Continuing my lengthy interview with award-winning fantasy/horror author Douglas Smith, today we speak of altering mythology, subverting monsters, and the future (as it relates to Smith’s writing).
What, if anything, did you feel you could push or transform a little in these stories?
I tried very hard not to “transform” any of these stories. My concern was more in identifying the “true” version of these stories. I would read one story, say of Wisakejack and the flood and the recreation of the world, and then read another version of the same story that was significantly different in events and details. For example, in some versions, his wolf brother lives, in others he dies, while still in others, the wolf is not even mentioned.
So back to my fear. I was so concerned about getting the facts and stories right. How could I do that if every version of a story was different? Which version was the “right” one?
I puzzled over that until I realized that these stories were transcribed from versions that people remembered being told when they were young or used to tell to their children. Storytelling for the Cree and Ojibwe was always an oral tradition, and each storyteller would tell their own version of a traditional tale. So every version I was reading would naturally be different, varying just as the storytellers varied. Or as we learned about Ed and his storytelling class:
He never read to the kids from the books. Storytelling was an oral tradition, not a written one. Reading the stories didn’t let him change them, adding something each time around to give a slightly different meaning to the story from the last time he told it.
Besides, he liked his versions better.
So, I tried to tell the stories as I had found them and then let Wisakejack help Zach to see analogies in those stories to his own situation and the story that was developing around him. A writer can’t resist a metaphor.
In the end, I think it’s as Wisakejack tells Zach, “a story is true if its meaning is true,” and I’ve tried to stay true to the meaning of all the stories.
Your lead character Gwynn holds the ability to transform into a wolf,. I’m always fascinated when authors turn a “monster” (for lack of a better word) into the “hero.” What do you think drives us to reconsider the place of the monster?
I don’t want to generalize or try to speak for other writers in the genre, so I’ll just talk about how I came at the Heroka. As I said above, I wanted the Heroka to link to the theme of protecting our environment. So to me, the Heroka aren’t monsters. Their “shifted” forms are the animals of their particular totem. Those animals, and therefore the Heroka, have a vested interest in preserving our wilderness. For me, they are the natural choice to be the heroes in that battle.
I also tire of the constant depiction of wolves as evil and dangerous in movies and books. One of the truths that Wisakejack teaches young Zach in the book is that “everything’s connected” and that we should view wolves and other wild animals as our brother and sisters on this planet, and with an equal right to exist, survive, and thrive. My “werewolf” is not the malformed hybrid of human and animal so often seen in movies, but a pure transformation into the true animal.
Are you tempted to try another novel, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet?
More than tempted. I’m already about 50,000 words into a second novel, which is a young-adult urban fantasy set in Toronto, and the first in a trilogy. After book 1 of this one, I’m planning to write a stand-alone SF novel based on my novelette Memories of the Dead Man. After that one, I plan a second book in the Heroka universe, then the second book in the YA series. Rinse and repeat.
The question is more to what extent I’ll keep writing short stories. I plan to, but I don’t know what my volume in the short form will be going forward.
Next up: The Subconscious Interview!