You’ve written stories long and short across several different genres. What can you do in short stories that you can’t do in novels? How did this one come about?
Shorts are great if I have one discrete idea with just a few characters. I can focus on a scene, a single encounter, a single incident. For “The Island of Beasts,” I really wanted to focus on this meeting between werewolves on a remote island. I didn’t want to explain the entire world, all the characters’ histories, what happens next. Short stories mean I can really bring that microscopic focus in and not have to stretch and expand past that. Ultimately, I find I can really pack a lot of conflict and character into those brief, intense moments. That can be very satisfying.
When I was writing a lot of novels about werewolves I was also watching a lot of BBC Jane Austen adaptations. Naturally, I started thinking about werewolves in Regency England. I’ve had some ideas.
The other wolves expected her to be a Wendy, playing house for the lost boys rather than join the chaos. As a wolf and as a human, I would guess that she’s subject to a number of social and hierarchical rules. It’s also suggested that her two selves are compartmentalized. When you consider the character and the tropes, does freedom mean the same thing to her wolf-self as her human-self?
This is set in the Regency period, and Lucy is a woman in the servant class. So her human self has a lot of constraints, but I don’t imagine she actually minds all that much—if she were allowed to just be that. I think she would like to be allowed to stay in her place, except that the werewolf side means she has power and can be dangerous, which means others want to control her, which they didn’t want to do when she was “just” a servant. I think it’s the constraints that the leaders of the supernatural world put on her that upset her balance. They want her under their control. She wants the freedom to decide for herself. So yes, freedom is a shifting thing, and I think for Lucy it has mostly to do with realizing the boundaries are there only when she runs up against them.
All the wolves on the island are assumed to be rebels and criminals. What makes Brandon and Cox ultimately choose truce, with each other and with her? Are they really monsters, and according to whom?
That’s the point of a lot of my werewolf stories—are they really any more monstrous than human beings who do monstrous deeds? There’s an implication that they were sent to exile on the island not because they’re really all that dangerous, but because they don’t follow the rules of the people in charge. There’s an organized society of werewolves on the mainland, and they don’t fit. So yes, who defines what is monstrous and what isn’t is a big part of this. I think Cox and Brandon both consider themselves to be honorable, by the general human standards of the day, which is why they’re able to get along.
Cox and Brandon suggest that the wolves are being hoarded as chaos to be unleashed on their superiors’ enemies. Is there a difference between men’s chaos and women’s? The story describes female wolves as rare, but I had to wonder if Lucy promised a different kind of power in reserve, or if there were something else at play.
I’m honestly not sure it’s that complex. She was threatened with exile if she didn’t conform—and she still didn’t conform. I’m not sure those who did the exiling really care what happened to her. I’m not sure they expect her to survive. But as I said, Cox and Brandon consider themselves to be honorable, which means protecting the weak. What surprises them is Lucy isn’t weak. I think the alliance on the island will prove to be very strong indeed (sequel . . . maybe!), but it won’t be because of any gender definitions, but because they all have a certain level of honor and a determination not to conform to the powers that be.
When you’re not writing, it sounds like you really enjoy riding. Can I ask about your horse life? What kind of riding do you like to do? What’s your horse like? Has that relationship affected how you approach people or storytelling?
Right now I’m riding other people’s horses. I had my own years ago, but lost her to colic. She was my best friend and I still miss her. Right now I’m a little too busy and traveling too much to commit to my own, but I’m enjoying riding. It’s good exercise, gets me out of the house. I’m taking dressage lessons, but I like all kinds of riding. Part of why I’m keeping up with it is I love horseback tourism—going to other countries, riding their particular local variety. It’s a great way to experience the landscape. I rode a Camargue horse on the coast of France a few years ago. Last year, I spend a day on an Icelandic horse on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland, and that was wonderful. In the next couple years I hope to get to New Zealand and ride where Rohan was filmed.
I love horses; they’re amazing, powerful animals and they always make me feel better. With dogs, you can be a terrible person and most dogs will still love you. With cats, you can be the best person and a cat is still just going to be a cat. Horses will give back to you whatever you give them. If you’re cruel and hard, they’ll never connect with you. But if you’re open, kind, sensitive—they respond to that. They’re special.
I’m not sure how my relationship with horses affects my storytelling. Surprisingly, I don’t write about horses that often. They’re my mental health break, the thing that gets me out of the house and calms me down so I’m able to actually approach people or storytelling at all.
What’s next for you this year? What are you working on?
Too many projects to name, really. Fairwood Press is releasing a signed, limited edition of my novella “Paranormal Bromance.” I have another novella, “Gremlin,” due out in Asimov’s Science Fiction soon. So yes, I’m exploring novella writing, which is something I haven’t done a lot of until recently. I have some secret novel projects percolating too.
Spread the word!