The Big Idea: Catherine Lundoff

For the big idea in her novel Silver Moon, author Catherine Lundoff looks at lycanthropy in the context of a “coming of age” story. What makes it unusual? Which age the protagonist of the story is coming into.

CATHERINE LUNDOFF:

Women have always been monsters.

From Lilith to Carmilla to the femme fatales of the silver screen, beautiful women are shown consuming men, and sometimes other women, as prey. Female monsters are thin and beautiful, ageless, if not actually young, the embodiment of seduction and desire: vampires, succubi, sirens, demons.

Against this backdrop of feminine monstrosities, depictions of female werewolves are rare. It makes some sense, given werewolf mythos. Werewolves are out of control, ferociously strong, unbelievably dangerous. They are, therefore, almost universally assumed to be male. Female werewolves simply aren’t sexy enough.

In a 2006 MTV interview about the Underworld films, actress Kate Beckinsale said that there were no female werewolves in the movies because “…that could be really horrifying. Hairy, thuggish women.”

That well-thumbed health reference, the InternetHealthLibrary.com, lists amongst the signs of menopause: “Psychological instability” and “Violent mood swings” and “…hair growth on the face, which is quite unlikely for a woman.” Or hairy and thuggish, if you prefer.

So I began with the impossible and the horrifying: a woman who is neither young nor thin nor beautiful who is wrestling with both psychological instability and hair growth. Lots of hair growth.  A woman who has become a monster in her own eyes, but is otherwise like your mom or your friend’s aunt or perhaps one of your elementary school teachers: familiar, comfortable and ordinary. For a werewolf of “a certain age.”

Like female werewolves, there are very few middle-aged female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy.  When middle-aged women appear at all, they are generally background players, secondary and tertiary characters in the flow of a larger tale. Always the monster food, never the monster.

But then, as my protagonist Becca Thornton says, speaking for herself, “Seems to me that when you go looking for monsters, that’s all you see. And sometimes you miss much scarier things.”

What’s scarier than monsters? It depends on your fears. Monsters are relative (and sometimes related, but that’s a different story).  You can find them hiding in a graveyard waiting for dark, lurking in an alleyway on a lonely night or sharing your bed. For some people, gay, lesbian and trans people are monsters, to be stopped at any cost, whether that’s killing or conversion. Those people are the models that I used for my werewolf hunters. They don’t care about orientation or gender, but they do care deeply about changes they can’t control. Deeply enough to try and cure the local werewolf pack of being what they are: a Pack of middle-aged women from very different backgrounds, united by some common experiences.

The werewolves of Wolf’s Point are called into being by the ancient magic of the place where they live.  It picks and chooses which women will serve as the valley’s protectors, deciding who will change and who will not, based on a logic all its own. Sometimes, it makes mistakes.

Becca thinks she might be one of the latter; it must have meant to pick someone else and somehow got her by mistake. But then, she thinks that about a lot of things. In this respect, Becca was a hard character for me to write. Like her, I’m a middle-aged woman just entering menopause. Unlike her, I’m not terribly introspective or insecure about what I’m doing. Of course, I’m also not dealing with the changes she’s wrestling with.

That, really, was what I was hoping to capture in this novel: the experience of change, both physical and psychological, that is absolutely earth shattering. I wanted to examine what an ordinary woman does with those kinds of events. Menopause is a time in a woman’s life where her body feels like it’s transforming into something else, something alien, and potentially monstrous. Not unlike changing into a werewolf, only less fun, at least from my perspective.

There’s an element of wish-fulfillment in that aspect of the book. The thrill of being something much bigger and stronger with fewer aches and pains, at least once a month, is pretty appealing to my middle-aged self. Apart from the whole uncontrollable killing-machine aspect of lycanthropy, who wouldn’t want that in some form? The werewolves of Wolf’s Point have some things that a lot of us might envy: a sense of purpose, of belonging, of newfound power at a time of life that can feel most disempowering.

Given that, I think Becca’s right; there are much scarier things out there than monsters. Perhaps monsters are more familiar than we realize. And maybe we’ve all got a bit of one inside us. It’s what we do with it that counts. Welcome to what I do with mine.

—-

Silver Moon: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

28 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Catherine Lundoff

  1. …this sounds amazing. I love the concept, and must go look at the ebook sample Right Now.

  2. Thanks, Catherine.

    I remember a conversation with you elsewhere. Indeed, middle age is usually not the transition you see…its almost always puberty. Niven’s Protector (and that is gender-neutral) is the only other one that comes to mind.

  3. “So I began with the impossible and the horrifying: a woman who is neither young nor thin nor beautiful who is wrestling with both psychological instability and hair growth. ”

    An interesting concept but it probably won’t result in the spurt in readership she’s expecting. There’s a reason the genre is often tagged “fantasy” when it comes to what readers want.

  4. What’s scarier than monsters? It depends on your fears. Monsters are relative (and sometimes related, but that’s a different story).

    A quote whose provenance I cannot recall but which stuck with me, Monsters…are a state of mind.

    @ Paul Weimer

    I remember a conversation with you elsewhere. Indeed, middle age is usually not the transition you see…its almost always puberty. Niven’s Protector (and that is gender-neutral) is the only other one that comes to mind.

    Damn did the Pak ever kick ass! After Mote, Protector is my favorite Niven book even though it was a kludge of shorter works.

    @ Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff

    An interesting concept but it probably won’t result in the spurt in readership she’s expecting. There’s a reason the genre is often tagged “fantasy” when it comes to what readers want.

