The myth of the werewolf has existed for centuries. Half human and half wolf, this creature has struck fear in the in the heart of humanity since the Middle Ages. In our modern world, the werewolf has become one of the key creatures within the horror genre. Which, from a writing perspective, lends itself to a variety of narratives.
In 2016, Erin Kelly released her first book, Tainted Moonlight. The first in a series, the book follows the experience of Korban Diego. Korban is a werewolf who was bitten five years before the story starts. Living in a world in which he faces boundaries due to his identity, he comes to question his place in the world when someone whom he cares of is bitten by another werewolf.
I had the pleasure of reading Tainted Moonlight and I am thrilled that Erin has agreed to answer a few questions.
AB: Where did the idea from Tainted Moonlight come from?
EK: Back in 2002, while on a break from college, I got into Harry Potter after watching the first movie. Like a lot of people at the time, the story connected with me and I began to devour the books in the series. My favorite was Prisoner of Azkaban, but after reading it, I was left with this feeling of complete betrayal. The idea that a werewolf couldn’t teach, even though he was their best teacher that we’d been shown so far, purely because of who he was really resonated with me. The whole metaphor of werewolves being akin to how people are treated with various prejudices really resonated with me. I wanted justice for Remus Lupin. Around the same time, one of my best friends wrote a one shot story that was Remus/Sirius and she had a knack for mean, cliff-hanger endings. It was the perfect storm of “what if” in my mind. I asked her if she would like to continue the story together, and she responded with something along the lines of “it was supposed to be a one shot, but sure” and so we began to write our first fanfiction series together. This was when Lobo, who would become Korban, was born (Alex’s nickname is indeed an inside joke and call back to his first incarnation). He was this American werewolf in London (ha!), who showed up to help Lupin, and the idea took off from there. Lobo became this werewolf rights activist in the story.
We had a really good response to our story, and it grew. There were even spin offs that we wrote. People really seemed to enjoy our story, and they complimented our original characters, which was a rare thing back then. Unfortunately, Fanfiction.net took it down when they changed their policy on adult content, and we refused to be censored or change the adult situations. On top of that life and college soon overtook our schedule, and we sadly never finished that series, but the idea and original characters continued to resonate with me. The concept of “monsters helping monsters”, because the rest of the world saw them as other, really stuck with me. So around 2006-ish, I asked for her permission to continue the story, in a much more original way, and my friend gave me her blessing to continue. I am forever grateful that we were able to write the fanfic we did together, because it led me to writing Korban’s story as it is today. There were at least ten different rewrites after that fanfiction before I got it to where I was ready to publish it, which is why I did not publish it until 2016.
AB: What sparked your interest in werewolves?
EK: I have always been drawn to wolves, and the moon, since I was really young. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with me being born on a full moon night or not, but these two things have always remained a constant interest in my life. I still have this beautiful wolf box that I got during one of my summer trips to my Dad’s. Growing up I also had a love for horror, and would read everything and anything with the supernatural in it. The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike comes to mind, but I really loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga as well. One of the first anime movies that I got into was Vampire Hunter D which also featured a lot of supernatural creatures. When the series Supernatural debuted on TV, I was instantly a fan. After we started our fanfic together, I began to research werewolves and that’s when my true obsession started. I collect books, movies, video games, and all things werewolf. I find it fascinating that every culture across the world, regardless of their geographic location, has some version of a werewolf. There’s so much folklore out there, and it varies by location, but every culture has their variation of a story where a man or woman turn into an animal. There are even some places that to this day believe that werewolves exist. It’s one of the few supernatural tales that even has a scientific condition related to it. The more I researched, the more I learned, and the more I fell in love with the furry by moonlight. I’m still learning more about different stories from various cultures every day, and I hope to bring that knowledge into my series at some point.
AB: Your hometown of Syracuse is another character in the series. Was that a deliberate choice or was that decision just a natural part of the writing process?
EK: It’s actually kind of funny, but Syracuse was not my original choice for the setting. I went through different ideas for where this story would take place. Originally I was thinking New York City, but then when I thought about it, as much as I love visiting there, I don’t think I could give my readers an authentic feel to the Big Apple, since I’ve only visited there a few times in my life. I wanted to be able to make the setting feel real, with the sights, sounds, and smells. The more I thought about it, too, so many stories take place in New York City, which is fine, but it didn’t seem to fit. I even thought about having it take place down in Florida, where I was living at the time, but that didn’t seem right either. Too much sunshine for the vampire folk.
So then I thought, why not Syracuse? We have long winters and a lot of cloudy days for vampires, and we have an urban area but also plenty of forest not too far away for the werewolves. Plus, since I grew up here, I could really bring the story to life in a familiar setting. As I did more research it really connected as well, since Syracuse is near a lot of historic landmarks for human rights (we aren’t too far away from Seneca Falls which was important to Women’s Suffrage, and even today we are a sanctuary city for refugees) and it was like the final piece came together. Syracuse became the perfect place for Korban and the gang to call home.
