Writing Werewolves by Kaje Harper
About five years ago, when I hadn't read much m/m romance other than what I'd written myself, I decided it might be fun to write a m/m paranormal. And without doing any searches, since at the time it was just for my own solitary enjoyment, I guessed there were probably a lot fewer gay werewolves than gay vampires, so I decided to go furry. Okay, many of you are probably shaking your heads right now, because when I finally came out of my writer cave and looked around... yeah, a ton of gay werewolves are finding their mates out there. But in my ignorance I forged ahead without the preconceptions.
When you write paranormal, the first big decision is whether your creatures are going to be known to human society or not. Some of the best books I've come across since I started reading the genre have been those where the whole society is changed just enough to include the paranormal element. Whether it's the magic and vampires of Jordan Castillo Price, the cat-shifters of Andrea Speed, or hetero romances like the early Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, this can produce wonderful stories. If you don't have to keep the humans in ignorance, then paranormal-human interactions are open and carry the weight of whatever backstory the author provides.
The other choice, and the one I took, is to have your shifters hidden within a human society that is ignorant and oblivious. In some ways this is easier, because you don't have to imagine all the ramifications on human society of being aware of the paranormal. You can write the world as a whole like any contemporary (or historical if you prefer) novel. In other ways this is harder. Because it must be believable for humans to be completely ignorant of the creatures in their midst.
For me, this turned out to be one of the big drivers of my story. Because humans really, really suck at keeping secrets. It seemed unlikely to me that my werewolves could have normal interactions over the centuries with a few humans here and there, and not ever have one person who got mad or got greedy and exposed the wolves to the rest of society for malice, fame or profit. Especially in the last twenty years, with every indiscretion and private moment showing up on video or on YouTube, the wolves would be at risk. But even back in the day, the chance of an ex-friend getting angry or scared and rousing the pitchfork brigade would have been a real concern.
So I created a werewolf society that was fanatic in its quest for privacy and safety. One where the only humans who got to find out about wolves, and live, were those bound to a werewolf mate. And in a society where hierarchy and dominance are critical, I threw in homophobia. After all, gay werewolves might mate to each other, which would mess up dominance rankings. They might have sex with male humans, who would have historically been far more of a threat than women. They might be vulnerable to blackmail. It seemed plausible that a rigid werewolf culture might avoid these issues by simply hating and eliminating gay werewolves. So my pack culture grew from there. Then I tossed my gay characters into it.
It's been a lot of fun to write. In Unacceptable Risk, werewolf Simon faces internal pack homophobia that is life-threatening. At the same time, he finds himself falling for a human and by his very presence endangering his lover's life.
The balance of violence, realism, and logic was sometimes a tough one. There have been readers who really hated the pack for its rigid policies and totalitarian structure. Which is fine, because I never meant those to be sympathetic traits. As the series progresses, werewolf culture is going to have to bend and change. But changing a long-held, fear-driven, hierarchical system isn't easy. Bad things will happen along the way, and powerful werewolves will pit themselves against change. In Unexpected Demands, Alpha wolf Aaron tells his story, as he comes up against a couple of different rocks and hard places.
Deciding to write Unexpected Demands in the first person was something I wavered over. The story came to me in Aaron's voice, and I'm a pretty instinctive writer. First person also let me show what I believed was the heart of that story, the thoughts of a man who found himself in a leadership position he never wanted, doing things he abhorred because he saw no other way to keep his people safe. At the same time, a first-person romance is always unbalanced. Aaron's love interest would never carry the same weight in the narrative if he wasn't a viewpoint character. In the end, I went with it.
Although these books are romances, they are also the ongoing story of a culture and its evolution. I like plot. I like variation in approach. And when a story whacks me over the head and asks to be written, I try not to second guess it. Part of the fun for me is seeing what happens as the words leave my keyboard.
So what comes next? Will Simon and Paul go through more adventures or have they found a solid, safe place for their relationship? Is Aaron's position and love life settled or in for a shake-up? What are the other packs doing out there, with the gay wolves hidden among them? Will the wolves get outed to humans anytime soon? What will the humans do?
Ah, that's the beauty of writing. You don't know... and neither do I. Yes, there's a third book already written and the draft of a fourth. But there may be another in between. The series is a work in progress, and even I am sometimes surprised by the twists it takes. So thank you to everyone who has been following along. I hope you enjoy the rest of the ride.