In Anne Rice’s surprising and compelling best-selling novel, the first of her strange and mythic imagining of the world of wolfen powers (“I devoured these pages . . . As solid and engaging as anything she has written since her early Vampire Chronicles fiction”—Alan Cheuse, The Boston Globe; “A delectable cocktail of old-fashioned lost-race adventure, shape-shifting, and suspense”—Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post), readers were spellbound as Rice conjured up a daring new world set against the wild and beckoning California coast.
Now in her new novel, as lush and romantic in detail and atmosphere as it is sleek and steely in storytelling, Anne Rice takes us once again to the rugged coastline of Northern California, to the grand mansion at Nideck Point, and further explores the unearthly education of her transformed Man Wolf.
The novel opens on a cold, gray landscape. It is the beginning of December. Oak fires are burning in the stately flickering hearths of Nideck Point. It is Yuletide.
For Reuben Golding, now infused with the Wolf Gift and under the loving tutelage of the Morphenkinder, this promises to be a Christmas like no other . . .
The Yuletide season, sacred to much of the human race, has been equally sacred to the Man Wolves, and Reuben soon becomes aware that they, too, steeped in their own profound rituals, will celebrate the ancient Midwinter festival deep within the verdant richness of Nideck forest.
From out of the shadows of Nideck comes a ghost—tormented, imploring, unable to speak yet able to embrace and desire with desperate affection . . . As Reuben finds himself caught up with—and drawn to—the passions and yearnings of this spectral presence, and as the swirl of preparations reaches a fever pitch for the Nideck town Christmas festival of music and pageantry, astonishing secrets are revealed; secrets that tell of a strange netherworld, of spirits other than the Morphenkinder, centuries old, who inhabit the dense stretches of redwood and oak that surround the magnificent house at Nideck Point, “ageless ones” who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and who taunt with their dark magical powers . . .
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Hometown:Rancho Mirage, California
Date of Birth:October 4, 1941
Place of Birth:Rancho Mirage, California
Education:B.A., San Francisco State University, 1964; M.A., 1971
Read an Excerpt
The house slept.
Reuben came down the stairs in his slippers and heavy wool robe.
Jean Pierre, who often took the night shift, was sleeping on his folded arms at the kitchen counter.
The fire in the library was not quite out.
Reuben stirred it, brought it back to life, and took a book from the shelves and did something he had always wanted to do. He curled up in the window seat against the cold window, comfortable enough on the velvet cushions, with a throw pillow between him and the damp chill panes.
The rain was flooding down the glass only inches from his eyes.
The lamp on the desk was sufficient for him to read a little. And a little, in this dim uncommitted light, was all he wanted to read.
It was a book on the ancient Near East. It seemed to Reuben he cared passionately about it, about the whole question of where some momentous anthropological development had occurred, but he lost the thread almost at once. He put his head back against the wood paneling and he stared through narrow eyes at the small dancing flames on the hearth.
Some errant wind blasted the panes. The rain hit the glass like so many tiny pellets. And then there came that sighing of the house that Reuben heard so often when he was alone like this and perfectly still.
He felt safe and happy, and eager to see Laura, eager to do his best. His family would love the open house on the sixteenth, simply love it. Grace and Phil had never been more than casual entertainers of their closest friends. Jim would think it wonderful, and they would talk. Yes, Jim and Reuben had to talk. It wasn’t merely that Jim was the only one of them who knew Reuben, knew his secrets, knew everything. It was that he was worried about Jim, worried about what the burden of the secrets was doing to him. What in God’s name was Jim suffering, a priest bound by the oath of the Confessional, knowing such secrets which he could not mention to another living being? He missed Jim terribly. He wished he could call Jim now.
Reuben began to doze. He shook himself awake and pulled the soft shapeless collar of his robe close around his neck. He had a sudden “awareness” that somebody was close to him, somebody, and it was as if he’d been talking to that person, but now he was violently awake and certain this could not possibly be so.
He looked up and to his left. He expected the darkness of the night to be sealed up against the window as all the outside lights had long ago gone off.