    Uh, that was the whole point. Teens and pre-teens read coming of age fantasies because it turns something disturbing into something intriguing. As with puberty, lots of people go though post-breeder age transformations less than willingly. The whole point of fantasy is, you know, fantasizing.

  5. “So I began with the impossible and the horrifying: a woman who is neither young nor thin nor beautiful who is wrestling with both psychological instability and hair growth. ”

    I don’t know @Prof. This is the line in the post that intrigued me the most.

  6. There’s a reason the genre is often tagged “fantasy” when it comes to what readers want.
    You’re right. And the fantasy of becoming a werewolf- sharp fangs, immense strength and power, etc., etc. is a pretty interesting fantasy for me as I too hit that ‘certain age.’

  7. Just purchased the Kindle edition.

    I’m barely into my 30′s, but so far this new decade is bringing plenty of changes of it’s own. I love the concepts behind this story and can’t wait to read it.

  8. Given the current makeup of the sci-fi/fantasy sections of the bookstores that remain, I feel compelled to ask: Is this primarily a romance novel?

  9. Stopping by to say thank you for letting me do a Big Idea.
    And @Ben – nope, not primarily a romance novel. There is a romance but it’s secondary. Thanks for your interest!

  10. There’s a reason the genre is often tagged “fantasy” when it comes to what readers want.

    Because “readers” are totally a monolith that only wants pretty young things in leather? Surely the world’s a more interesting place than that.

    I’m pleased to give Becca’s story a home on my kindle; thanks for sharing your Big Idea with us, Catherine!

  11. I like the premise. I can relate to Becca –similar age group, not the lycanthropy part (but one can dream…) bought the Nook version. These “Big Idea” posts are great for authors –bad for my checking acct.

  12. Heh, as a woman “of a certain age” who is currently in the middle of this frustrating alien transformation that is menopause, I think becoming a werewolf would be a welcome distraction. :)

    I’ll be adding this book to my “to read” list, and probably towards the top of list. Thanks for this Big Idea!

  13. As a post menopausal disabled woman I’d love to be able to transition to something with strength and power and fast healing.

    It is interesting how the coming into power stories are usually associated with puberty. That’s why it was fun to read Old Man’s War – old farts get super powers. Yippee!

  14. SOLD! I just downloaded this into my Kindle.

    This is a great concept; has all the things that attract me to a new book/author–monsters, magic, female protagonists, and something unique–in this case, a middle-aged protagonist instead of a young adult.

    The Big Idea posts plus Amazon Kindle equals havoc on my budget.

  15. I coped with impending menopause by plunging deeply into writing and editing lesbian erotica, but Catherine’s book made me wish lycanthropy had been available as an alternative–or maybe addition.

  16. @ Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff: Oh, I think there are quite a few of us out here who are way past the “young, strong and beautiful” fantasy. It will be very refreshing to read a fantasy about someone more like me: older, stubborn and vital.

  17. Provocative first line. Couldn’t stop reading the article after that. I can so relate to the hairy thuggish part of the menopausal/lycanthropic transformation. I’m delighted and relieved to have a heroine who is middle-aged. I wanna read about Becca. Twillight, nope. Silver Moon, yessss. Ugh. That Kate Beckinsale quote reminds me of why I’m not a fan of that actress.

  18. Have you ever come across the work of Sarah Hrdy? She is a well known anthropologist and primatologist, who has done a lot of work on the evolutionary pressures around mothering. I’m reading her book Mother Nature now, and just got to the chapter where she discusses the role of postmenopausal females as allomothers (individuals other than the mother who help raise young animals). She argues that postmenopausal females are often heavily involved in this work, sometimes in very self-sacrificing ways. For instance, among langur monkeys, the postmenopausal females who are otherwise quite low in the group’s hierarchy spring into action to defend their group from males from other group who try to come in, kill all the infants, and then take over breeding rights in the group. She described a fascinating individual case she witnessed, in which a postmenopausal langur monkey fought off a much larger, stronger marauding male who was trying to kill the infants in the group. The older monkey rescued the infant, and returned it to its mother.

    I haven’t finished the chapter yet, but it looks like the argument is going to be that female primates evolved to live past menopause in part because in doing so they can better ensure the survival of their kin.

    I don’t think that the motivations of humans- with our big brains and the strong cultural influences- can really be boiled down to pure evolutionary biology. But I saw an interesting parallel between that story about the langur monkey and the idea of postmenopausal werewolves whose role is to protect their valley, and felt compelled to share.

  19. Fabulous idea–and as a happily married woman who is long beyond the YA angst stage and approaching peri-menopause, amen, sister. I’m sick to death of 18-24 year old “heroines” who haven’t got a brain in their heads (or worse, are “wise beyond their years” and wholly unrealistic even as fantasy characters). I’m more than ready to read something with “grown-ups” as the protagonists. I look forward to seeing how this book plays out!

  20. Ok you should read Kitty raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn it is utterly amazing with ouiji boards and ifrits and werewolves it is freakin’ awesome!

  21. Catherine–or anyone interested–do you know Adrienne Rich’s poem “Planetarium”? It’s dedicated to Caroline Herschel, the 18th-century astronomer, and the opening lines are: “A woman in the shape of a monster / a monster in the shape of a woman / the skies are full of them . . . ”

    Just seemed apropos. Off to order your book–

  22. Finally got a chance to read this post-WisCon and, as always, Catherine: proud to know ya. What a wonderful, wonderful essay.

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