The origins of this series lie in my quintessential problem: I don’t write short stories, at least not easily or often or even willingly.
But when I got wind of an upcoming anthology about Were-kind, with the specific fiat that the editor did not want just the iconic wolves but OTHER creatures, exploring the possibilities of the trope, I had a wild idea out of absolutely nowhere.
It involved a Random Were, a creature that may have its own primary form into which it Turns at its changing time under the proper moon, but if another warm-blooded creature is seen by the Were entity just as the Turn begins… then it is THAT creature which the Were turns into.
The potential for trouble and comedy was high, and that was the way I began to write the story – and the tone was set early. For instance, my protagonist’s mother was… a Were-chicken. Because of an unfortunate farmyard accident at the moment of her first Turn.
You can see where this was going. I giggled to myself and began to write the story I thought I had started to write…
…right until the moment that I realized that it was turning into something potentially much darker than the comic little tale I was originally pursuing, and that I was more than 5000 words into it and I hadn’t even properly said hello yet. This thing wanted to be a novel.
And the further I waded into it and the more it unfolded it became clear that it was even more complex than that.
It ended up being three novels. But not your classic trilogy. More of a triptych, with each of the three books presented as a first-person narrative from a different POV character… involved in the same central tragedy. The different prisms through which the world and its events were viewed by these three very different characters gave my story an unparalleled depth and dimension. I was writing something very special.
Thematically, the books differentiated according to their protagonists. Jazz, the voice of “Random” (Book 1) was the youngest of the POV characters and one who was, perhaps, by far the most innocent of them. It fell to her to explore the dark and vindictive shadows of bullying and discrimination, of finding out about the bitterness of being “other” in the world, of having to struggle with the harsh realities of being alone and not quite knowing who or what to trust. It turned out to be a harrowing book, holding up a mirror to the truths which were being played out in many a reader’s real life – and for some readers it proved to be an unexpected spar of salvation and insight and understanding.
Book 2, “Wolf” dealt with Science. I finally went back to my own educational background, my MSc in Molecular Biology, and I worked out the genetics behind being Were as opposed to being human. The book also dealt with the dangers of dogma and agendas when hidden behind the shield of that science, and explored those issues as well as ideas of guilt and expiation, of sacrifice and salvation, of growing up and finding one’s place in an uncaring world. Mal, my protagonist, Jazz’s older brother, was a brooding and moody angsty teenage BOY, in every sense of that word, until circumstances made him step up and take responsibility – and I was in awe of this character and what he brought to me and to my story, of how he showed the process of coming of age.
And then came Book 3, “Shifter”, where Mal’s friend Saladin van Schalkwyk , better known as Chalky, took center stage. A Don Quixote of a character, a lost boy, a creature lonely and wary and abandoned, and the greatest and most unique Were of them all. He was a white knight and a trickster both, a transcendent creature, a gift to write about. And his book dealt with the dangers and the heady triumphs brought on by that isolation and that responsibility – and also, in broader terms, circled back to the original issues of being “different” and being hated and feared and where those things could lead (open warfare) when fueled by the torches of fundamentalism and malice.
The three books are some of the best and potentially some of the most important things I’ve ever written. And I am immensely proud of them.
Quite aside from the main characters, all of whom were absolute gifts, there were moments of unexpected beauty and poignancy. There was the love between siblings, between family, which was stronger than anything that the world piled on and had to be honored. There was the love between friends, which was the bond of promise and trust. There was the love between mates, the two halves of a couple, and the bonds that are forged when two soulmates meet one another. And all of this was luminous. And then there was the dark light of hatred and fear and the wicked shadows that it cast across the world.
These might have been books about the Were kind, in title, but at their fundamental root they were actually books about what it means to be human.
People tell me they wept when they reached the conclusion of “Shifter”. I’m glad. It shows me that these books have reached a deep emotional core within people, as they had been meant to.
Writers are often asked which of their books are their favorites – and it’s an impossible question to answer because it’s like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. But if I had to pick the books of which I am proudest – well – I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anything I wrote than I am of these books. They matter. They mean a great deal. They are part of a huge human story, instantly recognizable to those who pick up the books and yet breathlessly followed from narrator to narrator into places where the reader might not have expected to go.
I am lighting a path. I hope that readers will follow it.