But he saw a figure standing there, looking down at him, and he realized he was looking at Marchent Nideck, and that she was peering at him from only inches beyond the glass.
Marchent. Marchent, who had been savagely murdered in this house.
His terror was total. Yet he didn’t move. He felt the terror, like something breaking out all over his skin. He continued to stare at her, resisting with all his might the urge to move away.
Her pale eyes were slightly narrow, rimmed in red, and fixing him as if she were speaking to him, imploring him in some desperate way. Her lips were slightly parted, very fresh and soft and natural. And her cheeks were reddened as if from the cold.
The sound of Reuben’s heart was deafening in his ears, and so powerful in his arteries that he felt he couldn’t breathe.
She wore the negligee she’d worn the night she was killed. Pearls, white silk, and the lace, how beautiful was the lace, so thick, heavy, ornate. But it was streaked with blood, caked with blood. One of her hands gripped the lace at the throat—and there was the bracelet on that wrist, the thin delicate pearl chain she’d worn that day—and with the other hand she reached towards him as if her fingers might penetrate the glass.
He shot away, and found himself standing on the carpet staring at her. He had never known panic like this in all his life.
She continued to stare at him, her eyes all the more desperate, her hair mussed but untouched by the rain. All of her was untouched by the rain. There was a glistening quality to her. Then the figure simply vanished as if it had never been there.
He stood still, staring at the darkened glass, trying to find her face again, her eyes, her shape, anything of her, but there was nothing, and he had never felt so utterly alone in his life.
His skin was electrified still, though he had begun to sweat. And very slowly he looked down at his hands to see they were covered in hair. His fingernails were elongated. And touching his face and hands, he felt the hair there as well.
He’d begun to change, the fear had done that to him! But the transformation had been suspended, waiting, waiting perhaps for his personal signal as to whether it should resume. Terror had done that.
He looked at the palms of his hands, unable to move.
There were distinct sounds behind him—a familiar tread on the boards.
Slowly he turned to see Felix there, in rumpled clothes, his dark hair tousled from bed.
“What’s the matter?” Felix asked. “What’s happened?”
Felix drew closer.
Reuben couldn’t speak. The long wolf hair was not receding. And neither was his fear. Maybe “fear” wasn’t the word for this because he’d never feared anything natural in this way in his life.
“What’s happened?” Felix asked again, drawing closer. He was so concerned, so obviously protective.
“Marchent,” Reuben whispered. “I saw her, out there.”
Now came the prickling sensations again. He looked down to see his fingers emerging from the disappearing hair.
He could feel the hair receding on his scalp and on his chest.
The expression on Felix’s face startled him. Never had Felix seemed so vulnerable, so almost hurt.
“Marchent?” Felix said. His eyes narrowed. This was acutely painful for him. And there wasn’t the slightest doubt that he believed what Reuben was telling him.
Reuben explained quickly. He went over everything that happened. He was heading for the coat closet near the butler’s pantry as he spoke, Felix tagging after him. He put on his heavy coat, and picked up the flashlight.
“But what are you doing?” Felix asked.
“I have to go outside. I have to look for her.”
The rain was light, little more than a drizzle. He hurried down the front steps and walked around the side of the house till he was standing beneath the large library window. He had never been on this exact spot before. He’d seldom even driven his car along the gravel drive here to the back of the property. The whole foundation was elevated of course, and there was no ledge on which Marchent, a living breathing Marchent, could have been standing.
The window was bright with the lamplight above him, and the oak forest stretching out to his right beyond the gravel drive was impenetrably dark, and filled with the sounds of the dripping rain, the rain forever working its way through leaves and branches.
He saw the tall slim figure of Felix looking out through the window, but Felix did not appear to see him down there looking up. Felix appeared to be looking off into the blackness.
Reuben stood very still, letting the light drizzle dampen his hair and his face, and then he turned and, bracing himself, he looked off into the oak forest. He could see almost nothing.
A terrible pessimism came over him, an anxiety bordering on panic. Could he feel her presence? No, he couldn’t. And that she might, in some spiritual form, some personal form, be lost in that darkness terrified him.
