For The Will and the Wilds, author Charlie N. Holmberg asks: When is a kiss not a quite a kiss — or perhaps more accurately, not only a kiss? The answer: when certain, special, creatures are involved.
CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG:
Once, almost exactly three years ago, Charlie had a weird dream.
In this dream she was in her old house in Midvale, and author Elana Johnson was her mother.
She met this strange man who had a unicorn horn jutting out of his forehead. He was invisible to everyone else but her. Then he lost his horn and needed to get it back. However, the only way to regain the horn was, essentially, to take a maiden’s virginity.
And no, my book isn’t about that. But it is about this strange creature I dreamed up one night who wouldn’t leave my thoughts.
When I relate this dream to others, it doesn’t sound like anything special, yet it really stood out to me. I couldn’t pull my mind from it. So I opened a notebook and started writing down ideas. The first and foremost was this phallic-demon-unicorn-man. Then I brainstormed the place he was from: the monster realm, or “The Deep,” in his words. (Yes, I was watching Disney’s Moana at the time. How did you know?)
I’m a sucker for the enchanted forest trope, and I’d never written an enchanted forest story, so that became my setting. But the forest itself wasn’t magical; the beings within it were. It’s riddled with demons—“mystings”—that hail from another world. A harsh world. A soulless world. It’s no wonder they want to come to the mortal plane. And it’s no wonder humans want to stay far away from them.
I’m branded as a clean author. I couldn’t have demons running around stealing maidenhoods for their phallic headwear. So I turned The Will and the Wilds toward the next best thing: kissing. I love kissing books. I love writing them, I love reading them, and this is the kissingest book of them all.
To get Maekallus to the enchanted forest, I needed someone to summon him. Herein walks Enna, the plain outcast of the local village, wannabe scholar for things of the bizarre. She’s in trouble, and she needs Maekallus’s help. A bargain is struck that binds them together. But this story needs to take up roughly three-hundred pages, so of course Maekallus fails to keep up his end. Of course he’s bound to the mortal realm and can’t go back home. Of course the mortal realm would start eating him alive, and because of their bargain, Enna is subject to the consumption, too.
What about the kissing? Glad you asked!
Maekallus is a trickster and a demon. He doesn’t eat mortal foods to survive; he eats souls. And what better way to eat a soul than through a kiss? And so, as the mortal realm slowly converts his body into a puddle of rank tar, he tricks Enna into kissing him. Into giving him her soul.
But he only gets a piece. Why? Well, that’s a spoiler. Yet if Enna wants to survive, she has to keep Maekallus alive, and that means feeding him a piece of her soul every few days, all while trying to figure out how to break the curse holding him to the mortal realm, and her to him.
As a hot bonus, the more soul Maekallus gets, the more human he becomes, and he starts to feel for the first time.
And that, my fellow kissing-book-lovers, is the big idea behind The Will and the Wilds.