Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

I’m going through a werewolf phase right now. A week ago while sitting in the bathtub, my favorite thinking spot, I pondered my next story. I know I want the stage to be the setting, so I can play with the idea of outer life, performance, with inner life, what it takes to put forth that performance. I want to inject a supernatural element into the story, but the first thing that naturally comes to mind, haunted theater, has already been done so much, and I just finished 80,000 words about a haunted object with The Charm Quilt. I want to do something new now.

My sister Kristi has been working on a werewolf painting for months, and she just finished the canvas. 

So werewolves are on my mind, and I think it fits with what I have envisioned. A performer who’s werewolf, whose art and stagecraft improves with the ebb and flow of the moon and peaking pheromones, where erratic behavior is almost expected of the artist.

After my bath, I hurriedly scanned my bookshelves for werewolf literature, which I seem to be severely lacking in, and found Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, a book I haven’t read since I was a teenager. It is a lean and mean work and seems to be a smashup of graphic novel and novella, with illustrations by Berni Wrightson of the story’s climactic scenes and remarkably brief prose by Stephen King, who usually lets it all hang out in his writing. Cycle of the Werewolf is set in a small Maine town, Tarker’s Mills, populated with vivid characters: an obese woman who dreams of love and sends herself valentines from Ace Frehley and John Travolta; a small-town constable who talks too much and listens too little; and a ten-year-old boy in a wheelchair, Marty Coslow, who confronts the monster and lives to tell the tale.

The illustrations remind me of artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben when they were illustrating Alan Moore’s run of the Swamp Thing. (The spider monkey story with the Ouija board still scares the bejesus out of me.) And now that I look at my graphic novel of The Saga of the Swamp Thing, I see that Berni Wrightson created the original horror comic Swamp Thing, so that makes sense. Must find more werewolf literature. And good werewolf movies. Any suggestions would be welcome.

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

My latest assignment for Hachette was the third book in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor dark fantasy series, and I prepped by reading the first book, The Devil You Know, over the holidays. The main character Felix Castor is something of a paranormal sleuth based in London; he is an exorcist in a world where the newly dead constantly impinge on the living world and finds his services needed a fair amount. After the millennium, the world found itself full of ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and demons, and Felix has been able to ply a childhood talent into a livelihood.

When The Devil You Know opens, Felix has given up exorcising for the moment and tries to pay off his friend and landlord by freelancing as a magician. Felix mucks that job up, but he is offered one that he can’t refuse–to exorcise a ghost who is haunting a library archive and causing bodily injury to its employees. Felix takes on the task, and with his instrument of choice at hand, he makes contact with the ghost at the archive.

Felix’s particular way with exorcising is through music–using his tin whistle he is able to find a melody that represents the essence of the apparition and to send it away beyond the earthly dimension. Where the spirits go, Felix doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care until he takes on this job and is unexpectedly saved by the ghost whom he is supposed to be destroying.

Carey excels in describing the paranormal in his Felix Castor series. The fifth dimension comes alive in a new and fresh way, past the usual clich├ęs of hair raising on the back of the neck and creaking floorboards. In The Devil You Know, Carey takes the reader through a blow-by-blow affair with a succubus, doing what she does best, who becomes a delightful character in the story. Carey’s zombies are sentient, and he gives a credible explanation of their decomposing flesh and what a zombie can and cannot do to prolong their life.

Though Castor battles the undead, he finds that one of the most important questions about humanity, What happens to us when we die?, is still unanswerable. Indeed, he encounters many of the undead grappling with that question still, unwilling to give up their steely grip on the earthly plane. These are weighty topics, but The Devil You Know reads almost as black comedy so witty is the main character Felix Castor. Castor has much in common with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe right down to the highly original similes that he spouts. I’ll definitely be pursuing this series in the future.