AB: One of the topics that is often discussed among writers these days is representation. Your main character is Latinx and his love interest is not the typical female character for the genre. Was this another deliberate choice or did it feel right for the characters?
EK: Representation matters more than ever these days, but as an author it’s my main objective to tell a story with a variety of characters who are authentic and not stereotypes. When I first created Lobo, it just felt right to me. I pictured him with tanned skin, dark hair, and with wolf-like, yellow eyes. He came to me as Latinx and also as biromantic, demisexual, which means that he is attracted to men and women, but requires a strong emotional connection in order to have a sexual attraction to them. This element to his character really comes into play more in the third book, but there are some references to it along the way. At the time I created him I didn’t know the terms for his sexuality. To be fair, I didn’t understand demisexuality myself until I also realized it applied to me (I am panromantic demisexual which simply means I just want cuddles from everyone regardless of gender identity), and that wasn’t until early 2018. I’ve learned a lot more about the human sexuality spectrum since that time, and how that is one layer of representation in characters.
I think stories that include variety in representation are beautiful. There are so many layers to characters and I feel like it limits the possibilities if your characters are all the same. Part of the time I took to rewrite my story was adding to my characters to give them more dimension. As the story continues, one of the nice things about writing a series is that we get to see more from these characters as time goes on, and get to watch them grow on their personal journeys in a more organic way.
RJ is black, and Alex is Latinx too because they also came to me that way. They also came to me as gay, though in my first publication I didn’t make that obvious because I didn’t want to rely on stereotypes. Alex loves cars and is playful, and RJ is more reserved but caring. I wanted them to be like a lot of the gay couples I know in real life who have been together for a long time. Only instead of having the adorable dog or cat like most of my friends, they get to have a werewolf roommate (to which Alex is infinitely amused). In the first book, they have their hands full with the main plot of the story and it doesn’t blatantly come up because for one thing, Korban already knows and it wouldn’t be a big deal to him by this point in his friendship with them. Sophie has her own conflict within herself, and it’s not that big a deal to her that they are a couple, which is why it isn’t addressed by the characters within the story. Representation doesn’t have to be about the characters “coming out” to anyone, unless it’s a plot point in your story. As the series goes on, we spend more time with RJ and Alex, and the reader can see more of the romantic gestures between the two of them, and it’s sweet and treated just like any relationship should be in my opinion.
As for Sophie, she is the first female werewolf that is introduced to the series. She comes in the story as a guide for the reader, because she’s bitten early on and we get to experience the struggle of a newly infected werewolf through her point of view. She isn’t some untouched, naïve, blank slate but a wife and a mother who is trying to keep her family together, and that’s just her surface layer. Inside she not only struggles with her werewolf, but also her own identity. She is seen by the world as this billionaire’s trophy wife, but as the story progresses she really comes into her own. She gets her chance to shine a lot more in the sequels as she grows and becomes more comfortable with not only dealing with her lycanthropy but also accepting herself.
As the series continues on, I plan on adding more thoughtful representation as well. In the fourth book, which I am writing now, there is a character introduced who is a person with disabilities, and I have plans for even more inclusion as the series goes on. Representation is important to me because the key message in my series is despite our differences, we can come together as human beings, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and in the case of my story, supernatural factors.
AB: Can you describe the research you did to prepare? Was this done before you started writing or during?
EK: Another reason why it took me over 14 years to publish was the extent of research that I did. I started with every book, movie, TV show that I could get my hands on to watch on werewolves. I watched and read a ton of good, bad, and truly awful werewolf stories. I wanted to see what was out there so I could put my own spin on the werewolf lore. I have a notebook somewhere that I hope to find, where I wrote critiques on every werewolf movie and book that I had read during that time so I could keep track of it all. When I started to put how my werewolves functioned together, I stopped taking notes and focused more on writing the story. It led me to some of my favorite werewolf movies and books- Ginger Snaps is my favorite movie, and the Kitty Norville Series by Carrie Vaughn are my favorite books about werewolves, which both feature female werewolves which I love.
AB: Most writers don’t have the luxury of being able to write full time and still earn a reasonable living. What advice to you have for writers who are juggling outside professional and/or familial responsibilities in addition to their writing?
EK: My advice is to make time to write, or create in some way. We often get caught up in so much that we forget to take the time to do something for ourselves. Writing and drawing are outlets for me and help me unwind after a day of work. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of watching someone else’s creation, but try to set some time to make your own art. Sometimes that is the only way to get your creativity out, and you’ll feel better. Even if you make a tiny amount of progress a day, it’s still progress. Also it is equally important not to be hard on yourself for not creating or taking the time, because we end up in a vicious cycle of self-deprecation that only compounds and makes things worse. Forgive yourself, and try to make little goals, and soon you’ll reach the bigger goals.
