My second or third year teaching, somebody caught me in a hallway, asked me my thoughts on how detective fiction’s put together. And, listening to myself answer—of course I’d been reading noir and p.i. and crime and thriller forever—I realized that I only knew detective fiction as a reader, not a writer. And I say ‘only,’ but not to diminish. Rather, to highlight that how I learn about a thing, it’s by doing that thing. So, dissatisfied with my answer in the hall that day, I sat down a couple weeks later, started writing the novel that became Not for Nothing. The way I learn about stuff, it’s to vivisect, sure. But it’s to vivesect with full knowledge that I’m just hollowing out that skin so I can try it on.
And, man, I’ve been into werewolves so much longer than I’ve been into . . . I don’t know: detective fiction, sure. But also hamburgers, say. Yet, yes, I’ve been teaching a zombie course for a few years now. And it’s been a ball, and I’ll do it again, of course. The zombie’s far from dead. But now I’ve got a chance to bring things back to the heart, as it were: werewolves for a summer course. Four weeks of tooth and claw, paint-the-walls-red because they’re going to be anyway.
As prep, last fall I started what I thought was going to be my monsterwork best-thing-ever werewolf novel, The Lord’s Highway. Kind of a start-over of a werewolf novel I wrote in 2000, Bloodlines, that turned out to be not good enough to even re-read. But I liked the setting (Alpine, Texas), and the character set (feels based on PKD’s The Galactic Pot Healer, to me). So I figured I know more now, I can do it right this time. Wrong. I wrote a couple hundred pages, only a hundred and twenty of which actually contribute, but every move I made in that story would tack a cool fifty pages onto its total length. I mean, already it was trying to reach for five hundred pages. And, I’m not necessarily scared of a book that long—All the Beautiful Sinners and Demon Theory both nearly ring that halfway to The Stand bell—but I am scared that my first time to try to go long with a novel like that, it might just be a dry-run, a test, a forging into new territory to see if it’ll support me. And I care too much about werewolves to burn them on that. So, I dove out of that novel about Thanksgiving, and, in December, as prep for this class, I read so, so many werewolf stories, and burned through all the old werewolf books and comic books, and watched a lot of the werewolf movies and tv, and pretty much just engaged the lore at a more intentional level than I had before. And it was thrilling. So thrilling, in fact, that, starting 1 January 2014, I started a new werewolf novel, Mongrels, which I finished a couple of weeks later. It’s unlike any other book I’ve written; closest analogue: Ledfeather. And Mongrels, it’s not even horror, though there’s plenty of teeth-in-skin action.
Anyway, not at all as a final repository, more of a look-ahead, here’s the texts I’ve had the bookstore order—with Anne Rice replacing Robert McCammon, as Wolf’s Hour‘s apparently out-of-print (the two books pretty much do the same thing, though to wildly different levels of success):
- The Howling, Gary Brandner
- Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn
- Liar, Justine Larbaliester
- The Wolf’s Gift, Anne Rice
- Red Moon, Benjamin Percy
- Kornwolf, Tristan Egolf
- The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan
Comic books unfairly skipped: that Fables werewolf arc, the Cap-Wolf trade paperback, BoomStudio’s recent Curse (not sure if it’ll be in tpb by the time class starts), Kirkman’s The Astounding Wolf-Man, McCullough’s Who Needs the Moon, Gallaher and Ellis’s High Moon. Probably more I don’t even know about (anybody? I was kind of going off memory for the comic books).
And, I may try to find some way to get the class reading at least the debut issue or two of Werewolf by Night, as it’s so vital. But I can’t ask them to buy that whole volume 1, either. Not cheap. I might also try to find a way to excerpt Argent’s story from Grendel—I halfway remember it as getting featured in Black, White, and Red, maybe? Or one from that series. We might talk about X-Factor’s Wolfsbane a bit too, I suppose. Though I never knew her very well at all.