Slowly he made his way back to the front door, looking off into the night all around him. How vast and foreboding it seemed, and how distant and hideously impersonal the roar of the ocean he couldn’t see.
Only the house was visible, the house with its grand designs, and lighted windows, the house like a bulwark against chaos.
Felix was waiting in the open door, and helped him with his coat.
He sank down in the chair by the library fire, in the big wing chair that Felix usually claimed early every evening.
“But I did see her,” Reuben said. “She was there, vivid, in her negligee, the one she wore the night she was killed. There was blood on it, all over it.” It tormented him suddenly to relive it. He felt for a second time the same alarm he’d experienced when he first looked up at her face. “She was . . . unhappy. She was . . . asking me for something, wanting something.”
Felix stood there quietly with his arms folded. But he made no effort to disguise the pain he was feeling.
“The rain,” said Reuben, “it had no effect on her, on the apparition, whatever it was. She was shining, no, glistening. Felix, she was looking in, wanting something. She was like Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw. She was looking for someone or something.”
“What did you feel when you saw her?” Felix asked.
“Terror,” said Reuben. “And I think she knew it. I think she might have been disappointed.”
Again, Felix was silent. Then after a moment, he spoke up again, his voice very polite, and calm.
“Why did you feel terror,” he asked.
“Because it was . . . Marchent,” Reuben said, trying not to stammer. “And it had to mean that Marchent is existing somewhere. It had to mean that Marchent is conscious somewhere, and not in some lovely hereafter, but here. Doesn’t it have to mean that?”
Shame. The old shame. He’d met her, loved her, and failed utterly to stop her murder. Yet from her he had inherited this house.
“I don’t know what it means,” said Felix. “I have never been a seer of spirits. Spirits come to those who can see them.”
“You do believe me.”
“Of course I do,” he said. “It wasn’t some shadowy shape as you’re describing it—.”
“Utterly clear.” Again his words came in a rush. “I saw the pearls on her negligee. The lace. I saw this old heavy lace, kind of dagged lace along her collar, beautiful lace. And her bracelet, the pearl chain she’d been wearing, when I was with her, this thin little bracelet with silver links and little pearls.”
“I gave her that bracelet,” Felix said. It was more a sigh than words.
“I saw her hand. She reached, as if she were going to reach through the glass.” Again there came the prickling on his skin but he fought it. “Let me ask you something,” he continued. “Was she buried here, in some family cemetery or something? Have you been to the grave? I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even think of going there.”
“Well, you couldn’t have attended any funeral, could you,” said Felix. “You were in the hospital. But I didn’t think there was a funeral. I thought her remains were sent to South America. To tell you the truth, I don’t honestly know if that’s true.”
“Could it be that she’s not where she wants to be?”
“I can’t imagine it mattering to Marchent,” said Felix. His voice was unnaturally a monotone. “Not at all, but what do I know about it?”
“Something’s wrong, Felix, very wrong, or she wouldn’t have come. Look, I’ve never seen a ghost before, never even had a presentiment or a psychic dream.” He thought of Laura saying those very words, more or less, that very evening. “But I know ghost lore. My father claims to have seen ghosts. He doesn’t like to talk about it over a crowded dinner table because people laugh at him. But his grandparents were Irish, and he’s seen more than one ghost. If ghosts look at you, if they know you’re there, well, they want something.”
“Ah, the Celts and their ghosts,” said Felix, but it was not meant flippantly. He was suffering and the words were like an aside. “They have the gift. I’m not surprised Phil has it. But you can’t talk to Phil about these things.”
“I know that,” said Reuben. “And yet he’s the very person who might know something.”
“And the very person who might sense more than you want him to sense, if you begin to tell him about all the things that puzzle you, all the things that have happened to you under this roof.”
“I know, Felix, don’t worry. I know.”
He was struck by the somber, bruised expression on Felix’s face. Felix seemed to be flinching under the onslaught of his own thoughts.
Reuben was ashamed suddenly. He’d been elated by this vision, horrific as it was. He’d been energized by it, and he hadn’t thought for one second about Felix, and what Felix must surely be experiencing just now.
