Welcome to Shop Talk, where every Wednesday we chat about some aspect of books or writing or publishing or all that jazz. Leave a comment and take part in the chat for a chance to win a $10 gift card to Amazon or your other favorite online retailer.
Before I start, thanks to Miki over at Lecture toute une Aventure, who’s featuring Storm Force today. Get an extra entry in the contest if you hop over and leave a comment (even if you aren’t reading the book). Here’s the question: how far would you go to follow orders from a commanding officer if you’re in the military, or your boss at work? What if a direct order went against your personal moral code? What lines would you cross? What would it take for you to cross that line? Go over and join the discussion!
Today, I want to talk about shapeshifters! As paranormal fantasy has matured, vampires and werewolves have become the go-to mainstays of the genre. (I’m using “paranormal fantasy” to gather urban fantasy and paranormal romance under a single umbrella, and I’ll give credit where it’s due–I first heard the term used by veteran book reviewer Paul Goat Allen, who was kind enough to include Royal Street on his list of top paranormal fantasies of 2012. But I like the term, as it seems more accurate now that “urban” fantasy can take place out in the sticks, or at different points in history.)
So, if vampires were the first paranormals to come out of the closet, when did werewolves become popular? The first “modern” werewolf I remember is probably Richard from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. I loved me some Richard until he got so whiny and petulant that I just wanted to belt him upside his sexy head and finally, like Anita, wanted him to just go away. Who was your first wolf? Patricia Briggs brings on the wolves in her Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series. There are some werewolves in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series.
Dresden….Dresden…Yep, there are wolves in the Dresdenverse. In fact, in one of the early Dresden books, I was introduced to my first skinwalker, as Harry takes on a variety of wolfy types.
So, lots of wolves. Once authors got tired of wolves, we all began to cast around for new types of shifters. Anita, of course, has a virtual menagerie, including some I have to admit are just bizarre–I mean, swan shifters? Big cat shifters got very popular, and still are. The Sookie series has an interesting distinction between the weres, who change to a specific form, and a shifter like Sam Merlotte, who can change into any animal.
In my Sentinels of New Orleans series, I’ve played around with blending the idea of shifters (born, not made) and were-creatures (made, not born) with the culture and legends of South Louisiana. So Jake isn’t a normal werewolf but loup-garou. The loup-garou (or, sometimes, rougarou) is an old, old legend in Louisiana. I decided to make my merpeople, like Rene Delachaise, Cajun aquatic shapeshifters. In one of my short stories, I introduced weregators, although they have yet to make it into the books. In my current book Storm Force (written as Susannah Sandlin), I’ve stretched the shapeshifter world further with a golden eagle shifter named Robin (ha!), some jaguarundi shifters (a breed of cat in the puma family that’s now extinct in the US) and black-cougar shifters. Also species that are born, not made.
I’m not yet tired of shifters, and I think there are enough variations and interest in the wild things within all of us to sustain them even when the genre seems to be slowing down a bit. Are you still interested in shifters? What do you like about them, and what type are your favorites? Is there a type of shifter (like me with the swan-shifter) that you thought took it a step too far?
Let’s chat about shifters!