Werewolf

Having a Howl of a Time Talkin’ Horror with Glenn Rolfe

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When you meet Glenn Rolfe, the first thing you think is “Why is this 12-year-old kid trying to sell me a werewolf book?” That’s my way of saying that Glenn looks young (and he is—still in his 30s; when you’re 40, like me, anybody in their 30s is young). In all honesty, when I first met Glenn in person last year in Cincinnati at HorrorHound, the first thing I thought was “Glenn really loves horror.” His love for the genre is infectious. He’s tremendously supportive of his fellow writers too. So when I learned Glenn had a werewolf book, Blood and Rain (Samhain Publishing), scheduled to drop in October, I couldn’t wait to help him try to promote it to all 4 readers of my blog. And Glenn’s take on the age-old legend defied my expectations—it wasn’t what I was expecting at all! But that’s not a bad thing. I’ll let Glenn explain it. Here’s my Q&A with him. Enjoy!

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Q. Many werewolf stories revolve around not knowing who the monster is until the big reveal at the end of the book, but not so in Blood and Rain. We know full well the identities. Did you ever toy with keeping the identities hidden? If so, what made you change your mind? If it was always your plan to reveal who’s who up front, what was the reason?

A. I changed it in my re-writes last summer. The original manuscript was about 60% different. It was a mystery that I ran to have people guessing whether it was one or the other and then the big surprise was that it was both. I liked it, but I ended up completely changing one of the characters. When I sat down to get real last July, I started by writing the prologue. I revealed it right there. And I liked it. To me, it doesn’t matter if we know or not. If you want to do that, go for it. I decided to run straight ahead and just have a lot of fun with the story and these creatures. So, to answer that one, I guess the story demanded that I reveal the identity of the beast right off. I love how it came out.

Q. You’re a Stephen King fan. Publisher’s Weekly even likened your approach in Blood and Rain to the horror master. How did King’s Cycle of the Werewolf influence you? I know it did because A.) you’re from Maine and pronounce lobster entirely different from New Jerseyans, and B.) Blood and Rain is set in a small Maine town much like Cycle. Am I correct in these observations (don’t worry about the lobster one)?

A. Of course. Yeah, I’d seen Silver Bullet a million times growing up and in 2004 I finally read Cycle of the Werewolf. When I finished it I knew I wanted more! I wasn’t a writer at that time, but I jotted down an idea for a story. Years later, that idea became the first few original chapters of my first real work, Blood and Rain. I love small towns. I’ve lived in them almost my entire life. It’s what I know best, so it’s what I use to paint with. King’s beast is bad news, too. I made sure mine was also going to be mean and nasty.

Q. How come your werewolf isn’t a shirtless teenaged Native American boy who can’t act? You do realize you’re alienating 99% of the high school-aged female readership by going out of your way to make your werewolf a vicious, man-devouring monster.

A. Ha! Hey, Taylor Lautner is a good looking kid. But, yeah, no. I had no romantic notions circling my brain during this one. No way were my monsters going to be pretty and lovely.

Q. Werewolf novels you’d recommend to your fans?

A. The Howling by Gary Brandner (if you go to the movies, The Howling IV is actually the story from the first book). Cycle of the Werewolf. I also loved what Ray Garton did in his book, Ravenous. That one had a lot of influence over the original manuscript, too. Outside of Garton and King’s books, I hadn’t read that many werewolf books prior to writing Blood and Rain. I’m catching up now. W.D. Gagliani has an interesting take with his Nick Lupo series, too. I’m getting ready to read book 3 of his saga. Jonathan Janz’s new one, Wolf Land, is pretty vicious, too.

Q. What’s the most difficult part about writing a werewolf novel compared to your earlier works (Abram’s Bridge, a ghost story; and Boom Town, aliens)?

A. It wasn’t any harder than the others. It was a lot of FUN. The most difficult part was re-writing it. It was the first real thing I’d written. The manuscript had all of my “I have no idea what I’m doing” bits in there, but I knew the heart of the story and the characters I’d created were good enough. I refused to give up on them. I did a crazy re-write marathon for about three and a half to four weeks at the end of last summer. I was lucky to have my friend Ben there to tell me yes or no on the changes. He beta read both versions. Once he said “Dude, this is it”, I knew I had it. Then I let Erin at it and she cleaned up the rest of my mess (Thanks, E!) and helped me tweak the last couple of pieces I wasn’t comfortable with. So, much much kudos to Ben and Erin!

Q. I read Blood and Rain and will say this, you spare no one. I won’t spoil anything, but my god! I will tell the reader not to get attached to anybody. What compels you to kill off characters (some the readers might like) or keep them alive? I must admit there were some characters I wish had survived.

A. I don’t worry about whether it’s going to upset anybody. I let the story do what it wants. If they live or die, that’s whatever I felt the scene wanted. It’s not plotted out at all. I just go with the flow when I’m writing. I like to think if this was real life and this shit happened, it wouldn’t be pretty. You’re lucky if you come out in one piece or at all. I write for myself. If anyone else enjoys it, awesome! But you have to write for yourself first. Looking back after I’ve finished at a piece like this, or my other novel, The Haunted Halls, when I see the carnage and death toll….I like it. In real life, shit happens. Life doesn’t play by the rules. There’s something about going into a book or a movie where you don’t know who is or who isn’t going to make it out. I never understand why some writers choose to play it safe every time out. It is what it is. And I dig it. ###

I wish Glenn the best of luck with Blood & Rain. And for those of you in Maine who are eager to meet him. He’s having a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Augusta on Saturday, August 24, from noon to 2 p.m. So get out there to pick up a copy, and talk to the guy about horror. You’ll learn a lot and have a great time doing it!

