On Friday, my short story “To Pierce the Sky” from the Daughters of Artemis anthology came out as a single release on the Storm Moon Press site, so I thought now would be a good time to talk a little bit about my feelings on the story, and a little “director’s commentary”. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers if you’re interested in reading the story.
The idea sprang from the marriage of two things I wanted to showcase in the story I wrote. Firstly, an older female protagonist, and secondly, a situation where being alpha in a pack didn’t mean being in control of everything. The idea to use a Native American main character and to work within that culture and set of beliefs came fairly quickly on the heels of that first idea. I haven’t seen a lot of werewolf stories that are built on that premise, and I thought it would be a nice challenge to work in an unfamiliar culture. Besides which, lesbians of color are sorely under-represented in erotic fiction, so I felt strongly about framing the story around the Native Americans.
The choice of the Lakota Sioux was made partly based on geography — reservations that existed near places where wolves were prevalent — and partly based on ideology. The Lakota are among a small number of Native American tribes that are considered GLBT-friendly on the whole, which made it feasible that my main character would be receptive to the advances of another woman.
That was the genesis of Susan Runningwind, a 40-something Lakota woman who had earned a place among her pack’s strongest and yet lived apart from them. Her backstory came remarkably easily to me after that. In fact, in the initial draft, the first line was “The day Susan Runningwind was born, her entire family died”. So I knew very early on what I wanted Susan’s childhood to have been like. The circumstances around her family’s death served to ostracize her from the rest of the pack, and built in her a fierce determination to succeed no matter the cost.
I left the history of the pack — their origins — deliberately untold because the point to me was that this was simply the way that they were. Generations of werewolves had lived and died in this pack, enough so that no one knew for certain how it all started. The pack accepts their nature and lives according to it, and for them, that’s enough.
Jesse’s character was less well-formed in my head. I knew I needed to strike a balance in her character between “femme” and “butch”, because too far in either direction risked falling into stereotypes and tropes. Jesse’s given name is actually Jessica (something that’s never revealed in the story), but she found she preferred the gender-neutral Jesse after coming out. Her look is something of a compromise as well: men’s shirts and well-worn jeans, yes, but ones that accent rather than mask her feminine attributes. Her lifestyle is “practical yet comfortable”, and it’s of particular interest to Susan the way that Jesse balances the two.
And now, here’s a little excerpt from the story if you’re still torn about buying it. (It’s a different excerpt than what’s on the publisher’s site and is only posted here!)
“All right, Susan. First of all, is it true that wolves aren’t often seen in this part of South Dakota?”
Susan tried not to look up at the camera over Jesse’s shoulder. “Wolves are very isolated by nature. They try to stay away from areas of human occupation—there’s limited prey and the chance of their own death from hunters. So it’s true that wolf sightings tend to be rare. But of course, as people continue to push farther into the wilderness, there is always a period of adjustment before the wolves again pull back from inhabited areas. In that sense, seeing a wolf here and there is always a possibility.”
Jesse’s eyes widened a little, and she gave a tiny nod of encouragement. Susan had to admit she felt pretty proud of herself as well. Maybe she could do this after all.
“And what about these so-called Werewolves? Are wolf sightings more common around the full moon, and if so, why do you think that is?”
“More light.” Susan laughed softly. “Actually, that’s true. Wolves, like most predators, tend to blend into their environment. So just because you don’t see a wolf doesn’t mean that she’s not there. People are probably only remembering the ones they see in the full moon because those would be the clearest sightings.”
“So there’s nothing magical about the full moon?”
Susan smiled. “Oh, I didn’t say that. The moon is a very powerful symbol for us. There are some Lakota rituals that can only be performed under a full moon. But it doesn’t control the wolves, no.”
“But still, if I wanted to see a wolf, the night of the full moon would be my best chance.”
“If you were foolish enough to go looking for wolves at night, the full moon would be your best chance of seeing them in time to avoid them,” Susan said bluntly. “Wolves will defend their territory. With some animals, you’ll be told they’re as afraid of you as you are of them. But not the wolf. Make no mistake: the wolf is not afraid of you.” Jesse’s encouraging smile had turned into a stunned expression, and it appeared so out of place on her otherwise soft face that Susan immediately shook her head, counted to three, and started again. “Most wolves know better than to try and hunt during the full moon, but at this time of year when food is getting scarce, often they have no choice. So, yes, you might have a fair chance.”
Jesse had to take a couple of breaths to steady herself before her next question. “Your tribal group here is known as the Family of the Wolf. Does that mean you have a special kinship with wolves?”
Susan shrugged in what she hoped was a convincing way. “You would have to ask the ancient fathers about that. It is a name we have carried for hundreds of years. No one today could tell you how the name originated. We respect the wolf, but no more than we respect all life.”
Jesse looked up at Tyler and gave a curt nod. “I think that’s all we need for now. The light’s starting to shift anyway.” She looked back to Susan. “You were awesome. Maybe you should be doing this instead of me.” Tyler and Jorge nodded in agreement, even clapping lightly for her.
“Being the youngest of the council means that I have to be able to speak well in order to be heard by anyone. Perhaps I’m learning after all.”
Jesse leaned forward, pitching her voice lower. “Did you mean that? About the wolves not being afraid?”
“In this part of the world, the wolf has no natural predators. They’ve learned that not even a man on his own can stand against them. It’s only when men are armed that they have the upper hand. If anything, the wolf fears the gun more than the hand that holds it.”
“That’s a chilling thought,” Jesse admitted.
“What can I say? Nature’s a bitch.”