I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship with wolves. Perhaps it was the steady diet of fairytales that were read to me as a child. When I was little, I always imagined riding in a beautiful red sleigh being chased by a wolf pack in deep snow. The heavy laden branches above us sent pure white snowflakes drifting down on a scene of terror and savage pursuit. I’m not certain whether scenes like that ever actually took place historically or they were simply conjured by my overactive childhood brain. The image seems universal, however, just look at Disney’s Frozen. The fact remains that both my sister and I dreamed of wolves as children, decades ago.
If you’ve read Among Wolves, you know that Devin suffers from “waking dreams,” a malady where the dream lingers for a few seconds even after the sleeper has wakened. I have experienced the same phenomenon since I was a child and my sister must have, too, at least when she was younger. Both of us claimed to see wolves traipsing around our bedrooms in the middle of the night. The wolf in my room always exited into the hall, blocking my escape to my parents’ room or the bathroom. I would lie awake in terror that he would come back in and eat me! My sister’s wolf simply walked around her bed, his tail held proudly aloft so that she knew his position even as she huddled under the covers with the quilt pulled up to her eye sockets.
I’ve never quite forgotten the fear those nightly wolf visits elicited. I think that’s why I was so enthralled with the French legend of The Beast of Gevaudan when I first ran across it. The possibility that a man could train and command wolves while learning to run with them himself, was too good a storyline to pass up! I adore Chastel as a character. The man is a Comte, he’s elegant, funny, and undeniably good company AND he has the same love/hate relationship with wolves that I have. His family’s ability to shapechange has set them apart from their peers and irrevocably complicated his own life. And yet, he loves, actually yearns, to run with his wolves! He is a man with many layers to his personality and I hope to explore that aspect further in future books about Llise.
My actual knowledge of real wolves is limited. When I wrote the scene where Devin encounters the wolves in a cave in Before Winter, I had to run it by a family member, Adam Katrick, who heads Wolf Guard in the state of Vermont. I wanted to be certain my wolves were behaving realistically. Oddly enough, my instincts were correct and I felt more in touch with Llise’s wolves than ever before.
All of this simply proves that writers’ minds are complex treasure troves of everything we have ever experienced. A childhood dream can be woven into the tapestry of a country poised on the edge of revolution, with an array of characters and subplots. Never discount any item of information, no matter how slight. Like an artist, a writer builds a creation, line by line, until it’s something wonderful and new!