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Jeff Strand’s Wolf Hunt: a 3-year-late review

WolfHunt

Courtesy: the wonderful Internet

 

Jeff Strand writes irreverent dialogue, and he stuffs Wolf Hunt—a horror novel (although I hesitate to call it that)—with witty repartees between characters both good (in this case: likeable rogues) and bad (Hitler-level evil).

Two low-rent thugs, George and Lou, embark on a simple task: drive a van containing a man in a cage from one part of Florida to another. Ivan, the imprisoned, is a werewolf (no, really, he is) but George and Lou don’t believe it. Disregard the caged prisoner and don’t go near the cage, they’re instructed. Just deliver him to the mysterious person who, presumably, Ivan wants to avoid. But whatever happens—do not open the cage for any reason.

Naturally, they open the cage, and unleash on unsuspecting Florida a serial killer who can transform, at will, into a furry, quick-healing wolf man who mercilessly toys with his prey before dispatching them in gruesome ways.

Wolf Hunt has all the makings of a horror novel save for thing: it’s not particularly scary, in the sense that the movie Midnight Run isn’t scary. But damn is it a great comedy adventure. That’s what I kept thinking while reading about George and Lou imperiling their own debauched lives to save innocent people as they chase Ivan around Florida’s cul-de-sacs, dive bars, highways and swamps.

Just because Wolf Hunt doesn’t scare in the traditional spooky, there’s-something-stalking-the-woods way, it’s nonetheless disturbing—especially when Ivan attacks an innocent woman in her own home. Ivan’s treatment of his victims makes the reader root all the more for George and Lou to catch the hairy bastard.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the werewolf has the most dialogue. Ivan, who’s no slouch, doesn’t shut up when he’s in his human form, and what he spews are either arrogant or despicable taunts. That bastard!

Strand does something I wish more authors would do: he moves the story along with dialogue that’s rarely bland. You won’t find much overly descriptive third-person narration; rather, you’ll enjoy George and Lou struggling to justify their miserable existences, how they want to get out of their criminal lives, and, most importantly, how they plan on bringing down that goddamn bastard Ivan! The back-and-forth between Ivan and George (who serves as the Alpha to Lou) also entertains. You end up caring about George and Lou and that’s because Strand knows how to develop characters, especially babbling, pretentious werewolves. Those looking for hardcore scares won’t find them in Wolf Hunt, but that’s not to diminish its quality as a fun and entertaining (and fast) read. Fans of werewolves won’t go wrong in adding it to their collection.

What makes a horror novel?

Cincinnati-based Samhain Publishing oversees the division for which I write: Samhain Horror.

So, does this make me a horror writer? I honestly don’t consider myself to be one.

What is horror as a genre? Whenever I go into the local Barnes & Noble (sorry, there’s no independent bookstore near where live—gee, why would that be?) I can’t find a horror section. It’s lumped in with fiction/literature. (In fairness, thrillers are treated the same way, but they’re generally easier to define.)

I think true horror can be discerned by Justice Potter Stewart’s method of spotting porn: “I know it when I see it.” (No, I’m not suggesting there’s a moral equivalence here. I simply believe defining horror can be tricky.)

Salem’s Lot? Horror!

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(Courtesy: the Internet)

Dead Until Dark? Hor—wait. I mean, there’s a vampire or two in it, but it’s not exactly scary.

Twilight? Not even close to being horror, despite all those pale-skinned blood suckers and shirtless Native American werewolves.

How do you define Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein? Horror or Science Fiction? I’d lean more toward the latter.

The inclusion of mythical monsters or supernatural elements doesn’t necessarily define a work as horror. Then it must be the feelings the stories generate within the reader. We get scared! But thrillers are scary, right? They inspire dread, too. Silence of the Lambs is considered a psychological thriller, and not horror.

Honestly, when someone suggests a book is horror, I immediately think overwhelming blood, guts and gore. But that’s simplistic. While it’s true horror can have heaps of gore, it’s not necessary to scare. (It’s like comedians using profanity to get laughs: Good stand-up comics don’t need to work blue.) Salem’s Lot lacked gore and ranks as one of my favorite books.

So what makes it an absolute horror novel to me?

The book must:

1. Consistently evoke feelings of terror/dread/hopelessness;

2. Convey a sense of ever-present creepiness;

3. Be set no further back than the 19th Century and not in the too-distant future (anything that’s set hundreds of years in the future and involves vampires [Justin Cronin’s The Passage] strikes me more as sci-fi/supernatural thriller than horror);

and contain at least one of the following:

A. Supernatural and/or undead creatures, humans, and/or entities (e.g., werewolves, zombies, witches, ghosts) that are deliberately written to be scary, vicious and predatory and not created to make teenage girls swoon. They’ll kill you if they catch you. (Sure, they might toy with you for a little while. But eventually you’re dead.) Vampires are supposed to be terrifying, dammit—not insipid Robert Pattinsons.

B. Non-supernatural killers (e.g., humans, wildlife, diseases not originating from outer space) tormenting innocent people, with as little police involvement as possible. Too many police officers or mysterious government agents gets you too close to thriller territory for me. Sure, police can be involved, but not in every chapter. It helps if the main protagonist isn’t an agent of the law.

True horror novels, to me, cannot involve extraterrestrial beings or technology, and cannot be set in the old West and/or involve cowboys. Sorry, you’re either too close to science fiction and/or westerns.

We all have our own standards by which we judge things. And when it comes to horror, the aforementioned ones are mine. But when you think about it, in the grand scheme of life this discussion is about as relevant as attempting to determine the greatest baseball player of all time (Babe Ruth).