Felix had brought up Marchent; he had known and loved Marchent in ways that Reuben could scarce imagine, and he, Reuben, was going on and on about this, the apparition having been his, his brilliant and unique possession, and he was suddenly ashamed of himself. “I don’t know what I’m talking about, do I?” he asked. “But I know I saw her.”
“She died violently,” Felix said in that same low and raw voice. He swallowed, and held the backs of his arms with his hands, a gesture Reuben had never seen in him before. “Sometimes when people die like that, they can’t move on.”
Neither of them spoke for a long moment, and then Felix moved away, his back to Reuben, nearer to the window.
Finally in a raw voice he spoke.
“Oh, why didn’t I come back sooner? Why didn’t I contact her? What was I thinking, to let her go on year after year . . . ?”
“Please, Felix, don’t blame yourself. You weren’t responsible for what happened.”
“I abandoned her to time, the way I always abandon them . . . ,” Felix said.
Slowly he came back to the warmth of the fire. He sat on the ottoman of the club chair across from Reuben.
“Can you tell me again how it all happened?” he asked.
“Yes, she looked right at me,” Reuben said, trying not to give way again to a gush of excited words. “She was right on the other side of the glass. I have no idea how long she’d been there, watching me. I never sat in the window seat before. I always meant to do it, you know, curl up on that red velvet cushion, but I never did it.”
“She did that all the time when she was growing up,” said Felix. “That was her place. I’d be working in here for hours, and she’d be in that window seat reading. She kept a little stack of books right there, hidden behind the drapery.”
“Where? On the left side? Did she sit with her back to the left side of the window?”
“She did, as a matter of fact. The left-hand corner was her corner. I used to tease her about straining her eyes as the sun went down. She’d read there until there was almost no light at all. Even in the coldest winter she liked to read there. She’d come down here in her robe with her heavy socks on and curl up there. And she didn’t want a floor lamp. She said she could see well enough by the light from the desk. She liked it that way.”
“That’s just what I did,” Reuben said in a small voice.
'There was a silence. The fire had died to embers.
Finally Reuben stood up. “I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been running for miles. All my muscles are aching. I’ve never felt such a need for sleep.”
Felix rose slowly, reluctantly.
“Well, tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll make some calls. I’ll talk to her man friend in Buenos Aires. It ought to be easy enough to confirm that she was buried as she wanted to be.”
He and Felix moved towards the stairs together.
“There’s something I have to ask,” said Reuben as they went up. “Whatever made you come down when you did? Did you hear a noise, or sense something?”
“I don’t know,” said Felix. “I woke up. I experienced a kind of frisson, as the French call it. Something was wrong. And then of course I saw you, and I saw that the wolf hair was rising on you. We do signal each other in some impalpable way when we go into the change, you’re aware of that.”
They paused in the dark upstairs hallway before Felix’s door.
“You aren’t uneasy being alone now, are you?” Felix asked.
“No. Not at all,” said Reuben. “It wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of her or that she’d harm me. It was something else altogether.”
Felix didn’t move or reach for the doorknob. Then he said, “I wish I’d seen her.”
Reuben nodded. Of course Felix wished for that. Of course Felix wondered why she would come to Reuben. How could he not wonder about that?
“But ghosts come to those who can see them, don’t they?” Reuben asked. “That’s what you said. Seems my dad said the same thing once, when my mother was scoffing at the very idea.”
“Yes, they do,” said Felix.
“Felix, we have to consider, don’t we, that she wants this house restored to you?”
“Do we have to consider that?” Felix asked in a dejected voice. He seemed broken, his usual spirit utterly gone. “Why should she want me to have anything, Reuben, after the way I abandoned her?” he asked.
Reuben didn’t speak. He thought of her vividly, of her face, of the anguished expression, of the way that she had reached towards the window. He shuddered. He murmured, “She’s in pain.”
He looked at Felix again, vaguely aware that the expression on Felix’s face reminded him horribly of Marchent.
Reading Group Guide
In The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice revisits the world she brought brilliantly to life in The Wolf Gift. The questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's journey to the rugged coastline of northern California and into the lives of creatures and spirits who inhabit the supernatural realm.
