Werewolves. There’s something highly charismatic about them, isn’t there? Whether we encounter them in books, films or on the small screen, the shifter genre is a popular one. Maybe they speak to the wild parts inside us, some DNA encoded memory of when we were running across the plains in chase of the mammoth or the wooly rhinoceros. Maybe it’s the appeal of the exotic and the unusual hero or heroine? Maybe it’s just the steamingly hot actors they usually get to play the shifters on film?
But I’m not here to talk about wolves. There are other shifters available – big cats, small cats, animals of all shapes and sizes. Wererooks and weresloths. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, Mara Ismine has written a touching short story about the perils of having a partner who has a tendency to build nests on the dressing table, and I’ve tackled the equally tricky subject of falling in love with someone who wants to take things slow and swing from the chandelier, but for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, the questions which spring to mind are, “How do you write those sorts of shifters?” and, perhaps more pertinently, “Why?”
The “why” is actually easy, for my werewolves at least. I had this mad idea about a society (almost a gentlemen’s club) of highly intellectual, genteel and gentlemanly werewolves, who could meet at a place resembling the Natural History Museum in Kensington, on nights of the full moon – for the purposes of hearing lectures and, if the rain sodden English clouds parted, for shifting. As the tale grew in the telling it ended up being an exploration of the plight of a gay, closeted, Premiership footballer. Who just happens to be a shifter, as well.
The quirky British sense of humour was given full rein in this story, so the temptation of stretching the boundaries of the genre to the point the elastic almost gives were too strong to ignore. Sloths are adorable, so it had to be weresloths; those big sorrowful eyes and cute little smiles, who could resist falling for them? What about the “how”, given there are no genre precedents? Well, that’s easy (sort of). Because there are no conventions to play within, no reader expectations to trip you up, less danger of falling into the trap of writing something which has already been written, life is easier.
On the other hand, you have to create your own genre rules, and you have to ensure that the natural humour of having a weresloth as your hero doesn’t descend into farce. Your heroes can be hot as a fuse in human guise but they can’t become comic characters in bed. An author has to have a light touch, use understatement, and – like all the best comedy – play things with with a straight face. (You also have to avoid some of the more unpleasant habits your animal may possess but – particularly in the case of sloths – let’s not go there.)
I’d appeal to those of you who like shifters to be brave and try something non-lycanthropic. (I promise to keep my were-squid strictly for fanfiction!)
Sometimes your life is defined by the things you have to keep hidden, whether it's being gay or what happens when the moon is full.
“One of you has been indiscreet. Horribly so.” The chairman took a long, steady look at each of the assembled members. Rory racked his brains, but apart from having to relieve himself in the bushes at Wentworth he could bring no transgression to mind. He took a glance at his colleagues, all of whom looked equally perplexed.
“I refer to this.” The chairman held up a copy of The Sun , making another shudder of distaste fly around the table. He opened the tabloid newspaper gingerly, as if he feared catching mange from it. “The headline reads 'Wolf eats Sabrina’s Chihuahua'. I quote,” the chairman shivered slightly, “the lady in question. I'’d just stepped out of the shower when I saw this brute eating my little Destiny'.”
Perhaps, of all those present, Rory was the only one who didn’t have to have it explained who Sabrina was. He followed all the England sports teams, was well aware, even before the chairman began his explanation, that the lady–euphemistic term–was the girlfriend of a premiership footballer.
The tabloids must have loved this story. It contained all the elements–scantily clad girl, pets, football–that meant so much to them. If only the wolf in question had been governed by some absurd EC rule they’d have had a full house.