Friends have asked about my motivation in writing The Church of Wolves. My original motivation was simply the fascination of the true aspects of the story and the questions they evoked. I’ve written as long as I can remember and it seems I’ve always used my writing as one way to explore the world … thank God it hasn’t been the only way.
About five years ago I had the opportunity to speak briefly with author and fellow Pittsburgher David McCullough. He was talking about his motivation in writing The Johnstown Flood. I was surprised to learn that when he began the book, he knew “almost nothing” about the flood. His joy in writing that book and others was his research into his various subjects. I left that conversation humbled because I believe he possesses one of the greatest curiosities of anyone I have ever met. He truly is an explorer; an explorer of history and the human experience, and a searcher for greater meaning.
So in my own search, I’ve written about various subjects that motivate me to go deeper and I have found a certain joy and some fulfillment. The only way I’ve ever been able to complete a story is when I reach that internal tipping point and I become obsessed with it. I don’t advocate this. I can look back and state that it just may not be the best way to go through life. Let me restate that; it is not the best way to go through life. Oh well, too late. I’ve also attempted to publish a number of novels in the past and met complete failure in doing so. Rejection is a powerful current to struggle against. I’ve met it by eventually coming to the conclusion that mostly I am intrinsically motivated … mostly. As in much of my life it took me far too long realize this.
Once I realized that I was intrinsically motivated, I questioned why I even wanted to publish. My motivation rests on an ancient Chinese adage that I once ran across. I wish I could remember where I read it. Basically it goes like this; Ideas are like keeping clothing in a chest. It is good to take them and air them out from time to time or else they rot. I had and still have a visceral reaction to this adage. The feel of rotting, uncommunicated ideas fills me with revulsion. I suppose that a chest full of rotting clothing should do the same. Now that I’m writing this blog and “airing out” these various motivations, I have to admit that once again, this may not be a great way to go through life. And again … too late.
So … The Church of Wolves. About three or more years ago, I was sitting in my living room around midnight, drinking my second glass of wine, and thinking about unknowns, questions and writing. The urge to write was pushing me. If any of you reading this are writers, you know that this urge is an obsession of its own. Of course, I was not only contemplating what to question, what to seek, what to commit to, what mounds of information to bury myself beneath and what to write — but also what might be published. The question of what might be published was part of the mix because of that Chinese adage that I can’t psychologically escape.
I stared at the ceiling and asked aloud. Yes it was aloud; remember, I was on my second glass of wine. “What genre haven’t I yet failed at?”
And I said to myself, “Horror. I’ve never written a horror novel.”
But questions remained. Could horror intrinsically motivate me? What subject in horror posed a question that could grab me and would lead me into any type of exploration? Twenty years ago I would have turned to my bookshelves for inspiration. Instead I went to the web. I decided to go topical and examine vampires. But I could never write a book about vampires. Being mostly of eastern European origin, I’ve never really been able to get past the Dracula legend and the realization that Vlad the Impaler is far more interesting than the fictional Dracula and, in fact, the European/Ottoman Empire conflict is far more interesting and horrific than anything possibly related to vampires. Perhaps, someday I’ll devote a few years of my life to the Janisasaries or the Siege of Malta.
Nor can I write about zombies. This is because I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania and I am just too familiar with the actual locations in the Night of the Living Dead, including the graveyard at the movie’s beginning. This might be a shallow excuse, but aren’t some zombies buried in shallow graves?
I turned to ghosts and werewolves but just couldn’t find an interest. I think there are real explorations in all these subjects. The psychological aspects especially intrigue me. But nothing moved me, at least not that evening. However, a quick foray into werewolves led me to various sites and information on wolves. Then about one or two o’clock in the morning, I came across a New York Times article from 1917. The article related a story about the War on the Eastern Front between the Germans and Russians. It explained how hundreds of wolves appeared during the winter of 1916-17 and attacked the soldiers on both sides. It further told how “rifles, machine gun fire and grenades” could not stop the wolves.
At that point, the story had me. The article continued and said that the two armies declared a truce, combined their forces and together fought the wolves. This was the only way they defeated them. I was staggered by the account. First, why would these wolves engage in such a bizarre predatory pattern? These animals weren’t attacking weak members of a herd, but groups of heavily armed human beings. What drove them? Was it habitat destruction? Was it mass fear and desperation? The question was there … and I began to build different scenarios to explain it.
Then there was the question of the Eastern Front, or specifically Lithuania, where the wolf attacks occurred. Lithuania’s legendary beginning is steeped in wolf lore. The last European nation to accept Christianity, it has long shadows of pagan belief and shamanism. Its mythic history is built upon the wolf, the name of its capitol Vilnas is the name for wolf. Its first king had a vison at Vilnas of a she-wolf splitting open and a hundred wolves spilling out to defend the nation.
One scenario began to obsess me more than any others. It was built upon a study of shamanism that I had conducted years ago in my past. It was also built on the understanding of pack behavior and mob mind. I was once a member of a mob mind and understood then the strange consciousness that developed among humans. Like humans, the wolf is an alpha predator and a creature of packs. Could a mob mind develop among a wolf pack? How? Could a pack move as one, connected organism? I believed it could, because I had another experience in my life when I was hunted in a forest by a feral dog pack. I still feel a chill when I recall how they stalked me and moved together like they possessed one mind.
The first writing of The Church of Wolves took six months. Rewrites took longer. It is horror, but really is more speculative fiction. The full truth of what happened in Lithuania during that terrible winter might never be known. But I have to believe that the story I constructed must somehow touch on points of truth.