1. In describing Reuben's reaction when he learns Laura has taken the Chrism, Rice writes, " He felt an immediate arousal. He wanted her again, and yet he felt, what, sick? Was he sick with fear? He hated himself" (p. 9). What do Reuben's mixed emotions reflect about his feeling about his own transformation? What part do his feelings as Laura's lover play in his discomfort with her decision?
2. Why is Laura more accepting of the "wolf gift" than Reuben is? Do her past encounters with tragedy and death validate her desire for immortality (p. 11)? Are the other reasons for her eagerness to become a Morphenkinder persuasive (p. 18)?
3. Felix argues that "Traditions are seldom lies; traditions reflect people's deepest beliefs and customs. They have their own truths..." (p. 22). What family, community, or religious traditions embody or reinforce your personal beliefs? Do you share Reuben's ambivalence about Christmas celebrations today (pp. 30; 34)?
4. Are Celeste's anger about her pregnancy and her decision to let Reuben raise their child understandable (p. 67-69)? To what extent are both Celeste and Reuben motivated by selfishness? How does the prospect of fatherhood affect Reuben? Do you think he appreciates the full implications of being a father to "natural child" (p. 69)? Does the arrangement they make seem right and appropriate to you (pp. 120-122)?
5. What intellectual and emotional responses does the appearance of Marchent's ghost arouse in Reuben and Felix? Is Elthram's description of the "newly dead" comparable to accounts you have read about near-death experiences (p. 161)? What does his explanation of the transition from the earthbound state to the realm of spirits and ghosts provide for both Reuben and the reader (pp. 162; 167)?
6. What light does the destruction of the brothel in the South American jungle shed on the uncertainties Reuben faces (pp. 177-181)? What are the moral implications of his conclusion that "The scent of evil does not make us what we are, and once we are beasts we kill like beasts, and we have only the human part of us, the fallible human part to guide us" (p. 181)?
7. What do Jim's struggles with guilt and regrets illustrate about the power of faith and the belief in God? In what ways do his beliefs and his training as a priest affect his abilities and inclination to support Reuben (see, for example, p. 118)? Is Jim guilty of betraying his moral and religious principles when he tells Reuben about thugs wreaking havoc in his parish, knowing what actions his brother will take (pp. 335-337)?
8. Why do you think Rice chose to make one of Reuben's parents a poet and the other a scientist? How do Phil's interests and special qualities reflect or mimic aspects of the "wolf gift"? Does his relationship with Reuben and the Morphenkinder evolve in a believable and satisfying way?
9. What makes Rice's description of the Morphenkind Christmas Eve ceremony so gripping (pp. 266-281)? How does Rice bring to life the physical sensations the participants experience? What impact do the erotic images on the meaning, as well as the power, of the scene?
10. As they make love, Reuben quotes the Genesis, whispering "Laura, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh"; Laura answers, "My beloved Reuben, wither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest, I will lodge," and Rueben continues to quote from The Book of Ruth, saying "And I with thee.... And thy people shall be my people" (p. 273). Why does Rice turn to these familiar Biblical quotations immediately following the sexually graphic (almost pornographic) description of Reuben reaction to Laura's naked body (p. 272)?
11. The festivities in The Wolves of Midwinter involve both pagan rituals and the Christian celebration of Christmas. What similarities are there between such seemingly disparate traditions? What do they reflect about the relationship between humans and the natural world? About the spiritual needs at the heart of community and religious gatherings? How does the story of Christ relate to and reaffirm the mysteries, hopes, and fears experienced in the pre-Christians world?
12. The Wolves of Midwinter is deeply concerned with what it means to be immortal. Compare the points of view expressed by Reuben (p. 16), Laura (p. 18); Felix (p. 77); and Margon (p. 94-5). What accounts for their differing perspectives? Based on the characters in the novel-- including the Distinguished Gentleman, the "new" Morphenkinder Reuben, Stuart, and Laura, and the Forest Gentry-discuss whether immortality is a gift or a burden. Does the idea of living forever appeal to you? Why or why not?
