I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Kruger about the first two books in her Madgeburg Trilogy last year. In The Night Has Teeth and The Night Has Claws, we meet American teen Connor Lewis studying in Paris and getting to know the other foreign students. He discovers that not only are werewolves real, but that his unique heritage makes him a target for differing factions, whether he likes it or not.
I won’t say any more at the risk of huge spoilers! But both books are great reads and I highly recommend both. (And the interview below will make a lot more sense if you’ve read them.) Kat was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about her third and final book in this series, The Night is Found.
In this novel Connor goes back to the United States to seek information — and possibly help — from the North American packs in the brewing European conflict between werewolves and those hunting them. He also needs to warn them: the permanent cure for lycanthropy has the potential to destroy their kind. And Connor finds he’s more of a target than ever.
David Jón Fuller: In each of the novels in The Madgeburg Trilogy, the geography is integral to the story. We get a real feel for the vibrant streets of Paris; the secluded, history-steeped Harz, Germany; and now, the rural, “wild” character of the preserve in New York state. What kind of research do you do to recreate your locations? How do you feel geography affects the way you tell the story?
Kat Kruger: I love to travel so geography in my books means a lot to me. As a writer, I try to convey the importance of that by integrating location into the story. My aim is to allow readers to experience the setting in the same way my characters do. So I try to do as much locational research as I can.
Going into The Night Has Teeth, I knew that book would be set in Paris because it’s a city I adore. Having travelled there before, I was already familiar with some of the locations and the rest was filled in by online research. Google Street View has become integral to my location research. There were also virtual tours offered by some venues like Père Lachaise Cemetery and the illegal part of the catacombs as recorded by cataphiles (urban spelunkers who specialize in this area).
Harz, Germany required a different approach. Quedlinburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but I only got to visit after I’d written The Night Has Claws. Finding details about specific buildings and streetscapes took a lot more in-depth research. There’s just no Google Street View in some areas. I scoured through endless Flickr sets in search of up-close pics of the castle and other historical sites. Eventually I was able to add details from my in-person visit in the few chapters that appear in The Night Is Found … like the fact that the town crest is of an eagle within which is the castle and in the castle gate is a black wolf.
For the final book, I took a road trip to New England. Literally within minutes of getting on the highway a coyote crossed in front of me. It was a sign, right? I mean, it had to be. The idea of “the Wilds” didn’t come until after that trip and I place it squarely on the shoulders of that coyote. For the rest of the locational research in The Night Is Found I just observed a lot of what the scenery looked like on the drive and hiked a few short trails. I’m a fan of the work that the Wolf Conservation Center does so there’s a hat-tip to them in “the Founders” (short for Wolf Conservation Foundation). In Salem, I also found the name Habbakuk on a grave marking and his name appears as one of the chieftains of the American packs.
DJF: One thing that struck me in your treatment of the North American packs was that the werewolves in charge (such as Marrock) keep the “Wild” werewolves isolated from humans and other werewolves on what is essentially a game preserve. One of the Wilds, Ben, has never even seen or heard of an airplane. Do you think there is a certain attitude or tendency on people’s part in the 21st century to still see humanity as “separate” from nature? That nature or wilderness is something that basically belongs in a park?
KK: I absolutely think we’ve sort of detached ourselves from nature. A simple example is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I take for granted that I grew up with fresh fruit and vegetables that often came out of my family’s garden. When I saw how many kids didn’t know that ketchup was made out of tomatoes, or what a potato even looked like, I was deeply saddened.
With the DIY and buy local movements cropping up, I’d like to think that’s changing a bit. But I think we have a long way to go as a society to find the right balance again. Even with my online and gaming tendencies I walk almost every day, frequently in green space, but those spaces are shrinking.
Most cities have this sense that nature has to be cordoned off somehow, like it’s dangerous. With urban sprawl, the wilderness does need to be saved somehow but I don’t feel it needs to always be “tamed” into English or French gardens with wrought-iron fencing. I’m really lucky to live in a suburban neighbourhood where there’s a trail right in the middle and deer visit my backyard regularly.
DJF: We see some more of the international flavour of your werewolves’ world as Arden and Madison make contact with packs in Eastern Europe, and there are certainly differences in attitude between the North American werewolves and their long-separated European brethren. How did you approach differences in culture among the various packs? How did power dynamics between one group and another inform those cultures, as you developed them?
KK: I grew up in Toronto in very multicultural neighbourhoods. I’m actually from a diverse background of the Chinese-Filipino-German-Polish-Jewish variety so I’m not a stranger to the idea of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. That said, there had to be limitations on the scope of just how many cultures I could encompass in this final book. My editor did push me in this regard also so I have to give props to him as always. Pretty much everything east of the Ural Mountains was off-limits in this book. It’s where I drew the line between the European and Asian werewolves. Maybe some day I’ll write about the ones I couldn’t get to in series!
The European packs have histories together that are interwoven yet they exist separate from one another. With exception to the Parisian pack, under Roul’s leadership, the others have had no interest in trappings of material wealth and human society. They lead primitive lives and simply try to fly under the radar of humans — the Luparii and Hounds of God included. Roul is an anomaly, running a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company and integrating among humans. It’s what really winds up saving them in the end.
