At least if you’re me, writing about Rickard Keller, a German werewolf who becomes an American supernatural nuke and secret agent.
Okay, first, let me assure you. There are many other books out there if you would like to write werewolves and need research and inspiration. Some of them are fiction, such as Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison or Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. (I’m sensing a theme. I’m also sensing I should have name my werewolf secret agent series something like “Cold Teeth Run” or “Sharp Cold Run Teeth”. Ah. Missed opportunities.)
I also have a deep, abiding love for werewolf horror films from Lon Chaney, Jr.’s The Wolf Man, to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, (okay, so that’s not quiet horror, but I still love it), to Van Helsing (yes, it’s cheesy, no I don’t care) to Underworld, to Dog Soldiers. The latter is still my favorite of all time, and I realize that I’m leaving a bunch more off the list, but this is a “things to read if you’re writing werewolves”, not “all the werewolf movies I’ve watched and loved.”
Also, I write a secret agent werewolf who was born somewhere in the late 18th century, and became a soldier in Bismarck’s army, and then defected during the Weimar Republic, fought alone against Nazis, fought with partisans against the Soviets, then defected to the US and became a supernatural nuke and secret agent before his first attempt at retirement in Vermont after the 1990’s. I’ve got stacks of books that I’ve read about the history of these periods and locations, plus more on the list that I will be hitting as I finish writing the series (I’ve got five total books contracted and about a book and a half to go until I’ve completed all the first drafts.) But I’m not going to put those here. Maybe a future list. Instead, let’s talk…
- Best-Loved Folktales of the World, selected and with an introduction by Joanna Cole. Folks, if you want to know how I am the way I am as a writer and a reader, let’s start with this volume. I remember reading this in the fourth grade, obsessing over the stories contained within, from the Anansi tales of Africa, to the allegories of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, to the Baba Yaga and Clever Manka, to stories of places I’d never been but dreamt of going–South America, Japan, China, the Pacific, the Caribbean. It was the first time I read an indigenous North American tale…the first time I’d read any tales. So, what does this have to do with werewolves? Nothing much in a literal sense, except for the occasional appearance of a big, bad one eating either grandmothers or seven kids (as in baby goats.) But, it has everything to do with developing that folklore, deep forest, Germanic vibe that informs everything I write in the Rick Keller Project series. These tales, steeped in cultural memory, and then embedded in my memory as a reader, tend to seep out through the cracks and the corners of everything I write, especially when Rick takes to the narrow, midnight trails of the thickest part of the forest in the deepest part of night.
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm. Another reason I am the way I am today is from reading the un-Disneyified tales of the Brothers Grimm at a very young age. True, there are the familiar stories such as Tom Thumb and Hansel and Gretel, but there are more, less well-known stories where sometimes the moral of the story can be quite grisly, and the heroes victorious not necessarily through any smarts or strength of their own, but just pure, dumb luck. I like to think of Rick as a pup wrestling and playing with the cousins in the pack, shepherded up by one of his uncles or aunts, settling them all down to tell them a German folk tale to scare the pants off them. (Do werewolf pups wear pants? That’s a good one for the story bible…)
- The Warwolf/Der Wehrwolf by Hermann Lons. This is a book that chronicles a peasant insurgency during the Thirty Years’ War, a period of incredible strife in Europe that, as always, hit the peasant class much harder than it did the class of nobles who perpetrated it. (There are a few historical titles that I’ve read through on the Thirty Year’s War, which had a major effect on Rick’s pack, and the rest of the Germanic packs, but which I won’t get into here because I’ll get all super nerdy and you’ll probably fall asleep. Unless you’re really into that history. In which case, hit me up in the comments and let’s go for it.) This particular volume tells the tale of a German peasant, Harm Wulf, who makes the decision to get his neighbors and fellow farmers together and form a band of “wolves” to fend off the marauding troops and protect their homes. The book, published in 1910, tells the story and, with the caveat that I read it in its original form with my University German (and university was a while ago), to my mind, highlights the devastation and grief that comes from a place of no good choices. I can see Rick Keller picking up this book, reading it, and maybe thinking back to the German folklore surrounding werewolves, as well as the tales he heard his grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles tell of their time, fighting through the Thirty Years War, clandestinely striking the invading foreign soldiers and disappearing back into the woods, to reappear and strike again at the next full moon to keep their packs safe and hidden. The book does promote the idea of defending one’s land and country, and nationalism for the newly-united Germany of the 19th century was one of the reasons that Rick left his pack in the first place. However, as he discovered, nationalism in the wrong hands leads to destruction and war.
- Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement 1944-1946 by Perry Biddiscombe. Let’s just be clear about my main character, Rick Keller. In his and my opinion, Nazis can fuck off and die. Rick is especially pissed about the fact that those murdering assholes deciding to co-opt his name and the mythology of the pack to run their half-assed little insurgency at the end of the War. It wasn’t a particularly effective insurgency, and he spent a good deal of time hunting down holdouts, stealth attacking on the full moon, and ripping them to shreds, and then eating them. Where did I come up with this part of Rick’s backstory? Mostly from this book. You see a tiny bit in Cold Run, the first book in the series. There’s going to be more in the third book, which I am currently working on. This book was well researched and, while the print was a bit on the small side (or maybe I’m just getting older and need better glasses), the writing flowed and was not overly academically dry. I read the book about ten years ago when I was getting started on the very first draft of Cold Run. I still hadn’t solidified the timeline, or what Rick was doing during that era, but the information from the book has been percolating in my brain since then, giving me a place in the past to understand the present. And yes. Nazis should always fuck off and die, and according to this book, that happened. A lot.
- Metamorphoses of the Werewolf: A Literary Study from Antiquity Through the Renaissance by Leslie A. Scondito. Okay, let’s get SUPER nerdy. You with me? Of course! This book looks at literary representations of werewolves, from ancient and medieval times to the Renaissance. Although the book begins with a brief mention of the Akkadian text, The Epic of Gilgamesh, the focus of werewolf literature quickly shifts to European tales and remains there for the rest of the work. The author explores folk tales from various countries, as well as how the tales interacted with the teachings and authority of the Catholic Church during the time period. I enjoyed reading the exegesis on an intellectual level, and enjoyed the familiarization with the various tales that could have possibly been attributed to Rick’s lineage making themselves known from time to time. I’ve never planned to put in an ultimate origin story for the werewolves in my novels, but a curse from Ishtar back in the Babylonian era might be a good one to start with. In any case, I wish there were more werewolf nonfiction books like this one, especially that might explore non-Western werewolf tales (or were-animal tales) in the form of literary exploration.
- And, finally, I’m going to cheat a little with this last one. Luna’s Children: Full Moon Mayhem edited by D. Alan Lewis. This is an anthology of werewolf short stories, and in its pages it contains Rick Keller’s very first appearance ever. In addition to “Night Run,” in which Rick and a friend investigate some sort of haunting in a NYC cathedral, there were as many different imaginings of the werewolf as there were authors. I remember reading through, enjoying the tales, and also enjoying the fact that Rick had been chosen to add to the werewolf fiction that exists in the world. Since then, I’ve re-edited my story, and I currently offer it as a Bookfunnel reader magnet for people who are willing to sign up for my newsletter.
Anyway, those are the books that I’ve read when I’m looking for inspiration behind Rick Keller, former Four Generations Pack heir, former soldier, former partisan, former supernatural nuke, former secret agent, and currently trying to figure out how to get the world to leave him alone. If you have picked up the series and are enjoying it–thanks! And if you have any recommendations for werewolf books–fiction or nonfiction–let me know.
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