13. Rice has called Reuben "a comic book hero, living a double-life as a reporter and a man wolf"(Amazon.com Review). What parallels do you see between the adventures of Reuben and Superman (aka reporter Clark Kent)? What particular events in the novel bring out the poignancy-and the humor-of the hero's need to keep his identity secret?
14. In addition to Morphenkinder presented in The Wolf Gift, The Wolves of Midwinter introduces other preternatural beings-ghosts and spirits; the Forest Gentry; another, less benevolent pack of Morphenkinder. How do these new characters expand on and enrich the imaginary world Rice created in the first book? Which character or group would you like to see further developed in the next book in the series?
15. If you are familiar with Rice's Vampire Chronicles, discuss the differences between the immortal Vampires and Morphenkinder. Are the characters in one saga easier to like or identify with?
A conversation with
The Wolves of Midwinter
Q: It's been almost two years since The Wolf Gift was published. What has been the most fun for you about writing this new series?
A: The new cosmology is terrific fun. Since this is a brand new series, I'm able to evolve a whole new type of supernatural character—the morphenkind, or man wolf—and make up an origin story for the species and work with what powers these creatures have and so forth. I've loved that. But as always the novels are about character, and I do love the new cast—Reuben my youthful hero, his family, and the contemporary setting. As always I like blending a family story with a supernatural story. I've done this with the Mayfair Witches and to some extent with the vampires. But the very most fun? I guess the new cosmology—that Reuben the Man Wolf is a comic book hero, living a double life as a reporter and a man wolf.
Q: A defining element of your werewolves is that they are sentient during transformation, but also that they can detect and hunt out evil. How does The Wolves of Midwinter begin to blur those clear lines of good vs. evil for your main character, Reuben?
A: Well, Reuben and Stuart—both young man wolves—are coming to see the obvious, that there is no real objective standard in the world of what is good or evil, much as we all wish that there was. And in some situations, they do not see clearly what to do. They transform into powerful beast men and can easily kill and punish evil doers, but what happens when the evil doer is contrite and becomes a victim himself? Do they stop in their tracks? Their powers put an immense burden on those human beings who know what they are. Is it moral for a good man to contact Reuben and ask for his help with despicably evil murderers, knowing full well that Reuben has the power to transform into a Man Wolf and bring immediate death to the evil ones? In The Wolves of Midwinter they confront this problem for the first time.
Q: What was it about the unfinished nature of Reuben's relationship with Marchent that inspired you to bring back her ghost in The Wolves of Midwinter?
A: Marchent was a very strong character and she left the narrative early. She died violently. I thought what if she lingers, confused, uncertain, an earthbound spirit in need of guidance to the light? I think it was her character and how strong she felt to me in the first book that prompted me to bring her back. When I write I believe the old cliché: there are no small parts, only small actors. And so even if a character is going to be in a book for a very short while (as Marchent was in the first book) I'll go deep into that character, seeking to make that character very real, and then when the character is dispatched, well I miss the character. That's what happened with Marchent.
Q: The Wolves of Midwinter features the emergence of other "Ageless Ones," like the Forest Gentry, and the strange servants who serve the Distinguished Gentlemen. How do these new characters allow you build upon the werewolf mythology you've created?
A: It's flat out unrealistic to present a universe in which the morphenkinder are the only preternatural inhabitants. It's a failure of imagination to not ponder what other supernatural or preternatural beings they might know or interact with. I thought it only natural that immortal morphenkinder would know a lot about spirits, ghosts, and so forth, and other immortals. It was fun to imagine new species. And I love writing about ghosts. I am doing it in other books now as well as in The Wolf Gift Chronicles. I have a mythology of ghosts and spirits that transcends any individual series I've written and I just love it. With Reuben and his friends, I feel like I'm just getting started on their world. I may bring in other elements soon. For now though the Forest Gentry and the "strange servants" are really delighting me.
Q: The Wolves of Midwinter also introduces new members of other werewolf packs, suggesting a much larger world exists beyond the Distinguished Gentlemen. Will we learn more about the past history of the Morphenkinder as the series continues?