Novels left behind, as this is just four weeks: Strieber’s The Wolfen and The Wild, King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, Barlow’s Sharp Teeth, Klaus’s Blood and Chocolate. Williamson’s Darker Than You Think (I plain old just haven’t read this one yet). Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (I tolerate this very poorly, couldn’t teach it fairly). JL Benet’s Wolf Hunter (soon to read this one). And, I wish there was time for Endor’s Werewolf of Paris, as it’s a solid, well-written novel. But, as the focus really seems to be some kind of playful social critique . . . I don’t know: I don’t teach those very well. I’m much better with the morphology of the werewolf tale itself, across time. If I’m good at anything, I mean. Also skipped, though I didn’t mean to skip it, just forgot, so may yet try to sneak it onto the booklist: Sabine Baring-Gould’s old and excellent The Book of Werewolves. However, you can sum up the first two-thirds of that book with just a single story, I think.
We might mention Freud’s Wolf-Man stuff, too, but only in passing (it’s also a graphic novel).
And, yeah, as there’s just four weeks, we’re sadly skipping Skipp’s mondo-antho, Werewolves and Shape Shifters. And Pronzini’s old Werewolf is long out-of-print (though I’ll forever love it—it gives us one of my most favorite werewolf stories ever, James Blish’s “There Shall be No Darkness,” which The Beast Must Die is somewhat based on—not a bad movie, all-told). And there’s some other solid anthologies as well, of course, all of which I’ve got, all of which I’d feel evil assigning, then just selecting from (instead of devouring cover-to-cover, as should be done).
And, yeah, of course we’ll hit GRRM’s “The Skin Trade.” Probably in audio-form? Not sure yet. And I may find some way to get Jeff Burk’s “Cripplewolf” in, and David Barbee’s “The Night’s Neon Fangs.”
And there’ll be a surprise werewolf story as well, which I can’t give away yet, but the dude who wrote it, his name rhymes with Hoe Jill.
And, of course, we’ll be doing some essential viewing:
- The Wolf Man (1941)
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
- Ginger Snaps (2000)
- Dog Soldiers (2002)
- Wolf (1994)
- Silver Bullet (1985)
- Underworld (2003)
Hardly a comprehensive list, I know (there something absolutely vital that I’m missing?), but, I mean, it’s an English course, not a Film Studies course. And we’ll be watching werewolf short films daily, too. So much cool stuff out there.
As for television, man, there’s a world of werewolf TV. We’ll at least talk about:
- Werewolf (the eighties)
- Teen-Wolf (Mtv)
- True Blood
- Hemlock Grove
- Wolf Lake
And we may even watch (on Netflix) Supernatural‘s werewolf episode (2.17), as it’s pretty solid. Maybe X-Files‘s as well (1.18), so we can pick at and on this whole “Indians are werewolves”-thing. And, Bitten‘s on Netflix as well, and I think Teen Wolf is too, and Werewolf‘s on YouTube. True Blood really didn’t wolf out for a while—though I bet I can clip some of their pack-dynamic unfun—and that transformation from Hemlock Grove is pretty vital. And, there’s an old CHiPS episode with the Indian-is-a-wolf thing, but I can’t find it, alas. Anybody remember? Probably best forgotten, really. And, I guess that one mutant-y kind of Sherlock could be considered werewolfy; any excuse to watch any of those eps is a good excuse. And there’s a pretty solid Ben 10 werewolf ep as well. And a lot of Scooby-Doos, I’m sure.
Anyway, what I wish-wish-wish was that werewolves had their Near Dark already, so I could teach it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s kind of exactly what I’m trying to provide with that Mongrels novel, but, even were it out yet, I couldn’t teach my own stuff, of course. Didn’t Dante reserve a special circle of Hell for writers who do that?
As for what the focus of the course will be: the different types of werewolf story. I can identify three or four already. And then there’s all the werewolf tropes to get into. And the different types of werewolves as well (wolf-men [of which there’s shoulder-pad wolves, Prof Lupin ‘lithe’ wolves, etc], wolf-wolfs [size varies], ‘smart’ wolves, hero wolves, etc). And of course the history of the werewolf. And, the big question: why are they still around? what’s so cool about them?
So, posting all this because, a few months ago I said something about this course and some people asked me to post like this when the course was starting to come together. Which: it is, now. Course starts in early July, runs on all four feet until early August. Already got a chock-full class with a long old waiting list, too. It’s going to be fun. Teaching zombie class, I learned so much about the zombie. I plan to know so much more about the werewolf by Fall. Teaching’s not really about teaching, it’s about learning.