I have started re-reading my werewolf stories again as I intend to promote the heck out of the two books pictured here in the rest of 2019.
Both books are intertwined even though they are both stand-alone novels with different genre ties and different themes. They share the same characters, many of the same scenes (though seen from different viewpoints in each novel), many of the same plot points, and the same werewolf. I like to think that reading both books together makes a better, more nuanced story as a two-book whole. But each book is also a whole in itself. And you can read them in either order.
I started by re-reading Recipes for Gingerbread Children. This book is basically a fairy-tale story-collection contrasted with a Holocaust survivor’s story. It is about how a storyteller manages to shape the world around her to help herself and others make sense out of a cruel world filled with evil and betrayal.
The Baby Werewolf is a Gothic horror tale where the real monster is hidden by deeply buried secrets, and lies have to be pierced to protect the innocent. I will re-read and promote this book second. I love both of these books with a paternal sort of overlooking-the-warts-and-birth-defects love.
So, I have a plan. A hopelessly pie-in-the-sky plan. But a plan. And hopefully at least some part of the plan will work.
As I continue to draw nearer to publishing my comic horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, busily polishing paragraphs and tweaking the format, I had to find time to do some drawing, some colored pencil cartooning, actually, in order to draw even closer to a comprehensive understanding of the title character, Torrie Brownfield.
I decided that what I wanted to draw was a full-bodied portrait of Torrie, displaying in short pants the full impact of his “werewolf hair” caused by his full-body hypertrichosis syndrome, a genetic hair-growth disorder.
So, I began by printing out a reduced version of the scan of Torrie’s face and shoulders that I created from the drawing I made of him back when the story itself was merely in outline form. I pasted that colored print onto a larger piece of drawing paper and first penciled and then inked the rest of his body. I then used my colored pencils to go all Crayola on the bulk of it, ending up with the complete Torrie Brownfield, holding the one and only copy of Dr. Horation Hespar-White’s recipe book for Magical Airborne Elixir.
Now it doesn’t make sense to create an image like this for no particular reason. Was it just something I was doing to keep my hands busy while watching Netflix? Well, yes, but I did get something out of it after all. I was able to think seriously about my monster theme as heavy-handedly I continue to beat the reader over the head with it. I am obsessed with this particular portrait because, minus the facial fur, it actually looks like and reminds me of the charming little former student the character in the book is actually based on. He was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic boy, naive, innocent, and thoroughly sweet-natured. And he shared with me a history of abuse during childhood. He was not sexually abused, but psychologically and physically abused. And that, of course, led me to the revelation while drawing that the monster of my horror story is not a real werewolf. Not even the murderer who is the villain of the book. The real monster of the story is a systematic abuse of children. It can have two possible results. It can make you into a sweet-natured determined survivor like Danny was, and like Torrie is. Or it can turn you into a vengeful psychotic potential serial killer lashing out because of mental scars and lingering pain. Believe me, I knew a couple of that kind of kid too. Drawing can, in fact, lead you to revelations about yourself and the universe around you. And so, this little obsession has done that very thing for me.
So, I end with this scan of the completed artwork so you can get a better look at it than you can from my crappy photography skills. Drawing something obsessively does have its uses.
I am now closing in on the publication of The Baby Werewolf, a novel whose story began with a nightmare in 1978. It was a dream I had about being a monster. I woke up in a cold sweat and realized, to my complete horror, that I had been repressing the memory of being sexually assaulted for twelve years, the thing that almost brought me to suicide in 1973 and that I couldn’t put into words when I talked to counselors and ministers and friends who tried to keep me alive without even knowing that that was what the dark black words were about.
I don’t normally write horror stories. Yes, it is true, a character of some sort dies at the end of practically every novel I have ever written, but those are comedies. I am sort of the anti-Shakespeare in that sense. The Bard wrote comedies that ended with weddings and tragedies that end in death. So, since my comedies all seem to end in death, I guess if I ever write a tragedy, it will have to end with a wedding.
But writing this horror story is no joke for me, though I admit to using humor in it liberally. It is a necessary act of confession and redemption for me to put all those dark and terrible feelings into words.
The main theme of the story is coming to grips with feeling like you are a monster when it is actually someone else’s fault that you feel that way. Torrie, the main character, is not the real werewolf of the story. He is merely a boy with hypertrichosis, the werewolf-hair disorder. He has been made to feel like a monster because of the psychological and physical abuse heaped upon him by the real werewolf of the story, an unhappy child pornographer and abuser who is enabled by other adults who should know better and who should not be so easily fooled. The basis of the tale is the suffering I myself experienced as a child victim.
It is not easy to write a story like this, draining pain from scars on my own soul to paint a portrait of something that still terrifies me to this day, even though I am more than sixty years old and my abuser is now dead. But as I continue to reread and edit this book, I can’t help but feel like it has been worth the pain and the striving. No one else in the entire world may ever want to read this book, but I am proud of it. It allowed me to put a silver bullet in the heart of a werewolf who has been chasing me for fifty-two years. And that’s how the monster movie in my head is supposed to end, with the monster dead, even though I know the possibility of more monsters in the darkness still exists.
