I would love to say that when I first thought of the premise for Silver Moon (middle-aged woman unexpectedly becomes a werewolf), I was engaged in some sort of deep and thorough analysis of the dearth of female werewolves and of middle-aged female protagonists in genre.
In reality, I was watching Ginger Snaps, films 1 and 2, and the prequel.
The Ginger Snaps movies, for those who haven’t discovered them yet, are a series of Canadian films that managedto successfully combine horror, feminism, satire and lycanthropy. In the first movie, teenage sisters Ginger and Brigitte are disaffected high school students contemplating either running away from home or dying by sixteen. Then, Ginger is attacked by a werewolf. She has, inevitably, just started her period. The plot escalates from there as Ginger revenges herself against their classmates and begins to lose her humanity while Brigitte tries desperately to cure her.
The movies, apart from being entertaining, got me thinking about depictions of female werewolves in sf and f and horror. There aren’t a lot to choose from, particularly as main characters: Ginger Snaps; Suzy McKee Charnas’ protagonist in “Boobs;” Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl; the anthology Women Who Run with Werewolves and a few others. The best-known female werewolves in science fiction and fantasy and horror are young women, often teenagers or in their early twenties. And the women often transition to lycanthropy as the result of the onset of menses, which triggers a werewolf attack.
While I was cogitating on this, editor JoSelle Vanderhooft contacted me about writing a story for an anthology of lesbian werewolf novellas that she was working on (now out as Bitten by Moonlight from Zumaya Press). So I started pulling my previous noodlings together into a story idea that went something along the lines of “If it can happen at one change in life, why not another?” Add to that the indisputable fact that there are very few middle-aged female protagonists in sf/f and put the two together, at least in my brain, and ta-da! Menopausal werewolves.
I decided that I wanted to write about a middle-aged woman who turns into a werewolf as she entered menopause. And she wouldn’t know that it was going to happen, until it did (not unlike some aspects of going through menopause). This woman would have a community of some sort around her, as well as people who didn’t want her to change, because I wanted to write about those relationships.
Once I got that far, I needed a rationale for why there would be more than one werewolf near my protagonist to support the story I wanted to tell. This was, as it turned out, closely connected to the question of how she or they became werewolves in the first place.
One of the marvelous things about writing about werewolves is that there is such a wealth of interesting stories about how the change is brought about. My personal favorite, though not the one I used, is the legend that suggests that you can become were by drinking rainwater from a wolf’s paw print. You can also put on a belt made of wolf skin, apply magical ointment, or simply sleep outside under the full moon. Given the options, being bitten by a werewolf or just plain being born that way were pretty prosaic.
I had already ruled out the option of her being born a werewolf if I wanted it to be unexpected. So that meant that either she had to get bitten by another werewolf or something else had to happen. I wanted to do something besides transmission by biting, in part because it would start her off with an antagonistic relationship with the other werewolves. I wanted to do something different, something that felt more in line with the tone of the story. But the rainwater from the paw print thing seemed a bit much.
What I came up with instead was the idea of using place-based magic. This had to do with my desire to write a story that touched on ideas about community and activism. Why not a place that impacted some of its inhabitants in unusual ways? I bowed to tradition in keeping the lunar-based transformations, though these werewolves can break from that if they have enough control. Otherwise, the magic of the place picks and chooses who changes and when.
The place in question is a town called “Wolf’s Point” in a valley in the American West (I opted not to put it in a specific state). Generations of Native Americans from different tribes and immigrants from different parts of the world combined elements of their various magical traditions to create a special place. It was one guarded first by the spirit of the wolves, then actual werewolves. And who better to call as guardians than healthy older women who’ve been written off as too old to be desirable or to bear children?
My protagonist, Becca Thornton, is a fairly recent transplant to Wolf’s Point. She’s divorced and working in the local hardware store for Pete and Shelly Peterson. Shelly Peterson has a secret, one shared by several of Becca’s neighbors and some of the other women in the Wolf’s Point Women’s Club. Shortly after her fiftieth birthday, the valley’s magic calls Becca to join them in the local werewolf pack, comprised of women of a “certain age.” And she’s not wildly enthusiastic about it.
In fact, Becca is pretty conflicted about a lot of things. She doesn’t want to be menopausal, or a werewolf, or have a crush on her neighbor, Pack Beta Erin Adams. She wants to be normal, at least some of the time. This is what leaves her open to the offer of a “cure” from a group of aspiring werewolf hunters who arrive in Wolf’s Point with an agenda of their own.
My werewolf hunters are an odd bunch in and of themselves. Most of them are former military, and several of them are “ex-wolves” (the parallel with ex-gays is deliberate), including one of their leaders. And they have conflicts of their own, ranging from physical reactions to their cure to lack of faith in their crusade.
I’ve been asked if Silver Moon is wishful thinking on the part of a middle-aged queer woman who might like to be a werewolf herself. The answer is a firm, unequivocal “maybe.” There is something to be said for transforming into something far stronger and braver than your everyday self. For being outside of social control and immensely powerful, even if it is only once a month. I think I’d want that all the time though, so I’m going to say that no, Becca Thornton and I are not one and the same. I’m glad she brought me along for her journey this time though.
About the Book
Becca Thornton just found out she’s going to celebrate turning 50 by turning into a werewolf. And she’s not the only one. Wolf’s Point has its own Pack, all women of a “certain age,” and they want to claim her for their own. Then there’s the werewolf hunters, come to town with a cure for lycanthropy. Add to that her newfound feelings for the Pack’s Beta, and Becca Thornton is in for a wild ride.
About the Author
Catherine Lundoff is the award-winning author of the collections Night’s Kiss (Lethe Press, 2009) and Crave (Lethe Press, 2007) as well as A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories (Lethe Press, 2011). Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) is her first novel. She is also the editor of the acclaimed anthology Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008) and the co-editor, with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic (Lethe Press, 2011). She periodically teaches writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and elsewhere. www.catherinelundoff.com