From an innocuous title, to a no-holds barred beginning, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” drives the reader straight to the heart of the story. Tell us a little of what inspired you to write such a delightfully horrific tale.
I set myself a challenge a few years ago to write a series of stories using the titles of cheesy SF/horror movies from the 1950s as a source of inspiration. The idea was to honor the pulpy nature of the material while treating it with subtlety and emotional nuance. So far, three of them have seen print—The Creature from the Black Lagoon (retitled “The Creature Recants”), “I Married a Monster from Outer Space,” and “Teenagers from Outer Space,” with another one forthcoming (“Invasion of the Saucer-Men”). In this particular case, I was struck by the fact that there have been lots of teenage werewolf movies, from the original Michael Landon flick to Teen Wolf and Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream. Clearly the teenage werewolf motif is a popular one. I wrote the story to try to figure out why.
Fans of classic B-grade horror movies will recognize many of the characters and the references to plot elements in the 1957 “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”. Here, you pull back and explore the dark lands between the thrill of being frightened and the true meaning of horror that reaches beyond the screen. What is it about that thrill of horror, of being scared, that appeals to readers and moviegoers?
This is the question every horror writer faces at one time or another. In trying to answer it, I suppose I’d reach all the way back to Aristotle and the idea of catharsis—the notion that we purge ourselves of our fears by facing them in an essentially safe space. Horror stories are like amusement park rides in that way: no matter how bad it gets, you know you’re going to step off safe when it’s over.
Though you step off the silver screen, you perfectly capture much of the tension of the generation gap at the heart of the movie. In its own way, this tension plagued the older generations of the 1950s: Elvis; rock music; changing politics; the post-war economic boom; children growing up with “minds of their own.” Even the I Was a Teenage Werewolf movie was considered to be a bad influence on the youth of the day. As a writer, do you see much of the same response to today’s popular culture and how it affects the up and coming generations?
To the extent that pop culture is teen culture, I think adults will always worry about how it might affect their kids. I know I do. I’m the parent of a teenager. I’m pretty sure she’s a werewolf.
You make good use of a distant narrative tone, granting a wider point of view, delving into character’s thoughts and emotions, creeping under the thin veneer of the movie in pursuit of a different story. Why did you choose this particular style of story telling?
The real answer is that the story chooses its own telling—or at least that’s been my experience. In this case, I think the narrative voice serves the larger ideas in the piece, which isn’t about any one single teenager, but about the way teenagers in general experience the world differently than adults do, and the tensions between the two groups that consequently arise. But that insight, for whatever it’s worth, is the product of looking back on the story. I didn’t think much about it as I was writing it. It’s just the way the story unfolded itself.
If you could write yourself into a classic horror movie or story, which one would you choose? Would you be a monster, a hero, or both?
I would never do this. This seems like a fundamentally unwise thing to do.
Who tickles your fancy between the covers? What authors give you the shivers when you want to get your horror on?
I’ve got the standard set of influences, I suppose. The seminal writers for me were Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. That said, I cast a pretty wide net. Right now I’m reading a lot of short fiction—Fred Chappell, David Case (who’s written his fair share of werewolf stories), Michael Shea. It differs from day to day.
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