My morning was used up making a cover for The Baby Werewolf out of old works of art and art-editing programs. I will soon start the final edit and formatting of the book, and I hope to publish it in December. It is a related story to the one I just published, Recipes for Gingerbread Children. The two books share some of the same characters, events, and even dialogue. The two stories, however, have a very different focus and thematic approach to what happened. It is a gothic novel with humorous overtones. The Baby Werewolf himself is not really a werewolf. He is a boy with hypertrichosis, the werewolf-hair genetic disorder that gave Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Boy his carnival freak all-over fur. The story is a first-person narrative told by three different characters who all were in Recipes. Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf himself, is one of the three narrators. I can’t wait to see how this two-novel story arc comes together, and if anybody at all will actually read it.
I am now in that period of deflation after having finished a draft of a novel. My brain is drained and mostly empty. I am left with leftover piles of stupid words and guileless thoughts that I didn’t use in the book and none of that is good fuel for thinking.
But I can tell you a few things about my novel.
First of all, the werewolf of the title is not really a werewolf. He is instead a boy afflicted with a genetic hair-growth disorder called hypertrichosis. It is genetic in nature and runs in families. It may skip generations. But it is a hard thing to deal with in terms of self image for the sufferer. Once the wearers of werewolf hair were treated as circus freaks, to be marveled at, pitied, and sometimes reviled.
But this is a horror novel of sorts, not really about the hypertrichosis sufferer, but more about another member of the family who has become abusive in increasingly horrible ways. And the murders in the book are committed using canines as weapons.
The wolfishness is not located in the animals, but in the heart of a man.
There is a lot of Saturday night black and white horror movie watching in the 70’s that went into this book. It also comes to fruition by way of my own experience being sexually assaulted at the age of ten. The fear and self-loathing that this story has to tell about are metaphorically very real things. I was not myself a monsterous-looking creature in my youth, but I felt the same feelings of isolation and rejection that one of the main characters, the boy with werewolf hair feels in this book. Part of why it took me twenty years to write this tale is my own personal struggle to overcome my own fear and self-loathing.
But even though this book comes to its conclusion with silver bullets and death by wolf fang, it is basically a comedy. Comedy, in the Shakespearean sense, always ends with the hero getting the girl and the monsters defeated. And it has a few laughs that not even the death-by-teeth parts can overturn.
So, I am glad I am finally finished with this book. Not edited and published, but finished as an exercise in wringing things out of the terrible nightmares and monstrous memories buried in my cluttered old brain.
I have been working on my novel The Baby Werewolf, and I am now in the final phase, working on the climax and crisis point. And I surprised myself. The killer monologues to the main characters who have now become his intended next victims. I have played this out over and over in the twenty-two years I have been writing this book. Last night, for the first time ever, the hero character laughs in this scene instead of the cringing fear that had always been there before.
How is such a thing possible? What changed? I have been writing and rewriting this story since 1996. But it goes much deeper and darker than that. This story went on my have-to-write list in 1966 when an older, stronger boy who lived near my home trapped me in a place out-of-sight of others and stripped me, gaining some horrible kind of pleasure by inflicting pain on my private parts. Recovery from that has taken half a century. The recovery itself probably explains why I struggled so long to pull this story together in a finished form.
There are things about my writing life that are undeniable. First of all, I have to write. There is really no other choice for me. My mind will never know rest or peace without being able to spin out the paragraphs and essays and stories that make it possible to know those things. Nothing is real if I can’t write it out. Secondly, I am a humorist. If I can never be funny at all, can never write a joke, then I will descend into madness. My sense of humor not only shields me and serves as my suit of armor, it heals me when I suffer psychic wounds. This book is a horror story, but like many of the best horror stories, it relies on humor to drive every scene and knit the plot together. And it was a breakthrough for me to have the hero character laugh instead of cringe in the critical scene. It allows me to live again. And love again. And the real monster that caused this book to be, is now forgiven. The world continues to turn. The picture is now complete. And soon, the novel will be too.
It is a novel I started writing in 1998 with an idea I first got in 1976. So I have been working on this book for either 20 years, or 32 years, depending on when you want to credit the actual work to have started.
It got it’s theme from the fact that I was sexually assaulted when I was ten in 1966, and the feeling the repressed memory of the trauma caused in me whenever I asked myself the question, “Am I a monster?”
Unfortunately the answer to that question, for practically everybody, is, “Sometimes yes.”
Psychological damage sticks with you for the rest of your life. It makes you flinch at things that other people don’t. More than once I must have confused both my mother and old girlfriends when I was compelled to wriggle out of hugs and physical contacts by panic. I felt unlovable. I felt like a monster. And for a lot of that time, I didn’t know why. But it is a novel critical for me to write. Pain needs to become art in order to completely go away. I need to imprison the feelings and ideas in a book.
I am now at the point in that novel where I must write the scenes at the crisis point, the high point of the action, and I have to control the flinching. I have to control the reactions I could so easily fall into. It is critical that I get the scene right. The success or failure of the whole novel is at stake.
I have played it over and over in the cinema in my head a thousand times… several thousand times. It is difficult. But it is there. Soon I will have it down, crystallized in words. It make take considerable time to publish it, though, because editing it will be at least as hard as writing it. And I seriously have to get it right.