Welcome to Coffin Hop 2014! Day 5
** Don't forget to stop by the main Coffin Hop site and visit over 50 authors, artists, etc. Coffin Hopping through Halloween. There'll be prizes, giveaways, ghoulish fun and more! (See all the Coffin Hop books at the bookstore. Most posts here have giveaways too ending 10/31. - See page tab at top or side logo for day one.)
Today, W.D. Gagliani, author of the Bram Stoker nominated Wolf's Trap, talks werewolves...
A Monster For All Seasons (But Especially Halloween)
By W.D. Gagliani
No, not in that way.
Not because he was handsome, not because he was cool. But because he was me… depressed and lonely and afraid of what he might do. Afraid of being an outcast, but inevitably becoming one.
I think I ran into Larry Talbot not in his first appearance on film (The Wolf Man 1941 - see trailer) or any of his next few (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula), but in his final Universal Studios appearance, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Yes, a comedy. It was a comedy starring the popular straight man/funny man duo (they followed the Yiddish schlemiel and schlemazl comedic form, more or less) and yet it still managed to scare me, because Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) played it pretty much straight. He was a tortured soul, for when the moon was full he became a werewolf and did bad things (eating friends and family can count as bad things). When I finally got around to seeing The Wolf Man, I already knew what to expect, but it still hit very close to home. And scared me all over again.
But Larry Talbot was a tragic figure, a monster against his will, and so I found myself relating to him on various levels. What teenager hasn’t felt like an outcast at one time or another? When hormones kick in, doesn’t that sometimes make us into monsters? Aren’t we routinely cruel to our friends and families? Aren’t we living double lives, keeping secrets, doing things we’re ashamed of? All of this played into my perception of Talbot.
Plus, the make-up was cool, for its time.
It also awakened me to the idea that the monster need not be the antagonist, the bad guy. He could be a monster compelled to do evil, but sickened by it. Sure, some vampire protagonists follow that pattern, but more often vampires love what they do. Immortality warps you, let’s face it. When it comes to werewolves, though, they’re not immortal. They’re easy to kill if you have access to the family special occasion silverware. Everyone’s afraid of their wolf forms – and no one wants to clean up after a particularly brutal meal.
There really are more downsides to maintaining a werewolf persona than having to juggle humanity with vampirism. Lycanthropy is messy. Vampirism is all romantic-like, dark and brooding, wine and blood-sipping, and who really loves the sun that much, anyway? Is daylight all you really have to give up? What’s the big deal? The werewolf is more compelling because he or she has to give up a lot in order to be a successful shapeshifter. Shapeshifters wake up with the blood and flesh of friends and innocents in their mouths…and a conscience that won’t let them alone.
There was no doubt, the werewolf was my favorite monster. He scared me, but I also pitied him and sympathized with his plight. In the Middle Ages, hundreds of people were executed – many burned at the stake – for the crime of lycanthropy. People thought werewolves carried off their children, ate their livestock, and caused all sorts of havoc out in the countryside.
I started to see an idea form for a character. It took a syndicated TV vampire, in Forever Knight, to nudge me in that direction, and one particular novel, Robert R. McCammon’s The Wolf's Hour (about a man "changed" and raised by werewolves) to make it gel. Toss in some autobiographical elements, and Dominic “Nick” Lupo was born – he would be my protagonist, coming face to face with the monster in himself and another monster who knew what he was. He was Italian, so naming him Lupo (an actual surname you can have, by the way) made some sense in a Dickensian way because it means wolf. Sometimes readers don’t like that, but I always thought it was a slightly humorous way to point out his destiny. The antagonist – what we call the bad guy around here – arose from my desire to create a sort of blue collar version of Hannibal Lecter, who had made the film The Silence of the Lambs a recent hit.
It took some years, and five novels (and counting), to start to tell a story about this Nick Lupo, this homicide cop with a curse that can also be an asset, if only he figures out how to use it – sort of like a monstrous superhero, but one who is almost never happy with the results of his attempts to do the right thing.
And then it made sense to make this protagonist begin to spiral out of control, so that he slowly begins to resemble an antagonist, bringing him full circle – the fact that he’s a monster, after all is said and done. Nick Lupo: He’s a good guy, but he’s getting over it.
There was nothing more satisfying than bringing into the series my own family’s World War II story. I’ve also found that writing about a protagonist with a tortured soul lets me explore the nature of evil from various angles.
Thanks, Lon Chaney, Jr., for hooking me early on in life and leading me to where I can explore multi-faceted areas. It may have been a comedy that grabbed me, but there’s been plenty of drama along the way. How can any monster possibly top the werewolf for me?
This Halloween, howl on, all you werewolves!
Find W.D. Gagliani:
Wolf's Trap (Samhain) Bram Stoker nominated book 1 of the Nick Lupo series
Wolf’s Gambit (47North)
Wolf’s Bluff (47North)
Wolf’s Edge (Samhain)
Wolf’s Cut (Samhain)
Savage Nights (Tarkus Press)
Mysteries & Mayhem (Tarkus Press) with David Benton
** See full bibliography at website and Amazon author's page
***Giveaway: Comment about your favorite monster to win one print or Kindle copy of winner’s choice of any book in the Wolf series. (US shipping only.) Include a way to contact you.