A: Yes, as the series continues we will learn much more about the history of the Morphenkinder. I already have a big surprise brewing for book three. And of course we have only begun to see in this second book how morphenkinder from other parts of the world can make serious trouble for Reuben, Felix, Margon and the inhabitants of Nideck Point. I feel that in these two Wolf Gift books I've opened many doors and I want this to develop into a huge fantasy series.
Q: So much of the setting and atmosphere of The Wolves of Midwinter is tied to traditional Christmas holiday rituals. What experiences and research did you draw from to create such a rich setting? Were you inspired by European holiday festivals? What was your favorite part of creating the Festival in Nideck Point?
A: I am enthralled with Yuletide customs the world over but particularly those of Europe and America. I did intensely research them, seeking for material everywhere. I have used intense Christmas symbols and mythology in The Witching Hour and in Lasher, and I am very interested, as you can see, in delving into it with the wolves. I am intrigued as to why our heritage includes belief in ghosts walking at Christmastime and so many Christmas ghost stories, like those written in Victorian England, for instance. I'm intrigued with the ancient European custom of people dressing as beasts and in animal skins around Christmastime—with customs involving bonfires and echoes of human sacrifice. Clearly the feast of midwinter was serious business in our past, a time when we celebrated the cycles of the earth, the desperate hope that the warm spring and summer sun would return, in spite of the ice and snows, and that we would see light and growth and possibility again. That's in our blood as human beings. And to me all this is related to the very idea of the man wolves—that we humans remember on some level when we were very primitive and closer to the animal world than we are today, that our nature is always animal and divine mixed together, that we are mammals with souls. Christmas is the great feast at the very heart of our cultural experience of these mysteries. God becoming man in the Christ Child in the dark of winter is a potent symbol for all of us—human beings who are spiritual as well as physical—and for our great need to control our animal nature while never forgetting it.
Q: By contrast, the Yuletide ritual of the werewolves is much more pagan and primitive. Did you know that scene would be such a climax of the book when you started? Or did you discover its power as you were writing?
A: Yes, I started out with the idea of exploring how the wolves would celebrate the pagan feast of midwinter as well as the Christmas feast of midwinter. I have introduced characters who are immortals, one of whom at least was born long before the Christian era, and I wanted to see how as a tribe the morphenkinder would honor this ancient and evolving feast of Yule.
Q: How does technology play a role in a series where your hero Reuben is a young reporter grappling with an ancient transformation? Is it challenging to fuse the contemporary aspects of Reuben's life (his iPhone, laptop, etc.) with the timelessness of the Chrism?
A: If Reuben is to be believable as a contemporary reporter he has to be involved with technology. I have to ask myself, how would he use all the technological devices we have today in confronting the Wolf Gift? It's only natural that he would photograph himself in transformation with his iPhone, and look up werewolves on the web, and of course write down his thoughts on his computer. It would be a failure of imagination to try to present some atmospheric gothic world today in which technology doesn't exist. We supernatural writers have to meet the challenges of today in writing our stories. I love the gothic atmosphere of Nideck Point, the gothic aspects of Christmas, but to present a quaint world without flat screen TVs, or desk top computer or iPhones, would just be ridiculous and shallow. I believe that great gothic stories can be told today as well as ever and that referencing all our technological advances can be done with no sacrifice of romance or gothic thrills.
Q: Can you give us a hint for things to look forward to in the next book in The Wolf Gift Chronicles?
A: It's too early for me to say. Right now I'm thinking a lot about Sergei, the Russian man wolf, and about Stuart, the young gay man wolf, but I'm not sure where the story will go. I do think it might involve more chunks of time, much more travel, more conflict and so on. And I have not forgotten little Suzie Blakely or Pastor George, two key characters in The Wolves of Midwinter. We might hear more from them too. Reuben is in a real world, and it is a world filled with potential trouble and potential adventure.
Q: What have been your favorite reactions from fans about your return to the gothic?
A: Naturally I love their enthusiasm for the characters and the storytelling. I love that readers are willing to follow me into something wholly new. I've published over thirty books and there are always flattering requests for old characters and old stories to continue. But I treasure the response of those who are delighted with something fresh and contemporary.