With the North American packs being so far removed from European society they’ve been able to start from scratch. I was at liberty to reinvent the rules. On the one hand, they escaped persecution from the Hounds and the Luparii so I felt their society would want to operate on a completely different level. On the other, it couldn’t just be a free-for-all because humans have a tendency of treating the unknown with a “burn it with fire” attitude.
So I embrace the notion of “Live Free or Die.” The Wilds are completely free but within the boundaries of the sanctuaries that have been set up. Whereas the Founders are completely integrated within human society in order to further their agenda.
I also liked the idea of making Esrin and her cohorts in the likeness of the Rich Kids of Instagram because sometimes what they do defies instinct and that illustrates the power of wealth in a way that’s simply not achievable in the world they left behind.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read The Night Has Found, the next question could give away elements you might prefer to discover in reading the book. If you want to avoid spoilers, skip ahead to the question after this next one!
DJF: The ethics of the “cure” offered by Wolf’s Bane pose serious problems for the werewolves in your books. On one hand, it can offer a release from transforming from human to animal, but on the other it can limit a werewolf to one form — wolf or human — for the rest of his or her life, which also becomes a normal human or lupine span. Wolf’s Bane also quickly becomes weaponized as the various groups seek to gain advantage by forcibly inflicting to cure on others. How do you see ethics and scientific progress intertwining? Are there ways to safeguard against misuse, or will there always be some unforeseen consequence of new discoveries?
KK: I think ethics are crucial and part of the reason why I introduced the conundrum that Wolf’s Bane presents is for readers to have this kind of conversation. Scientific progress is meant to improve the human condition but so long as humans are in charge there will always be a question of what “improve” means.
Do glow-in-the-dark rats really better the quality of life? If not, then why is that a thing? What’s a scientific revolution to one person could easily be Frankenstein’s monster to another.
In Boguet’s case, he genuinely intended to “cure” bitten humans and born werewolves of their “condition.” His drive was borne out of his own affliction as one of the bitten. In fact, I pulled his character out of the history books where he was a real life witch-hunter (and of werewolves too). The curious thing to me is that the real man probably did think he was helping his village in some way so it wasn’t that much of a stretch for me to put him in the position of a scientist with an ethical dilemma.
As for safeguarding against misuse, that’s a big question mark for me. How do we do that without stalling scientific progress? Yet if we let our fear of not advancing become an excuse to overlook ethics, isn’t that just as wrong? I guess I’m going to cheat and go back to saying the reason I wrote this quandary into the books is for readers, young and old, to ask themselves these questions.
DJF: In The Night Has Teeth, Connor is a neophyte with no inkling that werewolves even exist, or what makes him unique in their world. By The Night is Found, he’s a leader at the centre of a battle for their continued existence. How did you approach that multibook character arc as you wrote each book in the series?
KK: I approached his growth, perhaps fittingly, in the nerdiest way possible. I really felt his progress needed to follow along the lines of his geeky heroes and basically looked at it from the perspective of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. Connor has been pushed into a role that he’s not necessarily prepared for but one that’s rightfully his to fulfill.
The Night Has Teeth was all about taking him out of his introverted comfort zone and introducing him to this underground world that he somehow becomes an unwitting participant in.
The Night Has Claws shows him questioning those in charge and starting to stand his ground for the things he believes in.
The Night Is Found is where he asserts himself and takes control of each of the scenes he finds himself in and ultimately he fulfills the role he was meant to be in all along.
DJF: There’s a great push-pull attraction and affection between Connor and Madison that’s been growing since The Night Has Teeth and developed into something more in The Night Has Claws — yet it never falls into a predictable pattern. How did you approach writing their changing relationship?
KK: Like the science behind the werewolves, I wanted to approach their dynamic in as realistic a way as possible. Here we have Connor who’s never even been kissed and Madison who’s far more worldly. While he’s trying to sort out his feelings for her from the start because it’s all so new to him, she’s been hurt very badly by Josh which makes her conflicted about taking a chance on love again.
To further complicate matters, in The Night Has Teeth she’s actually not allowed to even touch Connor because he’s human. Readers don’t know that until The Night Has Claws when the untouchable tenet of the Hounds of God is revealed. Because Connor and readers don’t have that information at the start, the tension between him and Madison seems a bit more intense.
Once he’s bitten, he’s fair game. At that point the tension between her and Josh increases while romantic elements begin to bloom between her and Connor. Then, of course, by the time The Night Is Found comes around they’re pulled apart by war with Connor in the USA and Madison in Europe.
I didn’t really set out to write a paranormal romance so their emotional struggle is something I kept more on the backburner. The reality is that love is super-awkward at that age. Hormones tell you one thing while your brain sometimes says the opposite. The push-pull between them is just representative of their internal struggles.
DJF: Now that the Madgeburg Trilogy is complete, what’s next for you as a writer? What would you like to do, or explore?
KK: I’m currently working on a project that I’ve codenamed #SteampunkUnicornProject on my social media channels. Yes, it’s steampunk but it takes place in an alternate timeline that’s not Victorian England. I’ve set the book in Nîmes, France (yes, I’ve been there) and I’m currently busy building a new world. It’s a standalone YA book but I hope to be able to write other books in the same world. My plan is to start submitting it to agents and publishers in late 2014 or early 2015.
Thanks again to Kat for taking the time to chat about The Night is Found! For more information on the novel and the Madgeburg trilogy, visit the Fierce Ink Press website.