Another thing you can do is to include family members in your creativity time. Encourage your kids to write or draw their own stories while you work on yours. A lot of people believe that writing is a solitary thing, and that’s fine if that is how you write best, but I find that when I’m with a group of writers I tend to get a lot more done. Writing groups are wonderful, you can even find some online in your area so that you can help one another out, especially right now. Having a critique group with writers also helps bounce ideas off other people and can help improve your writing. I meet with my writing group online about once a month and it’s really helped me stay on track and be accountable for my writing goals.
AB: Do you have any recommendations for those who are writing a multi-book series? What tips do you have for keeping the readers hooked from the first page of the first book to the last page of the last book?
EK: When writing a series you want to make sure that you have plans for your characters’ growth. If a character doesn’t change over the course of the series, then what was the point of telling their story? I plan out my story arcs based on my characters’ wants and the actions they take in every book. Every action leads to consequences, even if I don’t reveal the effect right away. Things that are set up in the first book may not pay off until the third or fourth book, and so on. It’s up to you to bridge those events in order to make a cohesive story that guides your reader through to those major plot points.
If your story has compelling characters that your reader can connect with, then they will be invested in your character’s journey. It helps when they see in every book that there’s some change and growth in your characters, whether it’s positive or negative. Change shouldn’t be immediate. Even in a fantasy story you need to have believable elements, and small changes over time are more realistic.
I plan my series out by story arcs, so for me every three books there is a completed character arc that leads into the next. I outline a lot of the important events and plot twists before I start making my outline and really fleshing those out with details. Even if you are a pantser, keep track of all your major plot points in your story, or you will end up constantly going back to your manuscript for information. I keep track of mine in a series bible, along with all the details of my series. I track things like the moon cycle (even if I rarely mention exact dates), character descriptions, and event timelines. This way I don’t have a full moon happening every other chapter, and there’s key events that happen during various parts of the lunar cycle that I need to make sure I am aware of. This also adds an element of reality into a fictional world and helps make the fantastic events more believable.
AB: Are you a panster or a plotter?
EK: Confession time: I was once a pantser, but I am now more of a hybrid plotter. Especially when writing a series, it’s important to know your goals for each book. So I always write out what I refer to as my “plot skeleton” so that I know what key points to hit, but the “meat” of the story is often fleshed out as I go. Sometimes I alter my “skeleton” as I go as well, adjusting it as information comes to me from the characters and the way I have them respond to certain events. When Sophie kisses Korban the first time, as an example, I had planned that for the end of the book, but due to the way events played out, it felt right for them to do it a bit sooner in the story.
AB: Do you see yourself staying in this genre or branching out?
EK: Right now I have plans for the next six books in the series, and I don’t have a plan for an ending as of this moment. I think this series will have about fifteen books in it, but I won’t know until it feels right to wrap it up so that may change. I even have some spin off ideas in the works. I really enjoy writing urban fantasy, however I do plan on writing some horror short stories, and I have a fantasy series that is kicking around in my brain, but it’s not ready yet. My plan over the next year is to get comfortable writing two books at a time, so I can keep the Tainted Moonlight series going and maybe branch out into these other ideas. I love my characters and this world that I built so much that I don’t think I’ll be saying good bye to them any time soon.
AB: What advice would you give to other writers?
EK: Write when you can, and when you can’t write read. I’m fortunate that when I hit the dreaded writer’s block that I usually can get into a drawing mode, so that I’m always creating something, but even when that fails, reading has never let me down. It tends to refresh my creativity to just enjoy other stories. I have recently gotten into audio book production as well, and so I have been listening to books and it really opens up a whole other world when you can multitask and read at the same time. I also enjoy stories in other formats, such as video games and Netflix, but it’s so important that when you are writing you take the time to read other works too.
My other bit of advice is if you want to be a successful author, you need to make sure you treat it with professional care. There are so many options for publication now, and I chose the route that works for me by independently publishing. However, if you go that route expect to put the work in so that you are selling the best version of your story. That means investing in a professional editor, and a book cover. You want to put your best foot out there, and you want to make sure that your readers have an enjoyable experience reading your story in its best form. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately, with the very first edition of Tainted Moonlight, where I had taken some bad writing advice when it comes to switching tenses, and the number one complaint I got from my first batch of readers was they had trouble with the different tenses. So I hired my editor, and she helped me improve my story, and ever since then I have had much better reviews coming in. I now make sure a professional editor goes over my manuscript prior to release, but please if you take nothing else away, learn from my mistake.
Ultimately, remember this- only you can write your story. Don’t be discouraged if your story gets compared to things that exist. When I started out and pitched my story to people as a story about werewolves and vampires, they immediately compared it to Twilight, because that’s what they know about. There are so many stories about the supernatural out there, but there’s only one series that belongs to me.
I have a section on my website that has more resources for authors, which includes a lot of links to information and videos, and I’m going to start a monthly vlog for advice based on my experiences in the publishing world. I hope to pay it forward to other new authors. I had great mentors who have helped me along my publication journey but not everyone has that, so I want to make sure to help any way I can. I also welcome any specific questions, I have contact information on my site as well, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime and I will get back to you.
Make sure no matter what you do, write your story. You can do it!
Tainted Moonlight is available wherever books are sold.