land? Who gets to survive when others die? This is where I think true power comes from– connection to passion with empathy for others.
DJF: On the other hand, you don’t soften the danger of the wolf, as seen in the behaviour of the Rares, the Pack, and even Lexie’s own actions. Do we romanticize or idealize wolves in modern society?
AM: I think Americans aren’t used to animals being dangerous. Here in California we have mountain lions and sharks, but there are very few times I have to worry about getting run down and eaten by an animal when I walk out the door. I wanted to bring back some of the danger in animals with Tales of the Pack: to create werewolves that aren’t soulful lover-boys, but nasty, smelly animals who will tear your throat out.
DJF: Relating in part to the questions above, do you hunt? If so, what effect did that have on the way you approached these two novels?
AM: There’s a “wild beaver” joke in there somewhere, but I’ll refrain. I don’t hunt, but I come from a family who does. I grew up in Ohio, where it wasn’t strange to see stuffed deer on the mantle or a gun rack in the closet.
I had a hard time negotiating the use of guns in Hungry Ghost, though, because the Newtown massacre had just happened when I started writing the climax, and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of glamourizing assault rifles just because it’s convenient.
However, when faced with a real beasties who want to kill you, the only sane thing is to arm up. There’s a big difference between the frontier and suburbia, which is a nuance missed from most of the gun rhetoric happening right now.
The weirdest thing about writing about weapons was making it hard for the girls to get guns. Hungry Ghost is set in Oregon, which has some of the most lax gun laws in the country. But to make it a fair fight, I couldn’t have the girls weighed down by automatic weapons and endless magazines.
DJF: In TV shows such as True Blood, The Vampire Diaries or series such as Twilight, werewolves often play second fiddle to the mainstream über-creatures of darkness, vampires. Do you think werewolves have been “othered” in terms of their role in pop culture?
AM: Absolutely. Werewolves are always written as these working class dudes, often men of color, often exotified for their race. This is particularly pernicious in paranormal romance. Vampires are exalted for being refined, Eurocentric, and rich. I get the appeal, but it bores me, like the endless exaltation of material wealth vampires represent. There’s only so much cold, bloodless, beauty I can take. I’m much more interested in the realness of our bodies, the strength and heat.
DJF: What did you find most difficult about writing Hungry Ghost?
AM: Honestly writing the book was easy, finding the time to do it while still managing to eat was hard.
DJF: What did you enjoy most about writing it?
AM: After spending so long with characters, I start to think of them as real people. When I take a break from the books, I miss them. I loved getting to hang out with Renee, Duane, and Lexie again.
DJF: Are there more novels planned for the series?
AM: Yes! I’m writing a prequel that explores Archer’s story, and then I’ll round out the trilogy with the conclusion of the Pack’s story.
DJF: As an indie author, what advice would you give to other writers?
AM: Pay attention to your experience of writing. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and implement your best practices. Learn to take criticism but ignore insults. Write for yourself first, for the love of it, and the audience will find you.